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.Continue reading “Less nose-gazing (hana-mi), more flower-gaping (hanami)”
Author: Stefanie What
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.”Continue reading “March-ing — to Kyoto Cryptids and beyond!”
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.
“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.
So… that was 2020.
What a year, eh?
Hello, everybody. I am still here, and I have been thinking about this blog a lot over the past decade. I mean month. I mean year.
What even is time, at this point?
I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about. It sure has been a year. And I’m sure everybody else is ready for it to be over and to give 2021 a try.
Let me dust off this blog by talking about what I’ve been up to, what it’s been like over here, and how things are looking… and what I hope to do with this blog in the coming months.
What I’ve Been Up To
I remember having a conversation over Discord with a good friend of mine. He had heard about Coronavirus and said he was worried that it might spread to Japan and affect my life over here. I recall reassuring him that, even if it did, I would be perfectly fine. I also recall quite clearly thinking that it wouldn’t be that big an issue.
Well, I sure was wrong, wasn’t I?
Pretty soon after that, cases started appearing in Japan, and not long after that, we had a lockdown in April for several weeks. People took it seriously at that point. There were pictures all over social media of empty train stations, normally packed shopping malls looking like ghost towns, the whole nine yards. It was eerie stepping outside, as if you expected at any moment for a boogieman to leap out.
But following Golden Week, things started to ease back into a sense of normalcy. People eased out of their homes and back into the shopping centers, their work places. While sightseeing places began–and continue–to struggle, daily life for local folks more or less returned to normal with a couple of caveats: everybody wears a mask (well, almost everybody), and everybody social distances (read: some people).
Now in December, if you were to look out on a street in Osaka or Kyoto, it would look pretty crowded. Not as crowded as perhaps December 2019, but far more crowded than you would expect. We’ve had multiple campaigns over here, from the GoToTravel to the GoToEat endeavors to get the economy going again. From October or so I’ve started noticing people rolling suitcases around town again, and that’s… less than reassuring.
What It’s Been Like Over Here
Imagine having accommodation, a job, bank accounts, a phone, friends. Lots of things that tie you down to a given place. Now, imagine being told that, if you leave, you won’t be allowed back in to take care of any of those things.
That was the situation for months over here in Japan. Countless legal residents of Japan, regardless of their visa (spousal, working, etc), were locked out of the country from April onward. Those who were allowed in were given arbitrary criteria that they somehow passed while others were left behind.
Kyoto’s streets went back to 2007, foreigner-wise. Rather than have an obvious tourist every four or five people, I was back to blinking in surprise when I spotted someone non-Japanese. No doubt all of them residents, stuck in the same situation where you can’t go home but staying here was… questionable.
That said, sightseeing places lit up with excitement when I popped my head in because they weren’t getting nearly as many tourists. It’s been a prime time to see all the places that are normally swarming with people, and to get some lovely pictures.
Masks, of course, are a common sight in Japan anyway, but suddenly there was a market for them that never existed before. Every drug store and kimono shop I pass now offers masks with varying patterns and materials, whereas before your choices were white paper mask or black paper mask. And the latter could potentially land you in trouble. There was an article back in May about how people wearing the darker masks would be treated as potential troublemakers, though that stigma seems to have passed now that masks are so commonplace.
There’ve been a number of things for sale here that supposedly protect people. The governor of Osaka recommended a certain gargling solution a while back, and people rushed to buy it. There are little tags on sale that claim to ward off viruses, as well. And of course, shops began limiting how much soap each household could purchase.
How Things Are Looking
While I am beyond thrilled to hear about people already being administered the Covid-19 vaccine in certain parts of the world, it looks like the regular Joe Schmoes of Japan might not get it for months to come. The timeline may change, but as of right now, it looks like medical workers, folks 65+, and people with underlying conditions shouuuuuuld be all taken care of by the end of March 2021. Then the rest of us saps might have a shot (heh) to get it ourselves.
In the meantime, universities are debating whether to have face to face classes or online. Some have been face to face from autumn of 2020. Others are more cautious. Primary and secondary schools are, by and large, face to face, with closures of only a couple of days after a case is discovered “for cleaning” a common case here.
In other words, we’re looking at several months yet before anybody is out of the woods.
Given that we are, as of right now, considering having the Olympics in 2021, this is going to be an interesting situation.
What I hope to do with this blog
It’s been extremely hard motivating myself to do anything with this blog this year. Most of my “outings” have consisted of walks in my own neighborhoods in an attempt to get fresh air and exercise. It’s been difficult focusing on studying and reading (I’ve gotten through one book in Japanese this year).
