Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So long, summer

It's officially September in Japan, but the weather still feels like August, with highest humidity levels possible. I recently got my hands on those snapshots of Isabel's sayonara party, and I thought they were beautiful and pretty much summed up my summer in Marugame... friendship, bike rides, coffee, and beautiful things.

{Friends at Marugame station}

{A twee deer at my favourite café}

{With Shin, the lovely owner of said café}

{Riding bikes near the museum}

It was a lovely summer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ichigo Daifuku and other treats

Living in rural Japan can be tough. Like today. The heat, that just won't let go. People staring and not wanting to sit next to me on the train. Unwanted attention from drunk old men. Terrified grandmothers. Young, good-looking guys shying away from me. Kids laughing at me. Sigh.

I won't lie, things haven't been easy lately, with Isabel leaving, and also realizing that Marugame does not have much to offer. I miss her, I miss taking trips with her, I miss having her here. I miss my boyfriend, whom I barely ever see because he lives in the middle of a rice field two hours away and we tend to each do our own thing. I miss my family and friends from home. I miss Sunday brunch with Lucy. I hate loneliness, that feeling that just creeps up on me regularly. It's all a bit exhausting, and I'm losing sleep over it. I'm hoping it will stop happening. Marugame is suffocating sometimes.

That's why a girl (living in rural Japan) must sometimes treat herself to small indulgences: red wine with friends on a Saturday night, a girlie sleepover, an Ichigo Daifuku breakfast (a fresh strawberry wrapped in a rice confectionary, the most divine sweet in the world), a train ride to cross to the mainland, a day shopping in Okayama with a girl friend, lunch at an Italian café, some dark grey ankle boots for the Fall, a take out cappuccino for the train ride back, and long chats with faraway friends. I'm thankful for all of those small things that make living in the middle of nowhere a bit easier.

I adore Japan, and I think it has a lot more to offer, therefore I'm thinking I should explore other areas... as I'm getting a bit restless.

Sorry for the rant.

{Ichigo Daifuku. You can get different flavours in each sweet, such as custard, chocolate, blueberry, green tea... they're heavenly}

{Nothing like a bit of fringe to put some excitement in my step. Can't wait to pair those up with black tights and a mini skirt}

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I heart ballet

My friend recently introduced me to a ballet instructor in Marugame, a lovely former professional ballerina. I mentioned that I took ballet for most of my youth (starting at age 3, I have pictures in my pink leotard), and she invited me to join her classes. The studio is conveniently located down the street (how could I not have found it before now), and I've now been starting again on something I've always enjoyed.

I was a bit worried about not being able to keep up (and understanding a class held in Japanese), but my instructor reassured me that my body would remember. And indeed it did. It came rather naturally, and although I have to build up my muscle strength and work out my flexibility, I feel so happy to be back into it. I had forgotten how much I love to dance, and it's a workout I enjoy doing, just like running.

I do realize that my presence in the class as the sole foreigner stirred some excitement, but the girls in the class were so nice to me, which made me feel more comfortable. Ballet is a wonderful workout, it requires so much strength and balance, and it's good for the soul... I feel so lighthearted again. Bliss!

I did trade my pink leotard for a black one, but I'm still loving those white tights.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Japan love.

That's me these days, minus the kitty cat.

All this alone time, hiding from the daylight has been quite productive. My Japanese has improved, and I've been working on different personal projects and doing what I love: reading and writing. I had no idea living in Japan would require so much isolation and time on my own. I am surrounded with friends and can reach out to them at all times, but I still have heaps of time on my own, and I'm slowly getting used to it.... slowly. And getting used to Marugame without Isabel. Sad. I know I've mentioned it in previous posts, but I want to stress it again. I receive many questions from new Japan-bound teachers, and I think the most challenging part of living in Japan is not the culture shock or making friends, but spending THAT much time on your own... without driving yourself crazy.

Seriously. I feel like I'm achieving something here.

In other news, I've sorted my tights by colour, mixed cookies and vanilla ice cream, re-watched Breakfast at Tiffany's, roamed the supermarket at 1am, showed around my new neighbour (and friend), and attempted (failed) a run after sunset. Still too hot.

Japan, I still love you just as much. Perhaps even a bit more. I'm not sure if I'll ever be ready to leave.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hello, books (and epic hair).

Browsing bookstores and sitting down with a great book (or magazine) and a latte is one thing I really miss about home. English reading material is very difficult to find in my area of Japan, and the selection is very limited in bigger cities. I've recently discovered that Amazon Japan ships English books for free, and you can pay upon delivery, or even at the local convenience store. Brilliant!

I started reading Hitching Rides With Buddha by Will Ferguson, the tale of an English teacher who hitchhiked his way across Japan. It's such a a treat to read, and I can definitely relate to his observations of Japanese culture.

