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iPad mania

My friend is the founder of the Appbank company – developer of iPod apps. On the day of iPad’s official release in the US he promised to get me one using his development connections. However, close to iPad’s official release in Japan, it became impossible to get it via his private channels due to the extreme shortage of stock. Nevertheless, he stayed true to his promise and decided to get it the hard way. He gathered up his team and went camping in front of the apple store in Ginza. He stayed there on the street, in the line from 3PM yesterday till 10 AM today waiting for the doors to open. He and another couple of hundreds fanatics spread their blankets all the way down to Yurakucho and played games on macs all night long!

In the morning, apple staff was distributing water and food to keep them alive and ready for a countdown. Then, the press came and I saw my friend in the 8 AM news staying in the line with his entourage.

On the day of release you can get only two boxes per person, that’s why he needed as much people as he could get! Some went to Omotesando softbank, some to Apple store in Shibuya. By 11 AM they brought back to the office more than a dozen of iPads including the one for me!!!

I have completed my collection! Now I have the whole package of apple products (minus mac air but who needs it when I have iPad). I’ve already downloaded some very cool apps and books and movies including the series finale of Lost and latest episode of South park. I also tried ibooks of course – it’s awesome!!! Can’t wait to upload all my magazines on it.

Shelly’s birthday at F bar

Couple of weeks ago (yes, I know, I’m too lazy to blog every day) we celebrated Shelly’s birthday at the F bar in Azabu Jyuban. It’s a trendy place for many fashion related events and a great spot to watch beautiful Tokyoites hanging out. Gow rented their VIP area for the party and invited all of Shelly’s closest friends to make a surprise. She was thrilled!

Surprisingly, food wasn’t bad at all. You wouldn’t expect a bar that’s famous only for it’s name to serve any decent food but it was quite nice.

We had a great three hour party there and then, after ditching all the working models who couldn’t drink, we headed back to Roppongi and stayed in Feria (VIP again, thanks to Shelly’s friends) till the time I could no longer bear all the testosterone in the air. Men are stupid. One look and they think they stand a chance. And it’s so painfully hard to shake them off too..

Close to the morning, I went to Muse in Nishi Azabu to meet up with Dima who was partying there with his friends. Somewhere along the way on the street, I discovered absolutely wasted Serezha who was partying all by himself and we walked together to Shibuya to have an early breakfast.

It was quite a night but I’m glad I could hang out with all my friends at once. ^-^

Journeys in Japan – Hakone

At the end of Golden week, me and my husband went to Hakone. I’ve been there a couple of times together with my company during our corporate “gasshuku” meetings but never just for leisure and it’s such a nice place. I mean, yes it’s touristy and the food is not that good in general but if you know places, Hakone can really surprise you.

The reason, we chose Hakone in the first place was Ichinoyu onsen. It’s one of the oldest hot springs in the area and it claims to serve the best seafood too. So, since my husband is a gourmet, we decided to take up on a challenge and give it a try. Of course, the Golden week rush on the highway was horrible and even worse in Hakone but we were fortunate enough to find our way out of traffic jam and into the safety of a parking lot just outside of the Rope way terminal. That’s where we started exploring the area.

We took a Rope car up to the Volcanic valley “Owakudani” where they make famous black eggs. Somehow, an egg, once placed inside the natural volcanic hot spring becomes black after some time and it is considered a delicacy. I spared myself the madness of waiting in a line of people to buy one so I can’t tell you what it tastes like but here are the pictures.

The valley is the main source of onsen water. I could see the clouds of white smoke here and there and the smell of chemicals was excruciating. At some point I was about to vomit – there was even a sign that warned visitors not to go up if they didn’t feel well.

Somehow I always thought that the myriads of onsens in the mountain areas are all natural meaning they all sit on top of volcanic wells and use the water directly from the bowels of the earth. Of course it makes no sense but I kinda liked the idea. In reality, water is being harvested and then transported to the onsens from the valley. It remains all the chemicals that are so good for the skin and that is why hot springs are so popular in Japan. Each area has a unique combination of chemicals which means that onsen in Hokkaido would be different from onsen in Kyoto. In Tokyo, you can buy “onsen no moto” – a bath salt from each of the famous areas and they would all show a different cocktail of elements.

After the valley, we took a boat ride in the lake Ashi. In a good day, it is very easy to spot Fujisan from the lake but it was cloudy that day. These funny little boats are called “hakucho” – swan boats and they’ve been here forever becoming a kind of a symbol for the area. I’ve always wanted to get into one.

