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


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy 2015, from Japan

Happy New Year!

I've been away from this space for what it seems like several weeks now, between moving house and a few trips to Kyoto, Christmas and New Year, and now I'm taking a minute to breathe and write for pure pleasure- something I don't get to do so much anymore.

I never really make resolutions at the start of every year, but I always have in mind a few goals and projects. I like new years as they're a fresh start, and they give me motivation in the midst of cold winter months. Last year, I hoped for a more comfortable and settled life, and a trip home to Canada, and everything happened as I wished for. I had also hoped for a less dramatic year- while there were no city hall and immigration and apartment dramas, it was extremely eventful, but in the best way possible.

For 2015, I just want to live a more balanced, healthier life. I'm often driven by work and taking on so many projects, but I want to be more careful about what I choose, and save time for just enjoying life; reading books, meeting friends, running and baking. I always say that but I never do it. Will this be the year I finally do it?

I love, love, love my new home and home life, this is the most comfortable I've ever felt and I look forward to coming home every day, something I rarely felt in the last few years. Tokyo winters do not bother me too much, it's chilly but the past few weeks have been so crisp and sunny. I still loathe my daily train commute, it's something I don't even want to think about, but I'm keeping myself distracted with podcasts and music. However, some mornings I'm so squashed in the packed train that I can't even reach my pockets for my phone, let alone my bag. Welcome to Tokyo!

Despite all this, I'm not quite ready to end my love story with Tokyo just yet. This past year was so wonderful to me, and all I can hope is for more similar adventures, more travel and more books.

Our sheep family

Meeting this deer every year at New Year



My Favourite Places in Tokyo

I had the opportunity to share all my favourite places in Tokyo with Air France, so have a look at a roundup of my go-to caf├ęs and shops around the city! I hope this map is useful next time you're in Tokyo, or if you live here already and want to try something new.

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]