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Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

Zadig et Voltaire Christmas shopping party

Last Friday, Cecile, Eri and me went to Zadig et Voltaire Christmas shopping party at the brand’s flagship store in Aoyama. Free drinks and chocolates were great but the 40% discount is what we all came for. ^-^ With Zadig et Voltaire (read Euro) price escalation over the past few years, the discount was more than appreciative. ^-^ The only sad thing was, I went shopping at the store two days before the party and bought a cute sweatshirt top from their limited Christmas collection at a 100% price.. Oh, the brilliance of Murphy’s law at work. ^-^

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At the party, I took the opportunity to try on everything I could possibly try including the most coveted piece of the collection – the long striped sweater dress featured in catalogs and all the major fashion magazines. As it often happens, the model rocked it so much better than I could ever possibly do. The S size didn’t hide my imperfections but the M size was already too bulky and unflattering.. But being me, I wanted it anyway already calculating lots of IFs in my head (what if I lose weight, what if I wear it with skinny jeans, what if I split the payment into two installments – yes, even after 40% off it was still above my budget). As I was in doubt, I asked my friends on social media to give me their honest opinion about the picture below and guess what? 100% said No. I am still in a bit of a shock. How can something that I really like be seen as nothing special by ALL my friends? Puzzled.. So, I didn’t buy the dress and I don’t think I will even if it remains in stores by the start of the official sale..

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But, girls were more lucky than me scoring some of the great collection pieces that looked absolutely gorgeous on them. I ended up buying nothing even though I have my eye on some of the other pieces. I decided to check out Comptoir des Cotonniers sale first and then come back to Zadig et Voltaire for the final “sale kill” of the season. ^-^ By the way, the official sale starts on 26th of December, right after Christmas. More and more Japanese stores begin their sales at the end of the year instead of 2nd of January that always marked the beginning of a nationwide sale.

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This cropped top received better evaluation from my friends. ^-^

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As this gorgeous faux fur jacket, light as a feather. This is not my style and I am wondering why. I should start wearing something like this. ^-^

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We all received Zadig aroma candles as a thank you for shopping gift (totally not deserved on my part!).

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Another surprise of the day came from Matt, Cecile’s friend who took us to a great Okinawa Chinese restaurant near Aoyama Gakuin university after the event. He turned out to be the 3rd grade teacher of the school my best friend’s daughter goes to and guess what? She is in his class. He has her picture on his phone and everything.  The daughter happens to be my son’s Godmother so go figure how small the world really is. ^-^ By the way, the food at the restaurant was amazing. It was my first experience to stand while eating (it is a common practice in some of the Japanese tiny bars and eateries). I kinda liked it to be able to talk to the chef and even have my say in how my food should be prepared. ^-^

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I don’t get to go out as often as I used to these days so being able to meet friends and have a little adventure on the city is something I am really grateful for and something I thoroughly enjoy. ^-^ Thank you my dear friends for making that day special for me.

Christmas in Tokyo

As promised, I took my new Sony camera for a test shoot in the evening. I decided to go around Tokyo taking photos of Christmas illumination. These are my most favorite spots.

Christmas tree at Villa Fontaine hotel in Shiodome

Me and the girls at Austrian embassy Christmas bazaar

Roppongi Hills Christmas bazaar

They are selling delicious German food all through December so if you want to try some pretzels with beer or white cheese sauce pasta, head to the bazaar in front of Toho Cinema.

This is Christmas village decorations at Shiodome

Beautiful Caretta illumination. You can see how it looked two years ago here.

Shiodome from Yurikamome line

Odaiba skyline at sunset

Keyakizaka street illumination at Roppongi Hills. This one is right in front of entrance to the TV Asahi. When I was passing it, the familiar smell of the lobby hit me. I used to go there for three and a half years every Saturday evening for live broadcast of Sma-Station. That were super fun times because I got to hang out with my best friends and get paid for it. ^-^

Keyakizaka street, in front of new Michael Kors shop. A strong earthquake hit at the moment I was taking this picture. It felt like the train was passing underground only there is no train there so I was very puzzled at first. Then, a minute later I got all these Facebook messages with people screaming “Earthquake” and that’s how I realized what it was. When you are outside, you can’t really comprehend if it’s a strong one or not. Apparently it was the strongest and longest one since 3/11 earthquake last year. Luckily, the trains didn’t stop for too long. I was able to get home without any trouble.

