Touring Kyoto

This spring, I decided to lean out of my comfort zone and to take people on tours in Kyoto. So far, I have led about 10 groups of people, all German speakers, and the experience was certainly interesting.

First and foremost: all my clients were delightful people. They were curious and interested, some even prepared for their tour. They also wanted to know about life in Japan in general, and I hope I could dispel a myth or two… Overall, I enjoyed myself, which came as a surprise to me.

Ever since I came to Japan, friends of mine had suggested tour guiding to me, but I was always very reluctant. The main reason: I’m an introvert and I feel I’m not good with strangers; and on a tour you have to “function” immediately. But it turns out that this is not an issue at all. I only had small groups of four people max, and the fact that I finally get to talk about Kyoto and its history for hours to an appreciative audience is quite exhilarating.

The other thing I was worried about was my hip problem: One tour means six hours of walking, a good part of it uphill… However, since I lost so much weight last year, it was less of an issue than I had feared – provided I can take breaks or at least lean against something especially towards the end of the tour. And there are always painkillers, of course.

However, there is one unexpected negative as well: The day after a six hour tour, I’m wiped out. I feel more mentally drained than physically tired, and this might be because of my introversion – having to interact a whole day with people I don’t know seems to deplete my batteries pretty fast. Therefore, I try not to schedule mentally challenging tasks – or, heavens forbid: appointments – the day after a tour.

For that reason, the whole tour guiding thing will probably remain a side job for the high seasons in spring and autumn. While it’s always good to test one’s boundaries, it’s just as good to know where they lie.

Music Appreciation

As I mentioned, I sat down with BATI-HOLIC bandleader Nakajima-san for an interview the other week. Although we talked mostly about the band, I also took the opportunity to ask a few personal questions. About his cats. About his favourite bands. And about that one thing that keeps bothering me about their concerts:

People don’t sing.

You see, I love singing along with my favourite songs, even though I know I can’t sing (recording myself one rainy afternoon in my high school days drove that one home quite forcefully.) Still, I sing loudly and proudly and with lots of enthusiasm.

But at the concerts I go to, the audience stays mostly quiet. Yes, there is the dancing and the waving of tenugui, and they may join in with the refrain or shouts at certain songs. But otherwise: silence.

Nakajima thinks that many Japanese people believe that they can’t sing (how come karaoke is that popular then?) and they don’t want to bother the others around them. Also, most people just want to simply enjoy their favourite band performing live. However, he does admit that this is less of an issue in the small venues that BATI-HOLIC play in, since the music is so loud that it safely drowns out every other sound.

I can see his point, but still, singing along with the music at a concert is one of the main reasons I go there in the first place. It’s great to dive in deeply and I also feel that it creates a special bond and community with the other people there. Not to mention fantastic live versions of songs. It’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.

As a side note, Nakajima also mentioned clapping along with the beat – and how it really annoys him when people get it wrong. Interestingly, it doesn’t bother him when he’s on stage himself – I guess he’s too immersed in creating his music at the time.

But when he’s in the audience himself, he says he finds it disturbing when “someone is obviously grooving in a different way from the beat that the song has! Honestly, I sometimes wish they wouldn’t clap at all.” I understand what he means. And now, of course, I’m super conscious of my own clapping… Thanks, Nakajima!

Monkey Business

This afternoon, Pumpkin and I were startled out of our Sunday contemplation by noise from “upstairs”. At first I thought something had loosened and fallen. Pumpkin however made his way into the kitchen immediately and looked into the garden, growling. When I couldn’t find anything amiss, I went back to what I was doing.

A few minutes later, more noise, and when Pumpkin kept staring and growling and I took a closer look, I finally noticed them too:

Going into my third year living here, this is the first time I see monkeys – Japanese macaques to be precise – in this neighborhood, even though I’ve noticed warning signs nearby. So I thought, they were safely on the other end of town (aka: in Arashiyama’s monkey park.)

But no, two males had been visiting and were romping on the roofs and in the trees for a while before making off again. Now I wonder if some of the noises coming from the roof in some nights were also monkeys on the prowl. Then again, this was the first time Pumpkin got upset and growled throughout their visit. He now sleeps at the back of my chair again, keeping close watch over me, I guess.

It surprised me that they were pretty big but at the same time only have a very short tail. I wonder if they’ll be back and if I should be worried sleeping with open windows…
Sorry, I was a bit too slow taking pictures, these are the best ones.

Fangirling…

I spent almost the entire day fangirling over people.

In the morning: Bati-Holic or rather: their leader Nakajima-san. I swear, it was for work though – we’ve had an interview because I want to write about them in my next WUIK newsletter (subscribe!) in honor of their 20th Anniversary concert next month.

Learning about the indie music scene in Japan and how things changed for the group was very interesting. Nakajima also shared a few personal things like what he did right out of uni and we went into details about our cats. These bits will probably not make it into the newsletter. However, since we were talking for 2 hours, there’s plenty of material.