I love this picture in particular. I don’t know – it just has this nostalgic feeling to it, of something once grandeur or at least exciting and full of life like an abandoned circus or a closed down park or something. I somehow feel connection to these kind of scenes – probably because of my childhood where I got to experience this post Soviet chaos of everything being abandoned and belittled..

After the ride, we went to check the Lace and glass museum which is right next to the onsen.

Some of the trees were made out of crystals and as tacky and artificial as it was, I kinda liked it especially because it looked so beautiful in the late sunlight.

There was a garden in front of the museum and I am such a sucker for gardens, it’s like a candy to a child. I spent 10 minutes for the exhibit of glass and an hour just hanging out outside.

There were ducks and Italian clown figurines and watermill and so many beautiful flowers. That’s where they organize Venetian carnival every year.

Oh wait, before the Glass museum we also went to a Botanical garden. Unfortunately, almost nothing was blooming yet. The best season is actually coming in a couple of weeks.  You can see Japanese irises and hydrangeas and lilies… But the garden was nevertheless beautiful! The pond frogs reminded me of Kao Lhak where we stayed 3 years ago. Here is a little video of the pond:

So, at last we arrived at the onsen and got a “rotemburo” room in one of these little cottages.

Rotemburo means a private outside hot spring. Whenever I go to an onsen in Japan, I prefer to book a private rotemburo instead of bathing in the same spring with the rest of the ladies..I just can never relax and listen to the sounds of nature when I am in the company of women and children talking non-stop and slashing water all over me..

In the evening, we were served this amazing, absolutely delicious and true to its fame seafood dinner.

This boiled Sea bream fish is the best fish I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was so well seasoned and tender, I could eat it forever and I indeed used my stomach to it’s absolute capacity that day.

The dinner started with tofu three ways and tempura, then shabu-shabu which was also tender and tasty. In fact, shabu-shabu was kinda the main dish but I left it all to my husband because for me there can be no better combination than tofu and fish.

Our breakfast was delicious too! This is how a typical Japanese breakfast looks like : fried fish, bowl of rice, miso soup and some otsumami  like tofu, nato, poached egg, seaweed pickles, umeboshi etc. I love it but it’s absolutely impossible to cook on a quick hand every morning. Japanese housewives usually have to wake up early in the morning to be able to serve such breakfast to their husbands by the time they wake up.

On the next day, we went to the museum high in the mountains on the other side of the lake that was an open space restoration of what used to be a checkpoint on the road between Nagoya and Edo (Tokyo). Samurai clans used to guard the exits of Edo to prevent mainly women from leaving without a special permission from the shogun. It was very interesting to know that women were kept hostage in Edo so that their husbands would be loyal to the shogun or Emperor and do their work well even at distant locations. Women who fled Edo in their hopes of finding their husbands where prosecuted and turned into slaves at such “Sekisho” – checkpoints.

After the museum, we went to the Hakone Onshi park which was built around a residence where Japanese imperior honors and entertains his foreign guests. The garden is relatively new but very gorgeous.

It was so weird to see many momiji trees already being orange and red. They usually look like that in Autumn but that’s not the first time I see them in spring so I’m thinking these are a special kind.

My husband took this picture of me while I was trying to figure out how to go to the Cedar alley. I look so detached from the beautiful scenery behind me as if I was cut out of some other picture and placed on top of this one.. ^-^

Sakura was still blooming and it smelled incredible.

After the park it was too hot to go anywhere else so we drove back to Tokyo and went to Odaiba in our hopes of catching a glimpse of blooming cornflowers near Palette town. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a parking space anywhere so instead we went to the Marine museum and saw many beautiful models of ancient Japanese ships and other boats from all over the Globe.

The museum building was in a shape of a big Sea-liner. We could go outside on the deck and see a beautiful panorama of Odaiba bay.

John Mayer & umbrellas

Two days ago I went to see John Mayer in Tokyo dome and it was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. The sound was amazing and John Mayer’s voice..well, it’s a kind of voice that doesn’t happen very often. The moment he stepped on stage and started first accords of Assassin, I knew I’m gonna have a great time. After each song I wanted to scream “Thank you”! – for the performance, the lyrics, the melody, the intricate guitar arrangements – everything was such a perfection. He changed his guitars from song to song from electric to acoustic to some bluesy type I don’t know the name of. In between the songs, John spoke a little Japanese and the crowd went crazy, especially the 15 year old girls behind me. They were a handful at first but I quickly got used to their screaming and because they were confessing their love nonstop, John occasionally replied to them and looked in our direction.
The climax of the performance for me was not the end but the middle of it when he sang “Heartbreak warfare”. It’s such a powerful song and so right on the spot of every couple’s problems. I love it and the way he performed it was so strong – I had goosebumps all over me! Then, Gravity was amazing too. That songs obviously means a lot to him because he sang it with such emotion, you could almost feel heartbeat in his voice.

