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Nauka – Russian bookstore in Jimbocho

A few days ago, Serezha took me to a Russian bookstore in Jimbocho. I’ve heard about it before but never had the opportunity to visit. It’s a small bookstore that reminded me of one of the many secondhand bookstores I discovered near University in Buenos Aires. It has a huge variety of books, lots of Japanese authors translated into Russian. I bought a new book by Haruki Murakami called “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”. It’s Serezha’s recommendation so I’m pretty sure I’m gonna like it.

The only downside of the store is it’s prices. Akunin’s FM novel was 5900 yen – unbelievable! The book that I bought was 1700yen and it was soft cover – still pretty expensive, especially considering it’s price in Russia.

The store was almost closing when we came so I definitely need to go there again, this time checking every book they have. I love bookstores – they inspire me to try on different things or learn more or improve my lifestyle in one way or another. As much as I enjoy reading in English, the book always sounds more beautiful to me when it is written in Russian. I’m sure it’s mainly because of language barriers..

さすが日本

A month ago I left my brand new iPad on the airplane on my way back from Sapporo. I sometimes loose things but I always seem to remember exactly where and when it happened so I knew for a fact that I left it on the side of my seat. However, it was only a week later that I realized it. After calling to JAL and Haneda and New Chitose airports I still couldn’t find it. I did find an iPad but as it turned out, it wasn’t mine.. Funny, how someone else managed to leave it on the plane shortly after it’s release. ^-^ I was quite shocked not to be able to find it. I have subscribed myself to a bunch of digital magazines – iPad edition and I never got to read any of them. Plus all my personal data was there too.

Of course I was very sad and couldn’t let go for two weeks. On the third week, I decided to give it another try and call the airports again, this time leaving my contact information with them just in case.

Sadly, nobody could find it but two days later I received a call from Abashiri police department telling me that they have located my iPad!!!! I couldn’t believe it! Apparently, after arriving to Haneda, the plane went back to Hokkaido but not Sapporo – Abashiri.

The reason it wasn’t found right away is the same reason I forgot it in the first place : the side of the seat was black – same color as the cover of iPad. If the seat is vacant, it is actually hard to realize right away that something is there.

After filling all the papers, I have finally got reunited with my toy but not before the police department apologized to me profusely that they won’t be able to pay for it’s delivery to Tokyo. Hello? Isn’t it like a given? Of course I am the one who should pay for it but no, they felt the need to apologize!

Time and again, I re-confirmed the fact that Japan is the safest, most honest country to live in. Who would spend three weeks trying to locate me just to return an expensive and hard to get item back to me? That’s madness! Everything I have ever lost in Japan – my mobile phone, computer, sunglasses, jewelry, shoes.. was either found laying exactly where I left it or returned to me by someone. Thank you Japan and thank you Abashiri police department!

Parallel lines Philips cinema competition

A while back my friend Laura has entered a movie competition hosted by Parallel lines Philips cinema and a movie director Ridley Scott. The competition was an attempt to show that the same story can be told in many different ways.

The story was provided by the competition in a form of 6 fixed lines :

1. What is that?

2. It’s a unicorn

3. Never seen one up close before

4. Beautiful

5. Get away. Get away.

6. I’m sorry

The order of the lines had to remain the same but they could be told in any language. Also, the movie had to be only 3 minutes long.

Parallel lines Philips cinema competition – official entries:

http://www.youtube.com/user/philipscinematv

I have watched almost all the entries (about 300 of them) and I really think that Laura’s movie deserved to be in the top 10. It was dark but beautiful, with good cinematography and so easy on eyes.

Most of the movies that got into the top 10 were made by famous directors with a substantial budget to spend. If the competition was to be fair, it would have had a fixed budget and set of rules that wouldn’t allow the use of professional equipment… But if you see at least a couple of the high budget movies, you would still think that Laura’s low budget movie was of the same if not a higher quality. ^-^

I actually helped her shoot one of the scenes. It was the one where she runs on a narrow Tokyo street and pushes an old lady carrying a grocery bag. The bag falls down and tears apart. The scene had to show that however bad the situation was, the main heroine couldn’t stop. She had to keep running because it was the race against death.

We shoot this scene in Ogikubo, in front of a Chinese restaurant. The street was actually very wide but we had to make it look narrow to fit the brief. The location was perfect for the movie – it had a nice red light about it and the old lady who was so kind to help us was living nearby.

