Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday, wait.

My boring, lonely, forgettable Saturday consisted of staying up until sunrise trying to reboot my Macbook (success), a morning spent watching Napoleon Dynamite and half of Pretty Woman, a bike ride to the supermarket, an afternoon spent reading at a café, a home cooked couscous dinner, and a (not so) mini phone meltdown (not necessarily in that order). I'm usually quite independent and crave time on my own, but today I felt restless, and perhaps a tad homesick. I considered today a bit of a fail, and I hate that feeling.

That is, until I got a text from a friend from Marugame, who was in Osaka for the night. We ended up meeting at a cozy little bar in north Osaka, catching up on what took place over the last few months, just having a few drinks and reminiscing about the good old times. It was exactly what I needed. One of my favourite parts was the walk home- I decided to walk the 3 km to my apartment and save on cab fare, armed with a 100 yen sandwich wrap from the convenience store, under the warm, misty April rain. I got a little bit lost, and a little bit soaked, but I discovered new neighbourhoods, ran into an acquaintance, and regained some cheerfulness. Then, I realized it was May. I love those kinds of random nights.

Bored in Japan?

I could not help but share this little gem, made by and featuring my dear friend Mike (a.k.a. Prince Ness). He and his cousin shot this video in beautiful and very rural Maizuru (Kyoto prefecture), where he used to live. We shared so many fun moments via the internet and phone in our respective rural towns, and funnily enough, we still do the exact same thing even though we're in bustling Tokyo and Osaka.

I do think being bored in Japan can be great for creative spirits...

I heart this.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Golden Week, round two.

Yesterday marked the start of Golden Week, the busiest (and perhaps longest) holiday in Japan. It contains a stretch of public holidays, such as the Emperor's birthday, Children's Day, Greenery Day, and Consitution Memorial Day. Last year, some friends from Canada came to visit, so we made a little jaunt to Tokyo, then Osaka and Nara with Isabel (banana on escalator, anyone?).

Since everything is overpriced, overbooked and crowded during Golden Week, I decided to stay around Kansai this year and play tourist in my own home. To be fair, since I moved to Osaka I haven't had the time to enjoy it as a visitor, and there are so many sights I still want to see. Or yet, just soak in Kansai and all the beauty it has to offer. I plan on walking around Kyoto, go hiking in Arashiyama, see the Kobe harbour front, find more lovely cafés, pet deer in Nara (of course!), spending time with friends, do tons of cooking, bike riding, running, and lounging around.

I do live in my favourite area of Japan, and I am getting excited to explore it. This time, without uncomfortable overnight buses, tiny youth hostel showers and bunk beds, or cumbersome backpacks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From Shikoku, with love.

Shikoku. My home away from home.

That same feeling of comfort and familiarity. Pancakes, strawberries, and sunny bike rides alongside rice fields and mountains. Knowing Shikoku will always be my first home in Japan, and the place I feel most comfortable in. Perhaps in the midst of escaping boredom and hard feelings for the big bad city of Osaka, I forgot that Shikoku is the place where my love story with Japan truly began to unfold, and is home to some close friendships and my favourite people. I love any excuse to go to back there, as it is so soothing for the soul. Osaka may be lively, fun-filled, bright and flamboyant, but sometimes a girl misses her rice fields, mountains, and the sounds of crickets. Only for a day... or two.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Even though it was short-lived, my friendship with Eve was one of those fun, close and comfortable kinds. I met her in Osaka, and she was the ultimate city girl. We shared so much in common, from spending our first respective years in rural Japan and moving to the bright lights afterwards, and loving everything sweet, stylish and sophisticated. My best memories with her are countless sleepovers at my place filled with chocolate and gummy bears, some fun trips to Nara and Kyoto, high tea, more shopping in Shinsaibashi than one can imagine, making our own takoyaki and okonomiyaki, taking fun purikura pictures (the photobooth sticker kind) in Namba, and having an equally girlie friend to share cultural experiences with and endless talks about life and... boys. She was the most outgoing, positive person I have ever met, and I strive to follow the steps she left in Osaka.

I'm thankful for creating such wonderful friendships while abroad, even though people always come and go. However, like-minded friends and fellow wanderlusters are always traveling, so I know I'll meet them again in life.

Eve, Japan will miss you.

{High Tea}

{Macaroons from La Durée on my birthday}

{Me, wearing Eve's pajama!}

{Blurry Christmas-themed purikura}

{Nara at Christmas}

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Osaka Okonomiyaki

After a late, late (or early morning) bedtime on a Sunday morning, a hearty brunch is perhaps the only way to get some sleepy girls out of bed... yet, brunch is pretty nonexistent in Japan, so we've replaced it with okonomiyaki... Japanese style!

