I love a fast city. Tokyo will always be my second home, so I was surprised at how quickly I fell in love with London. The 75 degree weather didn’t hurt… but beyond that, lovely people, gorgeous art, great shopping and the buildings… I walked around with my head up like a dumb tourist for days.
In-flight skincare by DHC. After I eat (the lightest meal… I usually pre-order Hindu or Veggie) I wash up and slather my face in EGF and my hands in Olive Body Butter, power up on Zzzquil and pass out.
Stayed at the Ace in Shoreditch. Love Ace hotels!
My room had a turntable and a guitar and also Rod Stewart’s hair.
Jetlag at 3pm is no good. I should have powered through until after dinner but I couldn’t. Annnnd I paid for it.
Prettiest shop in Oxford Circus. I bought this super cute bag!
Also went to the Tate Modern…
Diego Rivera. <3
Accidentally ate blood sausage in this spring roll. It was really good! The thing about London having bad food is hopelessly outdated. I ate amazingly well there.
Highly recommend this place…there are a few locations scattered about.
And fell in love with the street art.
Next stops, Vegas, Tahoe, and NYC!
After two years of expat life in Tokyo, being back in San Francisco is a little weird. People both here and in Japan ask me:
What do you miss? What’s different?
Reverse culture shock is intense and it’s difficult to explain. It’s like going back to your old high school after 20 years… but it’s your entire life. It’s everything. Constant “oh yeahs.”
The main standouts seem to be the little things… Everyone is taller here. Glasses and plates are bigger. Food portions are bigger. People are louder and strangers talk to you for no reason. Case in point: I was walking down the street near Lake Merritt and a woman walked up to me and said, out of the blue, “Wow it smells like barbecue sauce here!” WHAT. WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS. Most of the time I feel simultaneously at home and slightly confused.
And I’ve changed. I’m still bowing to people I don’t know and I’m pretty sure I over-apologize. Overall people here just seem more “in your face” than I remember… I need to buck up a little.
It’s still too soon to tell what I miss about Tokyo but straight away I can tell you I just miss my daily routine because it was so familiar. The lady I bought my chirashi bowls from. My conbini. My kids from my Thursday afternoon English classes.
I feel pretty fortunate to be home and working for a Japanese company. My Japanese co-workers have been so kind, offering to help me keep up my fragile language skills. Strangely enough I’m studying more now in America than I did in Japan, and I’m realizing I know more than I realized.
But Oakland is amazing. I think outside of the Bay Area it gets a bad rap. Which is a pity because there are some serious gems here for eating, shopping, and just hanging out.
This is the park area next to Lake Merrit. About five minutes from my apartment.
And I love easy access to reaaaaallly good coffee. (Tutorial courtesy of Bicycle Coffee, Oakland.)
One thing I’m really enjoying about Bay Area life is the app and subscription culture– it’s kind of crazy how much you can accomplish on your phone here! Need a ride? There’s an app for that. Want groceries delivered? App. My favorite subscription right now is Stitch Fix. My friend Jess turned me onto it when I was complaining about my tiny wardrobe.
Stitch Fix is simple:
Fill out a style profile, the more detailed, the better. They ask questions about what you need, what you want to try, how you like clothes to fit you… it’s super specific. They even let you link Pintrest boards to give the stylists clear ideas on what you want to try.
The stylist picks out five things for you to try and sends them to you.
The styling fee is $20.00 but you get that back if you buy something. If you buy all five you get 25% off.
I bought 3 out of 5 of my first fix…
This dress is perfect for work and super easy to wear.
And I love a lace top that doesn’t scream SISTER WIFE.
In general, I kind of suck at buying accessories. I have really good jewelry that lives on me always, and that’s usually about it. I would have never bought this chevron necklace for myself but I think I like it.
I’m set up now to get a Fix every month. We’ll see how it goes. For now I’m enjoying letting other people shop for me. Plus it’s always fun to have something to look forward to, isn’t it?
Right now Tokyo feels a lot more familiar than Oakland and SF… so I’m going to be doing a lot of exploring in my new old hometowns. And I can read the maps here! Oh yeah. 🙂
Making pottery is one of my newer hobbies and definitely one of the funnest things I’ve picked up since moving to Japan. It’s a national art form here, and even today there are tiny villages all over Japan where you can go and watch the locals throw in their regional styles. There are a million different styles of pottery (yaki 陶芸). I love Karatsu (唐津焼 ) and Raku ware (楽焼 ).
