Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Romance is in the eye of the beholder

I am told that 'Japanese men just aren't romantic'... well, to tell the truth I have no idea, as my demographic samples are quite limited. Still, I think romance is very much in the eye of the beholder. Red roses are nice, but they can be bought. Those little things that don't involve a wallet are often far better.

Here are a few things I find incredibly thoughtful, and even romantic (in an odd, non-media conforming way):

1- 'The bed is yours'
When I'm sick, I mainly just want space, to huddle under covers and wait for my immune system to win its battle against the evil invading germs. Although I have never vocalized this, Matcha-kun will still decamp to our tatami room, and leave me the whole bed to myself, 'So you can sleep deeply and not worry about waking me up'. He provides me with medicine, food and water too, but this particular gesture is so very much appreciated.

2- Dish Washing
I hate washing dishes, getting my hands dirty and poked by cutlery. Eeew. But since moving in together, I can literally count the times I have had to wash dishes on one hand. Okay, so it drives me up the wall when he doesn't overturn the cups and bowls (the water can't run out, aaaah) but not having to do a hated chore is a real gift.

3- 'As you wish'
I am a bit...stubborn. Bossy? Assertive? A combination of the three? Topped with a strong desire to See All The Things, this makes me a bit difficult to travel or walk around a city with. And yet, no matter what weird thing it is I have decided to do (see the extremely difficult-to-find tomb of Ogino Ginko, look for vegan burgers in Shinjuku etc...) he comes along with a smile and a great deal of patience (did I mention that I also have no sense of direction?). This support means the world to me.

Does anyone else have these types of weird gestures they wish to share?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tokyo Cherry Blossoms 2015: 東京と桜とあたし

Persephone arrived from the underworld and briefly painted Tokyo pale pink, magenta and white to celebrate the end of winter.

From hanami with friends at Yoyogi Park to solo bento lunches under the blossoms at a cute little park near work, I took every possible moment to enjoy the cherry blossom season.

And a special tip for sakura lovers: the cherry blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen tend to bloom a bit later than others around the city, allowing you to extend your hanami-ing for an extra weekend!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Secret Spring: Hanegi Park

Tokyo never ceases to surprise me. A short wander down the Inokashira Line, I came across Hanegi Park. Don't let the baseball field fool you, this park is home to a truly charming bairin (plum tree orchard) with around 650 trees fetchingly grouped together.
Unfortunately I showed up about 2 weeks past their peak so couldn't get the full effect. But ume are much hardier than their delicate sakura cousins, so there were still enough blooms to make for a nice afternoon walk.
The floor is no longer a freezing shock in the morning, and there is some light when I emerge from the office in the evening... Persephone is indeed on her way!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Black Suits and Coffee: 就活と希望

It is that time of year again. I see them in their shiny black suits, sensible shoes and faces white with tiredness and anxiety. The job hunting season commences, and I watch young students still unused to the brace of a suit as they file through my office, write resumes madly at coffee shops and stare out of trains, glazed over by the repetition of answers to the same 10 interview questions.

Not to mention the questions trey pose themselves.

Will I be okay?
Will anyone hire me?
Do I actually want to do this?
But my parents say...
But my friends say...
What will I do with my life?

I see them and just want to go over, give them a big hug and tell them:

You will be okay.
Don't take a job just because the company is famous or your parents tell you to.
Don't forget who you are, in the process of streamlining yourself for bored HR interviewers.
Life is long, and your first job will mainly teach you what you do and don't like.
Your value as a human being is not linked to your paycheck.
You are fine just the way you are.
Don't trust anyone who says 'you will be lucky to work here'.
Don't trust companies that won't pay you benefits.
Take a deep breath, you can do this.
The company won't take care of you, YOU take care of yourself.

You will change and grow and make mistakes.  Right now it all seems to loom so large, your whole future decided by a few sheets of paper and luck. But try not to worry. One day you will stand as I do now, hopefully in a slightly kinder world, and tell someone else the same thing.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Vegan in Tokyo: A Helpful List

It seems that with age I am getting increasingly snarky about the morality of eating animal products.While I am by no means 100% vegan yet, I have definitely tried to severely reduce the amount of milk products and eggs I eat.

Since I know many others have similar moral (or health) concerns, I started listing some of my favourite haunts across the city, where you can get cruelty free tastiness!

Lets start in Roppongi, of all places. A short stroll from Mori Tower you will find Chien Fu (which also has a sister restaurant in Kunitachi). They specialize in Taiwanese style vegan food, with the fake meat the country is so famous for. The sweet and sour 'pork' is a major favorite, and their huge teishoku sets are all around 900yen. You can buy bags and cans of fake meat, vegan ramen and tofu mayonnaise on your way out too!

Next up is Kagetsu, a major ramen chain. During the spring they have vegan ramen, gyoza and fried rice. Cheap and cheerful. 
(NB. This is the last year they will be serving it, although you can buy the gyoza and ramen from their online store!)
(I ❤ gyoza, can you tell?)
While not a restaurant, the health food store Natural House, which has branches across the city, usually has several choices of macrobiotic bento. They are a bit on the pricy side, but allow you to have the traditional bento experience minus the meat and fish. My favorite is the 'meat' stew Nagomi set.

