Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fashion Magazines and Strawberry Sandwiches

Did you know that many magazines come with fun freebies like bags or accessories?  This is a delightful fact that I only recently discovered, and I just bought my first magazine with swag in it.  In the stores you'll see many of the magazines tied or rubber-banded up so that what's inside doesn't fall out.

Can you see the yellow bands, holding them closed?

I chose this magazine with a free make-up bag from L'Occitane en Provence
The upper right hand corner will show what the free gift is.
Yay for my cute new bag!

John, however, informed me that I am super lame because this magazine I chose is advertising that it is #1 among thirty-somethings.  Oh well, live and learn.  There's another magazine with an Anna Sui coin purse that I have my eye on...

And, just for fun, I bought a strawberry sandwich at the Seven-Eleven today.  I only started seeing them last week.  Maybe they're seasonal, or maybe I'm just unobservant?
I was worried the white stuff would be mayonnaise or butter or something else unpleasant, but it wasn't. There appeared to be a white and a yellow icing, but they turned out to be whipped cream and custard in very nice proportions.  Definitely more of a dessert than a lunch, but delicious all the same!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tokyu Hands Baking Supplies

Tokyu Hands is a fantastic store that has floor upon floor of things for sale.  It's the sort of place that you can go in and get most of what's on your shopping list whether you're looking for cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, lumber, or stationary.  I really enjoy their seasonal offerings!

Before New Years they were selling lots of snake themed objects because 2013 is the year of the snake.  And afterwards they were selling some great traditional Japanese products.  I got some cute magnets covered in traditional Japanese fabric, and Raku got a small sake barrel.  But this week I was delighted to find their valentines day offerings.

They're offering lots of cute boxes of chocolate and candy, but they also have a huge section of baking supplies.  There were multiple kinds of sugars, flours, baking mixes, food colorings and flavorings.  I even got some powdered pumpkin.  The selection definitely rivaled that of Cuoca, but there was better English labeling.

And then on the way home I saw this hilarious bag!  It says "Tequila is not my friend. #BaconEggAndCheesePlease.  Love it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tokyo On My Own

John has gone back to the U.S. for several days, so I'm totally on my own here for the first time.  I expected to feel really homesick and jealous, but surprisingly I don't.  Don't get me wrong, there are days when I am absolutely overwhelmed with homesickness.  But it's starting to feel right here.

I've been picking up a few phrases here and there that are pretty simple but that make basic interactions with people so much easier and less awkward.  It makes me so much happier to be able to say little things to people in the elevator or at the check out in a store.  I'm also learning my way around so I don't have to look up directions every time I go anywhere - and learning where the good grocery stores and other useful shops in my neighborhood are.

On top of that I've decided to embrace the fact that I don't have an oven.  Instead, I've been finding great new recipes and really working on my cooking skills rather than baking.  It's been great now that I have a real kitchen.  Chicken picata has become a favorite of John's.  I've also recently learned to cook lasagna in a skillet, made homemade tzaziki, discovered lentil soup, and made awesome chicken wings with a whiskey soy sauce glaze!  (If you're reading this, you should remind John how lucky he is)  I'm getting ready to figure out the ins and outs of my fish oven, and once I do I'll write more about it.  I'm thinking I might be able to make naan and pita bread in there - and maybe even cookies (ok, so I haven't totally given up on baking).

And as a final funny thing, I found these cigarette cough drop combo-packs in the 7-11 today.

Maybe they should also sell hangover cures with the alcohol?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Snow Day

On  Monday it snowed!  It was beautiful to look out the window of a high rise building and see the snow swirling so far above AND below us.  I heard we got between 8 and 12 cm (not that I measured myself).

I didn't take any pictures while it was snowing, but I did go to the neighborhood shrine the next day to take some pictures before all the snow melted off.

Slush and Flower Petals in the Street

Snow Melting From the Roof of a Well

I love that there is so much green foliage here even in the winter!

Snowy Entrance to Hikawa Shrine

Snowy Ornamental Cabbages

Later in the week I discovered a couple of really cute snowmen near our house.

That's a plastic spoon for a nose!

His eyes are pine cones.
Rumor has it John will soon be making an appearance soon with a blog about computer buying/building in Japan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Recent Purchases That Make Life Better

Over the past couple weeks John and I have been buying all the things we need to fully furnish our apartment, but I've also made some smaller purchases of things that just make daily life better.

I've never really cared for slippers much, I was more of a barefoot girl, but I suppose I mostly grew up with carpet and didn't have to experience ice cold floors.  I got these at Muji during the holiday sales.

I particularly love how these look like flats.

Speaking of Muji, I got some of their bath salts and sugars for Christmas.  It seems that the salts are a finer grain and a little more powdery, while the bath sugars seem to be larger crystals (I don't think they're really sugar) and a slightly stickier texture like there are more essential oils in them.  I really like both!

