Monday, August 25, 2014

Mint Candy Apple

Over the weekend, the weather has dropped a few degrees, and it instantly feels a lot better. After an uneventful weekend spent recovering from the week before and missing out on summer festival fun and dinners with friends due to heat-induced illness, I got around to get back into my routine a bit. I sorted through the Canada photos, cleaned my whole apartment, stock up on fresh fruit and veggies and tried my hand at a summer bento. I painted my nails a mint candy apple shade, from Essie, which I bought in Montreal for a fraction of the price. The only things I bought in Canada were nail polish (OPI and Essie, a third of the price compared to Japan), English and French books (including lots of Amélie Nothomb and a plane gem called Crazy Rich Asians), some Lululemon workout clothes, and countless tubes of toothpaste. The essentials!!

In other news, I've had my MacBook Air for now two whole years. It still works really well, except the letters 'e' and 'd' on the keyboard are a little loose, and the memory is completely full even though I transferred most of my files and deleted applications. I love this computer so much, I remember when I bought it, it was right when I actually started to write for a living. It was a reward and a motivation to do more, and it paid off. So much has happened since then, I feel like I've been so lucky.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Is August Over Yet?

My feelings about summer in Japan, crowded trains in this heat and the constant sweat. Is it over yet? I remember when I lived in Shikoku for my first summer in Japan, I barely had to work (or when I did it was at night), so I would spend all day indoors with the air conditioner blasting and curtains shut.  It was actually a pretty depressing and lonely summer. Things are a lot more exciting now, but I sadly don't have the option of hibernating until October. 

Life post-holiday has resumed, but I feel different than before. It's like going home changed everything, even though my life in Tokyo is exactly the same (almost- I do wake up a lot earlier and eat more fruit).  I need more time to figure this all out.

In other news, I discovered a new healthy cafe in Aoyama, called Three. It's one of the rare places in Tokyo which has cold pressed juices, kale salads and hearty servings of gluten-free pancakes covered with fresh chunks of mangoes and bananas. I know all this is trendy overseas, but it's just making its first appearance in Japan. They even have a beauty shop and spa next door, which I haven't tried yet. They also serve alcohol, freshly baked goods and they actually open at 7am. 

I've also been enjoying white wine on the outdoor terrace at Cicada, ¥500 takeout curry at my local shop, homemade breakfasts, peaches, excruciating workouts at the gym and shopping at the depachika (basement of department stores, home to all the heavenly food, which is discounted after 6pm-ish). 

Can you spot me on the train platform?

Cold-pressed juice

THIS BREAKFAST (and no queue).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Too Hot to Move

Japan is now experiencing its very worst weather, August being the peak and characterized by ungodly high levels of humidity and relentless heat. Every time I step outside I'm constantly sweating, and it goes on even after the sun sets at 6pm. Carrying a towel to wipe my face is just a regular part of my daily summer routine. I think Japanese summer is really miserable, as the temperatures reach extremes I never knew even existed.

On a positive note, there are some things I love about Japanese summer: the cicadas (many people complain about the noise, but I love them!), the summer foods and lighter meals, and drinking so much water and cold tea. Other than that, I just want to sit right below the air conditioner and not go out until late October. I think my level of tolerance for heat is quite low, unlike for the cold weather. When I was in Canada, my mom told me about how I used to spend a few hours outside every day, in the -30 degrees (Celcius!!) Canadian winters, when I was a newborn baby. Apparently new mothers were encouraged to spend lots of time outside in extreme coldness to get the baby used to the cold (bundled up, of course!). Not sure if they still do that nowadays, but I guess it worked.

I spent all of Sunday around Shimokitazawa, which has been my 'hood for now three years, and I couldn't help but notice how touristy and gentrified it has become. I still like it here, but since they built the new station, tore down the old shotengai and added shiny new conbinis on every streets, it lost its charm and appeal. It doesn't feel local anymore, and it's so crowded. I still recommend visiting it if you're ever in Tokyo, but I find it overhyped. Don't hate, I still have some love for Shimo.

In other news, I have pretty lame taste in movies, and while on the plane back from Canada, I watched (in addition to Weekend at Bernies' and National Lampoon's European Vacation) a French movie called 20 ans d'écart (English title is It Boy), which I loved. It's about a fashion magazine editor who pretends to have a fling with an 18 year-old boy just to get a promotion. It was lighthearted and stylish, in fact I'm in love with all the clothes Virginie Efira wears. And good soundtrack too, with Tom Tom Club, New Young Pony Club and France Gall. In fact I've been listening to so much France Gall those past few days- Ella Elle l'a and Résiste, such classics.

BP on a hot day

Dreaming of autumn clothes

Tokyo is ours

Doraemon exhibit at Roppongi Hills

Can never get enough of that cat robot

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Saturday in Kichijoji

Lately, the Kichijoji neighbourhood has been topping all the "Most Desirable Places to Live" lists in Tokyo. It's always been such a lively, old-school area, filled with secondhand shops, cafes, tiny alleys lined with eateries, the green and lush Inokashira Park, and now it has all the trendy boutiques and shops you can imagine. Even though Kichijoji is so close to me, I never think of going there, which is ridiculous considering how great it is, and so much better for shopping and coffee than crowded Shibuya and Shinjuku.

One spot I never miss in Kichijoji is Rose Bakery, for their hearty, organic breakfasts and selection of teas. I had a scrambled eggs plate with savoury scone, and rooibos cinnamon tea. I skipped their delicious carrot cake as I was so full, and went for a stroll around the neighbourhood. Yesterday was a combination of scorching heat and rain, but it was easy to avoid around the covered shopping arcade.

