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.

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.

Busy…

Just a short heads-up that I’m fine, just busy.

Yesterday, I was out almost all day, for no less than three press-previews of a large exhibition that started today. It’s really fun to get to see exhibitions before they are open, plus a guided tour and plenty of other information. Sometimes, there are other goodies too…

But at the same time, it means that I’ll have to move other work around, and then I’m extra busy on the days leading up to and after such an event. But overall, it’s worth it!

New Beginnings…

Isn’t it interesting how many reasons for a fresh start you get if you just keep looking diligently? My reason is the new fiscal year that has just started for my company, and so I have decided to do a few things differently at work.

Most importantly, I will shift my focus towards writing even more. I have done more writing (mostly for a number of so-called content mills) in the last two years, ever since Corona has more or less killed my tourist site. I will keep working on and for What’s up in Kyoto, of course because there’s so much to learn about Kyoto and so much I get to do and see because of it – which gives me plenty of stuff to write about as well.

As you know, I had an essay published last August about Sada Abe, a notorious Japanese murderer. (Hint: I also have another piece accepted in the same book series, coming out later this year…) I also started a Medium account for writing that doesn’t really fit on this blog, but it fell a bit by the wayside when I bought the house (many other things have, too). The plan is to write more on Medium, and try to find other outlets for my creative energies, preferably paid ones. Those will probably be non-fiction, just in case you’re wondering, I’m still too much of a scientist and no-nonsense kinda girl to make things up in a way that is interesting to read.

Hopefully, I can turn this into a sustainable business. Mostly because I have more plans for the house than I have money. And not all of these can be DIYed. While simply saving the money I formerly paid for rent will get me quite far, I’d also like to increase my income substantially over the next few years to speed things up. And a little more spending money is nice too. Even though things got better somewhat, and even though I live quite frugally, money can still get a bit tight every now and then.

So yes, that’s my plans for business at this point. Hopefully, I can tell – or even better: show – you more about my writing endeavours soon.

Finished/Furnished: Office

Finally, my office has received its finishing touches today! I’m happy to announce that it is done now – have a look at the renovation diary to see how far we’ve come.

If you remember my old office, you will see that the furniture and the rug are the same. I still like them, they are perfectly functional, so I saw no need to replace anything. Unfortunately, I had to compromise a little on the layout. My idea was to have both desks next to each other along the wall with the window. But with the turquoise shelf opposite the entrance door, even put upright, this didn’t leave enough clearance behind the computer desk to get in and out of the office chair comfortably – or into the oshiire. Switching the desk and the shelf did wonders, and it doesn’t look as awful as I thought.

The oshiire is now closed with a door. I had to compromise quite a bit here as well: I had the idea with a folding door too late for the top/bottom rails to be installed properly. And the French doors I wanted originally to match the design of the entrance door were almost three times as expensive as the standard flat ones that are there now. Sometimes I really wish I were made of money… (Or that I could make up my mind a bit faster.)

There will be no additional lamps, the LED tracks/spots that my architect suggested – I would have never thought of that – are sufficient and give just the right amount of light. The old lamps will go upstairs into the library/reading room. The blinds were put up today, they come from another room of my old apartment and fit perfectly. The cat cushion is new, and Pumpkin is sleeping there right now. He’s not so appreciative of it in the mornings, but things will be easier when it’s getting warmer, and I can just keep the door open, so he can roam freely.

Things that still need to be done: Get the myriad of cables on and underneath the desk in order, or at least out of the way. Even though Pumpkin is not super interested in cables, he is curious, so I don’t want to tempt him too much.

There is no wall clock (the old one will go into the kitchen) and I haven’t put up any art yet either. Instead of damaging my beautiful walls with random holes, I have opted for picture rails on the very top. They were rather expensive, but this way, I can be flexible and exchange my art as I like. For now, I have no clear image of what I want to put there, but I have taken a number of great Kyoto photos that might just be the thing for the office…

That’s it for my official renovations with my architect and the contractor/carpenter, all of whom are saints with their patience and all. From now on, it’ll be a string of (hopefully successful) DIY operations. Unfortunately, I have more ideas than time or money… But then again, it’s not as if all this needs to be finished immediately. I have no plans for moving any time soon, anyway.

The next step is the bathroom. After more than 2 months, I’m still brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink for crying out loud.

I Love My Job!

At work, things aren’t easy during Corona times and it won’t get back to “normal” soon either, if ever again. However, every now and then there’s a great day between all the drab, and it makes me feel very positive for now and the future.

One of these days was last Friday, when I was invited to a press review of two exhibitions and one 5* hotel in Arashiyama.

The Saga Arashiyama Museum for Arts and Culture as well as the Fukuda Art Museum started their new exhibition on August 1. The first exhibition is all about animals, with a focus on the 12 zodiac animals as well as images of cats. Cats are suspiciously absent from the Chinese zodiac, but given all the paintings and stories and youtube videos about them, they probably got the better ending long-term.

The second exhibition was about the Tokyo painters Taikan and Shunso, friends from the Meiji and Taisho era. Taikan is regarded as a ‘gold medalist’ of Japanese painting, famous for his depictions of Mt. Fuji. I know nothing about painting, so I can’t really say much about the art, but there was a quote from Taikan that I found excellent:

Once a person is formed, painting is possible. First, you have to form the person.

I enjoyed both exhibitions and the nice things about these two museums are is that they let you take photos of most of the exhibits. The photos above are mine.

The last place I went to was the new Muni Hotel. It’s a fantastic 5* hotel with only 21 rooms but with a lovely view over the river in Arashiyama. It also has all the amenities necessary for a 5* hotel including a very exclusive French (of course) restaurant. Again, I was allowed to take pictures everywhere – except for the restaurant. Why? Because on the wall opposite the entrance hangs a huge painting by Marc Chagall. I tried to find a photo online to show it here, but no luck. If you have 30000 yen to splurge on dinner, I would recommend it though!

