Saturday, October 27, 2012

2am ramen

Mid-night snack

Ramen is my go-to late night (or early morning) food. Although the last all-nighter I pulled was probably about five months ago (hey, I'm good now!), I do still enjoy a steaming bowl of ramen, post-drinking or pre-bed.

The partying Friday nights are long gone now, and have been replaced by a much healthier ritual of onsen visits, promenading around my local area, and hanging out with my favourite Tokyoites. Last night we were craving ramen at 2am, but the nearest shop near my house was closed, so instead we settled for some packaged noodles from the convenience store.

Surprisingly, the options are impressive. Different types of ramen, udon and yakisoba are offered, and even regional specialties of Japan. We picked the conbini version of Hakata ramen, the type found in Fukuoka. Inside the box, pouches of broth, sesame seeds, ginger, and dried meat we found. We put everything in and added water, and had a feast on some neighboring steps.

It was actually quite delicious and the quality of the noodles and toppings was quite superior to what I was expecting. And for ¥195 a piece, it's much cheaper than the real deal (still doesn't compare... but desperate times call for desperate measures).

I highly recommend trying the Hakata ramen from the convenience store, it was a tasty 2am snack.

Ps: If you're in Tokyo, don't miss the Tokyo Ramen Show, going on now!!

It took a long time to make!

Shamelessly slurping those noodles and making a noise. YES!

Skipping Halloween

Just like Christmas, Halloween is a borrowed holiday in Japan and has gotten quite important in the past few years, in the decorations and costumes sense. Trick or treating is not commonly done, but I've seen young children in my (shall we say affluent) neighborhood going from one house to another collecting candy, so I think some small communities are organizing them.

I was never a big fan of Halloween ever since my mom dressed me up in a kimono in kindergarten- I was so upset that day, because I wanted to be a cat. I remember drawing whiskers on my cheeks and making some kind of cat ears, resulting in some kind of kimono-clad cat. I was so stubborn in wanting to be a cat- I guess I haven't changed much since then.

I decided to skip Halloween this year- I am quite tired and bored of the big club events, I did not enjoy myself that much last year, so I don't need a repeat. I would rather go to a house party or smaller event, but it's a bit unheard of here. I did put on my cat costume and snapped some self-portraits to be silly, so unless someone drags me out of my room and forces the cat ears on me, I'm staying put with some writing and books.

I did have a nice stroll around Shimokitazawa, soaked up the festive air and caught a glimpse at some costumes- somehow Halloween Day was today in Japan, unlike the 31st (probably because it falls on a week day) I highly recommend coming to Shimokitazawa on Halloween, it's very lively and colourful... and I got my fix.

In other news, I'm dying to try the Halloween doughnut edition from Krispy Kreme called "Skreme", but I'm too embarrassed to go by myself.

I still have a few days...

PS- Now that the weather is chilly, I can shamelessly stay home and watch endless movie marathons. My friend Chris, who is a film writer in Tokyo, recently started this excellent website on which he reviews the latest movies, including repertoire selections. He has interviewed a handful of pretty famous people too, so check it out and bookmark it as he updates it frequently!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I like Japanese Sweets

Mid-week feast

When I first arrived in Japan, I didn't like Japanese sweets much. Coming from a land of vanilla cupcakes, apple crisps and gooey brownies, the so-called "sweets" of Japan were not very appealing to me. Maybe too delicate, not sweet enough, not rich enough.

My taste has changed in the past few years, and I can now appreciate Japanese desserts, which are called wagashi. The traditional confectionaries are usually made from mochi (rice cake), red bean paste, and fruits. I remember taking a huge bite of what I thought was a chocolate-filled bread, only to find out it was red bean paste, to my dismay. Red bean paste (anko in Japanese) used to make me so sad.

