Friday, December 30, 2011

Little Moments

This is the busiest time for my industry, and man can I feel it. Not even New Years makes much of a dent in my schedule. However, there is always time for life's little pleasures... especially if they are cheap or free!

I got a gig doing some hair modeling in Ginza. Just walking to the salon was a breath of fresh air, looking at all the roads and buildings decorated for Christmas, glittering in the dark. I was a bit apprehensive, but fortunately the salon wanted shots of rather elegant styles. My hair turned out wonderfully poofy, the perm brought back to life! The stylist also gave me one of those wonderful head massages, and I was close to passing out, out of sheer happy.

Banks in Japan give their clients little gifts (perhaps to placate our annoyance at the ridiculously low interest returns?). In my case, I got some onset bath salts. So relaxing, and they make skin wonderfully soft. I'm saving the last one for February, when my desire to run away to Okinawa to escape the cold will be at it's strongest.

And finally, pumpkin pudding ice cream. So, so delicious.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Japan: Odd as ever

Okay, I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed by this news, but unfortunately the ginormous 14 v. 14 Christmas Eve goukon was cancelled at the last moment! And to think I was getting all excited about listening to 27 jikoshoukai, darn it.

However, it turned out to be just as well. Another sharehouse (that is somewhat linked to mine) was throwing a huge party, and so I went over with a few sharemates. I must admit, I am impressed by how KFC has managed to make fried chicken a requirement for any Christmas party in Japan! While chatting with all the nice people, one of the guys mentioned he was going to a R&B club afterwards. He asked if I wanted to tag along with him and his friend, since he had an extra invite, and I jumped at the chance. Ever since the rise of trance 'music', I have stopped going to clubs, since I can't stand the stuff.

Opera is a lounge in Roppongi, and the DJs were top notch. The clientele is a bit older and more upscale than Shibuya, and quite friendly. So, I spent Christmas Eve dancing to old school R&B until 5am with a glitter heart on my cheek (courtesy of one of the girls I met), and joking around with some of the braver guys. I would recommend showing up around midnight, since it takes a while for people to relax enough to start dancing!

The following morning started with great drama, as T-chan's boyfriend had cancelled their Christmas Eve plans at the very last moment. Reason: unknown. So I tried to talk to her, but of course anything I say doesn't match up with the information she has been fed her whole life. She herself realizes that her habit of giving up the rest of her social life the moment she gets a boyfriend is bad, but then goes in circles saying trying new things is mendokusai... there is just no helping some people. So I took her off to ShinYokohama, to get her mind off things (although she bought a book, the title of which is, I swear: 'How to make the boyfriend you love want to marry you'...oy), before meeting up with Matcha-kun.

Very clever young man that he is, he picked up on the fact that an over-the-top, overly oshare Christmas would be uncomfortable for me (since I would have liked to go home, but can't for obvious reasons). While the first part of the date went the traditional way of Christmas here, we then went to see the lights at Akarenga in Yokohama. Very pretty, but also very cold! Dinner was at Sparta, one of the first Greek restaurants in Japan. Certainly an odd choice for a Christmas dinner, but I was impressed by their dolma, and even more so by the fact that Matcha-kun ate them without (too much) trepidation. It was a nice, low-key evening, although he did break the 'no-presents' promise (but chose well, I love L'Occitane's scents).

In just a few days the New Years holidays will start, but my more pressing concern is what should I get him?! Perhaps a pocket square (he has an unusual style)?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Sunday in Winter: Roppongi and Nakameguro

Ah, what have I done, what have I done... the day started out so well... 

On Sunday one of my sharemates, the extraordinarily chirpy Wave-chan, decided we needed to have pancakes for brunch, always a wonderful way to start a day! As she works in a cafe, her cooking skills are sublime. She made miso soup with cream, and I could have seriously eaten 10 more bowls of it.

As per usual, the rest of Sunday was dedicated to another lengthy date with the ever-charming Matcha-kun. After being seduced by the adorable posters featuring Utagawa Kuniyoshi's ukiyo-e, with cats in kimono, children battling fish and other such brightly coloured scenes, we headed over the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi. The exhibit is located on the 50th floor of the sky-scraping Mori Tower, and the lift is so fast that your ears pop! The collection was stunning and immense. We had to loop around to see all the gorgeous prints, with those incredible gradations of colour so typical of Kuniyoshi's work. 

I must admit, this did improve my image of Roppongi considerably. I now realize that I have always exited on the wrong side of the station, and that the Mori side is actually really quite nice! Also, I am quite impressed with the quality of pictures taken with my new keitai.

