Corona Updates

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finished last Sunday, what everybody thought would happen, actually happened: Japan is on the way into its 5th Covid19 wave… Checking this page, you will see that at the moment, we’re having just shy of 150.000 active cases, almost double than in the last wave. This is certainly because of the Olympic Games, with 50.000 people coming into the country just for that, but of course, if you have a look a bit further down, Japan has ramped up the testing too in the last few weeks.

Kyoto has been under a state of quasi-emergency where the government “calls” on restaurants and bars to close before 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol. I think they are terrified to place us under a real state of emergency again; Kyoto city has already lost millions because of a lack of tourists since last year. And the number of cases has been steadily rising. Whenever I checked before, we’ve had about 10% of the cases in Osaka, but now we’re standing at roughly 20%. In absolute numbers we have less than 3000 active cases; in a city with 1.5 million inhabitants it’s not really worrying – if the testing were up to scratch…

In any case, I have finally received an invitation to my first shot; next Saturday’s the day. As I suspected, the call center is quite efficient and things run slowly but smoothly. However, I did have a problem with one of the forms I’m supposed to bring with me. It’s a checklist of medical conditions and how you’re feeling etc. and of course, it’s entirely in Japanese. While there is a website about the vaccinations, it uses mostly machine translation, and that obviously doesn’t work on forms that are uploaded as images or pdf files… And because I couldn’t be sure that anybody at the vaccination site would speak enough English to translate for me, I contacted the call center, where they have interpreters for several languages.

I thought they might have a translated form somewhere (the website suggested as much), but nothing like that. Instead, I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with an interpreter who did a live translation of all the 15 questions for me. She was very good and efficient, but I was a bit embarassed to cause so much trouble and take so much of her time. Anyway, the form is filled in now, I have all my other ducks in a row and if nothing serious happens, I’ll get my shot on Saturday. Just three more days! I’m actually quite happy about it.

Yoiyama 2021

Today is the third day before the saki parade of Gion Matsuri on July 17. It’s the day of the yoi-yoi-yoiyama, when the yamaboko floats have been finished and the inner city is closed for cars during the evening. So far the theory, but for the second year in a row, Gion Matsuri has been limited severely, thanks to COVID-19.

Most of the events that draw large crowds have been cancelled, including the two parades on July 17 and 24, and of course, the yoiyama parties as well. However, this year, 12 of the yamaboko for the first parade will be built (or already have been), and 6 yamaboko of the second parade. There will be the usual sale of chimaki charms, tenugui towels and other souvenirs there, at least during the day from around 10:00 – 19:00.

Usually, my friends and I visit Gion Matsuri together sometime during yoiyama, in the afternoon. We’ll be having lunch tomorrow and see where we’ll take it from there. I have been invited during the second yoiyama next week to visit the Ofunehoko. I worked there at the booth for two years before, but I”m not up to standing for 5 hours this year because of my hip problem. However, I will say hello to my friends who are there, and I have been promised that I may enter the Ofunehoko this year again, which is a special treat because it’s not open to the public because it’s too small a space.

I will report on this year’s yoiyama(s) next week.

Vaccination Fast Lane

As you may know, the Covid19 vaccinations are going really, really slow in Japan. At the end of last week, I finally received my invitation package for my own vaccination. It includes a general information leaflet, an extra information sheet about the vaccine that will be used (the Pfizer/Biontech one), a general health questionnaire that I’ll have to fill out and bring along, and the actual vaccination ticket with my name on it.

Since I don’t have a GP I see for my random little ailments, I had to make an appointment at one of Kyoto’s mass vaccination sites. Or rather, I spoke to somebody in the Kyoto city call center who took all my data and entered it into the big scheduling database. She promised that I’ll receive a call with the actual appointment time, but she couldn’t tell me when this would happen. Or how long I would have to wait for said appointment.

However, I do know already that I’m in the higher priority group. That’s because my BMI says I’m obese. To be fair, my pant sizes do too… This means, I might be lucky to get an appointment for my first shot in July already. Still, all I can do right now is wait for that phone call. Given my experience with the Japanese government, things will be oh so slow… But once you’re in the machine, everything will go smoothly and super efficient!

