Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mid-Week Sushi

Most of my weekdays feel a bit like Groundhog Day lately, same thing over and over (work work work, write write write - bedtime), so any small activity tends to shake things up in a big way. This week, it was a sushi night, as mundane as it sounds. We always go to Midori Sushi, which is in my opinion the most affordable yet highest quality sushi around the neighbourhood. I've gotten quite good at shouting orders to the chef in Japanese. I used to be really shy, as barking orders seems like such a rude thing to do, but that's the way things work here. Also, the chef knows me by now and always gives me kind, encouraging smiles.

Besides sushi, I'm contemplating an early morning fitness class, and I'm looking forward to sleeping in this weekend.

Also, after wasting too much time on social media, I was surprised to see many former classmates and people my age already getting divorced or having a second child. What happened there, did I miss something? Have I been away too long? I'm most certainly on a different timeline here.

Green tea, sushi, draft beer = perfect combo

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Magnolia Bakery, Tokyo

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcake
                                     
I usually make fun at people queuing on Omotesando for imported trends such as popcorn and pancakes, but today I embarrassingly became one of them, for a good reason: NYC Magnolia Bakery arrived in Tokyo. I had been to the Bleecker Street location a few times several years ago, and I've been trying to recreate their recipe ever since. If you've been reading me since my Montreal days, you know I'm obsessed with cupcakes, and it's one of the things I miss the most from home. You don't want to know how much butter is in there.

The Tokyo branch of Magnolia Bakery finally opened in Tokyo a few days ago, and already the queues have started. If it's anything like Kripsy Kreme or Ben & Jerry's, the queues will last for about a year or two before it starts calming down. Well, today, accompanied by the two lovely office interns (I made it a mandatory part of the job), I headed to the Omotesando location (right under the posh Chanel store) and got in line with half of Tokyo's female population. There were no men in that queue... maybe one or two, who looked lost and confused.

We waited for over an hour, and all the while I was suspiciously eyeing the perfectly lined, pastel-hued cakes. Would the recipe be different? I know Japanese usually don't like sugary sweet, American-style baked goods, so I was anticipating a change. I ordered a classic vanilla cupcake, and to my delight, the recipe was exactly the same as in NYC: a soft cake, smooth buttercream frosting, and enough sugar and butter to fill my calorie quota for the month. Perfection!

I think the shop is a bit more Japan-ified on this side of the world, in the sense that they sell tons of accessories, such as aprons and tote bags, and most people go there to order boxes of 15 (to share, I hope) instead of individual treats like back home. I'm not so sure the Japanese market will be hooked after the initial buzz, as it really is overwhelmingly sweet, and delicate, subtle flavours are usually favoured here.

I'm secretly wishing the trend will go away so I can have all the cupcakes for myself, but then again, I'm happy there's a long queue so I'm not tempted to drop by on my way home from work. Each piece is about 430 yen (expensive, surprise surprise), and they have variations ranging from classic vanilla and chocolate to coconut and peanut butter.

I absolutely recommend it if you miss the real deal, and I think the queue is worth it if you have lots of time on your hands.





Monday, June 23, 2014

Not so Rainy June

Turns out June is nearly over, and it seems like rainy season is also gone. I'm not quite ready for a full-fledged summer yet, I could take a bit more rain and tights and boots. Did I ever mention how disinterested I am with summer fashion? Colder months fashion has much better possibilities, what with the layering and darker shades. Maybe it's because I'm from Canada, and we never had enough time to explore summer styles. I could never live in a place where it's hot and sunny all year round, I think I'd be miserable. I think Japan has great weather overall, as you get a bit of everything, and you can still wear regular shoes in winter (and not snow boots).

I had another handful of fun days lately, which included a day trip to the beach in Odaiba, that artificial island in the midst of Tokyo Bay. Odaiba is a very special place for me, and it always reminds me of some late summer adventures, and I have always kept wonderful memories. It was fun to return after so long, and just soak in the sun, eat burgers and have impromptu photo shoots.

I also re-visited a local cafe named Chubby's, a few minutes walk from Shimokitazawa, near Daitabashi station. I had been there before, a long time ago, but had never returned as I didn't know how to find it. It's located in a tiny local street, surrounded by old buildings, but the cafe itself looks so modern, with large windows and a wooden interior, very Scandinavian looking. Their menu offers everything from meals to drinks, coffee and sweets, and they have art exhibits changing up every few weeks. They even have a small wine bar, and lots of sofas and comfortable chairs. I want to go there every day! I had the best peach tart (covered with fresh raspberries and blueberries, and you know how much that costs in Japan), along with a milk tea, and umeshu for a nightcap.

