Today, I had the follow-up of my hospital visit from two weeks ago. And, to spare you the suspense: everything turned out just fine. There are no cancer markers, and I don’t even need regular follow-ups besides what’s considered normal at my age. Phew.
This time, I’m happy to relate that I had an appointment and only needed to wait for 30 minutes, which is perfectly within the range of “normal”.
I also noticed the last few times I visited Kyoto University Hospital that they must have changed their payment processing. It now only takes a couple of minutes before the notification of the amount you have to pay is coming. I wrote about a standard hospital visit as an outpatient many years ago, and besides getting streamlined here and there, it hasn’t changed much. A description of what is going on as an inpatient will have to wait. Not that I’m eager to experience that, mind you…
Not long after I came to Japan, somebody gave me a stack of books related to Japan: Japanese history, guidebooks, a few novels. I read them – some several times – and put them away.
One of those books was a short historical novel spanning 25 years of the Sengoku and early Edo period at the turn of the 17th century. The topic is tea master Sen-no-Rikyu and his death by suicide ordered by Hideyoshi. The main protagonist is one of his students, the (apparently non-historic) monk Honkaku, and he tries to solve the mystery why Rikyu had to commit suicide in the first place, and why he didn’t even attempt to appease Hideyoshi.
To be honest, when I first read this book some 10 years ago, I didn’t think much of it. Sure, the language is beautiful, even in translation, but I am one of the people who read primarily for the story, and it fell flat for me. Although set in Kyoto, the place names didn’t conjure up any images and the people, whether historic or not, were not fleshed out enough to make them interesting.
The whole novel was centred around the tea ceremony (of which I still only know the bare minimum) and could have just as well taken place in a chashitsu, a tiny tea house (and much of it actually did). So, after the reading the book then, I put it away with a label of “okay-ish”, and moved on.
Recently, something prompted me to pick it up again, and I’m surprised to say that my opinion has changed completely.
In the last 10 years, I visited countless places in Kyoto, and the author places Honkaku’s hermitage somewhere near my house, which is kind of funny. But more importantly, I learned much about Japanese history and culture in that time, not through any systematic study mind you, I just picked up bits and pieces here and there. And they all fell into place perfectly when reading this book again.
I now know about Rikyu and his successor as number one tea master, Furuta Oribe (who, coincidentally, also was ordered to commit suicide). Recently, I discovered the controversial figure of Oda Urakusai, another student of Rikyu’s. I still don’t know enough about tea ceremony to appreciate the many references to famous tea utensils – all of which have a name – however, overall, I found the novel very enjoyable this time around, even though it doesn’t solve the mystery in the end.
All of this goes to show that maybe we should re-read books. Our experiences in the interim may have increased our knowledge of certain details, changed our opinions on something specific, or even our outlook on life and the world as a whole. What we’ve tossed aside as a mere lump of coal may have turned into a diamond while we were busy with other things.
This is not one of my usual book reviews. Firstly, because I cannot unreservedly recommend the book in question. Given my own experience, I think you really need to be familiar with aspects of the tea ceremony, or its early protagonists, to enjoy it.
Secondly, the book still has not been translated into English. However, for my German-speaking readers, the book is Der Tod des Teemeisters by Yasushi Inoue, the Japanese original is called Honkakubo Ibun. Maybe it’s best to find it in a library, lest you are disappointed on the first reading, just like I was.
As an Austrian, I am very much into coffee culture, and I don’t even drink coffee! The great thing about Austrian “Kaffeehäuser”, in particular those in Vienna, is that you can order a glass of water, grab one of the newspapers offered there for free and stay for hours without anyone bothering you further. While you can choose from dozens of different coffees, sweets, and often even small meals, the “consume or leave” attitude is considered rude.
I’m glad that Japan has embraced this idea of coffee culture. While it is uncommon to stay after dinner at a restaurant, and some of the fanciest bars allow you only an hour or two to get wasted, in a good café, they leave you alone.
I made a list of my favourite cafés for a coffee, ahem, a work break, before I moved. Sadly, the Mo-an on top of Yoshida hill has new owners who decided to go the lunch-only-with-reservation option. It’s all quite complicated now, and I haven’t been there since.
On the other hand, I have discovered the Very Berry Cafe on Kitashirakawa. It’s all about American food in a space that is reminiscent of Hawaii. I haven’t tried their lunch or dinner yet, but their smoothies and milkshakes – all in “American size” – are to die for. They also make 3D cakes for birthdays and have cookies and cakes for take out. A great place to meet friends, if not quiet enough to work.
However, my number one is still the café in the Ogaki bookshop. I go there regularly to write, and most other patrons do some work there too. There are students with thick textbooks doing their homework. People of all ages study languages, mostly English but even Chinese. Graphic artists create manga or anime on fancy tablets. And of course, people are just coming in with their latest purchase and start reading over a cup of coffee.
I go there so often that not only the staff knows me by now (and most of them are part-time students), but in turn I also recognize some of the other regulars. One of my former neighbours comes in the afternoon for a coffee and a newspaper read. The blind man and his grandson (I guess) who come here for lunch. The old man who is bent over almost double, so he walks very slowly, but his eyes light up when he takes out his brand-new books, which he caresses like a true lover. The boy who twirls his hair while he stares at his phone. Everything is relaxed and quiet, and you can stay as long as you like, even if you nurse your one cup of coffee and the glass of water it comes with, for hours.
It’s just like café culture in Austria, where a good “Kaffeehaus” can be your home away from home. This is what I feel when I go to a café or kissaten, as they are called here, in Japan. Isn’t it wonderful!
The other day, I had to go to my quarterly thyroid checkup. While there, I told my doctor about some irregular periods I have been experiencing recently, and he persuaded me to go over to gynaecology right away and have it looked at.
