Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011/03/31

Today...

I snapped this photo while running at Osaka castle tonight. Sakura buds are slowly, but surely starting to show up. In a few days, the trees will be in full bloom, for about um... ten days.




French girls love ramen. Anne, my favourite Montrealer in Osaka. She makes me feel so much at home and we confuse our coworkers when we start speaking French in the staff room. The cat she is holding in the picture is called Maneki Neko, which means 'beckoning cat'. In Japan, this cat brings good luck and health to the owner.

Today is the last day of March, and it is probably a good thing. March has been difficult and stressful, and will always bring back sad memories of what took place (and is still taking place) in Japan. Still, I managed to also have some of the happiest moments I've had since coming to Japan, especially with my friends visiting and returning to my beloved Kagawa. I never though I'd say that, but it's so special to me right now.

Oh this note... Real life. Great song for running, too.





Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sakura Front



Sakura さくら, or cherry blossoms, will soon be in bloom. In Japan, they keep a detailed, up-to-date map of the sakura front, and when the flowers bloom in every region of the country. They're a bit late this year, as the weather has been unusually cold. I'm looking forward to view the cherry blossoms, as they are so fleeting.

In Osaka, they should be here today but they're not. Hopefully this weekend... a few more days until the happiest time in Japan begins.

Just another all-nighter in Osaka

Through this blog I've helped a number of newcomers to Japan, by answering questions and sharing my experiences, and I always love to hear from them once they've settled. Abhi was one of the new teachers I had exchanged emails with, and when he told me he was taking a trip to Osaka with some friends and asked me to join them on a night out, I thought why not drop by for a drink. It ended up being so much fun that I stayed all night and forgot about another event I was supposed to attend. Oops.

I was quite surprised and flattered that they had read all of my blog and were excited to hang out with me. I convinced them that I was, in fact, rather boring in real life, but I wanted to show them a fun Osaka night so I took them for turtle ramen (while trying to reassure them and myself that it did not contain actual turtle meat), then out dancing. I accidentally took them to a tranny event at the popular nightclub Onzième, I felt a bit bad but they loved it (and so did I, even though nightclubs are not my scene. Or um, cross-dressing.).

Abhi said that he felt like he knew me since he had read all my adventures, which got me thinking about how much I actually share on this page. I then proceeded to tell him some untold, not suitable for blogging stories, which I hope he enjoyed. Thanks for getting in touch, and for the fun pictures!!

{Nice to meet you!}


{Can you spot the tranny?}

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Friends: Making them

Fact: Making friends in a big city is a lot more difficult than back in the countryside. Not that Osaka people aren't friendly- I've met some of the warmest, nicest people here. It's more difficult to actually put myself out there and create ties.

In the countryside, I met most of the crowd I would become close friends with within my first week there. In a small place like Marugame, I would always run into the same people (sometimes a great thing, other times a horrible one) around the train station or few fun cafés/bars. Everyone was automatically friendly and very inclusive, therefore I would be aware of any event that would take place on any given weekend and had a comfortable circle of friends. The repeated crowds and events quickly got old and I did not always have too much in common with anyone, but regardless I built some of the most unexpected, wonderful friendships, and I love them and miss them all so much.

In Osaka, I've had to work much harder at meeting people, and actually hanging out with them on a regular basis. There are so many different people here, which can be interesting in the sense that the chances are higher to meet friends who share the same interests. I'm reminded daily that making friends eerily resembles dating, which can be completely exhausting, as I'm not the most outgoing person ever. I went through the exact same thing in Seoul, where it took me several months to make friends, but those became strong, lifelong friendships.

Some nights I miss how easy and natural things were in Shikoku- I would just hop on my bike, ring Daniel's doorbell, where he and Adam would be waiting for me with strong cocktails and we'd listen to music, spill our hearts out and send naughty text messages to our friends... and drinking nasty Chu-Hi in the supermarket parking lot with Jonathan. Or cycling around town with Isabel, hunting for sweets and meeting everyone at Marugame castle for conbini food and drinks (now that I think of it, rural living involved a lot of alcohol).

