Taiko

Among the many types of traditional Japanese music instruments, taiko drums are probably the most exciting. They have been used in many settings, including court music and theater – both noh and kabuki – but the biggest taiko drums were used during warfare. There, they were used chiefly for communication, to let the troops know when to attack or to retreat, or simply to keep the beat during long marches.

Today, these large drums are often played during festivals, and then, it’s usually in the form of a kumi-daiko, where a group of people with different sized drums performs together. I enjoy listening to taiko music, it is – excuse the pun – always very upbeat and energising. The video below shows a performance by Kodo, which is probably the taiko troupe that is best known outside of Japan, since they are touring abroad for four months each year.

The video is 8:24 long and safe for work – although you might want to turn the volume down a bit.

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What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been procrastinating for quite a while now on something that’s rather important for my What’s up in Kyoto website. Yes, I have been very busy with other ventures that actually are paying my bills, but ultimately, that’s an excuse.

What I need to do to drive my business forward is to get word about What’s up in Kyoto out there, to people who matter. Users, i.e., tourists, first and foremost, but also to local museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, hotels… you name it.

So, I need to write advertisement letters, preferably different ones depending on the recipient. And I’m so not good at writing those… By now I have learnt to talk about my accomplishments without feeling impostor syndrome. Some of the things I have done I’m actually really proud of. But these advertisements are different, they are more on a level: Look, I’m so great and you definitely need to work with me. That verges on bragging, and I’m so not good at doing that.

The fun thing is that with all the writing I have done lately, about smartphones and hotels and other stuff; if I have to write copy about other people or businesses, it’s actually not that difficult. But doing the same for me, it feels quite wrong, somehow. However, I’ll have to try to push through this obstacle. Wouldn’t be the first one where everything is much easier once you’re on the other side…

Paper Addiction

Hi, my name is Iris, and I’m a paper addict. Yes, you hear that right: I love paper and the things that are made from them.

Mainly books, of course. There is nothing more wonderful than the smell of a freshly printed book or magazine or even newspaper. My favourite book smell is emanated by the Springer LNCS (Lecture notes on Computer Science) series, right when the books come out of the plastic wrapping from shipping. The smooth, glossy pages are wonderful, but the smell…

I have met many nerds and their vast libraries, and pretty much all of us are very protective of our books. Every time I see somebody dog-earing a book or, even worse, marking in it, I have to exercise great restraint not to become homicidal… But that’s a topic for another time. Because here, I want to talk about paper, and my love for paper goes beyond books.

I love letter paper and can hardly pass by postcards in the museums I am visiting (even though I’m not writing many of either these days). And I love notebooks. Notebooks of all sizes, of all prices, from the lovely paperblanks to standard notebooks for school, whether squared or lined or blank.

And the nice thing about Japan is that the Japanese seem to share my enthusiasm for paper. Many people still have paper diaries, even though pretty much everybody carries a smartphone these days. Bookstores are always full with people of all ages, and so are libraries. And there are many stationary shops selling notebooks, and: They come in all colors. I love making colorful statements too, so I couldn’t resist (and yes, I did try) getting the whole septcouleur notebook collection:

Septcouleur Japanese Notebooks

Lovely, aren’t they? Even though they only come lined, whereas I prefer squared paper (the mathematician in me, I guess), but they’re still great. Now I just need to give myself permission to actually use them.

Because, the interesting thing is, that while I still do a lot of “real” writing on paper, most of it is not meant to be kept, so I use scrap paper or the back of old flyers for example. I do hope I can break this habit somehow so I can use my new notebooks – maybe I should just start writing more interesting stuff? (I actually did already, but more on that one later ;-))

The Goddess Chronicle

The Goddess Chronicle
Natsuo Kirino

Cover for The Goddess Chronicle16-year-old Namima has just – against her will – been ordained to become the priestess of darkness on a tiny island called Umihebi. Obviously not content with her lot of living on the cemetary and watching the dead for the rest of her life, she flees with Mahito, her secret lover, who is just as outcast from the island’s society as she is. But when Namima gives birth to their child, she is killed by Mahito, who returns to Umihebi with their daughter. Meanwhile, Namima descends to the netherworld, where, grief-stricken, she becomes a priestess of Isanami, the powerful goddess of Death. Will the goddess allow Namima to return to the world of the living to seek closure – or maybe even revenge?

