Neighborly Issues

It’s May and the weather is getting warmer – we are now in the mid-twenties on an average day. Already in early April, I’ve moved back to the front room to sleep and I can now keep my windows open 24/7.

Pumpkin seems to be still cold in the night as he’s still sleeping in my bed, and even though I’ve switched to the lightest duvet I have, he’s providing an extra heat source warming my back. Soon, he’ll move towards my feet and then somewhere else, so this is temporary anyway.

You may remember that my bedroom doesn’t have curtains, only shoji that cover the front windows. And since I keep the windows open, the shoji must be open as well, or the whole ventilation idea is a bit moot. So far so good.

Except that my neighbor across from me has done some renovations of her own and created a brand new office that’s a bit further back in her house but exactly opposite my bedroom window. So far so good.

Except that the new lamp she’s using to stay awake when she works through the night, well… it burns with the intensity of a hellfire – and illuminates my bedroom. Just a wee bit more brightness and I could read. So far so no good.

Even though light doesn’t really bother me when I try to fall asleep, I felt the need to address the issue. I took it up with the husband, told him what was up and requested a curtain… *blush* And it did appear just a day or two after! Even half closed, it makes an enormous difference, and my bedroom is now dark and cosy again once I turn off the light. That was easy!

The next question is now how to broach the issue of her kids who play baseball right in front of my bedroom window in the morning. For a deeply entrenched night owl like me, being forced to wake up before eight – and that almost daily – is pure torture. And, honestly, if your kids can play for half an hour before they even have to leave for school, you’re waking them up too early. *grump* But how do I tell her that?

150th Miyako Odori

All the way back in February this year, I was invited to a press conference of Gion Kobu, one of Kyoto’s five kagai – geiko/maiko districts. This year, they celebrated the 150th Miyako Odori, a public dance performance with geiko and maiko held every April that was established in 1872. I have written a piece about its history on my medium page, have a look at Geiko and Maiko Celebrate 150th Miyako Odori.

The press conference featured talks by a professor of Doshisha university about the history of the Miyako Odori and a talk by the dance master Yachiko Inoue, whose school is exclusively responsible for the choreography – and that for 150 performances.

Afterwards, we were introduced to the painter who designed this year’s poster and to two of the three maiko who made their debut on stage this year were presented and we were allowed to have a few questions. They were shy and a bit uncomfortable, and no matter how mature they may seem thanks to their makeup and dress, at the end of the day, they are just some giggling teenagers after all.

A few days later, we were invited back to take promotional photographs of the kimono and the stage setting, again with a Q&A of maiko as well as of the dance master. I found it very interesting how unabashedly the photographers directed the girls to “turn that way, look here” etc. To me, who has always heard the maiko referred to respectfully as maiko-san, it was quite a new experience.

So was watching how the main promotional photo was taken of the two maiko in full dress on stage. The dance master sat at the end of the stage directing them how to smile and hold the props etc. This part alone – one photo for each of the eight scenes – took several hours; sadly I was busy in the afternoon and had to leave at noon.

Finally, as the highlight of the entire backstage experience, I received an invitation to the final dress rehearsal of the Miyako Odori on March 31st. Once again, there were interviews with this year’s first performers and the dance master. The entire theater was filled with invited people, and while the press had to sit at the very back, we were the ones allowed to take photos. Here are a few that I took during the 150th Miyako Odori.

Weekend Project # 5

My style has always been very casual. Until I finished my PhD, I wore jeans & t-shirts practically exclusively. Being body-conscious and even called ugly to my face, this was the perfect uniform to hide in for years.

However, once I moved to Asia, I understood that I needed to upgrade my style to be taken seriously in my male-dominated profession. While male professors always could and still can get away looking mildly unkempt (“he must be a genius!”), female professors who don’t look the part are a no-go (even in the West, I might add).

In Hong Kong, I splurged on a professional stylist who taught me about colors that suit me best and what looks good given my body shape. And while I still prefer a casual sweater to a frilly shirt, I’ve been trying to dress according to the advice I’ve been given ever since, mostly at least. Only the makeup I haven’t fully embraced, but that one’s on my Project 50 by 50 list and I’m making slow progress on that front.

One of the easiest way for a woman to change her style is with accessories. For me, that means: jewellery, even though I don’t own anything that has true monetary value beyond the sentimental. I especially like necklaces with bold pendants, and they make wonderful souvenirs no matter how short or local the trip. I always try to buy handmade pieces from local artisans, but one of my favourite pieces is still this one:

It’s just some cheap, mass-produced plastic-on-metal necklace that I bought mostly for the color some 20 years ago at Utrecht station in the Netherlands. As you can see, the strings were very much worn out, so I didn’t use it for a long time.

However, I finally found some time and the right parts to replace the strings, and I chose some with a little more pizazz to it. The difficult part was to fit the strings into the end pieces, my tools were too big and not quite up to the task. I’m glad that I’ve cultivated my patience quite a bit since I came to Japan, and while it doesn’t look perfect, I prevailed in the end. On to the next 20 years!

Golden Week DIY 2024

Hi, it’s me – I’m back!
Yes, I took Golden Week off(line) and I’m glad I did. When you’re self-employed and there’s something you can be doing every day, well, that’s what you end up doing… So taking the entire week off and with but two appointments – one to see a friend, the other to see BATI-HOLIC – and lots of reading and sleeping, it was very relaxing and soothing to my mind.

And I got a lot of not-work-related things done. House and garden are now significantly cleaner, and my paperwork is more organized as well. I did several loads of laundry and put away some of the heaviest winter clothes and blankets. Three of my favourite pyjamas now have new elastics (the blessings of losing weight) and there are no more buttons missing (that I’m aware of).

