Coin Locker Babies

Coin Locker Babies
Ryu Murakami

When Kiku and Hashi meet at an orphanage, the two boys quickly bond and become friends, because of their shared history: Both were abandoned by their mothers in coin lockers at train stations in Tokyo. They are adopted by parents from a rural village where they grow up together, but at all times they keep harbouring the wish of finding their mothers. As young adults, both leave the village and return to Tokyo where they end up in Toxitown, an abandoned plot of land within the city where outcasts, criminals, and other lost cases end up. Hashi eventually escapes to become a successful singer, but in the end, Kiku’s destructive tendencies will catch up with both boys.

An interesting story of two boys looking for the love of a mother they never knew. While each of them seemingly finds their own solution to the feeling of loss, in the end, they both succumb to violence and self-destruction. It would not be a book by Ryu Murakami if they didn’t…

Ryu Murakami was born in 1952, and started his artistic career as a member of a number of bands, before moving on to film and writing books. His first book, written in university, won him the acclaimed Akutagawa Prize for fiction, only the first of many more prizes to come. A number of his novels have been turned into films. Most of his works center around the dark side of humanity, they describe sex, violence, drug use, and the abysses of the human soul in general very graphically, and are not for the faint of heart.

If you want to try anyway, Coin Locker Babies is available on amazon.

Photogenic Cat Exhibition

We had a holiday today, the autumnal equinox. I’m still very busy with work; there are four projects I’m involved in right now with European clients; with steep workloads and tight deadlines. However, somehow this week all four got delayed for some reason or other, and when I hadn’t received a single job this morning, I jumped at the occasion and took the day off.

I now have to admit that I was very naughty. Instead of staying at home reading, as I would have done otherwise, I joined friends of mine on a day trip to Otsu on Lake Biwa. Why naughty? Because we’re still under a state of emergency until the end of the month; we shouldn’t travel at all, and definitely not across prefectural borders…

However, all four of us have been fully vaccinated; the venue is less than 30 minutes drive away from my place (and 11 minutes by train from Kyoto station); and I guess that half of Otsu’s population work in Kyoto or Osaka anyway. “Dear God, please make sure I always have an excuse handy.”

This is why we didn’t think twice when Kosuke Ota announced his exhibition “The Story of Biwako Cats”. Ota-san is a retired war photographer who worked in the Yugoslavian war, in Iraq etc. In his retirement, he moved to Otsu and documents the feral cat population that roams the area around the Biwako Otsukan, where the exhibition was held.

Taken from Ota-san’s blog: http://uchino-toramaru.blog.jp/

We met the photographer there, who kindly signed two of his books for my friend. And afterwards we had delicious Belgian waffles in the restaurant on the first floor. Towards late afternoon, we met some of the cats starring in the exhibition and took some pictures of our own (not quite so masterfully though).

I had a great day, and it was worth going out. This is the first time I left Kyoto since last October, when I went on the Lake Biwa Canal Cruise – for which, I now see, have never posted any pictures… Well, it’s been almost a year, so it’s time for that soon.

Fully Vaccinated

Time for celebrations – I got my second Corona shot yesterday afternoon! I was fine yesterday evening and today as well, but now I’m working up a bit of a fever. Nothing serious – yet – so I’ll just put myself to bed with some hot tea and my grandmother’s sure-fire cure for colds. I’m sure I’ll be fine again tomorrow.

I’m glad I am finally fully vaccinated, there were some bumps on the road initially. As mentioned before, I registered for my shots in the beginning of July and expected a quick turnaround. Unfortunately, there were supply problems, so Kyoto Prefecture stopped all vaccinations for about 3 weeks. So, my first appointment was only on August 14.

But once the schedule was fixed, everything went smoothly. We were asked to arrive 10 minutes early, and then we were taken through the procedure in small groups of 4 people to minimize waiting time. There were 6 stations for my first shot, and 5 for the second one (no need to make another appointment), from name taking to health checking to the actual jab.

Excepting the waiting time before and after, the whole procedure took only 10 minutes. Everything was super organised, the volunteers – many students but also adults – were very friendly and patient, and I felt well taken care of. Japan for the win!

Anyway, not much is going to change with respect to masks and other restrictions. With relatively low vaccination rates (some 40% have received both, 50% only one shot) and the delta variant breezing through the country, we’ll be lucky if there’s no further lockdown, pardon me: state of emergency. I’m not very optimistic though…

Anyway, off to bed with tea and a book. See you soon!

Sushi in Film

I spend too much time online. On youtube in particular. There are many interesting videos out there, mostly about cats, but every now and then, something else catches my eye. This one is fun: a master sushi chef from Tokyo rates the skills of other “chefs” as seen in movies or on TV.

Sushi master Endo Kazutoshi looks at nine sushi scenes from popular TV shows and movies and rates them based on realism. Endo is a third-generation sushi master specializing in the Edomae style of sushi, a technique particular to Tokyo. He was born in Yokohama and has been working in kitchens for 26 years.

From the video description.

