Monday, December 15, 2014

Being Merry

Lots of big changes lately, but it's also been a magical time. I said goodbye to my little apartment and cleaned it thoroughly, I hope the next tenant enjoys it as much as I did despite all the neighbourly nuisances. I moved into my new airy and peaceful home, I took a trip to Kyoto and I welcomed my mom to Japan for her second visit. It's lovely having family over, it's a rare occurrence and it's especially nice around Christmas, a time I usually feel lonely.

Things are changing, and even though it's been so overwhelming lately, it's the happiest I've been in a long time.

My new bedroom

Au revoir petit appartement 

Kyoto, riverside

Kyoto's oldest coffee house

Traveling style

Kyoto fare

In the mountains

At the top of Daimonji- and at the top of the world

Can't live without this.

Santa came early.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moving In

I've moved about six or seven times in Japan, in the span of five years. From Nagoya to Shikoku to Osaka to Tokyo, then around Tokyo a few times, and again in a few days. I've been living in this tiny little shoebox for now two years (which is a record for me in Japan), but it's time to graduate to something a lot nicer, sans Frozen-singing neighbour, washing machine right outside of my window, chain-smoking downstairs neighbour or adjacent train tracks.

This tiny apartment was great for Tokyo, and the rent was ridiculously low considering the hype of the neighbourhood. I loved the idea of a loft and ladder to access it, but it wasn't practical at all, and got too hot and suffocating in the summer months (which is like half the year in Tokyo). The loft turned into a giant closet, a storage space for all my clothes then forgotten as they were too far away. I don't really recommend lofts (which are popular in Japanese apartments), and climbing up and down a steep ladder can be hazardous in the middle of the night!

Nevertheless it was fun, and I'm ready to say goodbye to my little apartment and be a lot warmer this winter. I'm staying in the same area, which is great as I love it around here. I've been without furniture for the past few days, since I got rid of most of it, so I've been eating takeout from my futon. It strangely reminds me of my days living in Marugame, when I didn't have a table, sofa or chair.

In other (big?) news, I'm excited to share my first piece for the International New York Times, an interview with Chitose Abe of Sacai, one of my favourite brands. The collections are incredibly beautiful and this particular article focused on her collaborations, you can read it here.

And this kicks off December, along with the (real!!) Christmas tree I bought over the weekend. For the first time in Japan, I think Christmas will be merry.

Enjoying the last bit of the bachelorette lifestyle,
with Friends and a bento in tow.

The 'hood

Those gorgeous ginkgo leaves

Leopard + Yellow

American Thanksgiving breakfast at Breakfast Allday

Too excited = blurry

Oh, Christmas Tree!!

Moving, packing and cleaning

Sacai's gorgeous shop and Aoyama showroom
[photo by Maaserhit Honda]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fleece, Leaves and Catching Up on Life

I finally got a taste of freedom those past few days, for the first time in several months. The project I've been consumed with at work is finally over, and while it was such a stressful and overwhelming task, I feel so pleased with the results- a bit like at the end of a tough workout. The past few weeks have been especially difficult, with an average of three hours of sleep per night and a tonsillitis comeback (those sometimes require two sets of antibiotics, apparently).

Over the weekend, I was finally able to savour this sense of freedom, and although I had planned to sleep and not move all weekend, I found myself having more energy than usual and a desire to have a social life again. I spent all weekend with friends I hadn't seen in several weeks, and indulged in bookstore browsing, sushi dinners, movies, pancakes and a visit to a local temple, with several hot baths and lots of sleep.

In the midst of last week's chaos, I tried a nice little treat for my hair and went to a blow dry bar. It seems like those are a staple in most North American cities, but Tokyo had yet to catch up- until a few weeks ago. The salon is called Jet Set Blow Dry Bar, and is located in Hiroo. It's owned by a lovely foreign woman, and the idea is pretty straightforward: they just wash and style your hair, no cuts or colour. The whole experience was so relaxing, from the wash to scalp massage and complimentary herbal tea. It's usually a glass of champagne, but I kept it tame since it was 10am on a weekday. I loved my hair, they did magic with a round brush and curling iron and my hair was in soft curls that lasted for two days. The best part was the name card with my name that they prepared- I love small touches like that.

In other news I stocked up on more fleece and heat tech at Uniqlo, and I'm more than ready for winter. I love the long-sleeved undershirts, leggings and fleece hoodies and socks. I wish I could live in those! I also bought one of those ultra light down vests, they're mildly unattractive and puffy but so warm and comfortable, especially under a coat. All fashion rules go out the window in winter in Japan, anything to feel warm.

