Cold…

It’s really cold in Kyoto right now. I’m sleeping with two sweaters and woollen socks because I feel chilled even underneath my thick woollen duvet with extra blanket on top. The house is so much colder than the old apartment; today I woke up to 4 degrees.

Also, it’s snowing again. In all my years in Kyoto, it has never snowed so often and so much as this winter. Of course, I still love the snow, but the novelty wears off quite quickly to be honest. It snowed all afternoon yesterday and all through the night, and it’s still snowing right now. This is my garden this morning at 8:30 am.

Pumpkin is not amused about the temperatures. He loves watching the birds outside, and I think he understands that they are freezing even more than he does. Right now he sits on my lap, purring, happily keeping me from work. I’ll have to relocate him soon…

Addicted to Paper

One thing you’ll find out very quickly when you have to move is: You have a lot of stuff. Possibly even way too much. My personal “way too much” is paper. Not paperwork or books, I don’t even dare mention these. I’m talking about plain, white, as yet unused paper.

This is all the paper I brought with me on my move: notebooks and booklets of all sizes. Large notepaper left over from my uni days, bound and unbound. Small loose sheets for taking notes by the phone. Tiny scratch pads for jutting down ideas on the move. One ream of printer paper for the office and another stack twice as high of old, one-sided printouts that can be reused. Just like the big old envelopes I have cut up for this purpose. There is also a collection of cardboard in all sizes, to reuse in art projects.

What is not there are my post-it notes in multiple colours and sizes (of course) and my collection of postcards and writing paper and corresponding envelopes. They form their own special mount doom upstairs.

Altogether, this was two moving boxes full of paper. With nothing written on it because partially used notebooks are elsewhere yet.

Do you think I have a problem?

Winter Wonderland

Today, I wanted to write about something completely different. But then, weather happened… It has snowed several days this winter already, which is quite unusual for Kyoto. Here’s Saginomori Jinja in the snow from last Friday. The snow has gone from the streets now, but it’s still pretty cold. Pumpkin does not approve and neither do I…

Greeting the Neighbours

One important thing to do when moving to a new neighbourhood – especially one that is purely residential, like mine – is to go and meet the neighbours. This is formally called “go-aisatsu”. When making this self-introduction, you’re expected to bring a small gift and express your hopes for a good neighbourly relationship.

Ideally, this is done as soon as you move in. In my case, there were several possible times to do my go-aisatsu: Just before the renovations started, the contractor informed the neighbours of the plans, and it would have been possible to come with him. And then, there was the weekend after the move. In the end, I opted to do it after the office renovations were completed. This way, I could introduce myself and at the same time promise that there would be no more noise in the foreseeable future

Thankfully, the neighbourhood to which you have to present yourself is pretty limited. The Japanese term is muko sangen, ryo donari – three opposite and two next door. I met families with kids and retirees. And some of them even speak (some) English. Yes, it will be a good life here.

My Guy

One of the reasons for my move was that I wanted a cat. And by a weird coincidence, I already owned a cat before I had packed a single box…

Meet Pumpkin. He is 11 years old, a distinguished gentleman in his best years. He moved in with me the week before Christmas, and we’re trying to make this relationship work. For now, it feels like having a secret lover in the office: There’s cuddles and kisses all night long, but during the day he goes “who are you – have we met?”

The following things I found out about him very quickly:

  • He loves heights and looking down on things. So, I bought a cat tree within a week of him moving in.
  • He is super curious. Every room, every oshiire storage, every box needs to be thoroughly inspected. Preferably daily.
  • He is adventurous too. The other day I made the mistake of letting him onto the balcony without watching him closely. He promptly made his way onto the roof on the first floor to explore, causing me a mild panic attack. He now demands to be let out daily for further adventures.
  • He loves kitty grass more than cat nip.
  • He also loves textures and enjoys chewing on bubble wrap and carton. His current favourite is a piece of wool. Thankfully, he spits it all out again.

He also likes to be in the same room with me, but to be fair, I’m kinda forcing him to. While he can roam most of the house quite freely, the house is freezing, and it’s only warm with me. We are slowly making progress, though, and I’m sure there’s more to find out about him. I hope I can give him a nice place to live in his final years.

And he deserves it. Before he became my Pumpkin, he lived under an alias with another family. In October, however, he was kicked out unexpectedly and for no good reason (they kept the other cat) and he needed a new place overnight. Through the Tamayuran, he ended up with a friend of mine, but she couldn’t keep him for good. So, in October already, I agreed to take him in – I always wanted an older cat – and he moved in with me as soon as the renovations were finished, and the house got quiet again.

That’s Pumpkin’s story so far. As I said, I’m sure there’s more to tell about him, but I’ll try not to make this into a kitty blog. You may see more pictures of him in the future, though. For now, I’m happy to say that he makes me laugh every day.