Studying Cute

Wouldn’t you have guessed – our state of emergency has been extended once more, this time until June 20. I hope this is the last time for the forseeable future. The number of active cases are decreasing, Osaka has the highest in all Japan with currently some 9500, Kyoto has 10% of that. The government is stil stubbornly holding on to the Olympics, even though many people are against it. It’s nice that the IOC is planning to get all the athletes vaccinated, but what about their whole entourage – the trainers, managers, masseurs, staff, all the journalists? If we’re getting a fifth wave in September, I hope the IOC will be kind enough to provide Japan with vaccines too…

Anyway, I don’t want to bitch too much. The weather is picking up, and it is pleasantly warm without being humid. It’s nice to take a short bicycle trip right now, and there are a few places I’d like to go and see soon. Also, despite the extended lockdown, many museums are opening up again this week, so there’s something else to do if I feel the need to get out of the house.

Speaking of something to do: I have decided to put more energy into my Kanji studying. This takes a lot of time and effort, and although I’m pretty good at pattern matching, the more difficult Chinese characters bring me to my limits… Enter the Kanji Drill workbooks. Isn’t this cute:

These are for kids in elementary school, and each workbook covers the Kanji of one grade. The above is for first grade with the 80 most basic Kanji. I know most of them already, but I still have troubles writing some of them, which is an interesting problem that plagues many Japanese as well, thanks to computers and smartphones.

These books are super cute with their characters and drawings, and they even come with stickers that your parents can award you on the bottom right hand side if you did the exercises well. I have only seen these books for elementary grades (6 years, covering 1026 Kanji). There should be similar books for secondary grade (another 6 years, 1110 Kanji), but let’s cross that bridge when I find it! It’s good to know that Japanese children get 12 years to learn the basic 2136 “Joyo Kanji”, so there’s no reason to feel bad that I’m not perfect yet.

Wish Fulfilment…

Last week, on this very blog, in a comment to one of you dear readers, I vented my frustration about our Corona measures. Essentially, I said: Oh, just shut everything down already! Well, what can I say.

In the latest episode of the perennial hit series “Careful What U Wish 4”, the government has done exactly that: Kyoto, together with the neighbouring prefectures Osaka and Hyogo, is under a new lockdown, pardon me: state of emergency. Beginning last Sunday and ending, hopefully, on May 11, restaurants, bars, shopping centers, museums… are closed. And Kyoto Zoo. With more people sick in Osaka than in Tokyo (which is under lockdown too), the measure is understandable. Besides, I dare not complain again…

Well, here goes my holiday. For the last couple of weeks I was thinking of going out of town for a couple of days around Golden Week (which starts tomorrow). I didn’t want to go too far anyway, down to Nara again perhaps, or over to Otsu, more a change of scenery than a holiday, really. It’s not going to happen now. But, I have all intentions to take time off from tomorrow through next week, so that’s at least something.

There are other good news too: Just yesterday, they finished the demolition next door. The ground is level, the machines are gone, and it’s quiet again, for the first time in months! I very much hope that they will take their sweet time with the surveying before they tear everything up again and start constructions. I am pretty confident though that nothing much will happen until the end of my “home holiday”.

Yeah, I’m good, for now. Let’s hope it lasts.

Putting up the Shutters

Every two weeks now I have been visiting the Kyoto Tourist Information Office on Kawaramachi/Sanjo to scout out events for What’s up in Kyoto. They have lots of flyers for traditional events, garden illuminations and museum exhibitions, and also pretty much all the booklets, newsletters and papers written for tourists coming to Kyoto. And for the hapless foreigner, they also offer services like restaurant bookings etc. I don’t remember when I first found them, it must have been years ago. The staff are super friendly, all speak English, and over the years, we got to know each other. But after today, I will probably never see them again…

Thanks to the COVID-19-induced travel restrictions, there haven’t been any foreign tourists for a year, and even national travel has dropped considerably during that time. Therefore, the city has decided to close this office, and everybody working there will be out of a job tomorrow morning.

I was shocked when they first told me. Of course, with Europe in the throes of the third wave and vaccinations only really proceeding in the US and Isreal, it’s unlikely that there will be many foreign tourists in Kyoto this year either, at the very earliest in autumn. But I thought there were enough Japanese tourists who would use the service, but apparently that’s not the case, not even now, during hanami. Still, I didn’t expect them to close, but on the other hand I cannot blame the city for cutting costs left and right.

Where will I get my event flyers in the future? Today, I was told that a small space with flyers remains open at Kawaramachi/Sanjo, just the office that lies behind will be closed. And there’s always the main office at Kyoto Station, even though it’s a bit out of the way and it takes me twice as long to get there… Oh well, I’ll figure something out!

