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. 😉

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…

The Temple of Dawn

The Temple of Dawn
Yukio Mishima

Shigekuni Honda, successful international business lawyer, is called to Bangkok in 1941 to settle a dispute. While engrossing himself in the study of Buddhism, in particular reincarnation, he is permitted an audience with the royal princess Chantrapa. She is the daughter of Honda’s high school classmate and insists that she belongs to Japan. When she recognizes Honda, he believes her to be a reincarnation of the revolutionary Isao whom he had defended years ago, but in the end, he must leave Thailand without proof.

They meet again 11 years later when the princess – now 18 years old and calling herself Ying Chan – comes to Japan to study. Honda is obsessed with the young woman and tries to crack her secret, but Ying Chan avoids him whenever she can, just spurring on the advances and scheming of the lawyer.

The first part of this book, set in Thailand, is heavy with Buddhist teachings that demand quite some attention. In the second part, we can focus on Honda and his desire to find out whether Ying Chan is indeed Isao’s reincarnation. Although some of Honda’s schemes are quite unsavoury, I still felt sympathy for him overall. I feel that Mishima is at his best when describing land- and cityscapes, and I loved the images of Bangkok he could conjure up in my mind’s eye. This is probably the reason why I liked this book more than the “Runaway Horses”, and I myself got very curious about this whole reincarnation business…

This is the third book in Mishima’s “Sea of Fertility” cycle, and it centres on Honda, who has hitherto been a mere side character. There were so many references to Isao, the protagonist of the second book, that it would be hard to follow without having read “Runaway Horses”.

Yukio Mishima is regarded as one of Japan’s foremost authors of the 20th century. A weak child, he took up bodybuilding and kendo when he was older and became very fit. He started writing early and eventually became the protĂ©gĂ© of Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Besides his numerous books, he also wrote plays for Noh and Kabuki, as well as for contemporary theatre. He was 45 when he committed ritual suicide.

If you’re interested in a deep dive into Buddhism and the practice (or art?) of reincarnation, you can get this book at amazon.

Equinox

A long weekend just ended today with shunbun-no-hi, the vernal equinox. It was a nice day, so I went out and many other people did, too. The streets in Okazaki were bustling, and the atmosphere was quite energetic. Since many universities and high schools have their graduation ceremonies, there are lots of young people around wearing their finest kimono. It’s a lovely time to be out and about.

It is too early for a proper hanami yet, but some cherry trees here and there are in bloom already. I’m curious to see this neighborhood during hanami, the approach to Saginomori Jinja is lined with sakura trees, but overall, I’d say the area is better known for the koyo in autumn. This year, I have special plans for hanami – yozakura (evening lightup) to be precise. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally, from tomorrow, there will be no further Covid-19-induced state of emergency in Japan. We still have more than half a million active cases, but the numbers are declining rapidly. I received my invitation to the third shot already, I just have to make an appointment. I am really looking forward to ditching the masks, but that won’t happen anytime soon.

Spring is coming, and things will get better. For good, this time. Hopefully.

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.

Zenbi Kagizen Art Museum

I found out about this new museum recently and just had to check it out (I love my job). It’s always special to find something brand new in Kyoto, where everything else dates back hundreds of years and even people are not considered “real” Kyoto people unless their family moved to Kyoto “before the war” – the Onin War of 1467, mind you…

The Zenbi Kagizen Art Museum in Gion was established last year, and it is housed in a newly-built building in zen-like style, very minimalistic. An effort has been made to make it fit among the surroundings, which also show a traditional exterior.

This little museum is a private one, founded by the Kagizen Yoshifusa, a maker of traditional Kyoto sweets that dates back to the Edo period. Usually, sweets shops like these cater to monks and tea houses, since traditional kyo-gashi confectionary is most often used at tea ceremonies or to offer to guests. However, back in the Showa period, the then-head of the family, Zenzo, managed to establish the Kagizen as a salon for artists, writers, researchers, in short: the intellectual crowd of Kyoto. Their sweets have been immensely popular among general citizens as well.

So, said Zenzo, the 12th generation head of the family, made lots of connections to the local art scene, and especially the mingei movement (folk art) headed by Kawai Kanjiro was favoured by him. He also established a deep friendship with Tatsuaki Kuroda, a wood craftsman and lacquer artist, who designed pieces for the Kagizen store and teahouse. This friendship laid the foundations of the museum’s collection, and I wish I had found the museum already last year, because the very first exhibition was about the connection between Kuroda and Zenzo – and I love lacquerware.