I have become a huge fan of anko since then, as it's filling and sweet enough to please my taste buds. I love Japanese sweets as they are more delicate and shaped so beautifully, so you don't stuff your face with it like you would with cake (well, I don't know about you....). I remember living next to an ichigo daifuku shop in Marugame, which is a rice cake filled with a strawberry and anything ranging from cream cheese to chocolate or anko. I miss that shop so much!!

A few days ago I went to a cafe that serves Japanese sweets. I ate a delicious bowl of fruits, red beans, a cubed jelly called kanten, sprinkled with dark honey. On the side, I ate a stick of grilled dango (mochi balls) covered in a sweet sauce. I drank a hot ginger apple tea, as it was such a chilly, rainy day.

It was very tasty and it felt quite light and almost healthy- as far as desserts go!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunday at the Park

Photos by Maaserhit Honda

Yesterday I took an actual day off, shut down my laptop and phone and escaped Tokyo without actually leaving the city. The park felt like another world, with its near-rolling hills, lush leafage and woodland. The smell of pine reminded me of back home in Canada. I had a fun time being playful in the tall grass and prancing around the open spaces (I actually did prance, because that is what you do when you're released from the cityscape). 

It was one of the most tranquil and peaceful places I've been to around Tokyo (nothing is quiet on a Sunday in Tokyo!), and the day was made complete with a picnic under the tallest, red pine tree, a cat and ducks sighting, a post-park sushi fest at my favourite restaurant and one or two doughnuts. It was a very wholesome day... except perhaps the Mr Donuts part.

I wish every day was like this!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lost in thought.

Lost in Translation (in Odaiba)
Many thanks to the photographer.

Those past few weeks my blog has been getting quite a bit of attention, particularly from a Japanese news site, and while I do love reading positive comments and wonderful letters from new readers, I've been shying away a bit, as the news site seems to get some things lost in translation- literally.

To me, this blog was always a diary, and will forever remain so. I like to be honest and keep a personal tone, and share tidbits of my life in Japan. I am not an expert on anything Japan-related (except perhaps finding an apartment, locating cool cafes or surviving rural Japan!), but I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I'm still learning so much every day about the culture- whether I like it or not. I'm still deeply involved in a little love affair with this country I made my home, and Japan has me wrapped around its finger.

October has been interesting, and it's maybe my favourite month, but I'm not sure yet. The weather is perfect, and I've happily transitioned into knits and tights. I was given a wonderful work opportunity, to interview famed copywriter and Nintendo game creator Itoi Shigesato, one of the most influential cultural figures in Japan and writer for an (almost) daily news website.

It's Fashion Week in Tokyo, and the American Apparel runway show and party I attended last night was impeccably delicious, with lots of mini burgers, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, champagne and gorgeous babes- boys, girls, everyone. What else can we expect from the hipster chain...

I've been working hard and entirely savouring the small bits of free time I get here and there.

Ready to interview with Hello Kitty (just kidding)
How professional.

Aoyama dori at dusk

Ippudo ramen, from Hakata

A healthy lunch set of broiled salmon in Roppongi.
'Healthy' and 'Roppongi' do not go together.

Dean & Deluca has the special Halloween sleeve

American Apparel party: champagne, burgers, ice cream and hipsters

My new favourite cafe in Shibuya.
I want to write here every day.
A shrine, soothing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Sports Day

Pony at Hokkaido Festival
I wanted to ride it but pretty sure I'd crush it

Monday was a national holiday, to celebrate Health and Sports Day 体育の日. It commemorates the opening ceremony of the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, and promotes sports and an active lifestyle.

In honor of this healthy day, my friends and I spent the day eating at various outdoor festivals and I baked brownies and vanilla cupcakes. Ooops. I promise I'll run later....

The Hokkaido Festival at Yoyogi Park was the one I was looking forward to the most all summer, and I woke up on Monday determined to eat miso ramen. Sadly, everyone else in Tokyo had the same idea, so the queues were insane. All the food looked delicious but we couldn't wait that long. I caught a glimpse of the pony (I love horses!!) and I was fine, so we left and got take out burgers from Arms, the best burger joint around Yoyogi Uehara, and some frothy lattes from Little Nap Coffee Stand.