My heavy-lifting flannel

More whipped cream than pancake

Shrines and bamboo oh my

October sakura! Yes, this kind blooms twice per year



  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November in Japan

November in Japan is the most gorgeous time of the year. For the first time in several months, the weather is crisp and comfortable, the sun is shining on most days, and it's chilly enough to wear layers, knits and coats but not unbearably cold.

For me, November is also synonymous with pure madness at work with an important project, in addition to (fun!!) freelance assignments and just general changes in my daily life. This week is particularly stressful, but those are the times when I really cherish any bit of alone time I can get, and coffee breaks I can sneak in. I tried some interesting and new-ish cafes those past few days, one in The City Bakery in Hiroo (great coffee and pastries, affordable sandwiches and salad sets), and the other one is World Breakfast Allday in Kita-Aoyama, which changes the menu every months according to an international theme. Last month was Croatia, and this month is USA. There's only one communal table for about 10-12 people, with an open kitchen and a cozy decor that reminds me of my favourite cafe in Marugame.

I also love to stop by Omotesando Koffee whenever I get the chance, but I noticed it has gotten a lot more attention lately. Weekends now have queues, and even weekday afternoons are a full house. In a way I'm happy they're getting recognition as it's such a wonderful place, but I hate that this is no longer my quiet haven. Still, the baristas are so friendly despite this increase of people, and I'll keep going but I miss the days when I could sit alone in the garden.

I'm actually surviving on coffee and persimmons this week, and keeping my eyes on the prize (holidays, Christmas, New Year, sleeping in, fresh tatami floors…). I've also descended into an early-era The Smiths spiral, in parallel with The Bling Ring soundtrack. I haven't had a single sip of wine or bubbly since I got sick a few weeks ago, and I don't miss it at all. Maybe I'm still sick?


,
Fresh tatami <3 td="">

The City Bakery

My 'hood

Good morning indeed

World Breakfast Allday

Staged photo op

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cold Remedies in Japan

Over the weekend I got really ill with a bad case of tonsillitis (when is it ever a good case…?) and literally spent over two days in bed, unable to do anything but sleep. It's never a good time to get sick, but this is an especially bad timing with so much happening at work and in my life, let alone a full weekend wasted away. I did watch an awful lot of Friends though.

Thankfully I had on hand lots of home remedies, and it made me realize how different things are in Japan. Back in Canada, when I'm sick it's all about chicken noodle soup, humidifiers, Vicks and even Sprite for an upset stomach. In Japan, it's very different. Of course it varies from one family to another, but typical remedies here include udon noodles, umeboshi (pickled apricot) and okayu (rice porridge).

Kids are given those cold patches to stick on their foreheads to decrease fever, and I actually love them (and kid-sized too, as my forehead is so small), and body temperature is taken under the arm (in front of a full waiting room at the clinic, something I still cannot get used to). I ended up ingesting those small packs of grape jelly since my throat was so swollen and painful, and drinking Pocari Sweat (a sports drink with an unfortunate name) to settle my stomach.

The best part was a delicious cod soup, made with a konbu (kelp) broth, with ginger, daikon, green onion, pieces of cooked cod, noodles and tofu. It was nutritious but light enough for a weak stomach, and I highly recommend it to fight off a virus. I also love sipping on ginger-flavoured kuzuyu, a thick, honey-like sweet beverage.

I feel a lot better today and lucky I was taken care of with those amazing remedies. Do you have any local remedies, or things to recommend for colds and sore throats?

Grape jelly

Cool patch for fever

Okayu and all the umeboshi I could handle
(one is usually more than enough)

Ginger-flavoured kuzuyu

Cod soup


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Five Years in Japan

Five years ago today, I moved to Japan.

I cannot believe it's been that long, as it seems like I boarded that plane yesterday. I remember what I was wearing (a navy sweater dress and black tights), what I ate on the plane (a meal featuring a side of satoimo -taro root- which became one of my favourite foods), how I felt at the time (terrified, excited, sad, hopeful), my first few weeks spent living in that tatami room in Nagoya, staying out too late at karaoke and eating conbini sushi, and forging friendships that would help shape my experience in Japan.

Fast forward to five years later, things are completely different. Japan is home, I've built a career here, I met incredible people who make me feel like family. I've had wonderful opportunities here in Japan, perhaps the kind I would never have come across had I stayed in Canada. I traveled all over the island, tried so many foods and activities, and I somehow grew into a different person- or rather, came back to my roots.

Truth is, it was an unstable (how many times did I move?!), stressful (hello, paperwork and missing visas) and lonely journey (so, so incredibly lonely at times), but it was all worth it. I could never have imagined just how amazing it turned out to be, and how lucky I am today. I just feel so thankful and I try to remind myself daily of all the goodness Japan sent my way- especially at those times when I feel like I'm done, it pulls me back in.

