Rediscovered Painting by Jakuchu

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity – thanks to What’s up in Kyoto – to be among the first people to lay eyes on a recently discovered painting by Jakuchu. It was a press-only-reveal of a colorful scroll and it was done with all the ceremony that such an event required.

You can read all about this important discovery, and a little bit about Jakuchu, on the Japonica Medium page in my article
Rediscovered Painting by Kyoto Master Returns Home – Jakuchu scroll found in Europe causes stir in Japanese art scene.

It was a nice diversion from the things I usually do, and a friend of mine even recorded evidence of me trying to be a serious photographer. (She calls the photo “kakkoi” – cool.)

I love my job.

Kyoto’s Sanjo Dori and its Buildings

When thinking of Japan’s most modern cities, Kyoto is probably not on anyone’s list. And it’s true, once you leave the futuristic station building (the second largest in Japan, btw.) and lose sight of the candle-shaped Kyoto Tower, the city’s narrow streets lined with wooden houses and dotted with Jisho shrines give off a lovable, but somewhat old-fashioned vibe.

Things were very different 120 years ago, though. After the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor and his new government took residence in Tokyo, Kyoto’s citizens made a concerted effort to keep the city from sliding into obscurity. Japan’s first railroad connected the old and new capital, the Lake Biwa Canal furnished electricity for the brand-new city tram, and a number of Western-style buildings gave Kyoto a distinctly modern look.

To this day, many of these buildings survive in Kyoto’s inner city, especially along Sanjo dori between Teramachi and Karasuma. Take a closer look at the former main street of Kyoto the next time when you’re out shopping and discover these beautiful, not-so-hidden gems.

Let’s take a walk on Sanjo dori westwards from Teramachi. Already at the next corner, you’ll find the 1928 building, so named after its year of construction. Then, it was home to the Kyoto branch of Osaka Mainichi Newspaper, and some traces can still be found in the basement. There are lovely ArtDeco elements throughout the building, especially in the stairwells. Today it houses the GEAR theater and gallery spaces, as well as a restaurant/bar in the basement.

Walk further to the lovely Old Yabetoku Clock Shop with its three arches. This two-story house made with red bricks was built in 1890 for a dealer in watches and precious metals. Sadly, the clocks are gone in favor of clothing, but the building is an important cultural property of Japan.

Directly at the opposite corner lies the SACRA Building, formerly the Kyoto branch of the Fudo Chokin Bank. Built in 1916, it still has the heavy wooden doors and staircase it was originally fitted with. Thanks to the many shops inside, a close-up look is possible.

Two large red brick buildings stand on the second to last block before Karasuma, and they look so similar they could be twins.

The first is the Annex of the Museum of Kyoto, built in 1903 as the Kyoto branch of the Bank of Japan. The inside has been lovingly restored to its former glory: A huge single room with high ceiling and the old wood trimmings of the bank still exudes riches. It was turned into a museum in 1967, and the former vault in what is now the museum’s inner courtyard secures a branch of Maeda Coffee.

Finally, there is the Nakagyo-ku Post Office, another red brick building, built in 1902. This is the only building mentioned here that is still used for its original purpose. It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1970s, thanks to the engagement of the locals.

Many more of these modern buildings from the turn of the century survive in Kyoto, like the Kyocera Museum and other buildings in Okazaki, Kyoto National Museum and Kyoto City Hall, the Restaurant Yaomasa at Shijo Bridge, the old Fucho Prefectural Government building, the old campus of Doshisha University just north of the Gosho… It’s really worth taking the time and looking around a little to find these delightful little gems.

Weekend Project # 4

My grandmother was fastidious and tidy. My grandfather didn’t mind “a little dirt here and there”. There is the saying that certain character traits skip a generation. In my case, they seem to have swapped places.

My house is, while no operating room, fairly clean. I take care of my kitchen especially, even in winter when the non-existing insulation automatically keeps the cockroaches at bay. I check Pumpkin’s litter box twice a day, vacuum as needed (more often in summer, thanks kitty), and I dispose of my garbage regularly and as quickly as possible.

At the same time, I have to confess that I’m not very tidy. Books and paperwork are my Achilles heel, they accumulate at a frightening speed and have a tendency to cover every flat surface that can conceivably be called a desk or table. There, they vie for space with other things I just can’t seem to put away the first time around.

So much to explain (justify?) why it took me two years and three months to tidy my garage, the current state of which is this:

tidy garage

All I needed to do was to move the large box to the other side of the space, put empty moving boxes away and put some hooks into the door. Together with sweeping and even cleaning my bicycle, it took less than two hours in total. I blame my ancestors.

Recognizing Boundaries

After all I’ve been through in 2023, there’s one positive thing coming out of it: I lost 25 kg. Doing this was on my 50 by 50 list and I’m so proud of this achievement!