That 3 second scene took us two hours to shoot. This is me and Laura shortly after we were done – exhausted but happy. ^-^

I know the competition is over for her but you can still cast your vote on youtube so if you like the movie, please give it a good rating! ^-^

And you can also take a look at her solo album on itunes. http://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/adeyto-tenshi-no-yuuwaku/id294333108

Azabu Jyuban matsuri

Azabu Juban Noryo festival is the climax of  Tokyo’s summer festive season. It rounds up all major fireworks and street events. The main purpose of such festival is to keep the traditions alive by performing various arts, wearing yukata, playing old Showa games and eating local specialties.

It is a lot of fun, only more often it is really hard to enjoy due to unbelievable amount of people invading the place. Narrow Tokyo streets are filled with so many people, you can hardly move, let alone buy something. I had to stand in line for almost everything. It also took us two hours to walk from the beginning of the street to its end.

I’ve been visiting the festival every year since 2004 when Laura took me there for the first time. We were still doing Sma-station live show every Saturday at TV Asahi which is right next to the festival’s location. I was wearing my beautiful cornflowers yukata and pink geta. Since then, me and Sma-girls were going to the festival every year right before the show.

Besides, watching various performances or participating in the official ceremony of carrying an “Omikoshi” to the local shrine (this year I came too late to enjoy either one of them), what you can do at the festival is basically this:

1. You can play “Catch a goldfish” or “Catch a turtle” game using a paper spoon. If you happen to carry the fish out of the tank using your paper spoon, you can keep it. Unfortunately half of the fish dies before you can reach your home and put it in a proper environment. However, my friend Hiro caught 5 little “kingyo” last year and now they are so big and beautiful. 500 yen that he spent on catching a fish turned into a very expensive hobby (a tank, seaweed, fish food etc.) ^-^

2. You can dress up. During Showa period, I guess masks were something of an attribute to the whole summer festival costume, maybe close to a masquerade in Europe. Now, the tradition is lost, at least in Tokyo but they still sell masks for children. Only instead of traditional Kitsune mask, now you get to wear Thomas the train! ^-^

And of course yukata is the “must” item for any matsuri in Japan. Girls go distance to look their best. The proper full yukata attire can easily cost 20000 yen and even more if your yukata carries a brand name. They also make a matching pattern on their nails and create elaborate hairstyles carefully chosen out of “Yukata hair 2010” catalogs.  Japanese girls are very particular and although it often is very annoying, you can’t deny the fact that their effort pays off. Here is one of the AD pictures I could find on the web.

3. You can also play “Catch a yo-yo” game using a hook and a paper holder. The trick is to catch a yo-yo’s string without making your paper wet, otherwise it tears off. Our friend Jun did his best to get me one! Yay! ^-^ There are many other games like shooting for the prize, fortune telling, lottery etc. If you happen to visit a festival that is not as crowded as this one, you should definitely try everything. Even if you loose, you get to keep something. ^-^

4. The rest of the activity is eating and drinking. Street food in Japan is delicious and some of it you can only try at such festivals. Big matsuri often offers not only local specialties but also delicious treats from other prefectures like “Hiroshima yaki”.

Here, we are eating respectively – caramelized apple, pickled cucumber and caramelized strawberry. ^-^

And of course Corona beer, only at a triple price. ^-^

Lots and lots of seafood

and meat! You can actually buy your meat by telling which part of the cow or pork you prefer. ^-^

These two ladies are making yakisoba – fried noodle with vegetables and soy sauce. This is the popular stand that ran out of the food before the festival was over. ^-^

Octopus on skewers had a huge line of people so I didn’t try one.

Takoyaki balls fried with vegetables and dough. Usually you only get a small piece of octopus in every ball but this one had the whole thing – a baby taco in it.

My favorite “tomorokoshi” – fried corn with salt and butter.

Ayu fish fried with salt.

In the evening, me, Gow and Jun also met Lille and Ben who couldn’t move any farther than La Boheme square. ^-^

Overall, I really enjoyed the matsuri – I just wish it wasn’t either so hot or so crowded. ^-^

Seven for all mankind x Mika Ninagawa opening party

Last Wednesday, I went to the launch party of a new collaboration between LA based denim brand “Seven for all mankind” and Japan’s renowned photographer Mika Ninagawa. I have known her work for ages. Ever since I visited an exhibition in Shinjuku dedicated to the nominators of prestigious Kimura Ihei award and saw her work there, I became a huge fan. You can actually see a picture and tell in an instant that this is her work. She has a very unique style that portrays every day objects and nature in a vivid, dynamic form. Pictures are often taken from quirky angles to create an unusual sense of proportion and distance.