But their current exhibition on wooden molds for sweets is equally fascinating, because it explores the history of the Kagizen Yoshifusa as sweets maker famous for higashi, dried sweets. These tea-ceremony favourites are often nothing more than sugar, sometimes colored, and pressed into molds to create a large variety of shapes. Chrysanthemums and other flowers are common, as are seashells and fish. For weddings etc. there are auspicious cranes or turtles, and each new year sees the appropriate zodiac animal.

I was surprised by the variety of the shapes, and how delicately the molds were carved. Of course, this is a job for an expert, and besides molds used by the Kagizen over the years, there were also some from a collection of a 3rd generation artisan sweet-mold maker. My favourite? The astronauts!

So, if you’d like to check out this lovely new museum, here’s their website: https://zenbi.kagizen.com/ The exhibition on the sweets molds is on until April 10, 2022.

On the way home, drop by at the shop on Shijo dori and get some sweets – definitely worth it as well! https://www.kagizen.co.jp/en/store/


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.

Finished/Furnished: Bathroom

Finally, after three months of brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink, my bathroom is finished and fully functional! To be clear, my bathroom is a traditional 3-rooms-affair: From a room in the centre with the washbasin, doors lead to the adjacent toilet and shower room with the bathtub. In this case, toilet and shower were fully functional from the beginning, it was only the room in the centre I wasn’t happy with. There was no way I’d go and do anything in there. Guess why:

Yes, you’re looking at dirty wallpaper, a missing mirror – not counting the one on the cabinet on the right wall since that was broken – and an under-sink cabinet with severe water damage, which I didn’t even notice until a couple of weeks later when I first opened the thing… So, there was a lot to do.

I started out removing the wallpaper and painting the walls, because I thought this would be the easiest thing to do. Well… Did you know that stripping wallpaper isn’t quite that easy? I wish I had known this earlier, but the paper is not the problem, it’s the glue underneath. Anyway, I can now recommend a concoction of hot water, a tiny splash of dish soap and a generous spoonful of baking powder. Once the wallpaper was gone and the walls were dry again, the painting itself was finished relatively quickly, even though I needed three coats of paint plus primer. But I really wanted that annoying paper gone.

Next step: That cabinet… that colour… That’s all I wanted to do: Paint the thing. But it turned out to be the biggest challenge of this whole renovation and the main reason why it took so long.

As I mentioned above, the entire bottom had more or less rotted through and needed replacing, probably because of a leak in the drainpipe. Similarly, most of the screws that held the doors in place were rusted into the cheap wood. Even my carpenter’s power tools weren’t a match for them, and finally, he had to use good old brute force to remove the doors.

Once I had ripped out the bottom of the cabinet with the help of my grandfather’s favourite 30 cm (not pictured) screwdriver, the whole tragedy of the bathroom unfolded. Not only were there remnants of roaches underneath the cabinet… but the flooring you see in front of it doesn’t reach underneath it. Meaning: all there is is the wooden under-floor. Those orange tiles also only go as far as the cabinet is high and deep, the sides and the backs are essentially untreated, bare wall.

While I was busy measuring the new bottom and painting all the parts of the now mostly disassembled cabinet, I asked my carpenter to drill me some holes for the towel racks. This simple tasks – 12 holes, no biggie, eh? – turned into a one-hour odyssey. At that point, we found out that while the walls are standard timber frame, the spaces in between are filled with non-standard concrete. In other words, different spots required different screws and anchor plugs, even if they were just 5 cm apart. My carpenter was not pleased, obviously, and I cannot imagine how he could refrain from cursing throughout the ordeal. Anyway, how he made sure everything’s on the same height is quite impressive:

Before putting in the new bottom, I had to do something about the old top of the cabinet. No way I’d leave it this way, ugly and stained as it was. Because the top is of a material that is hard to paint, I decided on using some sticker paper around the wash basin. Unfortunately, I needed to use four strips of the sticker paper, which don’t come together perfectly, but it turned out quite alright – for a first try. Then, I was finally ready to put in the bottom and a new front board, while using some chopsticks as wedges to push the cabinet upright and against the back wall again.

Finally, I could put in the now painted front doors again. Painting them wasn’t quite as easy either, because the doors were covered in some sort of laminate – perfect for a bathroom, almost impossible to paint over. As mentioned, Pumpkin tried to impress his own ideas on this, but I’m not really into this kind of modern art, so plain blue it is. Of course, since I love a good challenge, I replaced the small swing door at the bottom right with a drawer. As the top right is also a drawer, I can now utilize the whole depth of that part of the cabinet. That alone took me two extra weeks.

Finishing touches were a large mirror in front of the window, a pretty noren to replace the dirty accordion door, and I even bought blue towels to complete the look of this photo. What do you think?

