Sunday, October 31, 2010

Un-Halloween

Halloween has been fairly recently embraced by Japan, and children enjoy dressing up and participating in Halloween-themed lessons at school. And, of course, the candy that comes along.

Last night I skipped the foreigner Halloween drunken fiesta (my heart just wasn't there) and opted for the more dignified option of a fancy Italian feast with my Japanese friend, then some cocktails at a fine establishment with other delightful friends.


On the train ride back (the last train to Marugame is at midnight, and it's always fully packed with drunken people), I ran into some of my fellow Marugame dwellers, and took a few fun snapshots:

{My friend is dressed up as a typical "yanki", which is a delinquent student style complete with dyed hair and gangster attitude. It's a very popular subculture in Japan.}

{Another yanki and lovely Alice in Wonderland. Drunken dude standing up in the background hurled in the train right after that. Ew. Sophistication at its best.}

{Me and the yankis. My friend on the right is wearing the typical Japanese high school uniform jacket.}

I'm thankful for amazingly kind and caring friends who make living in this small community a lot more enjoyable.




Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(Not) Alone in Kyoto

My dear friend Gina visited me for a few days in Japan, so we met up in Kyoto. We had such a wonderful time walking around this beautiful city, stumbling upon temples and shrines, discovering hidden alleys, and just soaking up the beauty of Kyoto while catching up as if no time had passed.


Oh, Kyoto. Green tea soy lattes. Fushimi Inari and its red torii gates. Rainy Ponto-Cho alley at night. Staying up late and chatting. Tea and hot chocolate. Hearty okonomiyaki. Maps and getting lost in the little streets. Peaceful canals and weeping willows. Ice cream in the park. Pumpkin pie and vegetarian fare at Café Proverbs near Kyoto University. Meeting up with my other friends who live in the prefecture. Sitting under the bridge. Green tea and cinnamon yatsuhashi. Lots, and lots of walking. And lots of laughing. True friendship at its best.




{We couldn't get enough of the beautiful torii gates and the long paths}

{We saw a cat and its kitten at the temple}

{If you go to Kyoto, you must have a meal at Café Proverbs, a vegetarian café}

{We were blessed with gorgeous fall weather and lots of sunshine}


{Shinbashi street is said to be the most beautiful street in Asia}

{Thanks for coming to Japan, Gina! I miss you already.}

Now time to go back to grey little Marugame, with a twinge of sadness and apprehension... but I can survive here a bit longer, right?! Countdown has started.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October wanderings

October has to be the most gorgeous month in Japan: the weather is still very warm during the day, but the nights are crisp, and it's just perfection.

I've been feeling quite lighthearted since I made the decision to move to Osaka. It allows me to properly enjoy my last few months here, and to explore all of Kagawa and spend time with my favourite people. I've had so much fun around here lately, whether it's home cooked dinners at friends' houses, late nights roaming Takamatsu streets, long bike rides by the sea, hours spent at cafés, and overdoses of gyoza. I also started feeling more comfortable with spending time on my own, studying Kanji, watching endless Seinfeld marathons, and going running at the castle.

I knew things would be different (and difficult) that day Isabel left Japan, when we said good bye at the train station and I pleaded her to not leave me alone in this place. Yet, life goes on, and I did fine, even though I miss her every day. I'm lucky to have a tight group of kind friends, which made my life here so amazing. I've been in Japan for a year now. It's been so challenging at times, but oh so rewarding.


I'm off to Kyoto for a few days. I'll be meeting up with my dear friend from Seoul, whom I haven't seen for almost two years. It will be lovely to reminisce about Korea, to catch up, and to explore Kyoto. I could not think of a more perfect place to catch up with a close friend. I'll probably drop by Osaka afterwards since it's next door, and say hello to my next home, and get acquainted with it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shotengai Photo Shoot

Shotengai 商店街 are a type of outdoor shopping mall that is very popular in every city in Japan- big or small. It's a covered shopping arcade, with restaurants, stores, game centers, and convenience stores.

The Marugame (my small town) shotengai is quite small and eerie, mostly has outdated shops, and has a seventies vibe. It looks like a ghost town, and there are wild dogs roaming about. At night, it gets very dark, and it's almost scary to bike or walk through it.

On the other hand, the Takamatsu (my nearest 'big' city) shotengai is very large and lit up. In fact, Takamatsu might be famous for having the longest covered arcade in all of Japan. There are nice, modern shops such as Zara and MUJI, luxury shops, Starbucks café and a plethora of restaurants and department stores. I used to find arcades ugly and obsolete, but they're slowly growing on me, and I find them kind of fascinating.