Armani store at Keyakizaka street

Beautiful LED lights

I discovered this great “star” effect while playing with blur function on my Sony. If I make it really sharp and hold the camera still, it creates these beautiful stars out of light.

Self-portrait using retractable screen. Again, I look like a tourist here.. Need to get some tips on how to pose from my friend Laura..

Louis Vuitton store at Keyakizaka street

Illumination at Mori garden in front of TV Asahi

Tokyo tower from Roppongi Hills

66 Plaza Illumination at Roppongi Hills sponsored by Suntory whiskey. You can try various whiskey samples right next to it.

Midtown illumination

Christmas decorations at Midtown

Trees in front of Ritz Carlton hotel at Midtown

Starlight garden illumination at Midtown sponsored by Emirates airline

Christmas tree in front at Midtown

Sakura illumination at Meguro river sponsored by Mitsui residential. It is run on used cooking oil – very cool!

So I am extremely happy with my new camera. It takes amazing night pictures that are sharp and bright. I think I made the right choice although I still feel quite sentimental about parting with my old Lumix GF1…

Journeys in Japan – Kanazawa, Ishikawa

This post is way overdue but as I always say better late than never. ^-^ On Christmas, me and my husband went to Ishikawa prefecture to visit the famous Yamashiro onsen and Kanazawa city which is something like Kyoto – old and traditional with lots of streets that look like movie sets.

At first, we went to see Tojinbo – cliffs on the rugged west coast of Japan that are to the present day haunted by various ghost legends. It also remains one of the popular places to commit suicide. According to wikipedia, as many as 25 people (mostly male and mostly unemployed)  a year commit suicide by jumping off these cliffs. I have seen people in uniforms patrolling the area when I was there. I’ve also been told that If you are traveling alone, you are likely to be asked questions by these guards.. So, Tojinbo are very sad cliffs but the view is breathtaking. The Japanese sea is much darker and on that day it was emerald green, quite different from the Pacific ocean that I am used to see.




After the cliffs, we drove to the Eiheiji – temple of eternal peace situated deep in the mountains. That’s when the weather started to change so by the time I pulled over in front of the gates, the area was wrapped in fog and the thunder was rolling every minute or so.

We had lunch at oroshisoba restaurant next door – we were the only customers there because the whole area was closing down for the day. I guess nobody visits old temples after 3PM.

Visiting a 12th century old temple in the middle of thunder with bunch of monks practicing zazen everywhere you go is something of a rare experience. I’ve never been to an active monastery before so seeing all those monks really fascinated me. In winter, they were living in a room with one wall missing, sleeping on tatami mats in their robes, without blankets or anything of the sort. You have to have a lot of willpower to stay in a place like that. I’ve read a lot about Russian monks and hermits living in caves and forests but it was a long time ago, when people were much stronger.. To actually see someone doing it in the time of central heating and video games? That’s really special. Although I am Christian, I felt a tremendous respect to all those young monks on their path to enlightenment.

The main hall had this beautiful ceiling with 250 paintings of birds and flowers. I wouldn’t mind joining the monks for a couple of hours of meditation if I was allowed to stare at it the whole time. ^-^




After Eiheiji, we drove to Yamashiro  – a little onsen town in the mountains.




We stayed at Shiroganeya – an old ryokan that once, probably in the 90ties during the bubble period hosted the royal family. It was recently renovated by some investment group so although it looks rustic from the outside, inside it is all modern and comfy.




The room had many amenities including organic cosmetics, facial masks and several types of Ippodo – high quality brand tea from Kyoto. We could also have a private tea ceremony performed in the main hall by a chatty old woman in a very beautiful kimono. ^-^




The dinner, as always in such places was great – all fish and veggies intricately prepared and beautifully served.



Onsen itself was left untouched by the renovation so it is very old and very tiny. I had to open terrace windows to let all the steam out to be able to see inside. It was raining by then and thunder kept rumbling. I had never enjoyed my bath quite like at that moment. When I was a child, I experienced a couple of very exciting incidents that happened during thunder so I always have these butterflies in my stomach every time I hear it. There was no one else but me so I just sat in a steamy hot water and listened to the rain and thunder till my skin turned bright red. ^-^

In a typical Japanese onsen, there are several types of baths that are usually shifted between men and women depending on time. In the morning, before breakfast I could use an outside bath – rotemburo that was available only to men the night before. Again, there was no one else so I had it all to myself – cold mountain air and hot bath in a beautiful Japanese garden.

