Kyotographie 2020

I spent a great weekend with a friend of mine at Kyotographie 2020! This is an annual international photo exhibition that usually takes place in spring, but has been postponed by half a year because of Covid19. My friend always comes to visit and together, we try to see as many of the exhibitions as we can.

As usual, the exhibitions were very far apart at various venues, but because this year the scope was much smaller than usual – 12 exhibitions with 3 associated programs – we were able to see all but four of them, and we weren’t even overly stressed. My favourites are below, you can even “walk” through the exhibitions online – check out the links!

It’s hard to pick my favourite this year. I liked Mari Katayama’s photos of her body covered with gold glitter. Atsushi Fukushima’s photos of old people and their homes was very touching and made me wonder if I myself would one day end up like this – single woman that I am. Pierre-Elie de Pibrac from France captured the sheer beauty and opulence of the opera in Paris. And in the old Assembly Hall of the Kyoto Prefectural Building, Omar Victor Diop staged his own assembly with famous figures from African history who have something special in common.

I had a great weekend with my friend, and although it was raining on Saturday and there was a lot of walking involved on both days (for which I paid with leg pain throughout Sunday and Monday), I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this. As a bonus, I was taken home by the Kyotographie shuttle on Sunday afternoon when my friend got on the train back to Kobe – a perfect end to the weekend!

Whether it was the exhibition or meeting with my friend, it did help me get out of my funk a little. I’m feeling rather depressed these days (sorry for not writing, and I still owe you some pictures). I’m not sure what the cause is of all this – that I have practically no work, that I see even fewer people than usual, that I don’t go out much…? Atsushi Fukushima’s old people come to mind again – is this just what I’ll be facing 35 years from now, nothing to do but plenty of depression? Better come up with coping strategies while I still have full brain capacities…

Pleasure Cruise

Sorry for not writing on Sunday – it’s weird how Sunday is creeping up on me and then I have nothing prepared… In this case, I have some sort of excuse though: I was busy working because I took Monday off.

Already back in March, I wanted to take the Lake Biwa Canal Cruise, a litte boat tour from Otsu on Lake Biwa to Kyoto. I had booked everything and then, just two days before my trip, it was cancelled because of Corona… However, they have opened up again on October 1st for their autumn season, and this time I booked extra early to make it happen.

And I have to say: It was worth every minute! When you get to the terminal, you get to see a short film of the canal and its history, and you see the main locks in the beginning of the canal. Then you’re ushered into the little boat that has only 12 seats and except for a glass roof, is otherwise open. And the first tunnel is just a few meters past the boarding point!

What I found interesting were the many insects inside the tunnels where it was slightly warmer than outside, even though it was a bright day. In the first tunnel, we even got fog! In between the tunnels, the canal runs through quiet areas of Otsu and Kyoto, there are forests on one side and a path with big trees on the other. You can see the occasional temple and many birds along the water, and most of the people come and wave when the boats pass by.

I will add a few pictures tomorrow, the trip was really beautiful, especially from my seat in the very front. (Foreigner bonus, I’m sure).

To make the trip worth my while – after all, the cruise takes only 55 minutes, I went to Otsu a bit earlier to visit Miidera Temple, one of the largest temples in all Japan. Even so, it was blissfully empty, but maybe that’s because the precincts are so large that you wouldn’t meet many people anyway.

I will post a few pictures of my trip tomorrow, and I promise to write in depth about Miidera and my fantastic pleasure cruise on some other Sunday.

Improvised

The other day, on the bus, there was an elderly woman sitting across the aisle from me. In general, I do like to watch people, but she only caught my eye when she started nestling with some plastic. She had some strips of thin plastic which she twisted into a somewhat thicker string that she finally knotted into a circle.

She worked very deftly, but I could see no reason why she would do that, and on the bus to boot. From my experience with people watching, I can tell you that there are many very strange people on the loose. In cases as these, it is best not to stare. But she looked like a friendly and normal grandmother, so I kept glancing at her doings ever so often.

