Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kansai in July.

Yes, it's really happening, and moving my life to Tokyo is one of the most impulsive, spontaneous decisions I've ever made in my life (I think it may also be one of the best, for various reasons).

As exciting as moving to Tokyo is, it's also a headache of logistics- I wish I could hire someone to take care of all the details, but I'm getting used to this part it seems and getting better at handling everything on my own. I was hoping to never have to move within Japan ever again, as packing and unpacking are my least favourite parts, but this time around it's completely different. I have made the decision to live with roommates, as I have missed having housemates, and I think it will be a positive change and a smoother way to adjust to life in Tokyo. I was lucky to find a gorgeous, traditional Japanese house to share in a lovely neighbourhood (more on that later). In a way it's another great learning experience, and I'm looking forward to share more information on how to well, tackle yet another moving process within Japan.

For now, I'm fully enjoying my last weeks here. I have been having such a great time in Osaka, and this summer has been one of the best I've had in a long time. This weekend, my dear friend Jaclyn, with whom I worked with in Korea, hopped on a plane to come spend a few days in Osaka. We had a fun-filled weekend that included a midnight picnic at Osaka Castle (complete with animal sightings and bike rides), white wine on a hot afternoon, browsing in Umeda, a conbini feast in Shinsaibashi until 4am, and a sightseeing Sunday in Nara, with all sorts of deer. I love Kansai so much, and unexpected visits from close friends, reminiscing, and staying up until sunrise.


{This alpaca will be shipped to Tokyo}

{Yeah. They're not all mine.}

{Baby deer}

{Beware. Deer can eat your Japan Rail Pass}

{Jaclyn and deer}


Gorgeous deer photo credits go to my friend Charlie Reeves.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tokyo Girl



Life is full of surprises.

I'm moving to Tokyo in about three weeks.

I accepted an opportunity I simply could not say no to, and it makes me so happy. I also think I should experience life in Tokyo before I leave Japan, as I never got to live there, even though I visited so many times, while pursuing what I love doing.

I'm sad to leave Osaka and all the amazing people I met here, as well as my kindergarten job. It breaks my heart, but I'm also thrilled for this next adventure, as it will open up so many doors.

It has been a hectic, stressful, sleep-deprived past few weeks, but it's been incredibly wonderful and exciting.

Hello, Tokyo.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Hello, It's We: New Paintings by Rob Judges and Mike Ness" | The Japan Times Online


If you are in the Tokyo area, please go see this art exhibit, by my friends Mike and Rob. I'm so proud of them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sleepless in Osaka, Part II

A few months ago, I came to the conclusion that I should put an expiration date on my time in Japan, and the thought deeply saddened me. I never picked an actual date or knew about life after Japan, but the sole idea of knowing my time in Japan is limited made me enjoy my life here so much more. I started going out more, strengthening friendships, traveling to Tokyo and surrounding areas, and soaking in everything summer.

Then I realized, I completely fell head over heels back in love with Japan, and reminded myself of the reasons why I came here in the first place. I also realized that I'm not quite ready to leave this place that I made my home. Maybe it's very selfish of me, but I keep thinking that it's perhaps the last time in my life I'll ever have so much freedom, and even though some moments are lonely and challenging, all the amazing times make up for it, in ways I had never imagined.

I cannot pinpoint what shifted. Maybe it's just the hot summer nights, or sleepless nights in Tokyo, or lounging on the grass at the park, or long train rides that I wish would never end. I also feel that I've been so lucky here, that everything fell right onto my lap, even though at times it was difficult to see, as I've gone through some very burdensome times since I arrived in Japan. Yet, all I can see when I look back are amazing times, and I want just a little bit more... one more bite.


{Summer dress}

Stay tuned.

Tenjin Matsuri

This weekend in Osaka was one of the best events of summer, the Tenjin Matsuri. It's a festival that has been taking place for over a thousand years, and it's held at the Tenman Shrine. During the festival, traditional music and theatre is performed, and the entire city becomes so festive. Crowds of people travel from all over Japan to attend this festival, and the best part is to just walk around and sample all the different foods and take in all the sights.

The festival takes place on the banks of the river that separates Osaka in two, and hundreds of boats sail on that river. At dusk, the boats lit up with fires, which illuminate the water and create such a nice atmosphere. At night, fireworks can be viewed, and the festival closes down with the Osaka-style clapping ceremony.