For breakfast, we’ve been served a typical Japanese morning spread. This is what is expected of you if you are a Japanese stay at home wife. My husband’s mother cooked it for us when we were visiting and I remember, she had to get up at 6 just to make it ready by 9 – really ridiculous and there is just no way I am doing it! ^-^

After breakfast, we took off and arrived to Kanazawa. The peculiar thing with Japanese traditional towns is that the older it is the more futuristic it’s main train terminal looks. Kyoto station as well as Kanazawa station both look like they belong in Tokyo, 20 years from now. ^-^




The city was much colder and on the verge of snowing so it was a bit of a challenge to explore it on foot but we did it anyway with some occasional stops at coffee shops.

The old part of town is perfectly preserved – some streets and buildings are active to the present day, some became part of an open air museum. One of such places was an old samurai house we visited.




The former estate of Nomura family was used for 12 generations until the feudal system broke down and the building was sold to the industrialist. Now, it’s a part of the museum compound together with it’s artistically crafted Japanese garden – famous for it’s intricate water system and cherry granite bridges and lanterns.

After the samurai house, we visited “21st century museum of contemporary art” – one of the main attractions in Kanazawa city. It held an exhibit of Peter Fischli & David Weiss as well as many permanent exhibits by various artists from all around the world.

I really liked the colorful spectrum by Olafur Eliasson – three plastic screens in yellow, blue and magenta forming a circle maze. As you walk it, the color changes around you. I particularly like this picture my husband took inside the maze because you can see Santa Claus on scooter on the background – kinda adds Christmas spirit to it. ^-^

From there, we went to the Kenrokuen – an Edo period landscape garden with beautiful majestic pine trees. The suspended ropes around them are there for protection against wind and snow.

Then, we crossed Umenohashi bridge to the Higashi-chaya – an old tea house strip, north of the Asano river.

That’s when it started to snow so I had to put down my Lumix and take pictures with waterproof Sony camera which was accidentally set to a low resolution so the following pics aren’t very good…

Higashi-chaya has around 80 old wooden 2 story Japanese style restaurants, tea houses and souvenir shops – not the kind that sell paper fans and refrigerator magnets but the original art studios where you can buy beautiful jewelry, pottery and organic cosmetics made by century old recipes.

There are several famous tea house areas spread around the old part of town but we could only see two because of bad weather. The second one, we went to was on the south side of Asano river and it was called Kazue-machi.

Where Higashi-chaya is the main sightseeing spot that accommodates a lot of tourists, Kazue-machi is more private and doesn’t accept first visit customers. Unless you receive a recommendation or an invitation from a patron, you are politely denied any service.

Our last stop, before going back to the station was Oumicho market that had lots of really great sushi restaurants. It also sold seafood – crabs in particular, herbs and vegetables – very similar to Kyoto market near San-chome. You could also get rare delicacies – typical for that particular part of Japan but not available anywhere else. Ever since I started living in Japan, I involuntarily adopted food freak culture looking for deli instead of souvenirs on my travels. Even coming back from my trips to Saint Petersburg I recently bring nothing but food – pickles, dairy, sweets etc. ^-^




Then, we had a coffee at Nikko Kanazawa hotel’s lounge. They had those big windows and little tables with cozy sofa chairs next to them so you could drink your coffee and watch snow outside falling down quietly. There was Christmas music on the background and a Christmas tree near fireplace – I just love places like that.  I finally had my white Christmas after years of snowless eves in Tokyo. ^-^

Hot wine, milkshakes and bard songs – my winter holidays at home

The next day after my trip to Sapporo, I flew back to Saint Petersburg to spend the New Year holidays at home with my family. Thanks to my brother, who canceled his vacation plans just to spend time with me, I had the best 10 days one can have in winter, in Russia, in a freezing cold and a pitch black darkness.. ^-^ For my city, it is pretty normal not to see sun for days. The skies are constantly covered with snowy clouds so instead of bright daylight, we have grayish glow for a couple of hours each day that separates the morning darkness from the evening one.. When I was in University, I had to be on campus by 9 each day – it was still dark. Then, I had 6 or 7 90 minutes classes so by the time I was out, it was already dark. For 4 years of University I hardly ever saw any daylight in winter. ^-^

