Monday, June 28, 2010

Korea v. Japan

Lately I've been feeling Seoul-sick. I have never been homesick since I got to Japan, but along with my mild culture shock of the past few months came a weird "longing for Korea" feeling. After much thought and sharing with some friends, I finally put my finger on it. I really miss Seoul, and living in a big city. I miss taking the subway. I miss the neon lights and the loud music. I miss the crowds. I miss the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on my doorstep. I miss disappearing and blending in (sort of). I miss being surrounded by tons of young, stylish people. I miss being anonymous.

Yet, I would not trade my life in rural Japan for city living in Seoul. My experience in Japan, despite the daily challenges of the countryside, has been WAY smoother than anything I've ever experienced in Seoul. For one, the language part has been so much more interesting in Japan: Japanese is easier to speak than Korean, but more challenging to read. Studying new Kanji and mastering the kana has been very rewarding.

The food. Even though I love Korean food, eating it on a daily basis was very difficult for me... too spicy. It was challenging to cook the foods I liked. I love Japanese food, and I find there is much more variety. I'm always craving it! And for some reason, it's easier to find import products here.

I had a rough time with some cultural differences back in Korea. I found people to be very rude sometimes, especially in the subway. Korea was loud, and the streets dirty. Even though Japan has way too many rules and can be overwhelming when it comes to etiquette, I appreciate the politeness and complete silence in public transportation. And the cleanliness!

Yet... I do miss the warmth of Koreans. They were the friendliest, most approachable people. I miss having strangers come up to me in public places and chatting with me. Japanese seem far too intimidated and terrified to even look at me sometimes. However, I love how individualistic Japanese people are, each having very different hobbies and music/food tastes... something that seemed more rare in Korea.

{Peaceful and beautiful Japan}





{The exciting chaos of Seoul}




I would love to hear what people think about Korea v. Japan, if you have experienced both!

I feel very much at home here in Japan. I do miss Seoul like crazy, and cannot wait to visit again soon, and getting lost in the Seoul chaos. The Japanese countryside is lovely, but I'm a city girl at heart... that's what I came to realize. But... my heart is in Japan, and I'm completely absorbed in this love story I'm having with this country.

Rainy season

Hello, rainy season! Even though my prefecture is one of the driest, we got hit by several rainfalls lately, which means HIGH levels of humidity (not the best for my wavy hair) and lots of movie watching (which I love).

Friday was all about biking to work in the rain (which ended up being fun), drinking wine and eating homemade chili, and a sleepover... the futons take up ALL the space in my apartment!
{That's a total a four futons... I stacked them: 2 + 2 next to one another}

Saturday started with pancakes AND cupcakes, then a lacy cream dress and black heels for a formal engagement party in Takamatsu. It was a great evening, everyone was there and it was pretty sophisticated... until the second nomihodai.

Nomihodai is an 'all you can drink' event for a set price. Personally, I think they're the complete opposite of sophistication, but they're VERY popular in Japan... and with the foreigner crowd. I think I'd appreciate them more if I drank more than two drinks... per night out. Yet I had so much fun, and it turned out to an (almost) all-nighter...

{Party dress + shoes}

... which explain why I spent all of Sunday lounging on the couch in my pajamas. THAT's classy.
{Making cupcakes... and eating them! Nom nom nom.}


Monday was all about lounging in Starbucks with friends and taking advantage of the air conditioning... I also stocked up on some banana goodness from The Body Shop... it's seriously the best smelling shampoo ever.
{Banana hair care + Hello Kitty bath mat. Yes!}

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Girl in Asia

One of my favourite blogs, A Girl in Asia, asked me some fun questions...

Jump here to go read my answers... and read about delightful cafés in Asia!



Thank you, Liz!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yakisoba

You, too can make Yakisoba!!

Yakisoba is a delicious dish of fried noodles, very popular at Japanese festivals. It's very easy to make, and you can make a pretty healthy version of it. Earlier tonight I went over to my friend's house, and she taught me how to make it. Here is a simple version!



Yakisoba

You'll need:

-Soba noodles (made of buckwheat flour)
-Yakisoba sauce (widely available in Japan, and probably easy to find overseas at any Asian market). It's a dark sauce, probably based on soy.
-Vegetables (we picked an assortment of onions, eggplant, cucumber, green peppers, and bean sprouts. anything goes!)
-Slices of beef or chicken, or tofu

You basically stir fry everything on a hot plate, or pan.

We accompanied the meal with delicious roasted barley tea, in Japanese mugicha 麦茶. For dessert we had some fun Milky chocolate squares, and watched Flight of the Conchords to top it all off.



My friend lives in the middle of the countryside, so it's a wonderful bike ride there, and everything is so peaceful. I love those kinds of nights!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Handkerchief Chic

When I first visited Japan two summers ago, in the intense August heat, I noticed how everyone carried little square towels and how every department store and shop sold them as hot items. I was a bit puzzled by the abundance of handkerchiefs, but I now understand the usefulness of them. Japan gets oh-so-hot and humid in the summer, and carrying a handkerchief to dab your face and neck is a MUST.

