Friday, January 9, 2015

Of Snow, Running and Learning

I hope everyone had a lovely New Year! I spent just under 24 hours in Nagano with Matcha-kun and his family. They seem to have gotten much more used to me, to the point that I actually stayed with him in his grandmother's warm little house (in the same room too, scandalous!).

We did hatsumode at Zenkouji Temple, which was beautifully covered in snow, and bought some omikuji and a blessed arrow (which is supposed to keep bad things out of the house). After a cup of coffee and some apple cake, we jumped back on the shinkansen to Tokyo.

My vacation was very short (ah, the joy of IT and travel-related businesses), but it was lovely to have 4 days away from the computer. 
 
With Tokyo Marathon coming up (yup, I got a spot!), my weekends are filled with running increasingly ridiculously long distances. Fortunately, thanks to recently finding a lovely long park, 20 km just fly by!

Of course, this means that my time with Matcha-kun is more limited than usual... but we both know it is only a temporary thing. 

It is interesting how since moving in together, our interests have started to interweave more. He has started swimming again (influenced by my running obsession) and I have taken to reading more about history and political affairs (his field of expertise). And we both have gotten into Downton Abbey!

Never stop learning, that's the trick (*^^*)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

良いお年を! Happy New Year!

I love Tokyo during the New Years season. Over a course of days the city slowly assumes an emptiness, with only 3 or 4 people in the space I am usually used to seeing 20. The trains, usually a scene of discreet shoving and lines of people wrapped in thick coats and thicker perfume, today dwindled down to just me. An entire train car to myself, as I make my way to work through the quiet shuttered streets.
At night I can hear the high clap of the wooden blocks, the same sound that announces the start of a kabuki play, as the local volunteers warn the shoutengai inhabitants to watch out for fire. A sound from a different era, which lulls me to sleep, giving a sense of safety and balance to the unusual quiet.

2014 was an odd year, punctuated with a series of highs and lows reminiscent of a jagged heartbeat. Ending on a high is certainly a great blessing, as are all the lessons I learned on the way. Here is hoping for a happy 2015, with more adventures, joys and tranquility.

(And, ladies and gentlemen, if you happen to pass a homeless individual today, be kind and buy them a ticket for a bowl of warm soba, to start the New Year right. I haven't seen the cheery lady I sometimes chat with in front of the station in a couple of weeks, and am worried about her...)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Revisiting the Past: Kitasenju

Recently, spurred by the desire to try a great Thai place which appeared on one of our current drama obsessions (Kodoku no Gurume), Matcha-kun and I ended up at Kitasenju.

To tell the truth, I had tried to ignore this (admittedly blameless) area for a good long while. When passing through the station on my way to my koto lessons, I whisked from one line to the next, and never left the station.

The reason is silly, but not entirely. Several years ago, I actually stayed in Kitasenju for about a week. I was in Japan to job hunt and visit my then-significant other. As Kitasenju is out of the way, and home to a lot of Tokyo's day laborer population, the lodging was really cheap. 

This was not a great time in my life. I was in grad school in London, so doing the long distance thing with my SO, and having absolutely no luck finding a job that would take me back to Japan. 

As the SO was also busy, I ended up spending a lot of time running around for interviews, then walking around alone. My last 2 days in the city were spent rambling about, missing this person who had been 'forbidden' (!!!) to spend the evenings with me... mostly because his parents were afraid he would get plastered right before his first day of work. 

Eventually he did show up on the eve of my departure, after his first day at work. Drunk after a welcome party for new recruits... not a good state. One of my major issues with him was his inability to stop drinking at a reasonable point, so you can imagine how upset this made me.

All in all, the whole mess left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I guess it made me irrationally dislike Kitasenju.
How different things are now. Exploring the long shoutengai shopping streets hand in hand with Matcha-kun, I could literally feel my heart lift. This place now has new memories affixed to it, the dark aura it had in my mind is gone.

Perception is a funny thing. The things, places and people we thought were so perfect or pursued so assiduously actually turn out not to be what actually makes us happy.
The total shitamachi-ness of Kitasenju now can actually speak to me. The long street with colorful hand-painted shutters, the cute little cafes and bars, the calls of merchants purveying everything from snacks to futon. During that visit I couldn't even see it.

But now I can. Forgive me Kitasenju, let's be friends.

