Taking a Break

Sorry for not writing for such a long time. I’ve had good intentions, but I need a break again. Things are busy, and I feel like I’m in a rut and sitting at the computer 24/7, even if I don’t. And with the summer heat that has finally hit Kyoto, it’s pretty difficult to work anyway.

So, I have decided to take a break from posting here over summer, probably even until the end of August. I have no plans of going anywhere – not that I have money to do so, and Pumpkin doesn’t like being left alone – but I may try a few fun things in Kyoto. So far, there are still very few tourists, and the locals enjoy themselves.

Speaking of local enjoyment, here are a few highlights of Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri 2022. This is the Saki Parade on July 17, I watched it with a friend of mine from Tokyo:

Tsuyu or not Tsuyu

raindrops on a window

Tsuyu is the Japanese name for the rainy season in early summer. Some people call it even the fifth season in Japan. It’s a stretch of time when it rains almost every day, but not necessarily continually. During the tsuyu, both temperature and humidity rise steadily, and when the rain finally stops, summer has begun for real.

Last week, the head of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) declared this year’s tsuyu to be over, after one of the shortest and not overly rainy periods in history. And Friday/Saturday promptly turned out very hot and sunny already – just to be followed by another cluster of heavily rainy days until yesterday. According to the forecast, we’ll now have two or three hot days again, followed by more rain in the weekend.

Well, is it now tsuyu or not? Maybe the JMA misspoke? In any case, as long as I can stay home, I don’t mind the rain very much. It cools down the house quite nicely. Unfortunately, the humidity is already here to stay this year…

Summer is coming…

… kind of. The beginning of last week was so cold, I put on a thick sweater again. And Pumpkin slept in my bed – under the covers – for two days straight. So far, we haven’t had really hot and sunny days, at least not several in a row. It was overcast quite often, even when it wasn’t raining.

But this week, summer is speeding up. It’s actually starting to get humid, and for the rest of the week, temperatures in the low 30s are forecast. We’ll see. I’m curious if and how I will be able to sleep. My roof seems to be not insulated at all, and although I leave the windows open now, it can still get quite hot upstairs in my bedroom. I wonder how bad it will get in August. And how Pumpkin will deal with the heat and humidity. For now, he has found an elevated spot on some moving boxes (yeah, I know… go on, judge me) and sleeps there during the day. In the night, I often find him in his kitty bed that I place at the head of my own futon.

One thing I find quite interesting is that the sunlight, just before sunset, is now reaching into my office, which is on the north side of the house. At the moment, it’s just for a few minutes every day, but the light gives a beautiful orange tint to my white rooms. I didn’t catch it today, but I’ll try to take a photo and share it with you here soon.

Sneak Peek

I’ve been busy again with all sorts of end-of-the-month stuff and other things.

Catching insects in my bedroom, for example, with the help of Pumpkin, who apparently doesn’t like to sleep in a bug-infested space either. (I’m glad he doesn’t).

Getting money to all sorts of tax offices and membership fees to a whole bunch of groups I got into at some point – and letting those know that I’ve moved while I’m at it.

Trying to finish work as much as possible, so I can do fun stuff next week – it’s Golden Week again! There are more sights near my new place than I had thought, so I hope I can explore them soon.

And, finally, getting my latest DIY project finished. Here’s a preview, more photos to come soon:

Time Flies…

Goodness, where did the month go? Somehow I’m missing a whole week! Yesterday I noticed that it was the 20th already, when I had the feeling that the month had barely started…

Now I have to start thinking about end-of-month things for work and privately, and I feel I’m running out of time, even though some of the things that need doing don’t get done very long ahead of time anyway (shame on me).

In any case, I’ve been busy! The house is looking better by the day (I think I can post another finished/furnished next week) and just today, I was invited to a press preview of two museums, and tomorrow, there’s another one scheduled. These are the days when I love my job – even when it’s raining.

Garbage Duty

My new neighbourhood comes with brand-new responsibilities. And this month, I’m responsible for garbage duty.

