Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Night thoughts

Today, I'm thinking about...



* It's the last day of May. It was kind of a long, lonely month, even though I did tons of fun stuff and made new friends: day trips to Kobe and Kyoto, cozy cafés and bike rides, house parties and week nights dinners in Umeda. I had a blast, and I've actually made an effort to say yes to any activity or event, and it has been nice. Regardless, it also required a lot of effort for my non-outgoing self, and I wish that isolating feeling would go away forever. I wonder how I'll look back on Japan when I'm gone? Either as the loneliest time of my life, or the most fun. I think it will be the latter... To be fair, my weekends have been fun-filled lately.

* I'm seriously obsessed with onigiri. Not only do I own a special onigiri lunchbox, but I discovered yet another amazing food stall right in Umeda station that sells fresh (read: warm) onigiri in any fillings you can dream of. I feasted on a shrimp concoction tonight for dinner. I wish I wrote down the name of the place, but I left so quickly to go eat my grub. I'm on the quest for the best onigiri in Osaka, please tell me about other places, or which flavours I should try.

* Having lots of time on my own also made me think about my life here in Japan and thinking that perhaps I should *start* thinking about putting an expiration date on it. Gasp! Not because I don't love it... because I do, and I cannot even imagine leaving this place. But for other reasons, such as restlessness, an ongoing wanderlust, and perhaps wanting to try to stay still for a little bit. I miss my friends, I miss my family, and my biggest fear is to start feeling resentful towards Japan and its culture, which I love oh so much, but also knowing that staying longer could get difficult.



* Stripes, florals, stripes, florals. Hello, summer.


* I have yet to see my first seasonal cockroach. I'm waiting for him impatiently, as I know the day will come, and I want to get it over with. Please turn up soon, the anticipation is worse than the actual situation.

* My dear friend Isabel is coming to Japan for a visit at the end of the summer, I am counting down the days until a Visabel reunion. Happy times!

* My Japanese friends invited me to eat some Fugu, which is pufferfish. In other words, the lethally poisonous fish if not prepared properly. When in Japan...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Osaka Station City


That's the new look of Osaka station.

The area around JR Osaka station is called Osaka Station City. Within a few months, this whole structure magically materialized, and the landscape looks completely different. If you have not been to Osaka in a little while, the Umeda (main downtown) area is unrecognizable. Umeda was a scary maze to begin with, and now it's even more confusing and massive, but a lot more exciting as well. Two new luxury department stores have opened (Isetan and Mitsukoshi), on top on the already existing Hankyu, Hanshin, and Daimaru. Phew. Enough designer perfumes, handbags, and glittery accessories to make your head spin. I am completely overwhelmed, I have never seen so many brands put together before. I'm in heaven (and hell).

My favourite parts: Top Shop (obviously, although tiny and overpriced unlike its British counterpart), and a LaDurée macarons shop complete with the actual salon de thé, just like in Paris. Dreamy.

Osaka has always been Tokyo's dirty, uncouth cousin, but with the new look of Umeda, Osaka is looking quite refined and sophisticated. Someone please keep me away from Top Shop, too many things my heart desires and cannot afford.



Saturday, May 28, 2011

Recipe: Onigiri

My onigiri lunch box.




Onigiri are rice balls containing various fillings, ranging from tuna, salmon flakes, vegetables or meat. They're easy to make and carry around for a quick snack, or as part of a lunch. You can buy then at the convenience store, but somehow they taste so much better when freshly made.

Here is an easy recipe, if you want to try.

Onigiri

Ingredients

* Freshly cooked rice
* Sheets of nori seaweed
* Salt
* Fillings (I like salmon, tuna or shrimp mixed with a tiny bit of mayonnaise. Popular fillings include bonito flakes with soy sauce, chicken, pickled plum, and any other fish or meat goes. Bamboo is a great vegetarian option).

Wet your hands with cold water and sprinkle them with salt. Make a small ball of cooked rice, dent it in the middle, stuff it with the filling, and close it back.

You can keep it in the shape of a ball, or make a triangle.

Wrap a sheet of seaweed around it.

You can carry it into plastic film, or in a special lunch box like mine. Traditionally they're wrapped in a bamboo leaf. But I like my lunch box so much!

Enjoy!


Rain, rain, rain



Late May marks the beginning of rainy season in Japan. It means rain, rain, rain every single day for the whole month of June. I like the sound of the rain and I like the fresh smell of after the rain, but I don't enjoy soaked shoes and a frizzy mane.

Yet, I don't let the rain bring me down or change my plans- I still ride my bicycle in the rain (one hand illegally holding an umbrella) and take up opportunities to go out. Thank goodness for Hunter's rain boots and hooded sweaters.

