Monday, June 27, 2011

Made in Tokyo

I escaped the big, mad city of Osaka for an even bigger and madder city, Tokyo. I had not been to Tokyo in a long time, and as usual it was an unforgettable trip. It was also my first time in Tokyo since the earthquake, and it made me realize how quickly this city got back on its feet. I got to see some friends I had dearly missed, dance the night away in Shibuya, and feel lighthearted all over again.

Fun, fun Tokyo. Aimless wanderings around neon and music-filled Shibuya, dancing in tiny bars. Shopping in Harajuku and the vibrance of Omotesando. Beautiful, sophisticated Daikanyama. A rustic and cozy tatami room and futons in Nakameguro. Delicious Italian cafés. Shibuya drives and highways at 3am. Watching the sun rise. The Smiths and New Order. No sleep. Sparkly gold tops and dresses. Finally seeing beautiful Kanagawa prefecture and the surrounding beaches. Yokohama. A crazy train adventure and missed stops. The most fun, memorable moments I've had in a long time.

I had such a good time that I completely omitted to take any pictures. I really cannot insist more on the importance of taking frequent trips when living abroad, it's always a refreshing change and Tokyo always makes me feel so candid and uninhibited.

{What remains. I'm so serious...}

I miss Tokyo already.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June Jaunt

I packed my bags... which is my usual Longchamp and a small, polka dot backback Isabel left me last summer- that backpack has been everywhere in Japan, and perhaps to other countries as well.

I feel so exhausted this week, from work, from the stifling heat and humidity, and from my sleepless nights. I have not taken too many trips since I moved to Osaka, and I really need a break from my life here right now, and a little refreshing fun... so I'm taking a weekend escape to another part of Japan.

I'll divulge the details on Monday :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hearts and Polka Dots

{Dress, Zara. Belt, Uniqlo. Socks, American Apparel}

Utmost girliness?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japan, lately.

{My messy apartment and mixed florals- Top, Zara. Skirt, H&M}

Where did time go?!

I have been living in Osaka for now six months. I remember moving in this little flat downtown Osaka, on a cold night a few days before Christmas, and having to sleep on the floor since I had no furniture yet. It all seems so far away now, yet also so close. Lots and lots have changed, I met some of the loveliest people here (even though it took me a long time), and I feel like I know this city quite well now, I can comfortably bike around it and I have so many favourite spots: I know where to get the best okonomiyaki, the cheapest drinks, the nicest city view, the greenest park, the tastiest onigiri, and I navigate Umeda station like I grew up there. Even my Japanese friends are amazed at my knowledge of the different train lines and roads.

My ultimate favourite thing about this city is Osaka Castle... I just love going running there, especially at night or at dusk, and I love how many cats hang around the park.

{Beautiful, tall Osaka-jo!}

{This cat spit out a hairball right after this photograph was taken}

{Mew mew}

Friday, June 17, 2011

Host and hostess clubs culture in Japan

{Advert for a hostess club in Tokyo}

I've mentioned the host culture a few times on this blog, but never fully explained it. Hostess and host clubs are a very popular form of nightlife entertainment in Asia. Hostess clubs employ women who cater to men, primarily to make small talk, pour drinks, and light cigarettes. Men pay a cover charge to enter those establishments, and they are entertained by those women for a (steep) fee. Those clubs are commonly called "snack bars", and most cities and even small towns bear districts full of snack bars.

When I first moved to Marugame, my supervisor was giving me a walking tour of my neighbourhood, and he made sure to warn me to not enter any establishment dubbed "Snack" if I was hungry, because well, they do serve snacks amongst other things, but it might be quite expensive. Snack hostesses dress up in flashy, tacky prom dresses and wear wigs and usually stand outside trying to lure clients in.

The male version of hostesses clubs are host clubs, where young men sporting crazy, elaborate hairstyles, tight trousers and pointy shoes entice young women with lighthearted talk and magic tricks. Girls frequent host clubs to get attention from those boys, who usually act like boyfriends and even follow up during the week with emails and phone calls. I have not been to a host club yet, but I really want to go soon for research purposes. I think it's important to speak a decent level of Japanese to even go to one of those clubs, because most of them cannot converse in English.

