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.

Apartment Hunting Adventures: What to Expect

So, you’re probably an English-speaking individual who wants to live in Japan. How exactly does one go about securing housing? If you google “apartment hunting Japan”, you’ll find plenty of advice about documents you need, how much money you should be prepared to part with (especially for things like key money), and the good and bad points of foreigner-friendly housing like sharehouses.

What I’ve noticed, though, is a lack of the step-by-step process of what will happen from when you find an apartment you want to when you get the keys in your hand.

Today, I’d like to walk you through the main points of what to expect while you’re apartment hunting in Japan.

Disclaimer: This focuses on the experience of a single person who is already present in Japan, and who therefore can go to apartment agencies in person easily.

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It’s finally almost 2019!

Hello, all! I’m here with my report from under the kotatsu. It’s chilly outside, I’ve got hot tea and mikan in arms’ reach, and in less than 24 hours we will be in the new year. Can you believe it? I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about that!

2019 will be the Year of the Pig. According to a friend of a friend, this is a great time to take the plunge on something Big you’ve been planning on for a while, be it a relationship, moving, changing jobs, or whatever else might be going on with you.

So for today, I will reflect on what made 2018 great, and what I hope to achieve in 2019.

Won’t you join me?

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Done in a day: Kagoshima

I don’t go through my old photos nearly as often as I should. There are a lot of gems in there, and many of them fill me with a rush of nostalgia. The other day I was browsing through my summer vacation photos and I stumbled across when I spent a week or so in Kyushu, an island south of Honshu in Japan that is home to boatloads of delicious food and sightseeing places that people rarely manage to put on their “to see” lists when coming to Japan.

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Mata, Onaji Yume wo Miteita: A review

I had some grand plan of reading more than ten Japanese novels this year in order to improve my reading, vocabulary, and what have you. I have since reached a grand total of three. Which, hey, is a far better number than zero, but it’s not anywhere near where I wanted to be.

One of my favorite downtime pastimes is to walk into a bookstore and browse, no matter where I am. Depending on the size of the bookstore/my ability to read the language, I can be in the same shop for hours. And while many people spend those hours standing in place and reading through a book, I’ll be flitting back and forth between multiple sections, delighting in everything available I have yet to read.

On one such outing, I came across また、同じ夢を見ていた (I saw the same dream again) by 住野よる (Sumino Yoru). It looked cute, I could read the title and first page without help and, most importantly, the story looked interesting to me.

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A night to remember: Yoimiya and Motomiya Festival at Fushimi Inari Taisha

My first memory of Fushimi Inari Shrine is hiking up the mountain and getting so turned around that a wandering worker had to help me find my way back down it before sundown.

Since then, I’ve had a fondness for the winding torii gates, the little fox statues, and the views from the mountaintop. I guess you bond with a place when you get stuck for a few hours, huh? But over the years as it’s become more and more crowded, I’ve visited it less and less, reluctant to face the wave of humanity that hits it. And when I did visit it, it was purely to grab an omamori charm or to lead a visiting friend through. I didn’t visit it for myself anymore.

At least, not until I performed there.

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