This time, she has produced a seven limited-edition pieces for the Seven’s summer collection. My favorite is the black jeggings with flower print. I just wish they didn’t cost 27000 yen, especially because it’s only 198$ in the US.

The party was packed with people. I met some of my friends there including Elizabeth – an event producer who now works as an account manager for Tokyo based PR company. She was the one getting me the job with Joe’s jeans 5 years ago. ^-^

I went to the party with my fashion buddy Serezha. He knows more about fashion than any of my female friends so whenever I am invited to such an event, I immediately think of him.  ^-^

Later, Rodion joined us as well. Not surprisingly, he either knew or was known by half of the people in the room.^-^

There, at the party we also met Jonte Moaning – a musician, singer and dancer who worked with Beyonce and Janet Jackson. In fact, he was the once creating a choreography for Beyonce’s “Freakum Dress” video. He also has recently released his first album in Japan.

The catering was done by a Moroccan chef – really friendly and amazingly talented.  Moet et Chandon champaign non-stop and these colorful amuse bouche that look like cakes but in fact were little sandwiches with salmon, mushroom pate and carrot jam.

And this is the second time for me to see DJ Mondo. I’ve met him before at some other party but I can’t seem to remember which one. He is very extravagant and friendly as well.

After the party, we went for a quick bite at some cheap izakaya where we happened to sit next to an old Japanese lady who was absolutely wasted. She actually thought that me and Serezha were Rodion’s children. ^-^

Dalrae’s birthday BBQ in Omotesando

Last week my friend Dalrae invited me over to her friend’s house in Omotesando for a terrace BBQ birthday party. The place was gorgeous. Many of her friends are foreign bankers who rent really nice real estate in the most posh neighborhoods in Tokyo and this house was no different. The owner also happened to be a very good cook. The entire evening while people were drinking and having fun, poor guy was making food – grilled scallops, tandoori chicken, beefsteaks etc. He never left the BBQ station. In his own words – cooking food on fresh air is the best therapy one can get after a long working week. I want to believe him, only it was +35C outside with almost 100% humidity…The guy was just too nice..

I met some Russian folks from Vladivostok at the party.  As always I asked them to teach me some local slang. After talking to Serezha and Dima about our hometowns, I realized that the words we use on an every day basis are sometimes different depending on the part of Russia you are from. ^-^

Because we are so far away from each other, the values are also different. For example, going to Japan for a person from Vladivostok is the same as going to Finland for a person from St.Petersburg – a casual occurrence. But for each other, it looks like such an exotic destination. It’s also the same for the food we eat and cars we drive. It’s funny.  I could never imagine a Russian who doesn’t know what “Ryazhenka” is..^-^

Nature.Art.Food. My trip to Hokkaido

A few weeks ago, I took a spontaneous trip to Sapporo that gave me an opportunity to see some of the famous but remote attractions. At first, we visited the lake Shikotsu with the purest, cleanest water I have ever seen.

The transparency reaches 25m and because of its form and depth, the lake never freezes even at the coldest of times.

I was really in love with the place – so quiet and secluded. Immediately, I felt like staying there for hours. We rented a boat – one of those swan catamarans and spent an hour on the water watching mountains and the fog that was slowly covering the valley.

Imagine the pure mountain air heavy with fog and fragrance from the oaks and katsura trees – you feel almost high with so many positive emotions overwhelming you. At least I felt that way..

After the lake, we took a road that ran along the shore and went further south to the Sapporo art park “芸術の森”. That’s a place to go to if you are looking for an inspiration. It’s a huge space dedicated to art in every form possible. We only had an hour before the closing time so unfortunately I could only see some of the statues in the sculpture garden but even that small part impressed me to the depths of my sensibility and made me completely speechless and even depressed with the very idea of leaving that place without getting to know each and every piece of it.. I may sound dramatic but really you would too once you see that perfect harmony between nature and the human mind.

Out of 73 pieces I could only see half and these are my favorites.

A statue of a girl holding an owl – the symbol of wisdom.

A statue of a woman that expresses the sorrow of something lost or banished while still continuing to claim its existence.

