Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cupcakes, Puppies, and Autumn

I'm guilty of the whole "I love autumn" spiel, as I do love knits, crisp air, changing leaves, tights and hot beverages, as cliche as it all sounds. Autumn has arrived, the winds are chilly and I wish the weather would be exactly this year-round. October and November are actually the most gorgeous months in Japan, pretty much the only time of the year when there are no extremes of cold or humidity.

This weekend I found the best cupcakes in Tokyo, the REAL DEAL, at Bella's Cupcakes in Shirokane. The shop owner is a cool girl from London, I'm girl-crushing on her big time and I admire what she has done. Her shops reminds me of my beloved Cocoa Locale in Montreal, and being in Bella's made me homesick. I know it's quite silly, but small things that remind me of Montreal, such as cakes and even the autumn weather can feel quite painful when you least expect it, thinking of family and friends back home.

After having a red velvet cupcake for breakfast, I headed to a friend's baby shower party. She is also from Montreal, and to this day she was the only person I could speak québécois with. I admire her for taking the plunge and having a baby in Japan, I know she will do amazingly well. She has the most adorably puppy, a shiba inu breed, and now I'm dying to have a dog. I also met another lovely French Canadian girl, so turns out we're not alone out here in the Tokyo jungle.

I'm feeling quite ill now, maybe because of the changing weather, so I've been ingesting vitamin-heavy drinks, such as organic carrot juice and highly concentrated blueberry juice, drinking lots of water and trying to sleep it off.

I have a fun little getaway planned this weekend, can't wait to share more. It's a place in Japan I have never been to. Can you guess?

Bella's Cupcakes, London meets Tokyo

Heavenly Red Velvet

PUPPY! She is only a few months old

My tights are grey, can you tell?

Norwegian juice, to drink in small doses

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Art, Omiyage and Akihabara

Duck faces

It's only Saturday night but this weekend has been eventful (in my book).

Last night I attended two art exhibits; the first one was called "Thirty Six New Views of Mount Fuji" by Peter MacMillan, and it shows modern twists on the original colour woodblock prints in homage to Hakusai Katsuhika. It was quite beautiful and it's easy to drop in if you're around Omotesando (Spiral Building). The other exhibit was "Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad", at a pop-up gallery in Harajuku. The theme is animals, and they sell everything from prints of animals dressed as humans, to house ware and space animal figures. I was in love with every single thing there, and I want to go back to pick up some pillow covers, an espresso set, and some bowls. Everything is surprisingly affordable, and it's one of my all-time favourite exhibits. I highly recommend seeing it!

Today I ran errands at a department store with my boyfriend, and he taught me more about the art of omiyage, those small souvenirs, often in the form of snacks that are given and received year-round. Gift giving is a huge part of Japanese culture, and whole floors of department stores are dedicated to boxes of neatly, individually packaged sweets. You can even have them shipped directly to the receiver anywhere in Japan or even internationally. The boxes of sweets are delicately wrapped an adorned with ribbon and put into a carrier bag (I do hate over-packaging in Japan, so not eco-friendly). I learned that not all omiyage is created equal. Nice omiyage should look expensive and be from a renowned brand. Soft sweets such as small cakes make a much nicer present than dry biscuits. It was such a cultural experience to find myself in that department store. We ended up buying nice bento boxes for dinner (department stores have the best selection of homemade bentos to take out), and a cup cake- literally, a cake in a cup. Such a fantastic meal!

We also went to Akihabara, also known as electronics district, but nowadays more popular for anime fans, nerds of all kinds, sexual paraphernalia for everything you never even knew existed, and adult videos featuring former AKB48 members. Akihabara is so seedy and it gives me the creeps to walk around there, but it's always an interesting experience, and they do have cheap electronics. I found some marked-down film for my Fujifilm Instax Mini, and I saw a grown salaryman feeling up the 3D chest of a mousepad in the shape of a cartoon character. I also saw a dark vending machine corner filled with canned foods like snails, next to Shinkansen train models, which was fascinating. Maybe I should join a club for densha otaku (train enthusiasts)? Fun times!

I'm exhausted.

"Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad" exhibit

My dinner bento 

Wonder what's expired.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Otsukimi, and Chuseok Thoughts

Tonight is otsukimi, which is literally a moon-viewing festival. It happens once a year in September, and it's a celebration of the full moon. Traditionally people display susuki (pampas grass) in their house and eat tsukimi dango (rice cakes). I think it's a nice celebration, and I looked at the moon tonight from my window. I was too tired to go outside or eat rice cakes, but I wish I had some. They're usually decorated as rabbits, as Japanese (and other Asian countries) see a rabbit on the moon.