Most stores and designers make their own. Most of them are towel-like material, while some of them are cotton or silky. You can buy any regular handkerchief, say, from Uniqlo, for under 5$. Designer ones (such as Burberry, Prada, Celine...) go for around 30-50$. Department stores have rows and rows of handkerchief displays, and there are some for every taste.

I have one from Marc Jacobs, and another one from Milkfed (Sofia Coppola's clothing brand). I got both for free, as gifts that came with magazines. I love them! They're also useful to dry your hands after washing them, and for picnics.

Notice the heart theme here? I heart hearts!




Oh, Japan.

Rice paddies

I wanted to share pictures of rice paddies, 田 "ta", around my area. I think they're beautiful, especially at this time of the year. The fields require a lot of irrigation for the rice to grow, so they are flooded with water. It's the first time in my life that I live among rice paddies (and probably the only time, too), so I find them quite exquisite and fascinating.



{Rice paddies, Ayagawa, Kagawa prefecture}


{Bike + camera}

Nature in Japan seems to completely explode in the summertime, there is greenery everywhere, and the vegetation is very lush. "Nature will eat you!", joked one of my friends.

I've been keeping myself cheerful and busy lately: language exchange with Japanese friends, writing letters at cafés, movie marathons and sleepovers, upbeat music, learning a chord or two on the guitar, photographing temples and vending machines, biking in the rain (rainy season has started, but my prefecture is very dry so we don't get a lot), making fruit smoothies and fresh salads, late night walks with Isabel, trying to stay cool in the humidity, mastering the art of cycling in a miniskirt, hopping on express trains for no extra charge, and perfecting the pizza dough.


{Heavenly.}

It's been pretty good.


{Kotohira, Kagawa prefecture}

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fireflies and pizza

I had a fun last couple of days.



Friday night I saw fireflies for the first time in my life. In Japanese they call them hotaru ホタル ( 蛍) and they usually come out for a short time in June. They usually hang out around clear water, so late at night we took a walk into the countryside, and found so many fireflies. I even picked up a few in my hands and watched them glow. They're very friendly bugs! I love the countryside on summer nights. It's so peaceful, and the rice fields smell so fresh. I'm happy I get to experience such things.

Saturday night was my boyfriend's birthday party... fun times! A group of us headed down to Takamatsu for some izakaya foods (all kinds of entrées, such as chicken skewers, noodles, French fries, salads, sashimi), where we ordered a bit of everything to share. It was accompanied (and followed) by some heavy drinking in various establishments, and a hazy taxi ride back home where five of us hopped in a cab to share the expensive tab.

Sunday was a rainy day spent lounging around and nursing a birthday boy who partied a bit too hard! It was really nice and relaxing, and we even cooked a homemade pizza.... in a pan. The lack of ovens in Japan definitely leads to more creativity, and we made everything from scratch. Making dough is quite easy! Here's the recipe, and everything can be found in Japan:



Nippon Pizza (I just made up the name!)

Dough:
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour

Sauce:
1 can diced tomatoes
Garlic
Onions
Basil
A bit of olive oil

Toppings:
Slices of ham
Fresh tomatoes
Red peppers
Mushrooms
Cheese
Eggplant

You basically spread the dough in a pan, then add the sauce and toppings, and cook on low heat for 30 min, while keeping it covered.

I made it again tonight for Isabel, and it was quite tasty! I refrigerated half of the dough, so I can just make it whenever.

Mmmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer style


{MUJI flip flops, some books, and cold tea on the grass. Bliss.}

Those lazy summer days have been filled with long afternoons lounging on the grass at the castle, reading books, drinking cold green tea, and talking with friends. Long bike rides. Mosquito bites. My back a bit sunburned. While Japanese people around me wear gloves, long sleeves and carry black umbrellas, I lie around in the sun, trying to get some golden tones.

Which brings up summer fashion talk. I had forgotten how offensive it is to show bare shoulders here in Japan. Wearing a simple tank top will get you so much (unwanted) attention. Japanese girls usually cover up their arms and shoulders with cardigans, even on hottest days. Yet, the shorter the skirt the better. The fashion seems a bit different in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where rules don't seem so stiff about (any kind of) coverage.

I would like to say that I'll wear whatever I want, but I probably won't, because I don't want any extra attention in my small town.
Well... we'll see how long I can last, I might change my mind come August!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Beaches, gardens and French toast

After a stressful week filled with cockroach sightings and staff meetings, some lighthearted celebrations were much needed. It all started with my first ever Beer Garden.

Beer Gardens are very popular in Japan, between May and September. Department stores and hotels usually host them on their rooftops, and for a set price you get to drink and eat as much as you want. I don't drink (or eat) a lot, but I went for the cultural experience, and just to spend time with my friends. I had such a good time! Everyone was in good spirits, and we just sat on the rooftop of a hotel in Takamatsu, with the view of the inland sea as the backdrop.

