Saturday, May 31, 2014

Almost June

Somehow, venting a bit about my feelings about life in Japan and its challenges made me realize how great things are here, and I appreciate all your thoughtful responses and tips. Life here goes on mostly swimmingly, but every once in a while I question everything, and I think about my family and friends back home, and my future (especially at my age). It's perhaps not so much about crowded trains and cramped apartments, but more about what's coming up next in my life, so that's the scary part.

This Line sticker is actually one of my favourites and perfectly depicts how I feel, while managing to make me smile. I don't know if Line will ever pick up in the rest of the world, but I love how silly and relatable it is. There was a great article in the NY Times about the cultural differences and use of those stickers, and indeed, it's just 'easier when a bear says it'. Funnily, some Montreal friends were visiting a few weeks ago, and they caught a glimpse of my phone while I was exchanging messages via Line, and at this point it made me realize how absurd it was that bears, rabbits and a duck were used to convey feelings and situations. I think I'm addicted.

In other news, I had the best customer service experience at Shinsei Bank in Roppongi Hills, as I opened a new account. Not only do they have debit cards that work in most ATMs overseas, but the whole process was quick and painless. In less than thirty minutes, I was on my way out with a shiny new black card (I picked the colour!) and a packet full of information. I finally graduated from my sweet Post Office bank account, which I'll keep anyways as it reminds me of my days in the countryside. Whenever I gave this account information to my freelance writing Tokyo clients, they would always react in shock at the Marugame branch part. I'll miss that too.

In other news… I ate a wonderful dinner at Beacon in Aoyama for a work-related function, but it turned into quite the late night after half a James Bond martini (they seriously make the strongest drinks I've ever had). I also went to the Marc Jacobs family sale, which was pure torture considering my budget after buying a flight to Canada and securing an amazing pad in Old Montreal, but it made me realize I can't care less about luxury brands when I have so much to look forward to.

Speaking of clothes, I started writing a series of articles about all the different types of kawaii fashion in Japan, and you can read them here. It's been a lot of fun to learn as I could not really distinguish all the different types before, and researching is the best part, as it's a whole other side of fashion I knew nothing about.

And, now it's actually June.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laundry Day

I literally haven't done anything fun for several days. My life has consisted of work, writing, cleaning, work, writing, more writing and watching embarrassing movies and Friends Season 7 (when Monica and Chandler are getting married). Well, I did go to a live band night and ate a burrito, which were the highlights of my week.

Maybe that's why I feel a little low about being in Japan, and I always feel pangs of guilt when I fail to appreciate my living situation and decisions. I tend to feel this way when I'm overwhelmed and stressed with various daily life issues (mo' money mo' problems), and naturally I keep thinking things would be so much easier if I were home. It's so convenient to blame everything on the place you live in when you're abroad. Then again, I'd go back to Canada and idealize Japan, thinking it was so great and why did I leave. I think there is no perfect arrangement. To be honest, I truly admire those who do decide to leave Japan and try settling back home after several years, as I know how difficult it is. Once you get a taste of living abroad, I think you get restless for the rest of your life.

I'm not planning on leaving Japan anytime soon, and I think this summer's visit will clear up a lot of questioning I constantly have about life on the other side of the pond. I'm also not feeling so restless for once, I'm actually so happy I finally settled down a little bit in my Tokyo life; a cozy home, a full time job I absolutely enjoy, a healthy routine and a solid network of friends (it's not nearly settling down, but believe me, it is in my case!). 

Maybe I miss the excitement of being new in Japan or even Tokyo, but Tokyo is so big that I could never finish exploring it during this lifetime. It's most likely just a phase, and maybe I need to tear myself away from my laptop, get over my hatred of crowded trains and find those little things that never fail to remind me why I fell in love with Japan in the first place. 

In other news, rainy season will start shortly, and I actually don't mind it that much, except for my hair.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tokyo Mornings

Tokyo surprisingly sleeps in very late, and very little is open before 10-11am. A few bakeries, convenience stores and coffee chains like Starbucks and Doutor have an early start, but the rest is lagging. Even so-called 'breakfast' spots and the ubiquitous pancake restaurants open at 11:00, which completely misses the point. Most gyms don't open until 10, unless it's a 24-hour kind.

