Monday, October 28, 2013

My new favourite cafe in Tokyo

Today I was looking to have a quiet lunch away from all my work madness, and while walking around Aoyama, I found this little cafe tucked on a side street, at the top of a steep staircase. It's called Les Jeux Grenier, and although I tend to stay away from anything containing shady French grammar, I went upstairs and peeked in. It was so dark that I thought it was a bar, but turns out it's a cozy dark wooden space that opens up to a balcony facing the street. It reminded me of Montreal a lot, I felt like I was at a cafe on Mont-Royal.

It's decorated with antiques and old French CDs and books, and the menu is quite simple, with a focus on coffee. I ordered the lunch set, which was a croque-monsieur- basically a grilled cheese sandwich. It was grilled to perfection with butter just how I like it, and although the size seemed quite small, it was filled with cheese, and quality cheese for that matter. It came with a coffee, I chose the strong roast, and it was high quality coffee- right then I knew that place passed the test.

It was very quiet and relaxing with some light background music, and I felt so relaxed. I shouldn't share it as I want to keep it my secret spot, but I also feel happy to share those magical spots in Tokyo. The service was very friendly, and since it was "lady's day" (that spelling) I got a free dessert, which was a honey toast with ice cream. Everything was so delicious and lovely.

And in my ears, this.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October, Post-Typhoon, Halloween

What was planned as a double typhoon whammy ended up just grazing Tokyo with an endless mist, then Sunday was crisp, chilly and gorgeous. It also happened to be Halloween weekend; although I didn't plan on dressing up or going anywhere, I found myself at a fun Halloween party in Ebisu. I sadly had no costume as it was a spur of the moment invitation, but it was fun to see what people came up with. To be fair, it was one of the nicest parties I've seen, from the decorations to cakes and entertainment- I am in admiration of whomever organized this bash.

I also decided not to drink on that night- I was extremely tired and knew having a drink would not be the best idea, so I stuck to sparkling water. The odd thing is, every single person I chatted with pointed out my choice of beverage. I hate having to explain why I'm not drinking on any particular occasion. Sometimes I drink, sometimes I don't. Maybe people are worried I'm not having fun when I'm clinging to a bottle of Perrier, but truth is, an open bar offering Perrier (a fine treat in Japan) is way more exciting than cheap beer on tap.

That sums up my Halloween this year, maybe a step up from last year when I just took a selfie dressed as a cat then strolled around my neighbourhood and called it a night. Today I took a long walk around my local area, and picked up the most perfect persimmon-shaped Japanese sweet. It was just as delicious as it looked. Every autumn I'm all about persimmons, I can eat at least two daily, some when I saw this sweet I just had to try it.

In a few days, I'll have been living in Japan for four years.

Mini cream-cheese frosted cupcakes
from Notting Hill Bakery

The loveliest sweet

Late afternoon stroll

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Autumn in Tokyo + Hair

Time flies lately as I'm keeping busy, and the small amount of free time I have has become so precious. Most of it is spent watching Friends (I know, still in that phase- I'm in season 6 now, and Chandler and Monica will get engaged soon), but I'm also making time for the gym, even if it's just to squeeze in a quick workout. My main motivation for the gym is the sauna at the end, especially now that the weather has gotten cold.

It literally went from scorching hot and humid to cold, almost overnight. This month has mostly been rainy so far, but October and November are usually quite sunny and crisp in Japan, and I'm looking forward to it. I took out my Nishikawa blanket from storage, and started using it again. I love it! I've also been wearing full pajamas and a hoodie around the house; it's going to be a long winter.

In an unrelated note, I wanted to rave about my shampoo and conditioner from Kiehl's. As I've mentioned before, I don't use many Japanese beauty products. Not because they're not good- to be fair, Japanese brands are amazing for the most part, but they don't do anything great for my skin and hair- aside from a few things from MUJI, Shu Uemura and Shiseido that I can't live without.