I remember how torn I felt deciding whether or not to go to Japan, before I left; my heart was saying yes but my mind knew it was a risky leap, especially at my age (in my late twenties), which meant abandoning a career, a home, and leaving my family and friends behind. Little did I know my career would instead thrive (with lots of hard work and horrible jobs in between), material possessions do not matter at all in the end, and I would never, ever feel regrets about leaving- no matter how bad things got in Japan at times.

I would like to say, if you dream of doing something similar, go for it!!! You will never regret it. I often get emails from readers who ask me for advice about living abroad and making the move, and it makes me so happy, because I know just how fulfilling it will be and I fully encourage them to pursue it. It's never too late, really. Being away from your family and missing your friends' weddings is one of the most difficult parts, but home will always be home. I miss home every day, but no matter where I decide to live, I think that I'll always miss one or the other.

And thank you for reading my (somewhat random) musings about daily life in Japan, I appreciate every message and comment so much (even if I'm not always so good at replying quickly).


circa 2009- I wear less makeup now...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Neighbourhood Woes


I've been living in my cozy little apartment for now almost two years, and while it has been peaceful and relaxing for the most part, those past few months have been particularly trying. There's my next door neighbour, a woman of a certain age who rehearses the soundtrack to 'Frozen' every single night. Every. Single. Night. There's my downstairs neighbour, a twenty-something student who has weekly drinking sessions that go on until sunrise. He also smokes so much that the smoke reaches my apartment through the vents, and I have to sleep with a mask. It all sounds a bit dramatic, but it's been horrible, especially as sleep-deprived enough as it is. I've been trying to reciprocate with loud French music and early morning vacuuming stints, but I think it's a hopeless battle. I cannot wait to move! It does make for great stories, though.

In other news, October is already coming to an end, with Halloween in between. It's amazing how Japan loves and celebrates Halloween nowadays, way more than when I first got to Japan back in 2009. I'm not celebrating Halloween this year either, it's never been a favourite holiday of mine, but I do enjoy seeing all the elaborate costumes when I walk through Shibuya every evening after work.

All I know is that Saturday morning all shops will be covered in Christmas-themed decorations, including Starbucks and its "Snow Maple Toffee" Frappuccino, their seasonal specialty for the holidays. I'm always curious about those drinks, but the amount of sugar and syrup is more calories than I can burn in a week worth of fitness classes. Anyways- this year I'm very very much looking forward to the holidays, so I might accidentally enjoy those Christmas decorations.

My favourite tempura lunch set around Aoyama

Waiting for the train, every day
This homemade salad was exquisite,
but eating that many greens in Japan
is an expensive little habit.

                                       

Friday, October 24, 2014

Immigration + Persimmons

October marks my routine visit to immigration, which is one of the most stressful and dreadful things about living abroad. Going to the immigration office in Tokyo is an eventful occurrence- from riding the 'immigration bus' and filling in all the paper work, to hours of waiting and finding out there are more forms to be filled. The immigration office is such a grim place, and I mostly feel bad for people working there daily. It's also a good place to people-watch, makes me realize how many foreigners are actually living and working in Japan- it's a LOT.

The paperwork and bureaucracy are the least appealing aspects of living abroad, but it's part of the adventure and every year I learn a little more, and get my act together. I tend to be a procrastinator in most things in life, but I know not to mess with the visa stuff and get myself to immigration in a timely matter. I'm growing up!

Aside from immigration and filling out visa forms, this week has been insane and it gives the tone to the upcoming weeks, probably until the end of December. I try to find relaxing things to do every day, whether it's a workout or a green tea session. My goal for next week is to get 8 hours of sleep per night, go to the fitness club at least twice, and cook every night. Baby steps!

It's persimmon season, and I've been eating one daily. One time I was in a hurry and I bought those 'expensive' ones rather than the budget kind, and they were so much tastier and juicier. Now I'm hooked, and I've been spending an average of ¥250-¥300 per persimmon. I am debating whether it's unreasonable, but I need my fruit.

Vulcanize in Aoyama makes the best soy latte

A mid-range persimmon

Autumn cape

Tea ceremony at Sou-Sou

Matcha & Peach sweets

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mondays

Lately I've been working a ridiculous amount, which even included the weekend. I feel like all I talk about is how much I work, but welcome to Tokyo life. Even though I've had to work nonstop, I've tried to infuse it with some fun, and it's amazing how a few hours at the bookstore, or shopping or sipping on coffee can make a difference.

