Peter Handke

By now, you should have heard of Peter Handke, an author from Austria: He has just won the Nobel Prize in Literature today. Congratulations!

I’m not really sure how I feel about this, partially because I have never (consciously) read any of his writings, and partially because he was more or less defending the Serbs in the Yugoslav war, which didn’t go down well at all at the time.

That leaves the interesting and quite difficult question whether an artist should be judged by his art alone (in particular when considered for an art prize), or if their personal views on society, politics, etc. should come into play as well. Clearly, the artist imbues his pieces with something of himself; that’s why we often want to know more about them, their inspirations, their life, their routines…

But is this truly important? Would the Nike of Samothrace be any less of a masterpiece had it been carved by a mass murderer?

Nike of Samothrace

Visa Issues…

A few days ago I came across this very funny video on twitter. It’s mostly self-explanatory, in particular with the subtitles. A little background information to make sure you won’t be missing the finer points of the video: The standard length of a work visa in Japan is 1, 3, or 5 years. Once you have received a 5-year work visa, you may apply for permanent residency at the end of it. And with this, I’ll let you enjoy this masterpiece by Maydaysan in Japan:

Pet Food?

It’s October! Meaning: We’re slowly drifting into autumn and it is getting much cooler. I still sleep with my window open though, but I’m using a warm blanket now.

We’re also drifting towards the end of the year. In the Western countries this means that ever so slowly, Christmas decorations are creeping into the stores, and Christmas cookies and advertisements for “the best gift for Christmas”. This is happening in Japan too, albeit on a much smaller level. After all, the big thing here is not Christmas, but oshogatsu – New Year.

However, in the big department stores and supermarkets, you can already order osechi – traditional bento boxes meant for New Year that are filled with food that is meant to bring good luck for the coming year. And although the Japanese don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious event, there is some gift-giving and partying, especially among young people, who like to give each other Christmas cakes, which you can order together with your osechi already.

While I was browsing this year’s Christmas cake catalog for something with the most amount of chocolate, I came across these little gems:

cakes for dogs and catsYes, these are cakes especially for cats and dogs. Not pet food though, real sweet cakes that we could eat as well; the one on the left is a cheese souffle properly decorated with Christmas ornaments. It’s not as if I haven’t seen this before, people do feed their pets pretty much anything and to a point, I can understand that you want to celebrate with your pet – even though they couldn’t care less about Christmas or any other holiday.

But the price here is preposterous! 1958 YEN (after taxes) for a cheese souffle of 11 cm diameter? Really? The cheapest one for humans is 1728 YEN, and that one’s 15 cm in diameter. Are people really so much in love with their pets that they would buy something like that, something the cat would probably appreciate less than a can of tuna? Obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t be offered. Oh well… different strokes for different folks. And their pets.

Performance

Last Sunday afternoon, so as not to get too anxious while waiting for the election results to come in, I did something unusual for me: I was watching paint dry. This is not a joke, I mean it literally!

There was a performance by a young woman called Shintaku Kanako. Essentially, she covers her body with paint of different colors, waits motionless until it dries through body heat, which takes about 20 minutes, and then applies another layer of paint etc. That’s all she does throughout the performances, she just sits on a chair and uses her hands to put paint over her body. Sometimes she’s stretching too (I guess the chair is uncomfortable) but she does not speak or anything. And her performances are long, this one was 3.5 hours in total.

So… yes, that’s what I did last Sunday: watching paint dry for about 1.5 hours. The performance is rather boring to be perfectly honest, the other visitors were most interesting. Another artist from Hikone struck up a conversation, and there was the old guy who took about a gazillion of photographs of her – I found him rather creepy. That’s what is really exciting about the performance: the resulting photographs of her painted body are absolutely stunning. Something is in there that is hard to define, but I find it very compelling. My favourite one is at the main page of Shintaku Kanako’s website. Feel free to check out her other photos there or on instagram.