This is a beautifully tragic story about what women are often expected to bear under the name of tradition, or religion, or simply because they are considered “the weaker sex”. And even so, the women are the important and strong characters here, both in life and in death.

I love this book, I keep coming back to it ever so often. The story of Namima – the parts about the priestess of darkness on Umihebi – is based on ancient Okinawan traditions; whereas Izanami and Izanaki are the two gods who – according to the Kojiki – once created Japan. The stories are masterfully interwoven although totally different – and still they have something in common: the female Namima/Izanami has to suffer death, while the male Mahito/Izanagi lives happily ever after – until something unexpected happens…

Natsuo Kirino is the pen name of Mariko Hashioka, a female Japanese novelist born in 1951. She earned a law degree in 1974 and dabbled in different kinds of jobs before starting to write about 10 years later. At first, she wrote romances for women, but as this genre is not very popular in Japan, she turned to mysteries. Although she is very successful as a mystery writer, and even received the renowned Naoki Prize for fiction, she says that she does not like to read mysteries herself. For The Goddess Chronicle, she received the 2009 Murasaki Shikibu Prize for Literature.

Find out for yourself what happens to Namima and Mahito and if there is a happy ending after all: get the book from amazon.

Disintegrating

Sorry for not writing (again), I have been extremely busy the last week (again). And then on top of that, there were a number of appointments I had as well…

logo of kyotogramOne of them was a party in Osaka. Do you remember Kyotogram – the facebook page I wrote for? The department moved back to Osaka about 9 months ago, and now, the department head is quitting his job. He already has a new one in Nagoya – working for Legoland Japan. He seems to be very excited about the new challenge, and challenge indeed it is – whereas Lego is a huge brand in Europe, it is not well-known in Japan. So, as the managing director for “everything digital”, he will be first and foremost responsible to raise the awareness of Lego in Japan.

With the department head gone, the whole department is disintegrating. One of the programmers has already left, “Junior” will leave next month as well to become a copywriter in an advertisement company. Then there is my friend, whom I have met a few weeks back because she wanted to talk about going self-employed (Don’t do it!). Only a single one of the department is not planning on leaving (or so he claims), and he will be responsible to push the single thing that came out of the Kyoto adventure forward.

It’s a pity to see things falling apart. Even I am sorry about this, how hard must this be for the head of the department? I feel for him and hope that he’ll have more long-term success up in Nagoya. Good luck, shitsucho!

Safety

Japanese police logoLast Sunday afternoon, while I was busy working, it rang on my door. When I opened, I got worried: There was a policeman with a small file in his hands and an inquisitive look on his face.

It was pretty harmless though, because once he had made sure that I was indeed the person living here, he explained why he had come. Once a year, the local Koban – a very small type of police station with only a handful of officers – sends out their officers into their neighborhood to visit every household. There, they make a list of the people who live there and then ask for a contact person in case of emergency.

The idea is that if you had an accident for example, and you would need assistance (going to a hospital), the police would call that contact person for you so you don’t have to face things on your own. For most people, this is a family member, like a spouse or parent. Since I have no family in Japan, I gave the name and number of a friend of mine. The officer assured me that this information would be kept only at the local koban, and not entered into an online database or even into a computer. Just the paper, ma’am (Japanese LOVE paperwork).

Since then, I have asked a couple of friends whether this is usual, and they said yes, this was normal all over Japan. It is one way of showing concern for the citizens, and also a way for the officers in the Koban to know their neighborhood.

I think this is a smart idea, especially for people who live alone or have no family nearby. When you have an accident at home, your neighbors probably know whom to call, but if you’re collapsing on a trip somewhere, then at there is that knowledge that there is a phone number somewhere at a safe place. Always good to know that you’re not completely alone. 

Embarrassment

As you know, I’m pretty busy, and I have not much time for things outside work, so much so that I’m behind on even my daily news. Not owning a TV or smartphone certainly contributes to that, but I’m always saying that if something is  important, the news will come to me because somebody will tell me about it.

And indeed, today, very first thing in my Japanese class, my teacher told me about Shinzo Abe nominating Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m rarely ever speechless, but my jaw dropped on this one. How on earth… Apparently it’s because of the negotiations in Korea – where, I have to state, the Koreans have had an on-off relationship across the border for decades before Trump came along. And apparently, it’s because the American government “asked” the Japanese one for that “favour”.

