Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mr. and Ms. Godzilla

After many years and many discussions, Matcha-kun and I (much to the relief of this grandmother and other relatives) decided to get married. No proposal, giant diamond ring or tulle. Just a few photos, and a small gathering later in December (certainly no giant wedding, eeek). We will each be retaining our own names as we forge ahead together.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Burning the Midnight Oil

One of the tough parts of working in Japan is that it is so very easy to rationalize things based on the surrounding work culture. To be honest, I am not even sure it is a Japan-specific issue, it seems like it is similar elsewhere too.

One gets lulled into a sense of complacency.

'At least I only do 1.5~2 hours a day of overtime, other people are in the office until midnight'. (No matter that it adds up to an extra full day of work per week in total hours)

'If I stay a bit longer each evening maybe I can get it done' (No matter that I am in fact holding two positions which should both be full time)

'Oh cool, only 1 extra hour today!' (No matter that my manager looks confused at my departure)

Comparatively speaking, I must admit my situation is much better than many of my friends. Matcha-kun has had weeks in which he came home past 11:00pm every night. 

I hear tales on the train, regaled with a certain inexplicable measure of pride and exhaustion, of working 3 days straight with only naps under a desk to keep going. It is almost like some people are proud of the amount of overtime they do, of the time taken away from their family, outside interests and required REM hours.

My job has many incredibly interesting parts, and I realize that I have a degree of responsibility and free rein that are unusual for someone my age (especially female and especially in Japan), but the culture of overtime just seems so destructive. There are certainly times when you have to cope with emergencies and will need to put in the extra time, but expecting this to go on for months (years!) is not conductive to employee health and well-being. It is a bit of modern machismo I despise and yet have to submit to.

How does one change this? Do we just have to wait for all the 'my-job-is-my-life' dudes to retire? 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thoughts on a Shinkansen Night Ride

Oh hello... I have been a bad blogger, haven't I? Mea culpa.

But you know how it is.... 50~60 hour weeks, the hot blanket of summer over the city smothering ones' creativity, freelance writing opportunities popping up. It often feels that I am so busy I barely have time to blink. And that is, of course, Not Good.

While work is certainly quite important, busyness for the sake of being busy is destructive. The mind needs time to roam free, to come up with those wonderful little ideas that become something exciting: a piece of art, a book, a new business, a daring mathematical theory.
But enough of my complaining, for Ms.Godzilla (travel writer at large!) is on her way to Niigata, the land of sake. And hopefully there will be many new stories to tell and exciting discoveries to share.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunset Flowers aka あじさいマイラブ

It is the beautiful purples, pinks and blues of hydrangeas that make tsuyu (Japan's rainy season) bearable. The sky may be grey with heavy clouds, but everywhere these hardy charmers provide a pop of color and chance for an impromptu photo shoot.

You can tell that the rains and cool breezes will soon desist by how the hydrangeas are starting to dry and crumple into sepia versions of their former selves. But until they are gone for good, these harbringers of summer continue to be delightful.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

... well, not quite. Still, if you are looking for inspiration for neat places to check out in Tokyo (or nearby), here are a couple often overlooked favorites.

Land of truly cool painted shutters (a whole street worth), really odd 'Italian-style' takoyaki and more bars than you can shake a stick at.

Streets filled with Edo-era storehouses and homes, delicious sweet potato snacks and visitors dressed up in kimono and fox masks.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Single Interlude

Matcha-kun has flown off to Europe for work (lucky bugger!) leaving me with our whole apartment to myself and a brief return to my single life... and I can't say I hate it. Typical only child, I am quite happy spending time on my own in my quiet private domain. Free to arrange the plates as I wish, eat whatever odd thing I want for lunch (veggie burger with about 3 kilos of salsa), read until 2:00am and dance around like a loon to Vienna Teng.

While we are quite independent people, no matter how flexible living together does change things a bit. You try to respect the other's schedule, make meals for two (so, 2 spoonfuls of peanut butter and a smoothie won't cut it) and make time together.
am probably not the poster child for coupled living. I like to do things by my own schedule, need alone time and require lots of time for my hobbies (koto and long distance running). Matcha-kun is by no means willfully interfering, but sometimes I feel like I am juggling constantly and that in a lot of ways living alone was simpler.

