Archive for the ‘November/December’ Category

For me, New Years Eve is never really a big deal. There’s usually a house party or something going on somewhere, but I tend to avoid the clubs and bars because of the hiked up prices and unnecessary drunkenness. This year however, seeing that I was in a different country I figured I’d give something new a try, which meant going to the biggest club in Japan – AgeHa, Tokyo.

I took the night bus there which seems like a really really good idea on paper; its about half the price of the bullet trains and sure it takes a while but you can sleep on the way right? Wrong! After leaving Nagoya at 11pm I arrived 6 1/2 hours later in Shinjuku after barely more than an hours sleep! (c.f. the shinkansen takes a mere 1 hour 40 mins. Guess which way I went home!)

After a shower and quick breakfast at my friend Chiyonos house (which could be more appropriately described as a palace) we all headed off to Akihabara. Akihabara, or Akiba as it is know to the locals, is the electronics centre of Japan, the world and possibly the universe. It has everything technology can think up, all the latest video games, cameras, robots, you name it. It is the stereotypical “futuristic japan” that is bursting with flashing lights, sounds, and short acne-ridden unmarried men wearing glasses.

We got kaitenzushi for lunch (that’s conveyor belt sushi for the uninitiated) before shopping and heading off to a maid cafe for an afternoon cup of tea. Even though I had heard a fair bit about Maid Cafes, I was so unprepared for what I saw! The maids welcome you with the most ridiculous language, and call you “My most honoured master/mistress”and serve you almost like they are your slaves! But its all good natured and fun, and the key point is that it is unbelievably CUTE. There should be a word in English to describe this kind of cutesy overload that makes you feel as if you have eaten too much candyfloss. All I can say is, if you get the chance GO, simply because there is nowhere else in the world that you can have an experience like this. I got a Polaroid taken with one of the maids as a souvenir and they drew on it and made it all cute!


After that we checked out the fashions down Harajuku way, before going on to Shibuya. Disappointingly I never seem to see many “harajuku girls”, such as those seen in Shoichi Aoki’s street magazine Fruits which has been documenting trends since 1996. But I always keep my eye out for this iconic style of haphazard fashion. I have a special interest in it because it really bucks the trend against social conformity:


AgeHa for NYE was amazing. I was expecting it to be good but it totally blew us all away. The music was perfect (Osawa Shinichi/Dexpistols/Emma) , the crowd was fun and up for a good time, there were performances from a crazy MC and Diva (apparently both famous) pole dancers dressed as geisha, rope dancers and I got to fulfil one personal lifetime ambition which was to dance around in gold and silver confetti to electro music. I couldn’t have wanted anything more except perhaps a new pair of feet for the morning after – we danced non-stop from 9.30 till 4.30am!

The next day we paid a visit to the shrine as is customary on New Years Day, but we didn’t bargain for quite how busy the Meiji-jingu shrine was going to get! We had to wait over an hour and a half to get in because of the several thousand other people who went to pay their respects, make a wish and get their fortune told!

All in all it was a jam-packed 48hrs but I have just about caught up on sleep again!

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The last couple of weeks has been a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve had some real highs  – like seeing my Cousin Hazel in Kyoto with Toddles in tow; great fun now he is running around everywhere! And he has grown SO big since I saw him last! – but its brought about a lot of low points too. Saying good bye to a lot of people on my course I’ve made friends with over the last few months was sad enough, but a couple of my really good friends were leaving too which is a bit of a blow. Luckily we are living in the age of Skype! The other thing was that this year was my first ever Christmas away from home and while I was expecting it to be hard, it was even harder than I imagined. I kept myself as busy as possible to keep my mind off the fact that I wasn’t with family, firstly on Christmas eve by going to one of my good Japanese friends’ house.

Since I live in halls, I really appreciate getting this kind of home-stay experience! After paying respects to the family shrine we entered Haruna’s grandparents house – enormous and incredibly Japanese in every single way with tatami flooring, sliding doors, with an outer corridor surrounding the inner rooms. We had a real feast for lunch and although I though I had tried almost everything before they still found things to surprise me! Remarkably, they have a small amount of land and grow all their own rice, vegetables and fruit, as well as making their own plum-wine liqueur, pickles and other things! Naturally it was all delicious – there’s nothing like home cooked food!! I enjoyed talking to them – even if they spoke with a really thick dialect accent that made it hard to understand! Her grandma is an inspiration – at 70 she still does Japanese archery and competes at a national level – I saw the trophies! They were so kind and very generously gave me a whole bag of goodies to take home with me – home grown clementines, pickles, sweet potatoes and dried persimmons.

Afterwards we went on to her family home and I got to meet her mum and dad. We made nabe which is kind of like clear soup with meat and vegetables or whatever you have lying around – for that very reason its becoming a favourite of mine! I got to try out her koto which I suppose is a cross between a guitar and a piano – very strange – and heard all about her dad entering the famously hardcore Iron Man competition for a second time!

We then had drinks at My Bar and after a long long walk from Sakae all the way to Don Quixote in Kanayama/Nagoya Eki decided to crash out at a Manga Cafe till the first train home. Christmas day itself was also very very different to what I’m used to; replace the roast with raw octopus, soy beans and radish salad, the wine with beer, and instead of carols at church think of carols at karaoke and you’ve got a pretty good approximation! I actually had a pretty fun day in the end but I’m really glad its over now so I can enjoy the rest of my holiday.