As I surely mentioned before, Kyoto apartment buildings or private homes don’t use garbage bins. Instead, you must buy individual bags – yellow for burnable waste, transparent for recyclables – and put those out at the designated spots on the designated collection days.

In a neighbourhood like mine, each of 5 to 10 households brings their garbage bags to their own spot, and they all are responsible to keep the place clean. This means mostly preparing the net under which the bags should be stored before pickup (from morning to whenever the garbage truck arrives) and putting it away again afterwards. Unless the crows get to the garbage before the truck and rip the bags open to find delicacies, it’s not a big deal. Except that you have to do it almost daily: In our neighbourhood, different types of garbage are collected from Tuesday to Friday.

I expected to be on garbage duty eventually, since it rotates through all the households using a particular spot. Yet, I did not expect this lovely introduction kindly provided by my neighbour:

I also got a sign that says ゴミ当番 (garbage duty) and that I should display at my house; probably in case something goes wrong, so people know where to complain. In any case, it seems I’m becoming an integrated part of the neighbourhood faster than I had thought…

Personally Busy

For now, all my work assignments have dried up completely, and I’m not expecting the next one until next week, Tuesday. So, I’ve been catching up on a few personal things I’ve wanted to do, at times for years already!

First of all, I went to see the current exhibitions in my two favourite museums, the Insho Domoto Museum and the Sannenzaka Museum. I love going to museums and learning about (Japanese) art – something I never thought I would like to do. I’m very surprised about myself here.

This year, I also scored a free ticket to the Ikenobo Ikebana Spring Exhibition. The Ikenobo is the oldest ikebana school in Japan, and it has its headquarters in Kyoto, at Rokkaku-do temple and an adjacent modern building. Altogether, there were more than 1000 flower arrangements on 8 floors! It was a bit overwhelming for me, at the end it got a bit much, and the arrangements started to blur into each other… There were surprisingly many people for a Monday, and many of them were deep in conversation about one piece or another. No wonder, ikebana was touted as one of the female graces in the Meiji and Taisho period. More about that at another time.

And then, a friend of mine invited me to a recital of Noh; it was a group of laymen, so there were no masks or costumes, but I found it just as amazing as the professional performances. I also splurged on tickets for a bunraku performance – Japanese-style puppet plays for adults. I thought I could understand what was going on, but the play, based on the Heike Monogatari, was very complex, and even reading the synopsis afterwards didn’t help at all. However, it was very interesting, and I’m planning on seeing another play – with proper preparation, next time.

Two weeks ago, I also had a house-warming party with some friends, and it was lovely, even though my kitchen is still not finished. This is also an official shout out to all my non-local friends who sent me gifts in the last few months: Thank you very much! Your selections of sweets, wine, and cat-related items were very well received. 😉

Now what? There’s still half a week to go, after all. The cherry trees at my shrine next door still need a day or two, but it’s hanami at other places in Kyoto already. So I want to go out a bit and enjoy the sunshine. There is also the kitchen begging for its wallpaper, and I’m out of preparations… Somehow, I am quite daunted by this, but I guess it’s just a question of rolling up my sleeves and getting it done. Also, I’ve spent much of this week writing for some personal projects of mine, and I want to get one or two of them completed. I guess you’ll hear more of those on this blog as well…

The New Tamayuran

Today is cat day in Japan – February 22. This is because the way cats “speak” in Japanese: nyannyan and ni is the term for two. And this is why the Tamayuran, the best cat café in Kyoto, has had its grand open today after being shut down for almost a year.

This has nothing to do with COVID, though. The old building, and some neighbouring ones, were bought by an investor who will tear them down and build something new – probably one of these dreadful one-room apartment buildings on 5 floors or so. This is because the old location was quite close to Kyoto University, and students need a place to live somewhere, after all.

Akie, the owner of the Tamayuran, needed quite a long time to find a new place for her cat café, and once she did, the renovations took ages and tons of money. The new place is in a quiet neighbourhood with somewhat more through-traffic, but the house is also much smaller. It is nicely renovated though and just a few finishing touches are needed – more cat pictures.