After gorging on ukiyo-e, things seemed to be proceeding back to the usual pattern of walking around/ chatting/drinking tea... which is all fine and good, but my patience finally gave out. 

And this is where the earlier 'oh, what have I done' part comes in. I may lack delicacy, but I do like to know where I stand, and what Matcha-kun's intentions are... and so on. This may have been a slightly too aggressive, pushy tactic, but I couldn't stand going around in circles. 

After resolving this strange little summit (with Matcha-kun appearing un-fased, if slightly bemused), we moved on to Nakameguro, and the famous Pizzeria da Isa, the restaurant opened by a prize-winning, Neapolitan-trained Japanese pizzaiolo. Which I almost wish wasn't as delicious and authentic an experience as it is, because it has made me a bit homesick. The decor is typical of small pizzerie across Italy: tiled walls, paper table clothes, with photos and bits of kitsch strewn about the walls and ledges. Unassuming and wonderful (the only difference, of course, being the price!).

However, since then contact with Matcha-kun has been a bit odd. He cancelled meeting at my house for lunch on the 23rd. Then he said that going to Yokohama on the 24th would be far too crowded (good point,  and he also has a piano lesson that day) and we have now agreed to meet on the 25th... and now I worry that I freaked him out! Oh dear.

In other news, since apparently a date is out of the question on the 24th, my sharemate T-chan invited me to one of her goukon... 14 v 14! Can you think of a more Japanese way of celebrating Christmas?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Toyoko Line Love- Home Edition

I live on the Kanagawa side of the Toyoko line, up a bit of a hill and some stairs rather reminiscent of Nagasaki's twisty byways. Recently, trying to get more pictures for a photobook (a Christmas present for my grandmother in Italy), I decided to explore the area even higher up on my little hill.

After only 20 steps, I looked around and there, silhouetted against the bright cloudless sky (why is it that Tokyo doesn't seem to have many clouds?) was the snowy top of Mt.Fuji!

The owner of my sharehouse was shocked to discover this fact. In over a year, he has never felt the urge to explore the neighborhood... and this seems to be a common problem!

I think we all know far too many people, both here and abroad, that travel widely, but know little about their own hometowns or current places of residence. I guess it is a classic "the grass is always greener" situation. Tsuki-kun, whom I met for drinks, also lamented this lack of interest.

I love exploring close to home, especially now that everything still feels so new. The tiny shoutengai near the station, hidden under a single shadowy arch. A little oden place, all counter and no tables, where the oden may be mediocre but the atmosphere and slightly deaf owner are great. And of course, the view of Fuji-san, juxtaposed with the Shin-Yokohama Prince hotel.

When I work from home, during my supposed lunch hour, I have decided to go for runs around the neighborhood, using my patented method of getting myself lost, and then having to find my way home (very effective for adding a couple extra kilometers to a run!). Today I found a temple close enough to walk to on New Years, a tiny vegetable stand, and a very confusing roundabout.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I wish you love

The kindest thing you can say to someone.

And I want to wish him new love. We parted on amicable terms, before our differences of opinion on that one (apparently not so small) issue could turn us against each other. Ah, but it is very difficult to forget someone you cannot hate.

Even now that I am making myself open to new relationships, one of those happy memories comes floating through my over-active brain, to bring that mean little twinge in the chest that anyone who has loved and lost knows far to well. Setsunai.

But now I try and build on those memories. A spring day in Shinjuku park now links to autumn there, with someone else. Making him pasta in Kobe is now side to side with sharing pasta with my housemates. My second Christmas in Japan, which will hopefully be as sweet as my first. I do not seek to forget, but rather to embrace the change.

So that one day I can, truly, wish him love. For everyone deserves as much. And so that I can move on, and find it for myself as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Meetings in Moonlight, Dates in Sunlight

On Saturday the owner of my sharehouse put on the largest, craziest Christmas party you could imagine, including a barbecue in our garden! Oddly enough it actually turned out to be sunny and vaguely warm, thus making the whole thing an experience in cognitive dissonance. As the night progressed, we kept a watch on the sky, as the famous lunar eclipse drew everyone's attention away from the Christmas cake (and paella...and green curry...and giant, terrifying steaks.) But my attention was divided, as the guy I spent most of the evening talking to proved to be as fascinating as the celestial movements above.

Well under my height and 10 years older, on paper he is not my type. However appearing about 25, looking smoking hot in a tight sweater and jeans, and brimming with confidence (without going over to oresama-kei) are attributes that never go out of style. Tsuki-kun also speaks perfect English and has a gloriously sarcastic sense of humor. Not to mention that meeting on the night of an eclipse sounds like something out of a dorama or fantasy novel... While we did exchange numbers, I have a feeling this may just remain a 'two-ships-in-the-night' memory, and a very pleasant one at that.

