6.30.2015

Bright Shiny Objects

One day I want to build ...

I start a lot of sentences like that in my crazy head. Particularly when I see something like this studio apartment built atop a 2-car garage in Auckland, New Zealand. Maybe I could possibly, someday — you know, after I leave Japan AND win the lottery AND learn to focus on one thing for longer than 30 seconds — build something like this at my Denver bungalow over the existing detached garage.
What a great use of space. I love the idea of accessory dwelling units for extra space for homes like mine that are too small for guests. These units can also be rented for extra income either long-term or as vacation rentals on AirBnB. You might recall I'm big on the sharing economy.
My house's current zoning doesn't yet allow for the bathroom & kitchen elements but just to have bright airy studio space above the garage sounds like a wonderful idea to me. Well, as long as I actually use the space ... and that does not include using it as storage!
At the very least I'll be looking into this idea ... one day. We all have crazy dreams, so what are yours? Let's hear em.

design by Karin Montgomery Spath | photography by Matthew Williams | seen on Remodelista

5.28.2015

When I Live in a Beautiful Dutch Village

I will live here. This stunner is Danielle de Lange's cottage near Amsterdam posted on her inspired blog The Style Files. I love it when designers post photos of their own homes. It provides a way to stalk them determine if I like their style.
That ceiling.
Sure, one day I might scoff at bleached out rustic Scandinavian interiors ... but not this day.
Gah! Another damn kitchen for me to covet. Life just isn't fair.
Whoa, it's all perfect on the outside too.

For more photos of Ms. de Lange's home as well as daily inspiration, I highly recommend The Style Files. It's one of the few sites that survived my recent (and sweeping) blogroll cleanup.

5.25.2015

Food Stuffs in Japan

When living overseas you have to be outside your comfort zone in a big way. All part of the overseas experience and the main reason most people don't do it. I posted recently about lacking modern conveniences and this post is about everyday groceries you take for granted that I can't get. Like raspberries just to start. Yes, raspberries.

Okay don't get me wrong, a lot of Japanese food is good. Yet. YET. I can only take so much sushi and ramen and tofu before it begins to get boring. Really boring.

Western foods most notably absent in Japan are the following: raspberries & blackberries, shallots, kale and other hearty lettuces, romaine lettuce, beets, radishes, brussel sprouts, normal sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash, nectarines, plums, granny smith apples, tortilla chips, crackers, ranch dressing, bread that isn't wonderbread, any rice other than standard Japanese, turkey of any kind, a decent cheese selection, affordable wine that's palatable, cilantro or fresh herbs (other than basil and parsley), healthy cereal, almond milk, natural peanut butter, other nut butters, or anything organic.

Such exotic luxuries are available in bigger Japanese cities but hard to find and expensive. Obviously we've adapted and I admit our standards are lower now. For example we eat more potato chips and sometimes we hit Starbucks at the mall for lunch just because it seems almost normal.
Not to fixate too much on what I can't get because it's destructive, I'll move to all the great stuff we CAN get in stores here like yuzu fruit which I know isn't easy to find outside of Japan. Also, perfect mandarin oranges, extremely high quality eggs, Japanese leeks, ponzu sauce, excellent take-out tempura, sushi, and gyoza (pot stickers), and literally 100s of different types of these: tofu, soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin, dashi, mild greens, ramen and soba noodles, nori (seaweed), fresh fish, mushrooms, and mild greens. Did I mention the greens and lettuces are MILD??
And of course there's the weird or otherwise gross stuff I do not-never-no-way purchase here such as these bags of little dried up fishes. Also glands, tongue, fish eggs or eyes, octopus, all the slimy things, placenta jelly drink, cucumber pepsi, eel soda, horse meat ice cream, chocolate covered potato chips, strawberry cheetos, cheese candy (or is it candy cheese?), crab snacks, chocolate turd lookalike candy, mochi (hella bland rice dough), and umeboshi ame the disgusting salty pickled plum candy. Not gonna lie, there are days I feel like hurling just walking around the store.
A final glimpse into the daily challenges of food in Japan, take a look at this trainwreck of flavor and packaging ... "Vegetables, Meat, Eggs, and Fruits. Enjoy your meal!"

5.19.2015

Screw Household Convenience, This is Japan



Here is the entirety of my Japanese kitchen except for the refrigerator. See if you can spot the dishwasher. Oh, you can't because there isn't one.

I live in Japan without the following items: dishwasher, garbage disposal, clothes dryer, oven, insulated walls, central heating, fenced yard, outdoor seating or privacy, and garage. No, I didn't become a Buddhist nun and move to a monastery deep in a bamboo forest, this is just how everyday Japanese people live.

Wait. Japan?? ... Land of fancy cameras, hi-tech gadgets, video games, stereo equipment, televisions, Hello Kitty, and ubiquitous hybrid cars?

Yes. Japan.