There are still a few small things to do: I’m considering getting new fittings, the old ones are… weird. Also, it’s surprisingly hard to find the right sized plug for the wash basin; I’m on number 4 now, which is too big again. And finally, I haven’t touched the ceiling at all, which still has the old wallpaper on it. It has aged into an orange-y colour, and would thus fit the colour scheme, but it does look dirty compared to the walls, so I want to do something about it. Eventually. Not right now. Let me enjoy my bathroom as it is for now. I’m not looking up that often anyway.

Runaway Horses

Runaway Horses
Yukio Mishima

Japan, 1932. Isao is a youth who lives and breathes the ancient samurai spirit. He is worried about the modern Japan that he sees in the hand of greedy industrialists instead of that of the benevolent emperor. Spurred on by a book bout a group of rebels in the early Meiji era, he forms his own “League of the Divine Wind” with 20 of his best friends. Supported by high-ranking men in the military, they set out to kill the country’s business elite and to restore the purity and integrity of Japan under the emperor.

This book tells of a fanatic group of young men in their early 20s who see the greatest honour not necessarily in killing, but in dying for a cause they believe just. Ideas of nationalism are expounded in detail, which make this book difficult to read at times, in particular when knowing that these ideas led to war just a few years later.
This is the second novel in the “Sea of Fertility” series by Yukio Mishima. Except for a few recurring characters, it can be read as a stand-alone, though.

Yukio Mishima was born into an old samurai family in Tokyo in 1925. He started writing at a very young age and had his first work published in a literary magazine when he was only 16 years old. Five years later, he approached Yasunari Kawabata with manuscripts and became his protĂ©gĂ©. Mishima wrote 15 novels and more than 250 other works in his lifetime. He is regarded as one of Japan’s foremost novelists, but his nationalistic tendencies are viewed more sceptically by the Japanese. The above novel foreshadows his own death in 1970.

Not my favourite novel of the four, but if you want to have a go at it yourself, here’s a link to amazon.

Annoyed…

Do you have those days, too, when you just don’t want to go home? You don’t really want to go out either – in a “getting drunk” or “meeting people” kinda way – you just don’t want to go home.

I had one of these days today. After meeting one of my English students (the one who survived 10 days of COVID-quarantine-induced boredom), it was already 7 pm, but I didn’t feel like going home. I just wanted to go somewhere quiet, have a snack and do some writing; but mostly: I wanted to sit somewhere warm and cosy and just stare vacantly into space.

And I tried, valiantly. My favourite place for these evenings was too full, so I went elsewhere. But of course, they kicked me out from there at 8:00. Because we’re still having Corona, and you can only get sick if you stay out after that.

My student would strongly disagree. And let’s face it: with Omicron rampant everywhere (despite closed borders, mind you), we’ve lost that war already. And people don’t even get tested anymore – Kyoto city didn’t even bother sending test kits to my student’s family. Apparently isolating them all for 7 days (he got 10 days at home) and everything would be fine. I’m so sick and tired of all this. And I’m an introvert.

So, I had to go home after all. And I spent a lot of money shopping at a convenience store for food (greasy, sweet, and deliberately unhealthy) and drink (alcoholic), so that I could drown my sorrows at my own home from 8:30 on.

It’s just not the same. Grump.

The New Tamayuran

Today is cat day in Japan – February 22. This is because the way cats “speak” in Japanese: nyannyan and ni is the term for two. And this is why the Tamayuran, the best cat cafĂ© in Kyoto, has had its grand open today after being shut down for almost a year.

This has nothing to do with COVID, though. The old building, and some neighbouring ones, were bought by an investor who will tear them down and build something new – probably one of these dreadful one-room apartment buildings on 5 floors or so. This is because the old location was quite close to Kyoto University, and students need a place to live somewhere, after all.

Akie, the owner of the Tamayuran, needed quite a long time to find a new place for her cat cafĂ©, and once she did, the renovations took ages and tons of money. The new place is in a quiet neighbourhood with somewhat more through-traffic, but the house is also much smaller. It is nicely renovated though and just a few finishing touches are needed – more cat pictures.

Cat pictures only, sadly, because there is not enough space anymore to put in the cages with the rescue cats. Akie plans to have maybe one or two cats roaming the café, but since the house leads directly onto the street, nothing is certain for now.

I hope I can visit her again soon, even though it’s a bit out of the way for me now. However, her cakes and sweets are legendary, and there’s always reason to have something sweet…

And if you dare, you can go sit down in the new basement – which is not quite as spooky as in this picture, but the staircase is very steep and narrow and the ceiling very low. If you’re claustrophobic, go down there at your own risk!