k u n ❍ k u m ❍
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a psychologist based in Kyoto writing about Japanese lifestyle patterns
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Time to share some photos from my trip to the least populated prefecture in Japan — Tottori. One of my Japanese teachers was born and raised in the biggest city in Tottori (named Tottori… with population of 190,000), and when trying to present his hometown he said: “We are famous for several things — the Sand Dunes, the Sand Museum… That’s it. And yeah, the manga artist who drew Detective Conan was born there, too.” His description turned out very, very accurate. Tottori city is not much to look at, your average Japanese suburbia with a hint of economic recession and maybe two or three hipsterish low-budget cafes. But the sand dunes are definitely worth the long trip through the mountains. Since 100,000 years ago a combination of sea currents and strong wind have been pushing large amounts of sand up the shore, forming the only dune system in Japan. Didn't bother going to the Sand Museum though, there was enough sand outside already.
Good news: my first publication, a lengthy essay on my danchi fieldwork discoveries, is in print! You can read it in Log, an independent magazine on architecture founded and edited by Cynthia Davidson, an architecture editor/critic based in New York and Peter Eisenman’s wife (I mention him since those of you who aren’t into theory of architecture and criticism may be more familiar with his work). Anyway, huuge success. The teal/turquoise cover color of this issue is one of my favorites, too... On top of high-quality literary content, Log always has extremely satisfying typography and binding. I have five other issues and they are so nicely done I posted them on IG several times, no kidding. Hope I managed to sell it to you! You can order the issue with my text via this link here, they ship worldwide.
Conferences in 2019 vs conferences in 2021. Presenting my danchi research at Optimistic Suburbia II tonight: note my zoom-style shirt + yoga pants combination, a yoga block as a microphone stand and a Japanese-style umbrella acting as a reflector. I was very happy to see three other Russian scholars in two other sessions, wasn't expecting such a big coverage of soviet mass housing. Wish me luck!
Fourth year in Japan but school kids in uniform still get me excited. Not in a nostalgic kind of way, because I suspect they must have a pretty difficult time surviving in Japanese society, not having enough knowledge about how life works and already being stressed out about succeeding and pressured into making difficult choices. Maybe that's why looking at them makes me feel that my problems are not all that bad?
After a long holiday in Russia, it is a true blessing to be back in Kyoto. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to hang out with my family, catch up with old friends, even make some new ones, and travel around the far north (you’ll get a cool story about Kizhi island soon). But I finally realized that Russia is not a part of my reality anymore. You might think that after 8 years of living abroad this is a rather strange statement for me to make, but before this summer I didn’t consider my life in Italy or Japan fully "complete" or serious: I felt I could always come back to my hometown and finally start living “for real”. Well, not anymore. I don’t know where life will take me in the next few years, but one thing is clear: the now IS real and it will take me somewhere new again soon!
Finally finished my danchi book manuscript and facing a tough choice, need your help! Which cover option do you prefer?
It’s been a long time since I last posted anything meaningful in this channel. Meaningful to me, at the very least. First of all, the ongoing war had this horrifying presence in my everyday life and it was difficult to write or think about anything unrelated to it. I am neither a political activist, nor a disengaged neutral onlooker, so it took me a while to find balance and gather the courage to write about myself. Second, it’s kind of awkward, but it was really hard to write anything here even before because I felt like I am no longer the person who started this channel back in 2018. The time has come to clear things up.
I have to begin by telling you a heroic tale of how I bid farewell to architecture and became a psychologist (and a bit of an anthropologist) – heroic in a sense that it reminds me of an archetypal folk story about a young knight leaving home and going through gradual character development in a dangerous adventure. In the end, the original “empty” goal of his journey, let’s say, a hypothetical elixir of longevity would be replaced by a more fitting, meaningful trophy, such as true love or friendship, and the transformed hero will gain his independence and happiness. Fasten your long-read seatbelts: you're in for a fairytale ride.