This time of the year also marks Chuseok in Korea. I thought about it today as I saw friends posting about the holiday, and it made me nostalgic to think back. Chuseok is like the Korean version of Thanksgiving, and it's a long weekend when people go back to their hometowns and celebrate by eating amazing homemade foods. My Chuseok spent in Seoul is one of my favourite memories about my year in Korea. My gym friend Il Pyo invited us over to this house to celebrate with his family, and it  was the only time I would ever set foot in a Korean home. We were welcomed by his extended family, all crammed in a tiny apartment, and the food was plentiful and delicious. They made us feel so at home, and were extremely generous. I will never forget that day, especially not how full I was because I had stuffed my face with pizza at the park that same afternoon with my friend Bee, reading the much coveted September issue of Vogue. I cannot believe it was five years ago already! You can read the whole story here; I smile looking back at old blog posts and how mouthy I was.

In other news I had a haircut earlier this week, once again courtesy of Momo at Watanabe in Harajuku. I've been getting my hair cut by Momo for two years now, and I don't ever want to change stylists! Just like last time, he cut it pretty short (for me, short is slightly above shoulders) as I loved my previous short summer cut. Besides, my hair grows so fast and thick. I love my hair now, it's so soft and healthy. I think I should maybe go for darker hair for autumn, it's pretty light at the moment after summer.

I've been really exhausted this week and kind of missing having a social life, but I took a nice lunch at Nicolai Bergmann in Aoyama, where I was able to read Monocle magazine for free. I'm also currently addicted to those snack packs of feta cheese and olives from the import store, which I put in a salad and eat with soup and bread- my comfort meal when I'm too tired to cook. A long weekend is ahead, so I'm happy I can relax and see some friends and go see this animal-themed exhibit at a pop-up gallery I'm dying to see- anyone going?

My tea matches the magazine

Wednesday night at the Morelli household


Otsukimi from the comfort of my living room

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tokyo Typhoon

September is typhoon season in Japan, and I still can't get used to those after four years. I can deal with small earthquakes and the extremely humid and hot Japanese summers, but I still loathe typhoons, as I find them so scary and unsettling. Typhoons are basically strong rain and wind for a few hours, most trains stop and it isn't recommended to step outside.

The typhoon was expected on Sunday, and as soon as I heard the heavy rain start on Sunday morning at 6am I started thinking about how I was home alone and didn't have much food around the house, so I  got dressed and stocked up on some staples at the local store, then went back to sleep. To my dismay it was sunny shortly after, the typhoon hadn't come yet and I had a full fridge (not bad).

I did what most people would do waiting for a typhoon, and went to a trashy afternoon foam party in a club in Roppongi. It was just as bad as it sounds, but obviously it was related to a work project and not something I actively sought. It was quite the cultural experience, and the club looks like it was filled with Shibuya 109 clientele. By the end I had had my fill of fried hair, deep tans and bikini tops, and had take out vegetarian burritos from my favourite Mexican joint. I also saw a samurai movie called "Unforgiven" (based on the 1992 movie of the same name) which was really good. I recommend seeing it, starring none other than Watanabe Ken.

On Sunday early morning the typhoon finally came, but I was peacefully asleep and I felt safe and found the wind and rain soothing. The typhoon did not last so long. Tokyo was okay but sadly many parts of Kyoto were flooded. I hope everyone is okay there. Mere hours later, the sky was clear, sunny, and the weather crisp- it had dropped about ten degrees. I love how clean the air feels post storm. And now I still have a fridge filled with food for the week, why not.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Things I Like Tokyo

Even though I live in the future being in Japan, it's still only Tuesday and there is nothing so appealing about Tuesdays. To make my Tuesday more interesting, I spiced up my routine with some fun little additions, while keeping it all within a tiiiiiight budget. I tried a new green smoothie at the supermarket (not as tasty as the real deal, but not bad for ¥156), walked on a bamboo tree-lined street on my way to work (so beautiful, and something I love so much about Japan), and perused my favourite Daikanyama bookstore and made a wish list of books to get.

Turns out Tuesday is not so bad.

Green Smoothie from Peacock Supermarket

Bamboo tress are so zen


Iced Chai Tea Latte + Books 

I need this too!

