Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Evening

Every Sunday night is the same routine: I take off my nail polish, wash my work shirts for the week, store away my tights and dresses, prepare a nice bento box for the next day, go for a run, and go to bed early after drinking honey tea. My intentions are always good, but teaching kindergarten is exhausting, and usually by Wednesday night I'm eating take-out foods, staying up late watching movies, running around Umeda station (aka the busiest place in Osaka), having a glass of wine and trying to catch my breath. The fact that I love my job and the adorable kids makes this hectic lifestyle bearable.

Weekends are short but fun-packed, and this one in particular was lovely: getting to put my girlie garments back on and fixing my hair, stocking up on delish foods from the market, a long morning run in the sunshine, visits from dear friends hailing from my former Kagawa home, reminiscing, laughing and too many glasses of wine, a return to comforting presence and habits... but also the ability to say goodbye and detaching myself from that world with which I have secure ties and strong lifelong friendships, while continuing to build my Osaka world: new friends, new places to love and discover, new habits, being brazen, daring and relentless.

On that note, I think that Osaka is the best place to pull off leopard prints.

{Skirt and shoes, Zara. Top, H&M.}

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I like.

My favs of the week.

Lucy, I adore you. She remembered my guilty obsession with Cosmo (hey, I love reading the same sex tips written differently for the past hundred issues... don't judge) and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (they came intact, I already ate most of them), Essie nail polish in the most beautiful, pale shade ever (Jazz), an issue of my beloved Vogue, and the most sincere, heartfelt letter ever. It's so touching to receive kind thoughts when you're abroad. I miss you so much, Lucy.

The bag. Shopping at H&M. Taking random pictures. Hi, mom.

Making s'mores. Marshmallows, MUJI. Graham crackers, courtesy of the import food store in Namba. Chocolate, Meiji. Perfect for a girlie movie night at my place... I'm embarrassed to say which movie we watched (White Chicks. Eve and I got inspired after singing that one song they sang in the car ride at karaoke).

My Sunday brunch. Fresh croissants and pain au chocolat from the French bakery across the street (the best I've had here, comparable to what I found in Montreal and Paris), baked apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon, plain yoghurt, jams, Darjeeling tea. I stopped drinking coffee since I moved to Osaka... I'm not sure why.

Running there at nighttime. The castle is gorgeous when all lit up, and when I run on the path around it I am loving this view, and loving the fact that I live here.

This beautiful, beautiful song...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mmmmm Ramen

Back home, I always associated eating ramen with being a broke university student surviving on cheap packs of noodles with dried chicken-flavoured powdered seasoning. In Japan, ramen is an art, and it has quickly become one of my favourite dishes. Like every fare in Japanese cuisine, every detail is done to perfection, from the broth to the flavouring.

Ramen is best enjoyed on a cold winter night (or at 6 am after an all-nighter), and tonight my friend Eve introduced me to Ippudo Ramen, which is actually a chain (they even have a shop in New York City), but the quality is nonetheless very high. I usually believe that the dingier the shop, the best the ramen is (it usually works out), but this particular place is the exception to the rule. The shop is bright and trendy and the food delicious.

{I went to the shop that's located closest to my house, near Shinsaibashi station. The different locations in Japan are listed here.}

Ippudo is actually a type of ramen that originates from Hakata (Fukuoka), and is probably the best in all of Japan. We also feasted on a side dish of gyoza and sipped on barley tea. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Monday evening on a chilly January night.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter in Japan: A Survival Guide

{Winter in Kyoto, and the beautiful Kinkaku-ji}

Japanese winters are BRUTAL. Even in the south where I live, the cold winds will chill your bones. Hailing from Canada, I am pretty much in the polar bear category and I should, in theory, be able to easily deal with the mild, 6 or 7 degrees Celcius Kansai winters.

Yet, even though these are tropical temperatures for a Canadian, Japan's utter lack of insulation makes it unbearable. You cannot ever escape the cold, because houses and buildings are not properly insulated, therefore drafty, and there is no central heating. Most apartments are equipped with an aircon unit, but you literally have to be sitting right underneath it to feel warmer. Japanese schools are not heated, and kids run around in shorts and t-shirts. I'm completely scandalized to see babies and toddlers not wearing mittens, scarves or hats. Oh, Japan.

After surviving my second Japanese winter, here are some helpful tips:

Once again, my beloved kotatsu table, which made this winter so nice and toasty. I can save on heating costs by cozying up underneath it, and I also save tons of money on going out, because it makes me want to never leave my apartment.

You can buy those plastic or aluminum sheets at any hardware shop or 100 yen store, with which you can cover up windows and tape around the edges, to reduce the drafts. It may or may not make your apartment look like a spaceship.

Hot water bottles
Most stores like MUJI sell those plastic bottles that you fill with hot water and cover with a pouch, and putinside your futon when you sleep- they can come handy at night if you don't leave the heater on (which I never do).

The best way to stay warm is from wearing layers... and believe me I know... when I used to go on ski trips in Canada, I'd wear tons of layers, and this keeps us warmer than having only one thick clothing item. Think tights under your pants, thermal undershirts (Uniqlo has a great line of Heat Tech clothing, which is especially made to keep warmth), and a few pairs of socks.

Thankfully Japan has an amazing selection of teas and hot beverages (even in vending machines), so sipping on those can really help your body stay warm, and you can get them anytime, anywhere. I love how convenient Japan is.

Stay hot
Turn your shower into a spa. Not the most environmentally-friendly option, but turning the hot water on for a minute before I hop in the shower makes my freezing, unheated bathroom a bit more welcoming. I also set my alarm twenty minutes before I actually have to wake up and turn the heater on. And... I put my clothes under the kotatsu each morning, so it's a lot more fun to get dressed. Having a boy in my bed would also be a good way to stay toasty.... but that's wishful thinking...

Now that I'm typing these tips, I realize that Japan goes through lengths to come up with new ideas to stay warm. It makes me wonder, why don't they catch up on the central heating trend? I know traditional houses are not build for that purpose, and for the humid and hot summers, but just an idea...

Any other tips for surviving a Japanese summer?

Osaka Night Out

{Pink dress, H&M. Vintage belt.}

First time I'm actually going out for one of those crazy, up-until-sunrise Osaka nights since I moved here. A birthday party with my Osaka friends, a bit of bar hopping, some dancing I hope, a girl friend visiting from Marugame, some heels, long lashes, and nail polish.

It's good to unwind after an exhausting week at the kindergarten (I fell asleep at 10pm on a Friday night...), and it's nice to feel and look like a girl after a week spent in jeans and polo shirts. The most interesting part of my day is still the daily subway commute, always fascinating to people watch- you can always count on a drunk salaryman (morning or evening) to end up in the women-only train car.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Looking back.

Umeda station, Monday, 7pm.

Seeing the dear old Sanuki Express bus was such an odd feeling, since I used to always hop on that very bus to escape Marugame, and Isabel and I had such a love and hate relationship with it. Seeing it there at Osaka station made me smile and reminisce of my days in the countryside, as I realized how special it is for me now. As much as I complained, felt lonely and wanted to get away, I have such beautiful memories of that time. I also felt a tad relieved that I did not have to board it back to Marugame, as I remember how suffocating it could feel.