A moment of movement – installation with eight curves, each looks like it was hand-drawn in the sky – all connected into one infinite circle.

And of course the main jewel of the crown – Dani Karavan’s “way to the hidden garden” – a magical, epic journey that helps you reconnect with nature and notice things you usually take for granted like sunlight, the touch of wind, the sound of water, the smell of grass and dimensions of the ground we walk on.

You start at the gate with golden coating inside that reflects the sun and gives you the feeling of a promise and reassurance. Then you move through two grass domes that gives you the awareness of the form and its beauty.

The sundial clock behind the domes shows the eternal passage of time and seven square basins that follow it act as connecting links between installation and a human as each water fountain begins to work only as you approach them.

Finally, you reach the hollow cone that once entered repeats in a whisper every sound you make. There, you can also listen to the sounds of forest from the eight microphones installed in various locations.

My favorite part of the path is the water channel behind the cone. The water represents life and the sound of its journey down to the basin awakes all your senses and prepares you to meet your inner self at the hidden garden.

When I got there, I could feel every pore of my skin opening. I just stood there, hugging a big tree in the middle wishing for that peace and harmony to remain in my heart forever. Dani Karavan is a genius that never cease to amaze me. I went to his exhibit in Tokyo’s museum of modern art a few years back and there his work helped me gain a new level of appreciation for the organic beauty of form and texture and sound…

In the evening, we had dinner at one of the very local and very old yakitori restaurants run by a family in third generation.

Everything was of course super delicious.  As always the best of food is found at the least expected place in the middle of nowhere – a quiet street at a residential area.

The next day, we woke up early and headed to Tomita farm to see lavender in full bloom. It’s two hours away from Sapporo – my longest solo drive yet. ^-^

Lavender was never my thing but I got to like it because it is often used in Japan for spa treatments and room deodorants – for me it became the smell of comfort and relaxation so I really wanted to see the famous Hokkaido farm that grows it.

The place was also famous for melon and lavender ice cream and milkshakes. Guess what I’ve chosen to try. ^-^

Close to Tomita farm was the Patchwork – a variety of agricultural fields that when viewed from afar form a kaleidoscopic picture – white potato flowers, yellow sunflowers, green corn, brown wheat etc. It looks very vivid in autumn so I think I’d need to give it another try later. ^-^

The patchwork is often used for various Japanese TV commercials. You’d probably recognize it next time you watch Sapporo’s beer ad or something. ^-^ Believe it or not, some tourists visit the place just because of that. ^-^

On my way back to Tokyo I had a very interesting incident – will blog about it later when it comes to conclusion. ^-^ Stay tuned!

Nepalese festival in Hibiya park

Last week, Gow invited me to Nepalese festival in Hibiya park – a very colorful and fragrant event presenting food, music, local businesses and live performances of Nepalese people living in Tokyo. I loved the food the most – butter chicken curry with nan is one of the few dishes I am ready to eat on a daily basis and they sold plenty of it. There was also a lot of food I have never seen before – like this deep fried bread with spices.

The market sold lots of traditional ornaments and costumes and home decoration thingies. I particularly liked Kalimba – a percussion instrument that produces a very beautiful and pure sound. It is also called thumb piano and although originated in South Africa is now common in Nepal too (apparently!).

Here is how it sounds :

Since the festival took place in Hibiya park, we decided to walk around and see the Japanese garden as well. There, I was attacked by a huge black crow and an army of ants and mosquitoes. We also saw a flying carp and a couple of lazy turtles. ^-^

And since I am obsessed with yeah milkshakes! but also swings, I dragged Gow to the garden’s playground and we spent half an hour swinging like 5 year olds. ^-^

10 days of summer

My trips back home are very emotional to me – every time I come back from St.Petersburg I am painfully homesick and desperately seeking the reasons that keep me away from my family and friends. It is especially hard in summers when the weather is perfect and the city is so awake and bright and offers a lot of fun activities that doesn’t include me.. My 10 days in St.Petersburg each summer is all I can hope for but thanks to my family I usually get the most out of it.

This time, because of my brother’s wedding we mostly stayed in the city so I had plenty of time to catch up with my old friends. As usual, everyone seemed to grow in my eyes, evolve into some kind of better versions of themselves – polished and completed and very successful. My childhood friend whom I shared a school desk with for 10 years is now a very scary lawyer that also gives lectures in University that my cousin attends to. I heard her talking on the phone with someone and in the lifetime that I know her I have never thought she can be this intimidating.

