Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hot Hot Summer

Cloudy and muggy like my head

As the temperatures are quickly rising to the likes of a sauna, I've been mostly hanging out around my room, armed with my favourite summer things: peaches, pears, tofu and seaweed salads, cold noodles, history books, Japanese language books, silly television series from New Zealand, chilled green tea and lacy dresses. My days have been punctuated by short attempts at running (I consider 3K in this heat a small success), a visit to the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (please catch this exhibition if you want to play Godzilla in a small scale Tokyo, complete with a destroyed Tokyo Tower), and hours spent at cafés, because my room gets a bit boring.

If you're more adventurous than I am, beaches provide a nice alternative to laying on the floor of your room (not that I've been doing that...), and there are some popular Japanese foods that are eaten in summer to keep cool, such as eel. I managed to put together a little survival guide for summer in the city, which you can read on the Tokyo Weekender website (bonus bikini photo if you scroll to the bottom, but I'm more inclined towards the Miu Miu dress myself).

I think the arrival of pears to my local supermarket were the highlight of my week, but here are some other things I did, other than keeping track of seasonal fruit:

I ate the most marvelous falafel...
so amazing I want to keep this location secret.

I walked around a small Tokyo
Museum of Contemporary Art

I pretended to be Godzilla
and destroyed Tokyo Tower

I had breakfast at Dean & Deluca Shinjuku
with Tom, who can be seen buying pastries

I looked at delightful rows of pastries
Dean & Deluca has the highest quality in Tokyo

Dyptique scented candles reminded me of what Canada smells like

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Salty Watermelon

That's right, Salty Watermelon

Every summer, Pepsi in Japan releases a new, interesting flavour in limited edition. For summer 2012, they introduced "Salty Watermelon", which is all the rage right now, mostly because it's a bit odd. Watermelon is an important summer food in Japan, and some people sprinkle a bit of salt on it to bring out the flavour.

I tried Salty Watermelon Pepsi. The liquid is a bright pink shade, and it tastes like a fruit punch, not too sweet and very fizzy. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it probably has enough chemicals and artificial elements to glow in the dark. The half full bottle has been suspiciously standing in the corner of my room, and definitely brightens up my muted decor.

In the past summers, Pepsi had a shiso flavour (a mint-like herb) and cucumber. To be fair, Salty Watermelon is probably the best one so far. I don't think I'll ever finish drinking this bottle, but it's absolutely worth spending ¥147 to bring a bit of excitement to an otherwise boring and stifling summer day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Asakusa + Tempura

I wore a cheetah print for the occasion

Some days I love playing tourist. Even though I live in Japan, I'm still in the process of discovering my surroundings, and setting off on various small adventures never fail to give me a bit of a thrill.

My latest escapade was in Asakusa, a district in Tokyo I never wander to (but should). I had briefly crossed Asakusa once, four summers ago when I was backpacking through Japan, having stayed at a capsule hotel nearby (and getting very little sleep as the capsule experience and numerous packs of Pocky got me a bit too wired).

Asakusa is the traditional neighbourhood of Tokyo, and it overflows with tourists. It's home to the gorgeous Senso-ji Buddhist temple,  dedicated to Kannon. Asakusa also boasts other distinct features:  Tokyo's oldest Geisha district, a street dedicated to domestic kitchenware (Kappabashi-dori), Sumida River, as well as a small amusement park (apparently the oldest in Japan). Asakusa is famous for tempura, a Japanese dish of vegetables or fish that have been battered then deep fried. My friend Justin suggested I treat myself to a nice tempura set, which I did and it was the most exquisite meal I've had in a long time.

As I walked amongst the hordes of tourists, I realized I could easily be mistaken for one, but I didn't feel like one, as Tokyo is my home now. Yet, my heavy mind and heart were soothed by the simple act of pretending to be a tourist, as it reminded me of discovering Japan and how I fell in love with this country in the first place. It made me wonder if it still loved me back.

I think I should slow down on the coffee and chocolate intake.

(If you don't already, you should read Justin's blog, as it's most entertaining, raw and full of gorgeous shots. He has no self-censorship and we love it).

Senso-ji temple, Asakusa

Up close and personal

Beautiful adornment

Growing Tokyo skyline. Hello, Sky Tree.

Wandering on the Sumida River Banks

The Asahi "Flame", beer building designed by Philippe Starck

Welcoming my tempura set with fear and excitement

Tempura-ed shrimp and kisu fish on a bed of rice

I like the traditional architecture of the restaurant

I highly recommend Daikokuya Tempura in Asakusa

And another shopping street to end my day

Midsummer Mindlessness

Rilakkuma socks to the rescue

Movies I watched in the past few days:

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
The Breakfast Club
[500] Days of Summer
Darjeeling Limited
The September Issue
Two Days in Paris
Better off Dead
Just Friends
Revenge of the Nerds

(as you can see, it went downhill)

Books I read in the past few days:

Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson (always sends me into wanderlust mode)
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
A history book about WWII

Foods I ate in the past few days:

Cappuccino (does it count as a meal?)
Pizza (take out)
Cappuccino (again, and again)
Peaches (several, though the price increased from ¥99 to ¥158)
Mushroom, tomato and avocado salad (one each day)
Milk chocolate (Cadbury's, from the import shop)

Music I listened to in the past few days:

Sumner Fling Playlist by Prince Ness (the quintessential obscure summer sounds from summer 2010)
The Smiths (all albums)

I have bad Japan days sometimes.

