Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hello, 2010

2009 has been quite the ride. Full of surprises. Never thought I'd end up in Japan. I've lived in three different countries this year- Korea, Canada, and Japan. I love them all but for once I'm happy about where I am now.

2009: cupcakes, new friendships, broken hearts, goodbyes, hellos, dreams, summer in Montreal, television sets, decisions, tears, brunches, cafés, traveling, fast trains, learning Japanese, achievements. Not so bad I'd say, but it was exhausting.

2010: resolutions? hmmm. learn japanese, travel around Japan as much as I can, have more fabulous weekends in Tokyo and Osaka, make the most of my time here, keep friendships, keep running running running, be happy. And see where it all takes me.

Tokyo Love

I'm so in love with Tokyo! This city makes me feel so alive. Tokyo is like bathing in chocolate soufflé.

I walked around Shibuya last night, on my own, and it was so lovely.

Had my Lost in Translation moment at Shibuya crossing, Starbucks in hand. Watching the crowds crossing the busy intersection, the loud music and bright neon lights. The city never seems to sleep.

On the menu today: shopping in Harajuku, coffee with friends, and a sunny warm Tokyo day. Best way to end 2009 in style.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From Shikoku to Kyoto

Merry Christmas again! Hope it was filled with joy and love. Mine was filled with friends, cake, champagne, live music and Japanese gardens.

The party was taken to Osaka the next evening, where we pulled an all-nighter at a sophisticated club, dancing and drinking and meeting people from all over the world.

After some Starbucks and a short Shinkansen ride, I made it to Kyoto... Kyoto, my love. The most magical place in Japan. Green tea, hot baths, Ponto Cho alley, fresh sushi, the Golden temple, more exquisite gardens, temples, shrines and ponds too beautiful for words. Alone in Kyoto. Kyoto full of happy summer memories. So hard to forget.

It was lovely not to feel like a tourist this time around. I live in Japan now, which I came to realize as I could understand the bus announcements and read some signs and feel at home. Walking with my headphones instead of holding a map. Reminding myself I'm living my dream, that it's okay I gave up on some other ones to achieve this one.

Tokyo tomorrow. More fun, and new memories to create.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas from Japan



It's the second year in a row I spend Christmas away from home. As much as I miss a family Christmas with my mom's cuisine and treats, Christmas abroad can be a lot of fun, and very relaxing. I'll have a quiet Christmas in beautiful, warm Shikoku. Hiking, movie nights, home made meals, wine, cookies, temples, castles, and more movies are on the agenda. All that in wonderful company.

The real Christmas magic will happen in Kyoto... Kyoto the loveliest city in Japan. Kyoto in the wintertime, beautiful illuminations, more temples, and tea ceremonies with Geishas. Magical.

And, to top it off, a trek to Tokyo to ring the new year in style. Shopping in Harajuku, concerts, dancing, cupcakes, karaoke, birthday party... all over Tokyo craziness. Lost in Translation style.

Merry Christmas from Japan! xo

Friday, December 18, 2009

Small town girl

Making friends in a small town is much, much easier than it is in a big city. Marugame only has one train line and one train station, so you're bound to run into another foreigner one day or another. Although I felt like I may be the only foreigner in my little town, turns out there is a dozen of us here.

Making friends is also easy when the girl who previously occupied my apartment had tons of friends, to whom she pre-introduced me (thank you!). I always get a bit surprised when people come up to me in the train or in the street, telling me: "you must be Vivian, the new girl in Marugame"!

Everyone has been so friendly and eager to plan activities, and they seem to be a pretty closed-knit community- throwing parties and various events. I am starting to see how Marugame is a really fun place, with fun people and so much to do.

Tonight is the farewell party at the foreigner bar, unfortunately closing down. I'll get to meet everyone else I haven't met yet, and celebrate the holidays Marugame-style!