That being said, I spent nearly 4 years in Japan battling with Japanese shampoo and wondering why my hair feels so strange since I got to Japan. I think Japanese shampoos tend to be a lot heavier and moisturizing than what I'm used to, and for that reason, they weigh my hair down, therefore I've had to wash my hair every day, something unusual for me. My Japanese friends are horrified when I tell them in Canada, I wash my hair only every few days, because in Japan, people wash their hair every day. Someone like myself with a thick mane should not be washing their hair every single day, as it's really drying, but I didn't have much of a choice since the Japanese shampoo weighed my hair down so much.

I finally splurged on Kiehl's shampoo and conditioner a few weeks ago, and my hair feels so amazing since then. It feels clean and healthy again, and I don't have to wash it every single day (sorry). While it may be a lot more expensive than what I used to buy at the drugstore, in the end it probably costs the same as it lasts much longer. This is by no means a bashing of Japanese shampoos- I'm sure they're great for some people, but just didn't work for me. Japanese hair and non-Japanese hair have very different textures, so obviously they have different needs. It makes me wonder if Japanese who go abroad also have issues with shampoos in other countries.

Besides obsessing over my hair, I also went to Urth Caffe in Daikanyama, where I sat outside, had a breakfast burrito, a latte then a green tea bubble tea. I'm also having a Belle & Sebastian phase, not sure how it happened, but listening to it makes me emo and happy. I'm mostly listening to Tigermilk and The Life Pursuit.

Owl coin purse I use as headphones case

Welcome back, Nishikawa blanket

Latte from Urth

Keeping warm.

Life savers.

Loving this design and cause.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Waiting for typhoon + Flying Tiger

A Flying Tiger shop just opened near Omotesando, and I happened to visit it today- I loved it so much! It's a Danish design store which has branches all over Europe, and the best way to describe it would be a cross between IKEA and H&M. Practical stuff for the house, with quirky designs and low, low prices. Most items average around ¥300, which fits my decorating budget perfectly. The store was very crowded, and I think it will get even worse once they have an official launch. I picked up some Russian Dolls dish ware, fish-shaped kitchen sponges, an owl sleeping mask, an owl coin purse and a fleece blanket. I took my purchases home in a cute cotton tote, and the total bill was half the price of a lunch in Aoyama.

While in the Omotesando/Harajuku area, I stopped by an American gourmet popcorn shop called Garrett. This shop opened last year, but every single day I see people queuing up for hours just to get a bag of popcorn. I think it's completely ridiculous, just like every other craze around that area (pancakes is the latest one, with pancake cafes popping up all along Omotesando), and I don't even like popcorn THAT much. Since today was rainy and everyone rushed home to wait for the typhoon, there was no line at Garrett so I figured I should 'research'. Turns out the popcorn is really, really tasty, but there is no way I would ever queue up outside that shop just to eat it.

Tonight I'm staying in, waiting for yet another typhoon: number 26 this year. Apparently the biggest in ten years, but not sure what to believe anymore. On my way home the rain became really strong, so I did the lazy thing and picked up a take-out pizza at a nearby restaurant. The size was relatively small, but the staff included 4 oshibori (single-use wet towels that come before every meal), probably thinking I was feeding a whole family. I was really embarrassed.

Inarizushi + Thanksgiving

Today is Physical Education Day, which means we had a long weekend- thank goodness for all those Japanese national holidays squeezed in throughout this season. It also means Canadian Thanksgiving, which is was one of my favourite holidays because of all the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, wine and chilly weather. It makes me miss home a lot. My mom and sister sent me photos of the cats, which made me happy.

Thankfully another family took me under their wing, and I had the chance to eat homemade inarizushi, which is a pouch of fried tofu containing rice. I remember the first time I had inarizushi, nearly four years ago when I first arrived in Japan. I was living in Nagoya and bought lunch at 7-Eleven (it seemed so cool at that time!), and my sushi box came with a side of inarizushi, as it usually does. I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted. It's quite sweet and filling. For the first time since I arrived in Japan, I tasted the homemade kind and I won't ever be able to eat the store-bought one ever again. I learned that if you use the fried tofu inside out, it's even more juicy. Rice can also be mixed with some vegetables, which makes it even tastier.

