The Key

The Key
Junichiro Tanizaki

Cover of "The Key" by Junichiro TanizakiIn our diaries, we may write our most intimate thoughts and desires, safe in the knowledge that no eyes other than ours will ever read them.

This is not the case for an elderly professor and his attractive young wife. Their married life has become dull and although they would never openly admit this to each other, they cannot suppress their desires for ever. So, each of them starts a diary to write about the things they cannot say openly. Although they carefully hide the books, they do expect the other to find and read it. The diaries, mutually read, soon provide the key to spice up their marriage, but things become rather complicated when Kimura, a young colleague of the professor’s arrives on the scene and arouses not only the daughter of the house but also the wife.

We read the entries of both diaries and follow the story of love and jealousy, sexual desires and their fulfillment. Both partners play their respective games, innocent in their talking, but highly dangerous in their writings. In the end the fire of their lust is all-consuming – was this what they wanted all along?

An interesting book, almost a psychological study. If you know something about your partner you shouldn’t know – how do you deal with it? Confront him openly? Get what you want – or what he wants – by sly manipulations? The end of the book comes with a shocking confession and nothing is what it seems…

Junichiro Tanizaki (1886 – 1965), born in Tokyo, was one of the most popular modern writers of Japan. He began his literary career in 1909, and only a year later, he was well-known in literary circles. Many of his writings have sexuality and desire as their focus. In 1923, when he moved to Kyoto after the great Kanto Earthquake that destroyed great parts of Tokyo and Yokohama, his career was boosted to new heights, and after WWII, he was regarded as Japan’s greatest contemporary author. In 1949, he won the Asahi Prize and was awarded the Japanese Order of Culture, and in 1964, he was elected as honorary member in the merican Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as the first Japanese writer. He died of a heart attack shortly before his 79th birthday.

Interested in spicing up your own marriage? Well, have a look what Tanizaki is doing here and get the book from amazon!

Eventful Week

Wow! I have just had the most eventful (and stressful) week in a long time! All week I’ve been out every day going somewhere, something I usually don’t do because it stresses me out, but this week was so much to do and see that I just had to go out of my shell a bit more.

It started last Saturday when I went to see Kyogen at Shinsen-en, a small temple near Nijo Castle. Shinsen Kyogen were started in 1903, and there are 30 different pantomimes, each taking about 50 minutes. I saw two of them on Saturday. One was about a thief being punished, the second one about a spider monster being caught somewhere in the woods. Especially the second one was very dynamic with spectacular fight scenes – imagine my surprise when the black spider jumped from the stage at first floor, and the two samurai with their drawn swords right after them!

7 kinds of sakeOn Monday I went to Fushimi Momoyama in southern Kyoto to a sake tasting. It was a three-hour event where in total I tasted 10 different types of sake, the first sip solo, the second sip paired with food. It was more a lesson than a tasting, and it was so good, I feel quite confident of being able to go to a shop and buying not just any sake, but choosing one that I like. I was invited to a private tour because the company doing it wants to increase their online presence; I promised to write about them both on What’s Up In Kyoto, and on this blog as well, so stay tuned!

I had two work meetings on Tuesday, so nothing special, but yesterday I went to Kibune in northern Kyoto to see the Hitaki-sai Festival at Kifune Shrine, one of my favourites. During the Hitaki-sai, wooden prayer sticks gathered over the last year are ritually burned as supplication to the gods, and the ceremony was very interesting and fun – in the end, visitors were invited to throw sticks into the fire as well. Kibune town was badly hit during typhoon Jebi in September, on the road to it, many trees were uprooted, and my favourite house in somewhat European style is gone – I heard it was hit by fallen trees, but nobody got injured.

And today, I spend in Ohara, a small town north on Kyoto, with one of my English students. We do these trips occasionally, and I asked her to come along to see the Ohara-me festival. Ohara-me were women in special dresses, who would walk all the way to Kyoto carrying firewood or sometimes flowers in baskets on their heads in order to sell them in town. Unfortunately, although the festival is said to be held for two weeks, we couldn’t find any sign of it – probably the big things happen only in the weekends?Garden of Sanzenin TempleIn any case, we did make good use of the time we spent in Ohara, because we went to Sanzen-in Temple, a huge Zen temple where in the olden days, retired emperors would go to and live. At the moment, it is a little bit too early for the momiji, even though some of the maples had already colored leaves. Of course, there are many shops lining the little lane to the temple, and on the way back, we made it our goal to visit every single one of them! I did buy a few presents for friends, so it was a very successful day indeed!