Austrian Elections 2019

Last Sunday there were general elections in Austria – less than 2 years after the last one. I was ready to stay up all night to wait for a good projection of the final result. However, in the end, it was all very clear from the beginning, and now we have this here (Taken from wahl19.bmi.gv.at/ Note that we have a 4% hurdle to enter the parliament):

Result of Austrian General Elections 2019.

As expected, the old chancellor has won (turquoise), the green party is back in parliament and the small party JETZT, which essentially killed the green party at the last elections, did not survive this one. Rather unexpectedly, the (red) social democrats lost enough to make this the worst result in the party history.

Biggest surprise of the evening: The crash of the right-wingers (blue), who lost a whopping 10% and will probably not in the next government anymore. I am so thrilled! Because it means that we don’t have quite as many idiots in Austria as some people might want to believe. That’s definitely worth celebrating.

Blood Type Personality

From times immemorial, people have tried to come up with ways to make sense of another person’s personality. One way of doing so is to use astrology, where the stars you are born under supposedly influence your personality and the good and bad things happening to you throughout your life. A recent and much more scientific take on personality are the Big Five personality traits that are more or less backed up by psychological research and at least don’t try to predict what’s going to happen to you next week.

Japan however – or should I say: of course – is different. Instead of asking a person for their birth date or astrological sign, the standard question asks for blood type. Supposedly, whether you have A, B, AB, or 0 blood type tells people everything there is to know about your personality, and, of course, with which partner you are most compatible. Let’s list some of the traits upfront:

blood types by 200 degrees on pixabay

Type A: kind, compassionate, sensitive, calm, curious, loyal, idealistic, deep and committed but also obsessive, pessimistic, fastidious, stubborn, and easily stressed.

Type B: friendly, outgoing, energetic, expressive, curious, creative, imaginative, independent, and spontaneous but also wild, erratic, not forgiving, selfish, uncooperative, irresponsible, and unpredictable.

Type AB: independent, outgoing, spontaneous, energetic, fun-loving, quick, adaptable, and creative but also complicated, self-centered, irresponsible, vulnerable, indecisive, forgetful, unforgiving, and critical.

Type 0: responsible, practical, strategic, organised, determined, decisive, objective, success-oriented and logical but also jealous, rude, ruthless, insensitive, unpunctual, unpredictable, cold, self-centered and arrogant.

And as for finding the perfect partner: The individual types are best compatible with their own type and with AB, which makes AB blood types the universal donor/recipient in this case.

So, when in Japan, it is good to know your blood type to have a fun conversation topic. Obviously, most Japanese do not believe in this at all, just like most Western people don’t believe in astrology or palm reading. It’s a fun little thing to know and then we all move on with our lives because it doesn’t matter.

Milky Way over Great Dunes National Park, US.

Obviously, we do not know who came up with astrology, that is, with the idea that the stars influence life on Earth into a personal level. Of course, when you look at the sky and see the Milky Way every night and its billions of stars, that conclusion does not appear that far-fetched.

Anyway, concerning the blood type theory, we can pin down its origins to a string of people from Japan. Aristotle already believed that personality is inherited through the blood (and may very well be, if you call it by the modern name genetics). However, it really all started in 1901 when my fellow Austrian Karl Landsteiner discovered the AB0 blood types (he received the 1930 Nobel Prize for this, by the way.)

In 1926, Rin Hirano and Tomita Yashima published a clearly racist article called “Blood Type Biologically Related” in an army medical journal. A year later, a professor at Tokyo Women’s Teacher’s School who had no medical training whatsoever, Takeji Furukawa, published a paper on temperament through blood type. The militarist government of the 1930s loved the idea and used it in an attempt to breed better soldiers and to explain the superiority of the ethnic  Japanese over minorities like the Ainu or other countries’ citizens, like the Koreans and Taiwanese. This may have contributed to some of the atrocities being committed in WWII, but thankfully, the idea fell from grace during that time already.

Until, in the 1970s, Masahiko Nomi came along and breathed fresh air into the blood type personality theory, and this time, the Japanese public went with it. Of course, Nomi had no medial training either, but this did not deter him from publishing papers with what he thought was statistically significant data. His son continued in the father’s footsteps, and even established an institute for further research and publication in 2004.

