Monday, 24 May 2010

Green tea and apples

At the weekend, lovely Vivian persuaded me to take an impulse trip to Kyoto to join her, Maman Morelli and Maman Morelli's friend. I was so happy to be back in Kyoto for a third time; it is such a beautiful, elegant, sophisticated city, and somewhere that I would love to live for a while.

This is apparently the most beautiful street in Asia...

This was my third time to visit Kyoto, so I was happy to potter around and revisit my favourite spots. Kyoto is a very peaceful city and good for walking. Vivian and I took a walk along the Path of Philosophy and stumbled across this beautiful little cafe, Cafe Pomme, owned by the most endearing husband and wife. Mrs. Pomme is the baker (who sells all sorts of baked goodness from a little booth), whilst Mr. Pomme is the waiter; they make the cutest team! Mrs. Pomme hails from Takamatsu, which Mr. Pomme got very excited by....this meant free cake for Vivian and I...

The Pommes!

Later that evening,we met our fellow Kagawa resident, Danny...

...walked down Pontocho, which was lined with these beautiful bird lanterns...

...before having an impromptu sweets party (courtesy of Starbucks) down by the river.

Kyoto's neighbouring city, Osaka definitely claims the crown for nightlife in the Kansai area, but we were pleasantly surprised by Kyoto's small but lively hub night time activity. Vivian and I with our J boys!

We stayed out late, eating things we weren't hungry for, running away from persistent strangers, swooning at the preppy Kyoto boys and watching the taxis with the hearts go by.

After catching only a few zzzzs, we awoke to a rainy Kyoto Sunday, and spent the afternoon stocking up on green tea sweet supplies and having impromptu photo shoots with all of our edible treasures. (country bumpkins are easily entertained)

In Kyoto, the green tea flavoured treats are more abundant, the people more refined, the trees greener and more plentiful. Kyoto captures and magnifies everything I love about Japan. I love impulse trips and I love Kyoto.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Night Duty

Seasons here in Japan do not roll gently into one another. Here in Japan, one does not have to tentatively remove their coat and warm wintery gloves, hats and scarves to let the spring's soft sunrays dance on their skin. One does not experience the swapping of jeans and cute little tops (a staple of Spring time back home) for even cuter sun dresses. Seasonal change in Japan is sudden. Seasonal change in Japan is abrupt and summer seems to already be here in Kagawa, bringing with it the onslaught of bugs, creepy crawlies, and all manner of things that make the life of an English girl living in rural Japan, somewhat more complicated...

One morning last week,I encountered my first unwanted visitor of the summer; an enormous Japanese cockroach, as gruesome, enormous and vile as I had anticipated, brazenly sitting on the kitchen wall of my apartment. A cockroach was one of the things that I had been fearing most about summer time in Japan. Japanese cockroaches are not only unusually big, but they can fly.Being unable to pluck up the courage to run past it,not only was I very late for work, but I ended up doing my hair and applying make up (in an attempt to eliminate the very white palor my face had assumed through the fear inducing events of the morning)in the toilet of the supermarket - a fine moment! My get-ridder-of-all-scary-things friend, Ciaran came over after work that day to remove the beast but alas, we couldn't find him. We optimistically decided that he had finished in my apartment, having moved on to explore another...

*PAUSE* jaunt to Tokyo, having such lovely times that all thoughts of cockroach intruders disappeared from my thoughts....

...until last night, when he returned to the very same spot on the kitchen wall. Still feeling exhausted from the night bus, I didn't pay much attention and was able to get some sleep (albeit, with all the lights in the house turned on in a desperate attempt to deter him). He is here again tonight. This time, my friend Daniel attempted to catch him whilst I stood outside on my balcony squealing. It was a fail for Daniel too; cockroaches are fast, and he half scuttled/half flew away to find another dark corner in which to lie in wait.

Daniel has gone. All of my friends here in Marugame are asleep in their lovely, cosy, cockroach-free abodes. I am on my own and my cockroach (he seems to be here to stay, so why not refer to him affectionately...) keeps tormenting me by crawling in and out of my room. I hate the way they move.
I have tried several times to poison him with my magic, get rid of cockroaches spray, but this one is a toughie and my failed attempts have left me feeling dizzy from the not so magic as I had anticipated poisonous spray fumes. I have thus resorted to night duty. I am so tired but cannot sleep knowing that he is here.

It is 3.30am. I am sitting here in my room, listening to the rain pouring down outside and wishing that I was brave enough to only close my eyes and fall asleep. Soon I will 'get up' and have breakfast, by which time, perhaps the cockroach will have finished his all night party in my kitchen.

