Friday, August 30, 2013

August End

It's the end of the week, and the end of August. I'm exhausted, I think I can probably count on both hands the total number of hours I slept those past few days- not sure exactly why, I'm not particularly stressed, must be the weather, or too much coffee. Although I rarely eat pastries in the morning anymore, I am loving the vegan muffins from Pure Cafe in Aoyama. I like how this place opens fairly early, unlike most so-called breakfast joints in Tokyo. The muffins are really tasty, not too sweet and so fresh. They seem expensive, but paired with the organic coffee in a set, it's about the same as Starbucks and so much better. I am limiting myself to one muffin morning per week. I want an oven!

I've been keeping up with the gym even though I haven't had much time, but despite the constant deadlines and long hours, the gym is something I really enjoy and need in order to keep my head clear. Nothing unusual happened at the gym, I feel familiar with it and the staff knows me. I rarely see the same people there- it seems like every night is a different crowd. Daytime was definitely more interesting on the fashion front- although I did see a glittery cropped top paired with sequined footwear. My favourite part of the gym after a run is the sauna, and perhaps a huge motivation into actually making it to the gym.

Tonight I went to the local onsen, which was the perfect way to end the week. Even though the weather is still really muggy and warm, it's nice to soak in hot water and relax.

I also received photos of my family cats in Canada, whom I haven't met yet. It makes me sad but I'm getting excited as I'll get to visit soon. My boyfriend saw the photo and he thinks the cat has very good manners and is sitting the Japanese way- which made me smile.

Blueberry muffin, Pure Cafe


My favourite end-of-summer band, I will let you guess before you click on the link. Some of you will know right away.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

End of Summer (Maybe)

This week officially marks the end of summer, but it's only on paper. To me, the weather still feels scalding, and even though evenings have been a bit cooler, I'm still several weeks away from tights, jumpers and boots. A girl can only dream- I started my autumn wish list about three months ago.

I did a few fun things on weeknights last week- I usually don't really like going out after work, but I think once or twice a week is really good to break the routine. I went to an India Pale Ale beer festival at one of my favourite cafes/cocktail bars Fuglen, but we suddenly got hungry and escaped to Arms Burger, located down the road, right across from Yoyogi Park.

This weekend was very slow and relaxing. I felt quite ill from the weather and perhaps lack of sleep (I've been really struggling to sleep lately, any tips?), so I took some time to recover and stayed home doing practically nothing but browsing fashion blogs and listening to music.

I've also decided to take a tea ceremony course. Ever since I experienced it in Kyoto (I probably forgot to post about that, but it was a nice thing to do), I've been wanting to learn the traditional way to serve tea (and drink it, of course). I was given some excellent recommendations for courses, but if you happen to know of other schools or teachers in Tokyo, please share! It's about time I do something more traditional besides getting dressed up in kimonos (I also want to take a kimono dressing class).

In a few months I'll have been living in Japan four years.

Shibuya 109 is now sporting Evian

Arms Burger: Avocado Burger, YUM

Arms Burger has rice krispies treats

Rainy morning, Omotesando station

Vegan ginger and citrus muffin from Pure Cafe
I'd eat them more often if they weren't ¥500 a piece. Gasp!

Sowing the seeds of love.... sunflower field at Roka Koen

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Still Summer + Miyazaki Hayao

Summer is not nearly over, and mid-August is definitely the peak of how messy things get: relentless heat, humidity, sweat, crowded post-obon trains, cicadas falling off the trees, sticky everything. Despite how poetic Japanese summer is, with fireworks and festivals and watermelon, it's not comfortable at all.  I also wish I could hear more cicadas, I was disappointed by the lack of cicadas around my immediate area. I know many people think they are too noisy, but I really love their sounds, and I wish my neighbourhood had more cicadas (alive rather than lying on the ground).

I had such a fun weekend, doing everything I love like eating sushi, green tea soba, meeting friends for lunch, playing with the yellow toy camera, and (unsuccessfully) trying to sleep in. I also saw Miyazaki Hayao's latest movie called Kaze Tachinu ('The Wind Rises'), in Japanese without subtitles as it wasn't available. Surprisingly I understood most of it, and I really loved it. I know most critics weren't that great about this movie, but I personally loved the story, it was very beautiful and sad.

In other new I haven't had the chance to go to the gym as often as before, but the few times I went I had long, effective (I hope) workouts. This week I feel like just being outside and sweating is a workout in itself.

Here are some random things I saw and did over the weekend, in no particular order. 