Host and hostess culture is such an odd concept for me. I have always wondered why people would need to pay extravagant charges to get people from the opposite sex to talk to you and give you attention, but somehow it makes complete sense in Japanese culture, where men are usually intimidated by women, therefore act in a weak manner.

I think it's very interesting and fascinating, and host boys are some of the most endearing, warm, hilarious beings I have ever met. If you walk near Dotonbori Bridge at night, heaps of hosts are trying to get girls to visit their clubs, and they love engaging in random conversations. Here are some pictures of typical host boys:

{Which one do you pick? I'd go for Kenji}

{Bleached and pineapple hair galore}

{My new best friends, Dotonbori Bridge, Osaka}

Also, there is a great documentary about host boys, that is actually very sad. If you can find it, I highly recommend watching it. It's called The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief.

Host boys are usually very young, maybe between 18-20 years old, and work crazy long hours and often suffer from alcohol intoxication. My friend had a host boyfriend, she said it was an interesting experience, but I don't think it ended too well.

Tokyo Girls is a 2000 documentary in which four Canadian girls share their experience working as hostesses in Japan.

Thanks to Isabel for the pictures.

Dotonbori and Kuidaore.

To me, Dotonbori is the pure essence of Osaka. This street that stretches between Dotonbori Bridge and Nipponbashi in the heart of Namba embodies everything that makes Osaka... Osaka.

A former pleasure district and famous for its theaters, Dotonbori is now a jungle of neon lights, karaoke parlors, takoyaki food stalls, gaudy (perhaps even grotesque) oversized mechanized signs, and mostly populated by young trendsetters and host boys sporting pineapple hairstyles. Dotonbori epitomizes all the flamboyance and extravagance that is Osaka.

Did you know that Osaka has its own word to describe its food culture? Osaka is famous in Japan for its delicious cuisine and overabundance of fare. Kuidaore is a Japanese word literally meaning: "to ruin oneself by extravagance in food" Kuiadore is associated with the Dotonbori street food culture, and Japanese people are familiar with the expression: 京の着倒れ、大阪の食い倒れ, which translates to: "Dress (in kimonos) till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka".

Well, Kansai is definitely the right place for me to live...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Korean Food in Osaka

I'm still too full to type properly, but tonight I had the best Korean meal I've had so far in Japan. I used to live in Korea, so Korean food holds a special place in my heart. Osaka has its own Korea Town, called Tsuruhashi (Tsuruhashi subway stop on the Sennichimae line), where all Korean spicy delights can be found in tiny street stalls and tiny restaurants under the train tracks.

Although tonight's meal was consumed outside of Korea Town, but rather in a small diner in West Osaka, it was just as heavenly and authentic as I can remember. My friends and I feasted on Korean staples such as: bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and spicy chili paste), bulgogi (marinated beef sauteed with tons of vegetables), and my favourite, kimchi chijimi (a pancake filled with kimchi).

Korean food is a refreshing change from a daily diet of Japanese cuisine. To be completely honest, eating Japanese food every single day is very easy for me, as I love Japanese food and I think there is a wide range of variety. I had such a difficult time eating Korean food every single day, in fact I really could not eat it every day, and it was a big challenge. I love, love, love Korean food, but the level of spiciness was too harsh on my stomach and taste buds. However, having Korean food occasionally is fantastic, and it just reminds me of how much I miss it.

My Korean days are far away, but meals like tonight always make me so nostalgic, and make me realize how fond I am of my time there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sleepless in Osaka

Tonight, while riding my bike back home from a friend's house get together, I took a minute to stop and think (well I did not actually stop- I got lost but found my way back). I thought about how I would ever look back on my time spent living in Japan, when I decide to leave (I cannot even imagine when, even though it has to happen sooner or later). I concluded that, my time in Japan is...

... The most freedom I have had or will ever have in my life.
No one really knows where I am at any given time of the day or neither do I have to tell anyone, I can hop on a train to a different city or on my bike just whenever I feel like it, or eat cupcakes in my futon wearing underwear without anyone ever finding out about my weird habits. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, and stay up at odd hours of the night.

