A Taste of Oz in Tokyo

Living the expat life is fun and exciting. But living so far away from home is not without its challenges. I think it’s only natural to occasionally miss things you grew up knowing. Since moving to Japan in 2011, I’ve been home 4 times. Each time was like a trip down memory lane, and I was reminded of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s kind of like rediscovering your own country from a new perspective – for better or worse.

These days, aside from the obvious like family and friends, I often find myself missing meat pies, lamb chops and roast lamb with gravy, fish and chips, the cider-drinking culture, the coffee culture, restaurants/cafes with outdoor seating, the sound of lawnmowers on a Saturday morning and the smell of freshly cut grass, beach days, driving, and space (actual space as well as personal space). A strange mixture of things really! I wonder if any other Aussies abroad can relate.

A little while ago, I stumbled across a super chill little place called Bondi Cafe which was around the corner from a coffee shop I was visiting. It brought back all sorts of memories of Bondi Beach in Sydney, and it inspired me to keep searching for pieces of Oz in Tokyo. This is what I found.

***
A taste of Sydney @ Bondi Cafe

Ahh, Bondi. Such an iconic place. I’ve only been to Bondi Beach a couple of times, but I have fond memories of sitting on the grassy banks watching the waves crash, going to the local markets, and enjoying the sunny Sydney weather. Bondi Cafe in Yoyogi-uehara was inspired by Bondi Beach, and is decked out in natural wood, surfboards, throw blankets, and TVs playing surf-related programs or movies. It’s a little sneak peak at the Aussie surf culture, and I could easily picture a few surfers coming in for a bite or to chill with some mates on the deck outside.

***
A taste of Sydney @ Bills Omotesando

Possibly the most famous Australian restaurant in Tokyo is Bills in Omotesando. Mention this place to anyone, and one word springs to mind: breakfast. The whole ‘eating breakfast out’ has not caught on in Japan like it has in Oz, but luckily Bills is here to show everyone what they’re missing out on. The ricotta pancakes are what people go to eat, but I’ve had a few meals here – including chicken schnitzel for dinner and pavlova for afternoon tea – and everything has been to die for. Though, to be honest, I was just pretty stoked to see raw sugar in the sugar jar! The only thing about this restaurant is, because it’s so popular, you’re almost guaranteed to have to wait in line. My tip is to go in the evening when it’s less crowded.

***
A taste of Cairns @ Cicada

Technically, Cicada in Omotesando is a Meditteranean-inspired restaurant. But sitting in the outdoor lounge area, surrounded by pillows, white umbrellas, a water feature, and the stylish decor, I was immediately transported back to the Salt House in Cairns. The atmosphere of both places are very similar, the only difference is Cicada is in the middle of a bustling city, while Salt House is in a tranquil spot on the waterfront.

***
A taste of the East Coast @ Pie Face

Pies… how I’ve missed you. I was so happy to learn that Pie Face were bringing their delicious meat pies to Tokyo in 2015. The Pie Face pie is a bit different to regular pies in Oz, mainly being that they use very light puff pastry. I suppose you could say they are more of a gourmet version. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Pie Face without a face. The marking on the top of each pie signifies the filling – the smiley face is my fave. The Pie Face chain started in Sydney before conquering the whole east coast then expanding to NZ and Asia.

***
A taste of Melbourne @ Frankie Melbourne Espresso

Tokyo’s coffee scene has been on the rise the past couple of years, and there was a lot of hype about Frankie when it first opened recently. This hole-in-the-wall cafe is run by a bloke from Oz, with the main focus being good coffee. A few homemade snacks are served too, like banana bread and lamingtons – major flashback! And I think it was the first time I’ve seen a flat white served in Japan. Take me back to Melbourne already!

***
Other notable mentions

A few other things/places which have reminded me of Australia are 1) the excessive amount of Australian wine sold everywhere from supermarkets to convenience stores to department stores, 2) Max Brenner – even though it’s headquartered in America, the majority of its stores are in Oz. I have many memories of sipping hot chocolate with uni friends at QV in Melbourne, 3) Ugg boots – the brand has been bought out by an American company, but uggies, as we call them, are still very much Australian. Though perhaps we don’t wear them out of the house as much as people in Japan do!

It was fun to discover these little pieces of Australia in Tokyo. If I’m ever feeling homesick, I know where to go! What do you miss when you are travelling or living overseas?

