Sunday, March 31, 2013

(Not) Easter

Housewarming flowers from friends are the best kind xo

Easter is not celebrated in Japan- there's not even a slight twist on it like the Japanese version of Christmas. Maybe it's better this way, but Easter is one of my favourite holidays back home. Not only because of the chocolates (well, mainly), but also because it always marked the beginning of spring, and I have vague memories of watching those dark movies about Jesus's life (and um, death), in true Catholic form. Nowadays I don't miss it for religious reasons, but I just want to eat an Easter bunny and do an egg hunt.

I went to the import store in hopes to find Easter-related chocolates, but no bunnies or hen in sight. I nearly had a meltdown when I realized that perhaps I was feeling a little homesick. I ended up on Omotesando at the Lindt shop, where indeed, they had the classic gold-foiled wrapped bunny sporting a bell. Unfortunately, a group of shrieking Japanese girls were blocking my access to the bunny, so I got frustrated and left, angrily thinking that they probably didn't even know what Easter is or represents, unless they were fervent Christians (which I highly doubt).

So that ended my Easter quest, and instead of ingesting calories I burned them walking up and down Omotesando and in the surrounding shops- so my Easter day ended on a hiiiiiigh note.

In other news, I'm going to Sendai (Miyagi prefecture), so I'm looking forward to post about it when I return.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hanafubuki Run

Hanafubuki is one of my favourite Japanese words, and it refers to the falling of flowers. Cherry blossom season is fleeting, and it lasts less than two weeks- maybe less if it's really windy. Hanafubuki is probably my favourite time of sakura season, as the ground is covered in a pale pink carpet, and petals are floating about. Not only is it a gorgeous sight, but it also signifies the end of sakura season, and a new beginning. It's sad and happy at the same time- or if you want to get deeper, a sort of imperfect, fleeting beauty, which is best explained in Japanese with the (un-translatable) term wabi sabi.

Yesterday I went for a run in my neighbourhood, and cherry blossom flowers were all over the ground, which was insanely beautiful. I kept stopping to take pictures so I'm not sure how effective my workout was, but it was the best run of the year.

Pink pink pink

I live in the prettiest part of Tokyo

Running shoes + petals

I don't like when people sweep the petals away with a broom!

Joel Robuchon Yebisu
Not sure it's worth the hype, but eh, it looks fancy

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Flowers, Food and a lost Pasmo

So, last weekend was strange, because cherry blossoms bloomed too early, pretty much a full week ahead of schedule. As you may know, cherry blossoms follow a strict blooming procedure, which is documented in the form of maps, weeks ahead of the season. The fact that sakura appeared early this year messed up everyone's hanami plans (flower viewing events, or drunken picnics is what they are), and the alcohol-fueled gatherings had to be held one week too early, causing sudden changes of plans.

The weather is back to freezing cold, it feels like January. Apparently, cold weather usually comes back once the cherry blossoms bloom, so it's normal. I love and despise hanami at the same time: I love viewing the beautiful flowers and having a picnic with friends and drinking outdoors, but I hate the crowds and some extremely drunken people and having to queue up for a bathroom in the park. I want to do hanami, but in a more quiet area, away from the crowds, as its one of the most beautiful times of the year. It should be enjoyed peacefully, and seeing the flowers every year always make me reminisce about my time in Japan, so it's a special, cherished moment.

I skipped hanami last weekend and indulged in all my favourite foods in Tokyo with my foodie friend Sophia, in town from Sydney. We hit ramen, sushi, hamburgers, and I even mustered up the courage to end the weekend with okonomiyaki. Interestingly, I hadn't visited my favourite burger joint in Tokyo, Whoppi Goldburger, since last summer. As soon as I entered the shop, the owner gave me a strange look, then told me to wait for a second. He then came back, handing me my Pasmo card (commuter pass) I had apparently lost last summer. How amazing is that?! My Pasmo card had lots of money on it too, so it was such a happy surprise. I love that place, and I cannot believe they kept it for me and remembered me!

Sadly, all the food, excess work and sleep deprivation caught up with me, as I've been under the weather, but thankfully a kitchen pro whipped me up a nice, warm bowl of homemade udon- I'm so thankful for him, and for homemade meals.

Short of seeing a live panda... at Inokashira Zoo

Whoopi Goldburger!! Best in Tokyo.

Cupcake breakfast!

Sushi lunch set at Midori sushi, only ¥1365

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (with noodles)- the BEST

Homemade udon with chicken meatballs, love love love!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sleepy Spring

I've been feeling so sleepy lately, and I'm not sure if I'm overworked, sleep-deprived or just plain lazy. I heard there's an actual expression in Japanese about spring-induced sleepiness, so maybe I'm becoming Japanese. Any time off I've had lately was spent under the covers, tea in hand, with a book. I re-read "The Catcher in the Rye" for the hundredth time, as I never get tired of it.

In between naps, I scoured the city for more hidden coffee gems, so I'll have to share my newfound secrets sooner or later. Today, I filled my body with enough caffeine to last me until next year. I also found myself near Meguro River, and sneaked a peek at the blooming cherry blossom buds, shyly appearing, some of them even in full bloom. Despite a cold winter, cherry blossoms showed up a full week earlier than planned, therefore re-structuring and kickstarting hanami (flower-viewing picnics) plans, despite the (still) chilly temperatures.