Unfortunately, this all didn’t go off without accident: I hurt myself during ironing and I’ll have to wear a bandage on the third degree burn on my right lower arm for a few more days . Yes, I’m not made for housework. Moving on…

.. to a more successful project. All I wanted to do is to tidy my bathroom counter (small as it is) and hang one more shelf. The plan was to get this done with the other two shelves that are already there when I renovated the bathroom. However, at the time there were some issues with drilling through the tiles so I let it be (instead of just putting the third shelf on top of the other two, don’t ask…)

Since then, I have experimented with several types of hooks which didn’t have enough grip on the tiles to last long. Finally, I struck on the idea to glue some hooks not to the center of the tiles but into the grout at the edges, and it seems to work – for now.

Then, I decided to tidy the top drawer of the cabinet – simply a matter of finding a suitable box – when I noticed that for some reason or other I never painted that drawer white like the rest. This took a bit longer to fix, but it’s done now as well and I think that’s as far as my bathroom renovations go until I tackle the whole first floor.

Wait: there’s still the ceiling to be painted… Oh my, in a house, there’s always something to do, right?

End of a Landmark

Breaking news today in Kyoto: A tree has fallen!

Not in the woods surrounding the city (who would be there to know it happened or hear it fall?) but at Ninenzaka, one of the main approaches to Kiyomizudera Temple. This in turn is one of the main tourist attractions of Kyoto.

Judging from the moss growing on the trunk, it must have been very old, and the fact that it was a cherry tree makes its loss so much worse – in the eyes of the Japanese.

However, the old sakura will live on forever thanks to having been part of Kyoto’s most scenic spots. And who knows, somebody might just plant another sakura in its place soon.

So. Many. Museums.

As you may have guessed from the missing posts, I’ve been busy the last week, and things will stay this way for a while. This year the pace is picking up, I am receiving more and more invitations to press previews for upcoming exhibitions.

Last Friday was the preview for “The Legend of Sesshu”, a 15th century Japanese painter whose style has influenced many other painters through the Edo period and beyond. One of his paintings of Mt. Fuji was so groundbreaking that it served as a model after which many other painters created their own views of Fuji. No fewer than six of his paintings are National Treasures, more than of any other painter in Japan – and they are all in Kyoto right now for the exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum.

My personal favourite of the entire exhibition was this ink painting titled “Winter Landscape” from 1470. It’s hard to describe what I feel when I see it, and while I’m not a painter myself, I do understand on a very visceral level that it’s a masterpiece.

As I said, things are picking up; tomorrow I will go to a preview for Bijinga (paintings of beautiful women) and next week there will be Japanese combs and hair ornaments. I love my job!

Yozakura 2024

It appears that last Wednesday I spoke too early about hanami being over. The rain did not appear in the force expected, indeed, we’ve had some fairly nice days. Nice enough for me to go out on Friday evening for some yozakura – illuminated cherry trees – in the Botanical Gardens.

Here are some photos I took (without a tripod). My favourite sakura this time around are those that have pink and white blossoms on one tree. Who’d have thought!

End of Hanami?

After a short cold spell in the middle of March, temperatures rose quite dramatically last week. And while I could adapt practically instantly – I moved my futon back to the big room in the north of the house and packed away my “deep winter” clothes over the weekend – the cherry blossoms couldn’t catch up quite that quickly.

Here and there, some trees were already blooming, but at the same time, there were not even buds to be seen on many others. For that reason, I already predicted a rather spotty hanami experience for this year, it’s only good when all of the trees get to bloom in a big explosive poof at the same time.

And now that it has started raining and will do so until next week, I guess the cherry blossom viewing is over for this year, more or less. Cherry blossoms are very delicate, and a single day of rain will lay the trees bare again. I hope I’ll be wrong, but I’m not holding my breath here.

Death in Midsummer

Death in Midsummer and Other Stories
Yukio Mishima

Nine stories of various lengths are collected here, plus Dojoji, one of Mishima’s modern Noh plays. The stories that stood out to me are:

  • The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love
    Heian period. And old, saintly priest catches a glimpse of the Great Imperial Concubine of Kyogoku. He immediately becomes infatuated with her and experiences once again feelings he had long thought conquered. He believes that all he needs to cure himself is a single meeting with her…
  • Onnagata
    We delve behind the kabuki stage and see the actor Mangiku through the eyes of his assistant Masuyama. Mangiku is an onnagata who specializes in female roles, and like many a drag queen, he is more attractive than a women. But what does Masuyama see in Mangiku?
  • Patriotism
    Just after the February 26th Incident, a young lieutenant of the Imperial troops is shocked to find that his closes colleagues are implicated in the mutiny. Worried that they might meet on opposite sides on the battlefield, he prepares for his ritual suicide – and his wife of six months with him.

Yukio Mishima is a fantastic writer, and even in translation, he creates images in the reader’s mind that put him directly next to the protagonist of the story. “Next to” is important here, because I feel that Mishima stays on the outside of his characters, a mere observer who doesn’t get emotionally invested. Whether this is by conscious choice or due to his own character, I do not know, it’s definitely not because of a lack of talent.

While Mishima is unequivocally lauded as exceptional author, as a person, he is more controversial, at least in Japan. The story “Patriotism” can be seen as a foreshadowing of Mishima’s own death: The staunch nationalist committed ritual suicide in 1975 after a failed attempt at a coup d’etat.

Discover more Mishima with this book from amazon.