Office Renovations Diary

Finally, as promised (too) long ago, here’s the photo diary of my office renovations. It was very interesting to watch my office change over the course of only 3 weeks, so let’s start with the “before” again:

As you can see, everything was dark and brown and rather… 70s I guess? Since I’m prone to depression, replacing all this drabness with light colors was a no-brainer. Also, the sliding doors to the outside gave me negative vibes. Even though this is a purely residential neighborhood with no through traffic, and outsiders scouting out houses would be easily noticed, I felt that the doors directly at the street were unsafe. Not that a window is any more secure if you think of it, but this is not about logics, really.

Day 1

The brown walls and the floor boards have been removed, showing the underside of both. The walls are a traditional timber frame with bamboo slats in the centre, and covered with mud and plaster at the outside (or wood panels). As you can see, the whole house rests on foundation stones – quite literally. As the building is not fixed to the underground, there is a certain flexibility during earthquakes. I remember an old farm house in an open-air museum, which jumped more than a meter during an earthquake and remained essentially intact. Still, when I saw this, I understood why my architect called the house “not very safe – at least not for modern standards”.

Day 2+3

Two more days and the floor is back. So is additional wood framing that will carry the new walls. It looks all very neat and pleasant – and yet, I was not happy when I saw this… The wall at the left also has new wood framing, when instead I wanted it removed completely. Behind this wall lies the staircase, which has a large storage area underneath, and I wanted to access this storage from the office.

Additional tools and parts were stored in the garage from the beginning, including the window. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until that day that the window was not high enough – around 46 cm of glass only – so that was one more thing to complain about to the contractor. On the positive side, the electric cables for the new lights and electric socket had been installed already.

Day 4

The contractor came very early in the morning, and we negotiated the storage and the window. I had to compromise on the former: I only wanted the lower part of the wall removed to access the storage under the stairs, but the carpenter said the rest would become unstable and crack easily during earthquakes. So I decided to only have the full-sized oshiire opened instead. I did win the window, though: I opted for the largest size with a window pane of more than 80 cm, despite the additional costs. Given all the time I’ll spend in the office, I want it as bright as possible. The oshiire was opened up and the wall to the outside closed as necessary by the time I came home from work that day.

Day 5

Door and window frames are in place! The outside wall underneath the window has been covered with.. whatever this is, but it feels very rough. I guess it’s fire resistant; in any case it will be covered with plaster in the end. Inside, the frame for the office door has been installed instead of the two sliding doors. There is no wall there yet though.

Day 6

My office door has arrived and almost all the walls are done – inside and outside as well. The new portions of the walls are now only made with plaster board, and they have been insulated underneath with styrofoam. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there was any additional insulation done on the floor. I hope it won’t get too cold in winter…

Day 7

My window has arrived, and I feel like a winner! For the last few nights, I slept with a hole in my wall—literally—even though it was covered with a large wooden board. Now that the window is in place, I’m afraid the carpenter will have to use the door instead of jumping out of the hole for the window (guys…) The inside of the office is finished so far; all the walls, the ceiling, and the floor are done except for the wall covering and the flooring. Outside, the wall needs to be plastered and painted still.

Day 8

Instead of the carpenter, the decorator came to smooth out the walls in the office. This is necessary to make the wall covering look just like paint. For now, my office is a masterpiece in stripes.

Day 9

The wall paper was hung up today! Not sure if it’s wall paper, though – my architect called it “acrylic wall covering”. It is very thin, just like letter paper you put in the printer, and therefore, the walls underneath need to be very smooth. I love the way it looks, just like paint, as my architect promised. It is almost a bit too white at the moment, but I’m sure this will not last forever.

Day 10

When I came home today, the whole house reeked of glue, indicating that my office floor is finished! Initially, I wanted wooden floors, but unfortunately, they were a huge cost factor. To stay within budget, I went with vinyl floor boards instead, and I was quite surprised when I saw them. At first, I thought it was some wooden board covered in vinyl, but no: Just the vinyl, no wood involved at all. The boards were relatively thin, maybe 5 mm, and quite flexible throughout. I hope they will be sturdy enough to bear my weight on the office chair every day…

Day 11

After the inside, the outside wall has been painted too. I was surprised at how long it took, but most of the morning was spent on preparations: putting painter’s tape and plastic covers virtually everywhere. The actual work was done very quickly, just spraying on the paint. It is well matched to the rest of the walls on the first floor, it’s hardly visible where the old and the new paint meet.

Day 12

Final finishing touches today: The electric installation was done, I got a nice door stopper, and in the end, everything was cleaned nicely. What still needs to be done is a door for the oshiire, but that’s just a minor inconvenience right now. I’ll show you the final setup with furniture and all once the doors have been installed.

Conclusions

I’m very happy with the result, it’s almost a pity to move in with all the furniture and put the room to use. As you know, in the end, I had to wait another 5 days to get internet, so I had plenty of opportunity to admire my lovely and empty office.