The upcoming days are filled with goodness: my dear friend Sophia visiting from Australia (hope we don't fall into a sushi coma like last year), some quality time with friends during hanami, warmer weather, lazy mornings, a Tokyo getaway, and some fun work projects. I still adore my (not-so-new) apartment- I've never loved a home that much in Japan.

Lazy, sleepy mornings, coffee and blankets

Mid-week dinner: Kraft Dinner (or Mac ' Cheese for Americans). Classy!

This Pocky panda cracks me up. He's the "Vacation Panda". Bit early, no?

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing

Meguro River, hello sakura!

The next two weeks will be filled with the pink flowers

Monday, March 18, 2013

Stranger in a Strangeland

No, that's not me (although that's how I feel sometimes in Japan), but the name of a project a group of my friends started- that turned into a mini series, that is picking up quickly in Tokyo.

The whole series is entitled "I Am Model", which poked fun at the modeling industry in Tokyo. My friend Dean, who is a professional model here, gets to be dressed up and even body painted for various assignments and runway shows, and he always takes it a bit further.

For example, last time he was entirely body painted as the Avatar man for a show. When he was done work, he thought it would be fun to stay in character and have some fun with it, so he called photographer/filmmaker Maaserhit Honda, and they shot some hilarious scenes around Shibuya and Omotesando. The clips feature Dean in full body paint, walking around and approaching people- the reactions are all different, ranging from surprised to scared, and he mostly got lots of attention from the ladies.

They're making more videos but I wanted to share this as I think it's brilliant. Yes, yes, I'm shamelessly promoting my friends' work but I love it and I'm so proud of them for making something so sleek on some random autumn night in Tokyo. I like the acting, the filming, the editing, and the music, which they all made from scratch.

Here's the trailer:

And the movie- my favourite episode:

You can watch the previous episodes here, and check for the upcoming ones. The next one will be about English teachers in Tokyo, so should be interesting...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sunday Breakfast

Saturdays usually involve getting up at a decent time and working throughout the day. Necessary chores I don't bother doing during the week, such as laundry, vacuuming, folding clothes and cleaning my fridge. My life isn't glamourous at all.

Sundays are all about sleeping in and shamelessly indulging in a late breakfast and coffee and finding excuses not to work.

Today is St.Patrick's Day, and I'm wondering if I should have a few afternoon drinks...

Eclectic breakfast:
yoghurt, strawberries, barley, veggies, sausages, jam, choco spread

Friday, March 15, 2013

I went to IKEA

Japan has a few IKEA stores scattered around the country, a blessing for people who just moved apartments and are completely broke from it, but still want to furnish it and pretend to be stylish. That would be me.

IKEA in Japan is pronounced "ee-kay-ah", so you'll get confused looks from Japanese people if you pronounce it the English way. IKEA is a daytrip, an experience- not just a stop to stock up on a few essentials.

We drove to the branch in the depths of Kanagawa prefecture, presumably near Yokohama and it felt like we weren't in Japan anymore due to the gigantic, multi-leveled parking lot. I mostly like IKEA for the food, so the afternoon started with a potato and meatballs meal, complete with a selection of bread. Even though this is a typically Swedish meal, it felt Canadian and reminded me of home. Maybe because the last time I went to IKEA was about four years ago.

As usual I only had a few must-buy items on my list, but I left with about ten times that amount, yet for a surprisingly low price. I was able to furnish my whole apartment, from furniture to dish ware and towels and candles and gingerbread cookies and jam for a ridiculously low amount of money.

The day ended with the obligatory hot dog and ice cream stop- what a healthy day! I burned off those calories by riding the cart around the parking lot for a few laps. Fun times!

I love going to IKEA. It feels like home, and even though it's in Japan, it's still full of pushy people and crying babies in strollers, which almost felt comforting. I highly recommend taking a trip to IKEA if you just moved to Japan. Many major stations offer a bus service that go there directly.


Hot dogs- which I hadn't eaten in years!

Me being silly

Toyoko + Fukutoshin Line

As of tomorrow March 16, the Tokyu Toyoko line and Fukutoshin line will be joined. The Fukutoshin line was always such a quiet, empty line, but it's about to get extremely busy now that it will travel all the way to Yokohama.

Today marked the last day of the Toyoko line as we know it, which has been operating between Shibuya and Yokohama for 85 years. The train will depart from Shibuya underground, so today you could view the Toyoko line departure platform for the very last time.

I happened to be going through Shibuya and riding the Toyoko line tonight, and the area was filled to the brim with commuters taking photos of the beloved train, and about an equal amount of security guards and train staff. It made me a bit sad as I was fond of the Toyoko line, and that part of Shibuya station. I really like trains and I'm a self-proclaimed densha otaku (train nerd), so it was an interesting event for me.

There was an actual farewell ceremony at Shibuya station as the last train departed. Many people were seen waving at the train and blowing kisses. Maybe that will be me in a few years.

Here's my account through blurry shots- tried taking pictures while walking and catching my transfer.

Goodbye, Toyoko line as we know it.

Shibuya station sign for the last time

Toyoko staff sporting bright yellow caps and controlling train nerds like myself

A blurry view of the crowd, or just another rush hour commute in Tokyo.