Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yutenji, Meguro

Yesterday afternoon, Mike and I wandered around a neighbourhood called Yutenji, located in Meguro (a few steps away from Shibuya). Yutenji abounds with vintage shops, and we had a few fun hours trying on everything we could get our hands on. While I failed to convince him to buy neon graphic Cheap Monday skinny jeans, I found a black A.P.C. polo shirt for less than 10$.

I loved a particular shop named Breed, owned by a laid-back Japanese guy who wore a Sonic Youth shirt (which I commented on in my broken Japanese, to his delight). I think Tokyo (and Japan, in general) has an amazing selection of vintage and secondhand goods- everything is in such great condition, and there is a wider variety of name brands, if you're into that. Also, Breed is open until midnight, and I think it's a very good thing, in case you need a new outfit right before going out.

If you're in Tokyo and looking for a relaxing afternoon stroll, I highly recommend walking around Yutenji and hunt for treasures, then walk along the Meguro River to finally end up in gorgeous, cicada-filled Setagaya-koen.

{You can see where Setagaya and Meguro are located, right next to Shibuya. Shimo-kitazawa is in Setagaya, while Yutenji is in Meguro}

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday night, Sunday morning

On Saturday night my friends and I ended up at Trump Room (a gorgeous venue filled with gorgeous people), where we watched a burlesque show and sipped on (free) cucumber gin and tonics. Trump Room is such a beautiful baroque space, walls adorned with gold-framed mirrors of all sizes and massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. We spent the night dancing to everything ranging from The Smiths to Joy Division and some obscure disco songs, and before I knew it, it was 5:00am. That's one thing I love about Japan- the party never really ends, even once the sun rises.

{Trump Room, Shibuya}

{Two Princes}

{In the DJ booth, at work}

{Obligatory mirror shot, self portrait heaven}

We walked out of the venue and enjoyed some McMuffin treats on the sidewalk, and sadly, Shibuya is such a desolate scene early Sunday morning: trash littered everywhere, people sleeping on sidewalks, and scattered groups of people heading out to catch the first train back home. Yet, it's usually cleaned very quickly, and a few hours later no one could ever guess it looked so dirty just moments before.

{Shibuya crossing, early Sunday morning}

I walked home at 6:00 am to the sounds of Animal Collective in my ears, with the sun shining brightly, and suddenly realizing I was locked out of my house (I had my key, but there was a lock mishap). Hopefully my roommates don't hate me for calling and ringing the doorbell, and I deeply apologize to the boy sleeping in the room next to mine for giving him a fright while knocking on his window and entering his room. We laughed about it over breakfast (or rather, lunch), but I'm slightly embarrassed.

It was a great weekend, complete with a lazy Sunday spend ambling around Shimokitazawa, hunting for treasures. I love this place.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shibuya Fun Thursday

One of the best things about living in Tokyo is being re-united my closest friend in Japan, Mike, whom I met on my very first day in Japan. When living abroad, your closest friends become your family, and that is the beauty of friendships abroad.

Last night, Mike and I had a fun friend date in Shibuya. We sat on the curb, consumed some beverages, caught up on our respective lives, did some people-watching, had quite a few laughs, ate two pieces of overpriced sushi, tried on some funny sunglasses and hair extensions and had a photo shoot. I love nights like these.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mr Bean: Soy Milk in Shibuya

(Un)fortunately this is not a post about Britain's famed character, but rather a soy milk restaurant in Tokyo. Mr Bean is originally from Singapore, and recently opened a few branches in Tokyo, including one inside Shibuya station (incidentally on my walk to the Keio train line).

They serve Pearl Milk Tea (also known as Bubble Tea, with the chewy balls of tapioca), and various snacks such as custard cakes and ice cream. Everything is made from non genetically modified soy beans, and the smoothies are quite healthy. Today I drank an Acai Berry soy drink, and it was so filling I skipped dinner.

If you walked through Shibuya station, I highly recommend stopping by Mr Bean to sip on a soy milk drink while looking at the view of Shibuya (yes, I am still completely ecstatic and wide-eyed about my new surroundings... complete sensory overload).

Here is a fun video (in Japanese) about Mr Bean in Shibuya station:

My Tokyo Home

I'm in love with my new home, a neighbourhood called Shimo-kitazawa.

I took the pictures on my walk from the station to my house. Even though I live in the biggest city in the world, and near Shibuya, the downtown core of Tokyo, I have never lived anywhere so quiet and peaceful ever before in my life. All I can hear at night are the sounds of crickets and cicadas in the trees, and the sound and smell of rain. I feel like I live in the countryside again, which is wonderful when so many exciting things are a few steps away.

{Frankly, it's even more quiet than where I lived on Shikoku!}

{Shimo-kitazawa, Tokyo.}

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Konnichiwa, Tokyo.

I'm in Tokyo!

I love Tokyo, I love my neighbourhood, I can't believe I live here.

The house is great too, but the mirror needs to be washed.