As you can see, I’ve had a very successful week – and it’s not over yet! Tomorrow I’ll visit a friend of mine, and on Sunday, there is the “Tengu Festival” at a temple far out in the mountains of Arashiyama. I’m not sure about that one because the week was very tiring and I do have to get some work done as well, but I am very, very tempted indeed…


It finally happened, it’s getting cold again, and I broke down… The Japanese have a fantastic array of special clothing for winter: From special high-tech underwear called “heat tech” to thin down jackets for indoors to fluffy and very kawaii onesies for kids and adults, all of this is designed to keep you warm when you must leave the one and only heated area of the house. And yes, after five years in Japan, I finally bought myself one of these things to keep me warm.

Fluffy boots in pinkIn case you were hoping for a picture of me in one of those pink onesies with bunny-eared hoodie, I have to disappoint you: I didn’t go quite that far. I did go pink though and bought a pair of … let’s call them boots, to keep my feet warm which is really important because I am feeling very uncomfortable – to the point of getting cranky – when I have cold feet (or a cold back, by the way). I agree, these things are not quite as cute as I had hoped for, but as they are made of glorified plastic, aka polyester, they do what I expected of them – keeping my tootsies warm.

I am feeling very Japanese now! Not like a particularly elegant one, mind you, but it is a start!

Writer in Kyoto!

All the way back in July, when I had fun selling chimaki at the Ofunehoko, I met two other foreigners working there. One of them suggested – upon hearing that I’m writing a blog – that I should become a member of the group Writers in Kyoto. This is nothing less (or more) than a group of (mostly) foreigners living and writing in Kyoto, often about Japanese topics.

Everything needs to be pondered thoroughly, but finally, last week, I did the deed (meaning: I paid the fees) and became a member of Writers in Kyoto. It’s about 45 people right now, and they are serious writers, with a large number of books, poems, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. published among them. To be very honest, I’m slightly intimidated, me with my little personal blog here complaining about the weather, compared to all them big shots… It’ll be fine I think, once I get to know some of them in person – so far I have only communicated with the head of the group per email.

logo of writers in KyotoAnd wouldn’t you believe it, I already got homework! Well, it’s a group of writers, so I should have guessed that sooner or later they would want me to write some thing or other. And, as makes for proper beginning in Japan, it’s supposed to be a self-introduction. I have promised it “by the end of this week”, and it will be published on their site that I have linked above. For all my fans of old here, don’t expect big news. I guess a heavily condensed version of my blog posts of the last 6 years will do nicely. For now.

Painted Fan

Folding fans are a popular summer accessory in Japan, for both men and women. There are literally hundreds of designs that may even depend on the exact time of the year you are using them… For a long time, these sensu have been a target of individual artistic expression, and many renowned ukiyo-e artists have not been above making designs for both sensu and uchiwa (non-folding fans).

So, even though I have no artistic fibre in my body, I went with two of my English students to a little sensu studio where we could paint our own fans with water colors. I was a bit reluctant at first, but they got me when they said “it’s a machiya, probably 100 years old…”

So, we went to the shop/atelier and sat down on a long table on the floor where everything had been prepared for us already. First, we had to choose the color of the paper (already in appropriate shape, then the design. You could either make your own design, or choose from dozens of already painted fans to trace over to your own paper and then color in according to the model. One of my students had come up with her own design (which is probably easy after 40 years of doing watercolors), my other student chose to copy a given design.

my friends paintingAnd then, we painted. For quite a long time because my students made a design that would cover both sides of the finished fan. I only had a simple design on a single side, so I was finished quite quickly (and then had lots of opportunity to be shown around the house ;-)) In the end, we had to choose the wood for the fan from three options. The shop would take it from there, fold our paintings properly and then insert the wooden part of the fan into the paper.

That was 4 weeks ago. Finally, last weekend, I received the result of my labour in a very beautiful package (and smelling a bit like incense), and actually, now that I see the final result, it is not as bad as I thought (you don’t have to agree, that’s fine!)

my handpainted fanI really don’t know how the shop did it, but the wood is indeed inside the paper, so it seems they have spliced the painted paper somehow to insert the spokes of the fan. Interesting, I did not think this would be possible. Anyway, I did have a fun afternoon, and even though the result looks like a child’s drawing, I am satisfied since it does represent my home back in Austria.

