Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter in Kyoto

Kyoto is undoubtedly my favourite city in Japan, and I really wish I could live there. Although I felt a bit sad about Christmas this year, I was surprised with a short getaway to the most magical place in the world, and it was the best Christmas present I could ever wish for. 

Kyoto in winter is completely different from Kyoto in summer; to be fair, I'm not sure which is worse. Summer in Kyoto is boiling hot and humid, but winter is the other extreme. Despite the unbearable temperatures, the city remains just as beautiful and charming. At this point, I've visited Kyoto so many times that I don't feel bad just chilling out around the city all day without hitting any touristy spots.

We braved the freezing cold (and rain!) and rode our bikes, and re-visited all of our favourite cafes. This time, we discovered a new one, which is the best I have ever been to. The name is Kyoto Nama Chocolat, and the owners are a lovely Canadian woman and her Japanese husband. The cafe is in a traditional wooden house, with a few low tables spread out in the tatami room, with cushions and heaters. There is a big brown dog and a sleeping cat next to the heater, and all the food and homemade chocolates are organic. I drank a delicious bowl of matcha, and time really did stop for a few hours. I keep thinking about this cafe now, everything about it was perfect, complete with the big dog licking off our plates after we finished eating. Please go to this cafe if you're ever in Kyoto!

I also had a really nice encounter with a reader of this blog, who came up to me in Shinshindo, my favourite breakfast spot in Kyoto. I was so happy to meet her, and I wish I had time to actually hang out. Thank you for saying hello, I was really flattered! 

We spent the rest of the time just relaxing and soaking up the Kyoto magic, and as usual I was so sad to leave. It went by so quickly, but I'll be back soon again. Even though it was so cold, we made the most of it, and now I wish I owned a traditional Japanese home where I could just curl up by the heater and sip on green tea during cold winter days.

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas holidays.

Rainy Kyoto

This cafe!

Nanzen-ji, Lost in Translation

Merry Christmas!

Majestic Mount Fuji, view from Shinkansen

Kyoto station

Vege meat loaf at Sunshine Cafe

Hankyu line selfie, hello.

Lunch set in another home-like cafe

Winter v. Summer


Unforgettable treats.


Plate-licking dog, I love you!

Soba at Owariya, the best in Japan

Keepin' warm

Breakfast at Shinshindo: Tokyo, whyyyyy can't you do that?!

Cappuccino at Hello!

Takoyaki in Osaka

Cycling in the cold

Shoe shot

I don't want to leave.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Start

Yesterday I received a call from immigration, and after a mini panic attack thinking I was deported, they told me my visa will be ready to be picked up on Christmas Day. Of course, Christmas is just a regular work day in Japan, so the immigration office is open. I guess Santa listened to my request. Sadly, I think it's too late to actually go home, so I'll have to wait a little bit longer.

I'm trying to cheer up about spending yet another Christmas here. I'm on a much-needed holiday after 4 months of intense work, and I'm happy doing things like writing for fun and filling out my new diary (planner). One of my favourite end-of-the-year rituals is to pick out a planner for the upcoming year and start writing. I'm old-fashioned this way, I don't like electronic memos and planner, I like handwritten notes and a stylish accessory. This year, I chose a classic Moleskine diary, in cherry red. It's very simple with a hardcover, an elastic band, a pouch to put receipts and papers, and an included notebook. It has a lot of fun, trivial information in the first pages, such as flight durations between various cities and license plate codes. I now know the Tokyo-Montreal flight lasts over 15 hours, but I have never heard of a direct flight before.

I started the holiday (and celebrated a birthday boy) with a luxury afternoon tea at the posh Ritz Carlton in Roppongi, which was absolutely gorgeous. Besides drinks in the sky at Park Hyatt Tokyo, this is my top pick for afternoon tea. The view is wonderful, and so is the food. They had a special holiday menu, complete with winter-themed sweets. I drank a nice honey and fruits rooibos tea. We wandered around Tokyo Midtown and once again I realized Roppongi really isn't that bad, if you stick to the nice side.

(Late) Afternoon Tea

So much goodness

Cute but doesn't taste very good


Bundled up and waiting

Oversized deco

Moleskine 2014 Diary

Thursday, December 19, 2013

All I Want For Christmas...

… is a valid visa. Is it lost in the mail? Where is it?

Whilst waiting for the visa and slowly getting more and more sleep deprived, I've done a few fun things, such as going to Asakusa on a cold Sunday evening. I love revisiting places like Daikokuya, a great tempura spot I once visited on my own a few summers ago. It's not quite as tasty as my secret spot in that same neighbourhood, but it's a close second. While in Asakusa, I took another look at the beautiful Senso-ji temple and its larger-than-life red lantern. I also saw the Sky Tree peeking in a narrow alley, which was a nice surprise. I'm not a big fan of the Sky Tree as I prefer Tokyo Tower, but it's rapidly growing on me, and I love the contrast of Asakusa's old-school vibe and the futuristic Sky Tree. It's fun to play tourist once in a while.

In other news, it's been particularly cold and rainy, and not very Christmas-y. I've completed a lot of tedious tasks lately, such as changing my phone number at the bank. It took 3 forms, 4 inkan (signature stamp) and 45 minutes to finish the process, and I nearly lost my mind. I think this whole visa ordeal and not being home for Christmas makes me irritated, so I apologize if I accidentally stabbed you in the train with my umbrella. One more day of commuting, then freedom.

Thank goodness for places like Asakusa, mulled wine, mikan and nabe. I can do this.

Goodness hiding under that lid

Try this place if you're in Asakusa!

An empty shopping street past closing time

Can you see the Sky Tree?

