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.

Continue reading “How Many Towels Does One Person Need? (A Hotel Adventure)”

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.

Continue reading “Summer and all that entails”

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.”

Continue reading “March-ing — to Kyoto Cryptids and beyond!”

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:

-recipes
-reading (yes I will get back on that horse)
and, perhaps,
-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”