Yoiyama 2021, Part 2

This week is the second yoiyama of Gion Matsuri, the three days leading up to the Ato Matsuri Parade on July 24th (which has also been cancelled this year). Only 6 of the 10 yamaboko that take part in the Ato Parade were constructed. I visited “my” Ofune Hoko, where I usually help selling souvenirs, but this year I was just a guest because I can’t stand on my feet for 5 hours with my hip problem…

It was nice seeing my friends again and they even got me free entrance to the top of the Ofune Hoko. This is the first time I noticed all the names and numbers on each and every piece the Ofune Hoko is constructed of.

There are more than 600 pieces for the main boat and the large dragon that sits at the front of the float is made from 12.

Just like last week, the Daimaru Department store, which is nearby where the yamaboko are built, showed miniature versions of them. They are maybe a meter high (excluding the poles) and are made in loving detail. These look like antiques, so they are probably priceless. I couldn’t find out whom they belong to, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are owned by one or more of the old merchant families of Kyoto that have been involved in Gion Matsuri for centuries (literally).

As usual around the time of the Ato Matsuri, it is very hot. Today it was around 35 degrees and the inner city streets were stifling. I went out pretty early and still got myself a nice sunburn… And yet, it is comparatively cool, several degrees below what is usual. There was even a slight breeze today and I haven’t used my fan a single time yet. Maybe tonight’s the night?

Hip Issues Resolved, Kinda

I guess it’s time to give you an update on my hip issues… Over the last 18 months, my condition has improved greatly, and although I will probably never be completely pain free again, I can now walk longer stretches without too much discomfort on most days. Therefore, my doctor and I have decided to end the physiotherapy and I only need to see him again if and when the pain increases again. Yay!

Somehow, I have the impression he’s not completely happy with that though. He started seriously talking about getting me a hip replacement, which greatly surprised me. First of all, shouldn’t we have talked about that before all the therapy sessions? Second, I feel way too young for this, we can revisit that one in 40 years or so. Hence, I declined.

Then he suggested monthly drug injections directly into the joint to more or less lubricate the joint and thus increase mobility. The thought alone makes me shiver with pain, so I declined again. While I do have some problems putting on my socks on my left foot (at my age, how embarrasing!), I’m pretty sure this can be fixed with regular stretching and exercise. So, he’s out of luck overall – for now. Let’s hope things don’t go downhill again any time soon…

Anyway, the day after my doctor’s appointment, I bought a little gift for my physiotherapist. She’s very young still, just out of school, and mentioned that she goes to Starbucks regularly in the weekends to study. Well, she won’t have to spend her own money for a while. Sadly, even if I do have to return for more therapy, I will probably not work with her again. She’s moving to a different part of the clinic and will work with inpatients only. I hope things will work out well for her – and for me too!

Blood Donations in Japan

I donated my first 400 ml of blood when I was 18. Not that it was my own idea, a classmate of mine was determined and in the end we were five, six girls who went. Everything went fine and I kept it up for years to come. Since I moved to different countries so often, I lost count of my donations, but I must have given blood at least 50 times, which amounts to roughly 20 liters.

blood types by 200 degrees on pixabay

Even though I’ve been living in Japan for years now, I never tried to find out whether I was allowed to donate blood here as well. I asked my doctor the other day to help me with that, and, to cut a long story short: No, I am not eligible.

Besides the usual criteria for disqualification like having had blood transfusions or organ transplants, having travelled abroad recently, or receiving dental surgery or a tattoo within a certain time span, there’s also one pertaining to BSE. Also known as Mad Cow Disease, it had a large-scale outbreak in the 1990s in Great Britain, and eating meat from an infected animal may cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans even decades after.

Since this disease can be transmitted via (donated) blood as well, in many European countries you will be excluded from blood donations if you lived in Great Britian between 1980 and the early 2000s. Asian countries go a bit further: In Hongkong they effectively exclude everybody who grew up in Europe in the 1980/1990s. In Japan, they ask you whether you lived in certain countries besides Great Britain, among them Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.

Well, that one does it for me… It seems that my blood donor career is over – unless of course I’ll move again to another (European) country, which I have no intentions of doing. Oh well, it was fun as long as it lasted.

PS: I hope you’re inspired to go out and give this blood donating a try. Just one thing: Please don’t lie on your pre-donation questionnaire, no matter how eager you are to “help”. You have no control over who’s getting your blood. It may be a burly truck driver after an accident or a 2-week old baby. Don’t play with their lives!

Early Onset Rainy Season

raindrops on a windowOh my, is it really tsuyu already? It’s been raining daily for a week now and people start calling this the rainy season. This would make it three weeks earlier than usual, and the earliest start of the rainy season ever recorded. It was the same with the cherry blossoms this year – everything seems to have shifted forward significantly. Well, as long as the trend doesn’t spontaneously reverse and provides us with three extra weeks of rain…

But in a way, it’s not too bad that the rainy season is that early. At this time of the year, it’s not yet very hot, so the additional humidity from the rain doesn’t make you feel uncomfortably sticky. Also, Kyoto is still under a state of emergency, which has been extended to much of the country a few days ago. The rain usually keeps people from going out, so it may also prevent a further increase of Covid infections, to date around 80,000.