{How classy am I, holding a giant drink}

It was nice to see everyone come out, and meet new people at the same time. We all headed to the ocean front afterwards to have more drinks, hang out and listen to people play music. I caught the last train home, fell asleep and almost missed my stop. Sunday was spent sleeping and feeling a bit under the weather... NOT hungover, but my allergies kicked in, and I felt quite sick. Yet, there is nothing better than a lazy Sunday spent lounging around, especially in good (and caring) company.

Today started out with French toast at my friend's house, then we took a really nice and long bike ride to the beach a few towns over. The view was beautiful, and I still cannot believe I live so close to the beach. It was an excellent work out, and a wonderful way to spend a day off... relaxing and pleasant.

{Shikoku has some very beautiful beaches}

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dear Cockroach


{My weapon of choice}

Dear Cockroach,

I was having a fine time, relaxing at home. It was around 1am, I had just gotten home from an evening hanging out and drinking with friends, and was watching How I Met Your Mother. I got up to get a glass of water, and there you were, walking around my sink. I thought I'd seen it all in Korea (my apartment used to be infested with your kind), but no. You were much, much bigger and faster than your Korean counterpart. And darker and uglier, with long antennae. You made me shriek a little, in the middle of a peaceful Shikoku night. My neighbours must hate me. Thank goodness I had a few cocktails in me, for liquid courage. I'm (not) sorry I used a whole can of bug spray on you. It took you that much to stop moving around. I'm (not) sorry I washed you down the drain, after I killed you. Probably where you came from anyways.

I hope you're sorry you kept me awake all night, because I was still too shaky and nervous to sleep. I slept with the lights on. You make me feel disgusted with my cute little apartment, in which I don't even feel at home anymore. I hope to never see members of your species EVER again.

Today I went to the store to get another can of spray. The clerk helped me pick the strongest stuff. All I could blurt out was "Gokiburi", which is Japanese for cockroach. I'm quite embarrassed about that purchase. Now, because of you, everyone in my small town probably knows I have a roach issue (and what conditioner I use), even though it's very normal in Japan. They have a whole aisle dedicated to cockroach care. Hello, southern Japan and humid climates.

You are filthy and uncouth. You ruined a perfectly nice evening.

(not) love,

Vivian

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Japan: A Survival Guide

As exhilarating as living in Japan can be, some days get very lonely, and inevitably culture shock does happen. I thought I was immune to it since I went through it BIG TIME back in Korea, but apparently not, as I went through a mild version in Japan this past month. Living in rural Japan is a totally different story than living in Seoul, and it comes with new challenges, such as people following you at the supermarket to see what you put in your basket, or elderly people refusing to sit next to you on the train.

And as wonderful as my relaxed work schedule is, all that free time can be difficult. I've never spent as much time alone as I have since I moved to Japan, which is good because it made me a lot more independent. And despite the amount of friends I quickly made in my little town, I still feel loneliness and isolation in small doses, and that definitely is the most difficult thing about living in Japan.

After another failed trip to the supermarket and a teary phone call to a very understanding boy (who has lived here for much longer than I have), I opened my inbox to find a sweet and funny message with tips I wanted to share:

Explore you local area... If you find nice things, you become happy about your location.
Even if you live in a small town and it seems like there is nothing to do, you should hop on your bike and go explore. I live in the most rural region of Japan, which is full of natural beauty: Temples, beaches, and mountains abound, and I have a gorgeous castle in my backyard, where I enjoy picnics on its grounds.
{Bikes rides with friends! Always fun.}

Eat fun food...Yum yum! But not sweets, they make you feel gross after.
Oh, Japanese foods!! I wrote an entire post about it, and yes, trying new foods is always exciting, and there is so much variety, you can never get bored. As for sweets, I tend to disagree because I love sweets (especially Japanese ones), and they motivate me to go running on a daily basis!
{Mmmmmmmm Japanese sweets...}

Learn something new
I study Japanese. I go running and hiking. I read books and watch movies. I meet some friends for lunch or coffee. I write and take photos. I bake. And yet I'm left with MORE free time. Living in Japan is your chance to focus on something you really love, or try a traditional hobby: calligraphy, martial arts, ikebana, ceramics, kimono wearing. Learning Japanese has been keeping me busy, and understanding the language a bit more has clearly improved my quality of life here!
{Studying hard!}

Self-gratification
Although his choice of words were a bit more graphic, I think rewarding yourself is important. Even in the smallest ways, and especially after a rough day. Whether it is a bento box, a bike ride, a magazine, a new book, a Skype conversation, a soak in the bath, a fun movie, a walk by the sea, a trip to the import food store... cheer yourself up with little things! And... I have a box of Mac 'n Cheese on hand for emergency situations.
{I love browsing through Japanese fashion magazines and cutting out pictures.}

Too much indie is bad, too!
Whatever that means? Well I did try to listen to less sad songs and more upbeat stuff, and yes, it does help.

Having things to look forward to is one of the best ways to cope with loneliness/culture shock: planning little getaways to nearby big cities really spices things up, and seeing more of Japan is wonderful. Despite the daily challenges, I still have so much love and fascination for this country, and it has been oh-so-good to me.

{Touching deer is soothing!}