Friday, May 31, 2013

Getting to the Core of Cute Japan

Researching kawaii is exhausting.

Kawaii means "cute" and in Japan, this word is (over) used for everything ranging from human beings, pets, clothes, home appliances and colours to food, interior design, and well, practically anything you can think of. The word is increasingly being understood and used outside of Japan, as the rest of the world is going bananas over Japanese music and fashion.

Throughout my work, I had the chance to interview the editors-in-chief of two prominent magazines in youth Harajuku fashion, to get a deeper insight into this whole concept. I found out kawaii means more than cute: it's about individual expression, sexuality, general lifestyle, and that certain envy we get wanting to find out everything about how people live their lives, beyond what they wear. It was not exactly what I had expected when I prepared my interview, and I was pleasantly surprised- turns out it's less superficial than I thought.

Not only was it a fun topic to tackle, but I also enjoyed translating their answers afterwards- which much, much-needed help from my trusty partner.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reasons Why I Love Tokyo

Tokyo at dusk

As much as this city literally makes me lose my mind on a regular basis, sometimes I just need to stop, take a deep breath and look at it from above. Seriously. Looking at Tokyo from the 52nd floor of my favourite building in Shinjuku puts things in perspective (and well, a few sips of luxurious sparkling wine also add to my philosophical ventures). Tokyo is huge- especially being from Montreal, whose entire population's worth crosses daily through Shibuya station.

Tokyo from above doesn't look as scary. It's actually quite beautiful- there is a sizable park in the midst of Shinjuku, the Central Park of Tokyo. You can also see the beautiful Tokyo Tower red and white lights glowing, and a highway that cuts right across the skyscrapers. Tokyo at dusk is especially wonderful, and it was the first time I caught it right before sunset (in other words, I was early for cocktail hour...).

I can't help but feel extremely lucky to be where I am now. I tend to take it for granted, as I get stressed out so easily and always want to achieve more, but when I do that I am completely missing out on what's happening now.

I may not be so lost in translation anymore, but every now and then I still get that euphoric feeling which can only be obtained through travel- you know what I mean, I'm sure.

Surviving Rainy Season

Frizzy hair, shiny skin, soaked feet and bluesy mood- rainy season is officially back. Perhaps the least glamourous time of the year, it's a month-long string of rainy days that can be depressing and soothing at the same time, depending on how you see it. I don't mind rainy season, as it's an excuse to stay home and read books for hours, and it's a nice little prep time before the heat that will ensue immediately after.

There's nothing official about this guide, but that's how I intend to spend rainy season and some of my must-have items:

-Hunter rain boots. I've had my same aubergine-coloured pair for about five years, I love them and never travel without them. It's a small splurge, but they've become increasingly popular in Japan, unlike a few years ago. If you don't want to spend that amount on rain boots, chain stores like Forever 21, H&M and MUJI all carry cute pairs adorned with fun designs.

-A hooded sweater. Sometimes (most of the time) I forget to carry my umbrella, or simply cannot be bothered, and that's where hooded tops come in handy. My favourite pullover comes from Uniqlo, I've had it since Korea, and it comes in handy every June.

-Hair treatment. My lion's mane gets frizzy with added volume during rainy season, so I picked up the Deeply Restorative Smoothing Hair Oil from Kiehl's, which has been doing wonders to taming my hair. Other options include getting a chemical straightener at the hairdresser, which my stylist Momo at Watanabe Hair in Harajuku does offer. I've never tried it, but friends did and it looked amazing. A haircut is also a good idea, as I should book an appointment soon.

-Skin care update. A drastic change in weather conditions require adjusting your skin care regimen, which means a lighter facial moisturizer in my case (I use Kiehl's now), and carrying those oil-blotting sheets in my bag. On the plus side, humidity gives a nice glow.

- An umbrella. Duh. Yet, I never splurge on umbrellas, as I tend to lose them all over the place, but I guess it's umbrella karma. I like the cheap, clear ones from the convenience store, but I also found some cute clear ones with heart motifs for ¥500 at those station shops, like Ranking Queen and It's Demo.

-Books and magazines. I could never survive rainy season without a full stack. I've been reading mostly Japanese magazines lately, and buying English books at some of the few English bookstores in Tokyo. I'm an old-fashioned gal, I don't like reading from an electronic device, I like turning pages and holding books.

-A guide to all the interesting museum exhibits and events around Tokyo, as well as a list of nice cafes to try or try all over again. Shameless plug here.

-Movies. Going to the cinema, or renting them at Tsutaya, or well, good old streaming. I wouldn't have survived Japan without streaming.

Any other tips?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Showa Tokyo + Missing Stuff

The other day I took a stroll on the East side of Tokyo, a place I rarely go to- it's far away, and it's unfamiliar. Yet, the East side is where you can find remains of an old Tokyo, tucked away from the touristy spots of Asakusa. My favourite traditional neighbourhood is Yanaka, which is located at Nippori station, and I've also discovered Asakusa, Kita-Senju, Minowa, Arakawa and the surrounding area. The general area has a Showa vibe, which is the period between 1926-1989. The streets are lined with run-down shops, yet the shotengai (shopping streets) are still bustling with people. It's like Harajuku, but for elderly people.

To be honest, I mostly went there to eat tempura, at my favourite place I still want to keep a secret (I don't know why- maybe they'll run out of it if more people start going?!), but I enjoyed a sunny afternoon walking (and driving) around old Tokyo. If you've never crossed Tokyo in a car, I highly recommend doing so as it's such a different landscape!

In other news I feel slightly more sane, but I still need to get away a bit. Canada is still too far away, where else can I go before that? Seoul? Hong Kong? I've been watching Chungking Express way too much lately and remembering my little HK getaway a year ago, oh so good. I've also been reading my friend's blog in Korea, which makes me miss it so much! Why am I missing everything now?
I spy the Sky Tree, happy one year anniversary!

I want to shoot a movie in that street, looks like a set doesn't it?

I entered a pachinko parlour and nearly
lost my hearing and ability to breathe. So vile.

Beauty- Cultural Differences

My pasty white legs. I need more sun.

It's almost summer, and once again I'm faced with my yearly concern about my hair... or rather, body hair. See, Japanese girls shave their arms. I don't. I've always been perfectly at ease with my fine, pale arm hair (which I got lucky with considering my Italian background)- that is, until I moved to Japan.

I became self-conscious about it when I saw people staring at my arms on the train, and blatant students calling me kuma-chan (little bear), and referring to it as my 'fur'. Every year I'm tempted to shave my arms just so I stop people from commenting, but I can't bring myself to do it, as it would grow back thicker, require constant care, and well, I have enough on my hands with every other part of my body.

It's strange to me that Japanese girls shave their arms, while they don't really pay the same attention to other grooming areas. For Western girls, it's the opposite: we don't shave our arms, but we pay meticulous attention to pretty much every other part, and obsess over getting rid of every single body hair through shaving and waxing. Even my favourite beauty spa Nua was telling me that it's not very popular yet with the Japanese clientele. The technician also convinced me to keep my arm hair, and after much debate and questioning my close Japanese friends, they all told me I should, and that it was kawaii. Sigh.

This made me think about other cultural differences. For example, in the Western world we tend to spray perfume directly on our skin, while Japanese spray it around them, resulting in a more subtle and delicate scent. This is a tip I really like, and now have adopted.

Can you think of other beauty-related cultural differences? Do you shave your arms?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tokyo Apartment Adventure

My cold must-haves: vanilla-scented Sugarbunnies tissues,
organic blueberry juice, and the #1 wafer in Italy

Things have not been too exciting this week, I was plagued with a horrible cold- since when do I get sick when it's warm and sunny out, when I managed to stay perfectly healthy all winter? I probably caught something while partying last weekend, as my fragile body is not used to smokey rooms and all-night karaoke sessions anymore...

In other news, I'm happy to have finally resolved (read: paid) my apartment debacle, which had been going on for several weeks and was stressing me out so much. Real estate can be a real nightmare in Japan- renting a simple apartment is a complex procedure (especially for a non-Japanese), not to mention costly. Changing guarantors and re-writing a contract will cost you all the move-in fees, all over again. Lesson learned: don't let your company be your guarantor unless you plan to work there for many, many years.

I can now finally relax in a home that's mine, and right now stability is one of the most important things I'm longing for. Stability while living abroad- does it make sense?

Monday, May 20, 2013

A bit of home

The only ways to stay sane in a city like Tokyo (or um, Japan) is to a) keep yourself surrounded with good friends, b) do small daily things that give you some kind of routine, c) get a taste of home, d) indulge in the good things in life and e) take frequent small trips.

In an effort to keep myself grounded, I did all of the aforementioned, and it does help, combined with a daily dose of exercise- running, in my case. I went out to the trendy, American-style cafe Brooklyn Parlor in Shinjuku, where I met with the boys behind the excellent Tokyo Scum Brigade over foie gras burgers and strong Brooklyn black chocolate stout. It was nice to chat with like-minded people, and it's always amazing to meet them after living for a few years in Japan, as you continually meet cool new people- something I had missed when I lived back home after Korea.

I also started reading more Japanese magazines, and a friend of mine introduced me to Casa Brutus, which has a thick, stylish issue all about Tokyo this month. It was such a treat to read (or rather, decipher) with a latte and cupcake. In other news, I moved my futon downstairs, as sleeping in the loft got too hot.

The icing on the cake was a visit from a friend from Montreal, the little brother of one of my closest friends, which brought back so many memories. The evening started with a delicious traditional all-tofu course meal at Ume no Hana in a private dining room, followed by a few street drinks and party hopping in Shibuya. I hadn't been around that scene for several months, but it was fun to dip my toes back into it, and to realize that well, I don't miss it at all. The night ended with karaoke, which was the best part- I absolutely love karaoke, and even though I never feel like going, I get sucked into it and refuse to leave.