The art of bathing

You may or may not remember the funny stories about my Korean shower. Not that I didn't love the Korean shower, but my particular one was moldy, freezing, and right over the toilet. Charming. Showering in Japan is a bit different. In fact, it's an art here. The actual shower room only contains a bathtub, a shower head, and a small sink (the toilet is located in a separate room):






Traditionally, one must shower first (besides the bathtub), and rinse off all remains of soap before having a soak in the bathtub. I tried it and yes, a bathtub soak feels quite luxurious after showering! And the bathtub is quite tiny, it's pretty much square-shaped, but it's very deep. I'm loving it! I bought all kinds of bath salts from Muji and I'm really enjoying this new ritual, which feels amazing after a long run or a few hours running after kindergarten kids!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A girl in the city

Living in a small town has its charms, and I absolutely love it, but once in a while I need my city fix. Today marks the start of my three-week long holiday (yes!), so I boarded the local train to Takamatsu and did some damage. I haven't had much time to really make my home cozy, so Muji was my first stop.

Muji is like a candy store to me. It has everything I could ever dream of: food, clothes, and furniture. And, it's so cheap! The sheets that came with my original futon are quite rigid and uncomfortable, so I definitely needed an upgrade. The lovely sales girl helped me figure out the whole futon situation, and I picked out some fluffy blankets for those cold Shikoku nights, and a soft cotton cover. I still don't put the heat on in my apartment, it's warm enough, but I love having tons of blankets. I also picked up some bath salts (I'm absolutely loving my Japanese bathtub), and milk tea mix.




Starbucks was my other stop, and luckily it was located right across from Muji. A dream come true... looking at the Muji window display while sipping my Caramel Eclair Latte on a warm, sunny day.



Last but not least, a shopping spree is never complete without my beloved Zara, where I picked out a few basics.


Time to enjoy my holiday... lots of writing and reading, hiking, running, sightseeing on Shikoku... and planning a long awaited trip to my favourite cities, Kyoto and Tokyo. Magical Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Only in Japan

Fancy a Kit Kat?
You can have a ginger ale flavoured one.

Or perhaps Royal Milk Tea?

And let's not forget the sports drink flavoured one. Yummy!

{The Royal Tea Milk one was actually delectable. I have a slight obsession with Royal Milk Tea. I think I'm making up for the lack of Starbucks in my town of Marugame... but I'm surviving! I really, really enjoy my quaint little town!}

Sunday Fun Day

Sunday. My lovely coworker invited a bunch of us in the Takamatsu area for a feast of a traditional Japanese dish: shabu shabu. Basically just different kinds of tofu, mushrooms, fish cakes, and herbs in a hot broth. Strips of meat are dipped into the broth, hot-pot style. So, so tasty!!!




... Especially with delicious martinis... and wine... and fun Takamatsu party people.




Even the banana was thrown in the mix.

But the aftermath can be a bit harsh, when you need to make a road trip on the other side of Shikoku island, for a staff meeting:
My hungover co-worker
Thanks to Stephanie who brought coffee and soy bars for all of us.

The beautiful Shikoku countryside. Yes, I live in the sticks. And I love it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Saturday in Japan

Green tea. Lovely comments... thanks for making my day. Hiking with friends at the mountain. Exploring inside of the castle. Pictures of flowers and spiders. Dark sky. Walking around the quiet streets of Marugame. Swans and fish in the pond. Royal milk tea. Temples, steep stairwells and wooden interiors. Museums. Pancakes and bananas. Snacks at the grocery store. Sitting on my floor. Listening to music and drinking. Decadent meal at Chinese restaurant. Grasshopper and new Japanese friends. Canadian friends. Candy cane delicious delight. Marugame BMX riders. Walking home on a warm night. Midnight snacks. Delightful 2am talks. Friends marathons. Night!














Friday, December 11, 2009

The Grasshopper

Living abroad on your own makes you do things you would never, ever do back home.