Right? Imagine my surprise. Let's start with dishwashers. Except for camping trips, the last time I had no dishwasher was in college when I lived in a cute little converted 1-car garage in Boulder. WTF, Japaaann.

Here are some reasons I've come up with for this gaping hole in daily household life:

The gender problem. Like many other shall we disrespectfully call them less enlightened societies, home care in Japan is built into the duties of women. Traditionally their role is to accept these duties quietly and willingly, which they have historically done. Think 1950s America. Until the last few decades, Japanese women have been given few equal opportunities in the career world. It's still generally accepted that most women will stay in the home and work their asses off there all day, primarily because they lack first world modern conveniences. I call it oppressive but then I'm just an insensitive, lazy westerner.

Lack of space. Lots of city-dwellers in the western world live in cramped spaces and wash dishes by hand too, female or not. In cities it's about lack of space in Japan too, many Japanese apartments don't have kitchens at all, let alone space for anything more than 2 burners and a mini refrigerator. But I live in a house, surrounded by average homes that are in fact big, even by US standards (like 2,000 square feet) so the lack-of-space excuse doesn't fly. Also, when I lived in a small city apartment in Europe we had a smaller kitchen than we do in Japan yet it included an 18" dishwasher. So it's not really about lack of space.

The trade philosophy. I suspect it's also about Japanese isolationism and the government's long-term unwillingness to trade with the rest of the world. Well, they definitely trade OUT (PlayStation anyone? Toyota? Canon?) yet they bring IN very little, theoretically to keep their economy going (until now, that is) by selling few goods domestically that are not Japanese. And they basically don't make dishwashers, or import them. (Samsung and LG are Korean brands, the lucky bastards!) At the Ikea here in Japan I did notice dishwashers on their show floor are all made by the Swedish company Electrolux, and were not available for sale.  In fact, Japan does not allow Ikea to sell any appliances.
A few countertop dishwashers are made here – you know, the kind that hook up to the sink. This Panasonic looks like spawn of a toaster oven and bread maker. It also looks cheap and gadgety and probably doesn't work well if it's anything like my washing machine, which doesn't actually clean unless you run it for two or three cycles. And where does this beast go when it's not in use? Are you supposed to leave it out, taking up precious counter space? Yeah. NO.

Kitchen design. I know we all like to think that everyone in Japan lives in modern minimalistic design heaven, but that simply isn't the case for I'd say about 95% of the population. Japanese houses are built quickly out of cheap materials and are not meant to last. Homes are extremely utilitarian, and they're pretty much all the same inside. The Acme grade kitchen unit (like mine, pictured up above) is one big piece and exists almost identically in most homes.

Obedience. Japanese people don't complain and they're surprisingly nationalistic and trust their big companies and government to keep the country happy. It has served them well and really, why have a dishwasher when you've never needed one before? Fuck innovation and convenience. This is Japan.

I'm clearly still working on acceptance here. To embrace my new role as top dish dog, quite the dubious honor, I have tips for life without a mechanized dishwasher:

+ one pot cooking
+ make lots of sandwiches
+ get take out and dine out often
+ snacks (but avoid too many Funyuns)
+ daytime water glass = evening wine glass
+ never thought I'd say this but use paper plates and eat off paper towels whenever possible
+ wash and dry immediately and put everything away to avoid depression, bugs, and counter-surfing boxer dogs
+ try to remember to use rubber gloves (I almost never do)
+ if you have more than one person in your household, switch daily between washing and drying
+ to avoid further depression and feeling as if feminism was just a figment of your imagination, use good dish soap you really like – believe it or not I actually order Mrs. Meyers through iHerb (they have all kinds of great stuff and ship to Japan for only $4)
+ ditto for dish towels – when I'm stateside I nab plain white flour sack towels at Target 

Desperate times, yo! Okaaay, more like first world problems, Japan-style.

5.12.2015

So There's This Iranian Vampire Skateboarding Around Bakersfield ...

Wut?

Once upon a time I said I'd write about films in these here parts. But then I didn't see anything worthy for a very long time and even stopped watching movies entirely because everything was disappointing and dumb. I WAS watching a shit-ton of television however, which probably had something to do with my lapse.

Oh yeah, then there was last summer during which I lost interest in everything but my air conditioner.

Well pals, no more excuses. I'm finally back on the film circuit and recommend A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night from VICE Films, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. If you like black & white, and you like foreign films, and vampires, by all means give it a go. It's even on Netflix, which is funny because their selection is grossly lacking.

Anyway, I'd describe this film as a very sweet, very original little feminist vampire western (is that a genre yet?) and sort of a Lynch-Jarmusch mashup. It's slow and strange and artsy and slightly disturbing but mostly it's just plain fun. My favorite!

(Some random, spoilerless notes: Why it's filmed in Bakersfield, California I do not know. And, yikes, what is UP with that ditch?! I don't like cats but in the last scene, that cat absolutely nails it, which could be why the scene remained in the film. If you like the quirky 1980s soundtrack, look for playlists on Spotify.)