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.

Continue reading “What are the tourist spaces like now? Arashiyama edition!”

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.

Continue reading “Where do you stand?”

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.

Continue reading “C’mon, aircon!”

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.

Continue reading “Less nose-gazing (hana-mi), more flower-gaping (hanami)”

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.

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.

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.