One Sweet Saturday

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It didn’t take long for us to learn that as far as food is concerned in Japan, good things come to those who wait. Every queue we’ve waited in thus far — and I don’t enjoy queues — has been well worth it. Today was no exception when we lined up for some heavenly cream puffs from Celi Sweets Factory near Tsukiji in Chuo.

I’d seen signs around Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya line for a few months now. After forgoing their delicious-looking pastries for long enough, Craig and I decided today the only way to top off an excellent sushi lunch at the fish market was to pick up a couple cream puffs. After all, waiting in line with a full stomach isn’t so bad.

The shop only offers three options: cream puffs that are crispy on the outside and filled with a sweet custard similar in taste to crème brûlée, bite-size fried donuts you buy according to weight, or a cup of just the custard.  At 450 yen for two puffs, each about the size of a baseball, they were an affordable dessert that didn’t disappoint.

Now I have another place to add to my anti-diet list.

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6 Happy Sights

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Craig is back! So happy to have him home in Tokyo after a week in Shanghai. I decided to kick off my happy sights for the week with a few of his snaps from China. The first pic you see above is of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

In other news, the countdown to Golden Week is on in Japan, as evidenced by the fact I was up until 3 a.m. trying to find a hotel in Kyoto for while my parents are in town. My dad and I were going back and forth on both U.S. and Japanese travel sites, racing against what seemed like everyone else on the planet for rooms in this popular tourist town. Phew, cross that off the list.

Happy Earth Day!

New construction seems to be everywhere you look in China.

New construction seems to be everywhere you look in China.

Aww. How kawaii.

Aww. How kawaii.

Spotted this gorgeous installation in Tokyo Midtown.

Spotted this gorgeous installation in Tokyo Midtown.

The yummy cheesecake at Roti.

The yummy cheesecake at ROTI.

This is a bad pic, I was just in shock to spot some box wine. Come on, Japan.

This is a bad pic, I was just in shock to spot some box wine. Come on, Japan. You’re better than that.

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Weekly Web Tacks

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I’ve begun the final preparations for my parents’ arrival NEXT WEEK and I couldn’t be more excited. I just hope the jet lag doesn’t hit them too hard, because I have a lot planned for their trip. Family vacations were always pretty action packed when I was growing up — we were up before the sun for road trips and to get the most out of our time together. I know they’ll have a great time.

My web tacks for the week include some amazing technological and food trends here in Japan. Enjoy!

  1. My first post for The Style Line about life in Japan! So excited to finally share this project!
  2. I always enjoy a good IKEA hack, like these from BuzzFeed. See my IKEA hacks here and here.
  3. Japanese “washlets” really have ruined regular toilets for me. I have one spoiled bum, hehe. [The Washington Post]
  4. Taco Bell opened in Shibuya, and people were really excited. [Japan Today]
  5. My new beauty obsession. It’s like having a facial every morning.
  6. The most fashionable movies. One of them even has my name. [Refinery29]
  7. Would you take a ramen bath? [First We Feast]
  8. And finally, to make you smile, learn some random facts from a talking bean, mameshiba. Only in Japan.
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Being Inked in Japan: Tattoo Etiquette

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After Craig and I first announced our move to Japan, a good friend of ours who had visited Tokyo before sent along lots of wonderful tips, but one stood out to me right away: The Japanese aren’t fond of tattoos.

As someone who’d only had limited exposure to Japanese culture, I was shocked. I thought about all the street style blogs I looked at showcasing edgy trendsetters and I couldn’t believe tattoos would be frowned upon. Like anyone with body art, my five tattoos (none of which are particularly large) all have very special meanings. I got them to commemorate a person, lesson or life experience that has shaped me. The thought of someone seeing them as dirty in some way hurt me at first.

So, I did some research. While tattoos have represented a variety of things to the Japanese people throughout this country’s history, tattoos have widely been associated with criminals and members of the organized crime world in Japan, known as yakuza. In earlier centuries, criminals were tattooed to mark them for their past crimes and identify them as offenders. The yakuza adopted this tradition themselves and tattoos became a way to represent their affiliation with the organization, which exists to this day. But ordinary people got them too. Tattoos were actually illegal in Japan from the mid to late 1800s until just after World War II.

Today, tattoos in Japan are very much legal, but a stigma still remains. Tattoos are prohibited in many public and private pools, gyms and spas. Some dining establishments or bars will also hang signs stating tattoos must be covered.

I’ll admit, at times, it’s been very frustrating. For Valentine’s Day, I tried to find a spa in central Tokyo for us to spend the day. I checked smaller places up to four-star hotels and while some had a very clear no-tattoo policy, what really threw me were those that said they permitted tattoos, but if another guest complained, you could be asked to leave without a refund for incomplete services. I would personally feel less comfortable with someone entering a shared onsen covered in bandages, but again, where I come from, the attitude toward body art is much different. Beyond that, I’ve picked up on a bit trepidation from sales staff when I’m shopping in more upscale places, like the department stores in Ginza, so I do my best to be polite and friendly, as always. I’ve never been denied service.