We also recently purchased a humidifier.  I had only ever been here in the summer when it's terribly humid, so I was very surprised to discover how cold and dry it becomes in the winter.  It seems that running the heat further dries out the already dry air, so we bought a hygrometer to keep track of the humidity level (and it turns out John like his humidity to resemble a summer day in Durham).

We chose the Middle Colors brand humidifier, partly because it's sold everywhere, and also because it was pretty cute.  It's ultrasonic so it doesn't have to heat the water, and it doesn't seem to have a problem with making dust.  It has very discrete controls, and works really nicely.  It also has an essential oils diffuser.

And finally, at the the grocery store I made the best cleaning discovery!  Our sink has a little mesh basket that catches food particles.  But then it is really gross and difficult to scrape everything out of the mesh.  Ugh!

While looking for trash bags one day, I came across these little bags that are net filters for sink baskets.

They look like teensy hair nets, and are stretchy, so they will fit a number of different sizes and shapes.

Ta-da! Now, I can just throw away these little bags instead of scraping grossness out with a spoon.  It's so cool, it almost keeps me from being disgusted when I change them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Amazing Train Discovery!

I learned the most amazing thing about the trains this week from Raku!  Did you know there are signs that tell you which train car to get in, in order to make the fastest transfer to another line?  I can't get over how efficient it is.  As far as I know this applies to Tokyo Metro and JR, but may not be true of some of the other companies.

Signs like this appear on the walls and columns on the train platforms.  Until three days ago I didn't give them a second glance.

But all you do is find the station where you will transfer on the left, and then across the row it will show which car is closest for each possible transfer. (The number to the left of the station name tells how many minutes away that station is from you)

For example, if you're catching the Marunouchi line at Kasumigaseki you should ride in cars 1-3.  In some cases it will show different cars depending on which direction you'll be headed on the line you're transferring to.  The chart also shows which cars are near elevators, bathrooms, the station master, and sometimes specific exits.  Amazing!

And if you're wondering how to find the correct car there are little signs near the tracks telling you car numbers.

This is what the Tokyo Metro signs look like, I believe the JR looks a little different.

Now I know why some areas of the platform are so crowded when others are nearly deserted. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Apartment

We've been in our new apartment for 2 weeks now, and I love it!  Akasaka is a fantastic neighborhood, we finally have furniture, and it's feeling like this is really home.  Back in the temporary place John used to dread coming home to our apartment.  But this place is great.

I was worried that I would miss the bright lights and liveliness of Roppongi (and the proximity to Donki) even though I couldn't wait to get away from some of the seedier aspects of the neighborhood.  But Akasaka has almost everything I could want.  There's a great area around the stations with lots of shops, restaurants, and fun things to do.  But we live on a quiet street with a neighborhood shrine, and we can even see stars at night!

Three Things I Hate About Our Apartment:

The bathroom has the world's tiniest sink - and only COLD water!  (Though the toilet seat is heated, which it turns out is awesome.)

No central air (I guess I'm spoiled), but we're losing a lot of heat through the windows since we don't have curtains yet.

Our entryway is marble which is a) Ugly b) Ostentatious and c) Cold on bare feet!

Three Things I Love About Our Apartment:

The washer/dryer controls are in English!  

Our fridge can open to the left or right!

This is our view.

All in all, it's really great.  We're close to Raku, it's not hard for John to get to work, I now have kitchen sink that is bigger than the whole kitchen was in our last place, and of course it's wonderful to have our belongings back after packing them up in August.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hatsumōde and Other Japanese New Year's Traditions

For New Year's John and I decided to celebrate the traditional Japanese way.  Hatsumode is the first visit to a shrine (or temple) in the New Year.  Many people will go right around midnight, but shrines remain crowded for the first couple days of the year.  We went to Hikawa shrine, which is just around the corner from our apartment, just before 12:00.  Because it's such a small shrine it wasn't too crowded and we were close to the front of the line.  At midnight people begin throwing donations of money in a box and ringing a bell.  We were then given a cup of hot sake, from the sake drums they crack open at midnight.  It was very sweet sake, and I think it was unfiltered.  Then John and I bought fortunes (おみくじ), but alas John couldn't really read them.

Arriving at the Shrine

There were so many lanterns it was almost as bright as day

The money donation/bell ringing line.  John heard one Japanese man comment the place was full of foreigners!

Our fortunes.  John's might say that he's going to lose money, but have ease in childbirth.

Around New Year's decorations called Kadomatsu are placed in front of homes and businesses traditionally to welcome ancestral spirits.

They can be quite large

Or quite small

Starting January 2nd there are many sales, and we saw lots of Kadomatsu tucked in and around products at the stores.

2013 is the Year of the Snake

This is a decoration of mochi with a tangerine on top (fake), it's supposed to bring good luck.

Another New Year's tradition is sending postcards (ねんがじょ), sort of like sending Christmas Cards.  If you get them to the post office by a certain day the post office guarantees to deliver them on New Year's day.  This year they delivered 1.89 billion!  We were super thrilled to receive on from John's secretary.  It's proudly displayed on our fridge now.