Making pottery is relaxing, creative, tactile… and as far as art goes, it’s one of the more practical forms since you can basically make your own dishes and gifts. Taking a lump of wet goo and transforming it into something lovely and useful is a very satisfying way to spend my time.
Not all clays are created equal– white clay is good for beginners because it holds its shape well.
I learned basic throwing at Uzumako Art School in Mito. A small clay studio just a few minutes from the station, and Teimour (the sensei) is super chill and wonderful to work with.
Red is gorgeous, but a little wiley… I switched to red after throwing white a few times and immediately noticed the difference.
I also went up to Kasama in Ibaraki to work with Kasama clay (kind of a mix of red and white– it’s special to the region and SO pretty). I had no translator and none of the studio staff spoke English, so they basically just set me up and let me do my thing. I wrote about it for Savvy a while back.
I’m going back to California for the holidays and I’m hoping to find a place to throw so I can compare notes. I also want to learn some hand working techniques, and maybe play with some oven clay. In Japan, homes don’t have ovens, so I’m hoping my family doesn’t mind if I bake a little clay while I’m there. 🙂
Here are some cool inspiration shots from Urban Comfort, where Suzonne uses oven clay. I’m absolutely trying to make these leaf bowls when I get home. So pretty.
There’s something about getting your hands dirty and making something that is really special. I don’t know what it is… but I like it. If you’re into clay or are an experience ceramicist… send some links my way! I’m always looking for photos and tips. 🙂
Dirty hands and warms hearts,
It’s starting to get chilly in Tokyo. The leaves are starting to turn in different areas of the country, so locals and tourists flit around according to the koyo schedule to check out the most beautiful fall displays of color.
At home, I’m packing up the sundresses and pulling out the sweaters, and figuring out where I can get some of the best cold-weather eats in the city. Japanese soul food definitely exists, and it’s in a class of its own. Here are a few dishes I’m stalking.
Okono freaking miyaki. It’s maybe the most delicious thing ever. A pancake with meat, vegis, shrimp, whatever you want, grilled to perfection and covered in sweet sauce and mayo. Osaka is known for the best of the best, but there are a couple of good griddles in my neighborhood. Some places have tables with griddles built in so you can make your own, and some just serve it up. And really, why would I buy all the stuff and try to make it at home when I can get the old school expert version five minutes away? Oishiiiiiii.
A hearty, clear-broth soup filled with all sorts of dumplings, fish cakes, meat skewers, daikon, and tamago, you can find oden at almost every conbini in Tokyo. Grab a bowl, pick your goodies, broth it up and you’re done. You can also buy pre-assorted dumpling packs at the grocery store and make your own at home, but like most yummy foods in Japan… cooking at home just isn’t necessary.
Tsukemen, or dipping noodles, is akin to ramen… it pretty much is ramen, just deconstructed. The noodles tend to be cooler and the sauces can very from a light miso with onion to a thick meaty sauce. There’s a shop down the street from my house that nails this dish– my rainy day favorite.
This is one of the few dishes I’ve tried to make at home and I have to say– it’s so easy, so healthy, and so delicious. Anyone can do it. Green onion, a few varieties of mushroom, tofu, sliced meat (if you want), cabbage, throw it in a pot with the nabe soup base you buy at the store and you’re done. It tastes even better the second day after everything has had a chance to party together. Serve it with brown rice and Japanese pickles and you look like a rock star.
I ate this frequently in San Francisco. Thin strips of beef and chopped vegis cooked at your table in a sugar-soy sauce. I’ve eased up on my red meat these days, but it’s still a quintessential hearty Japanese bowl of awesome. You could definitely make this at home, but with so many restos in Tokyo, grabbing a few friends to cook together makes sukiyaki a little more engaging than your typical out-to-dinner experience.
I just realized there are a few Japanese dishes where you go out to eat, but actually make the food yourself at your table (sukiyaki, okonomiyaki, yakiniku, even pancakes). It seems to me Japan sees cooking together as part of the dining experience. And if you live in a tiny place (like most of us do) going out to cook for a date or with a group makes a lot of sense.
