Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Year, New Job, New Experiences

My new office is much, much larger than my previous one, and is located in Meguro, which has a lot more going on. Also, the view from the office is fantastic.

After a week of training in Boston, I returned to start the on the job training in Tokyo...and, I'm not going to lie, it has been tough. This is completely new industry for me, and there are a lot of technical terms I need to learn in Japanese. However, my manager and team members are all really awesome people, and keep on telling me that the first three months will be hard, and then level out.
My manager took myself and another new team member out for lunch a bit away from the office, at an incredible little Italian restaurant called L'Asse. If you didn't know it was there, you would walk right past it, which would be a terrible pity.
Apparently it has a Michelin star, and well-deserved. From the service (where they kindly accommodated my non-carnivorous lifestyle choice), to the quality of the olive oil, nothing was half-handed. The daily lunch set is probably somewhere around 2500-3000 yen, and includes an amuse bouche, starter, main dish, dessert and coffee. As you can see, the presentation is splendid.
Since my manager appears to be a regular, we were also surprised with a platter of beautiful mini desserts. My favorite were the 'satou gashi' with blueberries and micro tomatoes.

For a romantic, intimate dinner, L'Asse would be an excellent choice (please note, however, that prices will be much higher in the evening).

I could totally get used to this!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Back to Normal: Fall in Tokyo

Now that things have returned to normal, I am happy to be able to fill my corner of the web with more pictures of pretty narure and tasty food.

Although some readers are already aware of the fact, the past month I have been very busy interviewing for new jobs. Since I continued working full time for the entire duration, looking for my replacement, and also had a koto concert and marathon training to deal with, my stress levels were considerable.

I have now happily accepted a new position in a totally new industry (IT), and am very pleased with the results.

It also feels like I have gained back 80% of my mental space, not to mention time and creativity (below you can see my latest マイブーム, watercolour pencils!... I make up in enthusiasm for what I lack in talent).
To celebrate, Matcha-kun (who also just got a new job) and I went for lunch at the Park Hyatt. I am a huge fan on their brunch, and the lunch set (for around 5200 yen) is a good deal for the delicious food, quality of ingredients and sublime service. My truffle pasta and the series of desserts that followed were wonderful.
Now I am free to enjoy the joys of fall, and hope you are all getting a chance to do the same! I look forward (if a touch nervously) to the new challenges ahead, and hope they make for some awesome stories and insights that I can share.

Monday, October 14, 2013

We Interrupt This Programme

My apologies for the lack of updates and pictures of delightful food. Right at the moment I am focusing on issues within the world of work and thinking of THE FUTURE (dun dun DUN!).
But seriously, as this goal involves the time, effort and kindness of a lot of other people, I firmly believe in focusing on it with all my (considerable) determination.*

Once out of the woods I will be back with regular awesomeness about Tokyo and environs. In the meanwhile, as stress relief on trains and a way to boost my social media skills, you can find me doodling about on this page:

*NB: THE FUTURE in no way means a wedding or other such fluff. Just FYI.**

** NBB: Not that there is anything wrong with weddings (or fluffyness), just not Ms. Godzilla's cup of matcha.***

***NBBB: Asterisks are so awesome!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Weekend Away: Oze

It is very rare that experiences in life live up to the expectations we create in our heads... however, every once in a while the stars align and perfection does actually occur. For me, this was Oze.

Last year I came across a single picture of a wooden walkway amonst a field of gold, and spent two days figuring out where it was. Sadly that was in mid-October, when the brief two weeks when the marsh grass changes color was already over. However, I immediately got in touch with my friends, saying that the next fall, we were going.
And we did! It is a hard place to get to, especially if you don't have a car (thank the kami for Hippy-chan). Strong kanji reading abilities (as all signs are exclusively in Japanese), strong legs and a taste for winding roads are also very helpful when trying to reach the lake. Since it is so remote, there is no cellphone reception or internet. It was like stepping back in time, when you made plans and then hoped everyone turned up at the right time, in the right place.
We stayed overnight, talking for hours and listening to the sounds of the forest. In the morning we saw a large doe chomp away happily at the small lawn in front of the mountain hut. We circled the lake, clambering over roots and gasping every time a sea of golden grass stretched out in front of us. Complete bliss.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

After the Storm

Typhoons rush through the streets, bending signs and scattering potted plants, like rainy vandals.

