Monday, December 15, 2014

Being Merry

Lots of big changes lately, but it's also been a magical time. I said goodbye to my little apartment and cleaned it thoroughly, I hope the next tenant enjoys it as much as I did despite all the neighbourly nuisances. I moved into my new airy and peaceful home, I took a trip to Kyoto and I welcomed my mom to Japan for her second visit. It's lovely having family over, it's a rare occurrence and it's especially nice around Christmas, a time I usually feel lonely.

Things are changing, and even though it's been so overwhelming lately, it's the happiest I've been in a long time.

My new bedroom

Au revoir petit appartement 

Kyoto, riverside

Kyoto's oldest coffee house

Traveling style

Kyoto fare

In the mountains

At the top of Daimonji- and at the top of the world

Can't live without this.

Santa came early.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moving In

I've moved about six or seven times in Japan, in the span of five years. From Nagoya to Shikoku to Osaka to Tokyo, then around Tokyo a few times, and again in a few days. I've been living in this tiny little shoebox for now two years (which is a record for me in Japan), but it's time to graduate to something a lot nicer, sans Frozen-singing neighbour, washing machine right outside of my window, chain-smoking downstairs neighbour or adjacent train tracks.

This tiny apartment was great for Tokyo, and the rent was ridiculously low considering the hype of the neighbourhood. I loved the idea of a loft and ladder to access it, but it wasn't practical at all, and got too hot and suffocating in the summer months (which is like half the year in Tokyo). The loft turned into a giant closet, a storage space for all my clothes then forgotten as they were too far away. I don't really recommend lofts (which are popular in Japanese apartments), and climbing up and down a steep ladder can be hazardous in the middle of the night!

Nevertheless it was fun, and I'm ready to say goodbye to my little apartment and be a lot warmer this winter. I'm staying in the same area, which is great as I love it around here. I've been without furniture for the past few days, since I got rid of most of it, so I've been eating takeout from my futon. It strangely reminds me of my days living in Marugame, when I didn't have a table, sofa or chair.

In other (big?) news, I'm excited to share my first piece for the International New York Times, an interview with Chitose Abe of Sacai, one of my favourite brands. The collections are incredibly beautiful and this particular article focused on her collaborations, you can read it here.

And this kicks off December, along with the (real!!) Christmas tree I bought over the weekend. For the first time in Japan, I think Christmas will be merry.

Enjoying the last bit of the bachelorette lifestyle,
with Friends and a bento in tow.

The 'hood

Those gorgeous ginkgo leaves

Leopard + Yellow

American Thanksgiving breakfast at Breakfast Allday

Too excited = blurry

Oh, Christmas Tree!!

Moving, packing and cleaning

Sacai's gorgeous shop and Aoyama showroom
[photo by Maaserhit Honda]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fleece, Leaves and Catching Up on Life

I finally got a taste of freedom those past few days, for the first time in several months. The project I've been consumed with at work is finally over, and while it was such a stressful and overwhelming task, I feel so pleased with the results- a bit like at the end of a tough workout. The past few weeks have been especially difficult, with an average of three hours of sleep per night and a tonsillitis comeback (those sometimes require two sets of antibiotics, apparently).

Over the weekend, I was finally able to savour this sense of freedom, and although I had planned to sleep and not move all weekend, I found myself having more energy than usual and a desire to have a social life again. I spent all weekend with friends I hadn't seen in several weeks, and indulged in bookstore browsing, sushi dinners, movies, pancakes and a visit to a local temple, with several hot baths and lots of sleep.

In the midst of last week's chaos, I tried a nice little treat for my hair and went to a blow dry bar. It seems like those are a staple in most North American cities, but Tokyo had yet to catch up- until a few weeks ago. The salon is called Jet Set Blow Dry Bar, and is located in Hiroo. It's owned by a lovely foreign woman, and the idea is pretty straightforward: they just wash and style your hair, no cuts or colour. The whole experience was so relaxing, from the wash to scalp massage and complimentary herbal tea. It's usually a glass of champagne, but I kept it tame since it was 10am on a weekday. I loved my hair, they did magic with a round brush and curling iron and my hair was in soft curls that lasted for two days. The best part was the name card with my name that they prepared- I love small touches like that.