The Gardens of Jonan-gu

Jonan-gu is a shrine in the south of Kyoto, near Takeda station. It is said to date back to the establishment of Kyoto as Japan’s capital in the 8th century, but written history talks about it from the 11th century, when retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa built the so-called Jonan Rikyu villa around the shrine. The gardens of the villa were extensive and became a popular watering hole for the aristocrats of the time. Even nowadays, the gardens of Jonan-gu are its most impressive feature, especially since the shrine buildings had to be replaced after a fire in the 1970s.

The Rakusuien Gardens of Jonan-gu measure an enormous 30.000 square metres. They were designed by famous garden architect Nakane Kinsaku in the 1960s, and comprise five different garden architectures that each mirror a popular garden design of a historic era. Altogether, the garden is home to about 150 plum trees, 300 camellia bushes, and 100 maples, which give the gardens a beautiful and changing atmosphere throughout the seasons. Furthermore, all the 80 plants that are explicitly mentioned in The Tale of Genji can be found in Rakusuien, and strolling through it gives the impression of taking a long walk through time.

When entering through the gate at the west side of the shrine precincts, at first there is  Spring Mountain, which boasts many beautiful pink plum trees in April, but is not quite so impressive during the other seasons.

Jonan-gu spring mountainWalk behind the honden – the main shrine building – into the eastern part of Rakusuien, the Heian Garden, which is dominated by water: With a pond, a waterfall, and a little stream winding through, these types of gardens were popular among aristocrats of the Heian period.Jonan-gu Heian GardenFurther along the path, you must cross the main road of the shrine and enter the southern part of Rakusuien, which boasts three different garden styles. First, there is the Muromachi Garden, where majestic stones surrounding a large pond dominate the scene. There is meaning throughout: the quiet Medaki waterfall in the foreground is considered female, the big one in the back – Odaki – is male. Horaijima island – the island of the immortal hermit – features pine trees as symbols of longevity. And the three large rocks on the other shore are meant to be Buddha and two Bosatsu, residing in the ideal Buddhist World. This part of the garden is especially beautiful during the autumn colours and in April and May, when wisteria and azaleas bloom.

Jonan-gu Muromachi gardenThe second garden you will encounter is the Momoyama Garden, whose large open lawn is meant to reference the Pacific Ocean. The trees at the back represent Japan’s mountains, and the black rocks within it the Japanese islands off the coast. Look for the pine that looks like a ship at the back right. This symbolises a European ship coming to Japan – Japan’s Momoyama era indeed saw the first Western people arrive from Europe.Jonan-gu Momoyama Garden in Winter

Take your time admiring both Muromachi and Momoyama Gardens from the Rakusuiken Tea House that lies right between them. Enjoy the view from there with a cup of green tea and a seasonal wagashi sweet. When you are ready to move on, have a look at the small Suisekitei gallery, where exhibits pertaining to the history of Jonan-gu are on display.

On your way towards the exit, you will see Jonan Rikyu, the third and last of the southern gardens. Again, this is a karesansui garden without water. This garden is meant to depict the time when Jonan Rikyu dominated the area, and again, there is a lot of hidden meaning in the design: The stones represent the river Kamo, the white pebbles the pond of the imperial villa, and the big rocks in the garden are supposed to be the old buildings.Jonan Rikyu Garden in Jonan-gu Shrine

The Rakusuien gardens of Jonan-gu are worth taking the trip down south at any time of the year. And because the shrine is a bit off the beaten tracks, there are rarely enough visitors to make it feel crowded. I have only been to Jonan-gu in November and January, but I have seen stunning pictures of Spring Mountain, well, in spring. The one on top is not mine and by far not the best one out there! I guess I will have to take the trip down again next year!

Noh Costumes

All the way back in March, I visited an event called “Noh Translation”, an introduction into the ancient Japanese theatre form Noh. I wrote about it then, and tonight was another one of these events called “Discover Noh”. This time, the focus was on Noh costumes, in particular the ones worn at the play Hagoromo, which is a lovely little fairytale. Discover Noh flyerThe same three Noh actors were taking part again, and it was really interesting to learn in detail about the costumes, the significance of their patterns and their lifetime (about 50 years). We then saw an actor getting dressed – with the assistance of three people – and in the end, there was a short performance of the last bit of Hagoromo.