Serious medical/psychological research has been done on the claims of blood type personality, and it did not find any statistically relevant correlations. What little evidence these researchers have found can be explained with the Barnum-effect, with self-fulfilling prophecies, or with similar logical fallacies.

Still, Japanese people are fond of the idea, and blood types are often mentioned in manga, anime, and video games and are even given to serious match making services. To each their own I guess – we have astrology, after all.

PS: In case you’re wondering about me and my blood type: No, it is not true at all what it says about me. I am always VERY punctual!

Hobonichi Techo

Japanese people love notebooks and daily planners. Virtually everybody has a smart/mobile phone these days where you can list your appointments and other stuff. And yet, virtually everybody still owns a diary in book form too.

There are dozens of different types to choose from, from the simple monthly planners that fit into every pocket to the large daily ones that are not meant to leave an executive’s desk. Plus they often come with different covers as well, showing cute animals or famous Disney characters, or they are simply bound in real leather.

It is never too early to get your diary for the next year if you want to have the biggest selection, and in fact, my local book store has started displaying 2020 diaries already a couple of weeks ago. And, wouldn’t you believe it: I just bought a 2020 diary myself today…

Mostly, I am quite practically inclined: As long as the thing is doing what I want it to do, I don’t mind the design; function before form at any time. Also, if something works, I am a very faithful customer, and I will keep coming back to the same thing. For example, my diary for appointments is a small and lightweight affair that I (try to) take with me everywhere. Its simple weekly layout is straightforward and has just enough space for the few appointments I have.

However, I also need a larger planner for my daily and monthly to-do lists and long-term plans etc., and this one stays on my desk at all times. This year, I have been using two separate planners for this, plus another list to keep track of my spending, plus another notebook for random ideas plus a countless number of loose papers for all sorts of things I want to remember or note down for later. Like most of my nerdy friends, I love paper, but it’s a mess, really.

So, I have decided to find a single planner that can hold all my daily writings, from to-do-lists to interesting quotes I find online, from birthday reminders to weight tracking… I went to one of the larger stationery stores in town and spent about an hour looking through most of the planners on display and being slightly dissatisfied with each and every one of them. But just before I was ready to settle for something not-quite-right-but-almost-there, I took one more turn and found the thing:

The Hobonichi Techo. (*)

It’s a nerd’s dream of a daily planner, very simple, and yet with a huge amount of space to write in. It has lots of practical little features, and the smell of the fresh paper… heavenly, I tell you! It comes with a little manga (of course) to explain how to get the most out of it, and the company even has youtube videos to do the same, like this one for the 2020 version:

I haven’t even used the thing yet, and I’m already a fan (that smell alone!) And I’m not the only one, judging from the large amount of unboxing videos for the Hobonichi Techo on youtube. Check out the company website, it’s very interesting, especially the timeline of the last 19 years showing how the Techo started out with 12,000 copies in 2001 and has reached 850,000 copies this year. Fascinating! I can’t wait to use it – and it’s 3 months still to go!

(*) Hobonichi means something like “almost every day” and techo is the Japanese word for notebook or diary. Note that techo is pronounced with a cho like in… chocolate and not like in the English word tech.

Storage

It is a well-known fact that Japanese homes are small, in particular those in the big cities. I can consider myself lucky that I can afford a nice apartment with 60 square meters, which does meet all my storage needs so far. In all my rooms except the kitchen/dining room, I have what is called an oshiire, a large closet that is 80 cm deep and as high as the room. The name literally means “to push/shove in”, and in the olden days, when everybody still slept on a futon, they were mainly used to store the family’s bedding during the day.

The oshiire in my apartment have two large compartments at the bottom that reach up to about 175 cm, and another smaller one on top of that reaching to the ceiling. Because I am rather short, this is where I store things I don’t need often; in case of the oshiire in my bedroom, I put my out-of season clothing up there, as well as currently unused bedding and linens etc.