But that said, I’m thinking of a few ideas now that might work given the upcoming months where we will need to continue remaining indoors. Things like:
-reading (yes I will get back on that horse)
-fiction based on my experience in Japan.
I hope to get back to posting regularly, and I hope to start seeing people on this blog again. I hope everyone reading this is safe, warm, and enjoying their New Year’s.
Let’s hope 2021 is a far better year for all of us than 2020 has been.
See you soon, internet.
Greetings from the kotatsu
Hello, and a happy 2020 to you all! I hope this new month/year/decade finds you well.
It’s certainly been a while since I last logged onto this blog. I was shocked when I checked in and realized the last post I made was waaaay back in July. Whoops.
That’s not to say I haven’t been busy elsewhere. I have been more active on my Instagram and Twitter, trying to reach out to new folks, but I have missed using this platform to talk about what’s happening in my life and in Japan.
This post is mostly to reassure those who might want to know that this blog isn’t dead–far from it! But please do bear with me as I contemplate what I want to do with it from here on out.
There are so many things I want to accomplish, and if possible, I would like some of them to happen in 2020. That means I can’t write and send off posts as often as I would like. That said, I do want to revamp and begin posting here more regularly once again.
The year of the Rat is upon us. What does that mean? Well, the rat was the first to win the race in the old legend, so “aggressive success” comes to mind when contemplating this upcoming year. It’s funny, as I remember the Year of the Boar being considered a good year for us to be charging forward, too. What’s with all this aggression?
That said, it’s apparently the time to get into the entrepreneurial spirit, try new things in business, and put yourself out there. So if you want to change jobs, start a business, or what-have-you, now is the time to do it.
What are your goals?
For me, I’m editing stories in hopes of one day getting them published. I’m especially fond of the developing collection of Kyoto-based cryptid stories my friends and I have developed over the years, and which I think deserve to be preserved in written form. I’m also developing what I hope might be a series in the future for urban fantasy, focusing on one continuing theme explored in multiple ways.
But right now, it’s January 1st and I just had a late lunch. I’m curled up under the kotatsu, belly full, feet warm, comfortably sleepy, with a book in my hand. (火狩りの王, great fun, every character’s name involves a fire pun.)
Enjoy your New Years’ holidays, and talk to you all very, very soon.
Hang Ten, Then Duck! Hang-gliding in Shiga
If you don’t like heights, maybe this post isn’t for you.
Personally, when it comes to standing on a mountaintop, flying in an airplane, or crossing a bridge, I have no issue with high places. I love going into observation towers and seeing how far out I can look.
But when it comes to roller coasters? Skydiving? Bungee jumping? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Last winter, a friend was trying to work out what to do for his birthday, and invited me and a few others to try a 1-day hang-gliding course in Shiga Prefecture. My instinctive reaction was, “No!” (Only, y’know, ruder.) However, rather than follow my knee-jerk reaction, what I said instead was, “Do you have a link to the website?”
You see, just because I can’t handle these things doesn’t mean I’m not curious about them.
So on the website I went, investigating this group that was willing to instruct people in hang-gliding in English. Reassured that it claimed you wouldn’t go that high or that far, meaning I was less likely to die, I agreed to go with my friend.
The things I do for my buddies’ birthdays.
Anyway, let me share a few things that happened with you that day.
Continue reading “Hang Ten, Then Duck! Hang-gliding in Shiga”
Misty Mountains and Hobbit Holes: Hobbiton!
When I was seven years old, I got a basket for Easter from my grandmother. I remember it was pink, with a chocolate bunny, a couple of jelly beans… and my own paperback copies of The Hobbit, as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I read through Bilbo’s adventure, but couldn’t commit to Frodo’s (“Where the heck is Bilbo? I want more of him!” I thought sullenly) until I was a bit older. Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories have stuck with me. Am I a hardcore fan? Hahaha no, I’ve never read the Silmarillion and if you ask me to compare the minutiae between the recent movies and the books, you’ll get a quizzical smile from me at best.
But fantasy as a genre is something I grew up loving, and when I learned we could take a day tour to Hobbiton from Auckland, I was completely on board.
We signed up, not through the Hobbiton website, but through a separate tour company. It was a package deal where we could also see the Waitomo Caves in the afternoon, but you and I both know that’s not what you’re here to read about. Or look at.
So let’s go.
Continue reading “Misty Mountains and Hobbit Holes: Hobbiton!”