What surprised me most about the whole thing were the workers: They were all very courteous and went out of their way to understand and help me. And even more so, everyone was very careful to clean up after himself. Even the carpenter, who came here every day for a week, cleaned the entire room every evening. Of course, a fine layer of sawdust was all over the hallway and first floor, but overall, I have never seen so clean a workplace.

So, I’d like to give a shoutout to two companies: First of all, Takeuchi Shoten and Mr. Kobayashi, the man who coordinated the whole renovation. He was very forthcoming with emails (upon my request instead of phone calls) and kept me in the loop at all times. He visited the house regularly to keep an eye on things, and even though we had that setback with the walls and window that delayed work a little, everything ran smoothly. Takeuchi Shoten specialises in small-scale renovations, so if you’re in Kyoto and need something done in your home, I definitely recommend them!

Second, I’d like to recommend my brilliant architect, Mr. Yamada from Yamada Architecture. He had lots of ideas that I couldn’t have thought of, and his suggestions proved invaluable and saved me a ton of money as well. He does a lot of large-scale renovations, Kyoto machiya in particular, but of course, he knows how to start from scratch as well. After spending more than 10 years in the US, he speaks perfect English, and he’s also licensed in California – if you plan on building a home there.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, wherever you’re reading this!

I finished this year’s work today and I’m quite exhausted. There are so many little things to do, not just at work, but in the house as well… For next week, I’m planning to get things done, mostly diy house improvements. Heck, I still have stuff in boxes!

So, I’m not sure if I find the strength for a post (I know I promised you the step-by-step of office renovations with photos…) but I will be online again in the New Year. I hope I can show a few more pictures, including some of the beautiful house-warming presents I got from my friends.

Until then, I hope you can get some rest over the holidays. Take care!

Saginomori Jinja

I’ve been exploring my new neighborhood, and there are some interesting sights nearby my house. I have visited the shrine a few times now, first time during the koyo, last time this afternoon. That’s why the trees go from full color to bare and back in the following photos.

Access to Saginomori Jinja

Saginomori means “Heron’s Forest”, and the shrine itself dates back more than 1000 years, to the beginning of the Heian Period. It was established at a different site at the foot of Mt. Hiei (which is not far from here), where it served as the ubusunagami (guardian deity of one’s birthplace) for seven villages. It was relocated to the present location in 1689. The shrine is dedicated to Susanoo-no-mikoto, the younger brother of sun goddess Amaterasu.

main hall of Saginomori Jinja

It is a relatively small shrine with a single dance stage and a worship hall at the end of a long access road that leads up the hill. The trees surrounding it, however, are majestic and look very old.

Dance Stage of Saginomori Jinja.

An interesting feature is the bridge at the southern entrance to the shrine. This little stone bridge was once part of Shugakuin Villa (not far from here either) where it spanned the Otowa river in front of the entrance. Many emperors walked over this bridge when they came to relax at Shugakuin, but today it’s for the likes of you and me, who take the shortcut to Manshu-in Temple via the steps right after it.

Emperor's Bridge at the south end of the shrine.

The collection of ema votive tablets – one for each of the 12 zodiacs – is very cute. I plan to buy one when I go there early next year for my hatsumode.

Ema Votive Tablets with 12 zodiac animals (and herons).

The shrine also boasts a large yaegaki stone wall and says that whoever touches it will be blessed with “good marital and romantic relationships”. Always worth a try, isn’t it?

Yaegaki Lucky Stone Wall

I’m Back – Online!

The miracle actually happened: I have internet at home again!

Looking back at the whole experience, I’m wondering if the guy last week wasn’t just a scout or something to see whether it’s worthwhile to show up with the big brigade. Because today, there was a team of no less than three people attending to my very personal internet cable:

  • 1 guy inside to lay the cable on a rather circuitous route (and through the brand-new hole) to the router in my office.
  • 1 guy outside to connect the cable from my house via the overhead electricity line to the next… whatever internet cables connect to on the other end.
  • And 1 more guy outside to set up signs and guide vehicles around the truck with the lifting ramp the second guy was working on. I think he had the easiest job of them all, since the road in front of my house doesn’t have through-traffic.

Anyway, I’m back online. And practically finished with my move. Of course, there are still plenty of boxes, mostly containing documents that will need to be stored in my great now two-way oshiire. Also, so far I have only thoroughly cleaned the office and the entrance, the designated furniture is still waiting in my living room.

And one more big thing… well, relatively speaking, will arrive tomorrow. And my bathroom is in shambles; I’m still brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink. But overall, we’re getting somewhere! I hope my house looks more presentable by the end of the year.

I’ll post more details and updates in the weeks to come. Look forward to a complete resume of my office renovations – with pictures! – next week.