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:

Monday, November 21, 2011

The other Rapture?

It is happening.  From all over the world, in every media possible, the notices appear. There is no escape and, as a friend aptly put it, it feels like someone fired the starting gun, and I didn't even know I was in a race.

Weddings and engagements, that is. Over the last year and a half I have witnessed at least a dozen of these happy announcements, getting progressively more bewildered with each one. My parents tell me these things come in waves, but at the moment it feels more like a tsunami (in poor taste, I realize, but true nonetheless).

US, Japan and Europe, location doesn't seem to matter. Although, I must point out, the Italian contingent seems to have forgone the marriage part and gone on directly to producing numerous offspring (unusual, as Italy and Japan seem to constantly vie for first place in the shrinking population contest).

What sparked my desire to write about the subject is that one my Japanese friends recently invited me to her wedding, which will be my first wedding in this country. I hear reports of totally over-the-top shindigs, including cakes that spout mist,three dress changes and light-shows, so am throughly looking forward to it. The fact that the bride-to-be is also in her late 20's (and is totally down-to-earth) helps considerably as well.

But my question, and that of many people I know, remains: Whats the rush?!

Perhaps I am not the best person to comment, as Ms. Godzilla is still sore about being dumped not too long ago, due to lack of interest in having children (oh dear, speaking in the 3rd person, never a good sign...)

Is it wrong to want to run about and have a degree of freedom that marriage could curtail? Don't get me wrong, I am quite boringly monogamous when dating, and would like to find a partner, but it seems too soon... I have only started my first job, and the reality of the situation hasn't even sunk in yet.

Perhaps we (the bewildered) are less mature than we think? Are we too picky, or simply not lucky enough to have found Mr/Ms. Right as quickly as others?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dating in Japan

Perhaps it is the wedding-wave (more on that in a later post), but recently I have been seriously pondering the issue of dating once one leaves the safe embrace of academia and goes out to work in the real world. College is easy, as you have a whole bunch of people in the same age range herded together. Just add alcohol, then sit back and watch the fireworks.

But here and now? Much more complicated.

To start my office consists of my boss and myself. And our clients, who may indeed be mainly male, are also mainly married (being as most have the '3 takai's': high income, high schooling and height). Add to that a workoholic society, the Kanto politeness and the fact that I am taller than the median height of men in the area, and Houston we have a problem. No wonder goukon and omiai are still all the rage!

Work outfit: coat (Theory), scarf (Italian?), bag (Furla), heels (Michael Kors)
Dinner with friends outfit: dress (Next), cardigan (Forever 21), scarf+ bag (Furla... I love that bag far too much), boots (Nordstrom)... and weird smirk
Koto lesson + date outfit: jacket+shirt (Uniqlo), skirt (Forever 21), bag (Furla), hair pon-pon (Happie Loves It)

But, in my pushy ways, I have managed to have three dates in the past week and a half (being incapable of doing something half-heartedly).

The first was great, interesting guy, well-travelled and dressed, tallish... we had a lot of fun talking about silly things, but perhaps not quite my type?

The second was a disaster. We met in Roppongi (who in their right mind invites a Caucasian girl to Roppongi, where she is sure to be taken as a hostess?!). Nice enough person, but boring. Doesn't really travel, doesn't like ethnic food (!!!), no real hobbies...eesh.

But the last one, in Ebisu, was really excellent. He picked up on my Kansai accent and took me for kushi katsu in a lovely, dark little place hidden on the 2nd story of a building. This was followed by walkies and tea. 

And my god is he a stunner. Lets just hope the feeling was mutual :)

All in all, however, it seems that this whole thing is going to take a lot of effort. My roommate organizes goukon as a hobby (odd, but to each their own). Perhaps I should enlist her services?  Sounds like an excellent adventure ;p

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Discoveries and Kyoto cuisine

The joy (and sorrow) of living in a big city like Tokyo (or any other major Japanese city) is that there is simply so much to take in and do. For instance, just looking out the window on my Toyoko-line route I see dozens of restaurants, bars, stores that call to me. But, who has time time or money to visit each one?