It never really bothers me unless I have some kind of technological emergency (phone or computer-related), or if I need to run errands for work-related functions. A few days ago, I found myself in Shibuya at 9am, with two of those emergencies, and obviously nothing was open. I just wandered around, and had a doughnut at Krispy Kreme. I saw many people lining up for pachinko parlours, which all open at 10. They even get numbers in line, and as soon as the doors open they all rush in to try their luck at the machines. This is a bit of a sad scene. I did however get an outstanding customer service experience at the Apple store, and love them even more for this warranty I didn't even know existed.

I hope Tokyo shops and cafes start opening a bit earlier, especially as the flow of visitors is constantly increasing. On the other hand, everything stays open quite late, which fits the usual Japanese work schedule and late finish times.

In other news, I wandered around the Korean Embassy in Azabu and found a great little Korean shop across the street with a tasty selection of kimchi and all the side dishes whose names I cannot remember because it's been so long (and I never knew more than a hundred words in Korean).

I think about Korea a lot lately, maybe because it's been in the news so much lately with the ferry disaster, and I look back at my time there. It was such a long time ago, and I wish I had made the most of my time there. I was quite culture shocked the whole year I lived there, a bit similar to what's happening to me at the moment in Japan, as I haven't gone home in so long.

Japan, do I need to leave you to love you more? Is that how it works?

Queuing up for pachinko

9am Krispy Kreme, nice.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sayonara's and looking back

Saying goodbye to friends is a regular occurrence when you live abroad- international friends come and go all the time, and my time in Japan was a succession of hello's and goodbye's. I somehow got used to it, and even though each goodbye is sad, some are more difficult than others. A few days ago, my friend Sonia left Japan, and it made me especially sad as I met her on my very first day in Japan, when training in Nagoya nearly five years ago.

My original training group was composed of seven people, and we became very close friends over the course of that intense two-week training. Even though all of us were dispatched to different locations all over Japan, we would text and chat frequently and meet up during holidays. Although we met for such a brief period of time, bonds were strong and I will never forget that time of my life. Most of them left Japan after the first year or two, and are now living all over the world, between Canada, the UK and Australia. Up until yesterday, only Sonia and I remained from that group, and now she left. 

We never lived close to one another during that whole time, but we were constantly in touch and tried to meet during holidays. I especially remember one lonely Christmas in Osaka, when she came over and we spent a Japanese Christmas eating McDonald's chicken nuggets, drinking milk tea and watching Love Actually. 

It made me look back on my time in Japan, and so much happened in those years. We spent hours chatting and reminiscing about those first few weeks in Japan, which are some of my best memories of Japan. Everything had a magical feel back then, everything was so new and exciting, and I vividly remember how ecstatic I felt. It makes me sad to know I'll never experience this again, at least not in Japan. I'll miss her so much, and I'll always feel nostalgic looking back on those times. Yet, I have a pretty good feeling she'll be back soon. 

It's amazing how everyone moved away from Japan, and here I am. I'm doing something completely different from when I first came, and I had no idea things would unfold like they did. What started out as an extended vacation and stint in the rice fields turned out into daily commuting in crowded Tokyo, a job in an office, and realness. So much happened in those four years (good and bad, but mostly AMAZING!), I think I need a holiday to just recover from those changes.

Those first few Nagoya weeks circa 2009 were pretty wild

Five years later, we cleaned up pretty good

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Tuesday in May

Just a typical Tuesday night at my house- cereal for dinner, Perrier, a magazine and some writing. I've been so ill those past few days, I haven't been able to eat much at all and lost my appetite, which is a pretty sad thing. I hope it comes back soon. Needless to say I haven't been doing much over the weekend, I caught up on sleep and subsisted on fluids, and I feel thankful not to be alone.