On Saturday night, after a scrumptious Jamaican meal accompanied with one too many beers, my friend Stephanie and I had a little photo shoot, running up and down the shotengai. We got many smiles and stares from passers-by, but we didn't mind, it was just so much fun! Here's a peek at a typical Japanese shotengai:






{Lion Dori street, or "sketchy dori" as we like to call it}









Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pink fur

This is one of my favourite moments of this week.



The photo was taken at my usual lovely café in Marugame, with the friendly owner Shin, and a fellow customer and her dog. The girl was all dolled up in stonewashed denim, and honestly, I thought she totally rocked the look with the big hair and everything. Very few people can pull off an all denim look, but seriously, she looked great. She's a dog groomer, and her dog was the most adorable and well-behaved puppy. The dog's name was Monica モニカ, and it had pink and green streaks in its fur, and a bedazzled pink collar. The dog's collar also matched the girl's handbag, which I thought was pretty brilliant.

Thanks to my friend Jonathan for snapping this epic moment... seriously. Only in Japan.


{I spy lots of colours}


{Isabel, this one's for you!}

Persimmons

Persimmons are my latest obsession.



I discovered them while living in Korea, because honestly, it was the only fruit I could afford. I thought they were tomatoes when I first saw them. Persimmons are now in season and I can buy them again here in Japan, they're called Kaki 柿. The shell is a bit thick, and the inside is a pulpy jelly. It tastes like a mix of apples and melon.

I've mostly seen persimmons in Asia, and I remember finding them at certain markets in Montreal, but not very commonly. From what I've read, they're mostly cultivated in China, Japan, and Korea.

Have you tried persimmons? Are they available outside of Asia? I'm so in love with them! It's the perfect autumnal fruit.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Before 9 am

Apparently lots can happen before 9am, on a Saturday morning. I'm never usually up before that time, since my work schedule is mostly late afternoons and evenings. Even though running by the harbour late at night is quite exquisite, maybe I'm missing out on sunny mornings like today.

After a late, late Friday night filled with white wine and delicious goma ごま ramen (sesame broth), an 8am wake up call was a bit brutal. However, it was all for a good cause:

I picked up my 'new' bike.



Alas, my dearly beloved Blair Buttercream was never recovered. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow my friend Daniel's bike, and he was generous enough to let me have it for as long as I needed. Surprise surprise, my friend Jonathan managed to get his hands on a free bike, and that's my new companion for the remaining of my time in Marugame. It's a standard grey bike, but I adorned it with stickers, so I can recognize it among the crowds of look-alike bikes. Thank goodness for kind friends, and free bikes.

Getting up so early deserved a treat, so we found the best breakfast food we could find around here. One thing I dearly miss about home is breakfast and brunch. The brunch trend hasn't picked up much in Japan like it had in Seoul- at least not in rural Japan. Japanese do love family restaurants such as Denny's, which do exist here. We hit one of those chains (Gusto Skylark) for a version of a Western breakfast, and it wasn't so bad. It's the best breakfast we could find in Marugame, on a Saturday morning. They have a free juice and coffee bar, and that made my day.



Time for a much-needed midday nap.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shinkansen


Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, is Japan's high-speed railway network that covers almost the entire country. Shinkansen 新幹線 means 'new main line', and started operating in 1964.

Shinkansen trains


Japan probably has one of the best railway systems in the world. During regular operation, Shinkansen can reach speeds of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour. It's also very reliable, as it was reported that Shinkansen's average arrival time was within six seconds of the scheduled time. A lot of Japanese people set their watches according to train times.

Shinkansen is the best way to travel across Japan, but also the most expensive. The seats are so plush and comfortable, and the trains go so fast, it's a real treat to ride them. A Shinkansen ride from Osaka to Tokyo takes a little over two hours, while the same route in local trains would take over five or six hours. It's also the safest way to travel: during 45 years of operation it never, even once had the slightest crash, derailment, or passenger fatality. The trains themselves look quite modern, even though they date from the sixties.

Shinkansen has a few types of trains: the fastest is called Nozomi, and it barely stops between Tokyo and Osaka. The other one is Hikari, and it stops a bit more frequently, but it's a very slight difference in time.



Japan Rail Pass


If you take a trip to Japan, I highly recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass. It's the least expensive way to travel all over, because it allows unlimited access to Shinkansen trains. The JR Pass costs 28,300 ¥ (around 300$) for a week of unlimited access, or 45,100 ¥ (around 500$) for 2 weeks. It seems like a steep price tag, but keep in mind that a single Shinkansen round-trip between Tokyo and Osaka is about 300$ alone!

I reside in Japan, so unfortunately I'm not allowed to use the JR Pass. Also, it's important to note that the JR Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan, so you need to buy it in your home country, at certain travel agencies, and then validate it in Japan. If you have the JR Pass, you're not allowed on the Nozomi train, only Hikari.