After she had finished two plastic circles, out came a small yellow towel. Most Japanese carry them, they are extremely handy in public bathrooms where very often, there are neither towels nor any other means to dry your hands. These days its even worse, when thanks to Covid19, most electric handdryers have been turned off to prevent spreading the virus. But I digress…

So, out came the towel and she folded in two opposite corners to form an (almost) rectangle. She then placed one of her plastic cirles of the third corner of ther towel and folded this in too. Now I was positively staring. What IS she doing, for crying out loud? Occupational therapy? On the bus?

She performed the same operation with the second circle and the fourth towel corner. I still didn’t get it. Only when she was trying to put it on did I realise: She was making a face mask!

They are still mandatory, okay: kindly requested, on public transport , but I hadn’t even noticed that she didn’t wear one until then. Unfortunately, my own stop was coming up, so I didn’t see her wearing her creation. The strings were a bit too short, so she needed to make adjustments. But just coming up with the idea on the fly, and to use what she had on hand – pure genius!

So yes, there are indeed lots of very strange people on the loose. But sometimes, it’s worth looking beneath the surface.

Domestic

We’ve just had a nice long weekend with Monday and Tuesday two holidays in a row. Since the weather was great, I took some time to cycle around and visit a few new places or just explore the back roads. I also did a lot of reading (a friend of mine just sent me her new book) and I caught up with some things household related. So, mostly, I stayed at home.

It seems that most people in the neighborhood did the same. And unfortunately, with all the windows open at this time of the year, you hear more from your neighbors than you might want to…

In the opposite building, there is a family where I sometimes see the husband hanging up the laundry on the balcony. Personally, I think it’s great when a man does his bit in the household, but I digress. Sadly, in the last time, I can hear them fight more often. I mean, I can hear him scream on the top of his lungs, he seems to be very angry. It’s way too fast for me to understand, but it does scare me, and I’m happy he is out of throwing distance from me…

Which leads to a certain dilemma: Do I say anything? And if so, to whom?

To him? Even though we are “neighbors”, I have never met him. And starting your very first conversation with a “oh, you’re the one screaming last Sunday morning…” is not the best idea.

To somebody else in the house? First of all, I am sure the others have heard something as well. But, I once said something when a burglar alarm went off in the middle of the day, and I was assured that it was nothing…

To the police? Well, it’s not as if I could tell them what is being said, the only thing I ever understood was “shigoto desu – it’s work”. Hmmm… now that I write this down, maybe his wife suspects that he has an affair?

So yes, even if you want to do the right thing, it is not always so clear what that would be, really…

Sleepless in Kyoto

I’m pretty tired these days and don’t have much energy… Thankfully, it’s not as hot anymore as it was a few weeks ago, but while the day temperatures have dropped a few degrees, the night temperatures have not. And the comparatively small difference between day and night makes sleeping really difficult at the moment. The last few days, I’ve been waking up several times in the night just to turn on the fan for half an hour or so, which helps just enough to fall asleep again.

Today, the weather was awfully windy and couldn’t decide whether to rain or not. There was a brief shower in the afternoon, but not enough to cool the city down. As usual in Japan’s summer, any kind of rain just makes the place more humid. However, it seems that the coming week will be more cloudy and thus, less hot, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep!

Thanks, Shinzo!

It’s almost scary to realise that we’ve been living with Corona / Covid19 for about half a year now! And sadly, things are not getting much better yet. It seems that some countries stand at the beginning of a second wave, and it’s just been discovered that there’s no long lasting immunity against the virus either. Yes, it seems indeed that this one is here to stay…

Japanese currencyFor now, governments in many states give financial aid to businesses and sometimes even to private citizens to ease the burden. For my company, I am eligible for financial aid since my income for May 2020 has dropped by more than 50% compared to May 2019. My accountant is currently busy with the paperwork, although it seems that there are not that many documents necessary in the first place.

