Friday, April 26, 2013

Eye exams in Japan

After over three years living in Japan, I finally went for my first eye exam here. I wear contact lenses, and even though I came from Canada equipped with a supply to last me nearly a year, I eventually ran out... yet managed to avoid an awkward eye exam in Japanese. With the help of a few clicks, Google Translate and a quick payment at the convenience store, I was able to order some contact lenses through a Japanese website called Lensmode. I highly recommend it if you know your exact prescription and know your vision hasn't changed, but it's best to get regular eye exams to adjust the prescription and make sure everything is fine.

Last weekend, I somehow found myself with a new pair of "kawaii" frames, courtesy of a special promotion at the Kawaii Matsuri I covered. The whole deal was free of charge, so I decided to take the plunge and get an eye exam. I was a bit worried as any kind of medical procedure makes me nervous, but this was much, much easier than I thought.

In case you're wondering, turns out you only need the ability to read hiragana in order to successfully complete an eye exam (unless you go to an English-speaking eye doctor in say, Roppongi, but there's no excuse to not read hiragana if you've been in Japan for over six months). A few basic Japanese expressions like 'up' and 'down', 'left' and 'right' won't hurt to know either. I recommend the eyeglass chain shop Zoff- where you can get an exam and leave with prescription glasses or contact lenses in less than one hour. It's the only one I've tried, but I was happy with the service and efficiency.

Prescription eye glasses and contact lenses are extremely cheap in Japan- finally something that is more affordable than back home, so stock up on cool frames and contacts while you're here. I haven't worn glasses for nearly five years, but they're a welcome break from itchy contact lenses, even though they make me look extra serious. I guess it's a good thing- maybe I look more like a writer.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

If you live in Japan, you've most likely heard of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, unless you live under a rock. If you don't live in Japan, chances are you aren't familiar with her name, but be prepared to be.

She's a phenomenon in Japan- not only in the kawaii world, but everywhere else. Her real name is Takemura Kiriko, and she started out as a fashion model for Harajuku-style magazines, then suddenly released a hit song that came with a psychedelic trip of a video, and she's now one of the biggest pop stars in the country. She also released her own line of false eyelashes, for those interested.

Her costumes are over-the-top, gravity-defying designs, her videos are a dizzying spiral into some kind of candy land, and her music is robotic, sugary and oh-so-catchy. Most of her songs have very simple titles, such as "PonPonPon", "Candy Candy", and "Fashion Monster". I know this sounds weird coming from the mouth of a devoted Sonic Youth and The Smiths fan, but I love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

I can't stop watching her videos, there must be something they put in it to get people hooked. I saw her perform live yesterday at the aptly named Kawaii Matsuri (thrown by her management company, who else), and despite my vow to only stick around for two songs, I stayed until the very end.

I also had the chance to be interviewed on national Japanese TV about kawaii culture and the whole Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sensation- I did a terrible job fumbling on the word "popularized" (hey, I'm French), but it was fun to watch afterwards.

Here's your introduction to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu- get your fill of rainbows and ribbons:


 My personal favourite, Ninjyari Bang Bang   

Looking quite serious discussing 'kawaii' culture.
The upper caption says I'm media from Canada

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kawaii Overload

Kawaii is perhaps the Japanese word you'll hear the most in Japan, and even though it simply means "cute", it is used for an endless string of subjects- animals, clothes, interior design, hairstyles, food, and human beings. 

I have a love/hate relationship with the whole kawaii culture in Japan. As much as I love cute things like childish characters, feminine clothing, ribbons, kittens and puppies, I hate how much and how loosely this term is used. Just going shopping in a clothing store, I hear enough 'kawaiiiiiiii' 's (mostly shrieked by girls, but hey, boys use it too) to make my head spin. I believe there are words, other than cute, to describe clothes. How about beautiful, elegant, chic, stylish, snazzy, sophisticated? Most of those have a Japanese translation, so unless those girls dropped out of school at the elementary level, there is no excuse to stick to one word for every single thing in sight.

Today marked the pinnacle of kawaii-ness as I attended the Kawaii Matsuri (Kawaii Festival) on assignment. As much as I hate to admit it, it was rather fun and an interesting cultural experience- taken with a grain of salt.

Here's a few cute things that marked my week- one of the most hectic weeks I've had in a long time, but I am loving my new schedule and routine.

Floral-print dress for spring

Dance shoes + mint green shoelaces

Heart latte art from Streamer Coffee Company

I posed for Polaroids (um, Instax) at the Kawaii Matsuri

I finally met those guys- they marked my teenage years.

Monday, April 15, 2013

C'est le printemps.

Spring is in full bloom, and although the sakura have come and gone, the weather is balmy and I've been trying to spend time outside, to make up for a winter literally spent hibernating. April marks the beginning of the school year in Japan, and also of new business cycles. It's a time of changes, and also a fresh start, for myself included.

I've been living in Tokyo for nearly two years now, and despite how fun my life is here, it's been a bit of a struggle the whole way- trying to keep my head above water, pursuing my goals while having to survive (not only financially) in this jungle. Those past few weeks I've been making major adjustments to my life, finally diving head first into what I really want to be doing here in Japan- and in life in general. As a foreigner in Japan, it's a bit scary to not have the English teaching safety net, but well, it's possible in case you're wondering. Speaking a high level of Japanese is highly recommended, but I'm definitely not there yet- maybe speaking French plays in my favour?