More often than not, however, I’ve had very pleasant encounters about my tattoos here. I’ve never had someone be rude to me and I’ve gotten multiple compliments on the flower tattooed on my right wrist (a magnolia for my mother and sister). More than one person has touched it, believe it or not.

My best recommendation is to call ahead when booking a spa service or making a reservation at a resort that has a pool or onsen (hot springs). Some will say you can use the facilities as long as tattoos are covered with a bandage, but you should also expect others to prohibit entry outright. When it’s warmer out and I have on a tank top or dress that shows my tattoos, I try to carry a sweater with me to throw on if necessary. Be prepared and never be afraid to ask — you’ll end up saving yourself time, stress and possibly money.

I’m seeing more and more tattoos around town, mostly on men. A lot of women here actually wear flesh-colored tights with tattoo-like prints on them, which gives me the impression tattoos are becoming more acceptable. When you’re in neighborhoods like Shibuya, where trendier crowds can be found, you certainly see more tattoos.

I certainly don’t feel I need to hide or change who I am to live in Japan, but I have to remember to take a step back and put opinions about things like tattoos in their proper social context before getting upset.

[Today’s photo credit goes to Stefano, for capturing some of my ink this weekend.]

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Favorite Solo Outings in Tokyo

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I remember the first time Craig left me by myself in Tokyo for a business trip. Not only did I cry, but I imagined every possible worst-case scenario that could happen. What if there was another earthquake? What if I cut myself cooking and didn’t know how to talk to the emergency operator? What if my luck finally ran out and my forgotten flat iron did spark and burn down our building?

That first trip was hard, no question, but just like every new challenge I’ve had here in Tokyo, I got through it. The nightly FaceTime sessions with family and friends certainly helped.

Craig’s gone on another trip now and while I definitely still cry when he leaves, the panic I felt before isn’t there as much. Instead, I make plans beyond working my way through my Netflix queue. So, I decided to share some of my favorite things to do on my own in Tokyo. If you ever visit Tokyo, be sure to check some of these places out, especially if you break away from the pack for a while. Each one made me feel a bit more at home.

  1. Enjoy a glass of wine and a towering parfait at Dalloyau.
  2. Be pampered at Nail Quick.
  3. Enjoy a Michelin-quality lunch special at Pizza Strada.
  4. Take in groundbreaking art (and an awesome gift shop) at the National Museum of Modern Art.
  5. Walk the grounds of the Imperial Palace.
  6. Order up some epic gyoza at Harajuku Gyoza Lou.
  7. Walk the length of Omotesando Dori and end with a tour of the Meiji Shrine.
  8. Pick up a selection of takeout items from a convenience store (Lawson, Family Mart, 7-11, etc.) and go watch the dancers in Yoyogi Park.
  9. Get a shaved iced (must be topped with condensed milk) from Sweet Box in Harajuku and people watch for some serious street style.
  10. Take in the view from Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree.
  11. Grab a cup of coffee from Doutor and walk along the Sumida River (pictured above).
  12. Take a seat at one of the conveyor belt sushi joints in Tsukiji and eat bravely.
  13. Check out the local vintage shops for designer deals.
  14. Take a cooking class.
  15. Enjoy a craft cocktail with a view on the rooftop patio at Two Rooms.
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Weekly Web Tacks

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We’ve done quite a bit of travel planning lately as our packed summer gets closer and closer. I’ll be doing plenty of flying in the coming months but it’s worth it to share in some major milestones back home and see new places.

Enjoy my web tacks for the week, kicking things off with some info on Asia’s most popular beverage.

  1. A very helpful tea glossary of sorts. [Into the Gloss]
  2. Three new species of “mini Godzillas” have been discovered. [The Japan Times]
  3. A mother’s stunning portrait series of her daughter shows her beauty and strength. [Mashable]
  4. If only I had a printer, I’d be coloring right now. [The Huffington Post]
  5. Valuable financial advice for anyone interested in being an expat. [The Wall Street Journal]
  6. I can totally relate to the feelings of insecurity experienced by this fellow American living in Japan. [Racked]
  7. Hoping this wall art is still around when I get back to the U.S. and my beloved Target.
  8. I sort of adore this rebooted ’90s trend. [BuzzFeed]
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6 Happy Sights

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Craig has a big work trip coming up so this weekend was all about spending time together and laying low, mostly. I cooked up some comfort food, we watched movies and had a nice date out. My happy sights for the week kick off with that blissful dish you see above we tried at iBeer Le Sun Palm in Shibuya’s Hikarie building. Why didn’t I ever think to top crème brûlée (my absolute favorite dessert) with ice cream before?! It was heaven. Here are some other things that made me smile this week.

I know this picture isn't the best, but it's not everyday you seen traditional samurai armor on display. Spotted in Ginza.

I know this picture isn’t the best, but it’s not everyday you seen traditional samurai armor on display. Spotted in Ginza.

I enjoyed this delicious brew alongside that dessert at iBeer. A pretty perfect after-dinner treat.

I enjoyed this delicious brew alongside that dessert at iBeer. A pretty perfect after-dinner treat.

