I am also LOVING my 9 bedroom tea house and bike situation. We have 10 people living together in a former guest house, equipped with an authentic tea room, two kitchens, six toilets, and the thing that will make this whole month more interesting: thin paper walls. My giant room is has two walls of sliding doors that are *mostly* opaque and tatami mat floors. We all get bikes as the house is a bit out of the city center, and we are blessed with cicadas that pierce your ears starting at 6am. The house is in a quiet neighborhood close to very little but a creek and a grocery store. It’s a pleasant twenty minute ride to the workspace.
Culture Notes…where to start!?
- Rules. Japan is known for having a lot of rules, and though an exaggerated stereotype, you are expected to abide by the structure they set out. And if you don’t? Someone may ‘x’ you with their arms. Examples of rules are: not crossing a red line near the baggage carousel in the airport until you see your luggage, going to the bagging area in the grocery store to pack your goods, not eating in while walking, etc. No joke, bought a bag of chips at 7/11 and got ‘x’d for opening them in the store.
- Old people. All the rules here? Totally don’t apply to the older generation. They just don’t care. In fact older women will walk places and shoo you out of the way with their hands. But yeah, it is well known that this country is aging. The birth rates of Japan have been at an all-time low and people are living a lot longer.
- The toilets. I feel like this whole year has been a commentary on bowel movements but these toilets are unlike anything I’ve experienced. Picture your standard toilet with a lid over the tank, except instead of a lid, it’s a sink, so when you flush, the sink automatically starts running for you to wash your hands. On top of that, every toilet has a little toolbar on the side with a butt washer and sometimes deodorizer. Screw the bum gun, this thing is efficient.
- Money, money, money. Japan is one of the top 4 richest countries in the world and considerably more expensive than Thailand and Vietnam. I’ve been back into cooking and grocery shopping this month, no more $2 meals. I’d say it’s comparable to the States. Currency is the Yen.
- Biking. Kyoto is great for biking but like with other things, follow the rules or else. First full day, we saddled up and rode into the city, only to end up on a no-biking road where we had to walk our bikes on the sidewalk with the hundreds of people. We then ended up at the police station trying to find a place to park our bikes. Long story short: there are a few roads where you can’t bike during certain times of day and anywhere in the city center, you have to park your bike in designated areas and pay a small fee. In general, bikes follow the pedestrian rules and riding on the sidewalk is more common than on the road.
- Bike jail. For real, if you violate bike rules by parking somewhere illegally, they will tow your bike to bike jail all the way across town and you will have to go bail it out. Also you’ll get pulled over if you’re drunk biking or don’t have your bike light turned on at night.
- Portuguese influence (oh heeyyyy). The Portuguese were the first European settlers in Japan and because of it, the language has some influences. Example: the word for thank you is ‘arigato’ and stems from the Portuguese ‘obrigado’.
- 3 alphabets. Japanese has three alphabets: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Two are phonetic (one for more foreign words) and kanji is made up of over 2,000 symbols. Yeah, this is not one you can just pick up.
- On that note, not a lot of English anywhere, signs, menus, stove, air conditioner, laundry machine, etc. are all in Japanese symbols. And the Google translate image tool hasn’t been working great. A lot of ‘hmm I think this is what this is?’, ‘I think this is what this button does’
- Gohan is the word for ‘rice’… and the word for ‘meal’, a true testament to the amount of rice consumed. Interestingly, I’ve had less rice here than the last two countries. Being gluten free is harder here for sure because everything has soy sauce and ramen is usually wheat noodles.
- Geishas (or in Kyoto, Geikos). Geishas are Japanese women (and a few men) that entertain the wealthiest citizens. At
age 15, a girl can decide she wants to be a geisha and after approval, goes through a few years of training in arts and entertainment. In Kyoto’s Gion district, the geishas live, train, and perform. Hiring one to come to your event is over a thousand dollars, and you kind of have to know someone who knows someone. They are well respected and hard to spot! But I’ve seen two already. If you go to Gion around 6pm and peek in the back of taxis, you may see one on her way from training to a client. They’re identified by decadent hair, stiff, long kimono dresses, tall wooden shoes, and white faces (like covered in white makeup). About 189 Geiko in Kyoto.
- Vending Machines. There are vending machines everywhere dispensing all types of things. Mostly beverages, but my personal favorite so far is the fish sauce vending machines. In the bar/restaurant neighborhood, there’s a machine that dispenses bottles with a whole fish floating in a liquid that shopkeepers can use if they run out late at night. Next favorite would have to be the shoe vending machine for getting your bowling shoes.
Week in Review
- Bike ride into downtown and have the whole where to park the bike debacle before wandering through Nishiki Market, a large, permanent, open air street vendor market in the center of Kyoto
- Remote Year picnic by the river with the city team, beautiful day to be out
- Break off from the group with a friend and spend the rest of the day exploring. Check out a couple anime stores which are really a sight to see with the wall to wall graphic novels.