The next four weeks might be a little more boring and grey than usual, but then again, maybe not. Hello, iced coffees and movie marathons and sleeping to the sound of the rain.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Osaka fare: 551 Horai

Amongst takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and poppy rice cakes, steamed meat buns (or nikuman), are quite famous here in Osaka. Nikuman are made from flour dough and filled with cooked ground pork, spices, and various other ingredients, ranging from pizza to curry. The buns are steamed, and you can buy them at food stalls or convenience stores.

551 Horai is a popular Osaka restaurant that specializes in that particular fare. I always walk past their various branches all over Umeda and Namba during my train transfers, and this evening after work, exhausted and starving, I decided to stop and see if it's as good as it smells.

... and it is! I bought a Nikuman, as well as a cold onigiri (a rice ball), filled with shrimp and squid. I know it does not sound too tasty, maybe I have been in Japan for too long, but I do love eating squid. It was an affordable, not-too-unhealthy Thursday night take out dinner.

That restaurant is also renowned for its gyoza (dumplings). And hey, wherever there is a long queue in Japan, means it's probably worth trying.


{Such beautiful packaging, my onigiri wrapped in a leaf}

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kyoto + Bicycles

Where have I been lately?

A little break from the world wide web was most welcomed, I put my laptop down and spent an amazing weekend riding bicycles in my beloved Kyoto. Julie and I met up early on Saturday (well, early being before noon) at Kyoto station, where we rented some pretty sweet rides for the whole day. I had read that Kyoto is best enjoyed on bicycles (the buses are always so crowded and confusing, and the subway can be a bit limiting), but I had never actually rented a bike.



We cycled away with nowhere in mind, armed with chilled green tea and our cameras. Riding a bike through Kyoto's narrow alleys, side streets and steep hills was such a wonderful way to explore new areas I had never seen before, despite having visited Kyoto dozens of times. We got a little lost, but we laughed it off and discovered so many sights.

We had lunch at our favourite vegeterian café, Proverbs, near Kyoto University. I highly recommend the peanut sauce tofu skewers, and the grilled eggplant, mabo and brown rice bowl. For dessert we shared a fruit tart and a seasonal matcha pudding.



Julie also introduced me to a little hidden gem, a tiny used English bookshop tucked away neighbouring Kyoto University. I'm so happy about that find, as the selection of English books is so limited here. We continued our adventure, and I showed her my favourite shop full of twee objects (which was Isabel's favourite as well). We climbed up the steps all the way to the picturesque Kiyomizudera temple, munching on samples of yatsuhashi (Kyoto's regional confectionary, a rice cake sprinkled with cinnamon and filled with red beans, matcha or chocolate) along the way.




We had a pretty funny encounter with an older foreign man who yelled at us for parking our bicycles on his street, an attitude we found very un-Japanese. No Japanese person would ever shout at people in public, instead they would politely ask us to move our bikes. We categorized him as one of those 'lifers', a man who decided to spend the rest of his life in Japan, although not being truly happy there and never quite fitting in. It sounds like a generalization, but it's a reality here in Japan, and although most 'lifers' I met were usually very happy and pleasant, this man was just angry and we felt bad for him. That's the thing with Japan, it's a wonderful place, but the day I stop being happy and hating my life here, will mean I overstayed my welcome and I'll be on my way out. I don't ever, ever want to become like that.

Despite that incident that we turned into a positive experience, we ended our gorgeous day by picking up take out coffee and sitting on the banks of the Kamogawa canal, which is so animated at night by tons of young people and performers. We walked some more before catching one of the last trains back to Osaka.

It was one of the best days I've had in a very, very long time and I'm so thankful for new friendships and being in Japan.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thursdays

Things I like lately in Osaka...

British chain Top Shop finally opened a store in Umeda...

House parties... in Japan, it's a rare thing to hold house parties since apartments are so small, but somehow we managed to make it work, dancing included...

Weeknight impromptu dinner at a cheap, cheap izakaya under the Hankyu tracks...

Reading a book and sipping on an iced coffee outdoors near Tanimachi Yonchome on a Sunday afternoon...

Cycling on the tree-lined Mido-Suji avenue...

Planning weekend escapes to Kyoto for some traditional arts...

Long email exchanges with friends and entertaining them while they're at work, due to the time difference...

Honey in my tea.

{Cool sticker shop I found in Minami Senba... my old home, and my new home}

{Party remains}

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mixi



I finally joined Mixi, the biggest social network of Japan. It's similar to Facebook in many ways, but so different at the same time. It's all in Japanese, and you need a Japanese mobile phone address to set up an account, so it's limited to those who reside in Japan.

I decided to join to practice reading and writing Japanese, and maybe keeping in touch with my Japanese friends. Unlike Facebook, you don't write messages on your friends' profiles, but rather write a blurb about how you know each other and what are your friend's best qualities and personality traits.