As you may know, we celebrate Christmas after New Year, on 7th of January so the city was still decorated and all lightened up! ^-^

To my surprise, the neverending construction near the Finland train terminal was finally completed and it turned out to be the biggest shopping mall the center of the city has ever seen with multiplex cinema, cozy cafes and all the European brand shops I could only wish for 10 years ago.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there – shopping, watching movies, drinking milkshakes and spying on the cool crowd or at least everyone seemed cool and tall and blond to me… Either I have been in Japan way too long or our folks cleaned up real good… Big shopping malls are still kinda new to Russia.. We are used to department stores but the building where you can spend all day? – that is something of a boom right now so you can spot a lot of young Russians in cool fedoras and leather leggings there… Ah, I wish I was 17 again…

This is at my new favorite cafe inside the mall. Living in Japan for so many years, I have forgotten all about how fun it is to eat your cheese pancakes with sour cream and raspberry sauce on the side of a half a liter triple cream milkshake! I haven’t had this much calories in one take for a very long time! ^-^




The annual Christmas bazaar was at the Alexander square and as always with a lot of traditional street performances, hot wine and honey cider stands, ice skating ring and attractions for kids. As much as I love the merry-go-rounds, I went for the hot wine. :)

And this is me trying on a tacky Russian winter hat made specially for foreign tourists. Actually, my brother ended up buying it for me so if anyone is interested – all yours.  ^-^

There was a very impressive illumination show at the Winter palace square with music and lasers that made the falling snow sparkle like pixie dust.

My cousin Andrey has finally finished his new house so we went to see him and his family at their brand new home on the island.

My little niece started walking and talking and she is so adorable.

She introduced me to her favorite cartoon called “Masha and the bear”. It is a 3D version of a traditional Russian fairytale with a modern spin to it and it is absolutely hilarious. You can watch all 14 series online!

So on Christmas, we chose a small church in the Alexander park in Pushkin. There, on the background is the grayish glow that I mentioned earlier – the picture was taken at noon. ^-^

After the service, we went for a little walk around the park and then had Christmas lunch at my brother’s favorite restaurant called XIX century which was right in front of the church. I had a mushroom soup and Alex had borsch, then we both had pancakes. I couldn’t wish for more. ^-^

In the evening, we went back to the city to visit a new art gallery “Floors”. They had a nice little exhibit called “The accomplishments of Soviet design” that displayed the works of interior designers, industrial poster artists and modeling engineers.

I recognized a lot of items from back when I was little like a meat mincer that my grandma used to have at Dacha or the “sea battle” video game that used to stand in the lobby of a movie theater in my neighborhood. My brother even discovered an old automobile simulation game that he wanted so much as a little boy. ^-^




The next day, my best friend Anna had a party at her house. She has cut short her vacation in Italy just to spend her birthday at home with friends and family. ^-^

She brought a lot of tasty Italian delicacies and wine and made my favorite Napoleon cake from scratch, even the little macaroons on top.



Her mom is retired now but she used to be a surgeon and now teaches surgery at the first Medical. She is a true leader and her voice – I mean those loud girls at 109 department store during the sale season are nothing in comparison. She is VERY loud and very bossy so I just couldn’t say no when she made us all drink dirty martini and then play silly games I haven’t played since the first grade! ^-^

Have you ever had these kind of moments when you experience something out of ordinary and then it happens again in the very same day? I came back home and saw my family playing a board game!

It was some financial game my brother got for free from a bank as a New Year’s present. So we drank beer and played it through the whole evening. I, of course kept loosing because after several glasses of martini and being spun with my eyes tied I just couldn’t keep it straight. ^-^

Then, the day after, I also met with Marina – my overachiever friend.

She knew exactly where to take me – our favorite coffee shop with the best milkshakes ever!

In the evening, I also visited my aunt who just came back from Finland and brought tons of delicious seafood including my favorite fly-fish caviar.

It was also the first time for me to see her famous porcelain portraits of the family. These painting were done in an old XVIII century style but faces were taken from recent photographs so from left to right clockwise are my grandfather, my uncle, my father, my niece Polina, cousin Liza, aunt, grandmother and cousin Andrey. This is really amazing, I wish I took a better picture..

Then, we also went to a new ski park just outside Saint Petersburg called Tuutgari. It was really cold that day but with two liters of Anna’s dad’s special hot wine we were all set. ^-^

So basically, boys were skiing and we, girls were snow tubing.