Rural life is not for a girl like me. London, I miss you and your comparatively endearing house spiders.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

Design Festa Vol. 31 - TKO

This weekend, Ed and I took a fleeting trip to Tokyo for Design Festa. Design Festa is the biggest art and design event in Asia, and I had been dreaming about going to it ever since I decided to move to Japan. Anyone and everyone can contribute and participate in the Festa; the venue was teeming with arty, crafty stalls, booths, installations and live performance, showcasing art and design not only from Asia, but from all over the world. The event was so much fun, and I was in crafty heaven, to the point that on arriving at the venue, the row upon row of little stalls, oozing with colour,handmade treasures and all kinds of funny, interesting things, truly took my breath away. The artists and designers were so friendly and willing to talk about and have their work photographed. My future back in London is still so uncertain and has been the point of such anxiety for me recently. I found the event to be very inspiring and it has really motivated me to pursue and hatch more plans for little projects, which up until this point, I had only really envisioned as silly, trivial things.

I collected so many little cards over the course of the day, and have spent this morning trying to match them them up to my photographs. I will link wherever possible if you want to take a looky :-)

These colourful vintage fabric, cute little 'lady purses' were made by an equally cute elderly lady called Kitsch Mama. I bought one for my pens and pencils. I love Kitsch Mama!

Friends and loved ones, expect lots of post in the coming weeks - beautiful postcards were my number one purchase of the day.

Having seen this stall, I am determined to make my own kaleidoscopes. They were mesmerising. The picture below is what I saw when I looked inside the big purple one - nice eh? :-)

I bought postcards a-plenty from the cute little chicken man.

This cardboard city was so beautiful. There were even parts of it that moved - amazing.


This was a really endearing piece of work about the different prefectures of Japan. The Kagawa (my home) character even has udon (Kagawa's famous dish) hair eee! I actually felt an unexpected pang of pride for my home prefecture. Udon this week Vivian?

The photograph is not so clear, but one of my favourite booths of the day was manned by a lovely husband and wife, who took very funny mugshot pictures of their very smiley cat. It made me laugh so much. Please have a look at the website, it's so much fun. I wonder if I could get my Alfie to do something similar...

Some booths sold very little in the way of handicrafts, but were entertaining all the same....

I loved this mother and son duo. They held the event's monopoly on paper chain making...

the paper girls.

cosy little woodland hideaway.

It was a long day for this boy.

I had the best time ever at Design Festa and saw so many interesting things. I want to come back to Japan for it next year, perhaps even having a stall of my own... I wonder if London Design Week this October will be as impressive.

Having treated our eyes to all of the treasures at the Festa, Ed and I headed to Koenji (the cutest little part of Tokyo) where my friend Nathalie lives. Nathalie and I both went to university in Leeds and share a few friends in common. In our third year, one of my good friends, Simon, lived in the same house as Nathalie, just two roads back from the one I lived in. Despite this, our first time to meet was not in lovely Yorkshire, where we had walked the same cobbled streets, studied in the same libraries and danced in the same clubs, but on the other side of the world in Tokyo. We had a hearty okonomiyaki dinner and headed to Shibuya, where Nathalie took us to this amazing labyrinth of very narrow streets, lined with cosy little bars that fit about eight people in at most. Drinking in these streets would make for a fun game of surprise (and a test of courage too perhaps!); it was funny to reach the top of the staircase, before finding yourself squeezed into a very tiny room with six strangers. Apparently, these were the popular Shibuya drinking dens of post-war Japan.

This bar was at the top of a very narrow staircase. It was cosy, cosy, and there were cat things everywhere; I was a happy girl.

After that, we danced until the morning. Here we are on our way home, Sunday morning :-)

I have fallen in love with Koenji; it reminded me somewhat of East London with its abundance of arty little cafes and twee shops. This is a cutesy little Koenji cafe called Hattifnatt, the interior of which has been made to look like a treehouse. Unfortunately, there was a long queue, so I have added it to the top of my list for my return jaunt.

Lovely Nathalie was the best guide to Tokyo ever (thank you, thank you, and check your posty post soon!). We headed to another cute area called Shimokitazawa in the afternoon, where we picked up some vintage treasures, and visited what have fast become one of my favourite idiosyncrasies of Japan's burgeoning cafe culture - the cat cafe! This one was called Maneki Neko. The cats were so beautiful, healthy and clean looking. I miss my Alfie so much.

My favourite one; Nathalie observed that he looks like Bill Bailey - can you see the resemblance?

This cat leads the perfect life - he lives in Shimokitazawa, has loads of adoring cat lovers cooing at him, gets to wear a strawberry hat and sleep in a bowl every day!

With a couple of hours to spare before the dreaded eleven hour night bus journey (which incidentally,was horrific) we went to a Thai Festival in Yoyogi Park, stopping to see the Elvis' on the way;

It was then back to Shibuya for one last look at the surge of human activity at Shibuya crossing and a sushi dinner, before taking the bus back to sleepy little Kagawa.