The Kansai region is particularly famous for its okonomiyaki: it's a savoury pancake containing batter, shredded cabbage, green onions, and any meat or toppings you like, such as kimchi, mochi, octopus, pork, or shrimp. In okonomiyaki, practically anything goes, hence the name, literally meaning "grill what you like".

Oh, and I like it all. I also think I found the best okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka, Fusaya. It's very famous around here, and it is indeed the tastiest okonomiyaki I have ever had. It's hidden in a little run-down, covered arcade halfway between Shinsaibashi and Tanimachi (where I live), and has the friendliest owner and the walls are covered with pictures and autographs of celebrities who visited the shop.

I highly recommend to start with the kimchi yakisoba noodles, and follow with the mochi cheese and shrimp okonomiyaki. Mochi are Japanese rice cakes, and they melt perfectly in the batter, along with the cheese and variety of vegetables.

Thank you Eve for introducing me to this hidden treasure!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Culture shock, take two.

"In the West, we are so captivated with images of crowded Tokyo subways and faceless salarymen that we forget how much of Japan is still rural and traditional. [...] You will find very little greenery in most Japanese cities, true. But you will also find very little of Japan in most Japanese cities. The urban cores are exciting, crowded, jaded, but they are also the most Westernized, standardized stretches of the nation. Another Japan exists a half-step away, along the back roads, in the provincial capitals, on the outer edges."

"Hitching Rides With Buddha", by Will Ferguson

I keep telling my friends here, if they have not lived in rural Japan, they have not experienced the real Japan. I still firmly believe that the authentic Japan can only be found in the most remote, isolated areas of this country.

Even though my days living in the countryside were so difficult and nearly drove me out of my mind, the city presents other kinds of challenges I had vaguely anticipated. Crowded subways, pushy people, high stress, getting lost in hordes of salarymen, all walking expressionless every morning and every night. Quiet trains all over, even at rush hour, when not a word can be heard. Such a big change from the chaotic trains in the countryside, full of young students chatting and giggling loudly, and drunken old men with their shoes off and feet on the seat across. To be fair, maybe this was only in Kagawa... sigh. It's so endearing now that I look back.

I have been having a torn relationship with Osaka lately, going from loving it so much to completely hating it in a matter of hours. Then feeling completely exhilarated again because it is so amazing here. I think I'm probably going through another bout of culture shock. It has a little bit to do with Japanese culture, and a little bit to do with this city I'm still getting accustomed to. I miss experiencing Japanese culture firsthand, or at least having the time to soak it all in. Osaka is most definitely Japanese, but you have to scratch the surface a lot more in order to find it.

I went back through last year's posts, and re-read my Survival Guide for Culture Shock, and it made me smile.

Well. My relationship with Japan has been the most intense roller coaster love story I have ever had.

{Kitty cat, Kyoto. Today I wish I were a cat.}

And PS- Coming home to a massive parcel full of French magazines and newspapers, from my Toronto (via Seoul) friend who managed to put together a "Montreal Package of Love", made me feel so, so loved. I adore you Miss Bee!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Philosopher's Path, Kyoto

One of the most wonderful places to view cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Japan is the famous Tetsugaku no michi, literally meaning "Philosopher's Path". It was named after a Kyoto University professor and philosopher who used to walk on that path to meditate and well, think.

Although the crowds of people viewing the sakura this weekend made it pretty difficult to muse, it was nonetheless such a gorgeous walk in the sunshine, on a path filled with pink blossoms all around, like fluffy clouds.

The Philosopher's Path and Kyoto also hold so many amazing memories and special meanings for me- when my mom visited Japan last year, when my friend Gina from Seoul visited in autumn, moments enjoying tea and apple cake at Pomme Café on that very path with Isabel, and Kyoto as the most soothing place I can think of when things get difficult with Japan, or life.

I know I've said it a million times, but Kyoto is magic, and no matter how many times I have been and how well I know those little alleys and paths, every time I discover something new, something that still holds the magic despite the hordes of pushy tourists.

This time, my friends and I drove to Kyoto (which is such a different experience from the train, although we learned a lesson... the train is ALWAYS faster and more efficient in Japan) and spent a whole afternoon walking and contemplating the last few days of sakura. They were already starting to fall off the trees, and I luckily caught a few to press in a book and send to Isabel, who loves flowers more than anyone in the world.

New friendships, new memories to create. I had the most sun-filled, sakura-filled day in such great company.