I spent a few hours at T-Site in Daikanyama on Sunday and finally took home the Rose Bakery recipe book, which is filled with smoothies, salads, scones and tea cakes. Rose Bakery is one of my favourite cafes in Japan (I especially love the Marunouchi branch, located amongst the clothes at Comme des Garçons), and I can finally re-create some of the dishes- they're all so simple and tasty. I also paid an embarrassing amount for the winter issue of Porter, because Christy Turlington and I'm tired of depriving myself of (unaffordable) fashion prettily adorning glossy pages.

I also went to a wine course, at a cooking studio-meets-cafe near the Imperial Palace. The place is called Cook Coop Book, and they offer cooking lessons and wine classes in English. This particular class was about pairing wines with different foods, and even though things start to get a bit blurry after the third glass, I did learn some essential knowledge that I shall apply to my hostess skills, should I ever host a dinner party again (I promise I will, and I can't wait).

I watched a French moved called Casse-tête chinois, which is the sequel of L'Auberge Espagnole and Les Poupées russes, two movies I somehow grew up with, all about traveling and living abroad and coming of age. That last installment was just as entertaining, but it suddenly made me feel old, as I grew up closely to that generation and suddenly all the characters became um, old.

All I hope to do now is open this fashion magazine and also whip up a few recipes from my numerous cook books that tend to remain closed in favour of take-out sushi and meatball udon.

Bed time!

Let's get baking

Let's hope I have time to open it someday

Wine + foods

My new favourite place!

Japanese garden at New Otani Hotel

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Typhoons + Thanksgiving

I may have said that October has the best weather in Japan, but I retract that. I forgot that October is all about typhoons, then it gets really warm and humid, then suddenly it gets rainy and the temperatures dip to a chilly 13 degrees, like tonight. I'm wearing socks and a hoodie for the first time in several months. I actually love it, but I think November is best weather-wise.

It's been nonstop madness since I got back from Kyoto. Every time I escape Tokyo for a few days, I come back to out-of-control amounts of work and deadlines, but it's still worth it to go away. We were lucky this weekend was another holiday three-day one, with Monday being Physical Education Day in Japan, and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Canadian Thanksgiving is one of the holidays I miss the most, chiefly the food part (and family time of course). This year, we went over to some friends' house to watch a very very Canadian movie about hockey, so that felt really nice and nostalgic in a way, even though I don't closely follow hockey, but it's such an important part of our culture.

Canada suddenly feels so far away, even though I was just there a few months ago, being back in Tokyo just sucked me back into this crazy busy life, and sometimes I stop and try to remember that my visit back home wasn't a dream. I had promised myself I would live a more balanced life once I got back to Japan, I've been trying but I still have a lot to work on- it's just been a whirlwind.

As for Physical Education Day, I spent it not doing any P.E. and it was glorious, but I'm catching up on my laziness this week with some much-needed fitness sessions.

I've been liking staying in or just having quiet drinks and dinner at friends' homes, it somewhat balances out my insane schedule quite nicely, not to mention spending quality time with friends is at the top of my list. I haven't been sleeping much lately either, even though I go to bed early I can't fall asleep, which is a bit unusual for me. I think too much and I get too excited about many things, I guess it's good and nothing like worrying over life, which is a nice change.

Lately I've been mostly wearing everything from the Alexandre Plokhov collection, it's just so comfortable and it's like living in sweats all day long, minus the sloppiness. Yes, please.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Kyoto in October

We took a spontaneous trip to Kyoto over the weekend, and I realized the past few times I've been in Kyoto is was either scorching hot or bitter cold. Kyoto tends to go to both extremes of the thermometer, but this time it was just perfect, and we managed to avoid the typhoon.

Every time I'm in Kyoto I question my decision to live in Tokyo. Kyoto is much more mellow, less crowded, and even if there are so many tourists, it's such a great city. There is beauty everywhere you look, and you can cycle all across it and avoid trains and buses. Tokyo is the business and pop culture centre of Japan, so that's where I must be for the time being.

Our weekend was packed as usual, but I managed to spend some quality time with this girl and eat the best all-vegetable based dishes at this healthy version of an izakaya. I loved the vegetable tempura, grilled onion, soy-based tsukemen, and kiwi avocado smoothie.

We visited some shrines, and one of them was Kamigamo, a World Heritage site. We learned about how they build the wooden roofs and had a guided visit of the site, and wrote a wish on a piece of bark.  I also made sure to make some time for matcha by the river, and of course Shinshindo.

Kyoto makes me feel so happy and peaceful.



Kyoto station

Shinshindo keeps it real

All-green train

<3 td="">

on the outskirts of Kyoto

Kamigamo is a Shinto sanctuary

I loved this

Kyoto also has Omotesando Koffee

Shinkansen bento!

Sofia sparkling

It rained a tiny bit

standing on the tracks