I heart Shinkansen



Since I moved to Japan, I've only used Shinkansen once or twice to go to Tokyo, because I really cannot afford it... therefore I've been traveling the low-budget way, highway buses and local trains.

I have a weird fascination with Shinkansen. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it feels so luxurious and unattainable. Or maybe because bullet trains are one of my favourite images of Japan. Either way, whenever I go to a bigger city that has Shinkansen tracks, I just stand there and watch them zoom by. If you travel to Tokyo, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on a clear day.

Fashion Toast

I am a big fan of fashion blogger Rumi Neely, and I've been reading her excellent blog Fashion Toast since the very beginning. I think Rumi is gorgeous, and even though I would not wear a lot of the things she picks for herself, I think her photos are aesthetically pleasing to look at, and she is just so stylish and unique.

I was pleased to see her grace the pages of my favourite Japanese fashion magazine, Vivi. She is featured in the October 2010 issue, and I love being able to pick up this magazine at my corner store. I wanted to share the pictures of Rumi:




I'm getting a little bit better at reading Japanese, and fashion magazines are good practice for me. It was fun to read the little excerpts about her and what she likes.

Also, a few months ago, she came to Tokyo and mentioned a pair of grey knee-high socks she loved from Uniqlo, which I have located:


They are seriously cashmere-soft, and perfect for Fall.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Osaka Mini Choco Banana

After trying the infamous Tokyo Banana, I became curious about banana sweets in Japan. I found the Osaka version of the Tokyo banana, and it was quite interesting. My friend and I sampled both, and we spent a few minutes comparing notes about both.



The Tokyo Banana is a spongy cake with a banana-flavoured custard filling, and it's very much like a Twinkie.



The Osaka Banana is a dry chocolate cake, with a creamy banana filling, and it's more like a Swiss roll cake. The Osaka Mini Choco Banana was in fact very tiny, and I managed to get it all squished in my handbag, so sorry for the poor quality of the picture.



I don't know which one I prefer. Both were amazing, paired with tea. I highly recommend picking them up to try or for presents if you travel to Tokyo and Osaka. I wonder if other Japanese cities have them, too.

Um, I think I officially have too much time on my hands. Please take the banana snacks away from me!

On My Playlist

What have you been listening to lately? I'm obsessed with this wonderful song:



And I've been listening to the whole Discovery album nonstop. Yes, I'm still enamoured with the Osaka Loop Line song, it never fails to get me excited:



As usual I'm always open to suggestions. Sometimes I feel out of the loop with what's new, maybe I'm exposed to a different kind of pop culture all the way in Japan. My favourite songs of all times have always been songs from playlists my friends made for me

Friday, October 8, 2010

Take your shoes off!


In Japan, it is customary to take your shoes off whenever you enter a home. However, shoes removal is not limited to homes, but also applies to entering a shrine, temple, and schools. When you first enter a Japanese home, there is an area called Genkan where you take off your shoes and usually slip into indoor shoes, such as slippers.

To me, it makes so much sense to take off my shoes whenever I come home. I hate dragging the outside dirt around my apartment, especially since I sleep and eat right on the floor. In Canada, I grew up taking off my shoes when I'd come home. I don't remember ever wearing shoes indoors.

Some of my fellow expatriate friends do wear shoes indoors, and did it back home. I also noticed that when I watch some television shows such as Friends, they wear shoes indoors. It has become a major pet peeve of mine to see characters wearing shoes while sitting on a couch or even on a bed. I think it comes from living in Japan, where it's a major, MAJOR no-no. I had a mini panic attack once when one of my visitors walked right into my apartment without taking off his shoes. Am I crazy? I know when I first came to Japan I probably forgot to take off my shoes in some areas where I had to, some I'm sure I've committed some cultural crimes once or twice.

What do you think? Do you wear shoes indoors?


{My Genkan.}

Some Kagawa Love

A slow, rainy night spent scribbling on wooden blocks at Marugame's dirtiest (but friendliest) little bar, in great company:

{Kagawa is my prefecture, the smallest one in Japan. We're famous for udon.}

{Hello Kitty, or Hello Neko, in this case. Neko means cat in Japanese, it's another word I love.}

{My sad attempt at writing Marugame in Kanji characters... and that's my name below, in Katakana.}



Even though I am sometimes bored in the countryside, I feel happiest when I'm doing the most simple things, surrounded with my favourite people:

{Shinya, the owner of my favourite café, with the hen pen Isabel sent him. He's one of my favourite people in Marugame. I want to keep learning Japanese so I can tell him more things.}

{He collects animal pens, here's his entire collection: bear, dog, lion, tiger, pig...}

{He made me promise to go see him every single day at the café until I leave Marugame. I'm trying!}

It's been nice lately, I've started to appreciate all the little things -good and bad- that shaped my experience in Marugame.