I'm striving to find a good balance between work and play- I spent my Saturday lounging in the park, alongside a bottle of wine, cheese bread, strawberries, and Japanese confectionaries. I wish every day was like this, but alas, it simply cannot be.

In other news, I've been buying fresh flowers every week, painting my nails shimmery lilac, drinking rooibos tea, wearing florals and stripes (together), and replacing my shoe laces with a ribbon. I also ate hotaru ika (firefly squid) for the first time, but I'm not sure how I feel about it: the taste is really delicious, but it looks unappetizing because it has eyes. I'm torn. Have you tried it?

Springtime picnic, life is good.

I attempted a cartwheel halfway through this bottle: success

A bunny rice cake! 

Japanese traditional sweets we picked up in Kugayama

I love this lantern, and the yakitori served there.
Hotaru ika... a type of squid. Surprisingly tasty.

Now something cute to make up for the squid photo- a happy melon pan!

How many computers can you see?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Beauty Products in Japan

Boys, avert your eyes, as this post might bore you.

What's a girl to do alone on a Friday night, drinking Orangina (how wild) with my hand in a bag of cookies? Well, I decided to take photos of the beauty products I use in Japan and share my regimen.

To be honest, I don't use many Japanese brands, for various reasons. I find the hair care (shampoo and conditioner) to be too heavy for my thick hair, the body lotions too light for my dry skin, and the make up shades not quite the right fit for my skin tone. However, I found quite a few gems in Japanese brands, after trying practically everything over the past three and a half years. I particularly love Japanese cleansing oils and mascaras.

I now only stick to what works best for me, and most of those products are not Japanese brands- however, they can all be purchased in Japan (at least in Tokyo), as I don't shop online. If you have any questions on where to find certain items, please ask in the comments!

And please share any great beauty products you found available in Japan!

Skincare, haircare and makeup

I use the ever excellent Nars blush in the shade 'Orgasm' (what else), and the multi-purpose stick "The Multiple"in the same hue, which I dab on my lip and eyelids for a light shimmer. I don't wear eyeshadow or eyeliner. I found out my eyes look bigger without all the heavy black liquid.

After years of trying on so many face powders and foundations, Lancôme "Teint Miracle" was recommended to me by a professional makeup artist, and I love it. It's a simple powder that completely blends in, doesn't look cakey yet covers the redness and under eye circles. I wear it on its own, on freshly moisturized skin. It's a bit expensive, but it lasts for over six months of daily use.

Japanese mascara wins hands down! It's cheap, and stays on forever. I like the brand "Heroine Make", which is easily recognizable in a package featuring a manga-like character with teary eyes. You can't miss it! It's around ¥1,100. When I'm really broke I use the CanMake brand, which costs only ¥600 and lasts for ages.

I'm addicted to this German brand Florena. It's a thick shea butter body cream, and not only does it thoroughly moisturizes, but it smells heavenly. It's not so easy to find, but Loft usually has it.

Aésop is an Australian brand I recently started using, and this Primrose Facial Hydrating cream is perfection. It smells like lavender, and keeps my combination skin supple and not oily. I get excited putting it on morning and nights, as the scent is glorious.

Ah, every girl needs Chanel. I use a nude, golden lipstick in a shade called "Style" from the Coco Rouge line, which my boyfriend picked out for me on my birthday. I trust his taste! Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum has been my signature scent for over ten years now.... that makes me sound old I know.

Although I tend to pick Chanel nail polish over any other brand, my wallet much prefers the likes of Top Shop, and lately I'm addicted to this adorable kit, in rose gold, green and lilac shimmery shades. Perfect for spring, but I'll switch to crimson hues in autumn.

All nail polish must be removed at some point, and this Bourjois nail polish remover is truly miraculous. It takes everything off in a few seconds, even glittery polish. Bonus: it's hydrating with almond oil, and smells of vanilla, unlike other removers that smell like paint thinner.

I use a combination of cleansing oil "Tiss" by Shiseido (which is cheap here as it's a Japanese brand) and Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser. The oil helps dissolve my heavy, waterproof mascara, and the cleanser just keeps everything squeaky clean. I'm sure I don't need both, but I like using them together. 

Finding a suitable shampoo and conditioner was the most challenging part for me in Japan, as my hair is thick and wavy, and most Japanese shampoos only cater to that type of hair, and weighs mine down. I found L'Oréal Elsève to be the best quality for a reasonable price, and the closest to a Western equivalent. I love a classic Dove soap bar in the shower, and Nivea for a deodorant... Okay, I cheated. I purchased -and stocked up on- Nivea deodorant on my last trip to Hong Kong. Japan is a total failure when it comes to deodorant, and even though they're starting to import a few brands like Secret, they have yet to catch up.

I simply cannot live with this light toning water by ubiquitous Japanese brand MUJI. I spray it morning and night, and it keeps my skin hydrated and fresh. It's cheap, and the mist does wonders for my skin.

Haircare for my lion's mane requires a dollop of Brazil nut cream mixed with a few pumps of grape seed serum, both from The Body Shop. I apply the blend to wet hair, and it usually manages it, even in the humid summer months.

Lips! I swear by Kiehl's Lip Balm (I have about three tubs going on, including a pear scented one), and Maybelline Baby Lips does a fine job as well, without being too waxy.

Those are random, but essential: mint eyedrops that make my eyes burn and squint for like a whole minute, and Ringl is the best over-the-counter painkiller I've found in Japan- for headaches, muscle pain and stomach cramps, so I highly recommend it to keep around your house.

What are your favorites?