Tag Archives: Japan

Back to Tokyo!

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Last autumn, we went on a very special holiday. I’d been looking forward to this trip for a long time. After 4 years I finally set foot on Japanese soil again and you know what!? It felt like I’d never been gone! I even managed to brush up my rusted Japanese while we were there. Since we did so many things and took tons of photos I’d like to share with you, I’ll split this up in several posts. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we did. So let’s get started with Tokyo, the place I’d called my home for a year back in 2009/2010.

Our trip didn’t start off as nicely as we’d hoped for. When we got to the airport in Frankfurt we learned that our first flight to London was delayed by an hour because it was too foggy for the incoming plane to land. Of course, there’d been nothing but clear skies the previous days. Oh well! Since we had 2 hours between flights we were still positive we’d make it in time. Until we finally sat on the plane and nothing happened. We had to wait for connecting passengers and by the time we got to Heathrow, we had only 10 minutes until boarding was closing. I was still hoping they’d wait for us like we’d waited for the other passengers, but of course they didn’t. The next possible flight wasn’t until 6 hours later. Bummer! But well, somehow we managed to kill the time and after a pleasant flight we finally made it to Haneda airport. We took the bus to Shinjuku station and while we were making our way into central Tokyo, so many memories popped up in my head and I was overflowing with excitement. I couldn’t wait to show M around, to take him to all the places that had been part of my life for such a long time.

From Shinjuku station it was a short subway ride to our hotel. This station can be a pain in the ass as its one of the busiest in the world with millions of passengers every day. It’s basically a maze and I got lost more than once on the search for the right train line during the first months. I’m pretty sure M had his first little culture shock there since we got there during the evening rush hour and I think he didn’t expect me to know what I was doing. But we made our way to the subway without getting lost, yay! The second cultur shock for M was when we saw the shoe box that was our hotel room.

IMG_2590I have no idea how many times we bumped into furniture or our suitcases while moving about, but that’s the way things are in Japan and we didn’t spend much time at the hotel anyway. Plus, since we were pretty high up, we had a nice view over the city.Desktop_01

After a very long sleep, it was finally time for sightseeing. First, we went to Meiji-jingu, a big shinto shrine which I’d visited many times before. Before we went inside, I made the mistake of sitting down at the bottom of a tree in front of the big entrance gate and immediately got whistled at by a guard. Ooops! Well, I was already pregnant at the time and needed a rest, so, sorry! At first, we took a stroll through the adjacent garden, a first time for me as well, then went on to the shrine itself. IMG_2723As a contrast to the tranquility of the shrine, we afterwards walked through Harajku’s Takeshita dori, a narrow street with lots of fashion boutiquesm some of them selling pretty extraodinary clothes (even for Japanese standards). IMG_2741From there, we walked down to Shibuya, a part of the city I’d spent a lot of time at since I’d worked there and had frequently gone out for after work drinks in the area. I’d always loved standing at the famous Shibuya crossing, waiting for the lights to turn green and then letting myself drift along with the crowd. Standing there again after such a long time was a very special moment for me, kind of magical. Desktop_05We walked around on Center Gai for a bit, a shopping street with colourful stores and neon lights, pretty popular among the youth. IMG_2810When we got hungry, I rembered a sushi restaurant I’d been to several times before and after searching around for a bit, I finally found it. It wasn’t the same chain as before, but a way cooler one. You could order your sushi via a screen and after a few minutes the food arrived on a little train. What an awesome idea! Since I was pregnant and in Germany doctors recommend not to eat raw food, I decided to stick to the non-raw and veggie options. When I saw M indulging in all the sushi goodness, I felt tempted to try just one piece, but I didn’t dare. Japanese women would probably laugh at me, but well, there were plenty of other great things to eat waiting for me on the trip, so it was ok. IMG_2779Since the cafe I used to work at was only a short walk from the restaurant, we decided to pay it a visit after dinner. But unfortunately I had to find out that the place had been closed down. I have to admit that this made me pretty sad since I had hoped to see some of my former colleagues. On the other hand, it wasn’t such a big surprise to see a place had vanished since Tokyo is constantly changing and doing so pretty fast. So we took the train back to Shinjuku and went for an evening stroll in the Kabuki-cho area, an entertainment district, and through the bar-lined alleys of Golden Gai. All in all, it was an awesome first day back in Japan.IMG_2816