As I got ready to press play on Revenge of the Nerds II, I realized it was ridiculous it was time to get out of the house, snap out of it, and face the world.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pink Skies

C'est la canicule

After the hottest day of summer, the sky was a gorgeous shade of pink. I think the heat is rapidly killing my laptop, and slowly numbing my mind.

Here's an ethereal little summer number I love.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Adventure

What I'll look like after a Tokyo-Shikoku journey on local trains

Every once in a while I like to subject myself to personal experiments. For example, last year I attempted (and more or less successfully completed) a summer hibernation challenge, just to see how long I would last without driving myself insane (I overdosed on photo booth and take out sushi).

This summer, I'm attempting a different, more exciting kind of challenge. In a few days I'll be traveling all the way south to Shikoku, the island where I spent my first year in Japan. It's actually very far away, and I'll use my Seishun 18 kippu to ride local trains all the way from Tokyo. As I've mentioned before, this pass is one of the best deals in Japan, and is only offered at limited times, so I highly recommend getting your hands on it, to hop all over the country for next to nothing.

If you have a lot of time, traveling on slow trains is the best way to see the landscape of Japan. Even though I love riding the Shinkansen, it speeds through so quickly, and it's difficult to take in the surroundings and see small towns. I just love riding trains in general, as they're less smothering than buses and allow more freedom to move around.

All my friends have warned me, though. The journey takes several hours (possibly two days), and I think I'll hate myself halfway through and be tempted to hop on the Shinkansen, but I'll try to resist the urge. I'll make sure I have plenty of books, music, snacks, and water.

I'm particularly excited to return to Kagawa prefecture, a place I'm so fond of. It has been over a year since I last visited, and many of my friends are still there, and I've missed the rice fields and mountains and general peacefulness of the countryside. I can't wait to write about it and share this part of my life that is unfamiliar to most of my Tokyo friends.

I've been so lighthearted thinking about Shikoku and just loving my summer in Tokyo so far, I think my heart will explode with happiness.

I will travel from Tokyo (lime green part on the right)
to Shikoku (light purple island all the way down)

Friday, July 13, 2012

No shirts, no shoes, no dice.

That's not the pool we went to

One of the things I miss the most about home is our swimming pool, and the summer days spent playing around in the water and sunbathing with a book. I also used to love swimming at night, right before going to bed, as it would make me so sleepy.

I don't get to do much swimming in Japan, so I got excited today when my friend Tom suggested going to the municipal swimming pool. It was an unbearably hot and sticky afternoon, the kind that makes you want to jump into a lake, so instead we concluded a few hours at the pool would be refreshing.

Pools in Japan have many rules, which are different from back home:

- No books
- No handstands
- No diving
- No sunglasses
- No accessories

I was a bit disappointed to not be able to twirl around much and to take off my beloved delicate chain (how the lifeguard spotted it from across the pool remains a mystery), but thankfully swimming caps were not obligatory so at least something was great. We had fun paddling about and swimming a few laps, and having a walking and running race (I only won the running one) in the water. I learned how to be a human flag (don't ask) and had a failed attempt at synchronized swimming.

Swimming is definitely a hidden workout: it's exercise without thinking too much about it, and it's refreshing on a hot day. I highly recommend visiting a municipal swimming pool on hot and humid Japanese summer days.

Here are two more tips to keep in mind:

-Don't eat a doughnut right before swimming
-Wear a one-piece swim suit (save the bikini for the Shonan beaches)

And, of course, always shower before entering the pool.

I had such a fun day, I feel so relaxed and I think I will sleep very well tonight.

I definitely did not eat that.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July Unleashed

Picnic in Yoyogi Koen
Cate has the best leisure sheet.

Summer slowly appeared, rainy season has gone and it's hot and muggy. The languid summer days in Japan make me feel slightly sleepy, and I enjoy lazy afternoons at the park, long aimless walks and soaking in some culture. The Japanese word for heat-induced sleepiness in summer is natsubate.

Sometimes I do things that are not considered exciting by most people. For example, I visited the Tobacco & Salt Museum last Sunday. I walked by, and I was curious to see what was inside, and for the mere sum of ¥100, I finally learned about the history of growing tobacco plants and the cultural significance of tobacco in Japanese culture, as well as internationally. I especially liked the old cigarette packages and adverts, from all over the world. I was quite impressed by the big block of salt displayed on the top floor, although I was hoping for more salt-related items. I liked visiting that museum, although I probably broke the record for fastest museum visit ever. I do recommend going if you walk by it in Shibuya.

Also this week, the Ueno Zoo panda gave birth to a baby, but the cub panda suddenly died from pneumonia. I felt quite sad, as I've never even seen the mother panda, I love pandas and they're almost extinct. I don't like the idea of a zoo, but I love animals and I wish I could see them more easily.