This hot weather got me into hibernation mode, so the past week has been filled with movies, books, studying Japanese, more movies, an unexpected cold, and a stop at MUJI to stock up on home essentials, such as coffee and seaweed hair products. Speaking of hair, my hair is at its lion mane-esque peak, thanks to the hottest and most humid Japanese summer ever experienced. Right now that's how big my hair is, I think it's pretty epic, so here's a picture:

{The size of my hair on any given day usually determines the level of humidity. I should also clean my mirror.}

August is a bit slow, no fun weekend trips or anything that requires spending too much time outside, but I'm saving it all up for autumn!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer in Japan: A Survival Guide

It's mid-August, and the heat and humidity are peaking right now. I've never experienced such suffocating weather before, not even in Seoul. I've *almost* survived my first Japanese summer, so here are my tips:

Mizu, Mizu
Which means water. Hydrate, hydrate. Water, green tea, sports drinks... thankfully vending machines are just about everywhere in Japan, and the selection is always kind of exciting, so you should never be stuck without liquids. Convenience stores are on every corner (well, not in my rural area), but they also stock an impressive selection of drinks.

Dab, Dab
That little designer handkerchief will sure come handy. Not only to dry your hands or wipe your fingers after eating onigiri, but mostly to dab your face and neck while waiting for the train. Maybe use separate towels for those tasks...

Waterproof, waterproof
No need to spend much time on hair and makeup, since it's a waste of time. I just let my hair air-dry, and for the first time in my life I do love my natural waves... or lion mane. As for makeup, if you must, waterproof it. Japan has an amazing selection of local brands, and weird things such as eyeliner that stays on for 24 hours. I must say, I love how Japan understands the need to stay pretty, even in the worst August heat.

Dress... not to impress
I used to be so self-conscious about showing my shoulders and getting disapproving stares from the elderly, but well, my Canadian body is not designed for this kind of weather. So yes, I do show my shoulders, I wear sundresses, and I do have a nice tan now. Being comfortable is key.

Become a vampire
Avoid being outdoors if you don't need to be, and avoid the sunlight. I go running late at night, and try to run most of my errands when the sun is down. Maybe it's just me. But this weather is exhausting.

And, lastly, dance to my favourite summer jam:

Couch Surfing

Do you know about Couch Surfing?

Couch Surfing (well, the project) allows you to stay at other people's homes when you travel, instead of in a hostel. There is an internet network where you can browse people's profiles, see pictures and learn more about the. I think couch surfing is a great way to experience an area, as locals are usually best to show you around. I was always concerned about safety issues, but I've met a great deal of couch surfers in my area, and all of them were amazing.

I've never hosted, but I recently signed up. I think it's a great way to meet other travelers, and I've met so many of them through friends who were hosting. We took them around to udon shops, cooked pizza with them, and they tagged along at parties. A few weeks ago, I ended up hosting two French couch surfers (and their original host) who missed their last train. It was one of the best nights I've had in a long time. My apartment is tiny tiny, but I have extra futons and blankets, and the French boys seemed more than happy with the arrangements (it was either that, or sleeping at the castle).

I am aware that things could get awkward if I hosted a boy, since it's such close quarters, so my profile specifies females only. I think it will be fun to have a guest over, and show them my town and my favourite cafés and sights.

{The French Boys were an exception to my rule}

What do you think about Couch Surfing, and have you tried it?

If you come to Marugame, look me up!

{My profile picture on CS... makes me look caring and inoffensive... I hope!}

Yukatas and Green Tea ice cream

After some internet tutorials and help from a very kind Japanese friend, I figured out how to put my Yukata on! Yukata 浴衣 is one of the traditional Japanese garments. It's a lighter version of Kimono, usually worn at summer festivals. While Kimono can cost several thousand dollars (intricate ones), Yukata usually run under 100$. In fact, Uniqlo has a lovely selection of Yukata, all under 50$.

I managed to tie the Obi in a giant bow. I love Yukata, I feel so graceful wearing one, and the Geta (wooden footwear) is equally lovely... although I don't advise walking in them for an all-nighter.

This weekend also marked my first ever visit to a Japanese home. It was a wonderful Japanese family with three young children, friends of one of my fellow English teachers, who sadly left Japan yesterday. We celebrated her last night with green tea ice cream, and cuddles from the loveliest kids ever.

Those moments are so special to me. I'm not sure how I feel about August so far. It's been sad with all my close friends departing, but it's been exciting meeting and welcoming the new teachers, and attending all the beautiful Japanese festivals. The weather is hotter than ever, and I've been staying up way too late at night... insomnia, boredom, watching too much Gossip Girl, getting confused with Kanji... not sure.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


{Olive stuffed character, outside a souvenir shop. It started raining so they brought him in. Cute! I made him fall off the bench two or three times, the shop attendant seemed a bit irritated.}

My area in Japan may be quite rural, but we host a fantastic annual art event, the Setouchi International Art Festival. The festival takes place on seven different islands in the Inland Sea, all short ferry rides from Takamatsu. Each island has different exhibits or museums, so there is a lot to discover. I've only been to two islands so far, and Shodoshima is one of them.