I returned home after spending several hours in Arashiyama, with a goodie bag from the hotel’s “boutique” where they sell just perfect little sweets. So yes, I had a wonderful Friday! I hope things will keep getting more interesting. 😉

WUIK Newsletter

What's up in Kyoto square logoToday, a business announcement: I am about to start the What’s up in Kyoto newsletter. Once a month – in the last weekend to be precise – I will send out a newsletter showcasing selected Kyoto events for the coming month, including a preview for the next monthly highlight. (*)

Of course, I know that at the moment, travelling is out of the question for most people, so there will also be an additional second part introducing experiences unique to Kyoto, special souvenirs, reading material for people at home, and what I will call “Kyo Anaba”. The Japanese term anaba – literally “hole place” – means good places to visit that are nevertheless known to only very few people, either because they are out of the way or they don’t do any advertising…

To avoid the newsletter becoming too long (as you know, I am prone to rambling), I will only choose one these per month to keep things fresh. This means I can write more than a few sentences about the topic, and make it interesting for people who cannot visit at the moment.

Are you interested? Sign up here and receive volume one of the WUIK newsletter this weekend! 😉

(*) This year’s monthly highlight on What’s up in Kyoto are various event venues: live music spots, theaters… Not the best choice in hindsight. Many places are still closed or only open irregularly, so there is a certain reluctance at the moment to be featured. But I’ll be back. We Austrians usually are!

Exhausted…

This is going to be very short, because I’m very tired. I had a business meeting this afternoon that took more than three hours, unexpectedly. It started out very business-like and then we veered off into other stuff and at the end it was closing time and we all looked a bit sheepishly at the clock.

It was a very pleasant day though, nice and warm without being humid, but that will come soon I fear. I can leave all my windows open 24/7, which is nice and hope that the tsuyu rainy season will take its time to arrive.

What has arrived today already is a letter from Kyoto City with a form to apply for my 100.000 yen from Shinzo Abe. Yay! I have time until September to think how I’d like to get the money and to fill out the form. Interestingly, while it seems that there is no English version of the form (I didn’t check online though), there is a help line in no less than 13 foreign languages. Work days and hours only. I guess I can manage.

Freedom!

Yesterday was a big day for Kyoto: The state of emergency was lifted – 10 days earlier than planned!

I’m wondering what will happen now. Some museums have already opened again, other places will remain closed, some even until the end of June or even later. Tourism as a whole will definitely not jump start until much later in the year, I guess any place can be lucky to have any foreign tourists by the end of the year. So, yes, I will try to pick up the pieces again and see how I deal with the fallout.

Yesterday, I have met with the owner of the Ran Theatre Kyoto which I want to highlight, but he is quite despondent. His whole business idea is geared towards foreign tourists – focusing on traditional Japanese music only – and he will probably not open up until the international travel bans are lifted, which may take until summer or even beyond. Many other places have similar problems, and as long as there is social distancing, things will not improve for any music venues or theaters.

Anyway, I can go out again and I have plans to visit a “Haunted House” tomorrow – strictly business, of course – and I also want to go to Arashiyama and Tenryu-ji while it’s still empty of tourists. That I want to do on Monday. We’ll see.

In other news, my kind friend has sent me yet another surprise parcel. This time, after bath salts and green tea sweets, we’re getting serious with a sixpack of sake… The red one was the most interesting, so I tried it already: it’s sparkling sake with some added taste I cannot pinpoint down. Anyway, it’s delicious!

6 bottles of sake

State of Emergency II

Yesterday, the Japanese government has finally stepped up and extended the state of emergency to the whole country until at least May 6. The number of Corona infections have been increasing steadily, in particular in “open” prefectures, mostly because of people travelling there.

woman wearing a surgical maskWhat does that mean for me? I am not sure, honestly. There is no official curfew, people are simply “asked” to stay at home. More and more places are closing for the time being, even some temples have closed for visitors. As it seems now, even the two main parades of Gion Matsuri have been cancelled, and those are in July! But then again, they attracted more than 120,000 visitors last year, so it’s probably a good idea.

I went to town yesterday to get my sewing machine fixed (giving me something to do in my isolation) and the difference to the Kyoto I know is striking. Bus and subway are deserted, the streets are very quiet, and the few people who do go out all wear face masks. Even I did, if only out of respect for those I meet. All kinds of stores are closed, from the big department stores to tiny ones, while at others it’s business as usual. This “we do what we think is right” feels rather haphazard.

Social distancing is obvious everywhere too: People spread out on the subway, except for that one creepy old guy I saw who absolutely HAD to seat himself between the two young girls instead of choosing any of the free seats elsewhere. My bank has removed the cushy sofas in their waiting area and replaced them with chairs set wide apart, but the staff still work very closely to one another. The Starbucks in the shopping mall near my home has removed half of their chairs and tables to create more space for their customers, and the mall itself closes now 2 hours early like many other venues.

With society so on edge at the moment, many people with small businesses like myself are suffering greatly and often have to go without any income at all. At least the Japanese government is considering aid for the citizens. For example, it has already been decided that every household will receive two (reusable) facemasks. I will keep you posted about that one.

And now, there are discussions about giving each and every citizen 100,000 yen in cash as financial aid, which is definitely a nice idea. However, I am not a citizen, so I will probably not see any of that money, even though my business has all but shut down, to put it politely.(*) Still, I am kind of optimistic: “This too shall pass!”

(*) If you’d like to help, please consider visiting the What’s up in Kyoto facebook page and liking the page and sharing the posts. It seems a little thing, but the more people I can reach, the better. Thanks!