Lockdown Part 2

Imagine there’s a lockdown – and nobody cares.

Kyoto has been on its second Covid19 lockdown since January 13 and will remain so until February 7, unless the infections keep occurring on the same level of course. And, given how things have changed from the first lockdown, I wouldn’t be suprised if we we’re supposed to stay at home for longer. And the reason is:

Nobody actually is at home, despite the lockdown. I had to go to Kyoto Station last Saturday, and yes, the city was much quieter than usual. Part of it was surely the rainy weather, and part of it is surely the complete lack of tourists, foreign and domestic. Still, all the surviving shops were open this time, neither the streets nor public transport are completely deserted and museums, shrines, and temples have shortened business hours at best. The only thing where you notice something unusual is that the streets get much more quiet from 7 pm because restaurants are closing early.

This is a far cry from the eerie emptiness Kyoto experienced last spring during the first lockdown. To be fair, since then, many measures have been adopted to keep people safe, like compulsory wearing of masks inside buildings, social distance enforced with markers on the floor and plastic dividers on tables, fewer seats in restaurants, bottles of disinfectant everywhere… It took time to implement these and since people mostly adhere to the rules, I can see that most of them feel safe. I for sure do.

But while I am happy that I can keep up most of my routine and go out, I do sometimes wonder about other people and their train of thought. Last week, when I was meeting one of my students, there was a group of elderly people that I had seen before. They meet and chat and generally have a good time. This time, they were sitting at the table next to ours. At first there were only two old guys, but then more and more people would come.

Since the table was small, once there were six people, they were beginning to encroach on our space. And that’s when I got really annoyed. These were all old people, 65+, eating, drinking, laughing as nothing was amiss, no social distancing (although they did wear masks). I get it: I didn’t like to be shut up at home all day either. But YOU old people are exactly the reason why we’re shutting half of the country down. I’m not the one who has a big risk of getting seriously sick, YOU are. You silly old people need to stay home and find another way for your group therapy sessions. It’s only for four weeks while we’re in lockdown, that can’t be that difficult?

In the end, my student and I changed tables and topics. But seriously, how can you tell young people to put their lives on hold so that old people don’t get sick when these same old people couldn’t care less about it? I feel this kind of respect and taking care of each other should go both ways. But if it’s not even working in Japan, I don’t see much light for the rest of the planet.

Sweet Day

A week or so before Christmas, I took a day off to go to a museum and to run a few errands in town. It was rather cold and my leg was hurting in the morning already, so I took public transport. That means that on walking to the different stops, I can take a look at places I usually notice only in passing, if at all.

The first thing I saw when I walked from the museum to the subway was the “Hofbaeckerei Edegger-Tax”. Not the real one of course, that one’s in Graz, but its little brother in Kyoto. Even though it was too early for cake, I had to check out the first Austrian bakery I had come across in Japan. Sadly, they were closed, but I got a word in with the owner – German words to boot! And when I asked him if he could make REAL Sachertorte, he gave me a piece as a present, complete with whipped cream. It’s a bit far from my place for daily visits (which may be a good thing after all) but a friend of mine lives nearby and I already promised to be back. What a find!

Just before lunch, I passed by the Matcha House, a small cafe – 16 seats or so – near Kawaramachi/Shijo. As the name suggests, they specialise in everything matcha, and they are extremely popular with young people. Usually, there’s a long line in front of it, people are willing to wait an hour and more just to get in! On that day, however, there was nobody waiting, and I decided to see if they are really worth the hype. Well, they are!

Their matcha tiramisu is a dream of fluffiness and the green tea I had with it was just perfect. The tea came with a thermos can and a tiny cup and a little clock so you can prepare the tea properly: Pour out the boiling water into a small bowl and let it cool to about 40 degrees (takes 9 minutes), then pour it into the teapot containing the tea for 1-2 minutes and then it’s ready to drink.

I got 6 tiny cups out of the thermos and it was interesting how the taste of the tea would change from the super strong first cup to the last one that could use the full 2 minutes of steeping. So yes, that’s a recommendation from me, even though I wouldn’t wait for an hour just to get in.

I had a perfect sweet day just before Christmas and with the Sachertorte I got I could even extend it to a perfect breakfast on the next day.

Ice, Ice … Window?