As planned, I drank lots of Milo and watched a whole lot of Friends- still in season 4, but I'm at the wedding episode (Ross and Emily, when he says the wrong name) so I'll have to decide which season to watch next. In honour of Physical Education Day, I made it to the gym and had a good workout, and noticed I lost a few kilos since the summer. I celebrated with toast and homemade grape jam, which was delicious. I also cleaned my house, and realized I haven't used my loft space since May. I usually slept there, but it got too hot over the summer, and still is too warm. It's now used as clothes and shoes storage, and I'm thinking I should keep that second floor for all shoes and clothes.

This weekend made me feel great even though I didn't do much at all.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mid-October, Summer is Back in Tokyo

False alarm, summer is most definitely still around in Japan, with temperatures peaking at 30 degrees (celcius, of course) every day of the week. While it shows that there is something definitely wrong with the planet, the dragging summer is also exhausting. Coincidentally this past week has been some of the most difficult, and I blame it all on the weather, incessant sweating and keeping up with frugal habits, which can be so boring.

Luckily, it turned out quite good in the end: I'm not sure I've mentioned that before, but two of my closest friends from Marugame, Jonathan and Jordan, actually live in my neighbourhood in Tokyo. It's funny how we used to hang out in the rice fields, and now we're doing the same thing but in Tokyo, still pretty much the same exact distance from one another. We're trying to keep our weekly dinner tradition alive, but it's proving to be a lot more challenging between our full-time schedules and commuting madness in Tokyo. Yet we managed to squeeze one in, and Jordan cooked me the most delicious risotto. It was such a welcome, homemade dinner, and a kind gesture. Jonathan made me promise we'd re-create the infamous eggnog recipe we attempted three years ago, and it shall be done.

I came home to another home cooked Japanese meal on Friday night courtesy of the person who taught me everything I know about Japanese cuisine, and it was the best way to end this week. Despite having a few more deadlines to meet this long weekend, I'm sitting comfortably, drinking Milo and watching more Friends (I went backwards and just started season 4, when Joey and Chandler are fighting about that girl they both like, and when Ross meets and marries Emily).

I don't remember ever seeing Milo in Canada, but I heard it was recently introduced. Can someone confirm? Milo is like Nesquik, bit less sweet, and I mix it with soy milk. It's currently my favourite beverage. I plan to go to the gym and cook some more, and be as lazy as I can.

Jordan's Risotto + Red Wine, thank youuuuuu!!!

Me & Milo

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Few Lists


Things I've been into:

Maskinen (that mind-blowing Swedish band), Friends (I'm still in season 5, when everyone finds out about Chandler and Monica), oden (a hot pot a various boiled ingredients such as eggs, tofu, radish, fish cakes- you haven't had oden until you've had the homemade kind), returning to the gym after being ill, making a bento for lunch, the discount supermarket, looking at pictures of puppies, reading blogs.

Things I miss:

Montreal bagels, Fall in Montreal, Home

Things I'm over:

The heat and humidity in October.

Things I haven't been doing:


Under eye marks, how do I get rid of them?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Swedish Hip Hop and 41st Floors

This week was jam-packed with work and after-work activities. I like busy weeks, but it easily throws me off balance, especially when I skip the gym. But all the good things I've experienced in those past few days really make up for the missed gym sessions. I had cocktails at my favourite spot in Tokyo- on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and as usual it was a truly magical evening. This time, I got there quite early, and saw the view in day light for the first time, and also got to see the sun set on Tokyo, and the city lights slowly coming alive.

I also saw a concert, something I don't do nearly enough in Tokyo. It was a Swedish band called The Movits!, and they play a mix of hip hop, jazz and swing. The opening act was fantastic too, a hip hop duo called Maskinen. It was one of the best gigs I've seen, the guys were so entertaining onstage, and it's danceable music. They stuck around after the show to sign all the merchandise for a long, long queue of fans, I think it's cool if artists do that, as they must be exhausted. I also like how early concerts take place in Japan- usually they start around 6 or 7pm. I actually used to complain about that when I first got to Japan, but I'm liking it now, maybe because I'm older and tamer. Concerts in Japan are rather orderly too, something I grew to appreciate. Then again, maybe I'm just getting old. Scary!

