Getting Ready…

I’m busy this week, so this is just a very short update. I’m getting ready for this year’s Gion Matsuri Ato parade where once again, I’m volunteering at the Ofunehoko. This huge float is always the final one of the second parade and it was always my favourite.

I’ll be working on Monday morning for four hours, and I’m preparing to wear yukata again. Since I have lost so much weight, I can wear a lovely shibori yukata I got from a friend some years back, and I even bought a nice yellow obi to complement the traditional blue.

In fact, I already wore it on Saturday for the Kimono Rock Party, but this time, my friend isn’t here to help me get dressed… I hope things will turn out just right.

For the second time this year, I have received an English version of the flyer that explains the history and trimmings of the float, so I’ll have to do some studying. Not that many people want these sort of details (not in English anyway), but I love this kind of information, so it’s not lost here.

I’m also planning to visit some of the other floats – a friend of mine volunteers at the Hashi Benkei Yama – and I hope it will be a good day with not too much heat and no rain either. We’ll see.

Perfect Weekend

A very short recap of a very perfect weekend:

Pumpkin and I had our very first overnight visitor! Because it’s Gion Matsuri and Kyoto is practically booked solid, my friend from Tokyo stayed in our guest room – aka upstairs living room. Pumpkin was not very happy about this; he oscillated between anxiety and curiosity. Both of which meant that he was up all night, keeping me the same…

She came down to finally get to the bottom of my BATI-HOLIC obsession and went to their 20th Anniversary concert with me. Well, let’s just say she isn’t into rock music. Which is fine; I’m happy that she at least tried. The photo of lead singer Nakajima is courtesy of my friend, just before she left to have dinner. I had an absolute blast for more than 2 hours, met some old friends and made some new ones… As I said: PERFECT!

Anyway, I am sure you’re pretty tired of my fangirling here already, so I’ll stop… In case you’re not, I wrote an article about 20 Years of BATI-HOLIC for my WUIK newsletter, which actually made it into a (rock) music magazine in Australia of all places. You can read my article in the Heavy Magazine.

After sleeping in and having a relaxed breakfast, my friend and I went to Shisendo, a nearby temple that is always pretty quiet. The gardens are nice, but not spectacular (outside the azalea season that is), but it is a nice place to sit for a while.

In the afternoon, we went to the Insho Domoto Museum, a favourite of mine; their current exhibition is about monochrome ink paintings, and my favourite painting is exhibited as well. I still can’t describe why it makes me feel the way I feel, but it still moves me to tears every time I see it. My friend was quite put out (and not as impressed about this particular painting I might add.)

Anyway, my friend is back in Tokyo, I’m back at home, Pumpkin is back at ease – and at least I had the perfect weekend! Tomorrow is a holiday to boot, so I can sleep in again. I’m very happy!


Following up on my post about Kyoto’s IC cards, I decided to buy a prepaid ICOCA and take advantage of the new point system for commuters. Mostly, I’m still riding my bicycle, but there are some occasions where I need day tickets, which are not available on the bus anymore. Instead of purchasing some at a subway station, with an ICOCA, you can “buy” them online in advance. You still have to pay the full amount for all your trips on that day, but whatever is beyond the price of the day ticket is reimbursed in points (which can be used to reload the card) the next month. Anyway, I digress.

Buying the physical ICOCA was the easy part. The next step, registering the card under my name could be done online without much trouble, thanks to online translators.

One final step was necessary to be able to earn the commuter points, and the website said: “Simply insert your card into a ticket machine at a subway station to finalize your registration.” That’s what I did (or so I thought, when charging the card) all the way back in April. Points are awarded in the following month on the 15th, so I waited patiently.

And nothing happened for three months, even though I could login to the website and check how many of those one-day passes I had purchased so far. Still: No points arriving. The young assistant at my nearest subway station couldn’t help me beyond offering me a phone number (which is useless to somebody who still heavily relies on visual cues and handwaving when speaking). So, as I was in the area on Monday, I went to the bus & subway info center at Kyoto station to sort things out in person.

There, a lengthy back-and-forth eventually resulted in them making the call to the main office on my behalf. And I was informed that the final confirmation step at a ticket machine was still missing. I was a little surprised, but begging for help, somebody finally took pity and went with me to the nearest subway entrance to see what was going on.

There, it turned out that “simply insert your card into a ticket machine…” involves the following steps, all of which only in Japanese, of course:

  1. Choose a ticket machine that has the “points” option available in the first place (50% chance)
  2. Push the correct button (25% chance if you’re not fit with the kanji)
  3. Enter your (online) password and confirm
  4. Check the info displayed and, if correct, confirm again

Well. Everything’s simple in hindsight. And with help at hand….

(Re-) Visit

Last weekend, mostly to get new photos for the “deep dive” feature of my WUIK newsletter, I visited the Garden of Fine Arts again. And: it grows on me.

Part of this is certainly the fact that this time around, I went in the early morning when the sun illuminated the place much better (remember that it’s 2 floors underground) and gave it a more bright and uplifting atmosphere.

The other part is that now I know that the Last Supper and Last Judgement from the Sistine Chapel in Rome were reproduced almost on the original scale. The Last Judgement in particular takes up all three floors of the museum space, and somehow, I can appreciate both paintings much more because of this.

Afterwards, I went to the nearby Kyoto Institute Library and Archives, which I recently (re-) discovered. The entire second floor of the building is just the library with plenty of nooks and crannies to lose yourself in – and books too, of course.

On the first floor, there is a small museum, and this is where I discovered Yasuo Hayashi. He’s now 96, a ceramic artist from Kyoto, and somehow, his works look like MC Escher has discovered the third dimension:

I really enjoyed this exhibition (it’s on until June 9 if you’re in town) and will try to find out more about this artist. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs, but I got a list of books showing his works that I can get from the library above.