Welcome to 2021 which is still pretty much the same as 2020: With Japan being at the height of the third Covid19-wave, Kyoto and 10 other provinces have entered the second lockdown today. It will be in effect until February 7th, unless things are changing of course. Just like last year in April/May, restaurants, department stores, movie theaters etc. should close earlier, companies are encouraged to allow their workers to work from home, and people are asked to avoid going outside unnecessarily.

At least the last part shouldn’t be too difficult, as it is cold. Really cold. Not that this is unusual for this time of the year, but there is a certain edge to it at the moment. For example, last Friday, when I wanted to open the window in my bedroom, I couldn’t. Here’s why:

Can you see the ice that’s blocking the windows from moving? Whenever it gets cold in Kyoto, my single-glazed windows are fogging up over night, and it takes a while for all the dew to evaporate on the next day. On very cold days, I have had little ice streams flowing down the windows over night. However, this is the first time that a whole ice block has formed and froze my windows shut. It took one hour until I could open them again and remove the ice.

Two things are interesting about this: First, I told a friend of mine about this and she didn’t even bat an eye. So… is this normal around here? Or maybe she wasn’t impressed because the freezing cold had burst one of her water pipes that very same night and it took her several hours to get it fixed. Obviously, she had bigger fish to fry that day.

And second: even though it was so cold in the room that so large an amount of ice could form on my window, I slept like a baby and never woke up for a single minute. I am usually very sensitive to cold but I felt nothing that night. It seems that the heavy duvet filled with sheep’s wool I bought last autumn was an excellent investment!

I’m Back!

Happy New Year again! I hope you had some nice holidays and some quiet time for yourself. I did, and it was wonderful! The construction, or rather: de-construction next door had their last day on December 30, as did the garbage facility, so I had 4 days of really quiet time. It seemed almost as if all of Kyoto had shut down, the mornings were so quiet and nothing stirred at all.

I didn’t dare going out at all though. The bell-ringing on New Year’s Eve was largely cancelled, but I could hear them clearly for an hour or so around midnight. Hatsumode also I postponed, just to be safe. It’s the year of the ox, so I would have to go to Kitano Tenmangu shrine, but this shrine is super busy to begin with, so I didn’t want to add to the crowds (which we are still supposed to avoid because Corona isn’t over).

Instead, I did a lot of reading over New Year’s. A friend of mine sent me a book with stories by Viennese authors as a Christmas gift, but I decided to read this one in style – and in a cafe and not at home (if you know Viennese “Kaffeehaeuser”, you’ll understand.) I borrowed books from the library, but the one I wanted, they had to get through inter-library loan from Kyushu, and I haven’t heard back from them yet.

So yes, I’m gearing back up again since Monday. I have a new client and work will start soon, possibly this week, and some of my previous work will continue on Friday, if everything turns out alright. After the garbage fire of 2020, I can only hope that this year will get much, much better. I do need it – but then again, I guess we all do.

Changes

Sorry for not writing last night, I was out all day in the cold and felt a bit sick, so I turned in very early…

So, yes, it got really cold the last few days. Even though a temperature drop after the momiji is normal, I don’t recall it ever getting that cold that quickly. At the moment, the temperatures are like in February and we even had some snow this morning, a December first as long as I’ve been living here. I have been worried about an early winter, and it’s not looking good at all.¬†

The construction workers next door seem unfazed by the cold though. For a month now, it has been very noisy during the day because they are tearing down the buildings. As you can see, there are six buildings in total: one family home, one apartment building (which was renovated only in 2015) and four houses for the dairy company that was there.

By now, the two closest to the entrance at the left are gone, and the workers are still busy cleaning out the apartments – see the trash at the top left window? I notice that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of separation for recycling going on. At least the smaller buildings were demolished, windows, roofs and all. Then again, these are wooden structures, so maybe it’s easier sorting through the debris in the end?

In any case, according to the plan they sent out to the neighborhood, they should be done with the demolition this month. And the new building or buildings should stand some time in April and May. I’m curious what it’s going to be…

Consolidation

We are having typical December weather in Kyoto. Mornings and nights are pretty cold, but when the sun is out during the day it’s actually nice and pleasant. I could even dry my clothes within just a few hours on my balcony today!