Here are some pics…

I’m going off to Tokyo for New Years Eve and to see a bit more what I missed last time, like Akihabara, a bit more Harajuku and maybe we will try and catch a glimpse of the first sunrise of the new year from the vantage point of the Roppongi Hills Hotel…

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Soon my slightly strange flatmate from America-land will be leaving… right after next weeks final exam. If it were anyone else in the dorm, I would be sad, but the unfortunate thing is that she is the one person I am not sorry to see the back of. I wouldn’t want to write anything nasty about her as she is not THAT bad and she cannot defend herself in cyber-space, but she is certainly a funny character. In a bad way.

This is a girl so paranoid about security (in an incredibly safe dorm where everyone knows everyone and strangers are not allowed past the common room) that she locks her bedroom not only when she leaves her room, but when she is inside, or even when she goes 2 metres away to use the toilet or shower. Her bedtime routine involves going to sleep at 10pm on the dot every night, and her hearing is so good that she complains about me listening to music with my headphones on after 10pm. Yes really. The fact that NO other flats have a problem with noise indicates that it is not just me being noisy, she is just being selfish. Of course you can hear a murmuring through the wall when people talk next door, but she complains that earphones don’t block out the noise enough for her to sleep which I personally find ridiculous. She wont share any of her cooking equipment to the extent that friends have to bring their own crockery when they come over to eat, and has on occasion told people in the community room below to turn down the music at 9.30 on a Saturday night because she was trying to sleep – I could hardly hear a thing! The most funny thing however is that she doesn’t eat white bread or mayonnaise because her mum (who is black) brought her up on the principle that they are “white peoples food” – her exact words, not mine. A bizarre twist of irony considering that she is only half black and half white, and has skin that is whiter than mine…

It’s not quite up there with the now infamous blog Things I hate about my flatmate, but she has been a real bore; not letting my friends come over to my flat after 10pm, or talking on skype after 10pm because SHE has to sleep; a ridiculous expectation in an international dorm, where social interaction and noise occurs!

Hopefully I will get a good replacement… one who has an interest in Japan beyond manga (comics) and anime (cartoons), and who lets me borrow her cutlery when the only knife we have in the flat goes AWOL….

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Finally scraped some time off the floor to write an update. Been very busy with end of term mischief making: end of term exams equates to  lots of parties and silliness, We had a leaving party today for all the students in my level which was interesting for several reasons. Firstly because we tried to play charades in Japanese, secondly because of the “talent show” which revealed a lot of X-factor which had previously remained a secret (including a performance by the course convener Machida-sensei and an incredible Michael Jackson impersonation amongst other things), and thirdly because 2 of the MCs were guys cross dressed as geisha! (The other day we had to an important presentation worth 10% of our grade and a fellow student chose to do his using the medium of song, to the tune of The Final Countdown. Unfortunately he refused to do a repeat performance today which was a shame. It was really very good though – I heard he got bonus points for his creativity.) Anyway, the peak of silliness was achieved when an evening of eating and drinking culminated in  my rather tipsy seminar class and professor doing the hokey-kokey outside an izakaya (restaurant/drinking venue). Good times.

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Its getting towards the end of November but after a whole month of beautiful illuminations, I feel like it should be Christmas already! Its really cold now even though it seems like summer was just a few weeks ago! Thinking about this I suddenly became aware of the absence of cockroaches and mosquitoes which we were plagued with back then, and the lack of cicada songs. It felt so tropical and exotic when I first arrived but now the climate is much more like home with much brighter sunshine.

This week has been pretty stressful with my first major essay and an important presentation in Japanese so to escape from it all I went out and bought some really good comfort food. Boursin, stuff to make pizza, garlic (not sure why this is “comforting” but I miss it!) and English muffins with a view to making eggs Benedict!

One of the other exchange students, Tim, introduced me to a place that sells chicken Donner kebabs – not exactly the same as in London, but maybe even more delicious – probably because it was less fatty and had less pigeon/rat content. It was so good I had to go back and have a second one – terribly greedy I know, but it was about half the size of one at home so I didn’t feel too bad! Tim has been there so often that the kebab-shop-guy knows his name which I think is hilarious, but the guy selling them is very friendly!

A final good-food occurrence was Thanksgiving dinner last night at the other dorm nearby. With the ingredients available Isadora did a fine job from organising everyone and creating a hearty feast of deliciousness to using her Brazilian connections to get 4 “Turkeys”  (which were in fact chickens – only 2 other people noticed other than me so we didn’t say anything!) In case you are wondering why this was such an achievement, I should point out that you cant get whole chickens in Japan. Coming from Dalston where you can get everything from whole cows to monkey meat, I do find this slightly depressing. Things are almost always packaged in individual portion sized amounts which is convenient certainly, but I still find it bizarre that you can buy a bag of 3 slices of bread.

Why 3 slices? It seems that most housewives shop every single day for food so that it is as fresh as possible. They buy what they need for the day ahead and that’s it. The whole concept of a weekly shop, cooking extra for the next day, or taking a doggy bag home from a restaurant is entirely foreign here! (If you are in Japan try doing so and you will get stared at as if you just shouted profanities in your loudest voice.) Slightly different to the American attitude summed up so wonderfully when one person said, “If I go to a restaurant in America and I don’t get enough food on my plate for at least two meals then I am p*****d off”. Luckily Isadora cooked far too much for thanksgiving and I now have a mound of leftovers to work my way through.  Mainly stuffing and mashed potatoes – heaven. The lack of soy sauce maketh me happy.

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