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Whenever I visit Japan, I usually go in the Summer or Winter. (Maybe I like to torture myself with the crazy weather.) Each time I come home, I always bring back a new & interesting cultural experience, or reminisce about my favorite ones that I wish we could observe here in The States. I don’t think I’ll be visiting Nippon again for a long time, so here I’ve compiled a short list of the things I miss about being in Japan.

  • No matter how late you go to bed, you will always wake up at the butt-crack of dawn (around 6am-ish). I’ve tried the sleep-in thing, & it doesn’t work, even if you don’t have jet lag.
  • Their TV commercials are so much cooler & funnier compared to ours. We may not quite understand most them, but they are still highly amusing.
  • When you walk into a shop or a restaurant, you will be greeted by the entire staff no less than FIVE times. Even if they’ve already seen you, they will greet you again (& again, & again).
  • If you wake up & head out early enough, you can catch a glimpse of shop workers getting ready for the day’s work by reciting cheerful chants & receiving a rousing pep talk from the store manager.  (Watching this in person really amazed & pumped me up as well.)
  • The breakfast sets (served until 9:30am) are so delicious & divine.  The portions are ample & the prices are very reasonable.
  • Beware of walking around Harajuku too early in the morning, you might be looked upon as a spy, or a crazy person for waking up so darn early.
  • Obviously, being in the land of sushi, you’ll find sushi restaurants everywhere, ranging from basic kaiten to gourmet Michelin star rated.  So far, I haven’t encountered a sushi joint I didn’t like.  Pretty much all sushi you’ll find is delicious no matter if it’s a hole-in-the-wall joint (which are the most fun to explore) or an expensive 1-month advanced reservation restaurant.
  • The street vendor food (especially ones at Kaminari-mon at Asakusa street) are so fresh, delicious & tastes just as good as eating at a dine-in restaurant.  Don’t forget to try the cola flavored shave ice!  (I also miss the fresh-off-the-grill senbei from Kamakura.)
  • I really miss those 1am karaoke sessions that last into the wee hours of the morning… Big Echo is one of the best places for karaoke. They have the most up-to-date song selection I’ve ever seen…& the kitchen is open 24hrs. Booze + karaoke + tambourines with friends = Pure Bliss.
  • I’m not into teen flash fashion, but I really miss shopping in Shibuya on the weekends.  That’s when they block off the streets to cars so people can walk on the streets. This is the same in Ginza on the weekends…but I can barely afford the cookies at the patisserie, let alone shop at Mitsukoshi or Matsuzakaya…
  • Harajuku (especially Takeshita street) is wall-to-wall packed on the weekends, but I love the high energy feeling & the bustling atmosphere. Omotesando street is the best place to sit, slow-sip your coffee & just people watch.  Especially with the trees lining the street, it really gives off a serene feeling even though you are in the middle of a popular shopping district.
  • I love it when, regardless how small or large the shop is, the store clerks always pay careful attention to even the smallest detail in wrapping/packing your purchases.  Don’t think of it as excess rubbish.  Think about how much care & warm feeling was put into packing your goods. Not only do the store clerks want your packages to look good, but they want them to be taken care of, especially if you’ll be shopping for long hours…they’ll even put ice packs in your bags, so your delicate food items won’t spoil.
  • I love how on rainy days, all shops will tape plastic slipcovers over all your shopping bags, so that they don’t get wet from the rain.  It’s small things like these that really touch you & make you feel warm & appreciative.
  • I take public transportation to work everyday, & it’s right then where you encounter a lot of really rude & arrogant passengers: people who cram their bikes or strollers on packed train cars, or place their bags & such on the seat next to them even if seating is crowded.  It’s so refreshing to see people in Japan exercise restraint & politeness on their public transportation systems.  Everyone puts their cell phones on quiet mode, so that the phone won’t ring loudly & disturb others. Passengers also refrain from making phone calls while on the train. Most of the younger generation are well aware of loud music echoing from their headphones & keep the noise down out of courtesy…& this is just scratching the surface. I miss the Japanese public transportation system in general.
  • Most, if not all, people who drive cars use their turn signals & strictly abide by all traffic laws (especially the No Drinking & Driving law).  This is much more than I can say compared to China. Just kidding.  No, really.  I’m serious.
  • Getting stuffed on homemade foods & sloshed on booze with your close friends & family is so relaxing & enjoyable… It’s a warm feeling that cannot be properly described.
  • I enjoy watching fat dudes with awesome top-knots & giant ceremonial “thongs” push each other around on a tight stage in a centuries old sport.
  • I also love watching dudes dress up as women & playact one line every 5 minutes in a 6 hour performance that could rival any Broadway show in New York.
  • I love how even the smallest of items can be practical & make sense. No matter if it’s as large as a sofa or as small as a paper clip, Japanese people will find a use & a purpose for the item.
  • I really miss late-nite snack runs to the local conbini, or 3am ramen munchies…Those things really hit the spot sometimes. In terms of late-nite ramen runs, I’d suggest trying Ichiran at least once. The raw garlic add-on alone will blow your mind.
  • Even weirdoes get some love. Whether it’s the Rockabillies twisting in Yoyogi park, or the cosplayers acting emo on the Harajuku bridge, or the OL’s & Ri-man’s boozing it up & talking loudly over a rousing after-work meal, or the misunderstood pervy Otaku in Akiba who lust for the LovePlus+/Mirai-chan body pillow & a Gundam garage kit…everyone gets some lovin’ & acceptance.
  • Where else in the world can you sit down at a restaurant & they serve you beer BEFORE they serve you a glass of water. I’ve been to a few Izakaya restaurants where they immediately serve you a glass of ice cold beer (at $3 US bucks a pop) & you have to request a glass of water.
  • I also miss the cakes & the afternoon sweets hour that comes right after lunch & just before the shop prepares for dinner. High tea is a tradition that dates back centuries in many countries around the world, & I wish we could adapt something like this in the U.S. Trust me, it would really reduce a lot of our stress.