The momiji season is all but over by now. Last Friday, I went to Eikando with a friend of mine and it was just a bit too late for the autumn colors. The temple was packed with people despite everything but it was not unbearably full. Afterwards, we went to the Lake Biwa Canal Museum where I could find out more details about the boating trip I took beginning of October. Even my friend was pleased with the museum, she’s a nerd at heart too.

Now that autumn is more or less over, I have packed all my things and moved them to my living room for the winter. I usually do this just after Christmas, but I’m not expecting any guests to stay with me this year, so I did it today. As I said, the evenings are cool enough to need heating, and I think it’s a waste to heat up one room and go to bed in another freezing one. I don’t need heating during the day yet, especially when it’s sunny, so I’ll keep using my office as long as possible.

Business as usual, so to speak. At least one thing that didn’t break down completely this year.

Biting Bullets

Quite a while ago, I broke another tooth. Essentially it’s a lot of filling in the middle with only the outer rim still tooth enamel – and a part of that finally broke away. It happens. What is not quite normal is that only today I finally bit the bullet and made an appointment at the dentist’s.

schematic of a toothWhat took me so long? Well, I’m terrified of dentists. And while I’m not alone in this, I can pinpoint the reason exactly: When I was a child and our local dentist had to drill down on something, there was smoke coming out of my mouth. I cannot recall whether the procedure hurt, but that blueish smoke wafting in front of my young eyes has scarred me forever.

Over the years, I have grown up and gotten better at going to the dentist, overall, at least. But this time, the hurdle was extra high: the newly broken tooth was the smokey one… I’m not looking forward to this, since it will take several visits to fix this. Not to mention that it will probably cost me a fortune. Thank goodness I haven’t spent all of Shinzo’s money yet.

Not My Day…

Have you ever had one of those days that go all wrong from the start?

seiko alarm clockWhen I still had a job that forced me out of the house each morning, such days would inevitably start with my trying to brush my teeth with my face cream. Or to moisturise with my toothpaste. (In my defense: Similar sized tubes standing next to each other. Plus: I’m not a morning person.)

Unfortunately, there are no such simple indicators anymore since now I work from home and often sit in front of my computer already before I think of hygiene. Therefore, I had no clue whatsoever that last Thursday would turn into one of these “I should have gone right back to bed” days.

It started mid morning when I wanted another cup of tea and wondered where all those bread crumbs on my kitchen floor had come from. And why some of them where moving. On closer inspection these turned out to be insect eggs/pupae the size and color of sesame, and some of them had already turned into tiny white larvae.

Thankfully, they were all concentrated around the garbage bin, so I cleaned out the lower kitchen cabinets (more eggs), swept up about a handful of insects-to-be and threw the whole mess out. To date, no further wrigglies to be found, but the whole operation cost me half an hour on a day where I had already several appointments.

The first meeting was rather uneventful, except for the fact that I had ordered hot fruit tea (or so I thought) and was served an iced soda. Nice, tasty and very fruity indeed, but not quite what I wanted on that rainy day.

Next meeting: rehab for my hip pain. The clinic has changed their mode of working, so it’s 40 minutes of manual therapy followed by two or three exercises of five minutes each. Already the first excercise – a stretching of the left hip muscle – was too much for my ancient jeans. They promptly tore at a very improper place and exposed about 20 cm of my inner thigh. No more exercise after that!

However, one more meeting to go, so I had to rush home, and get changed into something less revealing. At which point I found out that I was not only out of jeans, but out of any kind of pants that were both fitting me (thanks Corona!) and suitable for the current season. All I had were thin summery pants and thick woolen ones for mid winter. I did find some sort of workaround though (don’t ask…) and off I went for my last meeting of the day.

I made it just in time and ordered a glass of orange juice. When the staff put the glass in front of me, it was cracked halfway through. Thankfully I noticed it before I left the counter, and I got fresh juice in a new glass without charge. Other than that, this meeting was uneventful as well.

Finally, upon return to my part of town, I went to Uniqlo to shop for pants. It was exactly the painful experience I try to avoid – which is how I came to be pantless in the first place. Having more curves than the standard Japanese girl makes shopping extra difficult, even if the sizes as such appear to be the right ones – I still can’t get the pants to fit over my hips. Anyway, in the end I could find two that fit me rather well and I went home, well, not happy as such, but content.

Mostly content with the fact that the day was over and I could finally close the door behind me and hide under my covers.

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.