Mojito-flavoured chocolate... Mojitos are all the rage in Japan now
Is that even appropriate for kids?!

I played my favourite game center game, taiko no tatsujin

Heart-printed clothes make everything better

Eating green tea soba (and sweating)

My breakfast:
cucumber, yoghurt, bread, cheese and mango juice

Friday, August 16, 2013

Post-Holiday Recovery

I've been back from Kyoto for barely a week, but it seems so far away and my life already has changed drastically, yet again. Again! I received some really exciting news while I was leisurely exploring Kyoto.

I am now working full-time, which is so exciting and pretty much my dream job. I feel so lucky- exactly two years ago I set foot in Tokyo with my little polka-dot backpack (I'll never forget that), moving in that awful (yet awesome) shared house, and just trying this whole freelance writing thing. It came at a cost, but I worked hard and I'm so grateful I've been offered such amazing opportunities in this city that once terrified me.

Two years later, life has changed and the memories of the shared house and its surrounding lifestyle have faded, but I'm nonetheless happy I went through that. Somehow everything I've done, even though they seemed like bad ideas at the time (shared house, working jobs I hated, writing for free) all led me to where I am now. Sounds extra cliché I know, but that's just how things worked out.

In other news, I received the best gift- a Fujifilm Instax mini camera, which produces Polaroid-like prints. It's a candy-like yellow hue, and it's such a fun toy. I also treated myself to a Pon de Ring at Mr Donut, I'm sure my gym trainer wouldn't approve, but it's my guilty pleasure. I swear I never liked doughnuts before I came to Japan, what happened? Could it be the cupcake shortage?


The colours were black, white, pink, blue or yellow.
Yellow wins!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Kyoto: My Favourite Cafes

Kyoto has too many amazing cafes, and they're all better than anything I've ever found in Tokyo. Tokyo's good cafes are mostly chains, they're overpriced, and most sweets look a lot better than they taste (minus a few exceptions). Kyoto is filled with independent cafes that serve quality coffee, sweets, and food, and here are a few of my favourites.

Shinshindo is a Kyoto bakery chain, and I cannot believe Tokyo doesn't have it. It's a bakery but also cafe, and I fell in love with their morning sets: eggs, toast and unlimited coffee, just like back home. I've tried countless brunch spots in Tokyo, still nowhere matches the simple, affordable and tasty fare offered at Shinshindo. The breakfast sets are priced around ¥600, which is about a third of the price of what's found in Tokyo. Oh, I miss Shinshindo so much already!

Breakfast at Shinshindo

Takeout bakery items

Hello is another local cafe, which doubles as a library and even hosts its own adjacent bakery. Their cappuccino is excellent, and they have a long menu of smoothies and juices. You can eat meals there too, and they even have cupcakes. I love the atmosphere, it's quiet and you can pick any book from the vast library. You can easily find this cafe as they have giant banana leaves on the outside.

Hello cafe, books and coffee


Mango and mint smoothie + cupcake

Second House serves spaghetti (?!) and sweets, but I only tried the sweets. I had a very reasonably-priced scone set, which came with a plain scone and chocolate-chip one, along with fresh cream, blueberries and strawberries and an iced coffee. Delicious, and the real deal!

Half eaten scone set at Second House

Windows with a great view of Kyoto

Mumoteki is a cafe and clothing/goods shops all in one. Everything they serve is vegetarian (and perhaps vegan), much like my other favourite Kyoto cafe Proverbs 15:17, which is located near Kyoto University. Mumoteki was very similar, serving Japanese cuisine with a twist. I had miso katsu, which was fully vegetarian. The cafe was fully packed even on a weekday, and I'm still dreaming about that meal.

Mumoteki lunch set

Sunshine Cafe is another vegetarian spot- I'm not a vegetarian at all, but I love the cuisine. It's located right in the shopping arcade on a second floor, and has a bit of a hippie, bohemian vibe to it. I tried the roasted tofu on toast with a salad, and again the whole menu was delicious, healthy and affordable. They also serve a large selection of teas, and you can buy their coffee beans. All ingredients are 100% natural.

Tofu on toast, who would have thought.

What a nerd.

Cafe Independants is like a French cafe- it's located in the basement of a building that used to host a newspaper back in the days, and it's dimly lit with large tables and an artsy vibe. The menu is izakaya-style, which means bits and pieces you can order to form a meal. They have a large selection of drinks, cocktails and even sweets, it's open late and it's a good place to find out more about the local art and music scene in Kyoto, if you live there. I highly recommend the salad niçoise and quiche.