In other news, I had to pay ¥5,000 to get rid of my old mini-fridge, which actually cost ¥3,000. It's the first time I actually follow rules on how to properly dispose of oversized rubbish in Japan, so I guess I'm finally growing up.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cinco de Mayo + Children's Day

Golden Week (or whatever two days we had off) ended on a high note, with homemade margaritas and a Mexican feast, such a rare treat on this side of the world. I met up with the boys, who once were my neighbours in Marugame and who are now my neighbours in Tokyo (things change, but stay the same).  I was assigned to the cocktail-making, and I worked on a mix of frozen mangoes, cider, lime juice and a bit too much tequila. We made tacos and played a board game, something about settling an island but we were a bit too distracted by last year's Eurovision on YouTube and we pretty much gave up on settling that island (sorry, Jon). I feel so lucky to have some of my closest friends living pretty much next door, as Tokyo can be a lonely place.

Cinco de Mayo was also Children's Day, which means special sweets such as kashiwamochi, which is  rice cake wrapped in a leaf. Apparently you're not supposed to eat the leaf, which I mistakenly consumed as I thought it was similar to sakuramochi, which has an edible leaf. It was more embarrassing than anything, especially as the story made the rounds. I'm quite mortified and had a bad stomachache the following day, but it's all good now (except getting over the embarrassment). To be fair the leaf was quite tasty, albeit a tad chewy.

Life somewhat slowly resumed after this holiday, and I've decided to quit my gym and instead do fitness classes and private training sessions next to my office. I found a place I really like, and I'm kind of relieved I don't have to wait around for 45 minutes until a treadmill becomes available, or not work out on Wednesdays or before work because well, it's closed. Gyms in Japan are usually very expensive (three times the monthly cost of my gym in Montreal), crowded (especially in Tokyo) and filled with rules. Community gyms are usually very cheap, and you can pay as you go- my ward gym was quite far, though. I did enjoy the gym when I was freelancing as I had lots of free time, but with a full-time job the schedule is too limited. Yet I believe exercising in a necessity and not a luxury, and convenience (and location) usually wins over the cost.

Blending in

I even salted the glasses, how classy


Healthy taco

à la bonne franquette

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Golden Week, Tokyo Version

This week leading up to the infamous Golden Week has been especially hectic; lots of fun going out with my Montreal friends and introducing them to the magnificence of ramen and the things you can buy at convenience stores (a half beer, half cola drink is now on the shelves), followed by lots of work. I was the in midst of organizing another event, so those always cause a bit of stress and last minute panic- but it all went to smoothly, and I feel thankful I had so much help.

Golden Week can now officially begin, but this year, the public holidays actually fall on a weekend (go figure) so in the end it's only two days off, instead of the usual week-long vacation. It will be a few days off filled with sweet nothing, and a chance to catch up with friends and tidying up my house.

I also tried a boot camp-style class last week, at a fitness club near my office, and it was the best workout I've ever had! It left my body oh-so-sore, which means I used muscles that have never been used. It was a combination of running, jumping, lunges, push-ups, abdominal crunches and weights done in a circuit, and I could barely keep up but it was lots of fun. It was in a small group with an instructor, and I went first thing in the morning, before work.

It made my second-guess my gym routine and membership; when I go to my regular gym, I don't really push myself and just hop on the treadmill for a run, then do a few weight sets and call it a day. I tend to be a bit lazy on my own, so I'm wondering if I should take more of those fitness classes with an instructor instead, where I actually break a sweat and can barely move the next day. Thoughts? Plus, my regular gym is closed on Wednesdays, and doesn't open until 10am- what is that all about?!

Also, I'm looking for a place to sublet for a week or two in Montreal, to be in the midst of the city and live my old life for a bit (since my family home in a tad further out in the suburban jungle, and not sure I'm even allowed to drive a car or know how to!). If you know anyone who is away on holiday in late July and would sublet their place, please email me!! I looked at Airbnb too.

You can't tell, but I'm wearing a Canadian Tuxedo

Tokyo Metro's May manner poster: