Taiko Class

Two weeks ago, I was invited to a Japanese drum class to review it for What’s up in Kyoto (I love my job!) Japanese drums are generally called wadaiko, but there are many different sizes that all have specific names. I’ll do a bit more research on this – looks like a weekend post on drums is coming up! But let’s talk about the lesson.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings somewhere between excitement and apprehension. I have zero musical talent and couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended on it, and after I had to quit the recorder (flute) in primary school, all I’ve been playing were LPs and later CDs. So, there was a base level of embarrassment to begin with, which grew exponentially when I entered the classroom and saw that it was set up for a single student only. Yay.

Thankfully, we started easy: raise the drumsticks high and just drop them onto the drum. Tap the edge of the drum. Play loudly and then very quietly. Interestingly, the stance to play wadaiko with slightly bent knees and straight back reminded me of the basic stance in Aikido. I wonder if this is because the strength for playing should not come from the arms and shoulders, but from the hara, the centre of the body (just like in Aikido).

In any case, the class moved to basic rhythms and, finally, to a real song (is it a “song” if it’s just rhythm? Serious question) with a beginning, middle and end. My teacher and I played together and took turns with improvisations in the third part, and although I wasn’t very good at those, it was fun to watch him play.

The lesson took one hour, in which I had great fun thanks to the teacher who was very encouraging. Unfortunately, I felt quite conscious of my body throughout the class, partly because I was the only student as mentioned and thus felt under constant scrutiny, but also because I was facing a huge mirrored wall all the time… Overall, however, the fun definitely outweighed my body issues and I felt extremely energized after the class, so much so that I couldn’t sleep at all that night.

Things that surprised me: the drumsticks were very light; apparently, there are different weights and sizes, not just for smaller and larger drums (obviously), but heavier drumsticks make it less tiring to play for longer periods. Also, where the drum is hit makes a difference – dead centre sounds different from closer to the edge. Now that I had time to think about it, the reason is probably the added interference/overlay of the soundwaves near the edge, but that wasn’t clear to me at first. Finally, you need to hold the drumsticks quite tightly to avoid them bouncing and hitting the drum twice – no wonder I ended up with blisters on both my thumbs.

Before I tell you my final verdict, I must mention the teacher: it was Kuro-chan (real name Shugo Kurosaka), the blonde frontman of Bati-Holic. (Since I’ve fangirled about the band already.several.times, I’ll spare you today, but do check them out, they’re great!) We got to talk after a concert, and he mentioned that he’s teaching too, and I jumped on the occasion. He began learning taiko when he was 12, and when he entered university in Kyoto, he started a taiko club there (which still exists today!) He said he quickly found out that there was money in this, and since he wanted to do something music related anyway… The rest is history. Because he has so much experience teaching and also works with kids, he’s very patient, and we were both laughing a lot during the lesson, which speaks for his relaxed attitude.

Final verdict, or: Where is this going? Well, one of my goals in Project 50 by 50 is to “start a new hobby.” And because this whole music thing is so far out of my comfort zone, it may just be the right challenge – and I’m here for it. For various reasons, I can’t start right away, but I hope I can make it happen after summer at the latest. I’ll keep you posted.

Project 50 by 50

With my 48th birthday just around the corner, I have decided to make a few changes in/to my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with how my life turned out so far. When I was stuck all the way back in my deepest teenage angst & depression, I couldn’t have imagined any of this. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. So, I’ve done two things:

  1. I chopped off my hair.
    I’ve been wearing it short since living in Hong Kong in 2007, but now it’s a mere 10 mm long. Doing that felt extremely liberating, and once the deed was done, it energized me for the rest of the day.
    So far, the reactions were mostly surprise, but people were positive, and I’m feeling less stuck already. There really seems to be something to the old trope of “women who want a change, first change their hair”.
  2. Project 50 by 50: 50 goals to reach until my 50th birthday.
    This was inspired by somebody whom I admire and who made massive changes when turning 50. I already started last August by setting the first 20 goals; 15 more at the beginning of this year, and another 15 are due next year. (That’s deliberate, you never know how life turns out, and there may be new things to focus on.)
    I don’t want to go into details here since this is obviously a very personal project, but some of the goals are to go out more often and make friends, save enough money to renovate the rest of the house, take regular days offline, stop neglecting this blog…
    Overall it’s a quirky list ranging from the mundane to the almost esoteric, but all the goals are meant to improve my life in some way and/or to make me a better human (if only in my mind).