Cat pictures only, sadly, because there is not enough space anymore to put in the cages with the rescue cats. Akie plans to have maybe one or two cats roaming the café, but since the house leads directly onto the street, nothing is certain for now.

I hope I can visit her again soon, even though it’s a bit out of the way for me now. However, her cakes and sweets are legendary, and there’s always reason to have something sweet…

And if you dare, you can go sit down in the new basement – which is not quite as spooky as in this picture, but the staircase is very steep and narrow and the ceiling very low. If you’re claustrophobic, go down there at your own risk!

About the Cold

The other day, when I mentioned that I woke up to 4 degrees inside the house, I didn’t expect two things:

  1. That it could get even colder – all the way down to 2 degrees and
  2. that I would receive so many messages about this.

So, let me explain a bit what’s going on and how I deal with the cold. After all, I can’t stay in bed all day. That’s Pumpkin’s responsibility.

Traditional houses in Japan have always been built to allow for lots of airflow – there’s the gaps under the tatami, the shoji and fusuma made from paper, and the wooden framework that’s maybe 10 cm thick at best. This is great in the heat and humidity of summer, when every puff of air is valuable. In winter, even the Japanese are less appreciative about the matter.

And if you think that modern houses are better, you are mistaken. Even though the building materials are better and more airtight in general, 10 cm of insulation (at best) are not sufficient to keep in the warmth over night, even if there were central heating. And let’s not mention my personal nemesis/pet peeve, those single-glazed windows…

So, even though you get used to living in a freezing house, the Japanese battle the three coldest months of the year on various fronts. And I try my best to follow their example.

  • Layers and Layers of Clothes.
    A special type of underwear called “heat tech” is extremely popular, as are thin down jackets as outer layer for indoors. In between, there can be several layers of sweaters; cotton, wool, fleece, anything goes, really.
  • Space heaters.
    Except for the northern prefectures like Hokkaido, central heating is unknown in Japan. And when you think of it, it’s quite a waste to heat a room that’s unused all day. So, the Japanese use space heaters that they turn on when needed. Some of them are electric or gas-powered, but nowadays, the ubiquitous air-condition is used, which all have a special setting for heating.
    Traditionally, a kotatsu was used, that’s a low table with a heating element underneath, over which a heavy blanket was placed to trap the warmth. Many families still use them. They wear heavy jackets on top, while their nether regions underneath the blanket stay warm without so much as socks even.
  • Consolidation.
    If all else fails, you can move your life into a single room for a few months. Instead of heating several rooms one at a time, all activities take place in the living room, for example. In the evening, you just put out the futon for everybody. This is easier if you don’t have kids, though.
  • Hot baths.
    Another thing that helps against the colds, and which the Japanese perform as a daily habit throughout the year, is taking a hot bath just before bedtime. With the body nicely heated up by the ofuro, falling asleep is quite easy, no matter the temperature in the bedroom.

In the new house, I do mostly the layering and the space heaters, with only the occasional hot bath. Thankfully, I got myself a really nice woolen blanked 2 years ago, so I don’t need to heat the bedroom at all.

Also, the cold doesn’t “bite” the same every time the thermometer shows the same number. Thankfully, all the windows are closing properly here, so there’s no draft. However, I found out that on rainy or snowy days, it feels colder than when the humidity is low. Sadly, there’s not much I can do about that. Other than hope for an early spring, that is. This year, I’m not hopeful…

Close Corona

Today, one of my English students cancelled his class – he caught the Corona. He now has to stay home for 10 days and take care of himself. Don’t worry, the chances that I’ll get sick too – from him at least – are minimal, since we only meet every 2 weeks, and he was just fine the last time.

After one of my Austrian friends who caught the virus in 2020 already, this is only the second person I know, personally, who has been infected. To be fair, my circle of friends is rather limited.

Still, I can see why people are not worried much anymore if infections don’t happen to their own family or friends. Heck, I’m not worried at all, either. After two years of this, there’s only so much you can do, really.