I am going through a 90s phase at the moment: I've been re-watching Friends, something that happens yearly. I like to re-watch the full series. Funnily I am now the same age of the characters back then, I never thought this day would come. I'm quite fascinated by 90s fashion as well, especially in television series and movies such as Clueless. I would still wear Cher's entire wardrobe to this day!

In other news I'm working a whole lot, and transitioning between being a journalist and public relations. I feel like I always look like a journalist whenever I go to events, press launches, meetings and parties. I'm not sure exactly what  journalist looks like, but I think I look like one. I wish I had that sleeker look of PR girls. I wish I could wear heels, at least.

Tokyo view, before sunset

Much-needed drink this week

My little salad bento, feta cheese it is.

From Sweden, The Movits!

What's Trending in Tokyo?

I often get asked about the current Tokyo trends. While Tokyo is so huge and it can be difficult to pinpoint specific trends, Harajuku sets the tone to the rest of Tokyo- and of Japan. Harajuku is the birthplace of most fads, and probably the most famous neighbourhood of Tokyo.

Back in August, I spent an afternoon in Harajuku researching (or rather, sampling) all those fads, and you can read the full article I wrote for MTV 81.

Believe it or not, Tamagotchi are back.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture

This weekend I left Tokyo for a spontaneous little escape to the prefecture of Ishikawa, in a small town called Wajima. It's located right at the tip of the peninsula of Ishikawa, going right into the Japan Sea. I had never been to this side of Japan, or to this prefecture, so it was quite exciting. It was a short one-hour flight from Tokyo, but being there made me feel so far away from the city: it's peaceful, smells of the sea, and is surrounded by mountains and tall trees. It's not such a touristy place, but they have interesting things, like a morning market filled with sun-tanned obaachans (grandmothers), fishermen and locals selling products of the sea. The market is called asaichi, and it's one of the best ways to sample all of their local products- although swallowing a piece of raw octopus before lunch was maybe a questionable idea.

Speaking of raw fish, I had the most delicious sushi meal I've ever had. I've probably said that same thing a few times in Japan, but this was by far at the top of the list. The sushi chef made us customized menus based on our taste and the day's catches. I like every single thing with sushi, so I tasted everything from tuna to sea urchin. I loved it all, and the sushi master was so friendly- like everyone else in that town. He gave us many samples of other dishes, which were washed down with the local nihonshu- sadly not so much for me, as I was careful not to drink much, thanks to the heaps of medicine I've been taking those past few days.

My other favourite part of Wajima was a visit to a salt factory and museum, where they take saltwater straight from the sea, spread it over sand, wait for it to dry then collect the salt. I also carved my name in katakana on a pair of chopsticks, which was then filled with gold powder. It seems like I did a lot in such a short time, but I also spent a lot of time napping (recovering from my cold) and bathing in the hotel onsen. All the food I ate in Wajima was so fresh and tasty, except from the hotel breakfast, which included onion rings, French fries and potato salad as part of the menu. Why?

I wish I could have stayed in Wajima longer. The hills and rice fields reminded me of Marugame, and small-town living in general. Sometimes I cannot believe that I used to live in a countryside town only a few years ago. It seems worlds away now. I really miss it a lot- or rather, I miss how quaint and friendly it was. Yet those trips always make me appreciate the life I built in Tokyo, too.


The mascot of the asaichi morning market

A rice bowl topped with strips of steak, tasty

Local liqueur

Fish, fish, fish

Why don't people like uni (sea urchin)? 

Sushi restaurant, lots of knives

Chawanmushi, an egg custard dish

Thick green tea

I met the mascot, of course

Rice fields and sea

He brings sea water to retrieve salt

Spraying the saltwater on the sand

Plane sunset