Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer in the City

 As blistering hot as it can sometimes be, there is just something about summer. The warm evenings are perfect for chilling with my sharemates or for walks in the friendly darkness, punctuated by the bon odori drums. People seem more relaxed, even those of us who continue to work... although I must say business distinctly peters out in July and August.

The utter bliss of stretching out in the breeze, windows wide open and curtains billowing, occasionally setting off the little furin (wind chime) with its supposedly cooling sound. Hidden amongst the rooftops of Tokyo's skyline there are terrace cafes and bars, where for the price of a mojito and a small dish of olives you can spend a few hours watching the sunset, while listening (in the case of the rather un-imaginitively named The Bar in Daikanyama) to running water and live music coming from the stage inside.

The chance to wear bright, billowy dresses which dance in the early evening breeze, and watch as the boys stare in awe as I float by (a tangerine dress and deep neckline will get you attention anywhere). All my hard work at the gym and running are now really apparent, and I want to show off a bit, darn it!

Yukata all around, and a seeming increase in the number of men wearing them (yay!). I really want to go hang out at a festival or fireworks display, get all dressed up in my own yukata and eat far too many takoyaki! Somehow, despite being in Ningyocho on the same evening, I managed to completely miss out on the Sumidagawa fireworks... It wasn't until we went into a great, organic tempura place (it is just around the corner from the station's A4 exit) that we were informed we had missed the big event, which also explained why so many people were running around in yukata!

Don't you just love summer evenings? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

There is no place like home

I love the sound of the Asakusa line trains as they pull out of the station. It sounds like a rising scale, being played on some odd bronze-coated cello.... which probably makes no sense to anyone else.
It is pretty cool that certain stations have their own specific leitmotifs, although they probably drive the station employees crazy. Komagome is a sped up version of 'Sakura', and Takadanobaba the Atom theme song. several others have 'I've been Working on the Railway'. Here and there you can hear bits of folksongs, children's songs etc..

It is comforting to hear these familiar sounds on a train home, after two months of business trips, private travel and overseeing events for work.

Spending a relaxed weekend is so basic yet so (duh!) relaxing. Thermae Romae (50% half naked Abe Hiroshi, 45% silly humor, 5% plot) and a few glasses of cava and paella on Saturday. Gym and then kaiten sushi with T-chan on Sunday, followed by a fresh haircut in Jiyugaoka. An enjoyable, if sun-less weekend, as the cool weather has chilled everyone out, a break from summer. Sometimes I forget how nice it can be to laze a bit, and truly enjoy day to day things.

Perhaps it is a sign of age, but chilling at home is now equally entertaining as a night on the town. I have this odd feeling that many people have a 'resting age rate'. Everyone has a resting heart rate (the rate your heart beats at when doing regular things), as well as a resting weight (what you tend to weigh most of the time) or the famous resting hair state (hair always seem to return to a basic shape if left alone!). I have always been told I act older than I am, which is probably true... I have a feeling my 'resting age rate' is in my mid-thirties, and I still have to catch up with it...

Okay, enough rambling now, and I hope everyone has the chance to truly relax this weekend :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weekend Away: Guam

Imagine a small US town (with a beach) that has been taken over by a coalition of enjoyment-seeking Japanese and Korean forces. This is pretty much what Guam is like.

And it is awesome! A 3 1/2 hour flight gets you there, and suddenly you are in the US. Outlets full of clothing that fits tall people, at very affordable prices (in our case we mainly shopped at Ross, a vitamin store and Nine West). And US drugstores, filled with shampoos and other goodies (coconut water!) which are hard to find in Japan. On arrival my backpack was only 1/3 full. Upon leaving Guam's shores I could barely lift it!

The weather was a bit variable, but we still had a great time. I went with my friend K-Sensei ( who is actually from the US), and spend our time lounging on the beach in Tumon Bay (best for clean white sand and very friendly fish), hanging out at the bar on Gun Beach (but beware of the sea cucumbers!) and generally shopping and eating.

Oh, the eating. K-Sensei is an awesome cook, and my love of good cuisine borders on the indecent, so we made a beeline on the first evening to Proa, probably one of the best restaurants on the island. Their menu is sort of 'nouveau Chamorro', and we seriously could not recommend this place enough. The panko-encrusted eggplant salad was to die for, and K-Sensei was thrilled with all of the fish dishes he ordered...since we went back again the second night... and then I went again for a slice of their chocolate-wasabi cake before my flight. The service and waiters were superb, and whenever I go to Guam next (because I definitely will), this will be a major stop on the itinerary.


Guam is nicely low-key, and small enough that you can drive pretty much anywhere. Since we were keen on relaxing, we did not go very far out (except to look for a microbrewery that was unfortunately closed), and just chilled. It was glorious. One of the interesting things I noticed, besides the fact that most signs are in Japanese or Korean, was the number of shooting alleys! Apparently people come to Guam to experience shooting a gun... although I cannot imagine why.

When the skies are clear, it is truly a gorgeous place to be. However, since I cannot really get tan (for professional reasons), the slightly cloudy times were a boon. For a short beach getaway, Guam is definitely my first choice now.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Toyoko Line Love: Denenchofu

After goro goro-ing (is that a word? if not, can we make it one?) and enjoying the summer wind blowing through the house until 4pm,  Matcha-kun eventually succeeded in convincing me to go out for a walk and a drink... although it took a while, as post-business trip exhaustion seemed loath to leave me.

