Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Sunday of Surprises: From Russia with Love

Like pretty much everyone in this whirling, twirling city, I am busy. And one of the (few) downsides of my occupation is that I sometimes have to work on Sunday. This is okay, except when all of Saturday is dedicated to koto lessons and rehearsals after a long week, and the stress piles up.
But sometimes surprises come at the least expected times. After finishing up the event on Sunday, I saw that the usual suspect had sent me a message, to meet up in Shinjuku. Odd, as it is not a typical location for either of us, but off I went, to then be whisked away to Russia.

Sungari was (apparently) started by a Japanese ex-spy, who spent most of his career in Russia.  Russian and Baltic cuisine are not something I am very familiar with and, to tell the truth, being rather exhausted, the Japanese/Russian menu was a bit intimidating. So, I left all the choices up to my dinner companion.

They have a decent selection of Georgian wine, which is rather awesome stuff. Blood red and sweet, with a heady aroma. This was followed by a couple of salads, including the most delicious treatment of eggplant (which I usually dislike) ever. Next was a creamy asparagus and mushroom soup, capped with buttery pastry, which seemed to sap the tension right out of my shoulders... although that might have been the second glass of wine. Dessert was a cheese and sour cherry tart, followed by Russian tea. Instead of sugar, you sip through or stir in jam, in our case more sour cherry, peach and berry, and the amazing rose jelly. Glorious.
The prices are quite decent, and the atmosphere lovely, if a bit crowded. Sungari feels like a hidden retreat, with an interesting selection of Russian, Ukranian and (if I am not mistaken) Bulgarian folk music (which will keep any ethnomusicologists on their toes).

In summary, I have no clue about what exactly I ate or drank, but it was great! I could get used to surprises like this :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dating in Japan: Meet the Parents

Yokohama sunsets are one of the many reasons I am glad to live in my current location. In the summer I get home right when the sky is at its most dramatic, and during the rest of the year, if I work from home, it lets me know that I am almost done.

It is under one of these stunning displays of colour that Matcha-kun asked a simple, but slightly terrifying question.

'When you have time, maybe you should come meet my parents?'

Oooh boy. He made it clear that this is not a formal '娘をください/息子をよろしく' kind of situation, but rather a detour when visiting the area... but it still freaks me out a bit. Technically it makes sense, since he intends to work outside of Japan for a bit, and so the chances of doing this at a later date are complicated by that possibility. But still...

This is a complex issue. While around here it is becoming more common for parents to meet their children's significant others earlier in a relationship, I am not sure if this is the case in the inaka. They may take this more seriously than his idea, of checking out the apple orchards, munching some apples and then popping in to say hi.

On paper, I could be mistaken as the ideal Japanese daughter in law. Well-studied, knows how to cook Japanese food, how to wear kimono, play the koto and shamisen, was a miko for a while and speaks decent Japanese. Off paper I am tall, forthright, have little interest in children and 'what the neighbours think', and speak in a rather masculine version of kansaiben. Oh, and not Japanese (like, duh).

But besides that, it seems to be indicating to potential future plans which I am not sure I wish to be a part of yet. While the average woman in these parts might be overjoyed with the idea ('いいんじやない!25 is prime marriage age!') I do not feel that is that is my case. I have been having a blast, and like things as they are right now. My goals and plans require a certain amount of freedom, and being tied to someone, no matter how wonderful and delightful, does restrict that.

Yes, I am indeed over-thinking this whole situation, but I know he doesn't do anything without thinking it through at length. And you never know how parents will react. While seeing a picture of yours truly might be just fine, actually seeing me in person with their first son might not go over quite as well. Big eyes and pale skin only work up to a certain point.

But yes, I will go. If just for the apples and seeing the sun set over someplace new.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumn on the Ginza

Trying to use up as many of my annual vacation days as possible before I lose them, I got myself a four day weekend, woohoo!

