Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Holiday


Tomorrow morning I'm leaving for a little summer getaway! And... the destination is Kyoto, my favourite city in Japan, or perhaps even in the world. I have such wonderful memories of Kyoto, such as going there with my mom, going there with some dear friends, and also going there solo so many times. Kyoto is such a magical place, and so special to me for various reasons. I haven't been in over two years, so it will be amazing to set foot there again- this time things are so different.

The plan is to stay away from the main touristy sights, which I've seen a few times already, and perhaps check out some lesser-known spots. Kyoto is the kind of city you can never be done discovering. Kyoto get insanely hot during summer (more than most places in Japan), so a lot of cold treats and relaxing will be involved, and obviously, green tea everything.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer Fun + Tokyo Tower

While everyone else was camping under the rain at Fuji Rock (okay, I would have gone just to catch The Cure), I stayed dry in Tokyo and enjoyed a weekend in the city with out-of-town guests. My idea of a successful evening involves a huge pile of books and magazines in a cafe - especially when shared with like-minded friends who share their excitement over the latest issue of Kinfolk or Monocle.

Aside from all the coffee and magazines, we took a late-night drive to Tokyo Tower, where we got up close and personal with the structure. We actually stood right under, and despite the fact that the lights were off, it looked so majestic standing like that in the cloudy sky, so tall and beautiful. I love Tokyo Tower!

I feel so lucky I have such amazing friends all over Japan (and the world), and it's always nice to realize that time and distance don't affect true friendships- you can pick up from where you left even if you haven't seen them for months or years (although I wish I would not let years go by between visits).

I've been feeling so happy lately, despite all the stress I've been under. I don't know if it's because I've been exercising so often and keeping a routine at the gym, and being so healthy in general (balanced meals, no drinking). Could it be that simple? Also, I don't feel as lonely as I used to, which is a major change. I think I learnt how to spend time on my own without driving myself nuts, and even though it took me years to be able to get there, it's quite the achievement for my little world. Japan was such a test for me, and to be fair, it still is on a regular basis, but that's part of the excitement.

That's what bloggers do.

Gorgeous Tokyo Tower in the dark

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

I just finished reading Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, and I cannot believe how long I waited before reading it. It's the (true) story of a young American journalist, the first non-Japanese to work for the Yomiuri newspaper in Japan. His work got him tangled up in some yakuza (Japanese mafia) stories, to the point where his life, job and family were threatened. The book offers a fascinating insight into Japanese culture, the aspects outsiders don't normally come across, and all the vices of the underground world. It was hilarious at times but unbelievably sad in so many instances.

I couldn't tear myself away from the book even though I had a deadline looming, but to the advice of Mr Adelstein, "the book will always be there [so you better write]". I really admire Jake Adelstein's career as a journalist, and he's a bit of a role model even though he writes about yakuza and human trafficking and I write about summer trends and the best cakes in Tokyo. I highly recommend reading Tokyo Vice if you haven't already, I loved it so much. It's actually being turned into a movie with Daniel Radcliffe playing a young Jake Adelstein, should be interesting.

I've been sticking to bit of a routine this summer, going to the gym almost every day, then sitting in the sauna for as long as I can (five minutes). Not sure that amount of time qualifies to burn calories or flush out toxins, but it sure helps me sleep at night. The exercise sessions give me a lot of energy and I've gotten better at organizing my daily schedule between all my assignments. I'm surprisingly not bored this summer, enjoying all the work and being able to take care of things like updating my address and phone numbers and going to City Hall to sort out things like health insurance and city tax (Japan gets extremely expensive after the first year living here, and a City Hall visit rarely comes without a hint of stress).

I'm going on a small holiday soon, I'm excited to share about it, as it's a place that makes me so, so happy. Can you guess where? (It's not Canada yet).

While flipping through a book about Canada in a waiting room,
this is the first image I came across. So cute!