In other news I stocked up on more fleece and heat tech at Uniqlo, and I'm more than ready for winter. I love the long-sleeved undershirts, leggings and fleece hoodies and socks. I wish I could live in those! I also bought one of those ultra light down vests, they're mildly unattractive and puffy but so warm and comfortable, especially under a coat. All fashion rules go out the window in winter in Japan, anything to feel warm.

My heavy-lifting flannel

More whipped cream than pancake

Shrines and bamboo oh my

October sakura! Yes, this kind blooms twice per year


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November in Japan

November in Japan is the most gorgeous time of the year. For the first time in several months, the weather is crisp and comfortable, the sun is shining on most days, and it's chilly enough to wear layers, knits and coats but not unbearably cold.

For me, November is also synonymous with pure madness at work with an important project, in addition to (fun!!) freelance assignments and just general changes in my daily life. This week is particularly stressful, but those are the times when I really cherish any bit of alone time I can get, and coffee breaks I can sneak in. I tried some interesting and new-ish cafes those past few days, one in The City Bakery in Hiroo (great coffee and pastries, affordable sandwiches and salad sets), and the other one is World Breakfast Allday in Kita-Aoyama, which changes the menu every months according to an international theme. Last month was Croatia, and this month is USA. There's only one communal table for about 10-12 people, with an open kitchen and a cozy decor that reminds me of my favourite cafe in Marugame.

I also love to stop by Omotesando Koffee whenever I get the chance, but I noticed it has gotten a lot more attention lately. Weekends now have queues, and even weekday afternoons are a full house. In a way I'm happy they're getting recognition as it's such a wonderful place, but I hate that this is no longer my quiet haven. Still, the baristas are so friendly despite this increase of people, and I'll keep going but I miss the days when I could sit alone in the garden.

I'm actually surviving on coffee and persimmons this week, and keeping my eyes on the prize (holidays, Christmas, New Year, sleeping in, fresh tatami floors…). I've also descended into an early-era The Smiths spiral, in parallel with The Bling Ring soundtrack. I haven't had a single sip of wine or bubbly since I got sick a few weeks ago, and I don't miss it at all. Maybe I'm still sick?

Fresh tatami <3 td="">

The City Bakery

My 'hood

Good morning indeed

World Breakfast Allday

Staged photo op

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cold Remedies in Japan

Over the weekend I got really ill with a bad case of tonsillitis (when is it ever a good case…?) and literally spent over two days in bed, unable to do anything but sleep. It's never a good time to get sick, but this is an especially bad timing with so much happening at work and in my life, let alone a full weekend wasted away. I did watch an awful lot of Friends though.

Thankfully I had on hand lots of home remedies, and it made me realize how different things are in Japan. Back in Canada, when I'm sick it's all about chicken noodle soup, humidifiers, Vicks and even Sprite for an upset stomach. In Japan, it's very different. Of course it varies from one family to another, but typical remedies here include udon noodles, umeboshi (pickled apricot) and okayu (rice porridge).

Kids are given those cold patches to stick on their foreheads to decrease fever, and I actually love them (and kid-sized too, as my forehead is so small), and body temperature is taken under the arm (in front of a full waiting room at the clinic, something I still cannot get used to). I ended up ingesting those small packs of grape jelly since my throat was so swollen and painful, and drinking Pocari Sweat (a sports drink with an unfortunate name) to settle my stomach.

The best part was a delicious cod soup, made with a konbu (kelp) broth, with ginger, daikon, green onion, pieces of cooked cod, noodles and tofu. It was nutritious but light enough for a weak stomach, and I highly recommend it to fight off a virus. I also love sipping on ginger-flavoured kuzuyu, a thick, honey-like sweet beverage.

I feel a lot better today and lucky I was taken care of with those amazing remedies. Do you have any local remedies, or things to recommend for colds and sore throats?

