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

Sunday, August 3, 2014


On the last leg of the Canada trip, we went to Toronto for a few days- a nice little road trip, complete with Tim Hortons coffee and timbits. We stayed at the gorgeous Gladstone Hotel, which is a boutique hotel located in the (half trendy/half seedy) Parkdale area. Each is designed by a local Toronto artist, and it doubles as an art gallery. Toronto is all about the art, there is street art everywhere and well, it's a good place to be.

I've always loved Toronto, but this time I just loved it even more. It's a very stylish city (no offense, Montreal), it's sizable, and there is lots happening with fashion, art and music. I have very good friends in Toronto, all of them whom I've met while living in Korea and Japan. It feels special to share this part of my life with my Canadian friends. I met up with Jaclyn and Kyle, who used to teach at the same school in Seoul and lived in the same building for that whole year- we share so many fun (and weird) memories, like those awful cockroach-infested apartments, religious mornings and lazy afternoons spent doing nothing at the school (in other words, FB stalking people back home).

I also met up with Rita, whom I met in Korea over our mutual love for Sonic Youth, Oprah and Vogue.  Anyone who can understand an obscure Sonic Youth reference is a keeper. And, of course, I met up with Japan Mike, who shared those lonely months with me in rural Japan and parties in Tokyo. Even though I had such limited time with each, it was great to catch up with them, and notice that nothing has changed- it still feels so comfortable and natural.

We ate, walked down Queen and Bloor streets, had drinks in Little Italy, saw the daytime and nighttime views of the CN tower, picnics in Trinity Bellwoods park (A REAL GREEN SPACE!), smoothies and salads at Bolt, drinks with a view, and some stocking up at Lululemon. I wish I had more time in Toronto, and once again, saying goodbye to my friends there was one of the most difficult things. This whole trip was great, to be surrounded with family and friends, after being so lonely in Japan for the past five years. Luckily I'm not as lonely as I used to be in Japan, I feel like I have a family there now and very close friendships, but it took a long time to get there. 

What else can I say- I LOVE TORONTO! I'd move there just for the street cars, huge Holt Renfrew and that smoothie place. Just kidding (not).

The Gladstone Hotel staircase

The Gladstone Hotel- our room


Roadtrip stop in Bainsville, Ontario

Getting in T.O.

Pimped up CN Tower

It ain't the Sky Tree

Fig croissants from Clafouti

The most stylish baby I've ever met

Massaged kale salad at Bolt- YES

Trinity Bellwoods Park - the best! A REAL PARK

Seoul, Montreal, Marugame, Osaka, Toronto!!!!

The best tattoo shop in TO!! Owned by my friends!!

3am poutine and nachos at Sneaky Dee's

I love the streetcars! 

Vogue spread for the September issue?

Sushi street art

Have you changed?

Wine and cherries with the boyz

More Montreal

Food, food, food and friends, friends, friends. We went for breakfast at Beauty's and I was so happy to see the owner sitting there at the counter, as usual. Felt like nothing has changed in five years. We also tried a new restaurant on Boulevard St-Laurent, Le Majestique. It was so delicious, some of the best food, wine and atmosphere I've had in Montreal- and some of the best company, of course. We climbed at the top of Mont-Royal twice more, once at nighttime (it was filled with raccoons) and once during the daytime. The mountain (no matter how small it is) will always be my favourite spot in Montreal, to run and to view the city.

The holiday is coming to an end shortly and it will be difficult to go back, no matter how much I'm actually looking forward to getting back to Tokyo, as I never get bored with that city.We spent a few FUN days in Toronto (which will be a separate post), and now I'm just enjoying those last few days with my family and the cats. I never expected to feel so many conflicting emotions about Japan, Canada and everything in between, so it's been a bit of a roller coaster.

In other news: the weather!! Summer in Canada is simply perfection!

Beauty's: a classic

Oratoire St-Joseph

Fake names are always more fun

Le Cartet breakfast is THE BEST

Wining and dining at La Majestique

Palais des Congrès

More coffee

Coffee, always coffee