I was introduced to this famous katsu restaurant called Satou, where people queue to get a taste of their Matsuzaka beef. You can also reserve and sit inside for a proper meal, but we chose to take out some of their menchi-katsu, which is practically a breaded meatball. It was the most delicious, juiciest meatball I've ever had, complete with huge chunks of onion and the right amount of seasoning. Thankfully the queue was not too long, only a few minutes, but sometimes it takes over an hour. I highly recommend getting in the queue (you can't miss it, right in the middle of the shopping arcade, where it crosses with a street) and trying their katsu. We couldn't wait to get home, so we ate it right in the street.

Since it was too wet to go for a picnic at Inokashira Park, I scoped out the shops and did a bit of shopping at Uniqlo. I'm really liking their current collections, they turned it up a notch with the styles and quality of fabrics. I've always thought of Uniqlo for basic t-shirts and lounging clothes, but I really like their latest designs, it looks really good (read: expensive) and tailored, unlike their usual pajama-like dresses. Somehow Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo, also owns J Brand and Theory, so maybe there's influence there? And everything is like, under 2,000 yen!

No trip to Kichijoji would be complete without a stop at the taiyaki stall for a take out, cream-filled fish-shaped cake (that we also ate in the street). You can try making it at home, I love this video demonstration.

Uniqlo patterns
Steak House Satou

Don't miss it

A Croc-filled queue
Waiting card for the katsu

A bag filled with goodness at Satou


Washing the Car in Japan

After five years in Japan, some small things never cease to amaze me, and I still make discoveries, like the car wash one. In addition to car washing places where you can send you car to be washed by a machine, Japan also has car wash parks, where people can reserve a stall and wash their car, as if they were at home. Since Japan has such limited space, washing your car at home can be difficult (not to mention how much it would bother the entire neighbourhood), so many people take their cars to the car wash park.

When you arrive, you park your car in a stall, insert coins in the machine to pick which kind of wash you prefer: water only, or water with soap, or the full water-soap-wax course. Then, for the next 4 minutes (you have to be quick!), water shoots out of a gun-like contraption and you wash your car. You can also fill a bucket of water for 10 yen per bucket.

It was strange to be in a park where everyone is washing their car at the same time, but I really enjoyed learning about this cultural tidbit, as silly as it sounds.

Detailed instructions 

Pick your course

The car wash park

For 10 yen you can get a bucket full of water

Don't %$#@ leave your garbage or you may go to jail for 5 years

This dispenses water

Friday, August 15, 2014

August Heat

I somewhat got over jet lag, and life resumed as usual post-Canada. I went from being at home with my family and friends to just being at my office in Tokyo, and back to my apartment so suddenly, as if nothing happened.

Being away from Japan and back in my homeland was a really, really good thing. Living in a completely different culture for 5 years without going home is probably not the healthiest thing, and somehow it gave me distorted views of myself, my life and my roots. Going home gave me back that balance and a fresh perspective on Japan. It's true that leaving Japan makes you appreciate it a lot more, all those small things you take for granted: the convenience stores, the clean and available public restrooms, the freshness and quality of Japanese food, the efficient service, general cleanliness, safety and organization, and all those wonderful, rich cultural traditions and sights. Not to mention the sole thrill of living abroad, which is assured daily excitement and meeting all kinds of interesting people.

I would miss those aspects so much if I left Japan- however, do those things make up for a family, longtime friendships, stability, nature, green spaces, peacefulness (I finally slept for the first time in 5 years, no noise pollution…), fresh air, large apartments, cultural variety and affordable fruit? I wish I could have it all. Coming back to Japan is comfortable, but difficult. I imagine it's normal to feel this way, I'm sure I'm not the first person to experience this situation.

In the meantime, summer is in full force, it's hot, it's humid, it's suffocating, but I missed out on three weeks of that madness so I don't feel exhausted yet. I avoid going outside for too long, I drink lots and lots of water and cold green tea, and indulge in my favourite summer foods, like soba, cold tofu with ginger, sashimi, somen and edamame. Since I got back, all I'm craving is Japanese food! I also found greek yoghurt at the supermarket, which makes me so happy. I've been eating it every morning with fresh fruit and a dash of maple syrup.

August Metro manner poster-
mind your large items

September, I'm ready

Tuna & salmon over rice

Me stuck at customs at the airport-
more stressful than you can imagine

I miss this SWEET FACE

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Jet Lagged

And just like that, after spending nearly 20 hours crossing various time zones and having a mid-flight snack over Siberia, I'm back in my Tokyo home. It feel a bit unreal, and I'm slowly trying to re-adjust to my Tokyo pace.

After getting home in the evening yesterday, I fell into a deep slumber and woke up at 5am today, ready to go to work. I surprisingly survived a full day at work, and I felt quite relaxed- perhaps floating in some kind of jet lagged haze.

My last few days in Canada were so nice, yet I felt sad the whole time. It's so hard to leave, but I know this time I'll be back soon. I'm not sure how I feel about everything just yet, I need a bit of time and distance, but I somehow things are clearer- about how I feel about my life in Japan, my hometown, where I am in my life, and Canada in general. I'm too tired to get into all that, but I hope I can put it into words soon.

For now, all I want is to have a more balanced life. To read more, to cook more, to spend less time on my laptop. To hopefully work a bit less (wishful thinking), and to take advantage of living in Tokyo. To try to relax on the crowded train, like I felt today. Not sure if I'm just relaxed or overly jet lagged, but life would be a lot better if I was that chilled every single day.

In other news, the Tokyo heat is suffocating, feel like an oven every time I step outside, but my hair is back to being soft and shiny. In Canada, it was so dry and dull, so I'm thankful for the Japanese humidity.

so much luggage

not wanting to leave

goodbye, home

just like that, I was back in Japan