Monday, January 30, 2012

Surviving Winter

Last week, I battled a case of the winter blues, which left me feeling about as depleted as the snowmen above.  Here in Sapporo, we're smack dab in the middle of winter, and the snow and cold isn't going anywhere soon.  So I tried to think of some winter survival strategies that I thought I'd share here.

*Drink Tea

There's something so calming about brewing and drinking a cup of tea.  My tea of choice for the winter is ginger.  Not only is it really healthy for you, but it's spicy taste is so perfect for a cold morning or evening.  

*Get Out And Do Something!

I know, I know.  When it's below freezing and treacherously icy outside, the last thing you want to do is get out of your pajamas and go do something.  But winter is not the time to become a hermit, you'll go crazy.  Obviously there skiing and snowboarding around here, but maybe you're not the sporty type or don't have access to the slopes.  Then go to the movies (not on your computer!), sing karaoke with a group of friends, go to the local art museum.  Or bring people to you - plan a dinner party or a potluck. 

*Invest In Good Winter Gear

Maybe it's just me, but I think that when you look good, you feel good.  And you shouldn't have to feel frumpy in the winter.  I bought some new Wellies this year that I love wearing each day.  Pair that with my giant scarf and trapper hat, and I'm good to go.  Let your outerwear express who you are.  


This one is a difficult one for me, as I've never really stuck with an exercise regimen.  In New Jersey I used to jog, but it's just too cold for me to do that here.  So I've started going to dance classes with a friend and am doing some strength training at home.  As much as I hate to admit it, exercise really does lift your mood, and I'll be ready for tank tops and swimsuits come summer time!

*Read a Good Book

If you have to stay in, why not ditch the computer and cozy up in bed with a good book (wow, that really sounded like a promo for Reading Rainbow, anybody remember that show?)  I'll admit, I'm the first to grab the laptop and spend hours surfing the web when I'm bored.  And then this little (huge) book called 1Q84 came into my life.  During winter vacation, it was habit for me to lay in bed, read 1Q84, and drink hot chocolate.  It doesn't have to be something as lofty as Murakami.  How about a reread of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

So let's try to enjoy the winter season, shall we?  Before we know it,  summer will be here and we'll be complaining about the heat!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

[Sapporo Cafes] Zazi

There's no shortage of cute cafes here in Sapporo.  If you don't mind going off the beaten path just little bit, you're sure to find something interesting.  Though not exactly a New Year's resolution, I am trying to make it a goal to discover more of the cafes and eateries that Sapporo has to offer.

First up, Zazi.

Zazi is located just around the corner from TK5, and if you're ever shopping in the TK areas, I highly suggest checking out all the cool cafes and shops nestled just on the outskirts of the busy shopping center.  That's how we happened upon this place, and boy, are we glad we did.

The small, two story cafe is covered with vintage pictures from magazines, and everything has that slightly used feel to it.  Everything tastes like it's homemade, like recipes handed down from one mom to another.

A few weeks ago, Nate and I had a lunch date there.  Their lunch menu has the usual cafe fare - salads, sandwiches, and spaghetti.  But we came there for the stew, the perfect food for a winter's afternoon.

I ordered the chicken and mushroom cream stew, and to say it was delicious would be an understatement.  Eaten with a warm, fresh roll, it was just like a creamy stew should be.  So much for eating healthier in the new year, haha.

Their coffees and desserts are equally delicious.  I recommend the cherry pie and ice cream.

So if you're in the Susukino area, be sure to check this place out.  I promise, you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

With my nose to the grindstone

I started work again this week after a three week hiatus.  It's good to be back, I really enjoy teaching at Keihoku.  But man, I think I'd rather return to this hotel in Jozankei, soaking in onsen and chillaxin'.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My top 5 songs for 2011

2011 was a year of discovering a lot of new music.  I was getting pretty bored with my iTunes playlists, and good music is a necessity for the long commutes I experienced throughout the year.

It seems that I always make a playlist for every change of season - there are just some songs that I only listen to during certain parts of the year, for whatever reason.  Does anyone else do this?  When an album just feels like summer?  Or fall?

Of course, there were other songs that were on every one of my playlists, no matter what the season.  And my 2011 playlists were definitely dominated by female artists this past year, which hasn't been the case in the past. Here's my top 5 of 2011:

  • Florence and the Machine - Shake it Out
I only really started listening to Florence this year, and when her new album came out this fall, I devoured it.  I listened to this song almost every morning going to work.

  • Little Dragon - Ritual Union
This was the song of the summer for me.  I really love that electro-funk sound.

