I don’t love cooking any less than I used to, but I’m starting to feel a little old and tired. Don’t be fooled by my youthful looks! Sometimes the world feels so big and unmanageable, and myself too small and weary to deal with it. Plus we’re almost halfway through 2013. What the fuck is up with that, man? Where did the last few months go? How is it possible that I’ll be leaving Japan in three months? That just can’t happen.
Anyway, one day at a time. One meal at a time. Nothing overly complicated – lord knows the world’s got enough of that. Just simple assemblies. More vegetables, and I’m eating far less meat than ever before. It’s weird. I used to eat so much meat – all that hong shao rou, baconin everything, grilled chicken thighs. Now it’s all avocado and cucumbers and kimchi on toast. Everything is awesome on toast.
I hate waking up early. To put this more accurately: I’d love to be a morning person, but my body has decided otherwise. My family knows all too well, since I’ve subjected them to 20-odd years of grouchiness when forcibly shaken from slumber before noon. More recently, though, I’ve become attuned to the pleasures of not sleeping in, and instead having a longer day ahead. Waking up becomes even more appealing when there’s food involved. Oh yes. In particular, I will drag myself out of my coffin and schlep across a city for a sushi breakfast. During holidays I wake up late, but in Osaka, I woke up at 7 for breakfast at Endo Sushi.
Here is a photograph of pudding from Juchheim at Meguro Station. This particular pudding – or purin, as they call it here – was of the thick, unctuous persuasion with lashings of heavy cream and eggs. Not too sweet and rather rich, there’s a layer of lightly bitter vanilla bean caramel syrup at the bottom. It wasn’t the best pudding ever – I prefer something a little lighter, with more wobble, kind of like this – but it was quite delicious, and a lovely dessert on a sunshiny afternoon.
What’s missing here?
A. Another pudding
B. A nice background
C. The packaging
D. All of the above
Because this is the age of the e-book, I couldn’t put my phone down while I was reading. This is not an exaggeration. The day I downloaded the book I walked to the bus stop, got off at the station, got on the train to Shinjuku, changed trains to get to Akasaka, crossed several streets in the process and did not get run over, and also did not look up from my phone at all. I did the same coming home, and the 20-minute walk home through nighttime suburbia was illuminated only by the glow of the screen, and I finished right before I hit my doorstep.
Coming home is a funny thing. One minute I was travelling, shouting Hey I’m Having A Blast in Kyoto across the internet, and the next morning I was back where I started, with a few postcards and a suitcase full of dirty clothes, and it’s like I’d never left Tokyo at all. It’s been a week. It was a little shocking to suddenly have all this non-travelling everyday-time on my hands. Buckets of time, really, sloshing around and spilling over into empty afternoons that I don’t quite know what to do with. And I have all these photos from Kansai. Hundreds of them filling up my hard drive, and I don’t know how to even begin to make sense of these memories.
Instead, I’ve made a few stabs at life back here. Spring-cleaning. Groceries. Dragging myself down to the lounge to socialise with the newcomers and mentally reconfirm how much I hate small talk. I’ve been inhaling words of all kinds, too – Asterix, stories about the sea, a curmudgeonly essay at which I find myself nodding, the first manga I’m tackling in Japanese, severalbeautifulwriters. Maybe if I drink in their sentences deeply enough I will be able to write beautifully, too. But the important thing I wanted to tell you is that I’ve been eating avocado toast.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was midnight in Kyoto, and I was pedaling in a nameless dark with hunger smouldering in the pit of my belly, not homeward-bound for there was no one waiting for me yet, but instead towards a place Minoru-san claimed had the best takoyaki in town. It was spring but it felt like winter, and it felt like I was both the happiest and the loneliest of them all, with the spinning of my bicycle wheels echoing through the streets of Ichijoji.
“Hey, is this Soupgirl? Sorry, I have a really daft question… how on earth do you lock a bike?”
Sometime this afternoon, if you were on Senbon-dori and passing by Sasayacho, you might have spotted me sitting next to a bright orange bike, yanking at a key and looking rather distressed, perhaps even panicky and on the verge of wanting to cry a little bit. Locking a bike is absurdly simple – I can totally do it now – but I have never owned a bike and therefore never needed to lock one, and I’d just been scolded by a curmudgeonly old man I’d bumped into while trying to navigate my way down the sidewalk on Imadegawa-dori. He demanded to see a license of some sort, and I obviously didn’t have one, and I apologized until he realised I wasn’t from around Kyoto, or Japan for that matter. It was bloody cold out, and it felt like everything and everyone else might be too, but here I was, searching for ice cream. And I couldn’t lock the bicycle Masterchef Kent lent me. So much for a capable and independent solo traveller…
I’d been walking around all day, traipsing through the hilly suburbs of Myodani after failing to meet someone I’d hoped to surprise after six years of not seeing them – not that the long stomp through suburbia would have done any good, but it was as though I was expecting something. Something, anything – maybe stumbling upon the house I stayed in for two weeks, six long years ago. I was hoping to turn a corner and see a familiar gate, a smile that would let me in on the first day in this city. What was I looking for in all these houses with cars and gardens and no one in sight? It was obviously the wrong suburb, but I kept walking, and eventually collapsed on a bench in the middle of a bunch of concrete prison-looking apartment blocks and stared at the watery clouded-out sun for a while. I was just tired, man, it’d been a long day.
It sounds like I’ve been back in Tokyo all this while, but I haven’t. After recuperating for a few days I hopped on a flight to Seoul with Jenny Sandwich, both of us there to crash at Graceful’s place for a week. Eating and no small amount of shopping ensued. So did, much to my surprised delight, quite a bit of drinking.
If you know me, you’ll know that I rarely drink alcohol – beer is anathema, sake is incomprehensible, wine is at best quite nice and usually chucked in a pan for pasta. And I get a full on Azn Glow after the merest couple of sips. But I’ve found my drink at last – makgeolli.
Riding the semi-express to Shinjuku is a more leisurely ride, with more space to breathe. Less people to jostle for that tiny pocket of personal space, which means, I guess, more room for more interesting displays to take place. Like one of the most overt and erotic displays of ichaicha I’ve witnessed to date in broad daylight here in Japan.
It’s hard to translate ichaicha. ‘Public displays of affection’ probably comes closest, but then you miss out on the nuances of how it Makes Everyone Else Uncomfortable. I don’t like being touched by people that much, for the most part, which is why this place suits me… but here we are, all this touching in a place where people don’t like seeing it.