Yet, in Osaka I love being able to hang out at more sophisticated venues, and most importantly, having a variety of cultural activities to choose from (aside from um, drinking) and being able to easily avoid anyone I would not want to see. I have already met wonderful, fun people, and saying yes to a few more invitations opens up so many opportunities, as I'm finally getting out of my shell a bit more... which mean turning off Friends to actually go make some real ones.

Osaka, you're kind of a tough one, but I love you.

{Happy, happy times with my bestie}

{A bit of my Korea world in Japan}

{A bit of my Shikoku world in Osaka}

{A bit of sweetness in Osaka}

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wasting the days...

Lately, I've been into...

{Kaputt by Destroyer, a great Canadian band. Oh so dreamy and ethereal... bonus nerd, whale and pretty girls in the same video}


{The return of the seasonal green tea Kit Kat. It may or may not be only available in the Kansai region for the time being}


{Apple tea. I usually don't like apple-flavoured products, but this is nice mixed with some honey. Mmmm}


{Hanging out at cafés in the stylish Horie neighbourhood of Osaka. This cozy one is called Jeudi, and has a luxurious feel. They serve Japanese and French foods, and reminds me a bit of my beloved Taupe in Marugame}


{Hot pink. Last time I wore pink was pre-Korea...}

In other news, it's Spring break in Japan since the new school year starts next week. I don't have a proper break as I have to prepare for the new class, and I'm spending this week fashioning large-scale birds and hearts to adorn my classroom walls. I'm pleasantly surprised at my creative abilities... I'm pretty crafty. I've also been staying up way too late, falling back into my old habits... no, no!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Post-Traumatic Luncheon



3/6/11

she walked up the city block
breathing whispers of clouds
into the cold february air
curled her fingers into the sleeves of her coat
reaches into a pocket for flat keys
feeling past café receipts with gloved hand
she is classy without being posh, sly, or cocky
something pure
a sigh of shallow air
her peacoat hugs her slender french frame
our age of innocence scampers up concrete stairs
thirty in high-heel boots
in uptown Osaka



Pretty dead-on.
From Matt @ He Been Weatherbeaten. Thank you for the thought, dear friend.


{What do we think about blue shoes? }

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hello, Spring.

{Tea time}


Ironically, the tragedy that shook Japan so recently also brought positive aspects and changes in all of our lives. Suddenly I became much more aware of the core values that really matter at the end of the day, and I want to help in any small way I can- whether it's participating in fundraisers, giving out household items and blankets, or hosting some friends from Tokyo. In a really selfish way, this disaster reunited me with some close friends in Japan I had not seen in ages (such as Mike), strengthened existing friendships while creating new ones (Valerie, a fellow Montrealer who practically became my sister). It also brought me back to my Kagawa roots, and ended up being so soothing and surreal, in the most unexpected, delightful way.

Returning to reality is always harsh, even if this reality is as exciting as Osaka. Recently, I got caught up into a scary spiral that revolves around a work-eat-sleep routine, and I feel like I'm forgetting to enjoy this new Osaka life. I promised myself to work harder at building my Osaka world, and that includes being more outgoing and taking advantage of the area and opportunities that arise.

I doubled the effort on my Japanese studies... because language skills open up more doors. I spontaneously chopped my hair... because it's refreshing. I went to Kyoto on a Wednesday night... because I can. I adore Kyoto, and for a short train ride I can be in a magical world for a few hours, surrounded by kimonos and green tea sweets and tea houses... that's the beauty of living in Kansai.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kagawa love.

Even though Osaka is safe and my apartment was filled with lovely friends from Tokyo for the past week, it has been a very stressful time. Lack of sleep from constantly checking the news and reading alarming messages from family and friends back home, while trying to reassure everyone (as well as myself) at the same time. I felt completely exhausted and started craving familiar faces and places, so I spontaneously decided to head back to Kagawa for a few days, my former home in the countryside. I needed comfort more than ever, and this was the perfect escape.