Also, Tokyo was chilly tonight, it really is near the end of summer... but not quite.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Osaka Farewell.

In Osaka I saw you last
Your face pressed up against the glass
Across the tracks you're looking at
As bullets pass behind your back

And I tried to catch your eye and then
Walk past ya as the train came in
But I missed ya there and lost my mind
The morning crowd pushed me behind

-Discovery, Osaka Loop Line.

Good bye, Osaka. It was a short-lived albeit intense stint. It turned out to be completely different from what I had imagined, yet in the end it was even better. I'll miss the neon lights, the Glico man, the Dotonbori street and the aroma of takoyaki.

Osaka, so vibrant and warm.

I'll miss the people I met here, even if some of them already left... cycling the streets and wandering around in the middle of the night, and how busy Umeda station is, despite how scary it seemed at first... evenings at Utsubo Park with Nick, lying on the grass, taking pictures and building a strong, lifelong friendship that I'll crave on a daily basis... my little apartment that I made my home, from scratch... running at Osaka Castle at night... easy escapes to Kyoto and Nara... warm onigiris for breakfast... drinks on the Hankyu train... movie nights and sleepovers under the kotatsu... summer nights at the park... the Nepalese bar... pizza from Bridges... bagels on Chayamachi... okonomiyaki near Matsuyamachi (wait... I'll miss Osaka food so much! After all, Osaka is mostly famous for its cuisine).

Osaka was a major challenge. I started from scratch, not knowing anyone, and in Osaka I experienced the loneliest moments of my life. Yet, it turned out to be such a rewarding experience, a prolific time, and I built some close friendships (and a strong sense of independence).

Oh, Osaka, you were wild.

Good times. I love you, Osaka.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Japanese Etiquette

If you want to learn more about Japanese etiquette and customs, I highly recommend reading those guidelines, another gem from Tofugu (which is slowly becoming one of my favourite pages). Japan has very different etiquette from what we are used to in the Western world, and simple mishaps could be very embarrassing, although people are more apologetic and understanding when it's a non-Japanese person.

Yet, while living in or traveling through Japan, it's important to follow the etiquette, for daily simple manners such as taking your shoes off when you enter a home, using chopsticks, sitting properly on the floor, bowing, and train behaviour. True, there are lots of rules to follow in Japan, but those rules also make it quite pleasant.

Going, going...

My apartment in Osaka, tonight. Almost ready to go...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Last days in Osaka

Countdown has started... four more sleeps until Tokyo. Or, rather, no sleep 'til Tokyo, which is pretty much the theme of this last bit.

The hibernation experiment was successful, in the sense that I spent much-needed time on my own, gathering my thoughts and my belongings, and saying goodbye to this intense Kansai stint.

The hibernation experiment was a major fail, in the sense that I quickly got dragged out of my house, thus explaining the sleep-deprived whirlwind of the past few days. Yet, without even breaking rules (especially the non-spending money one), I managed to have the best Osaka send-off. All I can remember are empty bottles of champagne on a Sunday afternoon, a long and hot bike ride across Osaka, an iPod sitting on my coffee table and my Christmas lights, a traditional Japanese meal at a posh restaurant complete with tatami mats and sliding doors, a karaoke performance (by moi) in a swanky lounge, fueled with expensive champagne and with an appreciative audience of two Japanese businessmen, too many soy lattes with Nick in Umeda, bookstores, self-portraits and movie trailers, and more bike rides in this unbearable heat.

I have no idea how I survived kindergarten today.

{Nick and I in Umeda, Monday afternoon}

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Want To Be A Coppola

As you probably already know, I adore Sofia Coppola. I think her movies are all equally gorgeous and endearing, her style is so sophisticated yet demure, and she has fabulous taste in music, film, and fashion. Her photography is exquisite and I highly admire her artistic abilities.

I recently discovered a page dedicated to her, called I Want To Be A Coppola, designed by the talented Kellina de Boer. I am flattered to have been invited to be the Tokyo Editor-at-large, meaning I'll be on the lookout for exclusive Sofia Coppola related books or products that are sometimes only released in Japan. I'm happy to be a part of the team, as it's a fun project and a way to explore Tokyo.

I had a lovely time researching and writing a piece about her clothing line Milkfed, which is only found in Japan.

Thank you for having me on the team!

images via Vogue Paris 2004

Summer hibernation: Update

My summer hibernation has caused a great deal of talk amongst my group of friends here in Osaka. As ridiculous as the concept sounds, everyone has been supportive and keeping me company through text messages and calls. My friends all poke fun at me, but I'm quirky like that.

It's been successful so far: I have not broken any rules, managed to go out for coffee and bike rides, and even met up with friends. I packed most of my apartment, my walls are now bare and it's a sad sight, but I am finally being more productive. I have treated myself to ice cream and I ate a whole row of Oreos, but felt like I deserved it after working so hard.

I'm not sure if my hibernation will be beneficial in any ways, it might only cause me to lose my mind (and gain weight from Oreos?), but it's been kind of enjoyable to have all this time to myself. I realized how much I have gotten used to living alone and how independent I am now. Also, not spending money (or barely) is a really good thing, and keeping myself busy with studying, writing, and reading.