Still Busy…

Wow, I’m still swamped with work. A number of new projects that I’m involved in have started and we’re still kind of feeling our way through them. Then I have daily meetings where I have to out of the house *gasp* every day until next Tuesday, which will not help with the workload. And on top of all that are a number of private emails I have to answer and most of them are going to be pretty long. How is it that there’s nothing much for weeks and then everything happens at the same time? Standard work conditions for the self-employed I guess.

So, sorry for another super short post where I’m essentially telling you that not much is happening.

But: big things are afoot. Really big things, and I think I’ll be able to share them with you in a couple of weeks, if everything runs smoothly. So, bear with me for a bit longer, please.

Musashi

Musashi
Eiji Yoshikawa

Takezo and his best friend Matahachi barely survive the battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600. Upon returning to his village without his friend, Takezo incurs the wrath of Matahachi’s mother, but he is saved by the travelling priest Takuan Soho who becomes Takezo’s teacher for the coming three years. Afterwards Takezo – now calling himself Musashi – travels through Japan to study swordsmanship and to challenge other famous fighters. However, he soon learns that brute strength alone is not sufficient to win and he begins to study calligraphy and painting, wood carving, and even farming. On the path to ever refine his Way of the Samurai, he makes a number of influential friends, and even more powerful enemies, until it comes to the great duel with Sasaki Kojiro, another of the great wandering samurai of his time.

Miyamoto Musashi is probably the best-known swordsman of Japan. It is said that he never lost a duel, and he has 61 victories to his name, more than any other samurai. This book depicts about 15 years of his life from the battle of Sekigahara to the duel with Sasaki Kojiro. In this fictionalised biography we nevertheless meet a number of real people who influenced him, like Honami Koetsu, Takuan Soho, Yoshino Tayu, and of course, Sasaki Kojiro, another great swordsman of the time who eventually becomes Musashi’s arch enemy. Overall, the story is that of a reluctant hero trying to find his own way.

Eiji Yoshikawa, born in 1892, began his literary career when he was 22. During his 30s he worked as a journalist, but kept writing short stories and novels that were often published as a series in newspapers and magazines. He received the Cultural Order of Merit, the Order of the Sacred Treasure and the Mainichi Art Award. When he died from cancer in 1962, he was considered one of the best historical novelists of Japan.

If you’re in for an excellent novel about one of the great figures of Japan, this book will do the trick. Get it from amazon.

No Post Today…

…it wasn’t always so….

Sorry, I just got a huge chunk of work on my table (yay!) plus some other things I’ll need to finish either by this weekend or the end of the month. So: No post today. Not much happening here anyway – Kyoto’s back in a state of emergency until September 12. For the 5th time now, if I counted correctly…

So, nothing to see here today, move right on 😉

Weather Woes

raindrops on a window

It’s a very cool August in Kyoto, much more so than usual. It’s been raining almost every day now, sometimes very heavily. Although this is the start of the typhoon season, there is no typhoon in sight right now. To me, the whole year seems to be more rainy than usual. Back in May we already had several weeks of rainfall when it used to be pretty sunny. And then of course the normal tsuyu – rainy season – kicked off in June just like every year.

Kyoto city has been taking the rain relatively well as far as I know, but in other parts of the country, the rainfall caused floodings, landslides, and a number of people were killed already. Let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse. While I like the cool weather right now – I don’t enjoy being drenched in sweat for months – I hope that this is not a foreboding of a chilly winter. Or something even worse…

No doubt what’s going on. Global warming (aka climate change) is real, and we’re feeling it already. So: turn off your lights (and your aircon) if you don’t need it, leave your car in the garage and ride your bicycle or the bus and let’s do something about this! Yes, we can! 😉

Murderer out of Love – Sada Abe

On May 19, 1936, a lowly prostitute became known in all Japan. From that day on, the name of Sada Abe carried a certain spine-chilling factor that fascinates people to this day. Who was Sada Abe and what happened that made her a household name for more than 50 years?

Sada Abe was born in 1905 into a family of tatami makers. Her parents were fairly well-off and especially her mother doted on the little girl, indulging her every whim. When Sada became a teenager, her calm family life became upset through quarrels over the succession to the family business. To protect their youngest daughter, she was sent out of the house to spend her days with friends.

Sadly, this didn’t turn out well. Sada fell in with the wrong crowd and became an unruly and even promiscuous teen who stole money from her parents and went out during the night without permission. Her father, seeing no other way to discipline her, sold her to a tea house, where she was to train as an apprentice geisha. Sada was 17 at the time.

At first, Sada was thrilled about her new life. Since childhood she had enjoyed wearing beautiful clothes, and now she had finally the opportunity to put her long training in traditional music to good use. And her clients loved spending time and money on the young maiko.

However, disillusionment soon followed. Sada had to learn quickly that she would never be a top-ranking geisha who commanded respect in addition to highest rates. Instead, customers demanded sex from the young girl, and the tea house did not object.

