Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year (with a shake).

Happy New Year, love from Japan.

The earth shook today (7.0 off the coast of Tokyo) as a rude and surprising awakening to 2012, perhaps just reminding us of its presence.

Thankfully everything seems fine, and Tokyo rang 2012 in its usual lively fashion. Although I was craving a low-key New Years' Eve celebration with a secret plan involving a bottle of quality bubbly and the coziness of my house and selfish self, many visiting friends and fellow Tokyo-ites convinced me that a fun night out would be a much better idea.

And it was. We all gathered in Shibuya and went to see a performance by British DJ Gold Panda and Japanese act De De Mouse, for a night of dancing and actually attending a proper concert, one of my favourite activities. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic 2011 and to welcome an exciting new year, surrounded with friends who have managed to make Japan feel like home.

Interesting Japanese fact: on New Years Eve, the traditional food to be eaten is soba noodles: toshikoshi soba. The concert venue/nightclub even served bowls of soba, which we devoured before midnight. Only in Japan.

Gold Panda at work

Fun fact: Gold Panda used to teach English in Japan.

In true Japan style, the night ended with a steaming bowl of ramen, a 7:00 am train ride on the Yamanote line amongst sleepy souls, and a gorgeous sunrise.

Ramen in Shibuya, mmm

The Yamanote line, my favourite.

Note: I highly recommend having a listen to the album Companion by Gold Panda (2011), and here are some tracks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Behaviour

Yet another Photo Booth gem

In Japan, I've adopted odd ways of spending my vacation time (if I'm not traveling), and here is how it usually goes: I lounge around my futon, text message randomly, google information and pictures, watch YouTube videos, eat all the food I have around the house because I'm too lazy to go out, take Photo Booth pictures (a strange habit I picked up here- I blame it on living in Marugame), listen to countless hours of music, read fashion magazines, bake cakes in my rice cooker, write letters and stay up all night.

I also like to reminisce and look through pictures and read journals and old blog posts. Two years ago today, I came to Tokyo for a few days, to ring in the new year. I was living in the rice fields of Shikoku, but wanted a slice of city life for the holidays. I stayed at my friend Yoshi's house, who welcomed me into his home and let me crash on his floor for as long as I wished. I remember being so mesmerized by Tokyo, even writing it was like bathing in chocolate soufflé, wishing I lived here.

I remember walking from Ikenoue station and getting lost in the maze that led to Yoshi's house, unaware that I'd be living in that very house two years later- pure coincidence. Life is crazy, like that. Even though some days it completely drives me out of my mind, I still think Tokyo is just as mesmerizing, and I'll never get tired of walking its streets and riding its crowded trains.

So yes. This is what I've been up to.

I also like to play this game where I go through pictures on my iPhone while listening to music, and take screen shots that make clever little captions.

This reminds me that I really should pack my bags and take a little winter trip to a different prefecture... stay tuned.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fashimi: Top 10 Eats in Tokyo

Skip over to my friend Sophia's wonderful blog to read about her Top 10 Eats of 2011 (Part 1) in Tokyo. I had the chance to try some of those places with her, and they really are as delicious as they look in her photos. If you are in Tokyo, I highly recommend trying one, two... or all of those places.

Ippudo ramen, my favourite kind.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Post-Christmas Feast: Crêpes

I find the day following Christmas a little depressing, especially here in Japan where everything changes back to normal so quickly, and everyone is back to work and business as usual. It's also a harsh recovery from a food and drinks binge, but I believe it's best to gradually phase it out for a quicker fix.

Today, when Narjis' French boyfriend Emmanuel offered to make crêpes, I instantly cheered up, having heard he was an excellent chef. We picked up the essentials, he got to work while Narjis and I played some tracks, and the results were incredible. Making crêpes is an art, as the texture and consistency have to be just right.

Here are the ingredients you need to make the batter:

- 3 eggs
- whole milk
- flour
- a few spoonfuls of butter

It's very simple, and I'd suggest equal quantities of flour and milk, but obviously adjust to find the desirable consistency. Trial and error!

We made some savoury crêpes which we topped with a fried egg, ham, and Boursin cheese, and some sweet ones with brown sugar and maple syrup. Other delicious toppings include strawberry and blueberry jams, bananas, and yoghurt.

You can find everything pictured above in a Japanese supermarket, and maybe import shops in certain areas.

Mixing the batter

French Canadian crêpes

We ate heaps of crêpes while watching Lost in Translation on my futon, which was absolute perfection to fall into yet another food coma. We even have plenty of leftovers that we covered, yet are best left at room temperature. I doubt I can fall asleep tonight, as I'm too excited for breakfast in the morning... I guess it's the grown up version of waiting for Santa.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, from Japan.

Smugness, personified.

