Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sharing the Fun: Sharehouse Life

I received a post request about living in a sharehouse in Japan. Usually I overlook requests, as this is a space that allows me to write and think about exactly what I want... however, this may be helpful to others in Japan or those seeking to move to the city, so here goes.


  • The rent can be much cheaper than living alone, although in fancier areas (Ebisu, Omotesando, Roppongi etc..) there may not be that much of a difference.
  • There is usually someone to talk with/ watch bad TV with/eat with/ ask for help with ridiculously complicated documents.
  • As long as you get along with your sharemates, there will be parties and house-dinners. We throw a  little party for each resident's birthday!
  • You get to meet new people, and learn new things.
  • You get to have a large bathroom and living room, so it doesn't feel cramped like the rabbit-hutch apartments so prevalent in this country.
  • In our case we have a nice large garden, and the entrance is also planted with glorious flowers and vegetables, which is really lovely.
  • Especially in the winter, utilities can be a bit more expensive (but this depends on the size of the house, and attitudes of your sharemates).
  • Privacy can be an issue, although having your own rooms helps a lot.
  • Sometimes it can get a bit noisy... in many senses of the word (walls here are pretty thin, hehe).
  • Sharing a kitchen means that sometimes it will be rather messy, which drives me up the wall.
  • You have to schedule cleaning responsibilities, if not the house will become a mess. Each week one of us is in charge of cleaning everything, and it works fine.
  • Sometimes you will have to wait to use the bath/shower.
Personally, I think it is worth it. The possibility of living in a brand new house, with ample space and a social atmosphere is really great, and makes up for the occasional annoyances. Make sure you visit first, and meet the other people who live there!

Below are a few links I used when searching for a sharehouse or roomshare:
On that note, recently the four ladies of my sharehouse (yes, I am included in that definition) decided to go for a blow-out brunch at the Park Hyatt Shinjuku's famous New York Grill. They have a very classy self-serve brunch at the weekends, with a main course you choose off the menu. While rather pricy at 7200 yen, the service, food quality and view are completely worth it!

  I mean really... is this not a billion dollar view?
 A glorious selection from the appetizer buffet table, followed by fresh linguine with vegetables and green tomato sauce.
The dessert buffet with tea, and myself and Wave-chan being mysterious (but mostly really, really full).

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Sunday in the Shitamachi: YaNeSen

You know you are in for something special when, on the way to Nippori station on the eternally jammed Yamanote line, you find yourself in an almost empty train watching the buildings get smaller and smaller.

Affectionately known as YaNeSen (Yanaka-Sendagi-Nezu), this part of Tokyo was untouched by fire bombings during WW2, which may help explain why it has managed to retain the tranquillity and charm usually reserved for small towns in Japan's minor islands. The area is a treasure trove of old wood buildings, pint-sized restaurants and surprises.

The curtain of quiet drops as soon as you get 100 metres away from Nippori station, and slowly start to walk down the shady lanes of the wonderful Yanaka Cemetary. There, amongst the graves of the brightest minds of the Meiji and Taisho era, Miyagi Michio (founder of my koto school) and a famous murderess, the quiet is only broken by the chirping of grasshoppers and the chanting of monks from one of the myriad of temples in the area. The slight smell of incense and flowers carries on the wind, and in the clearings you can see Tokyo Tower.

The food choices are vast, and equally tinted with the nostalgia of the area. Yakuzen Curry Jinenjou's wood interior and soundtrack of old French songs somehow perfectly compliment the 'medicinal' curry, which contains a whole series of specially selected herbs and vegetables to up your healthiness... which then gets seriously challenged by all the little bakeries and wagashi stores. Eventually I fell for a special natsu daifuku, filled with half a kiwi instead of a strawberry.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The problem with kimono

... is that there are no pockets! No matter how hard you try, it is simply not possible to stuff a camera into your obi (or at least do so in a way that does not make you look like Lumpy McLump).

Why not carry a bag, you say? Well, it is not iki. I truly believe there are few things more liberating and elegant than not carrying a bag. It shows that you do not require anything, your presence alone will ensure that everything shall be taken care of...