I guess I have to confess that I’m a bit stingy – I avoid buying stuff that I don’t strictly need, for example if I already own something that can be repurposed, I’d rather go with that cheap option. In the case of boxes to put in my unused clothes, I simply used the moving boxes they came in 5 years ago – a perfectly good solution. Or so it seems, until you find out that those boxes are rather large (around 1/4 of a cubic metre for the big ones) and can weigh up to 20 kilos. And it’s no fun to lift them up over your head while balancing on a stool so you can push them into the top of that oshiire…

I am nothing but stubborn, so I did that for two of these large boxes – 40 kilos in total – twice a year in spring and late autumn. But now, the time has come, I’ve finally had enough of this, especially as the moving boxes are now finally breaking apart anyway – that’s me dropping them every now and then because they got too heavy to balance over my head.

So, after 5 years of living here I have given in and bought rather standard plastic storage boxes that are half the size and thus much easier to handle and lift, while still fitting all of what I need to pack away each season. I’m feeling mightily accomplished and like a real adult! Here’s the before and after – I’m wondering what’s next on my list of adult things to buy…

storage boxes before and after

Paprika

Paprika
Yasutaka Tsutsui

Cover for "Paprika"Atsuko Chiba has it all: The beautiful and brilliant psychiatrist is on the way to win a Nobel Prize for her work with mentally ill patients, using the PT device invented by her colleague Kosaku Tokita. As her alter ego, the “dream detective” Paprika, she uses the new machines to visit the dreams of patients, where she tries to find out the source behind their problems and attempts to cure them. This part of Atsuko’s work is illegal, but Paprika keeps being called upon by the rich and powerful in need of clandestine treatment.

When a greatly improved version of the PT device, the DC Mini, goes missing, Atsuko and Paprika are quickly drawn into an abyss of unhealthy dreams that take over the minds of colleagues and friends. Together, they need all the help they can get to keep the dream world and its nightmares from invading the real world…

I’m in two minds about this book. I greatly enjoyed the premise and the smart way of mixing dreams and reality. Towards the end of the book, you really don’t know where you are anymore. Unfortunately, Atsuko/Paprika was a typical Mary Sue character: beautiful, highly intelligent, every man would fall in love with her the moment he laid eyes upon her… It got too much pretty soon. Also, despite having a “strong” female main character, the book was full of misogyny. Part of it are the personalities of the two main antagonists, but part of it appears to be the views of the writer too, unfortunately. Saving grace in this respect is that the book was published back in 1993, and hopefully, Japanese views on women have changed in the last 15 years. Not really a recommendation, read at your own peril!

Yasutaka Tsutsui was born in Osaka in 1934 and lives in Tokyo. His works have laid the basis for Japanese postmodern science fiction and he often integrates psychoanalysis, surrealism, time travel, dream worlds etc. A number of his books have been adapted for tv or cinema. He is the recipient of the renowned Tanizaki Prize (1987) and the Kawabata Prize (1989), among others.

Probably the most controversial book I have posted on here. Make up your own mind with a copy from amazon.

Opportunities

What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been very busy with moving What’s up in Kyoto to the next level. So far, I did all of that work on that website for free, a very time-consuming hobby indeed. But now I am gearing up to allow advertising on the site, and a friend of mine has helped me draft some letters for various businesses that I’ll get translated into Japanese and then start sending off in the hope of getting some income.

Also, I have devised a cunning plan to drive more visitors to the website, but I’ll need to do a little bit more research on this one. Essentially it is involving all the international conferences that are organised locally by universities; scientists are curious and would appreciate a list of things to do in Kyoto, I’m sure.

On top of that, to bridge the money chasm while I’m waiting for all those advertisements to come in, I have applied for a writer’s position at a local English magazine geared towards foreign visitors. That was some two months ago, and: I received a no.

However, I still went there today for an interview. The people in charge were impressed with the What’s up in Kyoto website and all the other experience I have concerning social media and online publishing, so they are considering me as their new, actually: their very first webmistress!

Their current website and online presence has been quite neglected, and we were talking  how to put it on better feet for now. I left with a good feeling and quite some excitement about me getting to learn all sorts of new things. And I kinda sorta got invited to their next staff meeting. Does that mean that I’m hired already?