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An evening at Dippemess

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Yay, the Easter weekend is finally here! I have been looking forward to having 4 days off so much after the busy weeks before. Last weekend I basically had only half a day off on Sunday because I came back from London around noon. I was absolutely knackered when I finally arrived back in Frankfurt. On Monday, I felt like having a jetlag, just from having to get up around 6 in the morning and working until late at night while I was in London. It was crazy! And this week wasn’t any less busy. I don’t really know how I made it through, I literally had to drag myself to work yesterday. But I made it and while we’re busy in a different way this weekend (with the apartment and family things), there’ll also be time to relax. I definitely deserve it!

To start off the long weekend, we had one of our surprise dates yesterday. Being the bad girlfriend I am I guessed what the boyfriend had planned before he had a chance to surprise me. To be fair, I only did because I’d planned the exact same thing for the next week. But it wasn’t any less fun! We went to Dippemess, a fair which is held every spring in Frankfurt. We’d already been there last year and liked it so much we wanted to come back. To be honest, I don’t really know why I like it that much. There isn’t any difference to other fairs in Germany, really. There’s a ferris wheel, a rollercoaster, a ghost train, a water ride and many more rides. Of course, there’s a wide choice of food and drinks as well.

After walking through the whole place, we decided we didn’t really feel like going on any rides. I was too tired for a thrill. Instead, we got some fries, Currywurst and a beer and sat down watching the people passing by. And then we discovered something: UFO catchers (you know those claw machines you can win stuffed animals and other toys with). Playing UFO catcher was a real hobby for me when I lived in Japan. It could’ve  easily turned into an addiction. Maybe it already was. I have no idea how much money I spent and how many stupid toys I won. It wasn’t about the prizes, it was about winning, about perfecting that skill to get the thing you want into that damn hole. Unfortunately, German UFO catchers are a real pain in the ass. Their claws work a lot different from Japanese ones, so I never really bothered to play. But yesterday we did. I’d spotted a little minion which looked like it was possible to capture. And I was right. It took us 3 tries to get it. Yay! To celebrate our win, we bought some cocktails and sat down in a deck chair. Aaaaah, almost like holidays! It started to get pretty cold, so we went for one last look around and then headed home. I think I haven’t slept this well in a long time.

Happy Easter everyone!

 

 

March Photo Challenge: Week 3

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Last week has been a fun, but busy one. I went to not one, but two concerts (which makes 3 shows in just 6 days if I count in the one I went to the week before). While I was absolutely knackered by the middle of the week, I enjoyed going out during the week a lot. So much so that we’ve decided to finally break our couch and TV routine of the last weeks and do more fun stuff again. I really like spending time in our beautiful new apartment, but lately we’ve been acting more like retirees than people in their late 20s/early 30s. I hope I’ll be able to present you some of the fun things we’re going to do this week in my next edition of the March Photo Challenge. In the meanwhile, here are my pictures I took during last week’s evenings.

Day 15

DSC_0705Saturday is usually the only day of the week that we cook something. We both have lunch at work and stick to the good old “Abendbrot” (which basically consists of sandwiches, literally it means “evening bread”) during the week. I’d wanted to try a recipe called Mapo Tofu ever since I read about it on Chronicles of Yoyo (thanks, Yolande, for introducing me to this delicious dish). I’m not the best cook and I had to improvise a little because I couldn’t find all the ingredients, but this was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten. My stomach really hurt because I couldn’t stop eating. Yum!

Day 16

DSC_0724One thing I really, really want to do this year is go back to Japan for a holiday in autumn. I have no idea if we’ll actually go (mainly because of financial reasons), but since I love nothing more than travel planning, I bought a Lonely Planet and have started to read through it. I’m trying to not get too excited about all the things I’d love to see and do, but there’s nothing wrong about dreaming a little, right?