We had a picnic in the park, which ended up so much better than eating ramen squeezed in between the population equivalent of my hometown.

Here are some food photos and a few random ones thrown in there, because it was a pretty fun weekend.

Shibuya at 7am... so empty
(NOT after a night out!)

Friday night Japanese fast food
It's hard to keep secrets.

I baked brownies

I baked vanilla cupcakes

I mostly gave the baking away
to some happy friends

Arms burgers at Yoyogi Park
on a chilly October afternoon. Bliss.

Capturing the lion-esque state of my hair
+ no makeup (gasp!!)
What is happening to me...?!

Gorgeous coquelicot red my lovely friend
Mayo brought me back from HK

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hi, Canada

As Canadian as crepes + baked apples?

I rarely get homesick. In the three years I've been in Japan, apart from usually missing my family, close friends, and specific events (especially in summer or Christmas), I've never felt homesickness- that feeling that I had most of the year I was in Korea- when it would physically hurt, I would dream I'm home constantly, and crave foods almost daily.

I haven't had much of that (if any at all) in Japan, as I find myself feeling more at home here. It does not mean I have forgotten about my roots and my home. In fact, I can only think fond things about my home, and I'm looking forward to visit it again soon.

This weekend marks Canadian Thanksgiving, and I've always loved that holiday. It's always that second weekend of October, when leaves have completely turned deep shades of orange, red, and yellow, and it's the last bit of gorgeous autumn weather before the snow and bitter cold comes (usually not too long afterwards).

I find myself especially missing home today. My mom would always cook turkey, along with all the traditional accompanying dishes: cranberry sauce, bread-based stuffing, gravy, salad, and lots of wine. And maybe I'd bake my favourite dessert, sucre a la creme- oh so French Canadian. Much sadness today.

This weekend also happens to be a long weekend in Japan. The weather is acting up, between sun and rain and hot and cold. I've mostly been a homebody, but I wandered around Nishi-Shinjuku and Azabu-Juban those past few nights, taking photos and being silly. I want to share them soon, because I love those shots so much, but not yet!

Now it's time to bake something...

Alien encounters at Tokyu Hands

Trying on a comfy bed in Tokyu Hands.
The staff insisted I use the blanket.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October Evenings

Gorgeous nighttime Tokyo skyline,
I could stare at it forever

"I don't know when I became such a cautious person. Now whenever I wear my rain coat, I also put on my shades. You never know when it will rain or when it will turn out sunny". 
-Chungking Express

As I'm getting a bit more settled into my busy work routine, I am making more time at night to cook, run, and explore the city. The days are still very warm and sunny, but evenings quickly get chilly, and it keeps raining on and off. Hence I sport my rain boots almost daily, as I've ruined all of my shoes this season due to unexpected rain showers.

My new favourite area is Marunouchi, which is located between Tokyo station and the Imperial Palace. There is so much greenery, open spaces, posh shops and cafes: it offers a nice contrast to my usual Shibuya and Shinjuku territories. The path that goes around the Imperial Palace boasts a 5K loop, which is the perfect workout length. I wish I lived near the Imperial Palace, as I am currently craving lush trees and nature.

I'm also yearning for a change of pace and neighborhood maybe, so I'd like to move house. I'm not sure what it is with all the change lately, but my life is so different from a year ago when I first moved to Tokyo, which was a bit of a dizzying haze. I'm pleased with how I divide my time now, between lots of challenging assignments and quality time with my favourite people. Long gone are the party girl days, and honestly, it never really suited me. I'm much happier surrounded with an endless supply of books, cappuccino, streets to run in and sightsee, and friends.

"Be careful not to fly out of your bike"
I love this sign.

Halloween lights are up in my neighbourhood

I ate tsukemen つけめん.
You dip the noodles in the broth, hot or cold.

An endless carpeted hall