Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Hurrah

 My body is currently moving at the pace of an arthritic sloth, and with about the same grace as said creature. Having run through the trail I am setting for the next Hash House Harrierettes event twice, both times while getting nicely drenched by chilly rain, I can only be grateful that everyone else will be running the course instead!

There is a sense of anticipation and excitment in the air, especially on the trains. Everyone is counting down the hours until Golden Week, when they will either escape to more exotic locales, sleep until noon, or lounge under trees (perhaps even the odd 'pom pom' sakura which have appeared) enjoying the warm breezes that are starting to wander through the Tokyo streets. I throughly look forward to doing all three!
With regards to the warming temperatures, a recent, important find was the H&M in Ginza. They stock some really rather fashion-forward items, and good summer basics up to size US 8/10 (UK 12, EU 42). I actually just went there with the intention of geting the awesome sandals (which they have up to US/UK 9, EU 40), which are gloriously blingy and gold... and somehow the rest also showed up in my shopping basket. The kitschy socks are from the 100 yen store (LOVE!), and the Converse sneakers from the ever present ABC Mart (on sale, of course). Summer, here I come!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Toyoko Line Love: Daikanyama and Nakameguro

Busy, busy, busy. The end of the end (?) of the fiscal year, along with friends and kouhai starting new jobs in Tokyo, means that even my weekends have to be carefully scheduled.

On a rainy Saturday I met Nuts-chan for a wander around Daikanyama, on the search for spring clothes and tasty food. She had more luck on the first count, but lunch was a double success. Hidden beside and somehow within an old traditional house, Bombay Bazaar has a strange Alice in Wonderland feel (perhaps enhanced by the vaguely Burtonesque bunny near the staiwell) and surprisingly cheap prices, despite the oshare location. 700 yen got us both a half-portion of the delicious, properly spicy curry and one of their famous blueberry okurayaki. I must admit, the unsweetened homemade blueberry filling was much better than anko!

Sunday, before my epic search for shoes (an enterprise never to be underestimated in any country) I met with Matcha-kun for a short date in Nakameguro, where he wanted to introduce me to a rather odd patisserie, Potager. All of their creations are vegetable based. We tried the burdock and grape tart (a tasty, earthy combination), the carrot and mango pudding (light and fluffy), a pumpkin chiffon cake (lovely and moist) and the Brussels sprout St. Honore' (hmmm... not quite). Indeed you can see the weird sprouty creation above.

(Yes, I am female and thus I take pictures of feet, and lovely feet they are indeed... plus I like the balance I got here)

After that feast of sweets (which however did not give that heavy, fluttery feeling one usually gets after having a lot of sugar) we meandered down the little shoutengai, and finally by the Meguro river, which is once again walkable, thanks to the end of sakura season. Personally, I think that the falling petals have a charm of their own, a carpet of of pink and white. Nakameguro really does have a lot going for it (which is why I have written about it so many times), and I have yet to even start on all the recycle-shops and second-hand stores hidden within the side streets. Another post perhaps?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bye Bye Sakura

Buh-bye giant pink balls of aesthetically pleasing fluff, it was fun while it lasted! 

The first and last two pictures are of my new favourite temple, a strangely Mediterranean/Picasso-esque/Modernist little structure, hidden in the byways of Azabu. The temple itself is covered in a colourful mosaic, offset by the stark whitness of the walls and the pebbled path leading up to it. In the sunlight the general effect is of an almost blinding purity, tempered by the large sakura tree which shelters the nearby graveyard.

Amazing how even in the busiest parts of this metropolis, you can find a small oasis of peace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Body Image in Japan

Conversing with my flatmates can be really interesting, particularly the girl who has never been outside of Japan (Korea does not count, since many people speak Japanese) or, really, ever seemingly thought hard about anything besides boybands. Usually I can take almost anything in stride, but one tiny little comment while watching a show on TV about personal trainers really, really got to me.

'Eeew, look at that girl's muscles....I, like, want my bones to show'.

The brief look on my face, before I managed to recover control, might have scared her. I had to make an excuse and leave the room.

I know for a fact she lacks the will to actually accomplish that ideal, so shouldn't let it worry me.
But what makes me so incredibly angry is that here (as all over the world) the goal seems to be skinny. Not fit. Not healthy. Just skinny. God, lets just make ourselves even more powerless, shall we?

My flatmate asks me all the time why I don't get colds, am full of energy, and can walk around the city for hours. How I can run 10k, have good skin and attract nice Japanese guys (who supposedly all want skinny girlfriends... right).

She is not at all overweight, but shopping with her is difficult, as after two hours she is tired. Her acne bothers her a lot as well, but she still keeps on eating food from the conbini everyday. No exercise either (as it is either 'mendokusai' or there are not enough hot guys at the location).