It's turning to be a fun experiment, after all.

{Photobooth is allowed}

Friday, August 12, 2011

Japanese Futon

{Japanese futon}

Futon ふとん is the traditional Japanese bedding. The Japanese version is very different from the North American version, the former being a bed, and the latter more of a sofa.

The Japanese futon consists of a mattress pad and a quilted cover, which can be easily folded and stored away during the day. In traditional Japanese homes, large rooms covered with tatami have various usages, therefore futons can be stored during the day and the room can be used as a living room. Large, deep closets can be used to store said futons.

I think futons are very comfortable. I slept on a futon my first year in Shikoku, and even though I opted for an actual bed later on, I have a few futons for guests use, and I equally love futons.

Futons require special care. Since they are laid out directly on the floor (most likely tatami mats), mold can develop, so it's important to fold the futon every morning and leave it in a corner of the room, or in the closet. And at least once a week, most Japanese people air out their futons on the balcony, securing them on the ledge with giant pegs. I think it's such a typical sight in the Japanese landscape.

Futons are very affordable. Mine are from MUJI, the quality is excellent and the quilt is stuffed with down feathers. Futons usually come with the traditional bean pillow, but most modern sets come with a regular, more comfortable pillow. I remember my first week in Japan, while training and sleeping in the company apartment, we were all so surprised and excited to sleep on futons. Now, they're so normal to me, and I'll probably have one shipped from Japan once I leave!

{My futon is coming to Tokyo, it will be shipped in its own special bag. Lucky it.}

{Futon being aired out in Japan. Secure it!!}

{Just another Sunday morning in Japan}

Friendships, Time, and Distance

Today, I was writing to my closest childhood friend, whom I grew up with, and we were reminiscing about our summers spent in Maine together. My family would rent a cottage on the beach, and I was allowed to invite a friend along, so I would invite her. We would always sneak out at night and go to the beach, talk, and collect seashells and starfish.

Now, about fifteen years later, we are still just as close, even though our lives are completely different. She is married, and is about to give birth to her first baby this week. I'm so happy for her. And here I am, living it up all over Japan and writing, worlds apart. It could not be any different, yet we've always supported each other's life decisions and managed to keep in touch all those years.

I think those are true friendships. Those that survive time and distance, because well, it can be difficult to stay in touch with friends. Over the course of my life and especially while living in Korea and Japan, I met some amazing people who will be lifelong friends, and despite the fact that people come and go all the time, I have managed to keep in touch, through writing and visits, with those I was closest with.

Lately I've been feeling torn about my life decisions and the people I love back home. The decisions I have been making those past few weeks probably came as a surprise to many of my Montreal friends, and although they fully support my career choices, they are somewhat disappointed I'm not coming home. It's difficult for me, I adore this place, I am pursuing some career goals and well, my life is here now, even though I do miss my friends and family so dearly.

I like to believe that true friendships will remained unchanged despite the time and distance, and even though keeping in touch may be inconsistent, emails, small notes, parcels and phone catch up sessions make it all better.

{Isabel left over a year ago- somehow, we managed to stay in touch practically every single day since she left, and in two weeks she will be visiting Japan.}

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving tip: Black Cat

Moving tip #1

If you're in Japan and need to move within the country, or ship any size of items, I highly recommend using Yamato Transport, also known as Kuroneko 黒猫 (which means black cat). In Japan, Kuroneko is ubiquitous- maybe that's why it's so affordable.

I have used this company both times I moved within Japan, and they're very efficient, and so cheap. I never shipped any furniture, but when I moved to Osaka I shipped four big pieces of luggage, and it costs under 2,000 yen (about 25$) per bag. Surprisingly it's the same cost from Osaka to Tokyo, despite the distance being much greater.

A friend of mine recently relocated to Osaka, and there is a fixed price to move several boxes and large pieces of furniture. They also provide an English service, which is useful. Kuroneko has shipping points located everywhere all over Japan, from small convenience store counters to bigger housewares where you can buy boxes and special bags to ship your futon. I was particularly excited about the futon bag.

The people who work at my local Kuroneko know my pretty well by now, I've visited a few times to get boxes and inquire about shipping dates (they ship the next day), I think they find me quite entertaining.

Summer hibernation

I'm trying on an experiment for the next few days. I'm going into summer hibernation mode, for various reasons:

-The August heat is unbearable. It's pretty much 37 degrees Celcius + humidity, scorching heat.
-I want to save money.
-I need to pack.
-I want to focus on writing and studying Japanese.
-I want to relax. I need to relax. And sleep.
-I NEED TO PACK (I have not done anything yet, except getting boxes).

I'm allowed:

-To get food at the supermarket.
-Bikes rides and runs at the castle
-Friends visits for short amounts of time
-Maybe Starbucks if I start going nuts.
-Photobooth experiments

How long can I last?