Milkless tea and a day-long train adventure: The Northern Explorer in New Zealand
During Golden Week, I went to New Zealand for the first time with my parents. With no experience in the southern hemisphere, we scrambled to find out what to add to our Must Do List.
When I suggested the Northern Explorer train, my mother’s eyes lit up, and my father shook his head in resignation. He already knew that this was happening. My mother and I have talked about doing long train rides for ages, from the Trans-Mongolian Railway to The Canadian (Toronto – Vancouver), so this was an inevitability.
The Northern Explorer is a train that runs from Auckland all the way down to Wellington (or vice versa), and slowly winds through all sorts of beautiful landscapes along the way. Today, I’ll share what a day on this train felt like.
…. Hashtag not sponsored.
Continue reading “Milkless tea and a day-long train adventure: The Northern Explorer in New Zealand”
How many roads up Mt. Inari?
I visit Fushimi Inari Taisha at least once a year. Despite its’ crowds, I still find it to be a beautiful spot. And once you go up the mountain a little ways, the crowds quickly disappear behind you so you can enjoy the quiet of the shrine.
This past spring, I decided to hike up Mt. Inari with a couple of friends. We started off the same way most did–walking under the bright torii gates. But it wasn’t long before we got tired of the press of people (we went on a weekend) so we looked around for an exit. Lo and behold, to the right of the main path was a marked hiking trail that said, “Mt. Inari.” We gladly escaped, and had ourselves a little adventure.
After all, while you can have a lovely time following the torii gates up the mountain, you can also explore a few side-trails instead and discover parts of the shrine you might not otherwise have even noticed.
For today’s post, I’d like to share a couple photos of the things we saw that day. I hope you enjoy!
First, the view from our path above the torii gates. You can see that it was quite busy that day!
It was still very much cherry blossom season, so we got to enjoy some spring sakura during our hike.
We also stumbled across a residential area on the side of the mountain, which included a beautiful bamboo grove. There was almost nobody else around, so we thought we might have walked up the wrong path. We pressed on, however, and were glad we did; we soon found a trail marker that reassured us that we were going the right way.
Along the way, we found other shrines in addition to Fushimi Inari, including this giant stone. The signs were all in Japanese at this point, and the path was completely quiet save for us and one other woman walking around.
As we neared the summit, we spotted one of the torii gates. It had been a while since we’d walked under one, so we were glad to see something familiar. Especially as, during our walk, we’d been seeing a large number of warning signs posted for bears and boars!
I know a lot of people want to get the shot of the torii gates at the foot of the mountain, but I encourage you to go up to the top, if you’re able to do so. You not only get some lovely views of the city, but you also get a chance to snap photos without a hundred other folks in the shot!
Have you been to Fushimi Inari Shrine? If so, what did you think of it? Are you someone who likes to get there at dawn to avoid crowds, or do you just grit your teeth and push through all the people?
Requisite awkward “It’s been a while!” post
Boy howdy, it’s been a hot minute since I last wrote anything on here.
How’s everybody been doing? I can’t say that I’ve been hit with writer’s block entirely, but it sure did focus on this blog for a while. Which is a shame, because a bunch of neat things happened over the past few months. Thankfully, time is relative and just because I’m not writing about it the very second it happened doesn’t mean I can never mention those things, right? Right.
So! Here we are, on the requisite “What I’ve been up to so you can look forward to reading the deets” blog post. Once we get over this hump, everybody, we can get back to our regularly scheduled “Stefanie, WHAT?” and “Stefanie, WHY?” posts.
Let’s sum it up in bullet points:
- I went through my annual “Ugh, March” slog
- I’ve been slowly but steadily pushing through “The Demon of Lonely Isle” by Edogawa Ranpo in Japanese. Very slowly. You don’t want to know what my Kindle is estimating my “finish” time to be.
- I hiked Fushimi Inari for the first time in ages
- I went through a bonus “Ugh, April” slog
- I played some drums at a temple!
- I found out a thing I wrote will be put into a printed copy of an anthology, and
- I went to New Zealand
I’m especially excited to share my New Zealand experiences with you, so over the next couple of weeks look forward to posts about things like Hobbiton, the cities I visited, the tours I partook in, and the differences in language I couldn’t help but notice.
Meanwhile, here in Japan it’s already 28 degrees Celsius on a given day (it’s May), and I’m already hearing people begin to practice the Gion Festival music. I suppose now that the Aoi Festival is over with (as of May 15), everyone is gearing up for the next big thing.
For now, I shall leave you with a picture from my hike up and around Fushimi Inari Taisha. Talk soon!