... The loneliest time I have ever had.
Before I came to Japan, my friends warned me it would get lonely and isolated. And it's worse than I could ever had imagined. Living alone in a rural area or in a big city is one thing, but doing this while living in a country where you cannot fully understand or read the language is another thing. Even if I keep my social calendar quite full, there are certain moments that just make me feel so isolated regardless. When I get sick or coming home late at night, it is a bit scary. I hope to never feel this lonely again in my life ever, it can get pretty exhausting.

... The time when I met the most amazing people.
The friends I met along the way in Japan (or in Korea, for that matter), turned out to be the most unexpected, but also most beautiful friendships I have ever had. Walking in the staff room on my first day of work, or running into fellow foreigners at the train station, or casually exchanging emails through this blog- little did I know that those people would become my dearest friends, my family, my support system, and I'd create lifelong friendships with them. Being abroad at the same time brings people so much closer.

...The healthiest time of my life.
I am physically healthy and active, I run quite a bit, I ride my bike everywhere, I eat healthy, balanced meals, and live on water and green tea. It's also the thinnest I have ever been (in a healthy way), and I don't feel like I have to try hard to maintain my weight.

... But also the unhealthiest time of my life.
For other reasons. Being so isolated and lonely tends to drive me completely out of my mind in difficult times, and the fact that I look different and do not belong sometimes give me a distorted view of myself and my self-esteem. Tears and meltdowns are also a familiar aspect of living abroad, and not having my family or longtime friends around is sometimes unsettling.

...The most independent time of my life.
Living on my own. Cooking for myself. Doing everything on my own, such as securing an apartment, buying furniture, moving across the world, changing jobs, making appointments... all in a language I can barely speak. It's so challenging, but it's the best part of the adventure. I also love being on my own abroad, even if it gets lonely, as opposed to sharing this adventure with a significant other. This way I feel like I can fully experience my time in Japan, meet tons of new people, and participate in so many events, which I would maybe miss out on otherwise.

... The most unstable time of my life.
Which can be a good and a bad thing. Sometimes I wish I was more settled, especially in one place, but I do like the restlessness, and being able to go wherever I want next and be completely, utterly selfish- when will I ever be this way again in my life? Lately I'm faced with so many decisions which is scary, but I like being able to make my own decisions and having options, whether they are terrifying or not.

... The most beautiful time of my life.
In Japan I have seen extremely wonderful sights that I'll remember forever, and experienced cultural things that can only happen once in a lifetime. It's the most exciting, most beautiful time of my life and I am fully aware of that, and this makes it impossible to leave.

I appreciate every moment here, and sometimes a 2:00 am bike ride is the best way to remind myself how happy I am here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Japan, three months after...

Safely south in Osaka, away from the daily reminders of the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami of March, sometimes it seems like it was just a bad dream.

Here is the reality and recovery of Tohoku, three months after. I think the pictures are quite remarkable, despite still being far away from a full recovery.

I'm so proud to live in Japan after seeing how everything was handled with such dignity and strength.

Hotaru: Fireflies

One of my favourite memories of Japan, to this day, is seeing fireflies last year in a rural part of Kagawa prefecture, outside of Marugame. I remember picking them up and watching them glow- it was my first time ever seeing fireflies, and it's such a beautiful memory.

Hotaru ホタル, as they call fireflies in Japanese, only come for a very short time in June. If you live in the countryside, I highly recommend going to explore around the rice fields and clear water late at night, as it's such a beautiful experience. In the cities, you may need to get a bit more creative, but some parks and river banks surely host fireflies.

In Japan, I love how seasonal things, such as cherry blossoms, leaves changing colours, or fireflies are celebrated events.

Books in Japan

{Yes, that is mine. Don't judge.}

Books (and coffee) are things that never fail to make me truly happy. Browsing around book shops for hours and sipping on coffee is pretty much perfection to me. And I love that feeling of picking up a book and not being able to put it down, and if I have to go to work, think about returning to my book all day. Or am I just a nerd?