Day 17

DSC_0707On Monday evening I was taking the train back home as usual. I always have my iPod plugged in because I like to shut myself off from my fellow passengers and sometimes, like that day, I’m also reading at the same time. As I was sitting there absorbed in my book I noticed that the train had reached the only point on the journey where it travels overground. It’s only for a few seconds, but it’s always the sign for me that I’m only 1 stop from where I have to get off. I was still reading in my book when suddenly I noticed that the train had stopped. At a train station. Overground. I turned around and noticed that I was the only person still on the train. Hastily, I picked up my stuff and jumped out of the train. So I had taken the wrong one even though this line never stops at the track my trains depart from. I can take any train from that track, so I usually don’t pay attention to where exactly it’s going (I definitely will from now on). So there I was, stuck in the wrong station and the next train back wouldn’t leave until 25 minutes later. It was already after 7, so I wouldn’t be home until 8. Bummer! I called the boyfriend and kindly asked him if he could pick me up knowing that it would only take him 15 minutes max to get there. He wasn’t amused, but he jumped right into the car. While I was waiting outside, I took a picture. There’s not much to see, but after all that hassle I couldn’t really be bothered to come up with something more interesting.

Day 18

DSC_0710 On Tuesday, I went to see Casper, a German rapper, with my sister. The ticket was a birthday gift from her. It was really nice to do something with my sister. Even though we live close the each other, we only meet up every couple of weeks because we’re both busy people. The concert was awesome! I usually don’t listen to hip hop anymore. I used to back in the 90s when good German hip hop was actually a thing. Casper really is an exception these days and he put on a great show. I was really exhausted from all the jumping around.

Day 19

On Wednesday evening I went to a concert again. This time it was You Me At Six. I’d already seen them play in support of 30 Seconds to Mars last autumn and was really looking forward to seeing them do a headline show. The venue was probably the tiniest I’ve ever been to. I didn’t even see the stage at first, that’s how tiny it was. The vibe there was great and both the band and the crowd were in a great mood. My favourite moment was probably when lead singer Josh decided to jump on the bar and suddenly stood right in front of me. He then jumped into the crowd and let us carry him back to the stage. It was a bit risky considering there were only a few hundred people there and it wasn’t exactly crowded. But luckily, he got out of there safely.

Day 20

DSC_0718After all the action I had the days before, I was absolutely exhausted on Thursday. I didn’t do much else than lying around on the couch that evening. But when I went home from work I took a picture of the sky which had a nice pattern from the airplanes that had crossed it moments before.

Day 21

DSC_0719Friday is grocery shopping day for us. We used to do it on Saturdays, but since it always takes up so much time and we want to do greater things on our weekends, we decided to change that routine. Here’s a look at our not so healthy purchase. We still had plenty of vegetables and fruit at home which is why we didn’t buy any. Usually, it’s really not that bad.

March Photo Challenge: Week 2

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Another busy week has come to an end. I can’t believe we’re already 2 weeks into March. Again time is flying! Last week’s theme for the photo challenge was “noon/midday”. Here are the photos I took.

Day 8

DSC_0678Saturday brought the most amazing spring weather! It was so warm, I was acutally able to wear a t-shirt. In early march! Truly amazing! Up until then I was still wearing my winter coat and suddenly I didn’t even need to wear a light jacket. Of course, I had to go outside and enjoy the sun. The boyfriend had to work, so I met up with my sister and her boyfriend. We went down to the river and sat down for a little bit. It was so great to feel the sun on my skin and to just sit there and do some people watching.

Day 9

DSC_0682On Sunday, the weather was amazing again. We had our first breakfast on the balcony. Then we wanted to do something outside again. Originally we wanted to go to a little hill area with a park and a beer garden, but it was absolutely impossible to find a place to park the car. That’s what happens when the sun suddenly comes out. Everybody comes crawling out of their holes. We had no choice but to go back home. My sister and her boyfriend came over and we decided to finally check out that cafe-bar-concert venue thingy just around the corner from our place. They have a nice beer garden outside – the perfect thing to do on a beautiful spring day. There was a concert going on which made it even better. After we’d waited for ages for a beer and a sausage (we actually got the last few sausages before they ran out of them), we sat down on one of the benches and enjoyed that beautiful afternoon. I have a feeling that I’m gonna become a regular at that place.