After I got my master’s degree in architecture, I spent a couple of years trying to get myself together and regain my own ambitions. Now that I think about it, the process reminds me of recovery from a long relationship with a heavily narcissistic partner (yeah, I had one or two of those as well). In my eyes, the world of architecture was this classical toxic abuser: with initial promises of a bright professional future, artistic acknowledgment, and power to change the world quite literally – they call it the “honeymoon stage” of narcissistic abuse, it gradually lured me in and made me believe that everything else is a waste of time and any other occupation is dull, made me compete for recognition, constantly doubt my worth and get very little in return.

There is an institutionally supported image of a successful architect (be it in Europe or Asia), who excels at drawing by hand and by computer, has a stylish portfolio, a superior sense of aesthetics, yet has a fair understanding of technology and society, finds time to read a lot of fancy theoretical books (some of them in my opinion are pretentious nonsense no matter how well you understand the philosophical context), and can pitch sell his design concepts as efficiently as an experienced marketing specialist. And almost forgot – never fails to dress cool and be peculiarly unlike others around him in many other ways. This fundamentally unreal, inaccessible image is actively reinforced and promoted by architecture professors, magazines, movies and biographies of famous architects. “You don’t have what it takes to become an architect” kind of criticism from a studio professor is such a common occurrence it barely surprises an average architecture student. But if you think about it, hearing it in other disciplines would be borderline weird. Do you know what it takes to become an artist, a historian or a politician? There are so many types of artists, historians and politicians, the question is basically rendered meaningless.

At first, I felt it was just a European side of the coin and thought escaping to Japan might change things. The picture here wasn’t any better; at times I’d say it was even worse, especially when coupled with Japanese nation-wide insane work culture. Still, Japan made it possible for me to take an observer perspective; I gradually stopped identifying myself as an architect and participating in this craze, which ohmygod wasn’t easy at all. Architecture nowadays is all about self-image and how others see you (well actually how your super-ego sees you) when you say “I’m an architect” or “I work for -insert name of a famous architecture studio-“ or “I barely slept in the last few weeks because I work on project X” or “I am supervising a massive construction site, I’m so beat”.

And the worst part of it is that people who actually manage to succeed in this industry and gain some fame (and are therefore your most esteemed academic advisors and work supervisors with the power to decide your fate and affect your self-image) tend to be in dire need of psychological help. Maybe it is just my unlucky experience, but I very rarely encountered any mentally-safe exceptions and I am deeply grateful to those few people (both professors and fellow students) who showed me love and supported me being different from common expectations in this field.
The good news is, after several burnouts, two major depressions, tiresome episodes of panic attacks and anxiety, 60+ hours of therapy, 400+ hours of meditation, a few epiphanies, a bunch of dramatic insights, and countless encounters with people from diverse cultural/social backgrounds and professions, I was able to take a distance, see my personality as it is, dig out my genuine interests and stopped trying to become someone else, at least as much as I did before.

This march I said my last goodbye to architecture after finishing a soul-crushing publishing process of my book on Japanese social housing I did not even want to write; I still feel existential dread and repulsion when I look at its cover and I can’t even dare to open it, so if you happen to be interested, I’ll just leave a link with no further remarks.

It took me a while, but I realized that rather than buildings, I am much more interested in understanding people and their inner lives. This year I finally received a clinical psychology professional qualification degree and started my own practice as a counseling psychologist. The job is challenging, there is a huge amount of stuff to learn every day, but this time I am actually enjoying every bit of it because I don’t feel like I am doing it for someone else. This is me, and whew – it’s liberating.

Still, I am not going to discard my past experience in architecture completely. Right now, while doing a doctoral course in psychopathology and psychoanalysis, I am playing a bit of Sherlock by integrating my previous research of domestic spaces with psychopathology to find some interesting overlaps.

Of course, this channel has to change together with me. There will be lots of Japan, as always, my pensive texts, but much less architecture and much more psychology with a pinch of cultural anthropology and maybe even criminology. It will be sad to see architecture-oriented subscribers go, but I sincerely thank you for reading me up until now, it was valuable for me to be heard. To those who will stay – I am sending my deepest gratitude for supporting this sudden change, and I promise it will be fun.