Anyway– now I’m hungry and I’m going out to a new place in Asakusa tonight. Yay! いただきます!
Bring everyday goodies from your home country to share with your new friends abroad. Little jars of peanut butter, Marmite, dried squid… something yummy from your native land is always a good ice breaker.
Teach your un-techie friends and family communication apps like Skype and What’s App before you flee the country.
Learn basic greetings, and the following phrases in any destination language: How much? Please. I’m sorry. It’s O.K. and thank you.
Better yet, seriously study the language of your new homeland.
For Asia, Middle East, and Europe: accept the squat toilet. Just accept it.
Force yourself to go to expat parties and meetups, even if you’re a hermit.
Pack actual photos of your family and friends to share with people when you can’t use your phone. Real photos are nice.
Learn about the history of your new home through something you love: art, books, food, architecture, music. Finding a connection to your expat homeland gives you an anchor and a fun connection with locals. It’s also a great way to learn a new language.
Watch your wellness. Being an expat can sometimes like a long vacation. Don’t abandon healthy habits just because you’re out of your old routine.
Keep your professional presence connected and your CV updated. If you’re a short-term expat, finding work when you return will be tough if you’ve let your career network atrophy. Most companies will see international work experience as a major plus.
Stay connected to your friends back home, and not just through Facebook. Write email, send video letters and photos, let people know you’re thinking of them.
Send family and friends little care packages with food or beauty products from your expat homeland.
Buy a Skype phone number with a local phone number so (just an example…) your Dad doesn’t freak out if he needs to call you and has never dialed out of the country. You can have the calls forwarded to your expat phone.
Research the availability of absolute necessities. Example: solid anti-perspirant is not sold in Japanese drugstores, and foreign stores sell it for thrice the standard retail. Stock up or have it shipped over.
Learn to live without those absolute necessities. (For the record, I still use Secret…).
Things will go wrong. You will get lost. You will make mistakes. You will offend or embarrass people. No one is an expert of a new culture straight off the plane. Be patient with yourself.
It might be tempting to become jingoistic or overly judgemental. “Normal” is a bankrupt adjective to the expatriate, and suddenly you might find yourself pondering moral rights and wrongs you’d never think twice about back home. Every country has good and bad, and different doesn’t automatically mean bad. Try to keep perspective.
Support fellow expats. If someone is making an error in etiquette that could cause confusion, embarrassment, loss of a job, or of well-being, by all means say something. But be helpful, not pedantic. Culture policing is just plain rude.
Embrace fear. Enter shops that look intimidating, ask questions when you need answers, and eat at least one completely unknowable meal.
Invest in a great carry-on duffel bag. Recommendation: North Face Base Camp
Prepare for the worst: evacuation procedures, emergency phone numbers, the nearest police station. Spending a bit of time learning how to deal with crisis in your new homeland gives you a greater sense of security.
Space bags are your friend.
Share your new favorite things by setting up an international beauty or snack swap with a friend. Ask for your old favorites to stave homesickness.
Avoid being easily offended. Part of connecting as a foreigner means not only navigating a new culture, but also having that culture navigate you. Expat life is so much richer when you can let go of minor miscommunications.
Scarves and hats are the best travel accessories. Thin scarves can dress up ugly shopping bags, work as a cover up mid-flight, wrap as a sarong, a skirt, a dress. I like a good beanie to cover up my invariably crap plane-hair, to cover my eyes while I sleep, and generally look a bit more put together when I arrive.
Contribute. Volunteer in your new homeland. Set up a meetup or a social club. Find a way to make your new community a better place by actively engaging in it.
Travel light, live light. Recycle unimportant paperwork you can’t read, clear out your old region-specific spam and subscriptions, delete ten photos of the same thing. Don’t take samples or pamphlets on things you’ll never use. Edit your life ruthlessly and often.
Asia: Save your dental appointments for your Ho Chi Minh, DaNang, or Bangkok trips. You’ll save hundreds and the quality of care is as good (if not better!) than back home.
Flip flops. Showers, bath houses, beaches, running to the corner store or around your guest house: keep them in your carry on always.
Clean your handbags and luggage. Wipe them down after you get to your destination for longer wear and tear and fewer germs.
Luggage lock recommendation: Victorinox Swiss Army
Invest in great luggage: Recommendation Hartmann Tweed.