Of course, this is rarely possible, unless you are a Mitsubishi heiress! But, thanks to the obi, one can get away with something similar. A thin pochette, cellphone and fan all fit, and leave you looking wonderfully iki and unencumbered.

Due to a koto-related social appointment running long, I was unable to get changed before my movie date... you can well-imagine the results of showing up at Shibuya in full kimono! Nonetheless, the movie Momo he no Tegami (Letter to Momo) was beautifully done. The story takes place on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, an incredibly beautiful area near Shikoku of which I have fond memories. Very Ghibli-esque (unsurprisingly), and the yokai characters are totally adorable!
But what does ANY of this have to do with cameras?

As a giant photography snob, I am not a huge fan of pictures taken by smartphones (although I will admit Instagram can be very useful when on the road). They just do not do justice to my latest find, Hacienda del Cielo in Daikanyama. Hidden on the 10th floor of one of the average polished-looking buildings, the stunning decor and view completely blew us away. There is a huge terrace with a mixture of tables and couches, overlooking a view which stretches from Ebisu to Shinjuku. The inside is equally stunning, with a dramatic chandelier and bright mosaic. Despite all this, the food is surprisingly well-priced, with a series of little dishes for 300 yen (I recommend the frijoles)

With everyone around me getting hitched (eek!), I kept on thinking what an incredible location this would be for a party or reception... anyone getting married in Tokyo, take note!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Click your Ruby Slippers

For those who have chosen to live thousands of miles, dollars and Sky Miles away from their native country (or at least family), I think we put a great deal of importance on creating an actual 'home' (as opposed to a place one just lives in). Am I off-track here?

However, this concept of 'home' brings up issues of guilt, particularly when speaking with parents and relatives. If I call my current living place 'home' I often feel as if this somehow equates to a rejection of my parents' home, which is why I wish there were a better translation for the concepts of 'jikka' and 'uchi'... ah well.

While I spend a great deal of my time at work, waltzing around the city and maintaining a decent social life, as an introvert I do relish my time alone. And I love my room, my personal lavender-scented haven. My sharemates (except Wave-chan), most of whom are from Kanto, put very little importance on decorating their space, usually just choosing a single-color scheme for the room. But they are never very far from that jikka, which one one hand might provide a greater feeling of stability, while on the other it could be that they consider their current living space secondary, since their 'real home' is so nearby .

When the owner of the house first saw my room (and it was not even completely decorated yet!), his eyes went wide and declared it 'hade' (garish). Admittedly this is coming from a man who decided beige was 'the' colour of choice for decorating! However, I can kinda see what he means.

My home is me, and is set to be the most relaxing environment possible. The walls are covered with postcards and pictures from my travels. The floor is graced by the most beautiful, tufty Persian carpet I have ever laid foot on. Here and there are antiques from my grandparents, next to my beloved koto. There are shades of blue, green, gold and cream, all set off by light wood.

The curtains, which alternately hide and frame the view of the garden, are a quirky black and white print, and I put a couple drops of lavender oil on them once a week, so the room smells like Provence (hopefully).

I would be curious to hear what other people think of this issue of 'home'!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch: Kagurazaka and Kichijouji

Two of my lovely friends from Kobe came up to Tokyo for the last couple weekends, and as they are new to the city, I tried to tailor each lunch date to their personalities and interests. 

Pari-chan speaks fluent French and is always dressed to the nines with 6 inch heels, so I thought Kagurazaka would be a good choice. We both showed up in similar coral dresses and nude heels (great minds think alike!). After a quick wander, and a brief visit to the cheese shop, we had lunch at Creperie La Bretagne. The bretonne-style crepes are indeed very good and crispy, especially the type with onions, although the price is a little high... but then again, it is Kagurazaka, and the charming French-speaking waiters were extremely nice. 

Squirelled away in the streets behind the station is Clasi.co Shoten, a quirky second-hand bookstore. They have an interesting selection, with a lot of art and food tomes, and a small section where you can get one, two or three books for 500 yen!

