A couple of weeks ago I got word that a good friend in Japan fell very sick and ended up in the hospital. It all went downhill from there and she passed away on Saturday, February 15. This post is dedicated to her because what made my experience in Japan so memorable were all of the people I met and shared coffees, dinners, projects and laughs with, Kathryn was one of those people and I feel incredibly grateful to have known and spent time with such a beautiful person.
Rest in Peace
Kathryn Booze-Ishiwata 1977-2014
When I say people in Japan are unique, I’m not just referring to Japanese people but also the people that choose to live in Japan. We are a strange and wonderful breed of human, as are the Japanese perhaps that’s why we fit together so nicely.
Living in Japan (more specifically Tokyo) granted me the opportunity to meet people I would never have met had I remained living in Fredericton, New Brunswick or even Canada for that matter. I met a lot of Canadians and Americans but I also met people from all over Europe, Jamaica, Australia and one of my best friends was from Turkey. All of these people had different reasons for coming to Japan as well as very different reasons for staying. For many of us long-term residents were linked by one phrase, “I was only planning to stay for one year.” Any of you reading this right now who are currently in Japan know exactly what I’m talking about. Japan is something of a Never Never Land where you get swept off your feet by the quirkiness and the (mostly) trouble-free and convenient way of life and soon it’s 4 years later and you wonder where the time has gone. For me that time was spent having intriguing conversations and forming relationships with interesting people, I also spent a lot of that time really finding myself and discovering what I’m really passionate about.
The interesting people I met are not only interesting but sincere in their words, their actions and their life. They live with such passion that it’s impossible not to feel and be affected by it. These people are also the most supportive people I’ve ever met. I’m finding that in Canada whatever projects you want to start or career you want to pursue there is a lot of competition that you have to deal with but in Tokyo withing the gaijin community (at least the community that I was a part of) will back you 100% so long as they see that you are passionate and sincere. These incredible people have even continued to support me in the projects I’m working on back here in Canada and I would do the same for them if they asked. To me, that is friendship in in truest form and another reason that being away from Japan and my friends there has been such a difficult thing to deal with. So I have to say thank you to all of the wonderful people I met while I was in Japan (you know who you are) and I’m sure we will cross paths once again.
- Convenient Public Transportation
I’m unfortunately currently living in a place where public transportation is not viewed as necessity for the proper functioning of a city therefore is not a high priority for government officials. Even when it runs, it’s not exactly what you would classify as convenient. Although I don’t miss the crowds on Tokyo trains I do miss being able to go to the station (many areas have a few to choose from) and waiting no longer than 10 minutes for a metro or train.
There are lots of cities all over the world that have intricate, multi-line subway and train systems but from my experience Tokyo is the only city that keep theirs at the highest standard. Maybe it’s because if they didn’t the system would all come crashing down. Trains (for the most part) run on time, when they’re suppose to so that the rest of the country is on time as well. If trains are late, people are late for their jobs and therefore productivity is down. I have to admit I was pretty spoiled by the metro system, to the point where if a train was 2 minutes late I would almost feel upset even though I knew it was on it’s way.
Had I been born in Japan I would have become an intense stationary otaku, I just know it. I was obsessed with pens, paper and stickers enough as it was when I was a child and Japan (on many different levels) made all of my childhood dreams come true (including seeing a robot dance in real life). Perhaps it’s because calligraphy is such an important part of the Japanese culture but pens come in hundreds of different colors, scents and weights. It’s not as simple as choosing between red, blue or black or deciding if you want to use ball point or gel, choosing pens is serious business.
- Tiny Themed Bars
Shinjuku’s Golden Gai is the area that is best known for it’s tiny little bars. Most of these places are no bigger than an apartment bedroom and seat no more than 10 patrons at a time but that’s the beauty of them. They are quaint, intimate places to enjoy a drink or two after a long hard day at work and are wonderful if you and a friend feel like doing a bit of bar hopping.
- Specialty Shops
If there’s even a small demand for it, Tokyo has got it and has a shop for it too. There are thousands of tiny little boutiques scattered throughout the city that cater to very specific interests. There are shops for dog clothing, shops for lovers of all things 80′s, not to mention all the vendors in Akihabara that specialize in various electronic parts and the sexy bars that cater to every fantasy you can (or can’t) imagine. What I’m trying to say is that whatever you want, whenever you want it, Tokyo has it and that includes stationary shops and most recently a shop that sells nothing but KitKats.
- Japanese Tea Time (not the ceremonial type)
There’s nothing quite like tucking into an old tea house or sweets shop that’s been run by the same lady for decades. The scent of match, azuki and sweet cakes filling the air as everything is baked fresh. Fresh and deliciously appetizing bite-sized treats are displayed carefully and priced accordingly. ¥100 ($1) may seem like a lot to pay for one small momiji manju or a piece of match roll cake but you’re not only paying for quality ingredients, you’re paying for the hard work and dedication that goes into each and every piece.
You browse around, adding little treats to your equally little basket knowing that there is not one thing that you won’t like despite the fact that you haven’t even tried it yet. You pay and sit down to wait for your freshly made matcha that miraculously goes with everything. Satisfaction comes in small savory bites in Japan and that goes for meals as well. You wouldn’t shove an entire daifuku in your mouth and then be on your way because 1) it wouldn’t exactly fit in your mouth, and 2) in order to catch and appreciate all of the subtle flavours of both your tea and sweets you have to take your time.
- Being one of the only suppliers of Western style cupcakes
Being a westerner in Japan is tough sometimes, especially when you’re craving a western food or flavor. Despite their cute appearance cupcakes have not taken hold of the Japanese bake shops, they’re still a relatively new thing. My theory is that Japanese patisserie have a hard time capturing the essence of the American-style cupcake. It’s moist and delicious cake base topped with a sweet flavorful frosting but most of the cupcakes I’ve tried in Tokyo with a few exceptions are dry and bland. This is what inspired me and my fellow baker to start the Love Hate Bakery, we wanted tasty treats! Unlike in Western countries, Tokyo is not over saturated with cupcake shops, it’s a fairly new thing and hasn’t really taken off the way it has in Canada or America. The lack of buttery, moist goodness gave us an advantage and it didn’t take long for word to spread about our treats. We even had a few regular customers. It felt good to provide goods to the expat community who so needed them.