I am lucky to live a mere steps away from that area, so I spent some time there on Sunday afternoon and just watched the herds of people dressed in beautiful yukata. In summer, Japan suddenly becomes so lively and lighthearted, and I have been feeling that exact way for a little while now.

I strongly recommend going to the Tenjin Matsuri if you ever travel around Kansai at the end of July, it's such a wonderful sight.




Photos via Flickr

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Running Up That Hill

Where have I been? Pretty much all over the place lately. It's been a very interesting weekend, and the most relaxed and detached I have felt in a very long time, surrounded with sights I love and people I love even more. I also got very sick (one of the many perks that comes along with working around children), and have been surviving on an exclusive diet of plain white rice and roasted barley tea. Pretty boring?

Here are some memorable shots of the past few days... my favorites.







All that to an overly eclectic soundtrack...





Don't ask. Really.



I need to get my thoughts back together, and most importantly I need some real sleep to get a grasp on reality. In other news, Japan has been hot, hot, hot, and it's typhoon season- which sounds scary, but is more about strong winds and rain, which is refreshing in this weather.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cat Island, Japan


Tashirojima, Japan, is a small island located in Miyagi prefecture, north of Tokyo, and hundreds of cats inhabit this island. Koichi from Tofogu.com, one of my preferred blogs for learning Japanese, recently visited Cat Island and make a two-part documentary about his visit. I like this guy and his website, so here it is if you want to watch it:

TofuguTV Episode 1: Cat Island, Japan, Part I

TofuguTV Episode 1: Cat Island, Japan, Part II

You can read more about it and view beautiful pictures on those same pages. I also strongly recommend reading Tofugu if you want to find fun ways to learn and remember Japanese.

On a positive note, the island recently made the news after the big earthquake/tsunami in March- the island remained intact after the shake.

I like felines, and I'd like to go there! Who's in?

Image via Tofugu.com

Summer in Japan: A Survival Guide Part II

Once again, summer has arrived so quickly and unannounced, and it's here to stay until well, the end of October. Summer in Japan is unlike summer in any other places in the world. It's hot, it's humid, it's stifling, it's suffocating, and it's... hot. Summer in Japan can be difficult, but it also brings beautiful images: fireworks, matsuri (festivals), yukatas (summer kimonos), cold tea and noodles, stylish handkerchiefs and green tea ice cream.

The word natsubate is used to describe the fatigue and lethargy that comes along during the unbearable summer months. I tend to feel so sleepy and tired during the summer, not very hungry at all and not too motivated to go outdoors. Last year I wrote a Summer in Japan Survival Guide, and after experiencing my second Japanese summer, I think I'm slowly becoming an expert in surviving in extreme temperatures.

Here are my most useful tips:

Hydrate
Whether it's green tea, water, vitamin water or any fruit flavoured water, you have no excuse to not stay hydrated. Japan is convenient in every way possible, from convenience stores to vending machines on every street corner. I carry around an insulated tea bottle which I fill up in the morning, and it keeps my tea chilled all day long. I highly recommend splurging on a quality tea bottle. I drink green tea for breakfast, then I switch to mugicha 麦茶 (roasted barley tea), which contains no caffeine. The kids drink that kind of tea throughout the day as well.

Dress accordingly
Japanese people tend to cover up in hot weather- arm covers and sun visors and all that jazz. In my case, I tend to take off clothing, and thankfully Osaka is a lot more forgiving about bare shoulders than rural Japan ever was. Light cotton sundresses and ballerina flats are my summer staples, and linen pants are perfect to work in this kind of heat.

Deodorize?
Deodorant does not exist in Japan. Well, it does, but what you will find in drugstores is simply perfume. If you want deodorant or anti-sudorific, you need to have someone send it from home. In Japan, only The Body Shop carries something decent.

* Edit: Reader Ashley from the super informative blog Surviving in Japan enlightened me with some great options in Japan, please read here if you're in Japan and confused about what's available!

Handkerchief
In the summer months, all designers come out with lovely handkerchiefs used to wipe your hands or dab your forehead and neck- they're so beautiful and practical, I recommend always carrying them around.

Exercise
Heat is not a reason to stop being active, and I like to keep up with my running habits, even in the most unbearable heat. I think it's good to keep an exercise routine, but small changes must be made: I only go running once the sun has set, it makes a bit of a difference.