As much as I love living in Osaka, things have been hectic, especially lately, and I missed my friends so much. Seeing the rice fields and mountains made me realize how much I had missed it. I felt very low-key, so only saw a few close friends and just relaxed, relaxed, relaxed. Home cooked meals. 90s movies marathons. Card games. Train rides. The best curry ever, complete with daikon. Pancakes, yogurt and peaches. My favourite café in Marugame. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Fresh air. The beautiful, quiet rice fields and noiseless, pitch black nights and starry skies. My friends. Taking care of my friends. Birthdays. Pure bliss.

It all felt so familiar, as if I had never left. It was so good to be back. For a few days I completely escaped the madness and just felt safe and comfortable again. I was sad to leave, but my life is in Osaka now. Those friends and my rural life will always be there and will always be such a big part of my life, and I feel so thankful.

{Back where it all began. Isabel, this one is for you.}


{Rural Japan is so quaint and beautiful}


{The mountains and rice fields of Shikoku}


{Another favourite café in Takamatsu}


{A bunny on my latte makes me happy}

{The Kinako Kotoden train, my favourite, which was pleasantly surprising to see again}

Now I need to be a big girl and crank it up a notch in Osaka...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Miso soup and more.

Those past few days have been really stressful and sad, but going back to work today felt really good, as kids are always so happy and lighthearted, which is contagious. I have not been sleeping too well lately, worrying about my friends and the general situation, although I am pretty sure things are safe and stable where I am. Seeing empty shelves at convenience stores all over Osaka was a harsh reality check. I offered extra futons and refuge in Osaka to any of my friends who would be able to catch a train south, as trains are not running frequently. Many people are leaving the area or even the country, as daily scheduled blackouts are now occurring for the next several weeks. I don't feel like I need to leave Japan now, I'm safe where I am.

Times like these make me crave friendly company and comfort foods, and I thought I should share my miso soup recipe. This is my own Vivian twist on one of my favourite Japanese dishes, as I omitted fish stock (I really don't enjoy anything too 'fishy') and added noodles to make it more hearty, so I can enjoy it as a meal. To those outside Japan I hope you can try making this tasty dish, as miso paste is very easy to find at Asian markets, and maybe you can have a thought for Japan while eating it...

{Miso soup}
{Red miso paste, maybe you can find this brand, or a similar packaging}


Miso Soup

3 cups water
2 tablespoons red miso paste (I prefer the red kind)
200 g tofu, cubed
Spring onions
Seaweed (I only put a few leaves)
Handful of udon noodles, precooked (the thick kind, but any kind works)
Dash of salt

Bring the water to a boil, then add everything else in. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Enjoy.

If you would like to donate for Japan, please check out the Red Cross.

Here are some very useful links for those of us in Japan, or if you know anyone here.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Aftermath.

The situation in Japan is so unreal, and somehow this nightmare just won't end. I still feel so lucky and safe in Osaka, but my heart goes to Sendai, and everyone who has family and friends up north. My thoughts go to my friends in Tokyo and north of Tokyo, who still feel shakes every twenty minutes and cannot get any sleep. To my friend who had to spend the last few days in a shelter because his apartment was damaged, and another who was alone when it all took place near her city. And to those who suffered from loss. This kind of incident can make you feel so isolated and helpless, yet so close.

Japanese people remain so strong and calm during this chaos. They believe in the ganbare がんばれ attitude: "Let's hang in there", or "Try our best". Life went on as usual this weekend- at least in appearance. There is no sense of panic here, even though I know it's heavily on each person's mind.

I have never been so close (yet so far) to this kind of natural disaster before in my life, and it's very unsettling. I hope it ends soon, and I pray it does not get worse. I'm ever so thankful to be where I am now, and thank you for all your kind words and thoughts.

For now, helping out is the only thing to do. Most convenience stores have donation boxes, and my school started gathering other donations such a clothing items. We're also encouraged to not use unnecessary electricity, as there are blackouts everywhere north of Tokyo.

がんばれ, Japan. xo

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake.

Today, the earth moved and there was major damage in some parts of Japan. Thankfully I'm in Osaka, a few hours south of Tokyo, so I'm safe, and I feel so lucky.