Upon hearing that Aesop‘s latest Nolita store was built on 400,000 strips of paper— well, actually the paper, New York Times— we feared that someone could easily huff, puff, and blow the place down, leaving hot-spots for high-end skin products one major man down. But upon further investigation, our concern turned into wonderment, as we realized the expert design and construction that went into the project, executed by NYC architect Jeremy Barbour for Tacklebox . The products are displayed in an ingenious marriage of form and function, with a raw aesthetic that stays true to the company and to the architect, who had carried out a similar design for the brand’s Grand Central kiosk. Looks like one way to have your store stay in the news is to have the news stay in your store!

Photo sources via: Tacklebox & Refinery 29
via: Aesop NYC— The Amazing Design Behind Aesops New NYC Store.

 

I really like the brand Aesop (even though it’s mostly geared towards men’s skincare).  So far, I’ve only tried their hand cream, but it works like a dream!  The scent is a bit strong upon the first few uses, but it’s not an overpowering perfume-y fragrance.  It has a pleasing herbal-type scent, & the hand cream is just awesome hands-down (ha ha).

After only 2 uses of the hand cream, I already noticed a dramatic difference in the appearance of my dry skin & cracked cuticles.  All year round, no matter how much lotion I apply on my hands per day, my hands & especially my cuticles seem persistently dry & cracked.  I’ve used cuticle treatments in the past, but I don’t want to have to buy 7 or 8 products & go through some 10-step skincare routine everyday.  I’d rather use a “one item, many functions” type product, trim my skincare routine down to 3 or 4 simple steps.

This is where Aesop becomes my favorite hand cream…  It’s super concentrated & works miracles  on my well-worn fingers fast!  I mean, after 2-3 days of use, my hands are so much softer & neater looking (minus the jagged cuticles sticking out).  After using this hand cream, I think I would definitely try their other skincare products, & I don’t care if this is a men’s line.  I think this can very much be a uni-sex skincare line.

Uniqlo Coming To San Francisco via Refinery29

Ok, I am not a religious person, but I must say “Hallelujah!”  Yes, yes, yes!  My wishes have been fulfilled!  My absolute, most favorite clothing brand of all time, UNIQLO, will be opening several new store locations throughout the world  within the near future, & guess what?!  My local city San Francisco is on this list of locations!!!  Yes, that means that my all-time favorite clothing brand from Japan will be opening a new store near me, sometime in the future.

For those of you who have never heard of this brand, UNIQLO is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer & retailer with affordable prices.  UNIQLO’s fashion style has been compared to GAP clothing, but with the retail price tag equivalent of H&M.  What started as an affordable unique clothing brand only sold in Japan (as are most Japanese clothing brands), UNIQLO has expanded its International branches & now have retail stores all around the world including: Hong Kong, mainland China, Thailand, Russia, Taiwan, etc. with it’s only U.S. retail store residing in New York.

Right now the very famous Japanese clothing brand UNIQLO is conducting a major expansion project & is expecting to open more flagship stores & smaller shops in various cities around the world including: New York (Manhattan), Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Connecticut, New Jersey & London.  Some, or most of these stores will most likely not open any time in the near future, as UNIQLO is also geared to create a new clothing collection with Lady Gaga’s stylist: Nicola Formichetti (which will probably debut first).

Here are some of my quick thoughts on UNIQLO’s expansion project:

  • More retail stores are scheduled to open in New York, especially in the Manhattan district.  I personally, don’t understand why this should or needs to be done, since Manhattan already has a 5-level flagship store that is more than capable of meeting consumer demand.
  •  I’m not quite sure how the New Jersey store will come to be, since most New Jersey-ites schlep themselves across the Hudson river all the way to New York to do most of their major retail shopping.
  • Connecticut?  Really?!  Well, I guess if that’s what you want, but I don’t really see the point. (Please refer back to my New Jersey comment.)
  • I don’t have much to say about the “windy city” Chicago, since I don’t know much about that city itself…but I’ve heard it’s a growing fashion hotspot, so I can kind of see how a UNIQLO retail store might work out there.  We will have to see after its first year’s sales stats.