I am very busy these days, but I made a point to have this evening off to go to this event. I really enjoy Noh and would love to see more of these events, because it hardly ever happens that you can chat with a Noh actor about his job (and they are all very enthusiastic about it!) Maybe, I’ll talk a bit more about this at a later time, but I just came home and I’m quite tired and I have more work to do tomorrow, so…Good night!


Tuesday mornings I have Japanese class. Aiso Sensei is a retired English teacher who takes time out of his busy retiree life to teach Japanese to foreigners. Of course, he would not really say so, instead he phrases it as “we are studying Japanese together”. Lately, we have been talking about complex sentence structures, and although the topic is a bit too advanced for me, I am having fun and do learn a lot of new vocabulary and expressions.

Today we were talking about the “use of adversative conjugations” or, to put it more simply: How to use the word BUT. It sounds easier than it is, and if you think about it, even in English there are different expressions for “but” like “though, although, still, nevertheless, yet, however” and probably a whole bunch more, all of which have a slightly different connotation. We were talking about the following five different Japanese “buts” today:

  • monono or tohaimonono (ものの,とはいうものの): and yet, but still, that said…
  • toittemo (といっても): tough… 
  • nimokakawarazu (にもかかわらず): in spite of…
  • nagara (ながら): though I admit…
  • karatoitte (からといって): just because…

The last two are easy: Though I admit that chocolate makes me fat, I will not stop eating it. and Just because I speak English doesn’t mean I’m American. The first two are much more difficult to distinguish, because after both there should be a phrase “contrary to expectation”, which does depend on the context and the speaker. For example, the sentence: Although I am sick, I will go to work has a connotation of because it’s not that bad, really when using toittemo; and it implies an I’m feeling terrible, but I’ll do it anyway with monono.

So far, so complicated… The fun thing about today’s lesson were the exercises at the end of the chapter: ten sentences for five expressions, so each one was correct exactly twice (the instructions said that much). Since my sensei and I are studying Japanese together, we did the exercises together – and we promptly ran into issues where my sensei wanted to use decidedly more toittemo‘s than was expected… It was quite fun to watch him go “I’m sure this is the right answer here, but we already had it twice, so… where did we put the other two exactly?” In the end we did manage to use each expression exactly twice though. But I do wonder: How am I supposed to ever learn Japanese if the natives have problems already?

10 exercises for "but"

Bathroom TV

Within three days, two of my English students have shared their evening routine with me. And it is surprisingly similar: “First I have dinner, then I go have a bath, where I watch TV, and then I’m off to bed.” And I’m going: What do you mean – have a bath AND watch TV?

Bathtub with TV in front

Photo: SunGlassB on wikimedia commons.

Apparently, there is a sizeable number of Japanese homes that has a television installed in their bathrooms, so that people can watch TV while having their evening bath. Of course, both of my friends live in apartments or houses that are newer than my place, but still – a bathroom TV? Remember that in Japan, you are supposed to have a cleansing shower before entering the bathtub – which is usually quite small with not even enough place to stretch your legs. And still, there are people who take enough time in the tub to watch TV.

I don’t understand this. Wouldn’t that be the one time of the day (especially after a hard day) when you would want to have some peace and quiet? I don’t even understand having a radio in the bathroom, but some people find it practical, especially in the morning. How many of you have a TV or radio installed in their bathroom?


Sorry for not writing in the weekend, I’m pretty swamped with work right now (more smartphone descriptions) and I need to watch my priorities…Things should be better next week, I hope!

Other businesses are swamped with work as well, in particular Kyoto’s builders have their hands full with repairing the damages from typhoon Jebi from September 4th. For example, Kurama in the northern part of Kyoto is still not accessible by railway, and I have heard that the temple in the mountains there has suffered severe damage. Here in town, things are ever so slowly improving. Only yesterday, the roof on the neighboring building that had been closed with a plastic tarp and a bit of duct tape has been fixed.

raindrops on a windowOther things that are less critical will have to wait. For example, in my building, there is something wrong with the drain pipe at the building entrance. The water does not drain through the pipe anymore, but it accumulates somewhere and finally seeps through the walls. This has been going on for a couple of months now, it is not related to Jebi. However, there are no builders to be had right now to fix the problem, even though I hope something will be done quickly. Just the thought of having to replace the whole roof there because there is more serious underlying damage annoys me. I have talked to several people in the house, and I have been assured that the property management is aware of the issue and has taken steps – even if that step means that we will have to wait until somebody is not busy elsewhere anymore. We’ll see how long it will take in the end.