Summer dishes
My appetite is nearly gone in this kind of heat, but Japanese cuisine offers a variety of light meals and snacks that are enjoyable for your taste buds and stomach. Somen, udon and soba noodles are served cold with a chilled broth and vegetables. Salted and boiled edamame make for a nice appetizer. Hiyayakko is a simple dish of cold tofu with toppings: radish, ginger, plum, yuzu fruit. Another favourite of mine is cold shabu shabu, which is traditionally a hot pot, but served cold. Chilled jasmine tea is delicious in the summertime.

Air con
I don't think it's possible to survive without air conditioning in the Japanese summer, but a breeze makes things more pleasant. Invest in a fan, spray yourself with water and just relax.


Minimize and waterproof
If you're a girl, put your hair up and minimize your makeup- if you must, waterproof everything, and Japanese makeup has a great selection of eyeliner and mascara that will require intense scrubbing to take it off.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday, Sunday.

"[...] well, i just started preparing some stuff. was really wasting time. cooked a heap of good pasta to last me a bit tho. but mostly i was taking photobooth pics and listening to emo."

- My friend Mike

Sounds exactly like my day. If you live in Japan on your own, you know exactly what I'm talking about.



Oh, Japan.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bird & Truck

Today I found one of my favourite spots in Osaka, and it's a café/furniture shop. Bird COFFEE is the name of the delightful café, and Truck is the furniture showroom. After some research, I found out that Truck is a world-renowned Japanese furniture brand. The designs are so sleek and aesthetically pleasing, think simple wooden cuts and soft leather. I highly recommend viewing the furniture on the website, it's gorgeous.

The café, located across the street from the showroom, is equally organic and peaceful. All the furnishings come from Truck, from the leather chairs to the large wooden tables, to even the plates they use for food. They grind their own coffee beans, and make scrumptious homemade doughnuts.

I had the most excellent food I've had in such a long time- a Turkish sandwich, with nice thick bread stuffed with avocado and bacon, while my friend feasted on gorgonzola rigatoni. Everything about this café was gorgeous and delicious, from the music to the food to the atmosphere.

This is where I sadly said goodbye to my friend Daniel, who was my neighbour in dear old Marugame, and with whom I shared many nights of home cooked meals (he's an excellent cook) and elaborate cocktails (he's also a creative bartender). He's leaving Japan after five years, and it really makes me sad to see friends go, but I keep such fun memories of those Marugame nights. He showed me the best cafés in Marugame, and also showed me my new favourite café in Osaka, to which I'll be going quite frequently.







Bird COFFEE is located a bit outside of downtown Osaka, at Shimizu station on the Imazatosuji line (orange). It's not very easy to find, but I strongly recommend locating it and viewing the beautiful showroom.

Address:

538-0054 大阪市鶴見区緑4-1-16
4-1-16 Midori Tsurumi-ku Osaka
TEL / FAX 06 6958 1616

Photos: Bird COFFEE

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tanabata Wishes

{Bamboo wish tree}

Today marked Tanabata 七夕, a Japanese star festival held every summer on July 7th. The legend is about two lovers named Orihime and Hikoboshi, who were separated by the Milky Way, but who were allowed to see each other once a year, on July 7th. If the sky is clear on Tanabata, there is a bridge formed by birds across the Milky Way and the lovers can meet, but if it rains, the lovers cannot meet.

Today was pouring rain, so I imagine the lovers did not meet... yet I still think it's such a romantic idea. All over Japan, Tanabata is celebrated by writing wishes on small pieces of paper and hanging them on bamboo tree, and on this day people dress up in yukata 浴衣 (summer kimono).

I'm delighted at any chance I get to wear yukata, and today at work I did, and so did all my students. I love traditional Japanese holidays, I think the legends behind each celebration is so interesting, and I enjoyed making a wish... as I had nice things to wish for this year.

{Me, dressed in yukata}
{Me and Nick}

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Utsubo Park, Osaka

{Utsubo Koen, Osaka, 10 pm}

Endless patches of green grass, meadows, trees, tea lights, puppies, chilled drinks, salty snacks and friends- my idea of a perfect summer night.

Utsubo Koen is an urban park located a bit West of the Shinsaibashi area, and it's luscious and gorgeous, especially at night. It's a quiet escape from the downtown mayhem, and the best way to spend a Saturday night with my Osaka friend Nick, who introduced me to this park... and who makes my daily life in this city a lot brighter... on and off the Hankyu train mornings and evenings, partner in crime for Friday morning dashes to Mr Donut, and break time runs to the vending machine).

My favourite part about those summer nights is to ride my bike back home, ambling through the different neighbourhoods, before stumbling home and falling asleep listening to The Smiths.