Day 10

DSC_0693My noons at work aren’t very exciting. Most of the time I’m having lunch in the office with my colleagues which doesn’t make for an interesting picture. So I decided to share some things that were on my mind during my lunch breaks. On Monday, I started a new read. I’m a huge fan of Haruki Murakami and I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I’ve started to use my commute to read in it everyday and so far I absolutely love it. Sometimes I wish my train ride was a little bit longer.

Day 11

DSC_0692Tuesday marked the 3-year anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe. A tragedy that hit close to home since I’d only returned back to Germany from Japan just a year before it happened and the country still felt like a second home to me. I remember exactly where I was and what I did when I learned about the earthquake, the tsunami and the following nuclear catastrophe. I spent hours and hours worrying about my friends living in Japan until I heard that everyone was doing fine. Even 3 years after the desaster many people are still suffering from the consequences and my thoughts were with these people that day.

Day 12

DSC_0689On Wednesday, I had to go to Cologne for a meeting. It was a nice change from the usual. When I stepped outside the central station, the huge cathedral was shining in the sun. I just had to take a picture of it. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Day 13

Since nothing spectacular happened on Thursday (and to be honest, I just forgot to take a picture), I have to cheat a little and share another picture I took in Cologne. When I was walking through the pedestrian area, I saw this guy walking in front of me. He was selling 2 jokes for just 1€. A real bargain I’d say! 😉

Day 14

DSC_0694All I could think about on Friday was the Frank Turner concert I was going to that night. I’d already wanted to see Frank last year, but couldn’t make it. I’d heard so many good things about his shows, so I was very excited to finally see him. And I’ll say this much: I wasn’t disappointed.

Inspirashot: The City

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Here’s a little something I wanted to share. An evening shot of Tokyo. Just because I’ve been missing Japan like crazy recently. This actually hasn’t happened in a while. It has been almost 3 years since I returned to Germany for good. And more than 2 years since I’ve last set foot in this beautiful country. And while I’m ok with being back in my home country, there are some things I do miss about that time. I miss the freedom I had there – even though it was probably the only time in my entire life that I had to worry about money, sort of. Of course, I didn’t actually have to worry since I just could’ve gone back home and my parents would’ve supported me no matter what. But I wanted to make it on my own – and I did. I also miss the sense of adventure that comes with living in a foreign country. All the things to explore and to discover. And of course, I also miss the food and the people. I really hope I’ll be able to go back there on a holiday in the not so distant future. My Japanese definitely is in need of a brush-up.

Oh and by the way, just right after I took this picture, I experienced my first ever earthquake. On the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori tower. I’ll definitely never forget this day.

A day I will never forget

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Do you remember what you were doing a year ago from today? I do. Like it was yesterday. It was my last day of work before a one week ski holiday in Austria. Packed with a huge bag, I took the bus to the train station as usual. I took the train to the city I work in as usual. I met my workmate at the station as usual. I had to get some money, so we took a detour to the bank on the way to the office. I remember how I thought what a nice early spring day it was when I stepped out of the bank. My workmate was checking the news on his phone. He looked at me and said: “There’s been an earthquake in Japan.” I knew that an earthquake isn’t unusual in Japan at all. It’s a part of everyday life. Something you get used to. You have no choice. But from the look on his face I knew it wasn’t just an earthquake. It was bad. Really bad. Just how bad, we couldn’t imagine at the time.

I quickly scanned the article on the phone. I felt like someone was pushing a knife right into my heart. Over and over again. I couldn’t breathe. What about all my friends in Japan? The people I’ve worked and shared my life with for months? I had to get to the office as fast as I could. I had to know if everybody was ok. So we ran. Instead of having my usual coffee and nutella bread, I went straight on Facebook. A lot of people had already posted updates. And they were all ok. Thank God! I was so relieved, I almost had to cry. I also checked with my friend in Paris who had worked with me at the cafe in Tokyo. She had heard from the staff and they were all ok as well.