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.

End of a Landmark

Breaking news today in Kyoto: A tree has fallen!

Not in the woods surrounding the city (who would be there to know it happened or hear it fall?) but at Ninenzaka, one of the main approaches to Kiyomizudera Temple. This in turn is one of the main tourist attractions of Kyoto.

Judging from the moss growing on the trunk, it must have been very old, and the fact that it was a cherry tree makes its loss so much worse – in the eyes of the Japanese.

However, the old sakura will live on forever thanks to having been part of Kyoto’s most scenic spots. And who knows, somebody might just plant another sakura in its place soon.

Yozakura 2024

It appears that last Wednesday I spoke too early about hanami being over. The rain did not appear in the force expected, indeed, we’ve had some fairly nice days. Nice enough for me to go out on Friday evening for some yozakura – illuminated cherry trees – in the Botanical Gardens.

Here are some photos I took (without a tripod). My favourite sakura this time around are those that have pink and white blossoms on one tree. Who’d have thought!

Rediscovered Painting by Jakuchu

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity – thanks to What’s up in Kyoto – to be among the first people to lay eyes on a recently discovered painting by Jakuchu. It was a press-only-reveal of a colorful scroll and it was done with all the ceremony that such an event required.

You can read all about this important discovery, and a little bit about Jakuchu, on the Japonica Medium page in my article
Rediscovered Painting by Kyoto Master Returns Home – Jakuchu scroll found in Europe causes stir in Japanese art scene.

It was a nice diversion from the things I usually do, and a friend of mine even recorded evidence of me trying to be a serious photographer. (She calls the photo “kakkoi” – cool.)

I love my job.

Kyoto’s Sanjo Dori and its Buildings

When thinking of Japan’s most modern cities, Kyoto is probably not on anyone’s list. And it’s true, once you leave the futuristic station building (the second largest in Japan, btw.) and lose sight of the candle-shaped Kyoto Tower, the city’s narrow streets lined with wooden houses and dotted with Jisho shrines give off a lovable, but somewhat old-fashioned vibe.

Things were very different 120 years ago, though. After the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor and his new government took residence in Tokyo, Kyoto’s citizens made a concerted effort to keep the city from sliding into obscurity. Japan’s first railroad connected the old and new capital, the Lake Biwa Canal furnished electricity for the brand-new city tram, and a number of Western-style buildings gave Kyoto a distinctly modern look.

To this day, many of these buildings survive in Kyoto’s inner city, especially along Sanjo dori between Teramachi and Karasuma. Take a closer look at the former main street of Kyoto the next time when you’re out shopping and discover these beautiful, not-so-hidden gems.

Let’s take a walk on Sanjo dori westwards from Teramachi. Already at the next corner, you’ll find the 1928 building, so named after its year of construction. Then, it was home to the Kyoto branch of Osaka Mainichi Newspaper, and some traces can still be found in the basement. There are lovely ArtDeco elements throughout the building, especially in the stairwells. Today it houses the GEAR theater and gallery spaces, as well as a restaurant/bar in the basement.

Walk further to the lovely Old Yabetoku Clock Shop with its three arches. This two-story house made with red bricks was built in 1890 for a dealer in watches and precious metals. Sadly, the clocks are gone in favor of clothing, but the building is an important cultural property of Japan.

Directly at the opposite corner lies the SACRA Building, formerly the Kyoto branch of the Fudo Chokin Bank. Built in 1916, it still has the heavy wooden doors and staircase it was originally fitted with. Thanks to the many shops inside, a close-up look is possible.

Two large red brick buildings stand on the second to last block before Karasuma, and they look so similar they could be twins.

The first is the Annex of the Museum of Kyoto, built in 1903 as the Kyoto branch of the Bank of Japan. The inside has been lovingly restored to its former glory: A huge single room with high ceiling and the old wood trimmings of the bank still exudes riches. It was turned into a museum in 1967, and the former vault in what is now the museum’s inner courtyard secures a branch of Maeda Coffee.

Finally, there is the Nakagyo-ku Post Office, another red brick building, built in 1902. This is the only building mentioned here that is still used for its original purpose. It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1970s, thanks to the engagement of the locals.

Many more of these modern buildings from the turn of the century survive in Kyoto, like the Kyocera Museum and other buildings in Okazaki, Kyoto National Museum and Kyoto City Hall, the Restaurant Yaomasa at Shijo Bridge, the old Fucho Prefectural Government building, the old campus of Doshisha University just north of the Gosho… It’s really worth taking the time and looking around a little to find these delightful little gems.


Sorry for not writing on Wednesday, I was uncharacteristically busy this week.

It started already last Friday with a maiko press conference that continued on Monday with a maiko photo shoot. While those invitations usually come weeks in advance, this one arrived only two days ahead of the press conference, so I had to wiggle with my deadlines a bit. Still, I am very grateful for the opportunity to look behind the scenes of the Miyako Odori, a public performance of the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu district, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. I’ll go in more depth at some later point, but here’s a quick picture.

Afterwards, I had a big paper deadline on Tuesday, and lots of smaller things to fill my Wednesday, because I decided to go on a short trip to Nagoya on Thursday afternoon and spend Friday – a public holiday in honor of the Emperor’s birthday – with a friend there. The added bonus was to see the BATI-HOLIC concert there on Thursday night. It appears that the guys appreciated me showing up so far from home.

Anyway, it was a very busy week and I had to start working again yesterday; next week will be very busy too, end of the month and all. But with everything that happened last week, it was worth the effort – so many new impressions. And who knows, I might be invited to more maiko press conferences and photo shoots in the future…