The issue is further compounded by the fact that Japan lives vertically. The cute little izakaya you see on the ground floor is only the start, there are bars on the higher floors, hidden stores only known by connaisseurs, little restaurants hidden in the rojiura (back streets), out of sight until you turn the corner.

It would take a lifetime to discover everything Tokyo has to offer. I find that both exciting and a little sad. Exciting because I will never run out of new discoveries. Sad because I want to know everything, and can't! (yay for Type A personalities?)

But, I am grateful to those who become my teachers and companions in exploring the city, showing me their favorite hideouts from the rush of the metropolis. For instance, last Sunday I met with Y-kun for drinks, then dinner at Kokoro-ya in Nakameguro. A native Osakian, Y-kun spent his university years in Kyoto, and so found this little piece of the old capitol in the new. Definitely a place I would recommend, with the delicate, mostly vegetable based cuisine I miss so much :) The yuba shashimi and Japanese turnip with white miso were particularly amazing!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Life has been rather hectic, since the share house I was supposed to move into is not finished yet (however, yay for brand new buildings). So, I have been commuting from Shin-Yokohama (where the building owner rented a room for me and T-chan, who also had no place to stay), which adds a good deal of stress in the morning, since norikae are not exactly my favourite thing in the world.

Nonetheless, today makes for exactly one successful week at The Office.

I have not been yelled at, accidentally insulted anyone due to my shaky keigo or deleted any un-recoverable documents.

I have hung out at ridiculously expensive hotels, met a lot of very interesting people and learned how to use Excel.

     Jacket: Elizabeth and James, scarf: Missoni, shirt and pant: The Limited, shoes: Michael Kors, bag: Furla

It was a rather odd week, and I have ridden more taxis in three days than in the last three years. I went along with my boss to do a sales pitch in Shinagawa, and got to eat great vegetarian sushi on the 46th floor of the company's very tall, very shiny building, overlooking the Imperial Palace. Then for a MBA fair event I got to spend two evenings in the New Otani, the over-the-top decor of which still seems to be very Bubble-era. However, on the less oshare side, the boss took me to a live music dive in Shinjuku, to watch a friend of hers perform. I was fine with it, but she looked like she would prefer to be anywhere else.

Food-wise it has been either feast or famine. I didn't have a kitchen (or time) and so my own hurriedly eaten lunches (when I remembered to eat) were from the cheapest side of the combini. 

Oh, but the business dinners... wow. Tohoku-style cuisine in Shinjuku (before hitting up the live-house) with some of the best sake I have ever drunk in my life. The aforementioned 'sky sushi' in Shinagawa. And finally a strange but beautiful izakaya in Aoyama (seemingly run by guys who may moonlight as hosts a couple stations over), whose delicately fried satoimo and ume-ochazuke I will dream of for years to come.

Let's just hope these perks make up for the hours and hours spent in front of Excel sheets...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Once an addict, always an addict

A nail addict, that is.

Oh, I promised myself that I would stop, give up the Biogel habit. My starting salary at The Office is not exactly large, and a full set of sparkly, individually decorated gel nails is not cheap. And yet, courtesy of this post from Tokyo Kawaii Etc, I found myself once again falling into the wonderful fragrant embrace of an Aveda salon, in the ever oshare Jiyugaoka.

Which is where I spent 2 hours with the lovely Ms.Lena last week, who is from Hungary and has studied nail art in Sweden. The Aveda salon where she now works requires extra training (although her work is already perfect!), so I had the great pleasure of being one of her nail models. She has excellent taste, and created a special pearly pink/gold colour for me... of course, I could not resist getting at least a couple nails covered in gold dust!

She is looking for more nail models, so anyone interested please let me know in the comments.

Walking the elegant, leafy streets back to the station, to go on to Okurayama and apply for my alien registration card, out of nowhere: Venice!

In other news, my koto teachers keep on getting smaller and smaller.

YY-sensei was about 1.65m, the wonderful YS-sensei around 1.59m and now K-sensei, who cannot be more than 1.50m. Comparatively I am indeed Ms.Godzilla. Also, what happens if I have to switch teachers again?