Interestingly, even though I did it mostly by cutting calories, aka: eating less, I didn’t even feel hungry most of the time. I tried not to have any sweets at home, and it really helped with the cravings. Only towards the end of the diet did I feel as if I would finally touch the substance – in other words: losing muscle – but overall, I think I did okay.

The benefits are obvious: Physically, I’m feeling so much better now! First and foremost, my arthritis has become much less painful. On some days, I can walk fairly long distances without feeling a thing. Funny how much we take a functioning body for granted! I also feel more attractive overall, which is a great boost in confidence. I don’t expect this to change my introverted ways, though.

At the same time, losing all this weight in a relatively short period of time has created the negative side effect that I now need a completely new wardrobe. And the most interesting part of going shopping now is that I need to completely re-evalue my body’s size and boundaries. My underlying body shape hasn’t changed, of course, but I cannot remember a single time in my adult life when I was this thin.

I’ve always been chubby, more or less, and my approach to clothes was: “Let’s not draw too much attention to certain… well, most of the parts.” Over the years, I had perfected a uniform of bright tops with dark wide pants to hide under.

But that has changed. My legs look quite good now, I can check the scales without bending to gaze beyond my belly, and my stomach looks almost flat from the side (okay, on good days only. 😉 ) A friend of mine remarked that I had cut myself in half over the last year, and when I hugged another one, she commented on a surprising lack of boobage…

All this to say: Suddenly, I’m not so sure what fits me anymore, and yes, I have to admit that I’m vain enough to want to look good, and not just for Mr. TDH. At least my tops won’t change much; I’ve discovered the “Lady Tee” years ago and never looked back. But bottoms? Flared jeans seem to look good now that they sit beautifully on my newly separated thighs. Or maybe I should start experimenting with skirts? *gasp*

Sizing is a whole different issue. 20 years ago, there was a meaning behind clothing sizes that didn’t change according to the whims of the manufacturer. Today, where the size numbers have been replaced by random interpretations of the alphabet, you’re essentially on your own. For example, I bought a wonderful red knit dress and some super sexy flared jeans that both fit to a T – one is size S, the other an XL.

So, while essentially looking to replace most of my wardrobe, there will be lots and lots of try-on and error experiences involved. And I’m not looking forward to this…

Busy-ness

Sorry for not writing on Wednesday, I was uncharacteristically busy this week.

It started already last Friday with a maiko press conference that continued on Monday with a maiko photo shoot. While those invitations usually come weeks in advance, this one arrived only two days ahead of the press conference, so I had to wiggle with my deadlines a bit. Still, I am very grateful for the opportunity to look behind the scenes of the Miyako Odori, a public performance of the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu district, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. I’ll go in more depth at some later point, but here’s a quick picture.

Afterwards, I had a big paper deadline on Tuesday, and lots of smaller things to fill my Wednesday, because I decided to go on a short trip to Nagoya on Thursday afternoon and spend Friday – a public holiday in honor of the Emperor’s birthday – with a friend there. The added bonus was to see the BATI-HOLIC concert there on Thursday night. It appears that the guys appreciated me showing up so far from home.

Anyway, it was a very busy week and I had to start working again yesterday; next week will be very busy too, end of the month and all. But with everything that happened last week, it was worth the effort – so many new impressions. And who knows, I might be invited to more maiko press conferences and photo shoots in the future…

Bullet Train

Bullet Train
Kotaro Isaka

The Hayate Shinkasen leaves Tokyo for Morioka. A number of extraordinary people are on board, they are all dangerous – and on a mission:
Nanao must steal a suitcase and get off at the next station, but he isn’t the world’s unluckiest assassin for nothing…
Kimura is bent on revenge, but his target, known as The Prince, manages to turn the tables…
Lemon and Tangerine have rescued the son of a crime boss and are supposed to accompany him home, but when the boy winds up dead, they instead must find the killer before they arrive, if he’s still on board…

And while the train makes its way up north, these passengers’ goals become intertwined, and in the end, it’s all about who’s the last one standing.

Talk about a fast-paced thriller – no pun intended! I finished the book within a day. There is no ounce of fat in the narrative, every person, every thing that is introduced has its role to play at some later point. That means, you’ll need to pay attention throughout, but this never becomes tedious or annoying.

Interestingly, although all five main characters were decidedly bad people that I would go out of my way to avoid, I found myself rooting for one – and absolutely despising another.

If I had to quibble about something, it would be the introduction of two new characters close to the end, it felt too much of a “deus ex machina” to me. However, since they brought the story to a nice close and dealt beautifully with my least favourite bad boy, I will forgive the author for doing so.