- Find a local ramen joint in the old quarter where I have my first bowl of ramen…ever. The system is you put money into a vending machine of sorts, press a button for what you want and it spits out a ticket that you give to the chef. Place was really small and cute.
- See Nishiki Market at night as well as more of the old quarter before grabbing drinks at Caamm bar and heading home
- Early morning walk/bike. The city is so peaceful and pretty and the daily commute includes two river ways.
- Grocery shop at the store right near our house. Ya, not a lot of English. Bought something labeled as ‘peanut cream’ that was NOT peanut butter, more like a peanut caramel sauce.
- Work from the workspace: andwork. Had meetings until midnight, not a fan.
- Dinner with the city team at Torikizoku, a place known for its chicken skewers.
- Early morning run to the Gion/Geisha district by and through many temples. Made my way to the river where I had to splash myself with water because it was so. Dang. Hot. Note to self: 8am? Not early enough.
- Walking tour with Remote Year city team through the Gion district, ironically where I’d been that morning. Learned that shops put up wooden panels on the side of buildings to prevent dogs (and humans) from peeing on their property
- Check out the Yasui-kompira-gu Shrine, known as being the love shrine. For those wanting to start or end a relationship, they have to write on a white slip of paper, crawl through this hole in the rock, then crawl back through, and tie their white slip of paper to the rock.
- Work a more normal day, finishing around 10pm
- 6am meeting to overlap with 5pm EST. Fun fact: we were in August, they were in July.
- Bike to an event and park in a bike parking garage! I was so excited to experience this. Exactly like a normal parking garage with different levels and rows of spots, but for bikes not cars. Brilliant.
- Remote Year sponsored Taiko drumming lesson. Learned how to drum the Japanese style drum from some of the top performers in Japan. It was a sure fire way to test your ability to keep a beat.
- Also a great workout as some of the drums were in the air and some required you to lean back and clench your abs. SO much fun.
- Another early morning run to temples. Gym memberships here are insanely expensive and not nearby the house soooo getting creative with workouts. But honestly, running is one of the best ways I’ve found to see a city. And so happy my back has healed enough to let me do it
- Brunchelorette!! We hosted a watch party for the last two episodes of the Bachelorette. I cut up a bunch of fresh fruit and made lots of pancakes. So much fun to host people and hang out in a comfortable space. Just saying our group grew to about ten, show is addicting.
- Work from home rest of day
- Nearly melt through another workout, damn this heat.
- Do some work at the School Bus café in town where I begrudgingly drank a $6 glass of lemonade. Great workspace though.
- Finished up work early and joined a free walking tour put on by a Remote Year friend. This was a geisha-spotting specific tour where we learned more about the geisha/geiko culture, saw where they lived and worked, and tried to spot one. Neighborhood is really nice a night.
- On walk to food we actually saw a geiko in the back of a taxi!! It was straight from a movie. Her perfectly done black hair, white, innocent-looking face. Wow.
- Dinner with another Remote then done for the night
- Baseball game in Osaka!
- Take the train down (which was half the experience of the day) to Kyocera Dome in Osaka to watch the Orix Buffalo play the Seibu Lions. Here’s some interesting notes:
- Indoor, air-conditioned stadium. Beautiful.
- The fans were super into the game, but not too rowdy, just clapped and politely jumped up and down
- Beer/drinks served by girls in neon costumes, some with kegs on their back that would just dispense you a cup from the keg.
- The Buffaloes mascot looked a lot like a beaver…weird translation thing??
- No 7th inning stretch, but two times later in the game where people blew up these large condom looking balloons and released them so they flew all around
- Cool experience but ya, baseball is still pretty boring
- Back to Kyoto after navigating through the crazy stations
- Quick nap then back out for rooftop drinks at ‘in the Moon.’ Great rooftop bar, highly recommend. Then some karaoke at Barcode because Japan. Then bed.
- Quiet Sunday morning, check out the Heian Shrine in my neighborhood
- Meal prep and nap
- Sunday evening along the Kamo river at the river market. Try plum wine (delicious) and enjoy the company of Remotes in the cool-ish night air. Really becoming true that you can only do things early morning and later evening because of the heat.
- Finish the week playing Dance Dance Revolution, Mario Kart, and other arcade games at an arcade down the street from the workspace. Because again, when in Japan…
The hardest part of this week and month is the time difference between here and the East Coast. 13 hours doesn’t lend itself easily to overlapping meetings in NYC. Still trying to get a routine down work wise and well-being wise but otherwise, LOVE Japan. Excited to see what the rest of the month brings! And excited for a special visitor to join me next week