And for me as a private person, I already received the 100,000 yen that Shinzo Abe has promised for everybody living in Japan. And I’m already spending it, too. There are a few things I need, but nothing really substantial: A pair of light summer slippers that I can wear on the bicycle (meaning: no sandals). A new backpack since the one I’m using right now is two years old already and won’t last forever.

And I also bought a very nice and extra warm duvet for winter, stuffed with real sheep’s wool. I’ve been looking at this one since last winter, but couldn’t make up my mind to buy it. Now that that shop has a grand sale because they will close soon for renovations, I finally bought it last week – for 30% off and with the government’s money to boot. Hey, thanks, Shinzo! 

Other than this, I have no big spending plans. Except… well, Shinzo’s money won’t cover all of that… You see, I’m looking into something really big right now. It’s too early for details, but I’ll keep you posted, promised!

Heatwave

Sorry for not posting last night, I was flat out exhausted. We’re in the third week of a heatwave here and although there is a certain breeze that makes things more bearable, especially in the afternoon, it’s still not easy to get motivated.

Yesterday I had to flee my apartment because it got so hot, and I cooled down in my favourite cafe. Sadly, they don’t have wifi there, which makes being productive rather difficult. How much we rely on the internet these days!

Today, I have three appointments in the afternoon, I hope I can make them all… It seems that next week will be a bit cooler, which is to be expected. I hope my motivation follows suit – it does help if you can sleep through the night! We’ll see.

Tea Ceremony

Every year in August, Kodai-ji Temple holds a special Cool Night Yukata Tea Ceremony in the weekends and this year, I convinced a friend of mine to go together with me.

Of course, we both had to wear Yukata for the occasion, mainly because it is nice, but also because we wanted to get the 500 yen discount that was offered for people wearing yukata. Of course, if you’re wearing traditional Japanese clothing at a traditional Japanese event, you need to go all the way: When making the reservation, we were informed that we needed to wear tabi, white Japanese socks with separate big toe. This is actually standard since it is rude to enter a room (in particular one with tatami) barefoot.

So, one day before the tea ceremony, I went to a special tabi shop on Sanjo dori to buy me some traditional footwear. And: I failed. Problem is that tabi are made of relatively stiff cotton that is not flexible at all, so they are closed at the inside of the ankle with some sort of buttons, for lack of a better word. And, while my feet are the rather standard Japanese size  of 24.5 cm, my ankles are not…

Anyway, the next day in the evening I showed up at my friend’s place with the yukata she gave to me a few years back, a whole pile of assorted accessories including obi and geta and a pair of white socks to put on at the tea ceremony proper. I had hoped that my friend would be able to help me putting on the obi – which alone takes me 30 minutes every time – but it turned out that she hasn’t got a clue how to do this since she only wears a very simplified version that doesn’t require wrapping a piece of cloth the length of an anaconda around your waist… At least she could hold some of the pieces in place while I squirmed into them, her extra pair of hands did help.

Kodaiji in the nightWhen we arrived at Kodai-ji, it turned out to be a very small tea ceremony with only seven people in total. The setting was less formal that I had expected (and dressed for), we were sitting on little chairs on a low table instead of kneeling on the floor in seiza. The room was beautifully decorated according to the theme – glass – and all the tea utensils down to the tea scoop were made from glass (except the tea kettle, of course).

Since I had been at tea ceremonies before, I roughly knew what to do – there’s a lot of bowing involved – but once again, I completely missed the preparation of the tea. In tea ceremonies for larger groups, the main host is entertaining the guests by smalltalk or explaining the tea utensils or the art used in the tokonoma. Meanwhile, another person actually makes the tea for the top one or two guests, and all the other guests get their tea served from behind the scenes.