Like going to a bar. By yourself.

The girl who lived in my apartment told me I definitely had to go to the Grasshopper, a little foreigner bar located down the street. She told me that's where she met all of her friends, both foreigners and young, cool Japanese. And, she said I definitely had to check it out in order to meet friends.

So there I was, having a bit of a boring Friday night after coming home late from work. As I was picking up some midnight snacks at the Mini Stop convenience store, I decided I should go have a look. So I took a deep breath (and a few sips of Asahi), tuned off my iPod and walked in the Grasshopper. All the while thinking, "oh my god oh my god I'm going to a bar by myself, how desperate is that".

I went up to the lovely Australian girl who owns it and introduced myself. Turns out she is super friendly, loved my jacket, and we took it from there. She is unfortunately closing the bar in a few weeks, so she had tons of books to give away. I ended up sipping a gin and tonic, looking through the piles of books and chatting with her a bit. It was a quiet night at the bar, only a few older Japanese men who coyly peered in my direction (no thanks).

Actually I'm going back tomorrow night with some co-workers, so it should be a lot more happening, but it was nice to just pop in and say hi. I left with a bunch of reading material, an invitation to hang out, a drink on the house, and all of my dignity.

Not bad, not bad at all.


{Christmas cheer @ Grasshopper}


{Reading material}


Oh, and I also worked up the courage to walk into a temple late at night. This is what it looks like. It was so peaceful:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Inkan

Living in Japan requires you to have an inkan (stamp) made with your name, used to sign official documents, and anything bank-related. I'm so excited about mine, and I love the way 'Vivian' looks in katakana characters! So here is my stamp, it just says 'Vivian', and I have to keep myself from going nuts with it and stamping everything in sight.





*sorry for the blurry quality of the pictures, i really need to stop taking pictures with my iphone!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Welcome to Marugame







My sweet little town of Marugame. Living near the mountains was the strongest wish I had before finding out about my location (and okay, okay, a Starbucks in the area too!). I've been spoiled. The Marugame castle stands tall on a big hill behind my house, and it's such a beautiful sight! Yesterday I went running on the hill and castle grounds, and the view from the top was breathtaking: mountains, mountains, and the sea. I love the dark color of the sea, which always puts 'Kafka on the Shore' on my mind.

I got to see a bit more of Shikoku island over the weekend- I had to travel to another part of the island for a staff meeting. I've finally met my coworkers, which felt nice, after not seeing other foreigners for a whole week! Everyone was so kind and friendly, and I also met my lovely Japanese teachers. Foreigners on Shikoku are a bit infrequent. Someone told me, weeks can pass by without seeing another foreigner. I almost ran up to one at the train station to hug him after not seeing any for a week! The fun thing is, I do get quite a bit of attention in the small towns where I teach (which can be good and bad).

I've been exploring Marugame at night, and found out there is a pretty decent nightlife happening. Little bars abound, and there's even one foreigner bar! I'll need to check it out next weekend, with my new friends. I did get to experience some of the Takamatsu nightlife, which was so much fun- Korean BBQ for dinner, drinks at a charming little bar, then karaoke (Japanese-style, yes).

Even though the first few weeks can feel isolating, I haven't felt lonely. I'm keeping busy with exploring my new surroundings, arranging my apartment, learning Japanese, and trying to decipher Japanese television shows. And thanks to my newly acquired mobile, I can text and chat with my fellow trainees all over Japan, and it's been so much fun.

Shikoku days are warm and sunny, but Shikoku nights are cold, cold, cold!

I'm smitten with Japan.

Kafka on the Shore

“Along with the pain there’s a feeling of closeness, as though for once in my life the world’s treating me fairly. I feel elated, as if all of a sudden I’ve been set free.”
Haruki Murakami, 'Kafka on the Shore'






The dark, mysterious Takamatsu sea. I really need to finish reading Kafka on the Shore, to see what it's all about....