My mom was the toughest of us all making her way up faster than anyone else. ^-^

It was a lot of fun but the guy at the top kept spinning me so after a few times of sliding down the hill I got pretty disoriented. ^-^

I also tried ice skating for the first time in my life. It turned out to be quite easy, not very different from rollerblading.

At a local cafe, I discovered my new passion for traditional old Russian guitar songs, something I was never interested in while living in Russia. There were two guys with guitars, some snowboarders who just came in and started playing. They were really good and played many songs I remember from my childhood like the one from the Bremen musicians

or this one, my mom’s favorite

It’s funny how I re-discover Russian literature and music now – something I was really opposed to at school. At 15 I was reading Fitzgerald and Bukowski instead of Ostrovskiy. To me, he was an example of everything that was wrong with the Russian program at school. But then, 15 years later, already here in Tokyo I read his “How the steel was tempered” and I really loved it. And with music too. I mean, bard songs.. really? Better Robbie Williams than Okudzhava! But now I really love it! I guess, the grass will always be greener on the other side…or maybe everything has its own time?..

12 days to Christmas

On the weekend, me and my husband went to Odaiba to see Gallery 21’s current photo exhibition “Style NY – Tokyo. Fashion & Landscape”. It presented works of three photographers Sophie Delaporte, Motohiko Hasui and Jean-Michel Berts whose works I loved the most.

The first two were focusing on the world of fashion, trying to portray the epic fashion statements through the creative photography. Jean-Michel Berts on the other hand, was focusing his works purely on the landscape of a city stripped from people – naked streets, empty park benches, brilliant play of light. Because of his scientific background, Berts did an absolute magic to the many layers of light printed on paper canvases that are usually used for paintings. It created illusions of a perfect blend – a photograph in front layers, painting on the background.

He has published the series of his books “The light of NY”, “The light of Tokyo” etc. I would love to have them all. I collect art books and these would be the perfect addition to my collection. I can just stare at these photos for hours, melting into my imaginary world completely..

The exhibition is free and will be open till 10th of January. http://www.gallery21-tokyo.com/en/exhibitions/2010/style/index.html By the way, every work was on sale so if you have an extra 230000 yen in your pocket, you can totally buy one of those genius pieces. ^-^

These were the Christmas decorations in the Grand Pacific Le Daiba hotel where the gallery was located.

This Christmas tree was so acid blue, it hurt my eyes. ^-^

From the hotel, we went back to the beach to watch sunset and drink hot Yuzu tea on the rocks by the water. When I just came to Tokyo, Odaiba beach strip was my favorite place to be. I used to come here to read books and watch surfers and just be surrounded by the breathtaking grandeur of Tokyo.

I love this photo my husband took of me because of the colors. My camera is set to AI (artificial intelligence) mode so it chooses its own settings and color modes depending on light and background. So these pale, desaturated colors is what my camera chose for that particular moment during the sunset. My husband calls them the winter colors, you can almost feel the cold behind the picture.

After Odaiba, we took monorail to Shiodome to see the infamous Caretta illumination called “Blue ocean” (http://www.caretta.jp/event/8th/blueocean.html).  It was so beautiful and so intricate, it almost made me question the sanity behind such effort. All of this for a month with free admission? They don’t even make money out of it. There is no shopping mall, only a couple of restaurants in the area. Why would they build such an epic art piece? To attract people? To do what? I am of course tremendously grateful to be able to enjoy such beauty, don’t take me wrong here..I am just amused with the amount of money that are spent each year to decorate Tokyo before Christmas..

Of course there were a lot of people. To enter the Christmas tree cave in the center, one would have to stay an hour in the line. Instead, I just walked around and enjoyed the holiday spirit of all the people around, laughing and taking pictures.

Christmas at the beach

Me at the beach

My fiance took me to the beach on Christmas because he knows how much I love winter sea. It’s so bright and blue and empty – a perfect place to spend Christmas away from crowds and commercial fantasies.

Jumping at the beach

We sat on the beach, climbed at the top of observation deck and had hot and steamy rice cakes. It was so windy and sunny and peaceful. I can sit on the sand and look into horizon for many hours.

xmas

Later on we went to the park to have picnic on the grass and then to the shopping mall to try different types of new Italian gelato.