This probably sounds bad, however it don't mean that I intend to give up our coupled lifestyle. There are many benefits to it and lots of laughter, and as David Levithan wrote: 'In truth, I still sleep better when I'm alone. But now I allow that sleep isn't always the most important thing'.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Romance is in the eye of the beholder

I am told that 'Japanese men just aren't romantic'... well, to tell the truth I have no idea, as my demographic samples are quite limited. Still, I think romance is very much in the eye of the beholder. Red roses are nice, but they can be bought. Those little things that don't involve a wallet are often far better.

Here are a few things I find incredibly thoughtful, and even romantic (in an odd, non-media conforming way):

1- 'The bed is yours'
When I'm sick, I mainly just want space, to huddle under covers and wait for my immune system to win its battle against the evil invading germs. Although I have never vocalized this, Matcha-kun will still decamp to our tatami room, and leave me the whole bed to myself, 'So you can sleep deeply and not worry about waking me up'. He provides me with medicine, food and water too, but this particular gesture is so very much appreciated.

2- Dish Washing
I hate washing dishes, getting my hands dirty and poked by cutlery. Eeew. But since moving in together, I can literally count the times I have had to wash dishes on one hand. Okay, so it drives me up the wall when he doesn't overturn the cups and bowls (the water can't run out, aaaah) but not having to do a hated chore is a real gift.

3- 'As you wish'
I am a bit...stubborn. Bossy? Assertive? A combination of the three? Topped with a strong desire to See All The Things, this makes me a bit difficult to travel or walk around a city with. And yet, no matter what weird thing it is I have decided to do (see the extremely difficult-to-find tomb of Ogino Ginko, look for vegan burgers in Shinjuku etc...) he comes along with a smile and a great deal of patience (did I mention that I also have no sense of direction?). This support means the world to me.

Does anyone else have these types of weird gestures they wish to share?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tokyo Cherry Blossoms 2015: 東京と桜とあたし

Persephone arrived from the underworld and briefly painted Tokyo pale pink, magenta and white to celebrate the end of winter.

From hanami with friends at Yoyogi Park to solo bento lunches under the blossoms at a cute little park near work, I took every possible moment to enjoy the cherry blossom season.

And a special tip for sakura lovers: the cherry blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen tend to bloom a bit later than others around the city, allowing you to extend your hanami-ing for an extra weekend!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Secret Spring: Hanegi Park

Tokyo never ceases to surprise me. A short wander down the Inokashira Line, I came across Hanegi Park. Don't let the baseball field fool you, this park is home to a truly charming bairin (plum tree orchard) with around 650 trees fetchingly grouped together.
Unfortunately I showed up about 2 weeks past their peak so couldn't get the full effect. But ume are much hardier than their delicate sakura cousins, so there were still enough blooms to make for a nice afternoon walk.
The floor is no longer a freezing shock in the morning, and there is some light when I emerge from the office in the evening... Persephone is indeed on her way!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Black Suits and Coffee: 就活と希望

It is that time of year again. I see them in their shiny black suits, sensible shoes and faces white with tiredness and anxiety. The job hunting season commences, and I watch young students still unused to the brace of a suit as they file through my office, write resumes madly at coffee shops and stare out of trains, glazed over by the repetition of answers to the same 10 interview questions.

Not to mention the questions trey pose themselves.

Will I be okay?
Will anyone hire me?
Do I actually want to do this?
But my parents say...
But my friends say...
What will I do with my life?

I see them and just want to go over, give them a big hug and tell them:

You will be okay.
Don't take a job just because the company is famous or your parents tell you to.
Don't forget who you are, in the process of streamlining yourself for bored HR interviewers.
Life is long, and your first job will mainly teach you what you do and don't like.
Your value as a human being is not linked to your paycheck.
You are fine just the way you are.
Don't trust anyone who says 'you will be lucky to work here'.
Don't trust companies that won't pay you benefits.
Take a deep breath, you can do this.
The company won't take care of you, YOU take care of yourself.