I made a big pot of potato soup with ham that we enjoyed all weekend with binge-watching The Wire on Amazon Instant Video.

I made a big pot of potato soup with ham that we enjoyed all weekend with binge-watching The Wire on Amazon Instant Video.

So this one's a week old, but I had to include it. Stefano took me to L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele.

So this one’s a week old, but I had to include it. Stefano took me to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele.

Two books on Japanese artists I picked up during my visit to the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art.

Two books on Japanese artists I picked up during my visit to the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art.

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Japanese Beauty Buy: Pure Smile Sheet Mask

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Next up for my monthly beauty product review is this sheet mask I picked up at Tomod’s, one of the convenience store/pharmacy chains we have in Tokyo (Translation: Impulse purchase).

But this isn’t a typical mask that comes in a tube or jar — instead, it’s a one-piece sheet you apply to the face and leave on for 15 to 20 minutes and then peel off. I know these sheet masks have been catching on outside of Asia, so I was dying to give one a try. The Pure Smile Royal Jelly Essence Mask provides super anti-aging ingredients like collagen, royal jelly and hyaluronic acid and is supposed to give me a more moisturized, smooth complexion.

Before I used the mask, I washed my face and applied my favorite peel-off mask first. I wanted to really clean out my pores so the serum on the sheet mask could absorb better. After I removed it, I used my normal toner. The sheet mask itself is pretty easy to apply, even if it is a bit slippery. It took a bit of smoothing and adjusting to remove what air bubbles I could — you can’t get them all since the sheets are one size fits all.

What I noticed right away was that it tingled. Now, if you’re a beauty masochist like me, a little burn is what we love, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is working better than it would otherwise. The sheet stayed in place while I watched TV for about 15 minutes — Down to You was just added to Netflix . . . hello, middle school.

Once I removed the mask, I followed the instructions and massaged the serum into my face and then let it air dry. While it did provide excellent hydration, it was almost too much so. I have oily skin, so I was blotting more than usual throughout the day. I think next time I’ll rinse it off.

While I wasn’t expecting miraculous results, the sheet mask did leave my skin soft and moisturized and definitely gave my complexion a pick-me-up. Will sheet masks become a regular part of my routine? Probably not, but I do think I’ll use them after traveling, to combat dried-out skin from long flights.

Would you try one?

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My Definition of an Expat

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There’s been a lot of online debate lately over the word “expat.” It all began with this article from The Guardian, in which the author wrote that the term had racist implications. While I’m in no way condoning the use of this term in a prejudicial manner, or denying it has been or is used in that way, I did want to share why I refer to myself as an expat and what responsibilities I believe come with such a label.

The definition of the word expat is someone who goes to live in another country from their own either temporarily or permanently. As such, I feel the appropriate use of this term today is to describe someone — from any part of the world — who has been relocated to another country for work or educational purposes. I consider myself an expat because my husband and I were relocated to Japan for business for a set period of time. This is what fundamentally sets apart someone who considers themselves an expat and someone who is an immigrant. While no one can say for certain what the future holds, as of now, I know Japan isn’t where we will grow old. If we were to decide it should be and that we were going to pursue citizenship, I would consider myself an immigrant. Japan would then be my permanent home, not my temporary one.

The label of expat, as with all labels, can be both inclusive and excluding, depending as much on how it is applied to an individual or group of individuals as the actions of those people. To me, an expat is a respectable and productive member of their adoptive country, doing their best to integrate and honor the customs of the place they currently call home. They don’t expect their new community to bend to them but instead seek to make friends and lasting connections.

I know how fortunate we are to have been given this opportunity and that choosing to move to another country on your own to begin a new life is accompanied by profoundly more challenges that we have faced. Those who have left behind where they were born — my relatives included — to create a new home for themselves and their families are far braver than I am.

I may not always get it right, and lord knows there are days certain aspects of life here may baffle me, but I have to always remember I’m a guest here in Japan, for however long we’re meant to stay. I take pride in where I came from but I don’t shut myself off to the lessons of where I am now.

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A Phallic-Filled Easter at Kanamara Matsuri

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Yes, that pink thing you see above is exactly what it looks like. And fair warning: that’s the tamest image I’ve got from this weekend’s Kanamara Matsuri  at Kanamara Shrine in Kawasaki.

The shrine has long been a place of prayer for sex workers and those suffering from STDs and this festival is its main event. During sakura season last year, I missed Kanamara Matsuri, a Shinto celebration also known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus.” I decided I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. The Penis Festival, as it’s commonly referred to, is a celebration of fertility that goes back to the Edo Period. The more modern intention of the festival is supposedly to encourage safe sex practices. I saw little evidence of that campaign.

Revelers who flock to Kanamara during the festival can have their picture taken straddling a large wooden phallus, buy several varieties of penis-shaped lollipops and souvenirs and enjoy watching the penis mikoshi (portable shrine) make its way through the streets surrounding the shrine. I also quite enjoyed the costumes worn by the attendees.

Please be advised, these images are probably not suitable for your computer screen at work due to some suggestive merchandise and snacks. I have to say, this was the most fun I’ve had people watching in a while.

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