Already, I have been making progress on some of the goals, one of them being “study Japanese and take the JLPT every December”. I mentioned taking the test, and the results are in: I passed, with 160/180 points!

Now, this was the easiest test covering only the very basics, and had I failed this after all these years in Japan, it would’ve been very embarrassing. The next level will be more difficult, and it will already include keigo (respect language). I’m worried… Best to go and study more.

Advent, Advent…

Now that the JLPT is over (I have a fairly good feeling about this), I’m a bit more relaxed. Still busy, but not running double shifts at the moment.

So, it’s time to prepare for Christmas. And, since it’s Advent, I got an Advent calendar, and I splurged on a good one this year:

You are right, it’s a bit cheesy, but of all the reusable ones, this one was the least kitschy. The little drawers are of a good size, and I’m looking forward to putting all sorts of really interesting stuff in next year. And to scramble the order, that’s half of the fun, after all. This year, the little chocolates and sweets that are inside repeat every three days or so, but they are surprisingly tasty. I didn’t expect that at all.

I also got a cute little Christmas card with another Advent calendar, that one sits on my desk right now. And I got presents already from my friends, and I’m thinking what I’m getting myself this year. Books, most likely, as usual. My library doesn’t have quite as many English books as I would hope, and my Japanese isn’t good enough to read decent stuff just yet.

My friend from Tokyo brought me homemade Christmas cookies, and I have already bought my usual chocolate Christmas cake in truly Japanese fashion. Food for the holidays will come a bit later, but maybe I should buy wine for Gl├╝hwein already.

And for all of you who are waiting for Christmas cards: Sorry, I haven’t started writing yet. I hope I can get them done soon, otherwise there’s not much point in sending them any more… But please forgive me if they’re coming a bit later than usual this year.

Studying

I’ve been very busy last week and this week to clear my schedule as much as possible. Am I going on vacation? I wish…

Instead, I will take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) next Sunday. I’ll only attempt the most basic level, the N5; after all these years in the country, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Still, I’ll need to prepare for the test, so I’ll do a lot of studying for the rest of the week.

Compared to the last time I took the test (and failed miserably), there is now much more study material available online. I have found plenty of YouTube videos for the listening comprehension part, and even the grammar and reading comprehension can be found online. I guess I’ll do a lot of practice tests in the next few days… Wish me luck!

Finished/Furnished: 2nd Floor Living Room

Finally, I can show off my traditional Japanese living room! This one didn’t need much work, so there won’t be any in-progress photos. Also, to be perfectly fair, it’s not completely finished yet. But first, let’s have a look at the state of it when I moved in:

The first thing that had to go were those cables, I removed them soon after I bought the house. In fact, these were all TV antennas; it seems the previous owner really loved his TVs and had them all over the house. I also bought a new ceiling lamp in a traditional design that not only looks better, but also weighs less than a quarter of the old one. You can’t see it on this photo, but the old lamp had a solid metal core and was very heavy. If you sleep there and a lamp like this comes down during an earthquake, it would definitely cause serious injuries. No wonder it was chained to the ceiling!

The old tatami were replaced with brand-new ones before I moved in. I’ve talked about this before, so let’s leave it there. You will see that their original green colour has already faded to a soft yellow, and the lovely fresh smell of the rushes is long gone too.

What really needed fixing were the shoji in front of the windows. The one on the left side was stuck and didn’t move, and my carpenter fixed it and all the others last year already. To my shame, I have to admit that changing the paper took me … ummm… much longer. I guess I was reluctant to do this because I didn’t know what I would get myself into, but in the end, the paper was comparatively easy to replace. So, here’s how it looks right now:

The furniture – the tansu, the low table and the boxes for writing utensils and cards – are all antique or second hand. It makes a lovely look overall and fit together perfectly, even though the writing box in the tokonoma could be spruced up a little. There is no way to hang anything on the walls, but for the moment, I like it this way. And yes, this blue thing is a cat bed. It’s still warm enough during the day for Pumpkin to sleep there, but from mid-afternoon onwards, he prefers to sleep in my bed.