So yeah, there is a silver lining even to these rain clouds…

I’m back!

My first post in 2 weeks! I had a great “holiday” at home. The three national holidays in a row provided some much needed peace and quiet, and I’m very happy to say that so far, it’s still pretty quiet since the construction next door is on a break. I’m feeling perfectly relaxed, which is wonderful.

flyer for 20 years of Sannenzaka Museum exhibition.In the last 2 weeks, I did some smaller things around my place, but mostly I spent my time reading. Not the weather was that good anyway. Unfortunately, it was also raining on Children’s Day (May 5), so I skipped the ceremony at Kifune Shrine, which I wanted to see. Oh well, there’s always next year (a dangerous thought, I know). However, I did visit my favourite museum, the Sannenzaka Museum. They specialise in Japanese arts and crafts from the Meiji and Taisho period, and I made it there just before the end of the last exhibition period. Since it is a rather small museum, they have chosen to remain open during the state of emergency, giving me some place to go.

Speaking of our state of emergency… Well, it was supposed to end yesterday, but it was not only extended until May 31, but now includes Aichi prefecture (Nagoya) as well. This is exactly what happened last year! Looking back, it’s quite hilarious how in June last year I thought that everything was over and “back to normal” already.

Even though some things are indeed more relaxed (definitely compared to last year), we should remain careful. Vaccinations go very slowly here, and Japan plans to have most elderly people vaccinated by July, which probably means that we young ones can get our shots then, finally.

Anyway, I’m back and I’m trying to stay positive and focused on what little work there is at the moment. There will be a “normal” soon. I hope I’m right this time around…

Wish Fulfilment…

Last week, on this very blog, in a comment to one of you dear readers, I vented my frustration about our Corona measures. Essentially, I said: Oh, just shut everything down already! Well, what can I say.

In the latest episode of the perennial hit series “Careful What U Wish 4”, the government has done exactly that: Kyoto, together with the neighbouring prefectures Osaka and Hyogo, is under a new lockdown, pardon me: state of emergency. Beginning last Sunday and ending, hopefully, on May 11, restaurants, bars, shopping centers, museums… are closed. And Kyoto Zoo. With more people sick in Osaka than in Tokyo (which is under lockdown too), the measure is understandable. Besides, I dare not complain again…

Well, here goes my holiday. For the last couple of weeks I was thinking of going out of town for a couple of days around Golden Week (which starts tomorrow). I didn’t want to go too far anyway, down to Nara again perhaps, or over to Otsu, more a change of scenery than a holiday, really. It’s not going to happen now. But, I have all intentions to take time off from tomorrow through next week, so that’s at least something.

There are other good news too: Just yesterday, they finished the demolition next door. The ground is level, the machines are gone, and it’s quiet again, for the first time in months! I very much hope that they will take their sweet time with the surveying before they tear everything up again and start constructions. I am pretty confident though that nothing much will happen until the end of my “home holiday”.

Yeah, I’m good, for now. Let’s hope it lasts.

New Trend: Mokushoku

Today was one of the days when I fled my apartment mid-morning because of all the noise next door. (No more complaints, promised!) I went to my favourite cafe nearby to get some writing done, as usual. But I arrived to a rather unusual setting.

I did mention that we’re in another “lockdown” until May 5, right? For my dear beloved that means that there are now two more tables for two (my favourites) that you can’t sit at because of social distancing. And the huge table that dominates the room and usually sits 12 people at least, if not more (never counted pre-Corona, honestly), has now only 6 chairs left, three on each side. No wonder they had to raise the prices (2 yen per cup of “Royal Milk Tea”, but it’s ’bout the principle.) Thankfully, I did find an empty spot, but on the table was a notice like this one:

(I recreated this at home because no smartphone to take pictures… but I carefully took down all the kanji and even tried to match the colors.) It says:

Silent Meal

Please cooperate with the silent meal. Conversations with meals pose a risk of infection. We recommend “silent meals” to prevent infection. Separate “conversation” and “meal” and refrain from “conversation without mask”.

Well, that’s definitely a new one! And it’s hilarious. Just think about it: How is it possible that speaking while having a meal is a bigger infection risk than a conversation without food? How much open mouthed do you need to eat to make this possible? And how come that if you’re such a sloppy eater you still have people who’d want to go out for lunch with you?

I can see this with babies, toddlers even, but this is not a daycare for kids. It’s a cafe for adults who like to step out every now and then and have a coffee and catch up with the papers. And most people who are coming are doing so alone because they study or read – I mean, that’s the whole point of a quiet book cafe… The mind boggles. I’m seriously wondering what else they’re coming up with next.