光陰矢の如し ~ Time Flies!

Wowee! It’s been 4 years to the day since I landed, a couple of bags in hand, at freezing Kansai Airport. A lot has changed since that day. For one, I’ve gone from my mid 20s to late 20s. That’s slightly depressing, so let’s move on… Those bags have since turned into an entire apartment full of ‘stuff’! For a while, I was conscious of everything I bought and thought about how I would take it back to Australia. But at some point, you start to just let go and make your place home!

The usual story of expats in Japan goes that they plan to stay here for one year, and then the next thing they know it’s been 3 or 4 years. But even before moving here, I had had a bit more of a long-term plan. One of my goals was to improve my Japanese and I knew that’d take a while. Plus, I’d lived in Melbourne for 4 years and could easily see myself living in Japan for the same amount of time.

And so now, I’m about to start my 5th year in Japan, and 3rd year in Tokyo. Crazy! What have I been doing for the past 4 years, you may wonder. Well, I have improved my Japanese (phew!); I’ve gotten a lot of experience teaching English; moved 2 times and about to move again, yay!; seen A LOT of Japan; gone back to Australia twice; visited 7 countries; made many wonderful friends from all around the world; experienced typhoons, snow storms and a catastrophic earthquake; taken up snowboarding and hiking; and eaten puffer fish, raw horse meat, and many kinds of mushrooms (and survived, of course). It’s been a very busy and fulfilling 4 years!

This milestone has got me thinking about things I’ve learned or observed from living abroad, specifically in Japan. Here are some thoughts:

#1 Being away from family and close friends can be hard, and realising that you can stand on your own two feet just fine gives you a lot of confidence. But it’s learning how to lean on others when you need help or support, especially when you’re living in a foreign country, that is more difficult!

#2 As an expat, you naturally meet a lot of other expats. It’s always fun sharing stories of how you both came to be where you are. You become friends. And then a year later, they leave. A lot of people go in and out of your life and you quickly realise that goodbyes are tough. I will admit that I have held back from getting close with people who I know will be moving away soon – I know how sad that sounds!

#3 I never realised how much I would miss having space. Here, houses are teeny tiny (my current apartment is about 20 m2), narrow lanes are somehow 2-way streets and trains are jam-packed even on Sundays! Whenever I return to Australia, one of the first things I notice is how much SPACE there is! A 3-bedroom house where every room is bigger than my whole apartment… a backyard AND a front yard… and all that street parking!! Sounds like a dream!

#4 Japan has made me realise I have to learn to be more patient! Here, everything runs seamlessly because of the cooperation of the people. If you accidentally bump into someone, they won’t yell at you to ‘watch where you’re going!’. They are more likely to say ‘I’m sorry’ even if it’s not their fault at all. I also love that wherever you go, there are orderly queues. No one pushes or cuts the line; everyone waits their turn patiently.

#5 Australia is largely a mystery to most of the world. I am continually surprised when people say I’m the first Australian they’ve met. As soon as I mention Australia, the immediate reaction is often: “Oh, koalas! Kangaroos!” Unfortunately, no one knows what arvo means, what netball is, or who the Hilltop Hoods are. It’s nice when I do meet someone who’s been there, because I can say anything without worrying if I’m understood or not!

#6 Japan has got the art of comfortable living down to a tee. Where else can you find vending machines every 50 metres, trains that run precisely on time, heated toilet seats, and little rubber figurines that hold down the lid on your 2-minute noodle cup?! It makes life here so easy!

#7 In Japan, a bow can mean many things and is a very convenient way to communicate! I love how a simple nod of the head can mean so many things: hello, thank you, I’m sorry, yes, I understand or excuse me. The deeper the bow, the more respect you show. If you see someone knees and hands on the floor bowing profusely, you know they’re apologising for something terrible!

#8 Facemasks are so common here they may as well be part of the national costume! According to my high school students, masks prevent spreading sicknesses, keep their faces warm in winter, cover up acne or cold sores, cover up their faces pre-makeup; prevents their throats getting dry in winter; and can even be a fashion statement. Who knew!

#9 The seasons are very important in Japan. Depending on the season, the food you can eat, the colour and style of clothes, and even people’s lifestyle changes. It all starts in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Japanese people really seem to appreciate the fleeting life of these beautiful flowers. They gather under the trees to drink and eat and make the most of this short life we have. It’s almost poetry in itself!