I quite happy basking in the sun (while it's hot but not unbearable just yet), and taking a few more bites of this city I only know a small fraction of, at a slower pace. The crowded trains and stressful stride of city life sometimes drive me out of my mind, and even though I've been living in Japan for over two years, I do feel bouts of culture shock reappearing when I least expect it. Yet, this weather is making me too sluggish to get upset, so instead I turn to parks, picnics, late night running, and cookies. 

Life savers.

Another poster I like, at Omotesando station

Sunday brunch at Nicolai Bergmann NOMU
in Aoyama, tuna sandwich and soy smoothie

My idea of excitement

Old tobacco adverts in Japan

The aforementioned block of salt, I was quite intrigued

Late afternoon at Yoyogi Koen

Post-picnic sushi feast,
and there's a delicious crab in my soup.

Sunny Tuesday afternoon Bear Pond iced latte

Mid-week avocado burger at Whoopi Goldburger
and spicy ginger ale

A reader recommended Pâtisserie Pierre
in my area of Ikenoue, it's such a hidden gem.
Thank you so much!

The Four Sec cookie literally melted in my mouth
I had chestnut and yuzu flavours

I saw a dog in Shimokitazawa
He was well-behaved and looked very alert and worried

A rainy view of Tokyo from Shibuya station
during a train transfer

Going nowhere in particular
(or waiting for a train?)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


This is my neck of the woods

Ikenoue (pronounced Eeek-e-no-uwaaay, thanks Elo!!) is my neighbourhood.

Today as I was walking home, I was thinking about how much I love my neighbourhood. As close as it is from the neon lights and teeming streets of Shibuya (I can walk home in thirty minutes), it's a little nook of peacefulness, narrow roads, steep hills and old traditional houses.

Ikenoue stands on top of the hill from Shimokitazawa, and the name implies it (ue means up, and shimo means down). I like how easily I can access all the vintage stores, espresso joints and cafés of Shimokitazawa, while quietly residing in the back streets. My neighbourhood is very affluent, as most houses are massive and cars luxurious, and I'm probably the least rich person in this area, but I like playing the part. I can luckily (?) share one of those large residences with a handful of housemates. I chose to live with roommates in Tokyo because I was so lonely in Shikoku and Osaka, and it's a great way to make friends and share costs while living in a great location.

My train station is Ikenoue, and despite how crowded and infrequent the Keio Inokashira line can be, I think the station is very quaint, and so is the area around it. It's like a small village, with a post office, old style cafés (called kissaten), and various shops lining the roads. There's definitely nothing too modern, but I love that aspect, as it kept its traditions. It feels so withdrawn from the usual Tokyo scramble. Here is a little tour with my notes.

Ikenoue train platform, looks a bit countryside, which I love

Entrance of the train station,
I seem to frantically run up those stairs every morning

A tiny shop that never seems to be open,
but they have a cool fish tank outside with a small turtle and fish collection.
I'm scared the fish won't survive the summer heat.

This is a low-budget grocery store.
They only have a few things, but the bananas are only ¥88 a bunch.
One of the cashiers loves practicing English with me,
he always greets me with a speedy "thankyouverymuch".
Maybe don't buy wine there.

France-ya is owned by an elderly man.
They serve great little dishes to take out, bento style.
I'm a little scared to go there, as you have to be precise when ordering quantities.

This shop sells futon and oversized pajamas I'd never wear.
I am constantly fighting the urge to buy a big Hello Kitty pillow
they display, but I haven't yet.

We have a 7-Eleven. It's my favourite conbini.
I usually grab a tuna sandwich there after coming home from a night out.
The tuna sandwich used to come in a combo with an egg one, but they now sell it on its own.
I like the employees there, always so friendly.

This drugstore sells um, medicine.
I've gone there a few times to buy painkillers when hungover.
I wouldn't buy anything too personal there though, I bet they gossip.

There is a Family Mart right across from 7-Eleven.
Family Mart has MUJI snacks, so I love it.
I like the older cashier lady with a raspy voice, she is soothing
and patient when I take ages finding the exact change.

This is a house (maybe) and a post box.
I sometimes mail letters and postcards there.
I've never used those vending machines.

This is the best bento place in the world.
You can pick and choose ingredients for a customized box.
The man tending the place loves British music, so we always talk about bands
with my limited Japanese and I teach him words in French.

I love running on this street, especially sprinting
all the way to Higashi-Kitazawa train station,
down the road on the Odakyu line.

A tiny yakitori (grilled meat) counter.
If you squint you can see a cute dog on the balcony above.
He went back in after he saw me taking his photo.

The maze of streets leading up to my house.
Everyone who tries to visit me gets lost.

I really like Ikenoue. If you ever move to Tokyo, I strongly recommend this neighbourhood, for its location and peacefulness. The neighbours are friendly, and I love greeting the elderly people with おはようございます。(ohayou gozaimasu means good morning). The only thing I don't like are the big black crows flying about, they are so scary and oversized. Many house cats roam about, and once I saw an entire family of raccoons crossing the street. It's not the most exciting place, but who needs excitement when Shibuya is a few steps away?