In the afternoon, I went to see a friend and her woodblock prints in a joint exhibition of her woodblock print class. This is an annual event and we always meet there. By now I am already expecting some types of print (there is always somebody who makes Buddhas, another one always makes a scene from noh etc.) and it’s fun to recognize some of the artists, so to speak. Yes, my friend’s pieces are very memorable too!

Anyway, so much fangirling is tiring… and Pumpkin didn’t appreciate being left alone all day. So, I’m off to bed now!

Neighborly Issues

It’s May and the weather is getting warmer – we are now in the mid-twenties on an average day. Already in early April, I’ve moved back to the front room to sleep and I can now keep my windows open 24/7.

Pumpkin seems to be still cold in the night as he’s still sleeping in my bed, and even though I’ve switched to the lightest duvet I have, he’s providing an extra heat source warming my back. Soon, he’ll move towards my feet and then somewhere else, so this is temporary anyway.

You may remember that my bedroom doesn’t have curtains, only shoji that cover the front windows. And since I keep the windows open, the shoji must be open as well, or the whole ventilation idea is a bit moot. So far so good.

Except that my neighbor across from me has done some renovations of her own and created a brand new office that’s a bit further back in her house but exactly opposite my bedroom window. So far so good.

Except that the new lamp she’s using to stay awake when she works through the night, well… it burns with the intensity of a hellfire – and illuminates my bedroom. Just a wee bit more brightness and I could read. So far so no good.

Even though light doesn’t really bother me when I try to fall asleep, I felt the need to address the issue. I took it up with the husband, told him what was up and requested a curtain… *blush* And it did appear just a day or two after! Even half closed, it makes an enormous difference, and my bedroom is now dark and cosy again once I turn off the light. That was easy!

The next question is now how to broach the issue of her kids who play baseball right in front of my bedroom window in the morning. For a deeply entrenched night owl like me, being forced to wake up before eight – and that almost daily – is pure torture. And, honestly, if your kids can play for half an hour before they even have to leave for school, you’re waking them up too early. *grump* But how do I tell her that?

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.

Weekend Project # 5

My style has always been very casual. Until I finished my PhD, I wore jeans & t-shirts practically exclusively. Being body-conscious and even called ugly to my face, this was the perfect uniform to hide in for years.

However, once I moved to Asia, I understood that I needed to upgrade my style to be taken seriously in my male-dominated profession. While male professors always could and still can get away looking mildly unkempt (“he must be a genius!”), female professors who don’t look the part are a no-go (even in the West, I might add).

In Hong Kong, I splurged on a professional stylist who taught me about colors that suit me best and what looks good given my body shape. And while I still prefer a casual sweater to a frilly shirt, I’ve been trying to dress according to the advice I’ve been given ever since, mostly at least. Only the makeup I haven’t fully embraced, but that one’s on my Project 50 by 50 list and I’m making slow progress on that front.

One of the easiest way for a woman to change her style is with accessories. For me, that means: jewellery, even though I don’t own anything that has true monetary value beyond the sentimental. I especially like necklaces with bold pendants, and they make wonderful souvenirs no matter how short or local the trip. I always try to buy handmade pieces from local artisans, but one of my favourite pieces is still this one:

It’s just some cheap, mass-produced plastic-on-metal necklace that I bought mostly for the color some 20 years ago at Utrecht station in the Netherlands. As you can see, the strings were very much worn out, so I didn’t use it for a long time.

However, I finally found some time and the right parts to replace the strings, and I chose some with a little more pizazz to it. The difficult part was to fit the strings into the end pieces, my tools were too big and not quite up to the task. I’m glad that I’ve cultivated my patience quite a bit since I came to Japan, and while it doesn’t look perfect, I prevailed in the end. On to the next 20 years!

End of Hanami?

After a short cold spell in the middle of March, temperatures rose quite dramatically last week. And while I could adapt practically instantly – I moved my futon back to the big room in the north of the house and packed away my “deep winter” clothes over the weekend – the cherry blossoms couldn’t catch up quite that quickly.

Here and there, some trees were already blooming, but at the same time, there were not even buds to be seen on many others. For that reason, I already predicted a rather spotty hanami experience for this year, it’s only good when all of the trees get to bloom in a big explosive poof at the same time.

And now that it has started raining and will do so until next week, I guess the cherry blossom viewing is over for this year, more or less. Cherry blossoms are very delicate, and a single day of rain will lay the trees bare again. I hope I’ll be wrong, but I’m not holding my breath here.

Full Day…

Sorry for not writing yesterday. I had a full day, leaving the house at 8:15 and coming home at around 23:00. Most of it was work-related, but there was also a BATI-HOLIC concert in the evening.

More news later…

Kyoto Snow 2024

It was a very mild winter in Kyoto, with temperatures around 10 degrees and even surging up to 20 on a couple of days in February. I was really looking forward to the early sakura that were promised.

And then comes last Thursday, and I wake up to this:

I guess the cherry blossoms have just postponed themselves…