You will change and grow and make mistakes.  Right now it all seems to loom so large, your whole future decided by a few sheets of paper and luck. But try not to worry. One day you will stand as I do now, hopefully in a slightly kinder world, and tell someone else the same thing.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Vegan in Tokyo: A Helpful List

It seems that with age I am getting increasingly snarky about the morality of eating animal products.While I am by no means 100% vegan yet, I have definitely tried to severely reduce the amount of milk products and eggs I eat.

Since I know many others have similar moral (or health) concerns, I started listing some of my favourite haunts across the city, where you can get cruelty free tastiness!

Lets start in Roppongi, of all places. A short stroll from Mori Tower you will find Chien Fu (which also has a sister restaurant in Kunitachi). They specialize in Taiwanese style vegan food, with the fake meat the country is so famous for. The sweet and sour 'pork' is a major favorite, and their huge teishoku sets are all around 900yen. You can buy bags and cans of fake meat, vegan ramen and tofu mayonnaise on your way out too!

Next up is Kagetsu, a major ramen chain. During the spring they have vegan ramen, gyoza and fried rice. Cheap and cheerful. 
(NB. This is the last year they will be serving it, although you can buy the gyoza and ramen from their online store!)
(I ❤ gyoza, can you tell?)
While not a restaurant, the health food store Natural House, which has branches across the city, usually has several choices of macrobiotic bento. They are a bit on the pricy side, but allow you to have the traditional bento experience minus the meat and fish. My favorite is the 'meat' stew Nagomi set.

A hidden gem, if you so happen to be between Azabujuban and Shirokanedai station, is King Falafel. This used to be a twice monthly treat, when I worked in the area. The owner is lovely, and the full sized sandwich is a serious meal, with freshly fried falafel. Serious yum, but only two little chairs outside for seating.
On the same lines, Shamaim near Nerima is a bit of a hike from central Tokyo (unless you live there, of course), but has a fabulous falafel set and hummus set.
For something with a more American flavor, Good Honest Grub (housed in what appears to have been a normal house, between Shibuya and Ebisu) has an excellent Mexican bean wrap and smoothies. 

I have already written extensively about Eat More Greens (near Azabujuban Station) here, where the menu changes with the seasons (and has the most amazing Valhrona chocolate vegan doughnuts).The same goes for Deva Deva in Kichijoji (info here). Both T's Kitchen and T's Tantanmen are fabulous, with the first being one of my go-to lunch places when I lived on the Toyoko line.

There are several more places I wish to go, and there are definitely some that have slipped my mind at the moment.

Any recommendations? I would love to hear from other veggies in Tokyo!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tokyo Marathon 2015: Expectations and Reality

So, I finished the Tokyo Marathon... and am now dealing with the disappointment that came with it.

I started off really well. It felt like flying, going at a good pace with steady breath, steady heart rate and powerful legs... except for a twinge in the left knee.

Right after saying hello to my wonderful friends who came to cheer, I started feeling real pain. I tried different ways to stretch it out, and kept on going until the 23km mark, where suddenly my knee locked and I couldn't bend or land on it. I burst into tears of sheer sadness and disappointment. Had the knee not given out, I am pretty sure this would have been my fastest race yet. I had trained very hard, gone to the sports therapist to get my muscles and tendons properly stretched... all for nothing.

I hobbled over to the AED tent, and the kind volunteers stretched me out and taped up my knee. Hoping for the best I started running again. For about 5 steps. Nope. This was not happening. No can do. More tears and general despair.

And this is the interesting part. Until not too long ago I would have given up, since I obviously couldn't reach the 'perfect run' image jealously guarded in my mind. But instead I took a few breaths and re-framed the whole situation.
Okay, so a sub-5 hour marathon is out of the question. What CAN I do?

Oddly enough, walking wasn't all that painful, as long as I kept my knee from bending. Good. So the new goal is to finish the darn race and not get swept  (loaded into a bus that takes you to the end point because you are too slow to finish in the set time). I picked myself up and power-hobbled my way to the end, trying not to be too sad or jealous when my friends passed me (since its not their fault, for crying out loud). I ended up finishing in just under 6 hours, which is not bad for a hobble pace.