Sunday was spent in Korakuen with (who else?) Matcha-kun, on another of what is rapidly becoming a series of epic dates.  Matcha-kun, by the way, is finding ever more elaborate and ninja-like ways of not letting me pay for anything (except tea, when I was too fast for him). I must admit, he is a seriously fascinating critter... for instance, he is the first Japanese person I have spoken with who actually knows what Star Trek is! (no judgement please).

After a quick lunch at Afternoon Tea, we spent the afternoon at Laqua, the famous onsen/day-spa/ganbanyoku near Tokyo Dome. The whole area is decorated for Christmas, with some spectacular illuminations and a beautiful merry-go-round. From the panoramic windows on the 6th floor, all flooded in sunlight, it made a lovely backdrop. Lounging on the variety of heated rocks was glorious, and both women and men can enter (provided you wear the cute little spa outfits, of course). While pricey, Laqua is such a wonderfully relaxing place on a chilly winter day, kind of like walking into a giant Aveda salon. Post-onsen we took in the illumination displays, in particular a glittering corridor, sparkling in rather un-Christmassy pop colours.

For dinner we moved over to Meguro, as he gentlemanly chose a place equidistant between our two stations. From a few hazy memories, I managed to find a tiny Italian restaurant I passed years ago... that was (naturally) closed. But no matter, hidden just out of sight we came across La Maison D'Ami, an incredibly authentic French bistro with a kilometric wine list. Over raclette, cassoulet and a rather impressive Medoc, we discussed the joys of secret restaurants, Proust (!) and old Italian films (!!). The date ended with the most chaste little kiss (!!!).

He has definitely gotten my full attention, but I am still not sure what to make of him. My gut feeling is good, and I have yet to find anything bad about him, but can't help wondering if I am missing something here... Does anyone have experience with this kind of situtation?


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weekend Away: Nikko and Nasu

A friend from college invited me to spend the weekend at her hometown near Nikko, along with a few Waseda friends, to do some serious sight-seeing, eating and onsen-ing. Of course, I totally refused to go, and was completly unenthusiastic about the whole thing (yeah, right). As fascinating as Tokyo is, it is nice to go somewhere three trees do not constitute a forest (lame kanji joke, sorry).

While the initial rain was a bit of a worry, it turned out to be a lovely trip. Toshogu (the famous temple with the three monkeys) is a gorgeous collection of steeply built wooden halls, with over-the-top dragon decorations, brilliantly patterned walls, and lots of images of creatures the sculptor had obviously only ever heard about (such as tigeresque looking elephants and the weirdest interpretation of a unicorn I have ever come across).

We also headed over to the Kegon Falls and lake, nestled in the mountains, and were rewarded with a stunning sunset, clouds so close you could reach out and touch them, and (of course) delicious deep-fried yuba! The whole area has a bit of a Showa-era feel to it, and I love that the pictures all seem to have this charming vintage-effect.

However, my favorite part of the whole weekend was the onsen. I LOVE onsen. Whatever magical, mystical properties they claim to have, I believe it all! There is nothing better than scrubbing off, then jumping from pool to pool amidst the spirals of steam. It is also the perfect place for girl talk, and unsurprisingly got seriously quizzed about my current 'guy hunting' (ha, hardly...)

Waking up under fluffy futon, with gloriously smooth skin, we spent the next day driving around Nasu, a little town surprisingly full of odd things. For instance, the Asian Old Bazaar, a collection of South East Asian and vaguely Tibetan buildings housing import shops and restaurants, all staffed by the cutest hippie chicks you could imagine. The food was fabulous, and is well-worth a visit for that fact alone... along with their really awesome scarves, which of course I totally did not buy...  (you see the scarf I totally didn't buy in the crazy pic below). The Trick Art Museum is a rather eccentric little place, which makes for some awesome photos ( I never expected to see the Sistine Chapel in Tochigi!)

Before heading to the train station, the last view from the top of the mountains was splendid. Despite the blue sky renegade flakes of snow fell, whisked around by the cold wind, making us realize that winter is truly upon us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Azabu Juban

The Hiroo/Azabu Juban area is a strange and fascinating little corner of Tokyo, a mish-mash of winding streets and faded turquoise bridges, mixing all that is extremely new, shiny and expensive with the old, charmingly run down little buildings of a shitamachi.