Starbucks breakfasts for lazy Friday mornings

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July, Crickets

July is already coming to an end- time flies by. It's been a strange start to the summer (neither good nor bad, just strange), and it set the mood for rest of it I think. I'm in-between some steps in life, floating around and doing a lot of thinking (and working hard!) to see what's best for me. I learned that you can't really plan or decide things, they just kind of happen naturally as a result to whatever work you've been putting in, and maybe that's why I'm so relaxed about the near future. I feel like exciting things are about to happen, but I'm not sure what.

Last night I met up with one of my oldest friends in Japan, who was part of the same training group when we arrived in Japan nearly four years ago. I'm so happy she is still in Japan, as everyone else from that original tight-knit group left a while ago. We reminisced about being fresh off the plane, and those first few weeks living in Nagoya- it seems like ages ago, it's unbelievable how much has changed. Seeing her and thinking about that time made me very nostalgic, and quite sad in some ways, I'm not sure why. It also made me look back and think about how far I've come, even though I fail to realize that on a daily basis. I tend to see Tokyo as this place I'm struggling so hard to keep up with, and not advancing much, but I did a lot in those few years, settled in quite well, and found my place here.

Besides regular sessions at the gym, I haven't been able to tear myself away from Jake Adelstein's Tokyo Vice, which I highly recommend reading- more on that later, I need to finish it first, but then again I don't want to finish it because it's so good. I also had a nice cookout and movie session with my neighbour and fellow Shikoku transplant, which is a rare treat in Tokyo where people don't really go to each other's houses. Other nice things have included hopping around the neighbourhood with my favourite boy, catching crickets, eating cupcakes and making imaginary life plans.

Caught in a torrential rain fall, hard to see.

Yet more wonderful coffee in Sendagaya

Cricket close-up, camouflage style.

Faux grass, Cabernet and a movie.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Japanese Gym, Part II

The shoes, courtesy of ABC Mart.

I've been really enjoying being back at the gym, and working out on a regular basis. It's been merely three weeks since my return, but already I'm hooked- as the gym does that to me, I get slightly addicted (in a good way, of course). Exercising clears up my head, gives me fresh ideas and helps me manage stress, but it also justifies eating cakes and drinking lattes, as I consider this part of my job. No kidding.

I met a personal trainer, which is included in the exorbitant monthly cost, and it went smoothly. I was expecting him to be uncomfortable with a French Canadian girl who speaks a tween-level of Japanese, but he was professional and really funny. He gave me a customized exercise routine according to my goals and areas to improve, and introduced me to those intimidating pieces of equipment usually populated with grunting men. Apparently burning fat is best achieved with weights, in addition to cardio. Nothing in the routine was strange or unusual, except perhaps the part where he asked me to step on a tennis ball for thirty seconds each foot, supposedly for posture. Anyone?

I want to say that my whole Japanese gym experience so far is 'normal', but only to a certain extent. Daytime gym sessions have presented an array of doubtful exercise attire, ranging from ballerina skirts to full-on eighties Olivia Newton-John spandex, lime green hot pants on an elderly man and all-yellow track suit. Some women even come to the gym with a full face of makeup and faux eyelashes, sporting clubbing tops and jean shorts. I'm surprised there's no rules against workout attire, as some would benefit from it.

Yet for the most part, most gym-goers are dressed in plain shorts and good old tee-shirts, which is a relief to see. Aside from a few random stretches involving flapping arms and legs about, I haven't seen anything weird, and some grannies have been chatting me up (mostly about the weather), which I thought was lovely and made me feel happy.

Knowing that I have to meet up with the trainer again next week is motivating me to be consistent with my gym sessions, as he'll be checking up on my progress. I love being able to take a long soak after the gym and the clean, modern sauna, a far cry from the one I had to use in my Korean gym. All in all, I highly recommend joining a gym in Japan, even though they can be rather expensive (some community ones are cheap, but to me, location is the priority, otherwise I don't go). I think health is not something people should skimp on, and it helps staying sane while living abroad. Unless you have wide open spaces nearby to run or have some sports league you can join, which is ideal. I wish I had joined before.

MUST WATCH! If only for the fat-slapping machine and crotch shots.

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing

Re-using photos, yeah. My most sporty look.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tokyo: Summer Top 5 Trends

What I thought Tokyo fashion would be like- not quite.
Photo: Maaserhit Honda

I have torn ideas about Japanese fashion- or rather, what I see in Tokyo in particular. On one hand, there's a string of well-dressed Tokyoites, whether they're extremely unique (think avant-garde, and what I imagined Harajuku would be like) or just impeccably stylish with gorgeous items put together. On the other hand, there's the rest of Tokyo fashion, which is rather bland and conservative. Frilly tops, lace-trimmed shorts and socks, nude hosiery, chiffon and ribbon everything, scrunchies, mismatched patterns and textures. Yawn. University students are especially notorious for all dressing alike, seems like everyone just picked up their clothes from the clone shops lining the underground of Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. While I understand Japanese work environments and institutions are extremely conservative and most people have to adhere to these rules, this is still no excuse to wear the same thing everyone else is wearing.

On that note, I wrote a compilation of the Top 5 Trends in Tokyo this summer, for J-Fashion. What's found around Harajuku is a lot more interesting than what goes on in the rest of the city, and those trends are probably somewhat similar to what else is in style in the rest of the world. Once in a while I see some amazing pieces or looks that I'd love to be able to pull off, and I wish I saw more of those. Thank goodness for vintage shops in the Harajuku vicinity (and Koenji, Kichijoji), those are real treasure chests.

Let me know your thoughts- Japanese fashion, Tokyo summer trends, any similarities or differences to where you are?

Click here to read the article!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Yanaka Day Trip

Okay, it really isn't an actual day trip when it's only an afternoon out a few minutes away by train, but I haven't traveled much lately and this felt like an actual holiday. I've been running out of inspiration, chained to my laptop and growing tired of staring at a blank page, so I treated myself to a little lunch out that turned into a fun afternoon exploring the city.

A friend and I went to the traditional area of Yanaka, which is located near Nippori station. I had written a feature a long time ago about shopping in that area (one of my first freelance gigs, nostalgia), and this time I finally made it back without having to stress out about collecting information and a deadline (even though I have a few looming deadlines ahead).

The day started out with a lunch set in a traditional restaurant on a narrow side-street, then a walk around the area to soak in the Edo vibe and check out the secondhand shops. We found lots of treasures, such as teapots, glasses, handbags, and (at times dubious) collections of clothes. I think Yanaka is a mecca to go scour for vintage finds, as it's lesser-known, cheaper and there are more chances to find unique items.

We went to a temple that look a lot like Fushimi-Inari, my favourite temple in Kyoto, with the rows of red torii gates. We stopped for traditional Japanese sweets at the end of the day, and looked for cats, as Yanaka is famous for all its cats roaming about, and numerous cat-themed cafes and shops.

I love Yanaka! I bought a hair ribbon, and came home to return to my work, with a clear head.

Thanks to my friend Stephanie for introducing me to her favourite spots!!

Katsudon lunch set (breaded pork on rice, with miso soup and pickled veggies)

Looks like Fushimi Inari, but in the middle of Tokyo. Happiness and bliss.

Vibrant colours and a watch dog

This ribbon and hair accessory shop is heavenly

Traditional Japanese dessert- sweet red beans on top of jelly cubes

Yanaka is so old-school and local


Beautiful patterns and textiles all around

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Five-Minute Soba

I love soba in summer!

The summer heat has been reaching unbearable highs, and I've been solely subsiding on cold dishes, including this easy-to-make soba. After a particularly grueling day and bad instance of culture clash at the gym (I'll get into that story another time), a little (tall) bird taught me how to make this cold soba.