In Japan, access to a wide selection of English books is well, not very accessible. Thankfully us expats can easily order from, but unfortunately they tend to ship by pigeon, and really, buying books online does not even compare with having a lovely afternoon browse at the actual book shop. Japanese books are all so colourful and beautifully designed, I really hope I will soon be able to read some of them. I love looking at them regardless.

Thankfully, one of the many perks of living in a big city is the presence of massive book stores that carry a sizeable English section. My favourite book shop in Osaka is Books Kinokuniya, located right inside Umeda station, near the Hankyu tracks. In Tokyo, I think the English section at Tower Records in Shibuya is quite impressive. In Kyoto, I highly recommend stopping by Green e Books, which carry an interesting collection of used books, for very cheap. Thanks to my friend Julie for showing me this treasure! And er, if you live in rural Japan, make sure you stock up on books when you visit big cities, or explore your town for used bookstores and libraries that may or may not carry English books. You never know! Even in dear little Marugame, the public library carried a few English books.

Also, amongst the foreigner communities all over Japan, book exchange is very popular- people come and leave all the time, books are left behind and passed around, and friends are usually willing to share their recently read gems.

This evening I stopped by the book shop in Umeda and ended up browsing for such a long time, and stocking up on a few treats for the upcoming rainy weekend. Thanks to books and thanks to the most sugary coffee drink I could find for making the end of this week quite memorable.

Current obsession: Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. If only I could read the original Japanese version...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Enjoy the silence

Some days there are no words to be said. Not every day in Japan is fun pictures at the Osaka castle, green tea, bicycles, train rides and onigiri lunch boxes. Some days are just so difficult and I wish never happened. Some days I just want to hide in my futon and listen to Depeche Mode, and I don't really know how to put this all into words.

Wait. Now that I think of it, today was pretty much green tea, bicycles, train rides and onigiri lunch boxes... minus the fun pictures at the castle part.

Oh, Japan. I love you. Thank goodness for fresh onigiri, bike rides, the Hankyu line, chilled matcha, friends you'll meet along the way, and this song:

Depeche Mode- Enjoy the Silence

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Osaka in a Haze

{Queen of Osaka Castle?}

{Mmmmm, cafés}

This weekend, two of my friends from Kagawa finally came up to visit me and see what Osaka is all about. I had not had visitors in a long time, and I was so excited to not only spend time with them, but introducing them to my world here. My Osaka friends meeting my Shikoku friends, oh my. Thankfully everyone liked each other and after a day and a half they all poked fun at my little quirks, which I find endearing because only true friends notice them...

It was a packed schedule filled with long walks on Dotonbori (which epitomizes the flamboyance of Osaka), wine and snacks on my apartment floor, breakfast at Osaka Castle, an actual visit of the inside of the Castle (eight floors of museum displays and a breathtaking view of the city on the top floor), walks to Namba, Mexican food and margaritas at noon, drunk shopping, more coffee than I can remember, okonomiyaki (I had to introduce my friend's to Kansai's most famous dish), a night out dancing in Umeda (and more drinking... for them..), very few hours of sleep and a lazy lunch at a beautiful café (NOT a buffet, as I clearly stated, "I don't do buffets").

It was great to reminisce, catch up, talk about our future plans, and just have a good time. Showing my friends around my home made me appreciate my city so much more, and see it from a different, fresh perspective. Osaka is pretty amazing, and without any doubt the craziest city in all of Japan.

Now, I could really use some sleep...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pocky: Summer Flavours

I always joke that Pocky sticks were one of my main reasons to move to Japan, and well, it's not too far from the truth. I love Pocky so much, and even though I usually stay away from its calorie-laden goodness, I could not resist trying the new summer flavours: Coconut and Mint.


Mint chocolate is not a popular flavour in Japan- I heard that most Japanese think it tastes like toothpaste. I tend to disagree. The Pocky version was quite delectable, as the chocolate quality is always high.

The coconut version was equally scrumptious, flakes of coconut covered in chocolate, which makes for a crispy treat.

I wonder if the limited editions are available in Asian import shops abroad? Please let me know, I'm curious!

I heart Glico!