The relief didn’t last too long, though. I spent the next hours reading through everything I could find on the topic. I watched disturbing footage from the earthquake and the following tsunami. I saw skyscrapers swaying like grass in the wind. I saw people running from the water in panic. I saw houses and trucks being swept away by the flood like toys. It was all surreal. It couldn’t be true. How could the country that I loved so much, that had been my home away from home, that I dreamt about so often be put into so much suffering? I couldn’t concentrate on work that day. I felt confused and nauseous. And above all, I didn’t feel like going on a holiday. Of course, I went, but I felt bad enjoying my life while a catastrophe bigger than we could ever imagine was unfolding. When I wasn’t out on the slopes, I was sitting in front of the TV or the computer following the news that were more and more disturbing everday. Every morning I was scared of the news that were awaiting me.

I was a kid when the Chernobyl incident happened. Even though we were living more than 1000 km away from the atomic plant, the sand in our sandbox had to be exchanged. We didn’t eat mushrooms or wild animals that were shot in the forests around us for many years. So I couldn’t help but feel that something was going very wrong in Japan. But I don’t want to get political here. Today I want to express my admiration for the strength the Japanese people showed to the world over the past year. I want to pay respect to the selfless volunteers who risked their lives, who helped rebuild the areas that were devastated by the earthquake and the tsunami, who gave hope to all the people that had lost their loved ones and their homes. We should never forget about the thousands of people who lost their lives in this tragedy – unlike the media who seems to have turned this into a mere political topic. I hope the Japanese people will keep on fighting and that the rest of the world will keep on supporting them in their healing process. And most of all I’m hoping they will never ever have to face something like this ever again. Ganbatte Nihon!

Feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments!

 

In the city of Mainz (where I’m living) some people founded a Charity to help the victims of the disaster. They’re organizing a photo exhibition to remember this sad anniversary and to raise donations for those still affected by the aftermath. If you’re living in the area, please come and visit. You can learn more about it here.
And if you can spare some money, please donate! There are plenty of charities supporting the cause.

 

Immersion is key

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I’m going to tell you a story I haven’t told a lot of people before. Because it’s gross. And I still can’t think back to it without feeling embarrassed and creeped out even though it happened almost 3 years ago. But I will tell you anyway. So here it goes:
I’m in Tokyo standing in front of the most luxuriously looking hotel I’ve ever seen. I’ve put on the fanciest clothes I’ve brought to Japan – and I still feel like a homeless person compared to the people in shiny suits and stylish dresses that are entering and leaving the lobby. I take a deep breath and walk inside. The marble walls and chandeliers are blinding.
“Just keep breathing”, I tell myself as I walk up to Manoru who invited me into this fairy tale. Manoru is about 50 years old, he’s a busy surgeon with almost no private life – and he is one of my students. This is only our second lesson – and by lesson I mean one well-paid hour of chatting in English. For the first lesson we met at a Starbucks in a train station. And now we’re here.
I realize that coming here was a big mistake, when we sit down at the bar. We’re having champagne. I think I’ve only had champagne once before in my entire life. It was a gift I’d received for a magazine subscription.
“Why the heck did I listen to my friends when I knew better”, I’m thinking to myself while trying to put on a smily face. Manoru is telling me about a difficult surgery he just did. I’m taking a sip of champagne hoping for it to calm me down. My glass is still half full when our table is ready and we move over to the restaurant. I notice dozens of different forks and knives on the table as I sit down. I can’t breathe. Thank god, the wine is served.
“So tell me about your work”, Manoru says. “You’re working at a cafe, right. A pink one”
“Yes. In Shibuya. Pink chairs and everything”, I reply.
“You like it?”
“Yes, it’s fun. I like talking to the customers. They’re very nice to me.”
The first dish is served. It’s tiny, but it tastes delicious. The waiter pours some more wine into my glass. I’m already feeling tipsy, but I’m scared it would be rude not to have anymore.
Suddenly I can feel Manoru’s hand on my knee. I can’t believe he’s making a move on me after the first dish already! But why is his hand making a crackling sound? I lift the table cloth. Bills! A lot of bills. What should I do? I take them and nervously shove them into my purse. It looks like a lot more money than my usual 3.000 Yen.
For the rest of the dinner, I’m desperately trying to think of a way to get out of this. Should I just go to the toilet and run away? Should I pretend I’m not feeling well? But Manoru paid for this expensive dinner. And maybe he just means well. Maybe he gets that it’s not easy making a living in Tokyo as a waitress. And he’s probably lonely and just enjoying my company. Maybe that money in my purse isn’t that much after all.
After another 6 courses and a lot of wine, we leave the restaurant.
“I have to go to the restroom”, I tell Manoru, finally hoping to be able to escape.
“Me too”, he says. Luckily, he walks away in the direction of the men’s room.
I open my purse and take out the bunch of bills. I count. I count again. And again. 50.000 Yen! Fifty freaking thousand Yen! That’s about 500 Euro. Almost a month’s rent. Now I’m really freaking out. My hands are shaking as I put the money back in my purse. I’m running out of the restroom – but Manoru’s already waiting for me. We take the elevator down to the lobby. There’s an awkward silence.
“So, thank you”, I say when we get to the lobby.
“What are your plans for tonight?”, Manoru asks.
“I’m going to go home now”, I say, hoping he can’t hear my voice shaking.
“Really?” There’s no mistaking his disappointment. “I thought we could go up to my room.”
“Oh, you’re having a room here?” I’m trying to sound naive.
“Yes.”
“Sorry, but I really want to go home now.”
“Ok”, he says and walks away.
For a split second I’m too startled to move. Then I turn around and run as fast as I can. I’m not stopping until I’m a block away from the hotel. I feel like throwing up. Instead I go to a game center to play UFO catcher.

P. S.: It wasn’t until more than a year later that I found out that the word pink in Japanese doesn’t just stand for the colour. It’s an equivalent for red-light. Someone should have told me.

When I first came to Japan, I was suddenly thrown back to the state of a toddler. I was 26 years old, but when speaking to Japanese people my vocabulary consisted of nothing more than about 50 words that I was unable to put into a proper sentence. What they were saying to me sounded like a weird gibberish and I’m sure they felt the same way when I was talking in English. So I had to rely on gestures and interpreting facial expressions which isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re faced with a totally different set of cultural rules and customs. For example, it took me quite a while until I realized that when someone is pointing at his nose, he doesn’t want to tell me there’s something in my face. He just refers to himself.
Of course, I felt a little lost and sometimes desperate not being able to express myself the way I wanted to. I tried to study during breaks while working at a ski lift in a ski resort – and there were a lot of breaks. But I always ended up being frustrated because I didn’t seem to be able to learn fast enough and there were a trillion of words I thought I needed to know and they all sounded pretty much the same and nothing like any other language I had learned before. So I could have ended up like one of these foreigners who spend years over years in Japan, but are still not able to properly order a meal or ask for directions (which is extremely useful in Japan). But I didn’t. Because unlike them, I didn’t just surround myself with people that were speaking the same language(s) I did. I talked to my workmates and asked them to teach me stuff, I made Japanese friends, I watched Japanese TV and tried to read manga.
And after a couple of weeks, something amazing happened: Suddenly, I was able to understand what people around me were saying. Little at first, but my skills were increasing fast. And I realized that it didn’t matter if I didn’t get every single word. I got the overall meaning. And that was worth something. And of course, input created output. There were sounds coming out of my mouth that sounded more and more like proper sentences. My brain had turned into a sponge that was soaking up everything Japanese around me and releasing it when I was pushing hard enough. After only 4 months in Japan I got a job as a waitress. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to understand the customers and my workmates who were all Japanese and didn’t speak any English (except for one girl from France). I was scared I would get the orders wrong. I was convinced I would get fired within a week. But I didn’t. Instead, my Japanese skills went through the roof. It didn’t happen over night, but after a few more weeks I was able to chat with customers, to joke with my workmates. I even went on a date with a Japanese guy – and yes, we just talked (at least at the first one). By the end of the year, I decided to challenge my newly acquired skills and took the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (level 3). It required the knowledge of about 300 Kanji (Chinese characters) and 1.500 words. I passed.
The point I’m trying to make here is: Whatever you want to learn, whatever new hobby or activity you want to pick up – just throw yourself in there! Surround yourself with it as much as possible. Then watch and imitate. You will feel like a toddler trapped in a world of grown-ups. You will trip and fall. Many times. But you will get up again. You will progress. And maybe one day, you will be a grown-up, too! Ganbatte!