When living abroad, your friends become your family and holidays and traditions are shared. As difficult as it is to spend Christmas away from home, I think we did an amazing job re-creating traditions and fashioning new ones.

This year, I am lucky to have my close friend and former roommate Narjis with me in Tokyo. Not only is she like family, but we had not seen each other in nearly three years, when we both said goodbye to Montreal.

I was also lucky that my friends Kumraz and Paul graciously hosted us in their home, for a delicious traditional dinner complete with a roast, mulled wine, hot buttered rum and sweets from all corners of the world.

My Jamaican friend Gordon shared his recipe of scrumptious candied potatoes (mashed potatoes mixed with pineapple, topped with marshmallows and cinnamon: unbelievably delicious), we French Canadians shared maple syrup whisky and maple cookies, and everyone else brought goodies to feast on for a pretty international little gathering.

The best roommate ever.

Gordon and his candied potatoes: instant hit

Vegetables, pre-roast

Tim's Santa socks

Gracious Paul with the roast (and shall I mention he has such a lovely family, thanks Skype!)

A table full of goodness

It was the most Christmas-y I felt all season, and I'm thankful for my friends in Tokyo. I was so full that I walked the 5 kilometers back to my house in high heels, listening to music and getting a little bit lost along the way and soaking in a quiet, quiet Tokyo night. Pure bliss.

Oh. And I forgot to add that on Christmas Eve, I invited my Japanese friends over from the sushi party to reciprocate and show them a traditional Christmas, complete with lots of champagne... and more champagne. I'm trying to forget the fact that I woke up on Christmas morning thinking I was dying from a hangover. Oh-so-classy! Shhh.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to make sushi

It's almost Christmas! Yesterday I learned how to make sushi. It was one of the most interesting activities I have taken part of while in Japan, and I feel lucky my Japanese friends invited me to join this exclusive little Shimokitazawa fete, dubbed: "Sushi, like you've never experienced". Literally, my friends admitted they never actually made it, as it's not something Japanese families commonly make at home: it's a complicated process and most often they go out to eat it.

I met my lovely friends Mayumi and Ikuko at the supermarket, where we stocked up on fresh fish: red tuna, salmon, sea urchin, white fish, shrimp, as well as other items such as fish eggs, omelet, avocado, wasabi, radish roots, and seaweed.

We cooked a big portion of rice in the rice maker, to which we added a mix of dashi, rice vinegar, and salt. We cut up all the fish in thick slices and presented it, along with the garnish, on plates. The fish preparation is the longest part, but once it's ready, the fun begins. We even accessorized by wearing towels around our heads, the traditional garment worn by Japanese fish industry workers.

Here's how it works:

First, we dip our fingers in warm water, then take a small handful of rice (less than palm-sized), and shape it using two fingers to pat it.

Second, we add a dash of wasabi on the rice.

Third, we top it with a piece of fresh fish.

Finally, we dip into shoyu (soy sauce) and eat it using our fingers (traditionally, no chopsticks are required for eating sushi).

We also made California rolls, using strips of seaweed to hold ingredients (such as tuna, avocado and radish roots), and created new kinds, such as omelet + salmon, which were perplexing but delicious. We accompanied the meal with copious amounts of beer, and had a bit of vanilla cake for dessert to celebrate Christmas.

Fresh fish, garnish and beer: sushi essentials

Gorgeous Mayumi who makes a towel look stylish

Warm, freshly cooked rice

Let the party begin!

My first sushi, a salmon one, my favourite kind.

Seaweed roll, work in progress.

A real sushi pro, embellishing a tamago sushi with a tiny seaweed strip.

The aftermath.

It was such an amazing and scrumptious time, and an unforgettable cultural experience. Thank you!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Tokyo: December

... or a guide to some aspects of Japanese culture.

December has been all about food, coffee, writing, more writing, and some wild Sundays.

I finally snapped a photo at Bear Pond espresso: I might be banned from the shop forever. Maybe it's more acceptable at the Shibuya branch?

Kissaten night in Shimokitazawa: kissaten is an old-style Japanese coffee shop, where light meals and coffee and sweets are served. They all have a very unique, warm and olden Japan atmosphere, with lots of wood and roasted beans aromas. I love them.

Another Japanese must-do, purikura (print club). The effects are quite trippy, but I'm so used to them now. Purikura is an essential part of a night out (or a random Sunday afternoon with a fellow French girl).

Corduroy skirt + gold polka dots + ankle boots= my winter staples

And velour!! As in the plush fabric. Yes, velour is back, this is a dress worn as a top for daytime, and I take off the skirt at nighttime and wear it on its own. Pure magic.

Hello, bonenkai season: bonenkai, which literally means "forget the year gathering" are end-of-the-year drinking parties held amongst work colleagues or friends. They get WILD. The year is definitely forgotten. And interesting stuff happens on the Tokyo trains post-bonenkai. Consider yourself warned!