Grape jelly

Cool patch for fever

Okayu and all the umeboshi I could handle
(one is usually more than enough)

Ginger-flavoured kuzuyu

Cod soup

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Five Years in Japan

Five years ago today, I moved to Japan.

I cannot believe it's been that long, as it seems like I boarded that plane yesterday. I remember what I was wearing (a navy sweater dress and black tights), what I ate on the plane (a meal featuring a side of satoimo -taro root- which became one of my favourite foods), how I felt at the time (terrified, excited, sad, hopeful), my first few weeks spent living in that tatami room in Nagoya, staying out too late at karaoke and eating conbini sushi, and forging friendships that would help shape my experience in Japan.

Fast forward to five years later, things are completely different. Japan is home, I've built a career here, I met incredible people who make me feel like family. I've had wonderful opportunities here in Japan, perhaps the kind I would never have come across had I stayed in Canada. I traveled all over the island, tried so many foods and activities, and I somehow grew into a different person- or rather, came back to my roots.

Truth is, it was an unstable (how many times did I move?!), stressful (hello, paperwork and missing visas) and lonely journey (so, so incredibly lonely at times), but it was all worth it. I could never have imagined just how amazing it turned out to be, and how lucky I am today. I just feel so thankful and I try to remind myself daily of all the goodness Japan sent my way- especially at those times when I feel like I'm done, it pulls me back in.

I remember how torn I felt deciding whether or not to go to Japan, before I left; my heart was saying yes but my mind knew it was a risky leap, especially at my age (in my late twenties), which meant abandoning a career, a home, and leaving my family and friends behind. Little did I know my career would instead thrive (with lots of hard work and horrible jobs in between), material possessions do not matter at all in the end, and I would never, ever feel regrets about leaving- no matter how bad things got in Japan at times.

I would like to say, if you dream of doing something similar, go for it!!! You will never regret it. I often get emails from readers who ask me for advice about living abroad and making the move, and it makes me so happy, because I know just how fulfilling it will be and I fully encourage them to pursue it. It's never too late, really. Being away from your family and missing your friends' weddings is one of the most difficult parts, but home will always be home. I miss home every day, but no matter where I decide to live, I think that I'll always miss one or the other.

And thank you for reading my (somewhat random) musings about daily life in Japan, I appreciate every message and comment so much (even if I'm not always so good at replying quickly).

circa 2009- I wear less makeup now...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Neighbourhood Woes

I've been living in my cozy little apartment for now almost two years, and while it has been peaceful and relaxing for the most part, those past few months have been particularly trying. There's my next door neighbour, a woman of a certain age who rehearses the soundtrack to 'Frozen' every single night. Every. Single. Night. There's my downstairs neighbour, a twenty-something student who has weekly drinking sessions that go on until sunrise. He also smokes so much that the smoke reaches my apartment through the vents, and I have to sleep with a mask. It all sounds a bit dramatic, but it's been horrible, especially as sleep-deprived enough as it is. I've been trying to reciprocate with loud French music and early morning vacuuming stints, but I think it's a hopeless battle. I cannot wait to move! It does make for great stories, though.

In other news, October is already coming to an end, with Halloween in between. It's amazing how Japan loves and celebrates Halloween nowadays, way more than when I first got to Japan back in 2009. I'm not celebrating Halloween this year either, it's never been a favourite holiday of mine, but I do enjoy seeing all the elaborate costumes when I walk through Shibuya every evening after work.

All I know is that Saturday morning all shops will be covered in Christmas-themed decorations, including Starbucks and its "Snow Maple Toffee" Frappuccino, their seasonal specialty for the holidays. I'm always curious about those drinks, but the amount of sugar and syrup is more calories than I can burn in a week worth of fitness classes. Anyways- this year I'm very very much looking forward to the holidays, so I might accidentally enjoy those Christmas decorations.

My favourite tempura lunch set around Aoyama

Waiting for the train, every day
This homemade salad was exquisite,
but eating that many greens in Japan
is an expensive little habit.