Kotaro Isaka, born 1971, is a Japanese author of mystery fiction. He studied law at Tohoku University and after graduation worked as a systems engineer. His debut novel won the 2000 Shincho Mystery Club Prize and Isaka became a full time writer afterwards. He writes novels, short stories and manga, and 12 of his books have been adopted for film or TV so far. This particular thriller even made it to Hollywood and Brad Pitt.

It seems that the film has “adapted” the novel quite a bit – the train now goes into the opposite direction to Kyoto, for example – so if you’d like to read the original,you can get it from amazon.

Valentine’s Dinos

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope you got lots of chocolates, flowers, romantic cards… whatever it is you give your loved ones in your country!

In Japan, it’s chocolates. But even though Valentine’s Day is when women give chocolates to the “men in their lives” which includes colleagues as well, I always buy chocolates for myself during this time. The reason is simple:

There are chocolates in the shape of planets, cars, motorcycles, animals, pokemon and other anime characters – this year I even found swords and shuriken! There are dozens of flavours with or without alcohol and all sizes and price ranges… Every year from mid January on, I’m in heaven!

This year, I went shopping very early so I wouldn’t miss one of these:

I love that the package is shaped like a book that you can open, and the eggs below the fossil add that special touch.

There will be more chocolates for sale next month on White Day, when men have to reciprocate, but the variety is much more limited: Hello Kitty, roses in red and pink, and marshmallows dominate the (significantly smaller) displays.

I’m sorry, that just doesn’t cut it; I mean: Where are MY dinosaurs? (Yes, I’m still science girl.) Not to mention that white chocolate isn’t chocolate, end of discussion. Yes, that’s one of the hills I’m ready to die on.

I’m a Winner!

2024 is starting out very positively indeed! Just like two years ago, I won the nengajo lottery. When I saw that I had won another set of stamps, I was hoping for dragons. I love dragons! Well, not quite, this year we got:

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how this is called, it’s a bundle of ribbons or pieces of cloth or possibly tenugui. However, this is a very traditional design and can be found in many versions on many a kimono.

Edit: Thanks to my knowledgeable Japanese friends, I now know that this is called a noshi. Traditionally, this was a strip of dried abalone attached to a gift as decoration and to symbolize longevity. Today, the custom has changed to thin, colorful paper strings that are tied around a gift or an envelope with money in it for weddings or funerals.

Mr. TDH

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have had a certain revelation about my state of mind that instantly took a lot of weight off my shoulders. Since then, I’ve been busy picking up loose ends and cleaning them up. And already on the first weekend, I have made a fairly big decision regarding my private life.

To be marginally more precise: I have met somebody whom, for the purposes of this blog, I’d like to call Mr. TDH (tall, dark, and handsome – very handsome!). That as such is no surprise, after all, in Japan, 80% of the men fit into this category. Oh, how I love this country! The surprise is that the interest seems to be mutual.

At least, I think it is. There is the staring from across the room just to look elsewhere when caught, the stealthily moving closer, the friendly but prolonged touches, the banter and the teasing, I even got a “want to try my whiskey?” when I last saw him. (Yes I do!)

Now, if this were a Western guy doing all this, anywhere on the planet, heck, in outer space – I would be absolutely sure what was going on. Even with an Asian guy in the West or returning from there, I would reason that he probably picked up some dating behaviours, and I’d still be pretty confident that he’s flirting with me.

However. Mr. TDH is a Japanese guy, never lived abroad, is an introvert to boot – and I don’t know how to interpret the signals he’s sending. If he is sending them at all, mind you. What if it’s all in my imagination? (Been there, done that, didn’t end well…)

Also, while we’ve shared some fairly personal experiences about growing up, I haven’t mustered the courage to ask if he’s married… because it’s awkward at the best of times and I don’t know if in Japan it’s culturally appropriate to do so.

What I mean by that? Well, in Japan, it’s perfectly fine to ask somebody’s age, no matter whether it’s a man or a woman (yes, I have established his birthday!). This is to ascertain the hierarchy between two people, and to know who is supposed to use keigo respect language, which, technically at least, is a thing even in intimate relationships.

At the same time, I’m really not sure if “are you married” is just as normal to ask in a society where the private lives of people stay private to the point of being actively hidden. There are many people who don’t wear wedding rings and many women choose to use their maiden names at work even after they are married and have kids.

Sigh. As you can see, I’ve worked myself into quite a frenzy over this, which has the potential to lead me right back to where I was earlier this year. So, I have made a decision regarding Mr. TDH, and it is: Take a step back and simply enjoy the attention!

Even if there is nothing there, even if he just thinks that hugging good-bye is so normal in the West that we do it with everybody and all the time: it still feels good. And I can do with more of these moments right now. There’s time for probing questions (and the potential disappointment) later.