I finally stumbled upon Yokohama's famed Chinatown, one of the largest in the world. It's gorgeous while all lit up at night, I highly suggest picking up some dumplings for the train ride back to Tokyo.

So far, so good. A few days until Christmas, I think I can do this.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maybe Next Christmas

... and here is the final result of our hard work (and fun) behind the scenes.

Right in time for Christmas, "Maybe Next Christmas" by Prince Ness. Enjoy!

 {I am particularly content with the blazer outfit, and long time readers, you might recognize the iconic striped shirt, aka the emblem of my Shikoku days}.

And if you enjoy this, make sure to watch the previous hit "Internet Crush", shot in gorgeous Maizuru (Kyoto prefecture). Hey, we've all had our countryside stints!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Behind the scenes: a video shoot

Yesterday I had the chance to participate in the making of my friend Prince Ness's upcoming music video: a Christmas song aptly titled "Maybe Next Christmas", a sequel to his cult hit "Internet Crush". Although I was designated as the stylist, I ended up multitasking as the cinematographer and art director. A small group of us all gathered our film knowledge and just experimented with a handheld camera, limited lighting and props.

We shot most of the scenes at Just Another Agency in Nakameguro, drawing inspiration from eighties New Wave videos and movies. I love the clothes we featured in the shoot, mostly vintage pieces we found in Harajuku, including an infamous banana shirt that was possibly a pajama in its previous life. It was a 7-hour long work day, including various coffee breaks, running around town for last-minute props and production issues.  It was very fun and reminiscent of my days working on a television set, and can't wait to share the final product shortly.

Here's how the day went:

Coffee courtesy of Gooz in Nakameguro, which features Western-style self service and a tasty selection at very reasonable prices.

The artist and the cameraman at work.

The studio space, thanks to the kind people at Just Another Agency. 

Christmas video: artificial snow!! 

Girls at work, step ladder included. 

 We were going for an Eastern European bar feel. Banana shirt's first public appearance.

 Lots and lots of snow, had to re-shoot and recycle due to my poor pouring skills.

Post-filming feast at Whoopi Goldburger with part of the crew. I polished off my avocado burger.

Somehow that is how my night ended, hopping on the toy horse outside Shibuya Beat Café and sipping on White Russians with another group of friends.

I woke up still wearing my hair ribbon- that usually means it was a really fun night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Japanese Mascara

Boys, avert your eyes, this is make up talk. Or don't.

Japan has the best mascara (and eyeliner!) available in the world, this is no secret. Entire aisles at drugstores are dedicated to eyelashes, from fake lashes to lash conditioner to mascaras of all colours and kinds. Shopping for a new mascara here is quite the adventure, I want to try them all, as they all promise to give me fur lashes, kitten lashes, and anime character lashes.

I quite like this one, and highly recommend it:

I was drawn to the cat sticker on the package. I didn't know cats had such lashes. I want to look like this too!!

What do you think?

I also Christmas-painted my nails, as I felt festive.

Today was very uneventful but very nice: I walked around Shimokitazawa on a sunny December afternoon, I ate an avocado, I googled pictures of young Robert Smith, I listened to about five hours of music and researched Japanese mascara. Not bad!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tokyo Winter Sounds

A dear friend (yes, you Miss Bee!!) asked me for a playlist of my favourites these days, so here is what I came up with, a mix of old and not so old:

West End Girls- Pet Shop Boys
Disintegration- The Cure
Lust For Life- Girls
Still Life- The Horrors
Underwear- Pulp
Feel It All Around- Washed Out
Not In Love- Crystal Castles
Abducted- Cults
You Turn Me On- Beat Happening
Pardon My Freedom- Chk Chk Chk
Cannons- Youth Lagoon
For Kate I Wait- Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Phenomenons- Twin Sister
Mistaken For Strangers- The National
Dancing With Myself- Billy Idol

I wanted to make it into a downloadable format but I encountered issues and I got sleepy and it's time for bed, so I apologize. Please check out those bands if you don't know them already!

Love, from Osaka

whoa. turning Japanese much?

Today I came home to find an adorable, colourful Christmas card from my former kindergarten kids back in Osaka. It was such a surprise, and it completely made me melt. I'm so touched they still remember me, and spent ages looking at every page and every picture.

My Osaka life seems so far away now- to be honest, I don't miss it at all, as it was a very isolated time for me and an exhausting job, but I miss the few friends I made there, the city vibes, and those lovely 5 years-old. I'll never forget any of the students I've had in Korea, Shikoku and Osaka, and I'll always look back so fondly on teaching, and count myself lucky I got to try it for a bit.

It also made me realize how much I love my life at the moment and am thankful for every bit- living in Tokyo, and everything else that came along.