On my 15 minute walk to work from the station, I always pass the ladies of leisure of Hiroo (no doubt wives of embassy employees) who lounge in the Illy Cafe' sipping extremely expensive coffee in their workout gear. Continuing on, I sometimes take the long route through an oddly vertical park, saying hello to the statue of General Whoever on his copper horse.

On a sunny fall morning it is a lovely walk, passing either by several embassies (including the rather impressive Algerian one), or the blocked-off portal to a shrine. Getting closer to my office I turn into smaller streets with beautiful feats of modern architecture, scented by both a nearby tatami-maker and temple (the smell of incense on the wind means a funeral). A little design shop pops up, filled with iron and house goods, housed inside an old office building.

And this is only the beginning. Closer to Azabu Juban station there are a zillion restaurants, from little more than smoky shacks to fine dining so exclusive they only have a sign, and no menu. A completely unimpressive front houses the best soba in the city, surrounded by patisseries and sweets shops at every corner, including the famous Dolce Tokyo.

It is a joy to wander about, under the bright blue, cloudless sky, happily tucked into one of my many coats. On my short walks around the neighbourhood (which I do instead of taking time off for lunch) I find more curios. A vegetable shop, with unbelievably cheap prices, considering the area. A French restaurant, Molleaux, with only 4 tiny tables. A temple with a plaque to Townsend, under a gloriously tall gold and yellow tree. And as the day winds down, from the nearby elementary school comes half a minute of ethereal music, chiming and sad,to notify the closing of the school gates. I still have two hours of work to go, but it is a signal. Soon my time will be my own again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Sunday in Fall: Shinjuku-gyouen and Rikugien

Shinjuku Park is one of my favourite places in Tokyo. It is very extensive, which means that even on a Sunday you can walk about without feeling crowded, and enjoy the clean air. I actually met Matcha-kun (yup, him again... in a 3/4 length coat!) near Meiji-dori, to walk down the famous ginko-lined avenue, which was naturally bursting with amateur photographers. But the park was lovely, covered in a carpet of delightfully crunchy leaves to refrain from jumping on (...a bit of self-restraint that lasted all of 10 seconds).

The ginko and momiji were in their full red and gold glory, and absolutely breathtaking. Traditional Japanese gardens contrast with British style enclosures of late roses, and then transistion into chestnut-lined avenues with little benches covered in leaves, which brought back irrepressable memories of childhood walks in Paris' Bois de Boulogne.

Fall truly is Tokyo's best season. Winter is miserable everywhere (except perhaps Okinawa), and although the spring sakura are certainly beautiful, it is really the contrast of gold,red and orange against the grey of the office buildings that is so terribly elegant. Of course, this could just be my love of the very Hermes-like combination of orange and grey.

After several fortifying cups of tea (for Matcha-kun is a big Anglophile) with jaw-dropping amounts of sugar and cream, we proceeded on to Rikugien to see the trees lit up at night (aka 5pm, since the sun goes down ridiculously early).

Rikugien is located near Komagome station, which is not exactly the center of the universe. Thanks to this fact, and getting there a bit early, it was unusually empty for an illumination event. The whole thing was very well done, just enough of the dramatic reds, misty blue rivers, thatched tea-houses and cozy semi-darkeness for a romantic walk.

I can go on walking for hours without refeuling, and sometimes forget other people are not necessarily okay with that... oops?  To replenish ourselves, I took him to Salsita (in Hiroo), a Mexican restaurant I have been eyeing for weeks. It was also, sneakily, a test to see if he is culinarily adventurous. I shouldn't have worried, as we devoured everything in sight! It is totally worth the price (especially the enchiladas with mole, cactus salad and margaritas, yum!) and the tiny restaurant is brightly colorful, with great ambience.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brief Ode to a Scarf

I LOVE this scarf.

I have a thing for scarves in general (and coats... and boots... can you tell I don't like being cold?), but this one is special.

My aunt (who is not my actual aunt, but as close as one gets in a line of only-children) gave it to me several years ago. She has flawless, expensive taste, and you can imagine my joy at owning a piece of Missoni knitwear.

I do not believe that expensive brand name clothing necessarily equates with style, but original Missoni knits are amazing, because they go with everything. Literally. Even their wildest colour combinations have this magical way of picking up the colours of the other clothes you are wearing, or (more cleverly) skin tone and hair colour. Again, love this scarf!

I only wear it for slightly special occasions, for instance koto lessons (outfit on the left) or momiji-viewing dates (outfit on the right and below).

The next few posts are going to be filled with autumn foliage, both from the epic 9-hour momiji date (!) last Sunday, and the up-coming weekend in Nikko with some friends. I hope everyone else is enjoying fall, wherever they may be!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hidden Tokyo

Those shadowy spaces beneath raised highways, train tracks and bridges are unexpectedly fascinating.