Also, most users don't use their real names or pictures, mostly just nicknames and random images. It's a lot less open than Facebook is, and well, it does reflect Japanese culture in people keeping their lives very private. The only thing is, you can view who exactly visited your profile, so I guess my stalker ways would have to end there... oops.

I only have one friend now, which is quite pathetic. If you're on Mixi, please look me up. I find it difficult to find my friends, but I've been learning quite a bit of kanji characters.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I heart Kobe

On Saturday, I had the loveliest day I've had in a long time. I met up with fellow blogger Julie, whose blog I have been reading since I arrived in Japan, and which I always found so interesting and full of information. The girl behind the blog was equally lovely, and I spent a warm, sunny afternoon in good company and great foods. We met up in Kobe, a city I adore, and which is so close to Osaka.*

She has been in Japan longer than I have and knows so much about the Kansai area, so she introduced me to some adorable cafés tucked in little back streets, which I would have never found on my own. I ate the most scrumptious yuzu and matcha pudding at a sidewalk bistro, then feasted on a vegetarian plate at a cozy café where a cat lived. We walked around in the sunshine, and talked about life and everything Japan. It was nice to hang out with someone who has such a positive attitude about living in Japan, it made me see things from a different perspective, which I maybe needed lately.

I love Kobe, I think it's such a relaxing, clean, and sophisticated city- pretty much the opposite of Osaka, but I can't help loving both extremes.

*Kobe is a mere 25-min train ride from Osaka station.







Thursday, May 12, 2011

Life treats


{Monday night's dinner. So uncouth.}

Easy access to international foods is yet another positive aspect of living in a big city such as Osaka. I spent most of my first year in Japan not craving any particular foods from back home. I love Japanese food, and I think there is so much variety, and I'm still not tired of any of it. However, no matter how tasty Japanese food is, there is an obvious lack of hearty bread, rich chocolates, and international staples such as hummous, pita, foie gras, olives and spices.

My Osaka friends introduced me to Seijo Ishii, an international supermarket located right inside Umeda station. I used to hate Umeda station because it's so crowded and stressful, but now that I'm comfortable around it, I adore it. The import shop has been cheering me up on some rainy, muggy, and exhausting days. Just being able to pick up bagels and cheese, foie gras or Swiss chocolate along with red wine is one of the little ways to brighten up an otherwise forgettable work day in Japan.

Note: Osaka abounds with import food stores. If you live around here, make sure to also check out:

Cave de Yamaya at OCAT in Namba
Ricoche Sennariya in Ebisu bashi shopping arcade
Kaldi Coffee Farm in OIOI Namba (Kaldi is also found everywhere else in Japan, even in the depths of Shikoku}.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Did I catch you there on a bicycle, ten steps away from Osaka-jo



I love it.

I inherited this pink ママチャリ (mamachari, or city bike) from dearly missed Eve, and I adore it (the bike, not her departure). Since my beloved, late Blair Buttercream in Marugame was a victim of bike theft, I have been craving some bike riding. It seriously changed my Osaka life. Riding the subway and always being underground does not make you see and appreciate your surroundings. Since I started riding the bike, I discovered so many new neighbourhoods and areas, and suddenly I can easily navigate and understand the city.

Cycling in Osaka is completely different from riding around in the rice fields of Shikoku... it's a bit more dangerous, but quite a bit more busy and interesting. A year ago, when I would take mini trips to Osaka, I never would have imagined that I'd one day be riding my bike on the Dotonbori Bridge or Mido-suji Avenue. It's quite exciting.

Things have been difficult and lonely lately, for so many reasons. But riding the bike gets me so high, and I cannot explain the feeling of freedom and carelessness that is involved with cycling downtown in Namba, amidst the neon lights, crowds, and narrow alleys.

Now, it needs a name. Any ideas?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Golden Week: The Aftermath

Eh...

So Golden Week is over. Maybe it's a good thing. Sickness for most of it, loneliness and isolation at its peak, mini meltdowns, cabin fever, and questioning myself and Osaka. Those days when you just want to hide under the blankets and not face the outside world. Oh, the roller coaster ride also known as living abroad.

But then I look back, and great things did happen amidst the meltdowns. Friends came to visit from Marugame. Walking and cycling the streets of Osaka late into the night. A jaunt to Kyoto, ever so magical. Korean feast. Stumbling upon new areas such as Minami Senba with my Japanese friend and regaining faith and excitement in Osaka. Knowing I'm not alone going through certain feelings towards this city and well, life. Cafés on rainy afternoons. Karaoke and margaritas. Lazy breakfasts outdoors. Working on new artistic projects. Long emails from friends.

Lost in Osaka. Maybe it was not so bad.

Living in Japan is like living in a bubble. Is it real life? Everything is intensified... it's exhausting.

It's the first time of my life I'm almost happy to go back to work.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Florals

It's May.

What do we think about mixing different patterns of florals?



I have major cabin fever.