I don’t really have any plan for how long I’ll stay in Japan. It would be awesome if I was living in Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics – but that’s 5 years away! Who knows what the future holds. I’m excited for many more adventures, wherever they may be! :-)

Can you relate to any of these points? Have you ever lived abroad? What are some of the things it taught you?

Merry Christmas!

I’m currently back home in Australia, enjoying the beautiful warm weather. It’s so great to be here after almost three years away! I was filled with nostalgia as I drove through the streets, noticing things I’d long forgotten about. But, more than anything, it is just awesome to be surrounded by my family again. Christmas in Australia is of course in the summer – something which my Japanese friends can’t comprehend! We usually spend the day soaking up the sun, having a BBQ, playing a game of backyard cricket or sometimes going for a swim at a river or beach. Very relaxed and casual!

Christmas in Japan is very different. It’s cold. But not cold enough for it to ever snow, which is just disappointing! No one gives presents. Hardly anyone gets together with their family. A lot of people even still have to work!! I guess it’s not surprising, considering Japan is not a christian country. But, come on!!

One tradition I do enjoy is the Christmas illuminations. I have seen some fantastic light displays, from Nagoya to Hiroshima to Nagasaki, each with their special features. Tokyo’s illuminations this year were no exception. I didn’t get to see half of what I wanted, but here’s a taste of what Tokyo has on show.

Let’s start with Roppongi! The lights at Roppongi Hills are possibly the most famous in Tokyo. It really is beautiful walking up the main street under the glistening trees.

A short video of the Tokyo Midtown Starlight Garden. Sorry the quality is a bit low – it was taken on my iPhone.

Next is Tama Center in western Tokyo. I loved the blue tunnel! And they had a REAL Christmas tree – it was massive!

Lastly, the happiest place on earth: Disneyland! The Santa Village Parade was adorable <3 Never too old for a bit of fun!

メリークリスマス! Merry Xmas everyone! I hope you are all surrounded by love and happiness.

Aus vs. Japan: Shows/Festivals

Of the things I love most about Japan, Matsuri (festivals) have to be up there at the top of the list!

Before moving to Tokyo, I lived in Nagoya for a couple of years. I was lucky enough to live close to Atsuta Jingu, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan. I remember each year the build up to Atsuta Matsuri was so exciting. A few days before the festival would kick off, the stalls would start to appear, lanterns would be put up along the street and through the shrine, and the local community had a sense of anticipation, ready for the 250,000 visitors that would descend upon the area. At the festival, people dressed in summer yukata and had fun pigging out on yakiniku (meat skewers), butter potatoes, hot dogs, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and all those good festival foods! The main highlights were the parade and fireworks. Then, after the festival was all over, the lanterns would come down, the vendors would pack up and move to the next festival, and the place would return to its quiet, peaceful state.

It might be a bit strange, but actually festivals in Japan remind me a lot of “shows” back home in Australia. In my hometown we would see the stalls and rides getting set up in the showgrounds in the days before the show started. Kicking off the event was always some sort of parade, usually musicians and hand-decorated floats. A big part of the show were the ‘pavilions’ where you could see art and craft exhibits, buy showbags, visit the animal nursery, and lots more. During the day, we’d watch the horse jumping, dog shows or wood chopping competitions. At night, after meeting up with our friends we’d check out the sideshow alley and have a go at the ‘laughing clowns’, ‘shooting alley’ or ‘bust-a-balloon’ before hitting the big rides! Then we’d find a seat in the grandstand and enjoy the fireworks!

Both in Japan and Australia, there are hundreds of shows/festivals every year. The dates differ for each town or city, and the stalls and rides often follow the circuit, moving from town to town. One thing that really stands out for me is the ‘atmosphere’ at both shows and festivals. Even though both cultures are very different, the purpose is still the same. These events are always fun, light-hearted, energetic, and everyone is there to have a good time! 

But, one thing Aussie shows don’t have that Japanese festivals do, is a long-standing history and traditional culture. For me, one of the most impressive and memorable things about seeing a matsuri is witnessing customs that have lasted for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years!

Have you been to any shows or festivals (or fairs or carnivals!)?
What was the best thing about them?

✰ Australian Shows ✰

✰ Japanese Matsuri ✰