Monday, February 25, 2013

How to Wear a Kimono

Tabi socks, and the right way to position feet

A few months ago, I took a kimono dressing class. I've always been fascinated with kimonos, I find them extremely beautiful and elegant. However, putting it on was not as easy as I had imagined- the two hour session I spent copying the instructor normally is spread over twelve lessons, for the basic kimono. Countless hours, ties, butterfly knots and lots of patience were involved in the process.

I remember I felt quite sick that day, and the layers and tightness made me panic a little, but once I saw the final result I was so happy and I didn't want to take it off. I wish I could wear a kimono every day, as it completely changed the way I walked and behaved. I felt quite sophisticated and graceful. I also found out interesting details about the undergarment, something I was always curious about.

It was one of the most wonderful experiences I've had in Japan, and I feel so lucky I was able to try this part of the culture. I'm also very thankful to the instructors at the school, Inspire Space Hiroo, and to my amazingly patient and skilled photographer, who made me feel so comfortable.

Read my full story here.

All photos by Maaserhit Honda

The collar has to be symmetrical with the back

My kind instructors and stylists

I played copycat for two hours, so difficult!

Tying the obi by myself was the most difficult part!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Local Tokyo

When most people think of Tokyo, they usually imagine a huge, bustling city, skyscrapers and crowded pedestrian crossings. Well, that's definitely a side of Tokyo, and the first one I encountered, just like most visitors.

However, my experience of Tokyo is completely different now, and that insane part of Tokyo only exists in part of my daily commute, and if I choose to frequent those areas. Nowadays, I prefer the atmosphere of my local community, which doesn't seem to fit in that Tokyo depiction. My Tokyo is all about narrow streets, traditional-style markets selling fresh fish sashimi and vegetables, lots of elderly people milling around, bicycles, covered shopping arcades, and train tracks appearing in the midst of the activity.

Sadly, many visitors never get to see that side of Tokyo, and only leave with that same insane image of busy, bigger-than-life Tokyo. It's Tokyo yes, but I'm not sure it's the real Tokyo.

Fruits market in Shimo-Takaido

Melon bread factory. Not shop, but factory.

Keio line tracks, Shimo-Takaido

Fresh fish of all kinds and pushy old ladies

Bustling daytime Shimo-Takaido

Odakyu train tacks, Shimokitazawa

In a few weeks, Shimokitazawa station will be underground, sadly.

Last chance to see that familiar scenery, which I'll miss.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is February Over Yet?

Japan is experiencing a colder winter than usual it seems, but it's the end of it and I'm counting the days until I get sit under the cherry blossom trees and have a picnic... a few more weeks to go! In the meantime, I'm slowly settling in my new home and getting connected to the rest of the world via the internet is a good way to fight the winter boredom.

If you're moving house or new to Japan, I highly recommend applying for the internet via this service, which tells you what kinds of internet connections and providers are available in your house or apartment. It's all in English and the friendly owner does all the work for you. I've used his services three times already (Shikoku, Osaka, Tokyo) and everything has been set up efficiently and smoothly. Another thing that I'm thankful for is the Apple Air Port Express router, which I set up in less than five minutes, and it looks pretty sleek. A bit more expensive than most routers, but oh-so-simple to use. I guess my days writing at Starbucks are over for now, I won't miss the soundtrack and crying toddlers, but I'll miss the friendly staff.

February is my least favourite month, but I kept myself busy. I made my own caramel chocolates, some chocolate chip muffins, and banana bread. I listened to the new Depeche Mode song "Heaven" over and over, I painted my nails in a shimmery purple called Tokaido Express by Nars, I read two books, and had girlie nights in with curry and wine.

Here are some things I liked:

Gorgeous Valentines Day flowers.
In Japan, girls usually give chocolates to boys.

Not the books, not the flowers, but this sleek little router

The best ramen in Japan is found in dingy little shops where people write
how many bowls they consumed on the wall

I was recently told I look like a small animal. I don't know?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Asakusa, Tempura, French

Asakusa always rhymes with tempura. The old, traditional district is famous for the battered seafood and vegetable fare, as well as the gorgeous Senso-ji temple. Asakusa is one of the places most tourists visit, as it's considered one of the most traditional areas, where some establishments luckily survived the WWII bombings.