And, I had my hair cut last week, a long overdue salon visit so it feels great. It's extra short for the summer (well, short in my book) and as usual, the skilled Momo from Watanabe Hair in Harajuku worked his magic. I've been getting my hair done by Momo for now over two years, and he's the best stylist I've ever had. I happily recommend him to all my friends, and even people who visited Tokyo for only a few days. Getting my hair cut is such a treat, it now feels so soft and healthy.

I'm also back working out at the fitness club after a few weeks' hiatus, and that gym practically means private training sessions. The instructor makes me work so hard, and I never pushed myself that much at my regular gym, because hey, I didn't really have to.

I'm also super excited to go back to Canada in a few weeks' time, but I'm also starting to get nervous. I haven't been in my home turf in so long, and I think I'll get hit with reverse culture shock really hard.

In other news, I've been eating cold tofu almost every day. I just buy a nice block of tofu (not the cheapest one but a good one), garnish it with green onion slices, ginger and ajipon. How will I ever live without ajipon? How much tofu is too much tofu?

Tempura with a side of garden

Not NYC, but Odaiba

Short Hair

Chubby!!
Chubbyyyy
Pear tart and cherry cake

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

MTV Awards, Mascots and Cocktails

This weekend I had the opportunity to cover the red carpet fashion at the MTV Japan video music awards (VMAJ), and it was definitely my teenage dream come true. I grew up watching the Canadian version of MTV (not only Much Music, but the French counterpart Musique Plus!), not to mention my fascination with the charming Beavis and Butthead. I never thought I'd work for MTV one day, let alone write about fashion, and in Japan. A few days ago I found myself on the red carpet (well, alongside it, I don't think I'd be allowed on it), scrutinizing the ensembles of Japanese pop stars. 

To be fair, the red carpet fashion was pretty tame, which may come as a surprise for oversea spectators, who usually expect all the madness of Harajuku fashion. Most celebrities tend to play it safe here, and it was a lot more prom night than club night. Most of the men were dressed in dark suits, and the vast majority of women wore pretty gowns. There were no disasters, risqué dresses or fierce outfits, even with fashion queen Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who usually goes overboard. Everyone looked really lovely, although I had a bit of an eye roll at some cheerleader-clad idols, who wore their usual uniform and not a red carpet-worthy getup.

I liked seeing the stars up close, even though I'm personally not a huge fan of J pop (although I do have a soft spot for Miss Pamyu Pamyu). Coldplay was performing, and they were the only international artist there. Two mascots walked the red carpet, which seems normal in Japan. The pear mascot Funassyi, the prefectural character of Chiba prefecture, was undoubtedly the biggest hit- the crowd went wild. 

It was a really fun day, and I feel so lucky. You can read my full report here

I spent the rest of the weekend writing my report (not as glamourous to come home and stay up late to write on deadline) and catching up on sleep, and Sunday wrapping up a wonderful weekend with some late afternoon cocktails at the Park Hyatt. We watched the sun set over the city, and as usual I sipped on a French 75. We ended the evening with some okonomiyaki in a quiet restaurant near Yoyogi Park. 

Those kinds of weekends make me fall back in love with Japan, or rather, they make me appreciate my life here. Some deadlines are definitely more fun than others...


My pass

The venue was located in Chiba, outside of Tokyo

Watching the rehearsal

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Funassyi

No sleep = dark under eye circles

Champagne-based anything is perfect

Tokio

Does it remind you of the movie?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Loneliness in Japan


Lost in Hong Kong 
                                      
To me, the most challenging part of living in Japan was always the loneliness. I had never lived by myself before coming to Japan, let alone in a foreign land, and it took me ages to get over it- or get used to it.

Today I was listening to music on my way home, and a particular song triggered that horrible feeling I had when I lived in Marugame, sitting all by myself in that tiny apartment in the middle of nowhere. No matter how beautiful Shikoku was and how many amazing friends lived in my town, I was never able to shake off that feeling of loneliness. At times, I would get so bored and lonely that I couldn't sleep at all. I used to think I was losing my mind living in that grey, dreary town, with nothing to do and the sound of frogs in the rice fields for a soundtrack at night. I'd stay up all night, listening to music to drown the nothingness, and dreaming of the big city lights.