Fast forward to now:

Osaka is still amazing and everything I was wishing for, toddlers are adorable but they drool and cry quite a bit, I now know every kindergarten song and dance there is to know, I FINALLY bought a stove (hmm, did I not mention that I was still missing this bit... my priorities are messed up), I managed to get lost inside Yodobashi Camera (a massive appliances shop), I can easily navigate the subway system as well as the JR lines, I don't get lost at Namba station anymore, I ate the very best okonomiyaki ever (mochi cheese and shrimp) in a little hidden alley, love the smell of takoyaki near Dotonbori Bridge, I don't need to watch movies to fall asleep anymore.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Longchamp: Japan Edition

What's in the bag? I treated myself to a limited-edition, available in Japan only little indulgence. My very own omiyage おみやげ, combining my love for French design house Longchamp and Japanese exclusive merchandise.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday night in the city

The difference between living in the countryside and in the city is that on any given night in Osaka, there is always something happening. When I spend a Friday night at home doing absolutely nothing and loving it, I do it because I want to, and not out of necessity and boredom.

After an exhausting week at the kindy (the kiddies are hard work, but I ADORE them so so much!), my idea of a perfect Friday night included a delicious seafood salad (fresh salmon, scallops, crab and shrimp), a homemade avocado dip, a pajama run at the conbini for some chocolate, milk tea, texts to friends who were doing the exact same thing on their side of town, Shout Out Louds, Built to Spill, an epic night run at Osaka castle, and just finally taking a pause... because everything has been happening so fast, and I still don't fully grasp the fact that I live here.

{Shout Out Louds... my song of the week}

Morning rush hour in Osaka

My morning commute has quickly become one of the most interesting parts of my day. I honestly need a full breakfast and strong tea to face the pure madness that is the Osaka subway rush hour. I live in a financial area of downtown Osaka, so as soon as I exit my apartment building, I immediately walk into packs of salarymen rushing about. All the stereotypes about the Japanese subway system, including train attendants shoving people into the subway cars are definitely accurate in Osaka. All I can see in the morning are swarms of fast-paced black and white figures scurrying alongside.... the black and white being well, the typical salary men crowd. I must definitely clash with this crowd, a white girl clad in colorful duds and a polka-dot backpack (hey, I'm a kindergarten teacher by day...).

There is definitely no time to munch on my croissant or have a sip of coffee, but I enjoy being part of the morning madness in Osaka, makes me feel at home in this city I'm completely, utterly smitten with.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What to do... on a Tuesday night

{Shinsaibashi, Osaka}

I'm a firm believer that going out on weeknights can only make your life better (as long as you keep it under control).

I now live for Taco Tuesdays, my latest obsession in Osaka. This little bar tucked in the side streets of Shinsaibashi holds a weekly event called well, Taco Tuesdays. I do realize I'm making a big fuss over a bit of food, but when you've been living in Japan for over a year, Mexican food is something you crave so, so much.

The bar, Wax 69, is owned by two friendly and chatty surfer boys from California. I usually avoid going to any kind of drinking establishment on my own, but this place really makes it comfortable. The bar is tiny, the atmosphere is warm and laid-back, and the taco shells are crispy. I'm forever thankful to Eve for introducing me to this place and the weekly event, and thank goodness for shrimp tacos on a freezing January night. It's usually fairly packed, and it's a great way to meet new, young people.

I love having the option of doing activities on weeknights, which I did not really have back in the countryside.

And, I love walking by the Glico man advert on Dotonbori Bridge on my way back home.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ten steps away from Osaka-jo

Where have I been?!

Where to start... so... this past week...

I've officially become a full-time kindergarten teacher.

{I enjoy it so much, it's very hard work, but the kids are so smart and adorable. I also feel like I'm taking a more active part of Japanese culture since I spend all day with them. Exhausting but fulfilling.}

I finally saw Osaka castle up close, I literally live ten steps away from it, and I've been running there almost every day.

{Such a gorgeous January day in Japan, beautiful flowers in bloom in the middle of winter.}

I went back to Nara with Eve.... because I can... because it's close... because I love it... and how can you resist friendly deer and magnificent temples?

{Love this face.}

{Trying to make him bow and nod}

I went to a shrine in Tennoji where they had a festival celebrating the New Year and prosperity for businesses. It was interesting to go to a winter festival, as most of them take place in the summer.

