Friday, February 22, 2013

Ume and Sakura

It seems that during my week in Italy (which I will discuss soon) spring has finally arrived! Thank the kami, it was time.

With spring comes a switch of wardrobe, both normal and wafuku. To tell the truth, as much as I adore looking at kimono, I have no interest in those patterned with sakura. I am not a sakura girl, voluble, delicate and short lived.

I will always go for matsu, momiji or ume. I am definitely more of an ume type: bright, hardy and persistent.

I mean seriously, do these look like sakura nails to you? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Long Weekends: Adventures in the City

Three-day weekends are the best. It is so great to get to Sunday evening, and whilst mentally preparing for work the following day realize: 'Hey, tomorrow is a holiday! Woohoo!'. While often these are perfect for a quick getaway, spending time in the city is equally great. My recipe for a perfect long weekend includes the following.
*Brunch. Possibly the best meal ever invented (although it may be on par with second breakfast). Matcha-kun has recently discovered the joy that is brunch, and so all recent outings have included some form of this glorious repast. The start of this culinary love affair was going to Bubby's in Sakuragicho. Beware, for their dishes are not only delicious, but also fully American-sized. I ordered eggs Benedict with spinach and the special blueberry compote pancakes, which was probably enough for two people... however I scoffed it all with delight.  
Just for good measure, I feel that I should also mention Bake Shop in Jiyugaoka. Since it is hidden on the 4th floor of one of the many oshare buildings, it is actually possible to walk in around noon and get a table. Matcha-kun went for another round of eggs Benedict, while I had the tasty huevos rancheros and a banana-yogurt smoothie, Le yum.
*Walkies. While trying to fit in all the weekend activities, plus doing all those essential little things one never finds time for during the week (like laundry), sometimes you just can't fit in a truly leisurely stroll. On Monday I introduced a friend to the YaNeSen area, and managed to find a few new treasures. After lunch at Yakuzen Curry (which I have written about before), we waltzed about and eventually ran into an adorable washi store, Isetatsu. They specialize in Edo style prints, and the interior is a total riot of color.
*Cooking. This long weekend happened to occur right before Valentine's Day, so Wave-chan was in full sweets production mode. I got to try the rejected cakes (oh, how I suffer) and helped her wrap up her order for a wedding (aren't the little flowers adorable?). Since the object of my affection is not a fan of sweets, I decided a homemade bento would be better appreciated.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Recently my obsession with sunsets (and presumably sunrises, should pigs fly and I decide to become a morning person) has gotten more pronounced. I cannot help it, and the fact that my window faces the sunset makes it far too easy to take a picture... or 50.
The colours are just so beautiful! And the shades and patterns change every day, making it impossible not to watch the sky slowly turn dark. The sky over Yokohama is so wonderfully dramatic, thanks to the proximity to the sea.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Toyoko Line Love: Hakuraku, Myourenji and Okurayama

Train stations in Japan have ranks. Express trains only stop at the 'important' stations, leaving those who live near a minor station to switch to the slow, local trains (which however have the pleasant aspect of usually having lots of empty seats).

Particularly as you get to parts of the Toyoko line that are neither really part of Tokyo nor Yokohama, the smaller stations have that pleasant, vaguely inaka-ish feeling to them. Last weekend, in an attempt to work off  an incredibly large brunch, we took a walk from Hakuraku to Myorenji.

Hakuraku has a awesome covered shoutengai (called Rokkakubashi), all rickety and time worn, filled with the usual collection of odd little stores and restaurants. When helping Matcha-kun in the search for new housing (as real estate is one of my passions) we ended up spending a lot of time running around the shoutengai, trying to keep out of the rain. While there are lots of worthy purveyors of tastiness, our personal favorite ended up being a little oden place. It may have a name, but mostly it is a local hangout (and the oden is quite good too). We had a great time speaking with the other patrons, and as soon as the weather warms a bit we will definitely be back.

Waddling on towards Myorenji there is a koto/shamisen store, a true rarity in these days of Rakuten-based music stores. A little further is a dry cleaners with the wonderful name おしゃれ共和国 (aka The People's Republic of Fancy). There is also a rather nice park with a pond and oddly placed boats.
Myorenji gets its name from the nearby temple, which is quite large and has a very aurally pleasing little waterfall. The plum trees are just starting to bloom, and I look forward to checking their progress. Not far from the station there is a bright yellow and red restaurant called Booo (you have to wonder where that name came from), which is always packed! Yet another place I need to try out.

A little further away is Okurayama station, one of my haunts. Not only is it home to the cheapest greengrocer in the area (half a melon for 50 yen, be still my beating heart!), as well as a wonderful tailor/cobbler duo, but half of the main street has an eccentric faux-Greek vibe. Up the hill there is also a park, which houses the dramatic structure above. Apparently it is used as a concert hall and gallery. Tucked under an awning there is also an awesome little bakery, Totszen Baker's Kitchen, who are famous for their 'banana of happiness bread'. Oh course, having the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy, I spent a good 15 minutes sniggering about the 'banana of happiness' into my koala bread.

Anyone else have little gems they want to share?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dating in Japan: Differences

One of the interesting/infuriating things about dating someone from another culture are the differences.  Once you have been dating someone for a while, inevitably bits of reality and issues start to crop up. And we analyze (or at least I do) each thing, trying to figure each other out.

Are these differences culturally based? Is it personality? Both? Neither? Does it even matter? Are the issues actually even about the person, or just me projecting onto them? (I am currently going with the last theory). When relationships are cross-cultural, it is all too simple to blame any dearths or 'defects' on differences in norms and upbringing.

Some differences are indeed cultural. Affection shown less in words and more in gestures and acts. A tendency towards modesty and reiteration in conversation. Others are personal. The decision to dress formally at all times. A quiet nature.

Cultural differences can be difficult, if both parties are unwilling to budge. Some are deeply ingrained, and only show up unconsciously, which can be the scariest to deal with. I think talking about things is the only way forward. People are not mind readers (as I often tell two of my 'unsatisfied' sharemates), and while some conversations are harder than others, it is better than simmering in silence.

But mostly it requires a journey inward. I am not one for 'new-agey' stuff, but I have become more concious that what we dislike in others tends to be what we dislike about ourselves. It is easier to focus on those traits in someone else, rather than accepting and dealing with them in ourselves. For those who tend to keep others at a bit of a distance, a relationship with someone from a different culture can start out feeling very 'safe', as cultural differences do have the effect of a mental wall. However that wall does not remain there forever, and you find yourself wondering again.

My apologies, this post ended up being more introspective than intended, but I would love to hear what others think about the subject.