Most of the songs were from his latest album “Battle studies” which is great! He says it’s not his strongest one, but I think it is. I love almost every song on it and would recommend to anyone who appreciates not only a great melody but lyrics too. ^-^

On my way back home I saw this umbrella vending machine at the station.

Japan is famous for its disposable umbrellas that you can purchase almost anywhere for 500 yen. After the rain, however,  they are getting abandoned and scattered all around the city. It’s perfectly ok to use it again and again but many people choose to get rid of them when the rain stops. Anyway, my point is Tokyo is all about the convenience. It’s so easy to find a shop or kiosk where you can buy an umbrella but it wasn’t enough. Now, they have vending machines at the station. I mean I’ve already become quite lazy with everything being right by my side but is it really that good when you don’t have to apply any kind of effort to get something you need? An umbrella vending machine is just another example of this over the head crazy convenience that Tokyo is all about. I mean, look at the picture. Not only does this vending machine sell disposable umbrellas, it also sells big black ones for men and fold-able ones for those who don’t wish to deal with a big luggage. Seriously!

GW report

As always Golden week went by in a dash. It feels like it has just started but tomorrow I already have to go back to work. Fortunately I had a lot of fun meeting my friends and doing things that I don’t usually have time for.

On Friday, I took my “仮免許” test – a learner’s permit test that allows you to drive in the city. I failed on Thursday because I was too confident and didn’t pay attention while doing the “S” shape course…But on Friday I passed and got my permission to start second stage of my driving lessons. Tomorrow, I am driving in the city! Yay!

After the test, I met Ilya from St.Petersburg who came to study in Japan. While we were waiting for his friend to come, me and Rodion took him to see Japanese girls at 109. For those who don’t know – 109 is a club like department store that sells cheap apparel. Girls who work there are typical representatives of Japanese pop culture – always cute, loud and fake. You can’t take your eyes off of them. My friend took couple of snapshots. ^-^

Since Rodion joined us , our dinner turned into a heated discussion about Japan and culture shock and first impressions. His point of view is always too deep to understand while being sober, so it took us no time to get absolutely drunk at some bar, somewhere in Shibuya where he took us.

I don’t usually drink tequila but after my driving test that made me so nervous I gave in and had two shots or so I can remember. The rest is a bit blurry and I still have to question my friends about details..^-^ There are some stories about us playing at a game center but I have no memory of it..

The next day, I went to see a soccer game with my little minions.

Kawasaki Frontale played against Shonan Del Mare and won 4:2. We were supporting Frontale so the victory was ours.

After the game we were supposed to meet Dante and go see “Alice in wonderland” but the tickets were totally sold out so instead we went shopping and then had dinner at a French crepe restaurant.

On Sunday I stayed home working on one of my side projects but in the evening met with Serezha in Shinjuku for a Haitian dinner.

It was a nice combination of Caribbean taste and Japanese comfort food. I had cream “コロッケ” with tomato rice and pickled green pepper. I don’t know how much of it was Haitian but it tasted good and I also didn’t mind rum in my coffee. ^-^

After dinner, Serezha agreed to go to Abercrombie with me to check out some skinny jeans I had my eyes on. So we went to Shimbashi and got me a brand new pair of jeans absolutely free, thanks to my affair with returns (see previous entries).

As always, when we went out we smelled like the perfume they spray on everything inside the shop. Seriously, how can the staff tolerate such intense smell all day long…

On Monday, I was going to go see poppies in Odaiba but because of work and some other stuff stayed home instead until the late afternoon when I could bare no more being indoors. At last the weather is good and I have to stay home! No way! I took my iphone and went to the only park that is open after 5 – Yoyogi koen.

There, I just sat on the grass and worked for a couple of hours. Yes, that was a type of work you can do on your iphone. ^-^ On my way to the park I took pictures of some random Shibuya shops. ^-^

It was a flower festival in Shibuya and Harajuku so there were flowers literally everywhere. They were even being given out in front of Parco.

Then, a funny thing happened. I went out of the park but took a wrong exit and instead of Shibuya, got out in Harajuku. It always happens to me when I daydream about something. But since I was there, I checked my favorite spot near the bridge for Harajuku cosplay crowd and saw these two guys (or maybe girls?) posing together with some eastern European ladies. ^-^

Then, because it was ages since I’ve been there, I went to Kiddyland to check out new toys and discovered the whole corner dedicated to Cheburashka. I bet you can’t find this stuff in Russia.

On Tuesday me and my husband rented a car and went to Hakone onsen. More about it in the next entry.