Friday afternoon in central Tokyo is a completly different experience from going on the weekend. After saying hello to Wave-chan and having a quick lunch at Paul Bassett in Shinjuku (pancakes count as lunch, right?), I went off to Ginza to find a new, autumn-appropriate obi for my concert in November. I had a rigid budget of under 6000 yen, but for anyone who can go up to 20000-30000 yen, the choices are endless! I had to drag myself away from a hand-sewn silk obi with the most gorgeous magenta carnations... perhaps another time? With an unusually high density of hostesses and mamas, Ginza is one of the best places to go looking for high quality wafuku at decent prices.
Without the thousands of shoppers who descend like vultures on the weekend, strolling around Ginza is extremely pleasant. I rather enjoy the slightly passe', Bubble era feel of the stores and architecture, and the long broad avenues lined with various temptations (omg,the Furla store!!!). Interestingly, weekday afternoons seem to be the time for pregnant women to hang out there, as they were absolutely everywhere I went. Taking a brief rest in a MosCafe (with a semi-decent, if tiny, chestnut cupcake for company) those of us unencumbered were outnumbered three to one!
Oh, and the obi? I found one for about 5000 yen, a rather bold and unusual pattern from the 80's. I got it at Tansuya,  a chain of kimono recyling stores. They are great if you want to put together a look on the cheap, and are are not too picky. If you want something really special though, check out the various vintage shops on the second floor of Ginza Five.

I love walking through Tokyo in this weather, cool enough for long sleeves and boots, without having to cover up my outfit with a coat. I hope everyone is enjoying fall, wherever you may be :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Sunday of Scaling: Tokyo Tower

After years of flitting back and forth, and always putting it off, I finally got the chance to visit Tokyo Tower. I love seeing it light up the sky on my walk to the station, looking like a vaguely geographically confused Eiffel Tower. It seems to placidly observe as taller buildings crop up around it, as if it were above it all.
Not surprisingly it is rather crowded, but you can avoid the worse of the lines by taking the stairs most of the way (it only takes 10 minutes, with stops for photos). The bright orange beams are quite striking. Dusk is definitely the best time to visit, so you can watch the sun set over the cityscape, and then enjoy the glittering, jewel-like appearance of Tokyo at night.
You can't beat the romance of standing on top of the world, and the thrill of being up so high.
While it is modest compared to the flashy Skytree, I definitely felt it was necessary to check out the sempai tower first,you know, to respect hierarchy. Also, the prices are a bit closer to decent (it is 3000 yen to get to the top of the Skytree... thats more than a week worth of food, eeek!)
After descending and sniggering over the vaguely indecent mascots (seriously? who thought them up?) we hopped over to Azabu Juban for dinner, and decided to check out Eat Your Greens, which has intrigued me for a while.
 While the availability of vegetarian food has increased dramatically in Japan, sometimes it just lacks 'omph'. And here we found it. We split an amazing autumnal veggie and couscous salad, bursting with nuts and other goodness. The falafel plate was quite good, with chewy falafel and lots of tahini. The vegan taco-rice was surprisingly spicy, and reminded me of my mother's awesome vegetarian chili. They also have a homemade gingerale with a good kick. Yum yum :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ready? Set. GO!

The wind rushes past me in the morning, almost as if it might miss the train to work. It brings the lingering scent of ripe persimmons and a freshness very much welcome in these un-autumnly warm mornings.

After the relative quiet and leisurely work pace of the summer, it is a little bit difficult to readjust to the busier schedules of the autumn and winter. In addition to my actual job, I also do some freelance writing for a magazine, along with some music work. Infact, in early November I will have my first on-stage koto performance in Japan, so looots of rehearsals with the ensemble.

Oh yeah, and a social life and all that. I try to keep up with everything, but with all the various nomikai, meet ups, dates and general rushing about, sometimes even that is tiring. So I go hide at Lu's Cafe (yes, again) and scarf down some of their new menu items, such as the highly satisfying tomato and mushroom omraisu, while curling up in the big leather chairs.

Still, I can't help but look forward to the next couple months. Nabe and oden make their appearance once again, as does the plethora of delicious autumn foods like matsutake mushrooms, pumpkin, new rice and various sorts of sake. Soon the leaves will change colour, and we will be able to spend hours wandering under the beautiful trees, bathed in that special (and highly flattering) soft light.

And it means new clothes! All the running, yoga and weight-training have shrunk me down a bit, so a lot of my clothes are now too big. So, off to Uniqlo, where I discovered I now fit into their pants, (this is a big deal, people!), and promptly snapped up some new jeans, skinny black pants and even turquoise shorts. Love it.