Denenchofu proved to be the perfect place. One side of the station leads to a nice old-fashioned shoutengai, with a series of tasteful little kimono stores and an unusually high number of dentists. As in, literally, one at every corner (like Starbucks in the US! or pharmacies in Italy!), including one with a sign in German, the main medical language until not so long ago. Perhaps the residents all have a sweet tooth?

It is obvious that the heyday of Denenchofu was during the Bubble era, as most of the buildings have that typical 80's decor, although interspersed with my favorite 'live-over-the-shop' dark wood constructions.

The opposite side of the station leads to a much fancier area, with houses the size of small castles, once again graced with odd, out-of-date features. Nonetheless, as this part is on top of a hill and covered with trees, it makes a lovely spot for a late afternoon walk, and is wonderfully cool and breezy. The celebratory drink and cake were at L'Epi D'Or, which fits in perfectly with the surrounding Bubble nostalgia: brass accents, piano in the corner and floral chandeliers ahoy!
Their seasonal cakes sell-out quickly (and we showed up at 5pm), but my fromage cake was delightful and well-priced. The iced cafe' au lait was very tasty (and served with coffee ice cubes, a nice touch) but 800 yen seems a tad steep.

A last twirl around the neighbourhood brought a couple interesting restaurants to my attention. Pasta Ri (housed in the vaguely British-looking building in the first picture) seems to have a terrace and really good reviews. Something to keep in mind for a girl's lunch or perhaps a date? A short walk from the station Daigo Sushi does Kansai-style sushi, including several types of sushi that went out of style after the Edo period! Chakin sushi (sushi wrapped in a thin omelette parcel, which apparently used to be served after tea ceremonies, according to the ever well-informed Matcha-kun) seems to be their strong suit, but they also do beautiful Kyoto-style oshi sushi and kiku sushi (chrysanthemum sushi)!

Returning home I was greeted by one of Yokohama's trademark sunsets, bursting with soft pinks and blues, a cool breeze from off the sea... and another series of carefully chosen L'Occitane goodies... seriously, how did he find out that verbena (lemon grass) is one of my favorite summer scents?! Perhaps he is a member of PsyCorps? (if you get the reference, you are awesome).

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Last week was my birthday. Strange how fast a quarter of a century can go by!

And yet it feels like so long ago that I walked into my first Japanese class, excited and vaguely terrified that I might not be able to learn the language. Who knew I would end up here, and how those six months I spent as an exchange student would change me.

Throughout college I was on my university's varsity fencing team, as well as being on the cross-country team for a year, but somehow within my six months as a ryugakusei I really discovered the joys of running, walking and generally exploring.

On exclusively my cross-country training, I ran/climbed my first marathon along with my host-mother and her running friends. Admittedly it took me over 6 hours to finish, but something in my mind clicked: 'If you can do this, you can do anything'. Of course, this does not mean that I did not spend the next two days hobbling about like a three-legged tortoise (moral of the story: training, people, training!). I also took off for two weeks of wandering across Shikoku and Shimane (with still limited Japanese) to discover the Japanese countryside, climbing and swimming in some of the most beautiful spots I had ever seen.

For my birthday that year, a couple friends and I climbed Mt.Fuji from the very bottom, starting at Sengen shrine. I was somewhat stunned when I realized it had taken me less than 10 hours to get to the top. While climbing back down was not in the plans, due to misinformation, we ended up doing that too. And it was so much better than hitting up the clubs and drinking (although we did that as well...ah, the foolishness of youth *cough,cough*)

And now it is inconceivable for me to not run, walk, climb. Good running and warm-up gear are my obsession (along with Brooks Adrenaline GTSs, which merit a post of their own), something very obvious in the birthday presents above. There is nothing like the feeling, after a long training session, of lycra and layers of technical fabrics, keeping you warm as you chat with friends or slowly stretch and luxuriate in the endorphines.

So what better way to spend my birthday than on a long Shinjuku run with the Hash? It follows tradition, and will be followed by more fun on the weekend (plus, it gave another Hasher the chance to gift me with a series of bath salts with the most outrageously innuendo-filled names!).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Weekdays Away: London, Madrid and Segovia

Regent's Park on a sunny British late afternoon, with a slight breeze and soft grass under my feet is one of my favorite places to be. Having lived there during my Masters, it feels enough like home that I can navigate with no problem, and do not feel like I need to rush around seeing the sites.

The British 'summer' is actually glorious for runners, as the breeze keeps your body temperature stable, while the warmish air and sun keep muscles from seizing up. Truly, when the weather is nice, London is one of the most amazing cities in the world, and my runs and walks here are always fun.

As usual, Londoners seem completely nonplussed about the upcoming Olympics. A few PSAs and decorations around the city are visible, but they are not freaking out.

On this business trip I also ended up in Madrid and Segovia, which could certainly give London a run for its money, and reminded me of how incredibly beautiful Europe can be. While blazing hot during the day, as the sun starts to lower the warm breeze is like silk across your skin.

After a long day of meetings and rushing around, there is nothing better than a glass of sangria... and perhaps some gazpacho or dinner at a drop-dead gorgeous Venezuelan restaurant. Oh yum.

After returning to London, I got the chance to have dinner at the Royal China Club with StingRay, a friend from grad school. While pricy, it was really interesting food (vegetarian Peking duck or faux Szechuan chicken, anyone?) and so much fun to meet up with him again, and discuss travel plans to Hong Kong and Beijing in the near future!

As grateful as I am for this opportunity to go back to Europe, I am exhausted. Despite having been on innumerable flights, I still really dislike planes, and the rushing about involved is tiring. Thank goodness I could work from home today!