I don't go to Asakusa very often, as it's "far way". For Tokyoites, anything that's on the opposite side of the city is usually considered far, especially when it involves nearly one hour of commuting. Yet, I always feel a sense of achievement when I get out of my usual stomping grounds, and going to Asakusa was a good Saturday day trip.

This time, instead of hitting the touristy path, we explored the lesser-known, local areas. We found an old, nearly abandoned shotengai (covered shopping street), an abundance of craft stores selling beautiful dolls for the upcoming hinamatsuri (Girl's Day), and took refuge from the chilling February winds in the coziest, warmest Edo-period tempura shop, where I ate the best tempura of my life. It even surpassed this one in Shinjuku. The battered squid and shrimp was served on a bed of rice, along with pickled vegetables and a delicate yuzu-flavoured soup, and green tea.

It was probably one of the coldest days of the winter, a major change from the last time I visited Asakusa in July. On the way back home, we stopped by L'Institut Français du Japon, where I reveled at the sight of French books and magazines- as you may know, my mother tongue is French (I learned English at the ripe age of 17, while being an exchange student in America for one year). I miss reading books in French and being surrounded with them made me feel at home. I vowed to frequent L'Institut on a regular basis.

It was such a fun day, and a good reason to stop hibernating in February. All I want to do in winter is sleep, take baths, and eat. I wish I were an animal.

Tempura set, this stuff is out of control.

Keeping warm with tea

A cool, detailed mural on a side street

Old shotengai are the best

I found warmth in the form of a boy

Perusing the books at L'Institut Français

A better view of the tempura

And the soup!
Last two photos, thanks to Maaserhit Honda.

Happy Anniversary

Happy anniversary to my little blog, which I've now been writing for five years.

I started writing this blog back in Seoul, Korea, and somehow it followed me all the way to Japan, via a short hiatus in Montreal. This blog was always, and still is, a diary to me. Although I often write about cultural aspects of Japan, I am by no means an expert on Japanese culture, and I'm still learning so much every day. I mostly enjoy trying different things, then sharing about it. I have mostly positive feelings about Japan and that's what I convey on my blog- not as an illusion to please readers, but because that's how I truly feel. I never wanted this blog to be a place to criticize Japan.

My experience in Japan has been extremely positive thus far, despite some difficult moments, but those are just part of the journey. When I started writing this blog five years ago, I had been completely unexposed to Korean (and Japanese) cultures, and I jumped into Korea unprepared and not knowing what I was getting into. It resulted in a strong culture shock and homesickness for the most part, but it shaped me as a person and left me craving for more.

Japan was a different story- I was prepared, and determined to do this on my own. Japan has been a lot easier than Korea for the cultural aspects, but the loneliness and isolation I've experienced at the beginning (and still sometimes) was one of the most challenging things I've ever had to deal with. My life is not perfect.

Japan has been all about growing as a person, as cliché as it sounds. I tried lots of different things, such as regions, living arrangements, and even lifestyles. My first year in Japan revolved around exploring the country, traveling every weekend and getting excited at daily things (OMG PANDA SHAPED BOTTLES and PANCAKE FLAVOURED DRINKS!!), and my first year in Tokyo was a complete blur of all-nighters, street drinks and very hazy memories.

I ditched the high heels, the red lipstick and the drunken walks home several months ago because I got so exhausted of that lifestyle, physically and mentally. I wanted to be healthy, balanced and rested, and be more productive and advance in my career- which has been paying off. I also came to Japan to learn about the culture and language, and dancing all night at Trump Room did not teach me much, despite how fun it was.

So here I am, five years later. I live and work in Tokyo, and well, I pay very high city taxes to live here. I find Tokyo to be very expensive and that's my main concern at this point. I love what I do for a living, and I equally love my (frugal) lifestyle now. I am endlessly exploring Tokyo and some other aspects of the culture, such as the language. I have a warm and cozy home, a few handfuls of close friends I adore, and the kindest, most supportive and funniest boyfriend a girl could wish for. This is real life.

Thanks for reading this blog and for all your kindness over the years.