So Cool!

As I mentioned, I gave myself a 10 mm buzz cut about a month ago. And just the time I save every morning by not having to style it or wait until it’s dry has me convinced that I’ll keep it this way for a long, long time…

So far, reactions were split across the gender divide.

Men don’t seem so care, really, although I did notice some stares from across rooms and even streets. Only my doctor, whom I’ve been seeing for 10 years now every three months, seemed to be genuinely shocked. First thing he said at our last appointment was, “so… you got a haircut…” to proceed to the practicalities of the how and to finally end at the why – and if the cliché of women changing their lives with a haircut is true. I told him to pay attention if his wife ever shows up with something drastic like this; the next thing she may want to change may be him… He also asked the best question of them all with “Isn’t it cold?” (It’s indeed a bit chilly on the bicycle.)

Women on the other hand are almost vicariously excited about it, in particular younger ones. I’ve heard “that’s so cool!” several times now, and just today, I got compared to Annie Lennox. Of course, Annie is even now, at almost 70, so much more beautiful than I’ve ever been and ever will be. No contest. And now, I have her “Little Bird” fluttering around in my head…

Taiko Class

Two weeks ago, I was invited to a Japanese drum class to review it for What’s up in Kyoto (I love my job!) Japanese drums are generally called wadaiko, but there are many different sizes that all have specific names. I’ll do a bit more research on this – looks like a weekend post on drums is coming up! But let’s talk about the lesson.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings somewhere between excitement and apprehension. I have zero musical talent and couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended on it, and after I had to quit the recorder (flute) in primary school, all I’ve been playing were LPs and later CDs. So, there was a base level of embarrassment to begin with, which grew exponentially when I entered the classroom and saw that it was set up for a single student only. Yay.

Thankfully, we started easy: raise the drumsticks high and just drop them onto the drum. Tap the edge of the drum. Play loudly and then very quietly. Interestingly, the stance to play wadaiko with slightly bent knees and straight back reminded me of the basic stance in Aikido. I wonder if this is because the strength for playing should not come from the arms and shoulders, but from the hara, the centre of the body (just like in Aikido).

In any case, the class moved to basic rhythms and, finally, to a real song (is it a “song” if it’s just rhythm? Serious question) with a beginning, middle and end. My teacher and I played together and took turns with improvisations in the third part, and although I wasn’t very good at those, it was fun to watch him play.

The lesson took one hour, in which I had great fun thanks to the teacher who was very encouraging. Unfortunately, I felt quite conscious of my body throughout the class, partly because I was the only student as mentioned and thus felt under constant scrutiny, but also because I was facing a huge mirrored wall all the time… Overall, however, the fun definitely outweighed my body issues and I felt extremely energized after the class, so much so that I couldn’t sleep at all that night.

Things that surprised me: the drumsticks were very light; apparently, there are different weights and sizes, not just for smaller and larger drums (obviously), but heavier drumsticks make it less tiring to play for longer periods. Also, where the drum is hit makes a difference – dead centre sounds different from closer to the edge. Now that I had time to think about it, the reason is probably the added interference/overlay of the soundwaves near the edge, but that wasn’t clear to me at first. Finally, you need to hold the drumsticks quite tightly to avoid them bouncing and hitting the drum twice – no wonder I ended up with blisters on both my thumbs.

Before I tell you my final verdict, I must mention the teacher: it was Kuro-chan (real name Shugo Kurosaka), the blonde frontman of Bati-Holic. (Since I’ve fangirled about the band already.several.times, I’ll spare you today, but do check them out, they’re great!) We got to talk after a concert, and he mentioned that he’s teaching too, and I jumped on the occasion. He began learning taiko when he was 12, and when he entered university in Kyoto, he started a taiko club there (which still exists today!) He said he quickly found out that there was money in this, and since he wanted to do something music related anyway… The rest is history. Because he has so much experience teaching and also works with kids, he’s very patient, and we were both laughing a lot during the lesson, which speaks for his relaxed attitude.

Final verdict, or: Where is this going? Well, one of my goals in Project 50 by 50 is to “start a new hobby.” And because this whole music thing is so far out of my comfort zone, it may just be the right challenge – and I’m here for it. For various reasons, I can’t start right away, but I hope I can make it happen after summer at the latest. I’ll keep you posted.