It was so strong that I felt it all the way here. I was teaching in Kobe, and three of us were sitting in the teacher's room, doing crafts and chatting. I suddenly felt very nauseous and dizzy, but didn't say anything until my friend Anne brought it up and we all agreed that something really weird was happening- the walls and earth were literally shifting and moving. It was our first earthquake, so we had no idea.

It was more scary than anything. I feel so sad and concerned for all my friends and the people up in Tokyo and the northern prefectures that got severely hit. Thankfully my friends are okay. You never can imagine the amplitude of that kind of natural disaster until it hits so close to home.

Thank you for all your kinds words and concern, it felt so comforting to hear from friends and family from home. Somehow this whole week has been a bit of a disaster on personal levels, but those kinds of events really put things in perspective.

All my thoughts to the people who live in this country that has become my home.

xx

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tanimachi Yonchome: My neighbourhood.

Tonight, as I was running in my neighbourhood (burning off calories from vanilla buttercream cupcakes), I thought about how I never actually shared pictures of my street and the surrounding area. I really love where I live, since I'm a few subway stops away from Namba (or a 10-min bike ride) and Umeda, and I can walk to Osaka Castle in less than 3 minutes... it's literally on my street. I live near Tanimachi 4-chome station 谷町四丁目, a neighbourhood which people usually refer to as "Taniyon". It's mostly a financial district, populated with skyscrapers, headquarters and hordes of salarymen, but also filled with little cafés tucked in side streets and countless restaurants and tiny sake bars.

I love how it's the perfect balance between city and nature: behind the high-rise buildings and highway overpasses is the wonderful, lush Osaka Castle Park, and on my way to the supermarket I always stumble upon some hidden shrines, all lit up at night and so peaceful.

Here are a few snapshots of my 'hood.

{Tanimachi Yonchome, my subway station. It runs on two different lines, Tanimachi and Chuo}

{The main road near my house. My apartment is located on a back street}

{Highway overpasses a few streets away from my apartment. I love how massive they are, really makes me feel like I'm in a big city... which I am.}


{Shrine lit up at night, such beautiful lanterns}

{Osaka Castle at night, with high-rise buildings in the backdrop}

{The café downstairs of my apartment. Maybe it will become my own "Central Perk"}

{Another café nearby}

{Yet another eating/drinking establishment}

I heart Osaka. My home.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Real life.

Today I got around to thinking about how exhausting it can be to live in Japan. As exciting as every day is (for starters, everything is a challenge and a trip to the supermarket can be a real adventure), keeping up with this pace can become strenuous. I rarely stop and think about it, but some days I just have to remind myself that it's normal. I live in a place where I am as literate as a kindergartener, I understand only about half of everything that is said around me (or what is going on), and to top it off I look completely different, therefore get stared at anywhere I go. No matter how well-surrounded I am in this land, I'm unfailingly isolated. Even though I live in a city I'm completely in love with, in the midst of crowds and bright lights, some days I cannot shake this uneasy feeling.

Ironically, those are all the things I missed the most when I returned home after Korea. I missed all the excitement and daily difficulties of getting anything or solely communicating. I missed being so independent and all the freedom that follows... there is a sense of feeling so free and dauntless when you live abroad, something I never, ever experienced back home. Sometimes I think that living in Japan is like living in a bubble.... is it real life? And will I ever be able to go back to reality?

When I start having those thoughts, what I like is to step out of my apartment and walk around and just soak in the crazy, crazy energy of this place, which is so revitalizing.

(Or take silly photos on Photo Booth... because well, it's there).


I'm not sure if living in a city intensifies the feeling of isolation- it may or may not- but regardless I feel way more sane here than I ever did in the countryside... surviving Marugame made me pretty strong. Like a cockroach. Which reminds me, Japanese roach season is approaching quickly. AARRGH!!! Hello, roommates.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Here and there.

After yet another exhausting week at the kindergarten and struck by weird germs, I decided to have a completely relaxing and selfish weekend to properly recover. I usually surprise myself when I decide to stay in, after all I'm in Osaka and I should be out and about, but that's the beauty of it- I'm not literally missing out, as there always is something going on, and taking a breather is so, so nice.