While I am proud of myself for finishing and not giving up when my 'ideal' was stripped away, some ambivalence remains. There is medal on my bedside table, and I am not sure I deserved it. I can't help but think 'what if the day had been warmer' (as the doctor said the long wait in the cold might have precipitated it) or 'maybe if I had just stretched it out a bit more'... ugh, annoying.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cultural Fatigue: aka 'Eugh, not this again!'

Yesterday I was scrolling through Tumblr (small life tip: if you haven't got a Tumblr account, don't get one. It is intensively addictive!) when I came across a reference to cultural fatigue ( 

While the author is talking about a very different situation (being constantly overcharged in South America) the whole 'feeling' is so very familiar.

As much as one can enjoy living in a different country, it can get exhausting. Japan may be easier than South America in many aspects, but it still finds ways to make you want to scream.

I spend almost all of my waking hours speaking in Japanese. I like my job, for the most part, but the thickly layered bureaucracy is a slog. Having to speak and write in keigo is exhausting. Not always understanding 100% of things said or jokes can be a bit alienated. Getting spoken to in boo-boo English from shopkeepers. People assuming I am an English teacher or don't know much about Japan.
It is not the end of the world, but these little things do add up. I can't run away from it, so how is one to deal with these feelings of 'doneness' and annoyance?

Well, I have a few ideas of my own, and would love to hear about others:

1- Give Yourself a Break
Spending most of your day in a foreign culture is mentally draining, so give your grey cells a break. Watch shows or read in your native language. Listen to comedians you like. Just space out for a while. Find quiet time to let your mind go blank.

2- Sweat it Out
Cultural fatigue also seems to turn into muscular tension. Get rid of that frustation through exercise. I find that running is a great way to combine idea 1 and 2.

3- Let It Go (Let it go~🎵)
There is a wonderful Buddhist saying: let go or be dragged. At a certain point you just have to let go of some of these annoyances. Making fun of them (to myself or with an understanding friend) helps me make the recurring annoyances small enough to brush off.

4- Enjoy the Good
While there are downsides to living in a different culture, there are (usually) also lots of good points which are worth remembering and celebrating. For instance, I enjoy celebrating traditional Japanese holidays in a small way (like eating ehomaki for Setsubun, or going to a shrine on New Years). I love that I can run safely even after dark. I love that tofu is dirt cheap. I love the beautiful places one can get to by train. I adore not having to drive or own a car. Making a little mental list of the things you enjoy can perk you up.

5- Eat Your Own Food
No matter how delicious Japanese cuisine can be, sometimes you just need a taste of home, whatever that might be. Super cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese, a plate of lasagna, hummus loaded with tahini... whatever it is, keep a secret stock for when you need it.

I am now going to take my own advice, have a bowl of pasta e ceci and watch terrible trash tv online. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Of Snow, Running and Learning

I hope everyone had a lovely New Year! I spent just under 24 hours in Nagano with Matcha-kun and his family. They seem to have gotten much more used to me, to the point that I actually stayed with him in his grandmother's warm little house (in the same room too, scandalous!).

We did hatsumode at Zenkouji Temple, which was beautifully covered in snow, and bought some omikuji and a blessed arrow (which is supposed to keep bad things out of the house). After a cup of coffee and some apple cake, we jumped back on the shinkansen to Tokyo.

My vacation was very short (ah, the joy of IT and travel-related businesses), but it was lovely to have 4 days away from the computer. 
With Tokyo Marathon coming up (yup, I got a spot!), my weekends are filled with running increasingly ridiculously long distances. Fortunately, thanks to recently finding a lovely long park, 20 km just fly by!

Of course, this means that my time with Matcha-kun is more limited than usual... but we both know it is only a temporary thing. 

It is interesting how since moving in together, our interests have started to interweave more. He has started swimming again (influenced by my running obsession) and I have taken to reading more about history and political affairs (his field of expertise). And we both have gotten into Downton Abbey!

Never stop learning, that's the trick (*^^*)