Kaminari mon, meaning Thunder Gate. Roar.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I woke up feeling really homesick this morning; I think it was the weather, the sky had that same shade reminiscent of a snow day in Canada, and somehow it made me miss home. I also read nice messages from friends in Montreal, then put on the Arcade Fire, and one thing led to another and there I was. It hasn't happened so often in Japan that I feel homesick, but lately it's a regular occurrence and I just want to go home and visit. I adore Japan, but I need a break, so badly. I'm still somewhat in limbo regarding my visa status, and it's the most stressful situation I've ever been in. I feel like the city hall and post office staff now knows me.

I was cheered up a bit by the arrival of my fridge. It's the first time in my independent life I own a brand new fridge, and I cannot believe I found something so cheap and nice. The strange thing is, as I tracked down its shipment, I found out it was shipped from Takamatsu, where I used to live. It's a nice coincidence, and it makes it kind of special. Besides naming my fridge Takamatsu-kun, I filled it up with fresh ingredients and cooked a few dishes tonight. I had no idea a new appliance could be so exciting!

I also had a gyoza party with some friends, which was a nice way to break the weeknight routine. I was lucky to learn how to make gyoza from scratch last year (time really flies!), and I'm always keen on re-creating the whole process. This time, we made a batch of cheese gyoza, which were a huge hit.

Sometimes I feel bad I complain about my life here and miss home so much, as I'm living a pretty amazing life here (minus the city hall visits and regular correspondence with immigration), and Japan has been so kind to me. It's the small things, isn't it?

Gyoza Extravaganza

Takamatsu-kun! I love you!

Hot cocoa + marshmallows

Fleece + Booties, my uniform

The best present, courtesy of Diptyque
Did you see the new flagship shop in Aoyama?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Amazake Sunday

I may not have mentioned how much I love amazake on this blog; it's one of my favourite Japanese drinks, and it's mostly associated with winter, as shrines serve it on New Year's Day. I tasted it first last January, topped with ginger, and I've been hooked ever since. It's a thick beverage made from fermented rice, and while some recipes contain a bit of alcohol, it's so low that children can drink it. Think of it an the Japanese version of eggnog, although the ingredients are completely different. I like how thick and slightly sweet it is, and the best way to drink it is to top if off with fresh ginger. The nicest way to drink amazake is at a Japanese festival in winter to warm up, but the best quality I've had was at a sake brewery in Kyoto. In the meantime, I drink it at home from the packet I bought at the supermarket.

It suddenly became very cold, as in winter cold. My new bedtime ritual is to hit the gym later in the evening, then take full advantage of the bath and sauna facilities at the gym. I bring my pajama and get ready for bed there, then just walk home and crash. It doesn't look good to wear pajamas in public in Japan as it's usually reserved for a less sophisticated crowd, but I figure it's okay as I cover it up with a long coat.

December is the most difficult month of the year for me, I get sad and homesick so easily, but any small thing that can cheer me up is fantastic. I spent Sunday making pancakes in my tiny little kitchen, and walked around Shinjuku to see some Christmas lights. I finally found some soy yogurt at Seijo Ishii, and it's the most delicious thing. I went back to the gym after a month-long absence due to work, and the staff all asked me where I had been. My fridge broke yesterday, but I was able to quickly find a brand new, cheap one and it's pretty exciting as I've never owned a brand new fridge since I moved out  on my own.

How do you stay warm?

Soy yogurt, YUM

Canadian Maple syrup at the import shop

Friday night dinner:
Ginger biscuits, wine, pasta and canned sauce

Holiday treats at a party

Cooking in my TINY kitchen

Night cap

Ripped package of Amazake

Monday, December 2, 2013

End of November

Life has almost resumed back to normal, although I haven't caught up on sleep (or the gym) yet. I did a lot of fun things to make up for all my extra hours working, and that included cripsy duck fat fries and French 75 cocktails in the sky, with the coolest Swedish couple in the world, Mats and Asa. If you've been reading my blog for a long time, you probably know I met them via this very blog, and they make an annual trip to Japan. We have now started our tradition of a yearly pilgrimage to the New York Grill at Park Hyatt Tokyo, also known as the bar from Lost in Translation. As usual we had a lovely time catching up on the past year over cocktails, a stunning city view and live jazz. We discussed everything ranging from our mutual admiration for Christopher Doyle and Hong Kong cinema, Louis Vuitton City Guides, lesser-known neighborhoods of Tokyo, to Swedish and Japanese cultures, and the fascination with Scandinavia in Japan (can't blame them). I realize lots and lots has changed since last time I met up with them- all in a good way. I hope I make it to Stockholm next!

I also randomly found myself at a photo shoot with Diane Pernet, the renowned fashionista. She was in Tokyo to promote her Fashion Film Festival, and she generously gave us some tickets so we caught a few movies. She was such a pleasure to work with, and I feel so lucky I met her.

In other news, I slept lots and lots, but still cannot seem to catch up. Thinking about my pending visa status has been keeping me up at night, but there is nothing I can do but wait. Visa and immigration issues is the worst kind of stress when living abroad. I hate being in limbo. I also had an annual medical check, which I feel thankful for, since the healthcare system is so efficient in Japan. Still not a big fan of Japanese clinics and their lack of privacy, but it's good to be able to see a doctor without waiting.

And now, it's December… cannot believe how insane this year has been, it was most definitely a year of huge changes.

Crispy Duck Fat Fries (don't let the name fool you)

Tokyo comes alive after dark

Necessary elevator shot

Kampai, in the sky

A lunchtime tempura set

Nerdin' out with the Odakyu Line decal


Roppongi at 10am, much better than 10pm