75% of the food I eat is either home-cooked or unprocessed/raw. I run as often as possible, including long evening runs with the Hash House Harriers, and walk at least 30 minutes everyday. Weight-training and full stretching sessions (a remnant of my competitive fencing days) whenever I can fit them in.

She was shocked to hear that I work out and control my diet not because I hate my body, but because I respect it.  Long, strong muscles. Endurance. The glorious feeling of running with the sun and wind on your back. The beauty of a perfectly timed disengage, and the power of a lunge. A plate full of fresh vegetables. These are joyous things!

I know a lot of expat women struggle with feelings of being 'fat' in Japan, and it takes a lot of strength to continue reminding yourself that you are healthy, strong and have a different body structure entirely.

Okay, rant over. On a more useful note, I recently found this  little chart, and wanted to share it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Sunday in Spring: Nishiogikubo and Kouenji

It seems odd to take pictures of sakura. Their frilly, tulle-like appearance and short blossoming time are supposed to remind us of the brevity of youth and life, and all that terribly wabi sabi stuff. Somehow taking a gazillion pictures of the pink fluffiness seems to defeat that purpose... but hey, I'm going to do so anyway!

In a bid to get away from the crowds of Nakameguro, Ueno and Shinjuku, I found out about a minor sakura covered park in Nishiogikubo, about 20 minutes away from the station. Due to a combination of moving around, bad weather and other issues, I have not had a decent hanami in over 4 years, and was looking forward to stretching out under a tree and enjoy the sun and pinkness of it all.

Who knew that Nishiogi would turn out to be my spiritual home? The area somehow manages to combine my favourite aspects of Shimokitazawa, the Ebisu-Daikanyama-Nakameguro triangle and Azabu, while still being laid-back, quiet and completely unpretentious. Rent and food are cheap (yes, I look at apartment prices wherever I go, its a genetic thing), and yet it is superclose to Shinjuku... in a couple years I may well move over there, after getting my fill of East Tokyo.

The walk to and from Zempukuji Park is lovely, as the area is filled with antique stores, family run businesses and houses with beautifully tended gardens. Despite arriving after noon, we got a spot right under a tree, next to the lake... anyone who has done hanami in a major city will understand how rare an occurence this is! The atmosphere was relaxed, but not rowdy, and there was even a bunch of musicians jamming nearby. The park is actually kind of odd, as it seems to be a smaller version of Inokashira Park, but much less crowded.

After hanami, browsing through a kimono store (more on that later) and exploring the opposite side of the station, it was definitely time for dinner, a few stops over in Kouenji. My hanami companion heard about Sempre Pizza by chance, and thank any-deity-present he did! The glorious spread below (Quattro Formaggi and Sicilian pizzas, and an order of zeppoline) was 1010 yen. All of it. Yes, there is a god. The pizzas start at 280 yen, and are all well-below 1000yen. Seriously, if you are in the area, go. Leave space for dessert, as wandering down the colorfully cramped streets there are tons of choices for other cheap nibbles.

And finally: NEW KIMONO! Which is not only in my size, silk and well-priced, but most importantly, not black or grey! Hurrah!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jidouhanbaiki temptations and other small pleasures

Despite the fancy-smancy location of my office, on my walk to work there are a series of 100 yen vending machines. Usually I can resist the temptation of a cheap shot of caffeine and sugar... until they started stocking Fauchon drinks. I have fond memories of eating wonderful Fauchon bread as a child in Paris, and am probably seeking to recreate those memories in tea-form.

So now each morning starts with a battle between myself and the vending machine, which seems to blink its lights more alluringly whenever I start to approach:
"Just one little matcha latte won't hurt...or how about some nectar tea on this lovely warm morning?" it seems to wheedle in a vaguely obaachan-esque voice... or perhaps I just anthropomorphize too much?

A slightly more expensive (and certainly healthier) little pleasure arrived by mail from Glossy Box, which sends boxes filled with samples of expensive cosmetics and beauty products for the very reasonable price of 1500 yen. I signed up to receive a special edition, with all-natural and organic cosmetics, and have been thrilled so far!

The face products from Trilogy are amazing, and have somehow tamed my skin. The GloMinerals powder foundation, something I usually steer away from, is also a hit. However, the jury is still out on the Chess hair care set (what does 'organicoside' mean anyway?).

The other samples I will try out during my upcoming trip to Taiwan (me, excited?! no, not at all...). The main reason I would recommend this small pleasure (besides being able to try products that usually retail around 10000 yen a piece), is that a lot of the cosmetics are imports from the US and Europe, which means they tend to be very good for Caucasian skin.

Any little pleasures you want to share?