Friday, December 5, 2014

3 Years On

Due to a friend's question about exactly when Matcha-kun and I started dating, I realized it has now been 3 years... give or take a bit.

That odd 'bit' is due to a couple reasons. The first being that I am terrible at remembering dates and anniversaries. Hence, my mental image and timeline of our dating is a biiiiit fuzzy.

The second is that, being two very different types, we have different concepts of when our relationship started.
Matcha-kun, in typical decisive Matcha-kun fashion, feels that we started our relationship on the first date. I, being more cautious and undecided, think that it was closer to the 7th or 8th. Not that it truly matters, but it does make for an amusing conversation.

My coworkers seem vaguely concerned about this. It is commonly thought that women are the ones that care about anniversaries, special holidays and other 'romantic' dates. But really, I don't mind. I much prefer daily kindness and care to a few expensive dates throughout the year.
And when does a relationship truly start anyway? First kiss? After an explicit agreement? After surviving the first fight? I think there are various stages in any long term relationship, and those transitions are equally worthy of being remembered...even if you can't pinpoint an exact date.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall in Tokyo(ish): Rikugien, Kawagoe and Mukojima Hyakkaen

All I can say is, I hope ya'll like autumn leaves... because fall foliage is on the menu today! 

As my parents were in town (and due to the persnickety weather) I didn't have quite as much time as usual to run around the various parks and indulge in my love for koyo. However, what parks we did manage to visit were splendid.

I am particularly pleased with several of the shots taken in Rikugien. Matcha-kun, my parents and myself managed to get there during the golden hour, when the setting sun and fog made the whole place magical.
The two pictures below are from the little known Mukojima Hyakken. It is a very small garden, but the combination of the actual trees, lamp posts and Sky Tree is quite lovely.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dating in Japan: Moving In

The common reaction I got/get when telling local friends or coworkers that I moved in with Matcha-kun are a bit bemusing. Basically, they can be summed up as:

'OMG! He proposed! *squeeee* You are getting married, OMG when is the wedding?!? Show me your riiiing...wait, where is your ring?!'

Uh, whoa. I didn't realize we had slipped back in time to the 50's, when sharing a dwelling was equated with matrimony.

Besides the repeated necessity to explain that cohabitation and marriage can indeed be separate things, I think the Matcha- Godzilla household is proceeding quite well. For the most part things go along smoothly, with much silly dancing and weird noises by both parties. Occasionally we spat, about things like laundry drying and other such world shaking matters, but resolve things quickly with a minimum of nastiness.

For the most part we are both flexible about things, although I must say he is more amenable than I. It probably comes from having several siblings. While I am not always good with change, he takes it in stride. And while I am better at creative problem solving and spatial reasoning (very important when it comes to furniture and textiles), he is better at more concrete issues... and of course anything that requires reading complicated kanji.

Like many intercultural couples before us, we realize communication is key. Sometimes you literally have to spell out what you are thinking, because the 'default mode' just doesn't work. Obviously this is not just a cultural thing, but it becomes more pronounced. 

Household duties have been divided fairly, so the apartment is usually quite respectable looking. Since cooking daily is not something either of us is interested in doing, we make a few large batches on the weekends, supplemented by a couple meals by me during the week. And on weekends, he makes fancy vegan pancakes and other yummy things (yay!) And does all the dishes (more yay!), because I hate dishes and prefer doing laundry.

There will always be points of contention (like his insistence of leaving suits airing all over the place, or my annoyingly early alarm clock) but such is life. On the whole we have a good time watching odd dorama online (like Shinya Shokudo or Kodoku no Gurume... yes, food porn), running around the cit, eating far too much French bread and being silly.

Not earthshaking, and that is (in the words of Martha Stewart) a GOOD thing. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Here it Comes!

Strap on your seat belts and prepare for much enthusiastic blithering... for autumn has finally hit Tokyo (well, Tachikawa, but close enough). Behold, photographic proof!
The ginkgos of Showa Kinen Park have turned that glorious shade of goldenrod which delights the hearts of all koyo fanatics. As Tachikawa is about 3-5 degrees colder than Tokyo proper, we got a sneak peak of the autumnal glory which should hit the city in around 2 weeks.

In other, vaguely related news, for some reason the IKEA in Tachikawa is much less crowded than the one in Yokohama. And their delivery service is much faster! Good to know for peeps seeking cheap chairs and printed fabrics (!!!).