  • St. Vincent - Surgeon
I love Annie Clark's lyrics.  They're raw, and honest, and beautiful.  This song especially.

  • Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait
Oh, Arcade Fire, you can do no wrong in my eyes.  I listened to this song almost every day last winter when commuting to Hokuyo.  

  • Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
This album was quite a departure from Sufjan's previous, folky sound, but I like it.  I guess I'm going through an electronic music phase.  Anyway, it's still beautiful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Moving forward

I'm terrible at resolutions.  I'm all gung-ho about them in the beginning, then, at about May or so, I lose steam and forget about them all together.

But that doesn't stop me from setting some goals for myself anyway.

I bought this Daruma doll at the Hokkaido shrine on New Year's day.  You paint one eye, and make a goal or wish for yourself.  When you've accomplished the goal, you can paint the other eye.  I figured this will be a nice reminder to keep at it this year.  So here's what's up for 2012;

I've always veered on the side of caution my whole life.  This year, I want to take more chances, and step out of my comfort zone a bit.  Does that mean I'll be jumping out of a plane this year?  Heck no, but it does mean that I'm gonna speak more Japanese, more hiking, be more active, and maybe even take up skiing lessons.  

Nathan and I have been married for 13 years, so it's easy to get into a routine, even when living overseas.  We're making it a priority to have at least one date a month - just a special time for the two of us where we can connect with each other.  This is actually starting today: Nathan booked us a room at a spa in Jozankei where we're gonna get massages, soak in hot springs, and just hang out with each other.  A great way to start the year, I'd say!

It's about time I learned an instrument, and I've always like the ukelele, ever since I used to play around with my mom's as a kid.  I can't wait to be able to play old songs from the 1930s!

Well, there you have it.  Here's to a great new year!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

There's no doubt that Japan is a country rich in traditions, and one of the best times to see these traditions in action is The New Year.  This year, we were lucky to have several of our Japanese friends invite us into their homes to celebrate New Year with their friends and family.

On New Year's Eve, we went to my Japanese teacher's house, where we ate tons of yummy food and watched the New Year's music shows on TV.  Midnight came, we said "Happy New Year!" to each other, but that was as much partying as we saw that night.  We woke up the next morning to meet a friend who had invited us to to the Hatsumoude (the first shrine visit of the new year) with him and his friends.

The Hokkaido Shrine (the largest in Sapporo) was packed with people!  We eventually made our way to the entrance, where we threw a coin at the entrance of the shrine to wish for good luck.  Next, we each bought an omikuji, a small paper fortune, and tied it to special areas in the shrine for them to come true.

My omikuji.  Apparently I have little fortune, I'm going to have success in business this year, and I'm going to find something that I've lost.
Ethan has the most good luck out of us all, and his fortune also said that he'll get a girlfriend this year.  Awwwwww!!!!
Ethan tying his omikuji with the others.
Next, we bought an emi, a small wooden plaque to write our wish on for the new year.

Can you tell which emi is ours?
After our shrine visit, Kazunari's friend was kind enough to invite us to her house to eat lunch with her and her family.

Food eaten during the new year is called Osechi.  We ate lots of sashimi, crab, and other seafood and vegetables.  We spent several hours just talking and eating.  Her family was delightful, and we all managed to have a great time despite my struggling Japanese ability.

Ethan found a friend in the family who played guitar, and they spent most of the afternoon playing various songs.  He even learned some Jimi Hendrix songs.

Later that evening, we were off to meet another family who we'd become friends with and to partake in more eating and drinking.  They had two small boys who found us particularly interesting, until the food came out, then they tore into the chicken and departed to play games.  The grandfather of the house was particularly interesting, and when we started bringing out 800 year old tea cups and old gun replicas, I knew that this was a man that I wanted to get to know.  He took a special interest in Ethan, since Ethan told him he was interested in Japanese history.  That's when all the pictures came out: WWII pics of Japanese zeros, pictures he'd taken in Kyoto, each with a story he loved telling (he'd been taking English classes and was eager to practice his English with us.  By the end of the night, he'd given us a Japanese lithograph that was over 100 years old.  I would've taken pictures of all this, but I'd had so much to eat and drink by then that taking pictures was the last thing on my mind.

One thing we've missed by living in Japan during the holidays is that connection of family you always feel this time of year.  So it was so nice for these families to take into their lives for this brief moment and really make us feel like we were a part of their family.  And I think that's what traditions are all about - not only a way to connect with your family, but a way to connect with other people.   I think all three of us can agree that yesterday was one of the best days we've spent in Japan thus far.  Here's to many more of those days to come in 2012!