Become cozy with minimalism. Moving across the globe showed me almost 90% of what I kept (and use regularly) were the investment pieces: great bags, classic clothing in natural fabrics. Cheapo stuff comes and goes (as it should). In general, buy less and choose wisely. (Vivianne Westwood said that…)
Buy great flats shoes. Recommendation: London Sole.
Become a wash-and-wear kind of traveler. Double beauty products, small-size palettes, all-in-one oils or creams can do wonders for your vanity clutter problem. (Unless you’re a beauty fiend… you know I can’t help you.) Duty-free is a great (if dangerous) source of inspiration here.
Edit and invest toward a capsule wardrobe. a few pieces that can be turned into multiple looks for multiple occasions. (Fashion junkies know this can’t happen for them).
For those who can’t pare down: learn the best overseas shipping options for sending you beloved gear ahead of you to your new home (or for when you return home). For me, Japan Post offers sea freight, which takes 8 weeks, but is great for shipping books and art and out of season clothing back home.
Dress well when you travel. It says you care how you present yourself. You don’t need to don stilettos or a Zegna suit, but say no to sweat pants, old polo shirts, anything given to you for free by a company. And please- no crocs. Just because.
Eat very little or fast during long haul flights. Most cabin food is that is pre-packaged, salty, and makes you feel bloated and gross. You’re better off taking a salad and a protein shake on the flight and arriving hungry than gorging on salted pasta and feeling like a sausage in your seat. If you must eat, try to pre-order the Hindu or Vegi meals. They tend to be fresher and not filled with greasy stuff.
Embrace uncertainty. When you hit the proverbial ice on the road, speed into the skid. Learn from patience. Accept what is. Enjoy your new life.
If you have any awesome expat travel tips, don’t be a miser- share in the comments section!
When I lived in SF I was a ModCloth-a-holic… all of the girls in my office were. Work let us get our UPS shipments delivered so we didn’t miss our packages and MAN THAT WAS A PROBLEM. Sigh. Anyway I’m in Japan now and hadn’t thought about ModCloth until they chatted with me the other day and said “Hey Cyn… why doncha do a Fall mood board?” I said sure and here’s what I came up with.
Tokyo right now is a lot like SF– gorgeous weather that’s just starting to turn cool here and there. Being a native SFer I know all about layering for weather, and running around all day,so the essentials I came up with include a crossbody bag to stick the hat and scarf in and a cardigan. ALWAYS do I have one from about November to March. Because warm is easy– just shed a layer and you’re fine. But you can’t escape cold. And that’s a drag and a half.
I also like a smaller bag in a bigger bag combo– especially in Tokyo. There are coin lockers at train stations, so you can leave your big bag and shedded layers and go to dinner/drinks/whateva with just a clutch… which is appreciated in the tinier restaurants and bars. Plus it just feels a little less like you’re moving in when you go to meet someone. I’m all for simple. 🙂
I also noticed that Modcloth has free shipping for us if we spend 150.00 USD… which is super easy to do. And with Japan Post being just about as convenient as UPS deliveries at the office… I’m in trouble yet again. ARGH.
Anyway– it was fun playing virtual dress up MC… thanks for the invite! Cynthia <3
I’m at Incheon Airport now, (one of the nicest airports on the planet, BTW), trying to avoid the Duty Free rabbit hole and stick to my plan to do a massive beauty edit when I get home. (I did get a few things… let’s not be crazy. I’ll share my Fall mini-haul and manifesto on simple living later. Sounds contradictory but it’s not.
But I digress. I’ve been in Seoul for the past week doing some med-spa facial stuff (I’m hiding from the camera for a few days… please luxuriate in the selfie break on my Instagram!). Gangnam is the beauty capital of the planet and they are on the pulse of the latest, newest, safest, and most effective skin treatments. So my skin is a bit sore (and swollen– very glad for medical mask acceptance in Asia right now!). But preventive skincare is so key to not being tempted to go under the knife… so it’s a little painful and pricey, but in the long run it’s worth it.
Here are a few things I love about Seoul, and why it’s the perfect little getaway from Tokyo.
Garosugil: What a find! A super cute European-style neighborhood smack in the middle of Seoul. The food, the vintage, the vibe… all lovely and laid back and very up my alley. I spent a lot of time here.
