Home Improvements

Over the quiet and hot days of summer, I had some time for smaller improvements in the house. I can’t afford anything substantial, but it’s nice to clean things up a little and make them look better at least.

First thing: I painted my toilet. Directly opposite the door was an old hole with an anchor still inside, and every time I had to use the toilet in the evening, it scared me a little. It was just the right size and dirty color for a small spider…

So, out came putty and paint, and because the toilet is very small, this turned out to be the perfect project to finish over the weekend. The walls now look much smoother than before, except for a small bit where the previous owner tried to close a crack with something that feels like glue and the paint didn’t stick properly on top of that. I’ll have to go over this spot once again.

I also closed some other holes in the stairwell, but I’m out of paint now, so the final finish will have to wait. Also, I’ll need to figure out how to reach all the walls in the stairwell without falling to my death while painting, so we’re probably looking at some time next spring.

Second thing: I mended some tears in the fusuma in the upstairs living room. This didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, mostly because are essentially hollow inside. They use the same underlying wooden frame as shoji, just with opaque paper on both sides. In other words, without any firm ground to glue the paper onto, it’s really hard to fix torn fusuma paper properly.

Many people just stick some paper on top of the hole, but even though this is easier, I don’t think it looks as neat. And since my fusuma are already anything but clean, there’s no need to bring any further attention to that. To me, it still looks better now.

I would love to say that I made some progress in my garden, but I didn’t. Even though I trimmed some smaller trees in spring, other plants took advantage of the increased light and shot up to new heights. Not to mention the prolific vines I have in one end of my garden that seem to be difficult to kill. I would have to weed almost weekly to get rid of those, I guess. Well, it’s getting cooler now, so I can give it yet another try…

Taking a Break

Summer has arrived in Kyoto, and we’re having 35 degrees and more every day. The last few days, night temperatures were at 28 degrees officially, but it’s much hotter in my bedroom underneath the roof, which makes it hard to sleep.

Even Pumpkin is affected by the heat, he likes to sleep on my desk and other cool surfaces, and during the day he hides in the oshiire in my office.

All this is to say that I don’t have much energy, neither physical nor mental. So, I’m taking the summer off from this blog until the end of August. It’s not my first time, so I guess we’re good. And maybe I have new fun things to talk about after summer. It’s always nice to have a breather.

I wish you all a nice summer too and great holidays as well – see you soon!

Necessary Upgrades

Did you realize that this blog has been alive for 10 years, 5 months already? Yes, I haven’t always been on top of it, but it’s still impressive methinks. It doesn’t have a massive number of readers (which I never expected), but it serves as a kind of external memory to me. There are so many things I have done that I’ve already forgotten, it’s almost scary.

Anyway, I have to do a few upgrades to the underlying system – cleaning out the cobwebs if you will – in the next few days. Let’s hope things don’t go pear-shaped, if they do, it’ll be pretty obvious I guess. Otherwise, I’ll see you again on Sunday!

Finished/Furnished: Bedroom

Another room I can declare as “finished”: my bedroom upstairs. To be perfectly honest, because of my limited budget I didn’t do much with it, plus it has been finished for a while already. The reason I’m showing it only now is that during winter time, I was sleeping in the living room upstairs, which is smaller and easier to heat. So, the bedroom has only been a bedroom again for a few weeks.

Anyway, here’s the state before I moved in:

It looked pretty good already, so it needed only smaller changes, first and foremost: new tatami, like all the rooms upstairs. The two green things are a) tape over an air condition outlet, and b) a string attached to the lamp to turn it on and off while laying in bed. Interestingly, none of the rooms upstairs have light switches, very traditional indeed. The rectangular thing is a cover for a fan like the one I have in the kitchen.

At first, my plans were to remove the fan and close the hole in the wall to make it warmer in the room, but this was surprisingly expensive, so I scrapped it. These holes are the main reasons why I sleep next door in winter, even though I could fill in the smaller hole with cork coasters from IKEA. I also moved the curtain rails that are directly above the window in this photo all the way to the ceiling, partly to disguise the peeling wallpaper, and partly because my curtains would have been too long otherwise.

Unfortunately, the problem with the peeling wallpaper is not solved yet. It has something to do with the traditional walls underneath are not a good ground for (this kind of) wallpaper, so even new wallpaper will peel eventually. A solution would have been to cover the whole room with wooden/MDF board (like the new walls underneath the big window), but that wasn’t in my budget either. So, here we go:

I think it looks pretty good, with new, clean shoji, my futon in the middle and the lovely chest I bought in Hong Kong. A new addition to my bedroom is the large coat rack that lived in the genkan in the old apartment, but there’s no space for it there now. I also bought a new nightstand, which is actually, ahem… a stand for plants. Not only that, I turned it upside down to create a bowl shaped space at the bottom where I keep glasses, pens, bookmarks and other useful stuff elderly ladies cannot be without at night.

As pretty as the room is now, if you look closely, there’s one thing missing: A wardrobe. That’s why I use this self-made open shelf instead, with a door to the living room. Yes, the thing at the left of it is some sort of plastic curtain-door, but it looks and feels icky, and I don’t want to touch it, really. Now that I think about it, I could just remove it and install a standard curtain there.

Anyway, the reason for the nonexistent wardrobe is the nonexistence of a wall against which to put it. Three walls have a window, door, or oshi-ire in it; and putting the wardrobe against the fourth wall would block half of the first window pane, not to mention the entrance door… So, on my list for my next renovations is: remove the fan, close the window and make a wall suitable for a decent wardrobe. Until then, I’ll have to live with my open shelves, the little oshi-ire, and my boxes. It could be worse. At least Pumpkin is happy about the boxes, he sleeps on/in them in summer.

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 Glühwein 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.