However, the skies they leave behind, once the winds die down and the clouds clear, make for the most glorious sunsets.

My usual haunt for long runs, the Tsurumigawa, was unusually cluttered with photographers, intent on capturing a gold-backed Fujisan.

Sadly, as I do not run with proper photographic equipment, I had to make due with my phone... which fails to truly capture the incredible fiery rainbow that was the sun's last hurrah before sinking below the horizon.

Monday, September 9, 2013


My good friend from grad school, Dutchy, came and visited me over the summer, after her internship in Korea ended. While work was quite busy, I managed to take a bit of time off to go exploring with her, and introduce her to some of my fave places in Tokyo and Yokohama.

Naturally YaNeSen was a must see, so we wandered about taking pictures of temples and munching tofu tsukune (le yum). Here and there we encountered some of the ginormous cats that populate the graveyard, including one with a taste for sacred water.
Kakigori is the best thing to revive yourself after a long walk in the summer heat. Even the kitsune from the shrine seemed to be asking for a cool wind.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

White Tulle and Hard Cash

My recent reading lists and browsing history would make anyone who has known me for any length of time slightly suspicious, and perhaps worried that I left my personality and sanity somewhere on the Yamanote line, to continue revolving in circles until found by a kindly train conductor.

As a highly trained ethnomusicologist, and hence someone with a strong grounding in antropology and human ritual, I tend to pick up on patterns in my surroundings... which have now been artifically amplified by Facebook. And there is indeed a pattern which has, for a rather unusual reason, caused my ears to prick up and sustained my attention enough to devote quite a bit of research to the question it spurred.

My question, should anyone wish to answer it, is: 'What, truly, is a wedding for?'

I come from a line, on both sides of the helix, that has somewhat shunned the 'traditional wedding' (whatever that may be is another big question), and this distinct lack of interest has been passed on to me. I do not dream of a white merengue gown that extends two metres from my body, and am left unfased by the idea of wedding colors, chapels, rings with large clear stones and all the other paraphenalia that seem to be a requirement for these events.

It seems to me that the intense focus on the 'production' is more than a little dangerous.

After diving into the literature, I found that many other researchers who have researched the subject in infinitely greater depth than myself agree. The degree of mental energy required to plan a modern wedding is immense, and it detracts from the important fact that after the wedding you have a marraige, which should (hopefully) last much longer. Somehow it makes more sense to me to focus on preparing for marriage, and all the wonderful and difficult things that means, instead of spending half of your annual income (or, in Japan, your friends and colleagues' income) on a rigidly scheduled party.

Another aspect I find immensely troubling is the thinly veiled promise given by the industry that, if you have a 'perfect wedding' it will lead to a perfect marriage...

Huh?! How many huge, million dollar weddings have flashed across our computer screens, just to end a few months or years later?

Monetary investment does not produce a couple who can disagree civilly, support each others ventures and work well in tandem. Perfectly retouched wedding pictures (and engagement pictures, trash the dress pictures, day after pictures...) do not a perfect marriage make.
The obsession and, frankly, rather self indulgent affair of being a bride/groom is front and center, and the transition to being a good partner to your significant other is ignored. It is all flash and minimal substance.
I have a feeling the wedding industry is taking a lot of people for a ride.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dating in Japan: Meet the Parents (part two)

Mea culpa, kind readers. Despite August's image of being an empty time spent listening to the shrill cry of cicadas in the heat, I have been busy (and partially defeated by the weather).
After first freaking out about the potentiality of meeting Matcha-kun's parents way back in December, I eventually chilled out about the whole thing. Since I would be using a few days during Obon to escape to Hakuba, we decided that it was time for the day of judgement (dun,dun,DUN!... just kidding).
I am happy to say that it was pleasantly uneventful and non-traumatic for everyone involved. Matcha-kun's mother was friendly, his father only slightly bemused. I was then taken around to all the various grandparents... apparently they did not tell one of his grandmothers that I am not Japanese, as a surprise. She was only slightly taken aback, and further confirmed my theory that grandmothers all over the world are basically the same, when she pronounced 'お人形さんみたい!' ('you look like a doll!'... which is exactly what my grandmother does).
I got a tour of his family's apple orchard, which was  rather cool, and even received one of the semi-ripe apples (which was surprisingly tasty and sweet!). All in all a good visit, and it seems I made a good impression. For anyone else preparing themselves for this kind of situation, I think there are a few pointers that would be helpful (independant of nationality):