On Friday afternoon my friends and I boarded the giant, panda and rainbow-painted ferry that would take us to the biggest island of the Inland Sea. To be honest, being on the ferry was probably the most exciting part of the trip. It's huge, and we all sat on comfortable couches, in what seemed to be a living room. They even sell udon on the ferry! Wicked.

Shodoshima is famous for its olive trees, so olive-themed everything is made available: olive ice cream, olive socks, olive soap, olive chocolate... the list goes on. I love Japan for making regional foods such an important deal! By the time we got to Shodoshima it was quite late, and it was pouring rain. The art galleries were pretty far away, so we just walked around a little and found the most extraordinary olive-themed café. A tiny wooden café tucked in the valleys, among the olive trees, where we enjoyed various olive-based dishes.

We just lingered at the café, then walked around and explored the island a bit. The scenery is stunning, and the greenery is lavish. The rain just made it more refreshing and beautiful! We hopped on the ferry back to Takamatsu, where we ended the evening with pretty much everyone we know in the prefecture, for an evening of fireworks, chilled wine, tapas, and too many gin and tonics.

*Note: There are two or three English teachers residing full-time on Shodoshima. I think it's a gorgeous place, and I seriously admire them, because it must be pretty isolating at times. I think I would have had a meltdown by the first week. Or not.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Matsuri 祭 is the Japanese word for 'festival'. In the summer, Japan becomes so lively and colorful, and tons of local festivals take place all over the country. Everyone comes out, usually dressed in the traditional wear, to enjoy the sights and foods. Festival fare usually resemble yakisoba noodles, yakitori (skewered chicken), takoyaki (octopus ball-shaped batter), shaved ice with syrup, and lots and lots of beer and sake.

Today I attended a local festival in a nearby town, Sakaide. It was quite impressive: troops of men were lifting those heavy structures, on which people danced and chanted. It was beautiful and confusing all at once, and it went on until dusk.

Festivals are also fun for just walking around and watching people. And being watched. As foreigners, we attract so much attention, which can be both pleasant and unpleasant. I do love when school kids come up to say hello, or when people offer us free foods and drinks.

A Sunday night matsuri was the perfect way to end the weekend... a relaxing weekend freshened up by rain showers, and late summer nights spent sitting by the ocean.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lazy August days

3am bedtime. Movie marathons. Staying away from the heat. Midnight bike rides. Re-arranging my apartment. Udon for lunch. Pictures on the wall. Sleeping in. Red wine. Re-organizing my closet. Baking cookies. MUJI marshmallows. French toast with honey and cinnamon butter. Mmmmm. Late night runs to Takamatsu for gin and tonics. I think I'll survive.

This week has been quiet. Honestly it's too hot and humid to do anything at all. For the first time in my life I have a killer tan. Everyone who remains in Marugame (a handful of people left Japan after their contract ended) is slowly adjusting to a new routine. I've been spending a lot of time on my own, and surprisingly not minding it too much. Meeting up with the other lost souls over lazy weekday lunches, and meeting the new people in town. Changes, changes.

In other news, how cute is my local train?

I miss my besty! But congratulations to her, she landed a fantastic job in London :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

... and we were never being boring.

Japan has been a little bit sad lately.

Isabel left the country to return to England. She played such a big part in my experience here in Marugame, and I'll miss her dearly. Together, we made grey little Marugame seem so exciting, even if we were just riding our bikes around. We shared so many laughs and memories. I just found out that the other foreigners in our town call us "Visabel", for just hanging out together all the time and "taking frequent trips, wearing stylish clothes, and being posh". I think it's hilarious... and true.

Isabel's last few days in Marugame were filled with happy memories. Revisiting our favourite cafés. Meeting up with old (and new friends). Moving out her stuff in the insane heat, on our bikes. Late night Gossip Girl and ice cream. Her being my roommate for a few days. A tea and green tea cake party at our favourite café. Drinks at the fanciest, most secret bar in Marugame. A sleepover of five people in my tiny, tiny room. Polaroid pictures. Riding our matching bikes. A yo-yo show at 2am. Ichigo daifuku. More pictures.

I'll miss how simple things would make us completely happy. Marugame will feel empty without her. Saying goodbye was so difficult, and the rest of my day was filled with tears, tea, sweets, and riding her blue bike back to my house. I'll feel a bit lost without her around. Sadly when living abroad you have to get used to people coming and going all the time.

I'll be fine, and I know she will be too. I wish her all the best back in England, and I see it as the beginning of a lifelong friendship. We made the most of our time here and have the happiest memories, and I know we'll create more in the upcoming years.

We'll always have Japan.

{A posh green tea cake farewell party. Perfection.}

{A lovely girl and her cake...}

{Riding around Marugame... captured on Polaroid.}


{A last sleepover in my tiny room... a roommie, a boyfriend, and two French couch surfers.}

{Goodbye lunch at La Taupe, Sunday morning.}

{Our bikes at Marugame station. }

{Friends new and old, Indian food, happy times.}

{With Shin, the owner of our favourite café. We heart him!!}

This song will always remind me of our trips!

x o x o