Somebody is crazy in here, and I’m not entirely sure who it is. First of all: I didn’t know you can ask to be nominated for a Nobel Prize. Probably, since the Nobel Peace Prize is a farce anyway, this one doesn’t matter, but does that work for the Nobel Prizes in Science as well?

Second: How disturbed must somebody be to ask for such a “favour”? Assuming this is true (and Abe does not openly deny it), then is this another move of Trump to outdo Obama?

Third: Another disturbing thing is that now other (right-wing) politicians have come forward and also said they have nominated Trump. Don’t they see that he’s pissing off the rest of the world at the same time? Living in Japan, I can honestly say that what scares me about the Korea crisis is not so much Kim, but the big American brother. I think I mentioned this before somewhere.

It’s unbelievable! My teacher says he is greatly embarrassed by Abe, and he worries that Japan will be seen as the world’s laughing-stock. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it does seem to make the headlines. What is it these days – the world seems to be full with politicians whose only goal is to embarrass themselves and their country (and yes, Austrian politicians do the same, just on a slightly smaller scale).

Experiences

What's up in Kyoto square logoIt’s finally live! I’ve been working on an experiences page for What’s up in Kyoto and just added it to the website. It’s about things to do in Kyoto beyond sightseeing, and I started a few basic things I could think of. There are more things I’d like to try myself first, like the river boat ride or the special train ride that you can take only in summer, both over in Arashiyama. It will be nice to make new experiences and share them on the website.

Actually, that’s already what I’m doing this year: making new experiences. Fun fact: When I was around 16, I wanted to become a journalist. Interviewing pop stars and such. Well, obviously my life turned out differently, but this year, I am learning how to do interviews! Every new museum highlight on What’s up in Kyoto has a section “Questions to the Curator” and I’m actually going there and having a chat with them (with my trusted friend Naoko, who is translating) instead of just doing it by email.

They do get the questions beforehand and they do get a say in the final version that is published on the website, so, strictly speaking, it’s not a classic, free form interview. Still, I am very proud of myself that I’m pulling this off and I’m learning a lot of how to let people talk and taking back my own view point for a while at least. I’m very curious about the other people I will meet through this – I cannot wait making more new experiences.

Artistic

Neon Sign Spelling ARTIt’s a bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m not sure February Resolutions are a thing, but I guess I found an overarching theme for the coming year:

Learn about art.

Yes I know, I have barely time for anything right now, but it does tie in with my What’s up in Kyoto highlight theme this year, which is all about museums in Kyoto. Every month I will highlight another little museum in Kyoto, so I have to go there and look at their (current) exhibition and learn about what that is and who the artist is etc.

This is a part of my education where I am sorely lacking. I had art and music classes only in elementary and middle school, there was nothing at all in high school, and although I could not say for sure any more, I think we didn’t even talk about art history. My history teacher wasn’t interested in that, and my German language teacher never even forced us to read full books, he was more of a short story guy that we got to emulate during our tests.

So, I think this is a nice opportunity to learn something new. I have visited several museums already, and I am definitely interested in the exhibitions. I always liked sculptures and applied arts but still don’t know how to approach ceramics or Japanese calligraphy. Interestingly, I seem to like modern (abstract) paintings, something that comes quite as a surprise to me.

I always thought abstract paintings have no … value or no point to them (hard to express what I mean here). But now that I’m actively seeking out new experiences I find abstract art very interesting. They are beyond form and beyond an understanding that relies on depicting the obvious. Some of them completely bypass the brain and hit you in the guts. I have had very strong feelings to a few I have seen lately, and it does surprise me, as I said.

Anyway, learning about art will be my big thing to learn this year. I’ll keep you posted how it’s going.

Efficiency

As you all know – because I have complained about it often enough – there is a construction site next door, where the shopping mall is enlarged considerably. Every time I pass by, I marvel at the efficiency of the work crew and how quickly they are getting things done. By now they are starting to erect the steel frame, and they are very fast in doing so. I took the photo below last week, and they have already put up a new section.

One of the guys guarding the gates knows me already and we chat every now and then when I try to get a closer look. He said that the new mall is supposed to open in December this year, and by the looks of it, they are going to achieve this.

I wish I could be just as fast and efficient as they are. Guess I need to work on that a bit more…

Construction Site next door