As for the staff at Kawaramachi/Sanjo, I hope they’ll find new jobs soon. Thank you for all your help during the years! Sayonara!

I Want to Cry…

Our state of emergeny because of Covid19 has just been extended for another month until March 7. The measures will be the same as now: requests to the public to avoid nonessential outings, requests to restaurants to close by 20:00, requests to companies to allow their workers to work from home (70% of paid work) etc.

I feel like crying, even though I’m very introverted and don’t go out often anyway. When is this going to end? At least it’s possible that the state of emergency is lifted early, but with even members of parliament ignoring the measures, I have not much hope.

On the other hand, the government is planning to start vaccinations of health workers this month, and they have also announced that foreigners living in Japan will get the vaccine – eventually. With a population of 128 million people and me not in any of the groups at high risk, I doubt that I’m due anytime before autumn. On the other hand, once the Japanese organise something, they are very diligent in following through, so I’m happy to be surprised.

Interestingly, only now, a full year after Covid19 has entered the Japanese scene, the government is passing bills that will enable them to fine people who are non-compliant with the measures mentioned above. So far, there were no binding laws, only “requests” to people to play nice (and to be fair, most did). Now fines of up to 500.000 yen are possible for Corona-positive people who refuse to be hospitalised. And restaurants that don’t want to shutter at 20:00 can be fined 300.000 yen. 

I hope the new measures and the extension of the state of emergency will work and we will indeed go back to normal soon. My mental health is taking quite a hike downwards lately… I don’t want to go out at all to be honest, but I did force myself to take a walk at the river this afternoon to see the sun. And I will go and honor all my appointments too – anything to lift my spirits. At least it’s Valentine’s Day soon, so there are plenty of chocolates for sale everywhere right now…

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.

WUIK Newsletter

What's up in Kyoto square logoToday, a business announcement: I am about to start the What’s up in Kyoto newsletter. Once a month – in the last weekend to be precise – I will send out a newsletter showcasing selected Kyoto events for the coming month, including a preview for the next monthly highlight. (*)

Of course, I know that at the moment, travelling is out of the question for most people, so there will also be an additional second part introducing experiences unique to Kyoto, special souvenirs, reading material for people at home, and what I will call “Kyo Anaba”. The Japanese term anaba – literally “hole place” – means good places to visit that are nevertheless known to only very few people, either because they are out of the way or they don’t do any advertising…

To avoid the newsletter becoming too long (as you know, I am prone to rambling), I will only choose one these per month to keep things fresh. This means I can write more than a few sentences about the topic, and make it interesting for people who cannot visit at the moment.

Are you interested? Sign up here and receive volume one of the WUIK newsletter this weekend! 😉

(*) This year’s monthly highlight on What’s up in Kyoto are various event venues: live music spots, theaters… Not the best choice in hindsight. Many places are still closed or only open irregularly, so there is a certain reluctance at the moment to be featured. But I’ll be back. We Austrians usually are!

Slowing Down

Unfortunately, I have somewhat bad news for the blog…

Covid19/Corona has hit Kyoto pretty hard, and although things are getting better, I doubt we will go back to last year’s normal any time soon. Many fun events have been cancelled, and even now, people do stay home and are very restrained when/if going out. And I am busy trying to get as much new business as possible to somehow survive this year.

cogwheelsRecently, I don’t go out much beyond my trips to the supermarket and talking to (potential) business partners. Since this was meant as a private blog, I don’t want to bore you by talking shop all the time, although I’m working on something (hopefully) exciting to share. And there is not much point talking about the weather either, even though summer is coming and it’s very pleasant at the moment.

Long story short: I have decided to slow down posting here. From now on, I will post once a week – on Wednesdays – about things going on in my life, and I will try to keep the focus on the private parts of how to “go gaijin”. And I want to keep up posting in the weekends about all things Japanese. Even though I haven’t been doing much lately, I do have an enormous backlog of things to write about and literally thousands of photos to share that I hope will be interesting to a wider audience.

So, I hope that you’re not too disappointed about me taking it down a notch. After more than 7 years of regular posting, I am feeling very much in a rut and quite drained at the moment and as if I don’t have much interesting stuff to tell you. I’m still committed to keeping this blog alive though, and who knows, maybe in a few months my life will be full again with interesting things to share with you.

Until then – see you Wednesdays and Sundays!