Last but not least…

  • I heard about the rumor of UNIQLO planning on opening a California retail location since last year, & my immediate (instant) thought was that Los Angeles would be the first California city to have a retail store.  I think I am on track with the correct prediction.  I just have a gut feeling about this.  Los Angeles has a larger Japanese population compared to any Bay Area city near San Francisco, including S.F. (not that ethnicity should matter).  Also, Los Angeles is considered to be one of the largest fashion capitals in the world.  So, I really wouldn’t be surprised if Los Angeles opened up a retail store first.  It would make more sense.  In fact, I would be more surprised if San Francisco opened up a retail store before Los Angeles.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not anytime soon, just as long as they do actually open a store location in my local city.  I just can’t believe that this rumor is now confirmed to be a fact.  I have visited the New York Manhattan flagship location, & the various retail locations around Shanghai, China.  Also, I often shop at the various retail stores scattered around Tokyo (in Japan), including their exclusive t-shirt shop in Harajuku called UT UNIQLO…& I can definitely say that…being one of UNIQLO’s biggest fans…I am so overjoyed to hear this exciting news!!

The last time I visited Japan was in December 2010, with my fiancee & my friends.  These are some of the fun things I learned from my trip.  Enjoy.

1. When you go to a cafe & sit outside and/or next to the window, you will be given a blanket to keep your lap/legs warm (only during Winter season).

2. Most restaurants/cafes have a designated basket with a cloth cover at each dining table.  When you are seated, you can put your purse and/or shopping bags in the basket to keep your bags clear from the aisles & to keep them from getting dirty.

3. Hotel rooms will recycle your  bed sheets & towels for 3 days unless you put the “change my sheets” card on your bed.  This saves a lot on cleaning & water!

4. When it rains, all shops/stores will put a plastic cover on all of your shopping bags so they don’t get wet. (This is the one thing I wish our stores had in the U.S.)

5. Dudes are paid to drive big trucks with giant billboards around town while blaring the most annoying KPop music by the popular Korean boy band 2PM. (Do you notice that I don’t like the band 2PM?)

6. During Christmas time, even though you are overseas, you will NOT escape Western Christmas music…You will hear it EVERYWHERE.  You will also hear “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” & Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” about 50 times a day, while not really sure if the locals even know what the lyrics mean.

7. If you go shopping at a major department store, the sales people will try to sell you everything & anything. They are insanely pushy, but polite as hell about it.

8a. I love the clothing brand A Bathing Ape, & I’ve noticed that ALL sales staff at every single Tokyo region Bathing Ape (a.k.a. BAPE) store are friendly & cool.  Although they can’t speak much English, they can understand it & try to speak it to make you feel welcome. (I have also found that the sales staff at the BAPE stores in NY & L.A.(which is now closed) are also friendly/nice.)

8b. Every single time I go shopping at a Tokyo region Bathing Ape store with my fiancee, we will get special treatment, we will make friends with at least one sales clerk.  I don’t understand this, but I guess my fiancee just appears to be outgoing & perhaps that is why others tend to gravitate toward him & can talk to him easily…even when there is a language barrier. (P.S. If you are ever in Shibuya, Tokyo….look up a guy named Saito at the BAPE store in Shibuya.  He is one of the coolest store clerks I’ve ever met in Japan.)

9. You will see cheesy American restaurant chains all over Tokyo (eg. Outback, TGI Fridays, Denny’s, L&L Hawaiian BBQ, El Torito, Sizzler), but don’t expect crazy lines out the door.  You will only find that mind-numbing queue at Eggs ‘N Things (which came from Hawaii).  The whole Western food trend has come & gone already.  (Plus, I’m a little biased & think that the Japanese spin on Western/American food tastes so much better than the way it’s cooked back home.)

10. You will hear Western Pop music everywhere compared to Japanese Pop music (which is not played nearly as much as Western Top 40/Pop).  I couldn’t escape the songs “We R Who We R” by Ke$ha or “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz when I was in Tokyo.

11. The new latest invention in Japanese technology: Otohime.  Every public bathroom stall will have a device that will make a running water sound for a more discreet bathroom experience.  You just press the button on the device & it will make a flushing noise to mask the sounds.  You can eve buy this in a handy pocket device for travel and/or public use.

12. Most public bathrooms will have a “regular” stall with squat-in-the-ground toilets or “Western” stalls with sit-down toilets.  I thought this was pretty cool…that some rather old fashioned traditions still remain.

13. Fruits are not as expensive as you think they are. It’s not as if every grocery store in town will have that $40 watermelon you saw on reddit.com/ebaumsworld.com. Ok, so compared to American grocery store prices, they are pretty pricey ($6 for 2 apples).  However, they are much more beautiful in color & shape, much more sweeter, & bigger in size compared to our U.S. market fruits.  So, it’s almost like getting more fruit for your money.  Plus, the only $40 fruits you will find are the organic ones, grown on some special farm, & comes in a fancy wrapped box that are supposed to be for gift giving.  Those fruits you will find at super luxe department stores like Matsuzakaya or Mitsukoshi…or at fancy grocery stores that specifically sell organic goods.

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