Aki-chan, who calls me her older sister, is always fun and interested in odd things, so we went all the way to Kichijouji to have awesome vegetarian burgers as Deva Deva. The burgers were highly satisfying, with a whole series to choose from, and the pizza and curries also looked really good. They also have organic gingerale, which is perfect on a warm Tokyo day. We wandered through the streets looking at the cute purses, graffiti and plant stores, before heading for Inokashira Koen.

There is a little coffee shop in the middle of the park, which also offers fresh banana milkshakes, yum! Kichijouji is somewhere you can spend an entire day wandering, and it is just a couple kilometre walk to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Weekend Away: Taipei

My first venture into the Chinese-speaking part of East Asia! And it was awesome!

Taipei is about a 4 hour flight from Tokyo, but is another world completely. Unlike the rather un-golden days of this Golden Week, Taiwan was gloriously warm and tropical. It was kind of odd not to be able to speak the local language (an unusual case for me), but thanks to its colonized past a combination of Japanese and English (and lots of gestures) seemed to work just fine. We stayed at the Eight Elephants Hostel, which is in a convenient spot and very friendly, and then rode the amazingly cheap subway all over town. So, in no particular order, here are my Taipei stories and recommendations:

* The fresh fruit in Taiwan is amazing. Guava with dried plum powder is the bomb, and so are all the juice vendors you can find all over the place. Watermelon juice, mixed fruit/veggie juice with condensed milk... oh, and most teas have black sugar in them, yum!

*Ximending, the Shibuya of Taipei, is fun to wander around, and the Red House is a glorious bit of colonial architecture, now filled with zakka stores (oh, and you can also see Matcha-kun being too cool for pictures.)

* Night markets are a great way to try a lot of different kinds of food, and check out cool stores and stalls. I went to Shida, but there are tons all over the city. And the best thing ever are what I dubbed the 'pick-n-fry'. Basically you pick a bunch of foods from an array, which the vendor then seasons with spices, garlic and basil and deep-fries. It is then served in a bag. Pretty much all street-food in Taiwan comes in a bag and yes, that does include soup!


* Thanks to a huge Buddhist population, vegetarian food is everywhere, and the faux-meat is unbelievable. We had different versions, but the best was Spring Natural Vegetarian Restaurant near Taiwan University. Food in Taipei is CHEAP, and this was a 'splurge' at 500 TD (under 1500 yen). It is a big favorite of Buddhist nuns from a nearby temple, and the choice was amazing. Vegan sushi and sashimi, tons of different kinds of tofu, gluten meat and veggies, and they even have some unbelievable desserts. Seriously, it is so nice to have so much choice!

* Longshan Temple is a delightful burst of colour, with the roof extravagantly decorated with a Gaudi-esque profusion of statues, tiles and glass. The thick clouds of incense, mixed with the smell of the floral offerings is intoxicating, and the decor gloriously over-the-top. The area nearby is pretty shitamachi-like, but it is definitely an interesting area to stroll around (just watch out for very curious old men).

* Danshui is right near the sea (and quite a ways out of the city) but makes for a lovely walk, and if you go earlier in the day then we did, you can see a lot of colonial architecture. Still, watching the sunset from the boardwalk is a lovely way to conclude a day, especially while eating the wonderous creation that is a rice wrap filled with peanut brittle shavings, cilantro and icecream.


* Hot springs! While XinBeiTou is the most famous, we spent the morning at a little enclave of hot springs not too far from Shipai station. One of them, Kawayu, looked very Japanese, and one of the 24 hour
 ones just up the road from it was my favorite. Be prepared to be stared at a bit if you are not Asian, although a smile and bow seems to be enough to blend in. Also, Damask Rose Tea is wonderful after soaking.

* I went to more places as well (National Palace Art Museum, photo studios etc..), but the last sight to check out before heading back to the airport had to be the Taipei 101 building. It is designed to look like a stalk of bamboo, and incorporates feng shui concepts (such as auspicious numbers and designs) in its construction. Not to mention just looks stunning against the beautiful blue sky!