Frustration x 2

How are you all doing? I’m just clawing myself out of another hole, and it’s not going very fast… I don’t like whining in general and certainly not on here. First of all, everybody’s got their frustrations (especially now) and second, it’s boring to read or listen to if it’s getting too much. And it is getting too much for everybody lately. But I do need to vent a little, so just bear with me this time, okay?

First of all, Kyoto is in another COVID-19-induced lockdown with the same old spiel of “avoid going out”, “keep your distance”, “restaurants and bars close at 8”. It started on Monday and will end on May 5th, on the last day of the Golden Week holidays. I’m getting so tired of this. And what’s really annoying is that Kyoto is actually doing rather well. The problem is Osaka, where only yesterday they had 1000 new infections (with 2.6 million inhabitants, but still), and with people from Kyoto commuting for work every day…

So yes, more “stay at home please” orders for 3 weeks. I’m thrilled. Just thrilled. It wouldn’t be that bad if staying at home all the time were pleasant. But the construction works in front of my office window, which have been ongoing for months already, have reached new noise levels.

Of the six buildings that were there before, nothing is left. To be honest, it was actually quite interesting to watch the apartment building being torn down. They used huge claws to bite into the gutted building where only the concrete walls with the windows in them were left, and bit by bit they demolished it and carried it away on large trucks. It’s amazing how dexterously a skillful person can operate these enormous pieces of equipment.

I was happy when the building was gone and I thought I could look forward to a bit more quiet. But no, they are now digging up the foundations which is a completely different game. The walls on the outside are much more massive, and huge chunks are “bitten” of in one piece and then crushed individually. As I said, it’s a completely new level of noise. And it’s going on from 9 – 5 with a one hour lunchbreak from 12 – 1 and two shorter breaks in the morning in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of continuous background noise that the brain filters out after a while either.

This constant noise is very stressful.. When I have work where I need to focus, the noise recedes into the background and it’s fine. But most of my work is rather creative, where I need time to think about how to do something. And there the noise is very disruptive. Not all my work can be done in my favourite coffee shop, so I am doing some after the workers quit for the day. Sadly, I can’t sleep in and even when I’m not working, it’s hard to relax during the day.

Oh well. Right now, I can at least keep my windows closed, not that the single-glazing is doing much good. But with the cherry blossoms being long gone, it will get hot soon, something I usually combat by opening up all windows. I have no idea what I’m going to do this summer. Let’s just hope it won’t get too hot this year…

Thanks for listening! I’ll try not to whine too often. It’s really not fun to read…

Cute Food

Remember the Tamayuran cat cafe? It’s been a while since I last visited, but I just found this photo that I wanted to share. Aren’t these sweets cute?

These little kittie paws are actually cup cakes, and I got them as a present to take home last time. I decided to heat them on my toaster for a bit, but unfortunately, the left one slipped inside and got a bit darker than I wanted. They were still tasty, a great breakfast!

Anyway, the owner of the Tamayuran is still going strong. As she had to limit the number of visitors to her small cafe because of Corona, she has now started an online side-business where people can buy her handmade cakes. Her sweets are absolutely delicious (her lunches, not so much) and are always a special bonus on top of all the cats roaming the cafe. Unfortunately, she will also have to move the cafe since the lovely old buildings in the area have been bought by a developer who will doubtlessly build a mansion there instead… I don’t approve, but that’s the way of the world.

As for Corona, things are by far not back to normal and who knows if they ever will be again. But it’s the little things that make me happy in between all the dread. They always did and I hope they always will!

Bamboo Weaving

A few weeks ago was Design Week Kyoto, a period of 10 days each February, where art studios and small factories producing Kyoto crafts are open to the public. It’s an eclectic mix of things like textiles, paper, ceramics and bamboo crafts, but also swordsmiths, a producer of artificial limbs, and a firm dealing with traditional architecture for shrines and temples are on the list of places you can visit. And some even offer short classes to learn the very basics of a craft.

Personally, I have been interested in bamboo weaving, that is, making baskets, for a while. So, together with a friend, I took the opportunity to produce one at the bamboo store Takenoko that took part in Design Week. Here’s what I started out with and what I was supposed to have produced after 90 minutes of work or so (and I did pretty well, actually):

This is the simplest basket of them all because the top is woven too instead of cut and as you can see, the bottom, which is the most difficult part, was already prepared for us. The bamboo pieces had all been prepared and they had to be rather wet to make them easy to use. I was surprised at the change of color of the material. Wet, the bamboo was almost orange, but now that it is thorougly dry, it is a light beige only.

Overall, the weaving itself was very simple to do, but at the same time, it is hard to be precise. Of course, like with everything else, it is a question of time and routine to make good pieces, but it must take years of effort to produce some of the exquisite crafts I saw in the shop of the Takenoko.

Anyway, I would love to pursue this is a hobby, but sadly, the shop doesn’t offer classes beyond this one. Which means that I’ll have to look for a good teacher elsewhere in Kyoto because I don’t think this one is easy to learn on your own. Oh my, so many interesting things to learn!