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.


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.

Passive Aggressive

I’m pretty happy living in Japan. Things go smoothly, and although most people don’t speak English (or don’t dare to even though they understand), they are very helpful throughout. But every now and then, things go wrong – annoyingly so.

About three months ago, I got a letter from my bank asking me to check and update the details I gave them when I opened my account. They do this every now and then because you must be a resident to have a bank account. It shouldn’t be a big deal. This time, I had to go to the bank anyway and thought I could take care of this in the branch instead of online. So, I handed in my letter, my ID and bank card to a clerk and was asked to wait. For a long time. 30 minutes. At the end of which I was asked to please go online and do it myself.

I was rather annoyed. Not because of the answer as such, but because she wasted my time. Surely, figuring out that she can’t do that for me doesn’t take half an hour? Of course, in Japan, getting loud doesn’t get you anywhere. The only thing it accomplishes is that they stop talking and at the end of your rant simply repeat what they told you in the beginning – an excellent strategy by the way. So I simply told the clerk that I was annoyed with her wasting my time. She apologised – what else was she supposed to do – and I left – what else could I do.

In an attempt to get all passive-aggressive, I waited until a couple of days before the deadline to go online and fill in the form. I thought I had cooled down sufficiently to deal with it but no – more obstacles. The form, while technically rather easy to deal with, is entirely in Japanese. Not even furigana so I could decipher the kanji more easily. Just to make this clear: This is not a form that any Japanese ever has to fill out, it’s exclusively for foreign residents. Thankfully, google translate does help with a bit of copy/paste and it took me a mere 20 minutes to fill everything in. All is good.

Or so I thought.

Because just the other day, I received another letter asking me to fill in the very same form from 3 months ago. What? I have no idea what’s going on. Either I made a mistake, which is entirely possible because there is no real right or wrong answer to “what are you going to do with your account” (with the possible exception of “use it to launder money for the Yakuza”). Or, another possibility is that some smartass actually looked at my answers and saw that the first deadline was just before my visa renewal date and he wanted to make sure I’m still in the country because that’s what the whole form is good for.

So, I’m back to square one. Dear Bank of Kyoto – when it comes to passive-aggressive, you win. Hands down.

Trip to Omuro

Today is doyo ushi no hi – the midsummer day of the ox – traditionally considered the hottest day of summer. This year however, it’s comparatively cool; on most days the thermometer stays under 35 degrees, where we normally have 37 and more around this time. One of the tradtional things to do today is to eat eel (unagi), and in Kyoto, people flock to Shimogamo Shrine for the yearly Mitarashi-sai, which I will do tomorrow with friends. But I decided to do something special today.

So, I took the day off to make a trip to Omuro, the neighborhood of Ninna-ji and Myoshin-ji. I didn’t go there though since I had visited both often before. My goal was the Kyutei Omuro. This is one of Kyoto’s old suburban villas, a National Tangible Cultural Property, and it’s open to the public on special occasions only.

The house was built in 1937 at the foot of Narabigaoka hill, which, interesting enough, does not have a shrine on top like many other hills in Kyoto. The house has a traditional stone garden near the entrance and a lush garden at the back that allows you to climb up the hill a little. There stands a tea house that overlooks the garden and house below. I spent almost an hour looking at the house and wandering through the garden! I’m planning a full report with more photos this weekend.

Afterwards, I went to a small cakeshop/cafe nearby that I had wanted to try for a long time already. I had their signature cake for lunch (“Pampelmousse”, very nice) together with iced caramel milk (so-so). The place was tiny and quiet except for the Randen Railway that passed by directly next to the shop and made the whole house shake every time it did so. Before I went home, I bought some shou-creme for breakfast tomorrow.

It was quite a trip to visit the Kyutei Omuro, it took me almost an hour by bike, but it was so worth it! I even met the owner, a lady around my age. It seems the house has been lived in for longer than I had expected. But: more on Sunday!