The necklace is a 1960’s mechanical timepiece… so prettah. Wonder if I can get it to work?
Myeongdong’s Cosme Road: I wrote about this area last year (twice actually)when I went on a full on beauty bender. It was super fun, but this year, I stuck with one natural brand and only bought what I really needed, and one thing I’ve been dying to try.
Dragon Hill Spa: I couldn’t go this year because of my current chipmunk status, but the best Korean spa experience is an all day (and night) event. A must try. I recommend getting a full massage package (only about 100.00 USD) for a mask, accupressure, and deep bodywork. Affordable luxury and super good for you too.
English-friendly: I’d argue anytime an eigo-speaker travels Asia, it’s close to impossible to avoid the the language question Seoul is way more English friendly than Tokyo. Loads more speakers in service industry, and a greater willingness to communicate in even bad English. I realize Japan is shrouded in shyness… but I’m starting to see the Buddhist perspective on shyness (it’s considered pretty negative in Buddhist studies, as a form of self-absorbtion, selfishness). I’ll save the deep-dive into “shy” ideology for another post. Bottom line: Seoul seems more outgoing and more willing to speak up to help you out. It’s refreshing and appreciated.
Being here (and in Vietnam a couple months ago) made me realize that Japan has really worn off on me. I mumble little things in Japanese without realizing it, and bow a LOT. I can’t help but wonder how long that’s going to last after I get back to California? Being an expat isn’t just about trying new things and seeing new places… it’s also about noticing how these things effect you, your worldview, and how you live daily. Experiences layer onto your life, and change your perceptions and attitudes. It’s just a little surprising when you step back and notice it. I wonder what I haven’t noticed?
Okay almost time to board… see you in Tokyo!
Japan has the best food in the world. The commitment to quality, freshness, artfulness, and taste is unparalleled, not to mention, a good deal of Japanese dishes are also super healthy. One of my favorite is the most simple ever, and thanks to some grocery store help from a Japanese friend, I can buy the right ingredients to make perfect miso soup. (Ask any Japan expat who doesn’t speak the language… going to the grocery store is tricky!).
Tofu is made by curdling soymilk proteins into a sliceable form. Nutritionally, tofu is an awesome source of non-animal protein and calcium. I’m an 80/20 vegetarian, so it’s become a pretty important food source. There are several different kinds, but two of the most common are firm and soft. Firm uses the kanji for cotton (momen,木綿) and soft uses the kanji for silk (kinu 絹). You want silken tofu for miso.
This dried sea vegi is SO healthy and it’s delicious. Rehydrating takes less than 10 minutes. Nutritionally, wakame has over 10x the calcium of milk, plus vitamin D which helps your body absorb calcium. It’s also contains vitamin A, C, K and B2, which helps your body use fat and carbs. And almost zero calories. So yum.
Negi (green onion) ねぎ
You know these… but did you know they’re loaded with Vitamins A and C? I didn’t either until I googled it just now. Crazy. I use a plane slicer to make them super thin.
This was the one I needed serious help with. When you go to the store there are SO many varieties. For vegans there is miso without dashi (fish stock), low sodium, zero additive, organic. I wanted a high quality miso with dashi. Here’s what Hiro suggested I buy.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to make.
4 cups of water
1/3 cup of miso paste
thinly sliced negi (I like a lot, but add as you like)
rehydrated wakame (same here)
cubed silken tofu (and here)
Heat the water to almost boiling (don’t boil it though it messes up the miso), add the miso. Once it’s fully incorporated add everything else.
Eat this for breakfast with brown rice and a hard boiled egg. Or with avocado toast. Oh man. Sometimes I eat it for dinner the same way.
If you’re watching your salt, low sodium is probably the way to go, but for me, miso soup is the closest thing I’ve found to a perfect food. It’s easy, healthy, inexpensive, and satisfying.
1. Shinjuku Station
2. Lolita Girls
4. Rikyugen Gardens
7. Yomiyuri Giants
8. Shibuya Crossing
10. Hayao Miyazaki
12. Ueno Park
13. Yohji Yamamoto
15. Shiseido the Ginza
16. Tokyo Station
18. Love Hotels
23. Prada Flagship in Omotesando
26. Yoko Ono
28. Capsule Hotels
31. Tokyu Hands
33. Jiro Ono
40. Shibuya 109