{Dotonbori Bridge, Osaka}

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting by this canal, coffee in hand, chatting with my lovely friend Anne. It was a sunny spring afternoon, and walking around the crowds in Namba was actually relaxing, as for once I did not have to rush to catch a train.


{Naoshima, Kagawa, April 2010}

I had a long Skype chat with my favourite Tokyoite friend Yoshi, who recently moved to Germany to be with his wife and adorable twins. This picture was taken last year in Naoshima, when he visited me.

{Genki textbook, my new best friend}

I spent several hours at a café, studying hard and I'm pretty happy with my skills. I highly recommend this textbook for anyone who wants to start learning Japanese, it's the Genki series. I remember looking at it last year but finding it so scary, but when I picked it up again a few weeks ago I found myself knowing so much already.


{Tights, Tutuanna. Sweater and denim shorts, Zara. Nail polish, Essie Jazz. }

I stayed cozy in textured tights and a chunky knit sweater. Textures, textures.

{My Sunday lunch + dinner + dinner tomorrow}

I made pizza from scratch (see my easy recipe here), and topped it with aubergine, baby spinach, red peppers and parmigiano (because YES, my Osaka supermarket carries a wide selection of cheeses. Yum.)

And of course, soy caramel macchiatos all the way.

My Sundays used to be more exciting, I remember how much I used to love them (and the extra long weekends)... I am having a weird wave of lassitude now. I guess I need to spice things up a bit and find my place in Osaka.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Lost in Translation.


Vivian, Lost in Seoul.

Three years ago, I typed those words out of my grimy little Seoul apartment... not really addressing anyone in particular or knowing where I would go with this. To be honest, for the first year, I think only two people read it- Jaclyn, my desk neighbour at the school who became such a close friend, and Aaron, who shared that year in Korea with me and who would kindly poke fun at my observations.

So much has happened since then. Little did I know I'd still be writing three years later, but from Japan, in a completely different situation. Life is crazy like that. I believe more than two people read it now, although I'm not even sure most of my friends do. I always get slightly shy and embarrassed when they mention it. It's so exposed, yet so personal, but I'm always thriving to find the right balance between both.

I absolutely adore writing about my adventures here, and I still see it as my own diary... except for the fact that I met wonderful people through this page and created close friendships with fellow writers and wanderlusters, and this has gave me so many amazing writing opportunities for diverse publications, and I'm ever so thankful.

I've also enjoyed helping out newcomers in Japan (or Korea) and answering questions, and hopefully inspiring others to take that plunge and go abroad.... because despite the difficult days, it's so amazing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my blog.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aesthetics


Living the cosmopolitan lifestyle in Osaka is quite glamourous, but my job isn't. I usually come home exhausted, with my work polo shirt covered in kindergarten love: hugs, tears, sniffles, germs, drool, paint, glue, markers. I ride the subway home, dressed in faded jeans, Converse shoes and sporting a ponytail, lost among the crowds of polished and impeccable Japanese girls dressed in high heels, sequins, fur and bows. I already stand out so much from my physical features, the last thing I need is to be even more conspicuous from my clothes. Sigh. Living in Japan requires lots and lots of self confidence... "I'm NOT fat... I DON'T look like a boy... Hips and thighs are good... aren't they??... I'm a runner, and I grew up doing ballet... My legs are muscular I guess... I think I'm healthy... hips and thighs are GOOD!!!".

Exhausting.

Some days I don't have a care in the world, but some other days it really gets to me.

Those days usually require lots of sparkles, tights and dresses with heart motifs, glittery barrettes, perfume, red wine and dark chocolate, and some phone calls and emails to my friends all over Japan and the rest of the world.

I'm thankful to Japan for turning me into the uttermost femine girl, and for introducing me to impeccable style, sophistication and the importance of always looking put together. I'm not sure I usually achieve all those things (definitely NOT today), but I love how the Japanese pay so much attention to detail and aesthetics, whether it's in fashion, arts, gift wrapping, cuisine, or cultural customs.