A hidden gem, if you so happen to be between Azabujuban and Shirokanedai station, is King Falafel. This used to be a twice monthly treat, when I worked in the area. The owner is lovely, and the full sized sandwich is a serious meal, with freshly fried falafel. Serious yum, but only two little chairs outside for seating.
On the same lines, Shamaim near Nerima is a bit of a hike from central Tokyo (unless you live there, of course), but has a fabulous falafel set and hummus set.
For something with a more American flavor, Good Honest Grub (housed in what appears to have been a normal house, between Shibuya and Ebisu) has an excellent Mexican bean wrap and smoothies. 

I have already written extensively about Eat More Greens (near Azabujuban Station) here, where the menu changes with the seasons (and has the most amazing Valhrona chocolate vegan doughnuts).The same goes for Deva Deva in Kichijoji (info here). Both T's Kitchen and T's Tantanmen are fabulous, with the first being one of my go-to lunch places when I lived on the Toyoko line.

There are several more places I wish to go, and there are definitely some that have slipped my mind at the moment.

Any recommendations? I would love to hear from other veggies in Tokyo!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tokyo Marathon 2015: Expectations and Reality

So, I finished the Tokyo Marathon... and am now dealing with the disappointment that came with it.

I started off really well. It felt like flying, going at a good pace with steady breath, steady heart rate and powerful legs... except for a twinge in the left knee.

Right after saying hello to my wonderful friends who came to cheer, I started feeling real pain. I tried different ways to stretch it out, and kept on going until the 23km mark, where suddenly my knee locked and I couldn't bend or land on it. I burst into tears of sheer sadness and disappointment. Had the knee not given out, I am pretty sure this would have been my fastest race yet. I had trained very hard, gone to the sports therapist to get my muscles and tendons properly stretched... all for nothing.

I hobbled over to the AED tent, and the kind volunteers stretched me out and taped up my knee. Hoping for the best I started running again. For about 5 steps. Nope. This was not happening. No can do. More tears and general despair.

And this is the interesting part. Until not too long ago I would have given up, since I obviously couldn't reach the 'perfect run' image jealously guarded in my mind. But instead I took a few breaths and re-framed the whole situation.
Okay, so a sub-5 hour marathon is out of the question. What CAN I do?

Oddly enough, walking wasn't all that painful, as long as I kept my knee from bending. Good. So the new goal is to finish the darn race and not get swept  (loaded into a bus that takes you to the end point because you are too slow to finish in the set time). I picked myself up and power-hobbled my way to the end, trying not to be too sad or jealous when my friends passed me (since its not their fault, for crying out loud). I ended up finishing in just under 6 hours, which is not bad for a hobble pace.

While I am proud of myself for finishing and not giving up when my 'ideal' was stripped away, some ambivalence remains. There is medal on my bedside table, and I am not sure I deserved it. I can't help but think 'what if the day had been warmer' (as the doctor said the long wait in the cold might have precipitated it) or 'maybe if I had just stretched it out a bit more'... ugh, annoying.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cultural Fatigue: aka 'Eugh, not this again!'

Yesterday I was scrolling through Tumblr (small life tip: if you haven't got a Tumblr account, don't get one. It is intensively addictive!) when I came across a reference to cultural fatigue ( 

While the author is talking about a very different situation (being constantly overcharged in South America) the whole 'feeling' is so very familiar.

As much as one can enjoy living in a different country, it can get exhausting. Japan may be easier than South America in many aspects, but it still finds ways to make you want to scream.

I spend almost all of my waking hours speaking in Japanese. I like my job, for the most part, but the thickly layered bureaucracy is a slog. Having to speak and write in keigo is exhausting. Not always understanding 100% of things said or jokes can be a bit alienated. Getting spoken to in boo-boo English from shopkeepers. People assuming I am an English teacher or don't know much about Japan.
It is not the end of the world, but these little things do add up. I can't run away from it, so how is one to deal with these feelings of 'doneness' and annoyance?

Well, I have a few ideas of my own, and would love to hear about others:

1- Give Yourself a Break
Spending most of your day in a foreign culture is mentally draining, so give your grey cells a break. Watch shows or read in your native language. Listen to comedians you like. Just space out for a while. Find quiet time to let your mind go blank.

2- Sweat it Out
Cultural fatigue also seems to turn into muscular tension. Get rid of that frustation through exercise. I find that running is a great way to combine idea 1 and 2.

3- Let It Go (Let it go~��)
There is a wonderful Buddhist saying: let go or be dragged. At a certain point you just have to let go of some of these annoyances. Making fun of them (to myself or with an understanding friend) helps me make the recurring annoyances small enough to brush off.

4- Enjoy the Good
While there are downsides to living in a different culture, there are (usually) also lots of good points which are worth remembering and celebrating. For instance, I enjoy celebrating traditional Japanese holidays in a small way (like eating ehomaki for Setsubun, or going to a shrine on New Years). I love that I can run safely even after dark. I love that tofu is dirt cheap. I love the beautiful places one can get to by train. I adore not having to drive or own a car. Making a little mental list of the things you enjoy can perk you up.

5- Eat Your Own Food
No matter how delicious Japanese cuisine can be, sometimes you just need a taste of home, whatever that might be. Super cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese, a plate of lasagna, hummus loaded with tahini... whatever it is, keep a secret stock for when you need it.

I am now going to take my own advice, have a bowl of pasta e ceci and watch terrible trash tv online.