After waiting for five hours (sure, I didn’t have an appointment, but that is excessive) I was told that there was a thickening – a cyst – in a small part of my endometrium (aka uterine lining). A sample was taken, and the biopsy results will be ready in 2 weeks.
It’s most likely benign. The gynaecologist says so. My other doctor says so. After consulting Wikipedia, I think so, too. Yet, I’m suitably worried. Well, if push comes to shove, and I do need an operation, I can tell you all about the in-patient care at Kyoto University Hospital…
Corona is over in Japan too! Or so it seems. Already a while ago, the Japanese government has decided to downgrade COVID-19 to the same level as influenza on their “infectious disease prevention law” tiers, essentially ending most of the restrictions they could place on people in the last years.
This includes not having to wear masks everywhere anymore. In Kyoto, peer pressure is especially high, so I still see many people wearing masks even outdoors, but to be fair, most of them are older citizens.
However, it really hit me that “Corona is over” when I visited the library the other day. No more plastic sheets on the counters separating the employees and the patrons!
I couldn’t be happier! I have been tired of all the anti-Corona measures for a long time already, and while I still bring masks along just in case, I am happy to phase them out, just like the rest of the country does.
It seems as if I can finally store away my winter sweaters. Despite a few setbacks, it is now warm enough for t-shirts, even in my office. As I’ve mentioned, my office is the coldest room in the house, today, it was 4 degrees cooler than my bedroom directly upstairs. Upstairs is generally warmer, being under the roof and all, and you can really feel the change in temperature when you’re walking up and down the stairs.
Pumpkin also notices the change in weather, he doesn’t want to sleep in my bed anymore. He still likes to be in the bedroom at night, but he now chooses to sleep next to the bed. As long as I know where he is, I don’t mind, after all, he is a typical cat and during the night always morphs towards the middle of the bed somehow.
There’s not much news otherwise, besides me being busy. My visa is up for renewal again, I have sent all the documents to my lawyer, but we’re waiting for a last tax receipt to arrive. A friend of mine is in the country somewhere and is contemplating visiting Kyoto too, possibly next week. And there’s an upcoming Bati-Holic concert at the end of the month that I’m very much looking forward to!
Yesterday, I was out almost all day, for no less than three press-previews of a large exhibition that started today. It’s really fun to get to see exhibitions before they are open, plus a guided tour and plenty of other information. Sometimes, there are other goodies too…
But at the same time, it means that I’ll have to move other work around, and then I’m extra busy on the days leading up to and after such an event. But overall, it’s worth it!
Last week, I mentioned that there is no good place in my new bedroom for a Western-style wardrobe. When some of my friends came over a while ago for a very belated house-warming, I told them the same thing, to which one of my Japanese friends responded with the following:
When he was a child, he read the Narnia books. There, the whole adventure starts when the kids step through an old wardrobe. My friend said that he couldn’t understand the concept of “wardrobe” at all. And indeed, Japanese people – at that time at least – didn’t use wardrobes like we know them.
Instead, there was thetansu, a traditional chest with drawers – but obviously, it’s a bit hard to “step through” to the other side. Then, there are oshi-ire, built-in closets that are found in almost every traditional room. But they have a shelf halfway up as well, and are used chiefly for storing futons during daytime – also not very convenient for a quick “stepping through”, although it would be conceivable for a small child to do it.
Anyway, this then led to my question: How did you store things that are usually put on hangers, like suits? Answer: Neatly folded inside the box they came in, inside a tansu or oshi-ire. Just like kimono, hakama, and other traditional garments. All of them require a special way of folding before they are wrapped in paper and stored for the next time.
Thinking about this, I found it interesting how our own cultural experiences shape the understanding – or lack thereof – of other cultures, and that from a young age, apparently. Even though I read stories from all over the world as a child, I can’t remember any grave misunderstandings like the above. I wonder if it never happened (maybe there were always plenty of illustrations at hand) or if my mind just filled in the blanks with familiar shapes, clothes, sounds… It’s probably the latter, but I’m not sure if this is a good thing.
What a day! An Austrian friend of mine visited Kyoto just in time for this year’s hanami. We did a lot of walking together, only partially avoiding the crowds (and on a Wednesday, too!)
We went along Philosopher’s Path, passed Eikando on our way to Nanzen-ji, then took a somewhat hidden path from the aqueduct to Keage Incline (one of my favourite places for many reasons). After a short break for lunch at the steps in front of the Kyocera Museum, we walked past Shoren-in and Chion-in and through the crowds at Maruyama Park. Onwards, upwards, and towards Kiyomizudera, we stopped at the Sannenzaka Museum for their current exhibition on Edo/Meiji metalworks. Afterwards, we were both exhausted and decided to call it a day, even though my friend initially wanted to see the evening lightup at Kiyomizudera.
It was a glorious, sunny day with lots of people everywhere, both Japanese and foreign tourists. The rest of the week looks promising as well, and I already have my first (thankfully mild) sunburn of the year. I’ll add a photo tomorrow, for now, I’m off to bed.
Sorry for not writing on Sunday, I went all the way to the other, western, end of town and back – on the bicycle… We were having some great sunny days lately, and it’s warm and pleasant all around, the perfect spring weather. Rainy days are still cold and nights, too, but Pumpkin now sleeps on top of the duvet during the night, so it’s warm enough for him at least.
Anyway, while I was out and about, I was looking for signs of cherry blossoms. It’s a bit too early, yet there are blooming trees here and there. This one caught my eye, for example:
I took several photos from the street, when the lady of the house appeared and invited me inside! She said that this so-called benishidare zakura – weeping cherry – is a very early bloomer every year, and I could see how proud she was of it. And rightfully so!