What needs to be done: The paper on the fusuma needs to be replaced. The paper is not as dirty as the wallpaper in the kitchen was, but there are quite a few holes. I am not sure I could handle this myself since the fusuma are much larger than the shoji, but maybe it’s just another question of trial and error.

Same thing with the walls. Other than downstairs, these here are traditional daub-and-wattling walls with the requisite cracks through which I can see outside… The interior at least would need a refurbishing, but I have no idea how to do this. This one is probably a job for a pro, but I don’t have money for this right now. We’ll see.

Overall, I’m very happy with how the room turned out given the limited means I have at the moment. It feels very peaceful and in the afternoon, with the sun coming through the shoji, it’s almost like a Japanese dream come true.

Noh

Just a quick heads up that I’m busy today, so no long post…

Tomorrow, I will go to Takigi Noh. That’s an annual event at Heian Shrine, where Noh is performed on an outdoors stage lit by torches (only?) I was invited already back in 2018 but couldn’t go, so I’m really excited that it’s finally happening.

I will report later whether it was worth all the money.

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:

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. ­čśë

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…

A Green Neighborhood

Winter is over (knock on wood)! In the last two weeks, temperatures have risen dramatically as long as the sun is out. Just this afternoon, it had 21 degrees in my bedroom and I’m so thrilled. Even though it’s not time yet for the cherry blossoms, I can confidenly say: begone, heattech underwear! The next days will be a bit cooler again, but I think we’re out of the woods.

With the weather so pleasant, I took some time to explore the neighborhood. The imperial villa Shugakuin is not far away and neither is Manshuin temple. There are lovely houses on the way there, many of them have lovely gardens and some of the larger ones look like old farm houses. No wonder, there are still fields scattered between the homes here, and on my walk a bit further uphill, I even came across some terracing. It’s too early to see whether these will become rice terraces, but I can check again later.

With all the greenery around, I took a long look at my garden… and I’m not very hopeful. It’s a tiny but nice garden and I put away the window shutters last week and also picked up some trash that made its way there. But beyond that and picking up old leaves, I’m clueless as what to do with the plants that are there. Unfortunately, I have not inherited my grandmother’s green thumb. On the contrary, I even managed to kill Pumpkin’s kitty grass…

On the other hand, the garden has been left to its own devices for 18 months or so, and it’s still mostly green. So I am pretty confident that even I can’t do too much damage. I’ll keep you posted on the progress there.

As for the blog, I’ll be scaling back a little again, with posts now on Wednesdays and Sundays only. Now that I have settled into my usual work-life routine, the new-house-excitement has cooled off a little and there’s less to tell. Of course, I could keep writing about Pumpkin and his important job to make me laugh every day (which he does to my full satisfaction), but as I said, I don’t want to turn this into another kitty blog. Yet.

New Beginnings…

Isn’t it interesting how many reasons for a fresh start you get if you just keep looking diligently? My reason is the new fiscal year that has just started for my company, and so I have decided to do a few things differently at work.

Most importantly, I will shift my focus towards writing even more. I have done more writing (mostly for a number of so-called content mills) in the last two years, ever since Corona has more or less killed my tourist site. I will keep working on and for What’s up in Kyoto, of course because there’s so much to learn about Kyoto and so much I get to do and see because of it – which gives me plenty of stuff to write about as well.

As you know, I had an essay published last August about Sada Abe, a notorious Japanese murderer. (Hint: I also have another piece accepted in the same book series, coming out later this year…) I also started a Medium account for writing that doesn’t really fit on this blog, but it fell a bit by the wayside when I bought the house (many other things have, too). The plan is to write more on Medium, and try to find other outlets for my creative energies, preferably paid ones. Those will probably be non-fiction, just in case you’re wondering, I’m still too much of a scientist and no-nonsense kinda girl to make things up in a way that is interesting to read.

Hopefully, I can turn this into a sustainable business. Mostly because I have more plans for the house than I have money. And not all of these can be DIYed. While simply saving the money I formerly paid for rent will get me quite far, I’d also like to increase my income substantially over the next few years to speed things up. And a little more spending money is nice too. Even though things got better somewhat, and even though I live quite frugally, money can still get a bit tight every now and then.

So yes, that’s my plans for business at this point. Hopefully, I can tell – or even better: show – you more about my writing endeavours soon.