{Today also marked the coming-of-age day, where those who turn 20 (the age of majority) are congratulated. Beautiful young girls and boys dress up in traditional attire.}

I rode the subway all over Osaka. I know the subway lines so well by now!

{I feel at home.}

Osaka has been pretty good...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My new best friend.

{Kotatsu table, MUJI. Best purchase EVER.}

I mentioned that my kotatsu deserved its own entry, so here it is.

Kotatsu こたつ is a low, wooden table with an integrated heating system from underneath. The table's frame is covered with a heavy blanket or futon, and the top is cover by a table top. In the summer, you can remove the futon and just use it as a regular table. It's probably one of my favourite things about Japan, and as Japanese homes are poorly insulated, it really keeps me warm and toasty. I've fallen asleep there a few times, and usually crawl under there whenever I get home... or wake up... or eat.... or hang out, which is pretty much all he time. I save quite a bit of money on heating costs (the aircon tends to be very expensive), and it definitely lures friends over here (I'm responsible for an increase in kotatsu sales lately across Japan). It's definitely something we could use for those long Canadian winter.

The downside is, it gets so comfortable that it makes it difficult to get away from it...

{Caught!! Being unproductive whilst staying warm.}

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Birthday in Osaka

January 4.... my birthday.

An Osaka birthday. Moët & Chandon at midnight. Watching Lost in Translation late into the night. Champagne for breakfast. A visit to Tennoji Park for some temples and (good) fortunes. Fresh croissants and a stroll around the park. LaDurée caramel and rose macarons and a little Marc Jacobs. Candy photo shoot. Pink drinks around Shinsaibashi. Friendships. Love from back home and Japan. I love Osaka so much, and all the sweet birthday wishes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hello, 2011.

{Being couth? Nah, I'm not drinking Asahi....}

While I rang 2010 in the craziest way possible in Tokyo, I felt a lot more low-key this year. I was craving a simple celebration with friends, and good, clean fun. And... fun it was. Some friends from Takamatsu were in Osaka for the break, so I hosted two of the loveliest boys ever (I hope they don't hate me and my friend Eve for having an all-night movie marathon while they were trying to sleep....) and we hit the Shinsaibashi area for the night.

My Japanese friend invited us to a private party at Absinthe, a café/lounge type of place with delicious foods and drinks (including absinthe) and a small dance floor downstairs. We sipped on the most amazing mojitos, mingled a little, had a deadly shot of absinthe and danced late into the night before hopping on a taxi back home. The night ended (or started?) with a mess of chicken McNuggets and mustard at 4am, keeping warm (and hydrated) at the kotatsu, and cramming four people in my tiny room.

We all slept in a little, got up and braved the cold to go visit Korea Town, which is located a few subways stops away from my home in Osaka. Most places were closed as New Years' Day is the most important holiday in Japan, and people are spending time with their families and visiting shrines. It was kind of fascinating to experience such a quiet Osaka, and it's probably the only time it ever happens during the year. We feasted on spicy stews and dishes that reminded me of my days in Seoul, then everyone then headed their own ways.

I've been enjoying this break so much, and my new life. Eve has been coming over for more movies and sleepovers, and I've been meeting up with different friends who are in town. I love the way I celebrated NYE, surrounded with friends from Kagawa- this year friends were all that mattered to me. Having a little bit of my former home in my new Osaka life was a pretty perfect way to ring in 2011... and thank you boys for giving me the more thoughtful gift ever, some udon from Kagawa.

{I simply ADORE those boys.}

{Pre-NYE feast from すき家.. }

{The morning after, spicy dishes in Korea town... how did we even make it there? }

{Oh... and some shopping to start the new year in style.... shopping and chocolate, thanks Elizabeth for showing me Godiva!}

{Eve and I at Miu Miu. Retail therapy.}

{Sparkly headbands are totally acceptable in Osaka. Happy New Year!}

Hello, 2011.... Hello, Osaka.