I had the best weekend; Tokyo endeared itself a lot more to me on my second visit, both because of Design Festa and my super guide, who was not only the best fun, but showed me a side to Tokyo that I had been looking for. I will be back for a final vist in August :-)
The night bus was hellish;I spent the entire night having to endure my body coiled into the foetal position, my face crushed against the window and fish fumes seeping into my pores - many thanks to the man sitting next to me and his super sized bag of dried squid. Today, I am relaxing and recovering by drinking jasmine tea, listening to new music,finding space in my room for all of my new treasures and making a nice salad lunch;an extortionately priced, miniscule can (oh, the paradox!) of mixed pulses was my personal reward for the completion of the bus journey...yes, it really was that bad!

It's funny, but even though I am nine months into my time here in Japan, I continue to experience these strange moments that creep up on me unexpectedly; when I'm out walking in the evenings, when I am teaching a class, just before I go to sleep. They cannot be described other than moments of disbelief and a curious sense of pride - I'm here in Japan. Actually here. The shakey days are still a permenant fixture of my life here and what I am gaining or hope to gain from this experience remains unclear to me. But I did it. I did this all by myself. I hope that is something that I can take with me when I return to London to begin figuring out what to do next...


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Golden Week

Golden Week is a collection of national holidays here in Japan. For an extended time, all of Japan is on the move as people travel abroad or to other parts of the country to visit friends/family. I was very intrigued to experience such a rarity in Japan - a holiday that lasts for more than one day!

I decided to take a trip back to Osaka to join my friends Vivian, Ciaran and Reese. I love Osaka. It is grimy, seedy, hedonistic and laid back. I enjoyed the style in Osaka as it reminded me of my London - with the exception of the straw boater hats, which every female under the age of 25 was wearing, anything goes in Osaka and it wasn't so contrived as I find Tokyo sometimes can be.

Being back in a big city after a several weeks in the countryside felt wonderful. I enjoy so many things about life in Marugame but this trip really confirmed that I need to take the opportunity to travel as much as possible in these last few months. I fall into the comfort trap here in Marugame - life is easy and uncomplicated....but can also become very monotonous and frustrating. I still hate being so conspicuous in this little town. In Osaka, I felt a little more anonymous and it made me feel relaxed. I loved seeing new things for my eyes to be inspired by, to have those moments of frustration where I could not find a way out of Namba station (with it's 539575478574853 exits), to ride a busy subway like I did every day back in London town, to spend 40 minutes walking from one end of the shopping area to the other, being swept along in a sea of people.

I stayed in a really cute little hostel with equally cute staff in Namba. It was clean, lovely and I didn't feel the urge to get up and get out as soon as I woke up (as I have felt in other hostels I've stayed in). I wish I could be friends with the gesturing man and the girl with the bowl haircut.

I did lots of lovely things with my time in Osaka - drank by the Dotombori canal, went to the most amazing Mexican restaurant I have ever been to, met up with fellow Londoner Roland who took me to a cutesy Vietnamese cafe with colourful sweets and lovely art on the walls, ate Kansai okonomiyaki, satisfied my retail deprivation;I think my summer wardrobe is leaning towards red and stripes this year, stocked up on my Japanese fashion magazines (the spreads are so beautiful) went clubbing (which was fantastic - it was the first time I felt feminine and attractive here in Japan. Guys came up and chatted to us and it felt great, even if I couldn't understand!),ate green tea KitKat Chunkies, my new confectionary obsession, met some of Vivian's lovely Tokushima friends, who I would love to see again, and just enjoyed being in a bustling, noisy, dirty, inspiring place.

(These are the host boys we met. Note the claw hand on my bag after just having been asked about my passport and bank card by said hosts!)

Yesterday, Vivian and I took a trip to Nara 奈良市. Mine and Vivian's schedules here are quite different so it was lovely to spend time together. Our morning began with combini breakfasts, dropping bananas on escalators and a nice little train ride. We walked around in the sunshine, ate bento, saw a giant Buddha (apparently the biggest in the world), petted the deer and partook in the very Japanese custom of buying omiyage (souvenirs) for every single person we know back in Marugame - we are IMMERSED in Japanese culture Vivian! I was happy to see some deer again - I think I preferred the Nara deer to their Miyajima counterparts; they were prettier; more doe eyed and lovely.

(deer and girl with white, pasty legs ach :-/)

Last night, tired footed Vivian and I took the bus back to Osaka laden with our new purchases and a selection of dubious looking combini snacks to console ourselves. It was a fun bus journey home and both of us agreed that we were glad for the company.

Osaka is a different world, an entirely different Japan from the one I have become familiar with over the past eight months of day to day life here in Marugame. I felt flat coming back on the bus but after stepping off the little local train at Marugame, smelling the earthy smell of the rice fields, being greeted by the smiley ticket collector man (we don't need ticket barriers here in the countryside), cycling back home in the early summer warmth, and meeting my besty at the supermarket in ten minutes (we don't have ten billion train exits - you can be with your friends within seconds!) I realised that perhaps I am a lucky girl to be able to experience both sides of Japan.....perhaps.

My heart belongs in the city. Hearts for Osaka; see you soon <3