Over the following years, Sada Abe turned from geisha to prostitute, in successively seedier establishments, first in Tokyo and then in Osaka. Although she tried several times to leave the sex industry, she did not succeed until she met Goro Omiya. He had more serious designs on her than any of her previous lovers and suggested that she learn how to run a restaurant. In time, he promised, he would buy one for her and set her up as his mistress. Sada gladly accepted.

In February 1936, she began working in a restaurant in Tokyo. The owner, Ishida Kichizo, didn’t waste much time with the beautiful woman, and already in mid April, they became lovers. Kichizo was a womanizer and knew hot to please Sada. Not only was she in love for the first time, she also felt sexually satisfied like never before. Like any woman in her situation, she wanted Kichizo, who was married, to herself.

In order to consummate their affair undisturbed, Kichizo and Sada left the restaurant and went on a two-week lover’s spree, starting on April 23rd, 1936. They rented a room at an inn, ordered expensive food and geisha to entertain them and had sex over and over again. Only when they ran out of money did Kichizo return to his restaurant, but he promised to meet Sada again, on May 11.

On that day, they checked into the inn again and once more indulged in food, entertainment and sex. Their sex play became wilder and they eventually tried erotic asphyxiation and they both enjoyed it. Sada found it hard to control herself. In the early morning hours of May 18, 1936, Sada strangled Kichizo in his sleep. She then cut off his penis and scrotum, tidied up the room and left the inn.

Thanks to an ensuing media frenzy after the discovery of Ishida’s body, the public went into a what became known as “Sada Abe panic”. She was spotted by people as far as Osaka, and one alleged sighting in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district caused a traffic jam. All the while, Sada went about her days as if nothing had happened, undisturbed and still carrying her trophies of Kichizo.

Sada was arrested in the afternoon of May 20th and questioned extensively by the police. She asserted that she killed Kichizo out of love and that she was not crazy or depraved. Her lawyers and the judge at her trial thought otherwise. That’s why she was sentenced to a mere 6 years in prison on December 21, 1936.

She was a model prisoner in the Tochigi women’s penitentiary, where she served only 5 years of her sentence. After being released on May 17, 1941, Sada was surprised to find herself somewhat of a celebrity. The transcripts of her police interrogation had been published, and many writers took her case as inspiration for stories.

Unable to escape the public eye, Sada decided to cash in herself. She wrote an autobiography and appeared in a film about the case. The bar where she worked became famous with the locals. Eventually, however, Sada grew weary of the attention. She retired from the bar and left Tokyo. After 1971, her trail is completely lost. Nobody knows where she went or when she died., although some sources point to Kyoto. All that’s left is her story that fascinated people to this very day.

Sada Abe definitely fascinates me! The above is just a short summary of a longer piece I have written about her, which has just been published in an anthology. There, I talk in greater detail about the early life of Sada Abe and the possible reason she turned to prostitution, as well as her fatal attraction to Kichizo Ishida.

If you’re interested, the book is called “The Best New True Crime Stories: Crimes of Passion, Obsession & Revenge” and it has a number of other essays on passionate crimes from all over the world and many eras. As always, you can get the book from amazon. I hope you’ll like it!

Corona Updates

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finished last Sunday, what everybody thought would happen, actually happened: Japan is on the way into its 5th Covid19 wave… Checking this page, you will see that at the moment, we’re having just shy of 150.000 active cases, almost double than in the last wave. This is certainly because of the Olympic Games, with 50.000 people coming into the country just for that, but of course, if you have a look a bit further down, Japan has ramped up the testing too in the last few weeks.

Kyoto has been under a state of quasi-emergency where the government “calls” on restaurants and bars to close before 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol. I think they are terrified to place us under a real state of emergency again; Kyoto city has already lost millions because of a lack of tourists since last year. And the number of cases has been steadily rising. Whenever I checked before, we’ve had about 10% of the cases in Osaka, but now we’re standing at roughly 20%. In absolute numbers we have less than 3000 active cases; in a city with 1.5 million inhabitants it’s not really worrying – if the testing were up to scratch…

In any case, I have finally received an invitation to my first shot; next Saturday’s the day. As I suspected, the call center is quite efficient and things run slowly but smoothly. However, I did have a problem with one of the forms I’m supposed to bring with me. It’s a checklist of medical conditions and how you’re feeling etc. and of course, it’s entirely in Japanese. While there is a website about the vaccinations, it uses mostly machine translation, and that obviously doesn’t work on forms that are uploaded as images or pdf files… And because I couldn’t be sure that anybody at the vaccination site would speak enough English to translate for me, I contacted the call center, where they have interpreters for several languages.

I thought they might have a translated form somewhere (the website suggested as much), but nothing like that. Instead, I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with an interpreter who did a live translation of all the 15 questions for me. She was very good and efficient, but I was a bit embarassed to cause so much trouble and take so much of her time. Anyway, the form is filled in now, I have all my other ducks in a row and if nothing serious happens, I’ll get my shot on Saturday. Just three more days! I’m actually quite happy about it.