And then, my friend that I used to hang out with last year of college is now working directly under the minister of land and transportation(?). He sounded very important and very busy. I ran into him at the airport on my way to Moscow.

My best friend Anna has changed to. For one, she’s got long hair and skepticism – two things I could have never imagined her with.

We went to Pushkin together and asked our common friend who became a full time photographer to take some snapshots of us in the park. The last picture we took together was when the pink hair and Dr.Martins’ platforms were still in style so I thought it was about the time. ^-^

The weather was on the verge of rain but once in a while sun came out so we kept chasing it around the park. ^-^

We walked around the Alexandriskiy park and discovered the ruins of an old Mason tower.  It was closed for viewing so of course we had to see it. Luckily all three of us were skinny enough to get in between the iron rods of the gates and into the premises of the tower.

It was magnificent and a photo shoot location to die for. Unfortunately my photographer friend overdid the post-processing and never bothered to give me the original raw data so I am not posting much pictures from there.

On our way back to the station we saw Ekaterininskiy palace in all its glory and a long procession of foreign tourists that took a group carriage ride around the park.

After Pushkin, we headed back to St.Petersburg to eat lunch, drink milkshakes and watch ballet. Every time I am back home, I am literally feeding on milkshakes from “Идеальная чашка” because the stuff they make is the closest version of what I used to drink as a child. I love it so much, I can easily drink 2 or 3 at once. Actually 3 makes you sick so don’t try it. ^-^

Anna’s friend could get us cheap tickets to “Конёк-горбунок” ballet in Mariinskiy theatre and I really enjoyed watching it. As the story evolved I began remembering it piece by piece realizing now as an adult that Russian folklore fairy tales are actually quite cruel. ^-^ I mean I have heard that story a million times as a child but it never occurred to me up till now that the characters and the plot are almost inhumane.. ^-^

The front dancers were quite good and even good looking. Everything they did looked so effortless and airy. I wish I had it in me to be cruel to my body to make something beautiful out of it…No pain, no gain…

I really love these two pictures because they express my mood at that moment and also show St.Petersburg sky in the evening. The rainbow picture of the local iMAX cinema was taken around 8PM and the bridge one around 9PM..

Since it was sunny and hot each day, we used every opportunity to take a ride to the beach and enjoy the rare St.Petersburg scenery of people tanning and swimming and playing softball. This is Alex, Anna and me on Krestovskiy island’s beach by the yacht club.

And this is me on my cousin’s bike. I just couldn’t resist jumping on it. Ever since I got my driving license I feel fearless. ^-^

He joined us later for lunch at “Zima-leto” – yacht club’s open air restaurant with pretentious food and crowd but good view to the bay. Then something funny happened. A little girl walked right into our coach, sat in between me and Andrey, took her shoes off and even tried to eat from our plates before realizing that she misunderstood the location of her family’s table. ^-^ When she saw that we are not her mom and dad, she put her shoes on and walked away. A funny little thing!

This is a new member in the zoo that is my cousin’s house. She has 10 pets and now also a brand new hunting dog. His name is Patrick and I love him.

Then, we also went to the birthday of my nephew Victoria. She is 1 year old and doesn’t care for anything except brightly colored plastic cubes and strawberries. But no, her parents had to go all the way and organize a huge 20 guest party with a hired photographer and designer’s cake and fireworks and Blumarine dress for the baby..

Or maybe they just needed an excuse to throw a party! Nonetheless, it was kinda fun to meet Andrey’s friends and realize that I know some of them from my teens. Hopefully soon, that hired photographer will give us the pictures so I can post them here. We took a funny one. My aunt brought a framed photograph of toddler me, Andrey, Alex and Liza standing next to her in the zoo so that we can re-create the image this many years later. On that black and white picture Alex was the smallest of all children but now he is the tallest so he had to kneel to make it look right. ^-^

This is me and Polina – Liza’s daughter who has already signed up with a modeling agency.  She is as determined to become successful and famous as Dima. ^-^

I love this picture of her – an innocence in its pure form. Freshly out of my teens, I have been chasing it for a while but no, it’s gone forever…I guess it’s sad for everyone to realize that the perception of world you had as a child is no longer there..

This is Alex, playing hoops in the backyard. He took my geeky glasses and never returned them.

The rest of the pictures were taken either on dacha or wedding. Coming up soon! ^-^