Then I moved to Osaka, and after the initial buzz of bright lights and bike rides through the neon signs and gaudy fixtures of Dotonbori, I sank back into emptiness and loneliness, wondering why I had moved to Osaka, not knowing anyone and agreeing to a job I truly despised. Even though I ended up meeting some pretty amazing people in the short time I lived in Osaka, most of my weekends were spent escaping to Kyoto to remind myself why I came to Japan in the first place, and riding my bike late at night all across Osaka to kill time, between Bentencho, Umeda and Tanimachi. Many late nights, many dark parks, many conbini runs.

When a promising job opportunity opened up in Tokyo, I moved in a heartbeat, comforted by the fact that I had a lot of friends already living in Tokyo. Even though most of my first year living here was a string of blurry nights and sunrise walks from Shibuya to Ikenoue after long nights out, that same familiar feeling of loneliness was still there. No matter how many events and dinners and parties were going on, inevitably I would walk back home alone, back to that isolated place that somehow felt normal to me. Maybe that was Japan, just a lonely place. Even a romantic relationship did not fix that, and it made me realize it wasn't so much about friends, or boys, or bright city lights.

Somehow, over time the loneliness just dissipated. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I got used to it, or maybe I just became so busy that I forgot about it. I have a job I love, which plays a huge part in keeping my happiness level up, and a solid group of friends- people who have known me since my Shikoku days, people I have bonded with in Tokyo, and others that have practically adopted me into their lives. 

These days, any little bit of alone time I have I welcome with open arms, as it seems pretty rare that I'm home alone and bored. Well, I'm often home alone but rarely bored. Instead of feeling lonely when I'm alone, I now appreciate it and even long for it after a long day at work or following hours of social commitments. I think my life is more fulfilled now, with lots of meaningful work, quality friendships and relationships and a more balanced lifestyle overall. 

I'm not sure all my fellow foreigner friends living in Japan (or Japanese friends living abroad) have experienced loneliness on that level, but I think it's a recurring theme. Living abroad can be extremely lonely, and nothing could prepare me to it, but I'm glad I don't have this horrible feeling anymore. Maybe I'll feel lonely again someday, but at least I'll know how to deal with it next time.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wet Tokyo

It's been raining nonstop for now four days. I mostly stayed in, ate some maple fudge from Kaldi Coffee Farm, watched Dazed and Confused (and realized how old I am!! Those high school days are gone forever!), did some living room yoga and ventured out to the bookstore in Daikanyama for a few hours of browsing and shamelessly reading art books, novels an magazines I didn't actually buy this time.

I also upgraded my iPhone to a buttery yellow one, it did not cost anything so it was a free treat and it kept me occupied for a few hours- just like going to the bookstore. I also watched that Japanese TV show called 'Homecoming', which features a different foreigner living in Japan returning home in every episode. I actually love that show, it makes me weep every time.

We're looking at another four days of rain, but it's really not so bad if your feet are dry.

My feet are dry
New Toy

Tokyo Metro June manner poster
                                             

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rainy June


Rain, rain, rain for days. Rainy season has officially started, and I actually don't mind it at all. The weather is cooler (I'm not ready for the summer heat yet), I have rain boots and a rain coat, so why not. My hair will be a fluffy mess for the next few weeks, but all that humidity supposedly does wonders for the skin. I also like any excuse to stay in.

This week was filled with social events, and I ended up going to a record of embassies around Tokyo during a very short period of time. Namely there was a dinner with the US Embassy, complete with a gorgeous garden and a dog, and a Canadian Embassy event with Canadian-themed everything: Canadian food, Canadian music, Canadian slideshow, Canadian beer, Canadian wine, Canadian flags, Canadian CDs. You have to admire Canada for promoting Canadian content, and it made me feel so proud to be Canadian, and our embassy is just so beautiful!

I also had an unexpected emergency and had to quickly purchase a pair of shoes, so I dropped by H&M in between appointments and picked up a ¥1,080 (about 10 dollars) pair of flats, and after about 20 minutes they completely destroyed my feet, so NO to shoes that cheap every again. They looked alright aside from the fact that I still can't walk properly.

In others news, the bakery inside Omotesando station started serving this delicious almond milk, black sesame, honey and banana smoothie, and I'm afraid they'll take it off the market if I order it too often. I haven't had much time to cook since I was out every night, but one night I came home to homemade tempura and soba, and it was the best thing. Cold soba is one of my favourite summer dishes, and it's so simple to make. Here is a very easy and quick recipe I learned.

After stuffing myself with American and Canadian foods all week, it feels nice to go back to Japanese food, as it's generally much lighter. I was thinking, it will be strange to not eat much Japanese food this summer while in Canada, I think I'll miss it so much.

Almond Milk + Black Sesame 

Soba + Tempura

Me + Cut Out Mountie

Blurry Elevator Selfie