Hearty salad at Cafe Independants

Let's just say I didn't set foot in Starbucks for ten days.

It's Too Hot + Hiyashi Ame

Every single summer in August I have a similar post- that's when my tolerance level to high heat and humidity plummets. It's my fourth summer in Japan, and although I'm getting used to it and know what to expect, it always takes me by surprise when temperatures rise to 40 degrees celcius, and it goes on for several days. Hello, global warming...

I'm not a summer person, and have never been. My skin doesn't tan. My hair becomes a lion's mane. I don't know what to wear anymore. I hate shoes that show toes. I don't particularly like tank tops and shorts, nor look great in them. I don't enjoy having to carry a towel around to wipe my brow. I am not a fan of summer collections. Give me autumn clothes anytime, boots, knits, scarves, glorious coats and gloves.

Instead of complaining I usually write Summer Survival Guides, which contain tips to minimize the effects of this weather. To be fair, Japan is so well-prepared for extreme weathers (just like in winter), as they release all kinds of seasonal must-have items like cooling neck towels, minty face and body wipes, light and sweat-proof clothing collections (Uniqlo and MUJI usually has them), mini fans and even summer-specific menus.

Last week in Kyoto I tried a drink called hiyashi ame. Most people in Tokyo are probably not familiar with this as it's found mostly in Kansai, but it's a cold ginger drink with a bit of sugar, and it's so tasty and refreshing! I found a great recipe here. Ginger in general tends to be refreshing and soothing in hot weather, if you feel a bit queasy.

I mostly stick to cold water, green tea and mugi cha (roasted barley tea) on a daily basis. Sometimes it's easy to lose your appetite in this heat, but it's important to eat regular meals and hydrate constantly.

Any other tips to survive summer in Japan?

Hiyashi Ame

Please try it if you see this sign

Friday, August 9, 2013

Machiyado Matsumura Ryokan

This is best far the best place I've ever stayed in. This ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel, with tatami rooms and futons) is housed in a building that's older than my own country, and it's been classified as heritage. The ryokan is run by the Matsumura family, and the name Machiyado is borrowed to describe that type of traditional wooden buildings that used to be shops in the Meiji and Edo eras.

There's only two rooms, and they both overlook a gorgeous Japanese garden. The rooms are spacious, and the bathroom is completely new and renovated and stocked with essentials from MUJI. I think the whole place is kitted out in MUJI, from the towels to the bed sheets. It's clean and the futons were plush, and I wish we could have stayed there longer.

It's located in Fushimi, so a little train ride from Kyoto. The ryokan houses its own bar, which is run by the Matsumura son. He has a nice selection of local nihonshu (Japanese sake), shochu and beers, and the bar is wooden and he plays jazz music and tells you the history of the building. In the morning, the mother serves a traditional Japanese breakfast- she says that most foreigners enjoy it the first day, then have trouble eating fish first thing in the morning. As for myself, I could eat this every single morning!

I loved waking up to the view of the Japanese garden. I highly recommend staying there, but if you don't speak Japanese you'll need help to book it. It's so lovely, charming and affordable, and it's the best sleep I had overall.

More information on the Machiyado Matsumura website if you wish to go!

Sleepy head

Futon. The summer bed sheet is like a towel.


Breakfast: salmon, tofu, rice, egg, aubergine

Kyoto: Food

Okay, this is a bit strange, but I'll just post photos of meals I've eaten in Kyoto. Keep in mind I was there for like ten days in case it seems like a lot. Kyoto has some of the best cafes and restaurants, such as the soba shop Honke Owariya, which is the oldest noodle shop in Kyoto. The Imperial family visits the shop when they go to Kyoto, so make sure you try it if you visit. We loved it so much that we went twice, I wanted my last meal in Kyoto to be epic so it made sense to go there.

Here's some of the food!

Shinkansen bento

Shumai (dumplings) from Osaka shop 551 Horai
Takoyaki in Osaka, what else!

Shinshindo breakfast- Tokyo needs it!

Tonkatsu set lunch

Sashimi on rice = donburi

Green tea ice cream, of course

Japanese sweets at a soba shops in Kurama


Best soba in Japan at Honke Owariya

Manju from Honke Owariya, thank you Sean!!

Cappuccino at Hello

Japanese breakfast at the historic ryokan

Amazake (sweet rice liquor, contains very little alcohol)

More ice cream

Matcha at the tea ceremony we attended

Scones and fresh cream at Second House

Vegetarian lunch set at Mumokuteki