Project 50 by 50

With my 48th birthday just around the corner, I have decided to make a few changes in/to my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with how my life turned out so far. When I was stuck all the way back in my deepest teenage angst & depression, I couldn’t have imagined any of this. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. So, I’ve done two things:

  1. I chopped off my hair.
    I’ve been wearing it short since living in Hong Kong in 2007, but now it’s a mere 10 mm long. Doing that felt extremely liberating, and once the deed was done, it energized me for the rest of the day.
    So far, the reactions were mostly surprise, but people were positive, and I’m feeling less stuck already. There really seems to be something to the old trope of “women who want a change, first change their hair”.
  2. Project 50 by 50: 50 goals to reach until my 50th birthday.
    This was inspired by somebody whom I admire and who made massive changes when turning 50. I already started last August by setting the first 20 goals; 15 more at the beginning of this year, and another 15 are due next year. (That’s deliberate, you never know how life turns out, and there may be new things to focus on.)
    I don’t want to go into details here since this is obviously a very personal project, but some of the goals are to go out more often and make friends, save enough money to renovate the rest of the house, take regular days offline, stop neglecting this blog…
    Overall it’s a quirky list ranging from the mundane to the almost esoteric, but all the goals are meant to improve my life in some way and/or to make me a better human (if only in my mind).

Already, I have been making progress on some of the goals, one of them being “study Japanese and take the JLPT every December”. I mentioned taking the test, and the results are in: I passed, with 160/180 points!

Now, this was the easiest test covering only the very basics, and had I failed this after all these years in Japan, it would’ve been very embarrassing. The next level will be more difficult, and it will already include keigo (respect language). I’m worried… Best to go and study more.

First Ume

This afternoon, I had to go to Arashiyama to take photos of next month’s highlight temple on the What’s up in Kyoto website. And here’s the first plum blossoms that I see this year:

And that after a day of on-and-off snowing in my (eastern) part of town, where, when I left, there was still snow on Mount Hiei. There was no snow anywhere in Arashiyama (in the western part of town), and in fact, it was a lovely day with sunshine and blue skies – and lots and lots of tourists at the usual haunts over there.

It was fun to go out, I sat at the river for a bit, too. I hope spring will come quickly this year.

Weekend Project

How is it that as soon as I promise to post more diligently here, things get away from me again…?

At least I finally finished a little weekend project. A friend of mine gave me a large furoshiki with a print of one of her favourite woodblock print artists, Clifton Karhu. As it is gorgeous, I didn’t just want it to sit in a drawer somewhere. Therefore, I made a cheap wooden frame, so I could hang it on the large wall in my office. Here we go:

Of course, furoshiki are square, so I trimmed the image a little at the top, which is just sky and more leaves. “Trimmed” is not the right word here, I just folded the fabric to the back of the frame. Usually, you would staple the fabric to the wood, but since I didn’t want to destroy the furoshiki, I only sewed it to the back. This makes the picture less stable and a bit wobbly to be honest, but overall I’m happy with the result. And with the bold colors, it fits into my office perfectly.

Back 2 Normal

Thanks for your kind messages: I’m almost back to normal, only a few sniffles remain and a persistent cough that mostly manifests in the mornings and scares Pumpkin out underneath the covers. My hot water has reappeared too, just as surprisingly as it was gone. Probably it wasn’t frozen pipes, but just a frozen valve in the water heater itself (which is outside). The first hot shower after a few days of washing my hair in a bucket felt like a treat!

There were a few other treats in the last 3 weeks I should be reporting on. First, the Bati-Holic concert on the 14th, which was probably the reason why I got that nasty cold to begin with: I was pretty sweaty after the concert and then bicycled home; even though it was a fairly warm night, it was probably not the best of my ideas…

Second, the Tuesday after, my friend from Tokyo invited me to a kabuki performance in Osaka. It turned out not to be “real” kabuki, but a mix of kabuki and noh theater together with taiko drums. The first half was a bit disappointing – I had seen “Hagoromo” several times before – but the second half with a famous lion dance performance – one father and two son lions – made it all up to me. Performers were Bando Tamasaburo, a kabuki actor famous for his onnagata female roles, and the taiko group Kodo, which I’ve seen before in joint performances like this. It was a great afternoon, even though I got violently sick on the way home and in the end had to cancel our plans to see the Andy Warhol exhibition on the next day.

Last week I was up and running again (mostly) and I visited Daigo-ji temple for work on Thursday. I took some lovely pictures of the snowy temple, and if you don’t mind me repeating myself (or rather: this month’s highlight on What’s up in Kyoto), I’ll write about Daigo-ji next Sunday.

And finally, because I finished all my work and then some relatively early on Monday, I treated myself to another Bati-Holic concert… Sadly, there were not many people, but it was fun anyway. Interestingly, the guys seem to know me already. When I entered, I bumped into one of the members on the way to the dressing room, and he said “Hey, nice to see you again, thanks for coming!” It’s not as if they only have three fans or something, so I find it almost embarrassing when something like this happens…

Anyway, this time, the group was complete, no Corona-necessitated substitutes this time, so my signatures are now complete as well. So happy!

Goodness, I sound like such a fangirl…

Heavy Snow

This is what my street looked like this morning:

It started snowing yesterday in the late afternoon, and I even took a walk around the block last night, when it was still snowing. It must have stopped in the night already, that’s why we only have 15 to 20 cm, but for Kyoto, this is very unusual. Looking at the news, there has been snow and cold temperatures all over Japan, and most people in the cities are not used to dealing with it.