Now I just need to take a small trip and I'll feel sane again.

Back in the scene, at the new Beat Cafe

Family portrait before the party started

Sometimes I dress like I work in a library

Soy latte + lemon cupcake

This is what a foie gras burger looks like

Click here to see what Tokyoites are wearing this spring,
my piece for MTV Japan (MTV 81)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Teenage Stuff

It's funny how some things I used to love as a teenager are now what my life (and career) is about. I remember spending countless hours in my room, flipping through the pages of magazines, such as Seventeen and (the now-defunct) YM, and keeping piles and piles of them, collecting pretty much every single issue and closely studying them. That's also how I brushed up on my English, although I now graduated to reading The New Yorker and Monocle, my two favourites.

Funnily I now write for magazines, and I'm happy being obsessed with them somehow paid off. Watching hours of music videos on loop also turned into something tangible, as I'm now (excitedly) a part of the team at MTV Japan, covering all things fashion related. This was an adolescent dream for me, even though we didn't even have MTV in Canada (nudge to Much Music and Musique Plus).

And speaking of teenage dreams, I also got to meet Jad Fair (of the band Half Japanese), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Ken Stringfellow at an art exhibit I wrote about for Tokyo Weekender. I highly recommend checking out Jad Fair's paper-cutting exhibit if you're in Tokyo, at the most charming art gallery I have ever seen. The gallery is called Hiromart, and is located next to the river, on a peaceful street. I felt quite star-struck to be surrounded by all those nineties icons, and feel funny at the idea of Jad Fair flipping through the pages of Tokyo Weekender.

Then again, I must have been a strange teenager, being into all that kind of music most of my peers didn't care for. Some things never change I guess, but I'm glad it translated well into my life path.

Jad Fair "Powerful Love" Exhibit
with myself in the background, how artsy

Every week I buy fresh flowers for my apartment.
This week's theme is "campagnard"

I bought another box of 7 doughnuts just to get this Pon de Lion plate.
I only ate one, gave the 6 others away.

The Great Burger in Harajuku is seriously GREAT!
Why have I waited so long to go? OH MY GOD.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Coffee and Cicada

After a less-than-stellar week, I managed to lift up my spirits a bit, and somehow things are looking much better. Living abroad, sometimes it's hard to pinpoint what's bothering me, but I always snap out of it with the help of simple pleasures.

So far, I've had a late afternoon lunch of tartines at Le Pain Quotidien (my favourite cafĂ© in Tokyo, with a gorgeous view of Tokyo tower), I had sparkling wine, hummus, pita and delectable crab cakes in the garden of the stylish Cicada in Aoyama (my new favourite eatery!), I read a book in French, I went running twice already, I watched Chungking Express, I listened to the Shout Out Louds, Neutral Milk Hotel and Sonic Youth on repeat, I chatted with a dear friend back in Montreal, got an email and photos from my mom, had a much-needed girlie catch-up with my closest friend in Tokyo (who always makes everything better), exchanged emails with Isabel in London, rode my bicycle across town with a huge container of caramel popcorn and a Pon de Lion plate in the basket, stupidly left my bicycle unlocked with key in on the side of Koshu-Kaido (a busy road in Tokyo) for three hours and it wasn't stolen, planned some firefly festivals outings, and bought myself some fresh flowers.

I feel sane again.

That makes up for the taste.

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's May

And with May comes Golden Week, that (nearly) week-long holiday that has all the trains and highways crowded, and that leaves Tokyo half-empty (and half-filled with tourists). My best Golden Week was undoubtedly my very first one in Japan, that time I escaped my quiet town in Shikoku to have a whirlwind debauchery in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. I vividly remember coining that phrase, "Marugame smells of rice fields and boredom" upon returning from that epic holiday.

My other Golden Weeks over the years paled in comparison, and this one was just as blah- probably the worst I've had overall, because I didn't have a single day off. It put me in a bit of a sour mood, and for once, I wish I could escape the madness of Tokyo to smell the rice fields and boredom, just for a few days. No matter how much I love what I do for a living, I feel quite stressed out lately with all the changes I've had in my life and I don't think I'm doing completely well at anything at all in my life. I feel like I'm failing at being a friend, a girlfriend, a daughter, and even an employee. I miss writing this blog regularly, I miss running daily, and I miss baking. I miss traveling around Japan and seeing all the beauty and quirks it has to offer- the only sights I'm seeing lately are concrete buildings, crowded trains and my computer screen.

End of my rant.

Here are some colourful things that slightly make everything better:

Children's Day floating carps near Yokohama, so pretty

And, the Prince is back. Everything makes sense again.

Two Princes, loud prints, and energy drinks

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's band-aid collection 

Marc by Marc Jacobs slap bracelet- how retro!

Homemade breakfast

Flirting at Starbucks... Ha!

The Hello Kitty edition doughnuts at Mr Donut

Late afternoon Bellini's with lovely Judith!

My new obsession- slightly better than Nutella