Delving into NaNo with two projects?!

Hello from the kotatsu! It is almost chilly enough here in Kyoto for me to merit breaking out the futon cover for this little table of mine… At least, at night. In the daytime, at most you still just need long sleeves. But hey, we’re slowly but surely (and finally) going from summer… and hurtling right into winter.

Autumn? What’s autumn?

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What are the tourist spaces like now? Arashiyama edition!

I was talking to a coworker the other day about tourist spots in Kyoto. When I mentioned how I missed seeing all of the local areas, my coworker shook their head. “You should go,” they told me, nodding emphatically. “Nobody’s around, so you get the whole place to yourself. It’s fantastic for pictures, and you can take your time there, too.”

Curious, I decided to see for myself. Armed with my vaccination status, a mask, and a fully charged phone, I ventured off to Arashiyama.

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Where do you stand?

Wow, it’s been a while since I talked about studying Japanese!

Has anyone else had the mental perk-up since they got vaccinated against you-know-what? I feel like I’m more awake than I have been for the past year. Not much has changed in my day to day life- I’m still masking, staying away from people (especially those who don’t know how to wear a mask properly or don’t wear one at all), and keeping mostly to places I can reach on foot.

But the two shots have been a breath of fresh air and I’ve found myself becoming more active. Putting more effort into exercise. Reading more. Keeping up with hobbies better. Starting new hobbies.

And picking up Japanese study again.

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C’mon, aircon!

I promised last time that talking about my aircon woes would be a whole new post. Here it is!

Ah, aircons. Coolers. Heaters. Dehumidifiers. And a source of white noise when you’re trying to sleep. They do it all, and we work them to death. We’re at the point in summer where a lot of people need to run it all night in order to sleep. I am, in most cases, one of those people in August. While winter is not a problem for me, summers leave me exhausted and yearning for cool temperatures the minute the thermometer goes over 27 degrees Celsius.

And then… this summer happened.

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How Many Towels Does One Person Need? (A Hotel Adventure)

Like most people, I haven’t been in a hotel in about two years (the photo you see is from 3+ years prior). But necessity pushed me into the unenviable position of having to book a hotel room for a few days during the height of travel season. The necessity? My air conditioner breaking.

That’s another story.

My stay in the hotel has reminded me of a lot of things. What it feels like to use facilities that aren’t your own. How nice it is to have someone else doing the cleaning for you. The awkwardness of timing yourself so that you don’t have to share an elevator with anybody else. That sort of thing.

And, of course, the cleaning wars with the housekeeping staff.

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Summer and all that entails

I’ve walked the Kamogawa so many times now that every little change there catches my attention. There are regular birds that I spot in their normal places, and new families (ducklings!) that I realize are new with delight. I witness the building of the dining balconies every year as restaurants prepare for hot summer nights… and their removal when everyone wants to withdraw from the cold. There are pet owners that I look forward to spotting, some with animals that made me do a double-take the first time I saw them.

The other day, for the first time, I saw a snake in the river.

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Less nose-gazing (hana-mi), more flower-gaping (hanami)

Today was a beautiful one, with a high of 20 degrees Celsius. Walking along the street, I saw a parent and child coming up the opposite way. The child was blowing big, fat bubbles into the air, and the wind kept sweeping them back the way the child had come. Unfortunate for the child, but I got to enjoy the fruit of their labors–walking surrounded by bubbles that caught the afternoon light, reflecting the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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March-ing — to Kyoto Cryptids and beyond!

Plum blossoms are already a thing of the past this year, and cherry blossoms are hurrying on by without a backwards glance, too. People are telling me that certain places are already past their peak in Kyoto, to hurry to such-and-such a place to see them NOW while one still can.

And I look at the surging number of students on spring vacation out with their friends; at the retirement parties that aren’t supposed to be happening, yet still are; and at the droves of people determined to get spring shopping in, at any cost.

And smile and say, “I’ll try to get there before they leave.”

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Crows and Plums

There’s a crow that perches on the rooftop of the building next to my apartment. He’ll caw a few times, wait expectantly, then caw again. I do sometimes see him with a friend or two, but he’s often on his own, so I’ve started talking back to him if my window’s open.

Caw, caw.

“What?”

Pause.

Caw.

“What’s your problem?”

I have yet to get an answer, so maybe I should try reaching out in Japanese instead of English.

It’s mid-February! Isn’t that wild? I could have sworn it was March just a little bit ago. One of the nice things about the weather being mild is that it’s been a great chance to go out and see some plum blossoms, or ume… and to have an encounter or two, as well.


One of my go-to activities now is walking for 8, 9 miles at a time. It’s meditative, it’s cathartic, and it makes me feel less bad about the mountains of fudgy brownies I’ve been whipping up at home. So on a mutual day off, a friend and I decided to walk the Philosopher’s Path to see what was happening.

The Philosopher’s Path, or Tetsugaku no Michi (哲学の道), is a stone path in Kyoto that runs on either side of a little canal. On one side, you see houses with high gates and architecture that isn’t that commonly seen in other neighborhoods. (Read: rich people.) On the other, you see shops, restaurants, and other places that open during the busy seasons. It’s a lovely (albeit crowded) spot for cherry blossom viewing. If you feel adventurous and walk from Nanzenji toward Ginkakuji, you can also tackle the Daimon-ji mountain hike… but the usual ‘way’ is to go the opposite direction.

So, what was happening on this fine February day? The answer was… not much. There were a couple of cats in bread loaf mode that blinked sleepily at us from sunny spots, and there were a few other pockets of people out enjoying the day, but otherwise the place was dead. You could hear the sound of the water in the canal by the path just fine, as soft as it was. Many of the shops were closed.

I couldn’t help but wonder if they’ve all survived the pandemic and will be opening for the next busy season.

Presently, my friend and I came across an elderly man sitting on one of the bridges that stretched out over the canal. His hair was unbrushed and his coat was three sizes too big. He had a metal bucket in his lap, full of little yellow flowers. He held one small flower in his hand, and he was staring down at the canal in utter concentration.

Upon hearing footsteps, he looked up and brightened at the sight of me and my friend.

“Hello,” he called in English. “You!” He held up one of the flowers in his bucket. “Free!” he added helpfully.

We declined and moved along, but not without looking over our shoulders to see what he was up to. Once we’d passed by, he’d lost interest and was again staring at the canal. Carefully, he selected a flower from his bucket, then let it drop into the water.

The plum blossoms were few, but bright and beautiful, and blooming enough to give the air a pleasant smell even through our masks. I’m sure by the time you read this, even more of them will have fully bloomed.

The two of us ended our stroll by making our way over to the Imperial Palace Gardens, where there were significantly more people and significantly more plum blossoms available to view. We stood and watched from afar for a while, then decided that we desperately needed to sit down so off home we both went.

The touristy places are empty, from what my social media feeds are telling me. Arashiyama looks like a ghost town. The Gion area, usually so packed with people it’s impossible to move, is silent at certain times of day. So if you’re in the city and feel comfortable enough to venture out and see what’s going on, I encourage you to do so. The shops that are open could greatly use the revenue, even if you only pick up a takeaway coffee.

…Maybe even consider accepting a flower from an old man. They’re free, after all.