"It's not a bag, it's a Baguette"- Carrie Bradshaw

Larry Clark Exhibition at T-Site,
great photos from Kids

Happy stuff

Monday, September 9, 2013

Low-Key Me

September is here and I wore tights for the first time this season. Maybe a bit too soon, but I kickstarted my own autumn- I can't be bothered with summer anymore. I finally started sleeping with the windows open without turning on the air conditioner, and I sleep a lot better. That being said, daytime is still blazing hot and humid, but I'm in denial.

The cicadas are slowly disappearing (or rather, falling down) and all I can hear lately are suzumushi, which are bell crickets, as they sound exactly like tinkling bells. It's such a nice, soothing sound.

I've been laying low lately mostly because I'm trying to save money (or rather, not be tempted to spend), and also because I'm tired. I forgot what it was like to work full-time, and I'm trying to fit in regular gym sessions and cooking at home and making a bento. I still love going to the gym so much, but sometimes when I get home from work I feel so wiped out and I just want to lounge on the sofa until bed time. I usually push myself to go, and I always feel so much better afterwards. Here are some things that keep me motivated: the sauna, playlists (everything ranging from Sonic Youth to Rihanna, Dinosaur Jr, Neutral Milk Hotel, Snow, The Dream and Teriyaki Boyz- surprisingly some shame-inducing songs are the best to run to, I should post a playlist), feeling healthy and wanting to eat healthy things only.

This weekend I skimmed through Vogue's Fashion Night Out on my way home, and I also went to an English bookstore in Roppongi, and ate açai soy gelato. My boyfriend showed me the small area in Shinsen where they filmed The Ramen Girl. I don't care how bad the reviews were for that film, I love it so much, and to this day I feel like it's a charming and rather authentic rendition of life in Japan for a lost foreign girl. I also finally saw The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's latest film, and I really liked it. To be fair, I like anything Sofia Coppola related, but as usual I loved the cinematography and all the pretty things and details.

In other (important) news, Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics in 2020. The reactions are divided, and as exciting as it is, I hope they fix some major things before that happens. The nuclear situation in Fukushima, and the post-tsunami and earthquake reconstruction. Last April I saw some desolate sights and heard heartbreaking stories, and I feel strongly about this. I also wonder if I will still be in Tokyo in 2020- it freaks me out to think about how old I'll be.

Niku udon tastes better when cooked by someone else

Omiyage from Ibaraki, so tasty!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

5 Ways For Foreign Girls To Attract Japanese Guys... My Take

A few days ago, an article called 5 Ways For Foreign Girls To Attract Japanese Guys was posted on a website that reports stories from mostly Japanese sources. I thought the article was completely ridiculous and I felt quite infuriated. Please note that I don't blame the author of that English piece in any way: she was merely reporting what was said on a Japanese website called Madame Riri (you can read the original article in Japanese) and she even herself added that it seems like a guide on how to become a stereotypical Japanese woman.

I'm reposting the article here with some notes and observations.