For example, trains were stranded everywhere, and there was an article telling of people shut in a train for 5 hours just outside of Kyoto’s Yamashina station while personnel tried to free the switches from snow. I also read that some convenience stores and smaller food shops had to close because they had been sold out – the article implied a run on the shops. I’m wondering: WHY? Sure, I get it, probably a lot of the supplies scheduled to come in last night were stuck somewhere; but you don’t need to go shopping every day to survive. It was very quiet up here, I think the post man didn’t come at all, so I didn’t see any of the usual kamikaze drivers (people who park their car outside and don’t bother cleaning off all the snow before driving), but there must have been plenty in town.

I did have a problem of my own: No hot water. There was plenty of cold water, and the gas was working as usual – but they didn’t combine to produce hot water. I am guessing that the hot water pipes are frozen shut, and since the temperatures hovered around 0 degrees all day up here, they didn’t thaw yet. This night is forecast to be very cold again (-4 degrees), but it seems that the next days at least should be warmer. So far, I haven’t called anybody, but it seems that the pipes, while frozen, are still intact. If something changes one way or the other, I will have to do something about it. But that’s a problem for tomorrow.

I’m back!

Happy New Year again! Probably, by now we’ve all settled back into our workday routines. I sure have…

It was a very nice and relaxing holiday. I even tried to stay offline for a good part of it – so in case you haven’t heard back from me regarding any year’s end/start wishes, that’s the reason why. I was fairly busy doing things around the house, small projects that I had wanted to do for a long time, but that always fell by the wayside. Things like “clean the bicycle” and “tidy living room downstairs” and “clear office cable spaghetti”. From my list of 21 items, I did 12 completely and started 2 more only in the last 2 weeks. I’m pretty satisfied.

The biggest project was certainly to fix the shoji in my bedroom, and while this is a relatively easy thing to do, I ran out of paper on the last frame and needed to shop for more. But it’s done finally, and it’s amazing how clean the room looks now, even though nothing has changed but the colour of the shoji paper. I will talk about how to fix shoji in a separate post.

For the first time since living in Japan, I bought an ofuda, a lucky charm for the house, see the photo. It is supposed to go onto the kamidama, a special, slightly elevated place for the gods. Older houses have one in the kitchen, but my house doesn’t have one. No big deal, there are other places. The reason why the photo looks a bit washed out is because the ofuda is covered with thin paper, and I have been told to leave the paper on, probably so it doesn’t get dirty in the year it should stay in the house.

Other than that, the weather has been quite pleasant, especially compared to last year. Of course, Pumpkin is freezing anyway and sleeps under an extra blanket on a heating mat in my office… And there were a few colder days, but overall, it’s much warmer than it was last year. We’ve only had one day of – very little – snow so far and even though it is objectively cold, subjectively, it doesn’t “bite” that much. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Winding Down

Pumpkin looking cute in his kitty bed in my office.

Another year (almost) over! One year and three weeks in which I’ve been living here, and Pumpkin celebrated his “Gotcha Day” just last week. So, it’s our second Christmas together in the new house, and I’m hoping that many more will follow!

Looking back, there were no more big changes for me this year (they all happened in 2021 already). So, 2022 was more a year of tranquillity and settling in to the new normal. I guess there will be smaller ongoing improvements to the house and my life (hopefully), but I don’t expect any massive upheavals in the near future.

The benefits of middle age. Or should I call it “the boredom”?

In any case, I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll have wonderful holidays too – and I’ll see you again next year!

Cold Winter

Kyoto got pretty cold in the last few days, and Pumpkin and I are making adjustments. Since the end of November, I’ve been sleeping in the slightly smaller living room I’ve showed you recently because it’s easier to heat even if I don’t use the air-conditioner that’s there. In the summer, I have discovered that the two large rooms upstairs have amado shutters. And although they are pretty thin and made from metal, I’m closing them now when it gets dark outside. I have no idea if this is actually making a difference, and I shall investigate. In any case, the neighbours all close their amado as well. It may be for privacy reasons only, though.

Pumpkin does cause a slight problem with respect to keeping the bedroom warm during the night: Pumpkin wants in. And out. So I have to keep the door open a little, so he can eat or use the toilet, and with the rest of the house cold and unheated as well, there’s not much I can do to make the bedroom warmer. Last year, a friend of mine suggested using a sleeping bag on those icy nights, and honestly, I am considering it.

During the day, it’s not much better; the other day it was 6 degrees when I got up. It takes all day to heat up my office (9 square meters only) to around 20 degrees, and when this is done, it’s time for bed… Pumpkin doesn’t mind much, he is sleeping all day in the kitty bed that I placed in my office shelf. I lined it with an electric heating mat, and on top of him there’s a blanket as well. Sometimes I wish there was somebody to take care of me that way…