1- You don't need to alter your style dramatically, but go with the most simple, moderate side of your looks.
2- Come bearing gifts. Keep them small and edible, as anything too flashy will make people feel uncomfortable.
3- Obviously (I hope) be polite, and answer odd questions as kindly and seriously as possible (for example: 'Do you have tatami floors in Europe?' or 'Do you eat jam?')
4- Your significant other's family is probably just as nervous as you are, so do your best to relax.
After the niceties had been completed, we went into Nagano city to see Zenkouji, wander the preserved Meiji streets and (of course) have the famous local soba for lunch.

Zenkouji is a rather impressive temple, reminiscent of Todaiji in Nara with its dark wood and thatch. The street leading up to the temple has a wealth of lovely Meiji buildings (the Gohojin hotel is particularly pretty), as well as smaller temples which serve as lodgings and (very importantly) many shops selling my beloved oyaki!
Soba in Nagano is serious business. I had 'karashi soba', which I have never seen anywhere else. The broth (which looks vaguely disturbing) is mainly shredded daikon and miso, so has a nice kick to it.
 After that we hopped on a bus to Hakuba, which I will talk about later :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Toyoko Line Love: Tamagawa

Tamagawa station always seemed to me to be mainly an extension of the terribly tony Denenchofu, big faux-European houses and snooty restaurants... and to some extent that is true.

However thanks to his collection of magazines, Matcha-kun (whom you can see trying to sneak out of the photo below) found out that it is also home to a nice park, where we hoped to chill in the shade and catch the breeze.
Since I was starving, after rushing from my morning koto lesson in Saitama, the first order of business was a quick late lunch at the Denenchofu Club. I had actually seen the building (and people enjoying their dinner on the private 3rd floor) from my train window on the way home several times, and so was happy to finally figure out what it was. Lunch was a good deal, and came with two complementary rose-infused macaroons.

Tamagawa Park itself is actually quite sizeable, with a few hidden surprises (like a waterlily pond populated by tons of dragonflies) and a nice view over the river. Since the trees are quite dense and it is on a hill, the breeze is delightful.
Passing a little shoutengai, where a wagashiya makes fresh ayu-shaped sweets, we also visited Denenchofu Sengen Shrine, a branch of the big shrine at the foot of Mount Fuji. Instead of the usual ema, you write your wishes on little plates. As a big festival had just occurred, there were still strings of wind chimes criss-crossing the path, tinkling away with their cooling sounds.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Toyoko Line Love: Myorenji

We made many failed phonecalls, and stopped by whenever it seemed like a table was empty, all to no avail...
But recently we finally managed to reserve a table at Booo, a little Italian/French restaurant in Myorenji that had been tantalizing us for months!
It is exceedingly tiny, with only 4-5 tables, and the menu is very creative and well-priced (most dishes are 500 yen), which probably both explain why it is so popular with the neighbourhood crowd.
We settled on appetizers of caponata, wonderfully fresh and laced with sweet raisins, and potato-blue cheese packets, which are unbelievable.

Since Matcha-kun is not a vegetarian, he moved on to a salmon salad (and from the cat-like look of glee on his face, I can assume it was tasty) and I had a plate of salt-roasted seasonal vegetables. The chef uses a lot of heirloom and unusual veggies, like star-shaped zucchini and miniature daikon, all of which were top notch.
Dessert was a fresh cherry clafoutis, something I have not eaten since leaving Paris. A real classic of French home-style cuisine, it paired wonderfully with the last of our tart Zynfandel. The bill was another pleasant surprise, especially considering the level of the food and wine options.

In short: Live near Yokohama? Speak enough Japanese to make reservations? If your answer is yes, GO!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Days

One of the most awesome benefits of my sharehouse: free, fresh cherry tomatoes, still warm from the sun. Truly the most perfect food known to man.

Summer has arrived with its usual sudden slam of heat, leaving those of us stuck at our desks in a state of stupor. We lump around like annoyed cats, trying to keep out of the sun, and spend small fortunes on sunscreen and cold tea.