On a desperate search for an inkanya (seal maker) who could quickly make me a personal seal, so I could FINALLY open a bank account, I came across the less oshare side of Azabu Juban.

Tucked in beneath the cement roads of the Tokyo highway loop there is a little river, shadowed and green, surrounded by carpenters' workshops staffed by serious-looking men in split-toed boots. Nearby, a blue four-story apartment building and okonomiyaki restaurant, directly beneath the road.

Next door to the inkanya there is a furniture rental store which proclaims in three different languages (badly) that they infact only rent furniture. And as I walk (read: sprint) back towards my office, the bright flash of orange that is Tokyo Tower surprises me. It is a strangely shy landmark, hard to see in this area of high rises.

These places are not forgotten, but somehow diminished, perhaps from the shadows they live beneath. This is the Tokyo we usually only catch glimpses of, while speeding by on trains or riding taxis to the next appointment. These little enclaves that never get the full light of the sun, yet brightened by the red lanterns of an izakaya, bright blue rails of a bridge, the flashing signs of a tiny shoutengai and a playground filled with little dogs (and occasionally children). This is the Tokyo few will ever really know.

And, glowing near the river, a sign saying Label Cafe'... an adventure for another time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toyoko Line Love- Jiyugaoka

First in my series about stops on the Toyoko line, the ever lovely Jiyugaoka!

Wednesday being  'Thanksgiving for Labour Day' (yeah, I know) and thus a day off, I made plans with Candidate n.3 (from this post) to go see the odd fake-Venice, and then wander about. The weather was being wonderfully cooperative, so  I didn't even need to cover my wonderful orange dress with a coat!   
After wandering down one of the wider streets, taking in the fashionably tiny shops and incredibly well-dressed dogs being carried about, we arrived at La Vita (a.k.a fake-Venice), only to find all the shops and cafe's were closed. It still totally merits a quick look, and perhaps a picture or two.

However, just across the street is something so much better. What looks like a private, traditional-style Japanese house is infact a cafe' and gallery, with an incredibly charming garden and decor. Kosoan is housed in what was once the writer Natsume Soseki's daughter's tea house (okay, a bit of a stretch there), and their specialty is, naturally, matcha. And here Candidate n.3 surprised me, and earned himself a new nickname. While I decided on the wonderfully smooth Matcha au Lait (accompanied by preserved yuzu), he went straight for the real thing, pure matcha. Very shibui.

 Matcha-kun and I hung out there for quite a while, as the atmosphere is lovely and the owners very friendly (even when it suddenly became crowded). His way of behaving and speaking make me think he is probably a chounan, and seiza-ing there I was struck by how very different he is from my ex. Eldest son vs. second son. Soft, almost Heian features vs. somewhat Korean sharp angles. Quiet and a little shy vs. outgoing party animal... I guess its good not to get stuck in a rut!

Just wandering around Jiyugaoka's twisting little streets is fun, looking at all the cool stores. Down a little cobbled alleyway a tiny spice shop, karaoke bar and the entrance to the Kumano shrine (I always seem to end up at shrines, must be a power I got from my time interning as a miko!), with autumn leaves blowing about our feet. And everwhere, sweets galore. Cake shops, bakeries, wagashi, crepes... and eventually the famous Sweets Forest.

Which is very, very pink. And sparkly. And smells absolutely wonderful, of sugar and cream and pastry. The 'Princess Macaron' was wonderful, as was Matcha-kun's apple cake... and then he told me he is infact not a fan of sweets, sigh. I forget sometimes that guys here will suggest going out for cake, even if they hate it, because it is expected... next time I'll suggest ramen. AND maybe next time he will actually let me pay for something! (Ms.Godzilla is a bit of a feminist at times)

As it gets dark, the area lights up with twinkly lights, and Christmas is already very much on everyone's mind, as Jiyugaoka is filled with decorations and Christmas music... it isn't even December yet! Still, all very lovely. And all this topped off by flowers.

He gave me roses. Fancy preserved roses (has anyone heard of these before?) that stay beautiful for about 2 years. I don't think any of my previous beaus have ever given me flowers before, preserved or not!
Matcha-kun is sure something... and yet.

And yet, because I am an anxious critter, I have to wonder 'why does this guy not have a girlfriend already?!'. He has all three takais, a nice personality, looks and style. Am I missing something here?! Or perhaps just obsessing, as per usual ;P

Oh, and for those still wondering about the orange dress: