Monday, January 15, 2018

Starbucks Japan: Summer edition

Starbucks used to be my haven in Japan. When I lived there, I would go to Starbucks as often as I could. This was partially due to the fact that there were not many other cafes in my prefecture, and that the culture of Japanese cafes is quite different from western-style cafes, and Starbucks was among the few places where I could pull out my laptop and write without being bothered.

However, times have changed since I lived in Japan 2013-2014, and now cafes are everywhere. So when I retuned to Tokyo last summer, I was determined not to go to Starbucks, but instead to hit up as many local cafes as possible. I was determined until I heard about Starbucks summer specials, and then I relented because I just had to, had to, try their new drinks. Here is what I had:

Watermelon Iced tea
I heard about this seasonal drink while I was still in the states and was looking forward to experiencing something like my beloved Watermelon Drink in Taiwan. Watermelon tea did live up to its hype with real puréed watermelon – not a power or food coloring. It was only semi-sweet, with just a subtle hint of sugar and the natural sweetness of watermelon. I didn’t taste any tea, so it was more like watermelon juice, but that was just what I wanted.

Yuzu Citrus Iced Tea
This was another iced tea flavor I noticed on the menu in Japan which I have never seen offered in another country. Yuzu is a kind of citrus in Japan, often cooked with sugar used to make sweet in the summer/ I was even more impressed with this drink than the Watermelon tea due to the yuzu pulp and nostalgic taste.

Matcha Chocolate Cake Espresso Shot Frappuccino
Every year Statbucks Japan tried to outdo itself with a new version of a Matcha Frapuccino. The year I moved to Japan, it was a Chocolate Brownie Matcha Frappuccino, and in years since they have done similar version of this drink. The Chocolate Cake version featered a small cake of top of the frapuccino, every time you poke your straw through you get a bit of cake in your mouth, and the longer the cake sits in the blended Frappuccino, the softer it becomes. I enjoyed this drink but still prefer the cake to be blended with the Frappuccino, for consistent flavor throughout.

Coffee Cakes
The flavored coffee cakes of Japan are among the best desserts Stabucks has to offer. The flavors change every season depending on the drink specials, but they are always semi-sweet, soft, and loaded with delicious and original flavor. This season I had Matcha cake, which featured a delicate dream on top. The other cake I enjoyed was Yuzu Citrus flavored, which has a citrus glaze on top.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

La Outfit

It's become my ritual to go to LA now every winter, and each trip I leave only getting through half the things on my to-do list. This December I spent a week there and still didn't see everything I wanted to see. It have so enjoy rediscovering this city of my youth...especially K-town.

Dress: Urban Outfitters
Top: American Apparel
Bag: Coach 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Return to Japan: a tourist after all

Ginza, a part of Tokyo I haven't seen in 15 years

After an on-and-off ten year relationship with Japan that culminated with me living in the mountains of rural Shimane prefecture, I returned to the city of my fascination as, of all things, a tourist.

Tokyo is one of those few places in the world where I have always thought myself more local than foreign, and going there to see the sights was an idea that didn’t appeal to me all that much at first.

I realized after many years and many trips that I have never seen Tokyo. I have only seen people in Tokyo, and that’s different. On all of my brief visits, I have gone to meet friends and strangers alike, but have never merely wandered the streets as a tourist. This time I would revisit the city that influenced so much of my youth and try to see it from a new lens – the same lens I use to evaluate any new place I travel to – that of a tourist.

Someone's house, Tokyo

The first time I set foot in Tokyo was July of 2003. If you had asked me how the city changed in the last 15 years I would say it hadn’t.  The ugly uniform architecture from the bubble period of the 1980s was still ubiquitous. Landmarks were the same. Even hole-in-the-wall restaurants were still there for me to return. But in the summer of 2017, the city did feel defiantly changed:

There were signs in English where there had never been.
There was new construction all around.
Cafes were opening left and right.
The once quiet and discreet gay area of Shinjuku was adorned with rainbow flag and men in ass-less chaps crowding outside the doors of bars.

Street art popping up everywhere

The city had finally changed. I blame the 2020 Olympics. And globalization. And the inevitable. But it seems to have changed and been changing for the better. Certainly I can’t complain about cafes and English signs and bustling gay bars.

In the end, I spent the majority of my time not with any of the dozens of people I’ve known for 10+ years living there – but with a new friend I had known for only a few months. So this trip was both an ode to nostalgia and a making of new memories.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bag check: the airplane

After all the Bag Check posts I've done I can’t believe I’ve never bothered to talk about what I bring with me on an airplane. It’s a little different each trip, but my 10+ hour flight to Tokyo is as good as any to be an example. Clockwise from the top:

-       Osprey backpack: my new staple for long flights
-       Gucci wallet for money and credit cards
-       Passport (international flights only)
-       Suica card (train pass for Japan trips only)
-       iPod (yes I'm still pretty old school)
-       Laptop
-       Notebook for handwritten notes
-       Earplanes for air pressure
-       1 book or kindle (for this trip, I am reading Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada)
-       snacks!  (I only eat dry food on planes and for flights more than 5 hours I need a little something…)
-       Bose headphones (for music and noise cancelling)
-       Gum (preferably Japanese brand Watering Kissmint)
-       Charger bag (with chargers for laptop, camera, and iphone)
-       Camera

-       iPhone

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Packing for Tokyo

Every time I have ever traveled to Tokyo I pull out all stops when it comes to my wardrobe. This is one of the most fashionable cities on the planet and I do not want to be mistaken for a tourist. Of course, I'm not a local either, but how about a fashionable expat at least? It is definitely true that I put more effort into thinking about how I am going to dress in Tokyo than in Portland, and I'm not alone. Many of my friends confess to me that they wear their best clothes on vacation. Short trips to other destinations provide us opportunities to temporarily live other lives, and those other lives demand other wardrobes.

For fashion trips like this I like to plan a theme. That helps me narrow my choices and helps me to make different outfits with similar clothes. This year, my Tokyo wardrobe theme is Summer Goth. Black is of course the main color, with floral accents and stripes. The challenge was to  find clothes that were model (protect me from the sun), breathable and cool (due to the heat and humidity), would show my sweat, and wouldn’t get uncomfortable after walking around in them for 12 hours. For accessories, I kept it very, very simple. Here is what I ended up with:

  • 2 pairs of leggings: lace, solid, and lace shorts
  • 2 belts: tie belt and Dior belt
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 tank tops
  • 3 dresses: 1 maxi and 1 short and 1 self-made
  • 3 jackets: 1 long sheer jacket, 1 short lace jacket, and 1 short sheer jacket
  • 1 necklace
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 1 ring

Starbucks Japan: Summer edition

Starbucks used to be my haven in Japan. When I lived there, I would go to Starbucks as often as I could. This was partially due to the fac...