I used to be fine with the heat, but for some reason this year it is getting to me. Must be that one extra year that has just been tacked on, officially taking me over to 'the dark side' of my twenties. Running the same distances I did with ease two weeks ago, when the breeze was still cool, now seems to take superhuman efforts.
 Thankfully the gorgeous Yokohama summer sunsets work overtime to keep my mind occupied.

Soon it will be matsuri and fireworks time, and Matcha-kun will return from Singapore. Looking forward to both things.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hydrangeas and the time in between

As Matcha-kun goes off for a two hour professional coaching session, I head towards Shinjukugyoen, one of my favorite places in the whole world, to pass the time and ponder.I love this park in every season, as it encompasses several different worlds in garden form.
 My aim is to find some hydrangeas, my spring/summer obsession (to balance the fall/winter obsession with koyo leaves). As I wander there seem to be so few. Slightly disappointed, I head toward my very favorite part of the park, towards the back.
 Two long lanes, flanked by sky tickling trees (which in the autumn turn the most stunning shades of russet) transport me, without having to deal with the trouble and expense of planes, to Paris' Bois de Boulogne. In the middle is a sprawling collection of roses, reminiscent of yet another beloved spot in London's Regents Park.
And I can't help but smile, when I see the familiar clumps of sunset colours. All of Shinjukugyoen's hydrangeas cluster here, in this place which seems to exist to please my senses. My camera loses power after a couple shots, so my phone has to make due to remind me of this happy coincidence.

But all good things must come to an end. The strains of Auld Lang Syne fill the air, an unobtrusive signal that they are closing for the day. I take off my shoes and take the long route back, through the clean, soft grass. It is nice to tread a little more lightly on the Earth, and a reward for my hard working feet, usually battered by hard concrete and asphalt.

Back to reality, and my date :)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dating in Japan: Distance

Despite striving towards uniqueness, humanity is divided into basic types. Introverts, extroverts, doers, thinkers... those with a drive to explore the world, and those happiest to stay where they were born and raised.

In my experience, and possibly due to my experiences, I get along best with those who wish to see the world, continue to learn and challenge themselves. This, naturally, means that the people I date fit this profile.

My ex has gotten himself to China, after a great deal of effort, and now Matcha-kun is also seeking to depart the Land of the Rising Sun, to move onto Asia's economic Tiger cubs.

I understand the desire to embrace a new country, and am proud of my friends who work abroad and seek greater fortunes. It is a necessity for the Japanese economy and even society, to go out and bring back wealth and knowledge. His desire to work in English, to submit to the different rules of a different culture, as I do every day, is praiseworthy.

But I am torn. Once again the long distance curse, which is perhaps a genetic trait. Nothing is even decided yet, but I cannot help worrying. 

He knows better than to ask me to come with him, as koto teachers of my ryuha are a rarity outside of Japan. I have moved so many times, and want to experience living in one place for more than 4 years. We both can budget for regular flights, and this is certainly not the end of the world... and yet I occasionally wish that he were more tied to Tokyo, gravitationally bound to my own orbit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Sunday of Nostalgia: Bashamichi and Nihon Oodori

Yokohama is still something of a grand dame. Perhaps no longer the celebrated talk of the town, but with sparkle showing that, in her heyday, she was a beauty to be reckoned with.

The long wandering walk from Kannai to Nihon Oodori gives a glimpse into the exciting Meiji and Showa days, when this port brought the world to Japan, and viceversa. The sweeping stone buildings, reminiscent of Paris or London, topped with copper that has gone green with age.
Those born and raised in Yokohama are called Hamakko, children of the port. And even now, when in Tokyo more and more remnants of the past are torn down and replaced with conbini, Yokohama still protects her children and her history.

Stained glass, the scenes very different from those I grew up with in Europe, show in their tints the earliest memories of 'gaikokujin', of terrifyingly large ships and palanquins, overseen by the immortal phoenix.
Eventually, tired from walking and finding all restaurants closed for weddings (alas, the scourge of all port towns), we take refuge in the Cafe' de la Presse on Nihon Oodori. The press is quiet, and the sound of heels on wood parquet brings a hint of nostalgia. A very bistro lunch (main, salad, bread) rejeuvenates us, as we watch an omiai meeting unfolding (successfully, it seems) at a nearby table.