Friday, February 20, 2015

February

And here we are at the end of February, it's been another busy past few weeks filled with sleep deprivation, tight deadlines and crowded trains, but also time spent with close friends, some warm sunny days and a weekend in Kyoto.

Kyoto is a lot colder than Tokyo in the winter, especially in the traditional house I was staying at. I made it to Arashiyama, it was actually my first time going there. I loved the bamboo path!

The plum blossoms have appeared, which means spring is closer and sakura should be here in mere weeks. In Japan, spring is when everything changes: the school year ends in March and back-to-school mode happens in April, as well as the new fiscal year and renewed work contracts.

Things are changing for me as well with a return to freelancing, which I had missed so much in the last two years. Many people ask me about freelancing in Japan, and I think it's a great option but it's also very scary- in terms of visa sponsorship, finances and general stability. Shortly after I moved to Tokyo, I tried freelancing for a bit, but things ended up so messy, with visa drama, teary trips to city hall, anxious immigration bureau visits and more time spent lounging around than actually working.

Freelancing is risky if you're not prepared, so I don't recommend it unless your whole life is in order. Not sure if mine really is, but I've been on top of things (visa, paperwork, address changes, banks, taxes, insurance, doctor visits, immigration, finances) and with some solid contracts I'm ready to dip my toes into this sweet sweet world of freedom (and even more deadlines!). Also, having a workplace to go to a few times per week will hopefully help me achieve a balanced schedule that doesn't involve 4am bedtimes.

In other news, I've been craving sushi almost every single day, and I've been making miso soup on a daily basis and having it for breakfast, with a bit of rice and green tea. I love making a sesame miso soup from Harumi Kurihara, it's so easy and delicious! I highly recommend her book "Harumi's Japanese Cooking" for simple but exquisite Japanese recipes. I've been using white miso (instead of red) since I went to Kyoto, it's not so salty and very delicate. I'm slowly learning how to cook more than just udon, but I still find some Japanese cooking techniques intriguing. I've also been using my oven a lot, mostly for cookies, but I can't wait to make breakfast muffins when I have a minute to breathe this weekend.

I feel a lot happier lately, I'm finally slowly figuring things out.

Wine-toned nails, courtesy of Nail Quick

I fell for this brilliant marketing ploy:
apple tea + butter custard Pocky

Staring at the sun

This place.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sunday Day Out

Ever since I started working in the midst of the happening districts of Tokyo (aka near Aoyama, Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya), I stopped going there for fun as I usually associate it with work, and I can't be bothered to lose myself in those crowds on weekends. On weekends I try to stay around my local area, since I rarely get to enjoy it.

On Sunday I ventured to all the most crowded places in Tokyo, namely Shinjuku and Harajuku, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. I had brunch with friends at Le Pain Quotidien in Hatsudai, and I must say they make the best brunch in Tokyo. I think it's ridiculous that people all lining up all over Omotesando for calorie-laden pancakes, while there's this kind of healthier brunch with vegetables, salad, eggs and cheese (and a jam bar… and croissants… not to healthy but I'd much rather eat that). It never gets crowded and you get your own pot of coffee, so I'm completely sold.

Afterwards I walked to the big Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, where the 6th floor overflows with English books, and even French books. I wanted to buy everything and especially stock up on French books, but I ended up buying something fashion-related (which I'm too embarrassed to mention).

Finally I went to Harajuku, walk across Takeshita dori (or rather pushed my way through the hordes of teenagers) and did a bit of window shopping. I find Harajuku fashion so uninspiring, it used to be more unique but it's just so commercial now. Not that I would ever buy or wear anything from there, but I like to research. I was a bit surprised to see Top Shop has completely shut down all over Japan, I wonder what happened there.

I ended up in the back streets of Harajuku, where all the good stuff is, in the depths of Jinguumae. I also  went to the A.P.C. store there and realized that's where the strip club scene from Lost in Translation was filmed- the shop was turned into a club. I had read about it, but I had never made the connection.

Another rather long week is coming to an end, I find February to be one of the longest months even though it's the shortest, especially with the cold rain (wanna-be snow…) today. I just want to stay home with my bottle of Perrier (my special treat in Japan) and that embarrassing fashion book!

This brunch!! It's called Farmers' Brunch

Harajuku has a LINE store,
which is the most popular messaging app here

The LINE family

Aforementioned A.P.C./L.I.T club

I ate a big sushi roll for Setsubun on Tuesday

Sunday, February 1, 2015

January: New Year, New Me

It's been such a hectic January (what's new?), and the New Year brought many changes and adjustment, and lots of exciting new projects, which I can't wait to share soon. January is always a fresh start, but I must admit it started on a bit a sour note, dragging some dissatisfaction about my work and life balance situation, which I still feel is unhealthy. However, instead of dwelling on it, I decided to work towards some solutions, and I'm feeling so good about what is coming this year.

This month also brought many visitors from overseas, which is always comforting in the midst of winter. I met up with an old friend who used to work with me at summer camp nearly 20 years ago (yup, I spent a few summers as a camp counselor), and my dear friend Sophia from Australia. Yesterday we had a long overdue Tokyo catch up with the other member of our lovely trio, and it was fun to reminisce about 'old' Tokyo days (well, 4 years ago!) and seeing how different our lives are now.

We had lots to celebrate, and it came in the form of an exquisite 4-hour lunch at Beige, the Chanel restaurant in Ginza. It was gorgeous, not only the food and wine pairings, but the details, attentive service, cheese trolley (YES) and the interlocking C's logo on the chocolate. I spent the rest of the day recovering on the sofa, snacking on Australian treats as I don't think I can eat a proper meal for another few days. We also got manicures in the morning, so hopefully it looked like we belonged in Ginza…

Tokyo had a bit of snow yesterday, but for Canadian standards it looked more like rain. Thankfully it melted right away, otherwise it would have been such an ordeal with train delays for days. In other news I've started running again, there is an actual running course around a park in my new neighbourhood, and the full loop is about 2k so I can go around a few times for a decent workout. I like running in the winter, as it keeps me warm.

And on a separate note, this morning Japan awoke to heartbreaking news about journalist Kenji Goto, and while I never had the chance to meet him, I really admired his work. My thoughts go to his wife, young children, family and friends.

Shibuya never shuts down

Grey and wet Omotesando

Kitchen selfie

Beige - Alain Ducasse

Bubbles and quilt