It's healthy, it's refreshing, it's quick, it's cheap, it's delicious, so here's a simple recipe to achieve it. As usual, all the ingredients are easily found at any local grocery shop in Japan, and possibly at most Asian markets overseas.

Ingredients (see below for photos)

- Soba dipping broth called tsuyu
- Japanese ginger called myouga 茗荷
- Soba noodles (uncooked, but you can buy pre-cooked ones if you're in a rush)
- Wasabi (fresh or simply a tube)
- Shredded seaweed kizami nori きざみのり


Dipping sauce

- Cut the Japanese ginger in slices (one per person), and mix it with a portion of broth (I use about 1/3 of a small drinking glass). Add a splash of water, according to how strong you like the sauce, and a bit of wasabi in the mix.


- Boil water and cook the soba noodles for about 5 min. Rinse in cold water, preferably chill in ice cubes (but hey, my freezer can't even hold ice cubes so I don't).

- Sprinkle some shredded seaweed over each portion of soba to serve.

Simply dip the noodles in the sauce, and there you go. I usually serve it with side dishes of cold tofu covered with soy sauce and ginger, and various vegetables to have a balanced meal.

Restaurant soba is usually more elaborate, served on special trays and with cooking water you can drink as tea at the end, but at home I just like to have an easy meal, perfect for summer days.

Try it!

The result

Myouga (Japanese ginger)

Wasabi (in a tube. I'm too lazy to grate the real thing)

Soba noodles from my local grocery store, there are many kinds.

Tsuyu (soba dipping broth)

Kizami Nori (Shredded nori)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July Heat, Cold Brews, Urth Caffe

Rainy season came to a sudden halt, and the grey days have been replaced by a relentless heat and unbearable humidity that won't let go until early October. Welcome to Japanese summer! I wasn't prepared this time around, never am really. Each time it hits me, and I can't believe I've been putting up with this weather for the past three summers- I get used to it.

In order to avoid heat stroke, it's recommended to keep hydrated, and I've been clutching to various drinks throughout the day. My beverage of choice is cold green tea, but I also like roasted barley tea (mugicha) as it contains no caffeine and tastes earthy. Iced coffee with no milk or sugar is a close second, and I refuse to pay ¥340 for a small portion of black sludge at Starbucks so I've been buying cartons at Kaldi Coffee Farm and pouring my own.

In other news, the LA staple Urth Caffe opened a branch in Daikanyama, and obviously I had to try it after seeing it appear on all my favourite fashion and lifestyle blogs- Rumi Neely from Fashion Toast is a big fan, she's actually in Tokyo at the moment and I know she's been spending some time there! It's officially my new favourite cafe, as it serves those huge, hearty salads and sandwiches I've been missing so much- heaps of fresh veggies and thick country bread, a far cry from pale Japanese salads and mayo-heavy sandwiches. The juices are out of control, vitamin-packed and organic and well, come with the price tag but it's worth it for my deprived body.

While Japan may be weak in the salads and sandwiches department, they do fish like no one else and one of my favourite summer meals consists of plates of piled up fresh sashimi cuts washed down with cold beer. Tuna, salmon and red sea bream are the most delicious, served on shiso leaves and accompanied with side dishes of cold tofu covered in soy sauce and ginger. So refreshing!

In other news, Pepsi released new Pepsi-flavoured chips, and I'm wearing jelly shoes from JuJu (sold at American Apparel now) for the whole summer. I also still go to the gym, nothing too unusual yet except for some eighties-style leotards sported by daytime ladies. Nighttime gym fashion is more normal, regular tee-shirts and shorts.

JuJu shoes from American Apparel

Pepsi-flavoured chips- they taste like Pepsi, yes.

Mixed juice at Urth Caffe

Grilled veggies sandwich and salad 

Bird Latte art at Urth

Cold Sapporo in Ebisu

I love sashimi!