I found the sweets that were offered before the matcha a bit tasteless, but they looked like a heart placed behind glass to fit the theme. What I really like about tea ceremonies is that afterwards, you are invited to inspect the room and check out all the tea bowls and other utensils and the tokonoma as well. Sadly, I didn’t expect that it was allowed to take photos at that time, so I didn’t bring my camera…

Oh well. In any case I had fun and spent a nice evening at the temple, although it was very hot outside even after the sun went down. The yukata didn’t help with that either. One thing I still have to figure out is how my Japanese friend can look all cool and poised and relaxed at a hot night like this while I look like I’ve just emerged out of a steam bath and getting ready to burst into flame…  I shall investigate.

Ayu

From the time I was a child, I’ve always liked eating fish. This is interesting, since Austria has no access to the sea, and we chiefly subsist on pork and potatoes. As a child, fish was mainly those deep frozen/fried fish-stick kind of things, and when I was a bit older, we occasionally got fresh trout from a family member who had a fish rearing pond.

So, now that I’m in Japan, one would think that I’d eat a lot of fish. Well, yes I do… kinda. Sadly, I mainly stick to sushi and salmon. To be honest, although the fish and seafood section in my supermarket is huge, I am a bit intimidated – I mean, I have no idea how to cook this properly!

But of course, now I am an adult with lots of curiosity and said supermarket next door plus: enter the internet! I am proud to report tha I have already cooked myself spicy clams with spaghetti, and even though I probably got the wrong kind of clams (it was an Italian recipe) I was very happy with the outcome. My proudest moment, however, was when I tried the ayu.

Ayu, also called sweetfish, are small freshwater fish that are very popular in Japan and other parts of Asia. They are eaten throughout summer and are available at almost any matsuri where they are grilled over an open fire.

So when I saw the fish above, I was intrigued but also a bit worried. As you can see, this is a complete fish, bones and innards and all – do I have to do that cutting that stuff out myself? So I asked one of the staff at the supermarket, an elderly man. First of all, he explained that this was indeed an ayu (there are many kanji for this fish, none of which I can read: 鮎, 年魚, 香魚) and then he said that no, Japanese people eat the whole thing. Really.

After some deliberation, I thought, oh well, let’s try this. Thankfully, not having to cut off any pieces made cooking it very easy – I simply put it on the little fish grill of my gas stove. And because ayu are maybe 20 cm long at most, it took only around 10 minutes until it was done.

Overall verdict: The term “sweetfish” is accurate, the meat was tender and very delicious. I only used a bit of salt to cook it and put some lemon juice on it before eating. Full disclosure, I did not eat the whole fish after all, leaving the spine, head and innards, but it may be something I’m willing to try at a later point, of which there will definitely be many!   

Summer Joys

Yesterday, after my physio therapy session in the morning, I went down to Nijo Castle. The old residence of the Shoguns is on eof my favourite places in Kyoto and over summer, offer a special treat: Visitors are allowed to enter some of the rooms of the Ninomaru palace and see the famoous fusuma paintings of the Kano School close-up!

Of course I had to go and I was very excited when I went there – just to find out that the palace was closed for the day and only the gardens were accessible… Yes, it’s my job to know these things, but even I am not infallible… I didn’t enter after all, I like the palace gardens but I don’t consider them spectacular and worth a visit without seeing the palace. So much for my treat!

Although, to be fair, I did have another treat: Yesterday was doyo-ushi-no-hi, the day of the ox in midsummer, traditionally considered the hottest day in summer, even though this year the heat and especially the humidity is very bearable.

Tradition dictates that on this day of the ox you eat eel – unagi – and I am lucky enough to have a little Japanese restaurant nearby which was selling take-out unadon (a ricebowl topped with unagi) for lunch. Doesn’t look like much, but it was delicious, much better than the stuff I would have gotten at the supermarket!

In the evening I discovered that my trip to Nijo Castle had left me with a slight sunburn on my arms, which is the usual way for me to get tanned at all. So yes, the joys of summer… 😉