5 Ways For Foreign Girls To Attract Japanese Guys

1. Beautiful skin
Japanese guys will immediately notice the quality of your skin. Clear, white skin is the essence of beauty in Japan; if you’ve ever been to a beauty counter in Japan you’ll have seen the amount of potions and lotions promising whiter, brighter skin. Why are fair-skinned girls considered beautiful? According to one girl’s analysis, white skin is associated with purity, innocence and youth. As there is great importance attached to a woman’s youth, or at least appearance of youth, if you want to bag yourself a Japanese man then you first need to get that “perfect” skin.
Notes: Japanese guys do like healthy skin, yes, but who doesn't? Skincare is very important in Japan indeed, but 'light' skin?! Many Japanese guys actually seem to prefer darker skin tones, and not all of them are into "purity, innocence and youth".
2. Quiet down
Personality is also key! Here’s just a few adjectives that Madame Riri takes careful note of:“gracious, respectful, modest, slightly demure, innocent, friendly, approachable, sensitive.” Apparently the most important attribute, however, is shyness. Acting shy will make you seem “cute”, and being a “cute girl” is what many Japanese girls strive to be.
Japanese people show their feelings through actions rather than words. Whereas in many Western countries it wouldn’t be shocking for a girl to come out and say “I like you” straight to a guy’s face, in Japan this is still considered rather unconventional. The preferred route, our expert tells us, is for the girl to act shy, which ups their cuteness factor and makes it easier for the guy to approach them. If a girl doesn’t speak up around you it’s not because she’s not interested – far from it! She just knows that the way to a guy’s heart is to shut up and let him make the moves. The writer says that compared to Western guys, the average Japanese man is far shyer, so you’ll have to adjust your own “shyness level” to match his. Being your usual flirty foreigner self-will just drive him away.
Notes: This is probably the worst part of the article. I don't know any foreign girl who got a Japanese guy by letting him make the moves! And shutting up? Maybe if you want one of those boring, controlling boyfriends. Any cool Japanese guy loves a girl with an opinion, a sense of humour and great energy and enthusiasm.
3. Feminine style
So you’ve already prettied up your skin and changed your personality, but you’re still not done yet. Next up is personal appearance. It may be the opposite to what you’d expect, but try not to wear revealing clothes. You might think it ridiculous to change your style in order to get a guy, but if you’re serious about wanting a Japanese boyfriend, you’re going to need to think about how you wear your clothes. Of course personal hygiene is also very important, as is having clean soft hair, and natural looking make-up, but don’t even think about leaving the house with the goods on show if you’re trying to bag yourself a man.
Notes: My boyfriend begs me to wear more jeans, tank tops and edgy pieces. Many Japanese guys I know hate that overly feminine style. However, clean soft hair and natural-looking makeup is totally true, but then again, isn't it the same for any guy? Who wants to date a girl with clown makeup and damaged hair?
4. Slim down
As if we hadn’t already got controversial enough, this one’s sure to get a few readers seething. While stating that of course different individuals have different tastes, this girl is adamant that the average Japanese guy prefers slim girls. Japan is as diet-mad as any other developed country, but the difference here is that most people don’t really need to diet – most Japanese girls are already very slim.
Apparently a slim body makes a girl look more cute and fragile. Most guys want a girl who is smaller than themselves so they can feel manly and protective, and as most Japanese guys are themselves quite slim, their girls have to get pretty tiny. However, when it comes to height it seems like there’s no defining trend; some guys like their girls short, others like them tall. The same goes for bust size. In the West we’re used to big breasts being – on the whole – the way to go, but a guy here is less likely to mention a huge pair of knockers when asked what he would want in his ideal woman.
Notes: Many many many many Japanese men like curves and actively seek that.
5. Pull, don’t push
Don’t pressure him! And don’t be too forward with your flirting – keep it subtle. You need to be shy and retiring, remember. The advice Madame Riri puts forward is to pull rather than push him towards you. This is probably the essence of her advice; that foreigners can be too brash and in-your-face for the average Japanese man, who wants a meek, quiet lady on his arm, at least in the beginning when trying to make their approach and tensions are high.
Notes: Then again, Japanese guys are just regular guys, and this applies to any relationship, doesn't it? No one wants to date a pushy, pressuring girl.

All in all, the original article was full of ridiculous statements, and those are supporting the stereotypes about foreign women being too fat and obnoxious to date Japanese guys. Like I said before in my post Foreign Girls Dating in Japan, boys are boys no matter their culture, and it's not rocket science. While some of them may be a little on the shy side, boys are boys everywhere in the world, they want the same thing in the end, and that's what any foreign girl who wants to date a Japanese man should keep in mind. Any thoughts?

Monday, September 2, 2013

September and Harajuku

We finally made it into September, although the temperatures still scream August. Summer is officially over, and looking back it was a good summer with lots of changes. It started a bit slow, and spent most of it going to the gym and writing at home. Then I took the most amazing trip to Kyoto, which was almost two full weeks of pure bliss and magic. While I was away I found out great news about my job, and I'm so happy I'm not freelance anymore. As much as I enjoyed sleeping in and lunching out, I don't think I'm suited for freelance work. I need a bit of structure and a stimulating environment and colleagues to be productive, and my living room wasn't cutting it. I love my new lifestyle, I feel so much healthier because I actually have to schedule gym time, plan meals and go to sleep early.

This weekend I went to Harajuku, somewhere I always pass through, but never actually take time to explore. I mostly went there for research purposes, but ended up having so much fun browsing through the clothes and snacking on the Calbee combination of chips, chocolate and soft serve ice cream. The Line application characters are so popular at the moment- my friends outside Japan probably have no idea what I'm talking about but Line is the the most popular text messaging and calling application at the moment in Asia. Every single person I know uses it, and the best thing about it are the stickers. See for yourself! I think it will pick up in the rest of the world soon enough.

Harajuku's must-have items

Brown, the Line bear

My favourite emoticon

Tamagotchi is back

Chips, chocolate and soft cream

Beautiful Tokyo skies, Sunday evening