{Tetsugaku no michi}

{I hope you're not tired of seeing sakura pictures... }

{Feather, Vivian, Eve}

{House in Kyoto. Wouldn't you like to live there?}

{Oh, I like to call this one 'conbini chic'.... taken in a convenience store in Kyoto}

Lost in print.

I am honoured and very, very flattered to be featured in the May issue of the popular fashion magazine Clin D'Oeil (think French Canadian Vogue or Elle). I must admit, I was quite excited to see myself in print media, especially in a magazine I used to read religiously back home.

They approached me about my blog and asked me about style, life in Japan and feminism issues. It's all in French, but if you're in Québec you can get the issue and turn to page 92...!

Thank you, Clin D'Oeil, thank you, Sarah, and thanks to my sister for sending me pictures, as I have not been able to read the actual issue!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Saturday morning in Osaka

Saturday, 10 am.

Saturday is the day I finally get to sleep in a little bit, and I tend to keep the same routine. I go across the street to the French bakery in my pajamas, pick up a few freshly baked croissants and sometimes an olive loaf... thank goodness for this bakery, as decent bread is a very difficult thing to find in Japan. And, everything is labeled in French, so it makes it a lot easier for me. Japan is not the kind of place where people go run errands in their pajamas, but I make an exception for this bakery trip... I think the bakers there know me pretty well by now, they have seen me in my pajamas, but also all dressed up to go out, they probably find me quite entertaining.

Then I crawl back into bed with coffee and some movies and just lounge around for a few hours.


Pure, pure magic

April is already at full speed.

... The start of the new school year, and getting my very own kindergarten class. Starting from scratch, and spending every single day with the same group of adorable 5-year-olds. Suddenly I find myself making easter bunny crafts before 9 am, wiping tears, reading stories, dancing, and writing the lower case alphabet on the board. Well, I was already doing this when I started this job in Osaka, but this time it's my own regular class for the full year, and it makes the whole difference to be with the same kids on a daily basis. It's hard, hard work, but the kids really make it worth it, I love them to pieces already. And I'm thankful to my coworkers for making me laugh so much.

... Sakura さくら season, which is still going on, and at its peak this weekend. I went running some evenings this week, and the blossoms look even more beautiful at night. The pale pink flowers standing out against the dark sky, and lit up by streetlights and the castle... with happy, happy people quietly sharing foods and drinks until late at night... pure magic. It's so ephemeral, and I want to soak it all in, because it really is a magical time of the year.

{Nighttime hanami}

{Lit up sakura}

... A temporary roommate- my good friend Eve in Osaka, who is leaving Japan in a mere few days. Again, the challenges of living abroad... friends coming and going all the time. It has been nice to share my apartment with her, I have lived alone for so long now, I forgot how nice it is to come home to someone and share meals and have sleepovers.

... I'm trying as hard as I can to not get sick... because let's face it, new kids, new germs. I want to squeeze in as much fun as I can during the weekend, including a little jaunt to my beloved Kyoto and friend time. I'm slowly feeling more at ease in this Osaka madness, enjoying every moment and just letting things happen naturally.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hanami at Osaka Castle

During the very, very short-lived sakura さくら season, families and friends gather at parks and gardens to enjoy the cherry blossoms and just relax and celebrate. We call it hanami, which literally means "flower viewing", and those are practically picnics. Everyone sits on a blanket or mat and bring copious amounts of foods and drinks, and everyone is in playful, high spirits. In other words, lots of tipsiness... and food.. and friends. It's the arrival of spring.

Hanami season only lasts about ten days, so during those days plenty of events are taking place, during the day and evenings. My first hanami of the year was at Osaka Castle, right by my home, which was lovely.

{Hanami outfit: shorts instead of a skirt... jacket because it gets chilly... ballerina flats, which are easy to take off}

... and it's a small world. Remember my best friend Isabel, in Marugame, who sadly returned to London in the summer? Turns out one of her good friends from London just moved to Osaka, so she put us in touch and we've been hanging out a lot lately. She is absolutely lovely, and I'm so happy to have a new friend in Osaka.

Photo credits to lovely Feather xo

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Osaka, lately.

The famous Glico Man advert on Dotonbori Bridge, which is one of the landmarks of Osaka, has been looking different. Usually it's all bright and lit up at night, along with other surrounding neon adverts, but since the earthquake happened, it has been turned off. In fact, most shops, especially convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart, are not lighting up their signs anymore. I thought the power lines were related to those in Tokyo and north, but apparently Kansai has a seperate system, so I assume it's mostly for support. Anyone can confirm or enlighten me about that?

{Glico Man advert, pre-earthquake}

{Toned down version of Dotonbori since March 11}