On Japan

I originally wanted to write a short list of things that I found different and delightful during my trip in Japan. It's evolved into a longer reflection on city planning and infrastructure, umbrella culture, the train system, shops, and restaurants. Hopefully, if you are a new to Japan, this gives you some context before you travel and if you have already been to Japan, I hope you're nodding along and have found this amusing. Feel free to chime in if any of my hypotheses are incorrect. 

On City Planning and Infrastructure

Finding the address for a building is particularly difficult since it’s seldom written on the front of the building. In Google maps, certain smaller streets do not have street names. Navigating it without Google Maps actually proved a challenge. From largest to smallest division, it goes prefecture, municipality, ward, district, town, village. (See full explanation.)

Meticulous design ethos presents itself throughout my experience in Japan. To no surprise, most building infrastructures rely on motion-sensor technology to automate doors, escalators, and lighting. Sliding doors open and close fluidly and quietly from a perfect distance. Escalators will turn on when it notices people approaching. Elevators have an extra set of buttons slightly lower for the handicapped. Bathrooms are widely available, tidy, and again, mostly automated. Yes, there are fancy heated toilet seats with the electronic bidets. 

On Umbrellas

    Buildings will leave umbrella stands at the entrance. Umbrella bagging stations are usually available if there are no stands and you need to carry your umbrella inside. Museums have an even better system where you can check your umbrella in an umbrella stand, lock your umbrella and take the key with you. My take on this is that at museums, there are more tourists. Therefore, some of whom might not respect the Japanese traditions of respecting other people's property. Here's a post on umbrella theft.

    Many people buy clear umbrellas because they’re cheap and widely available, but I suspect it’s because it’s easier to see where you’re going while navigating the crowded streets of a major metropolitan city in Japan. More on umbrella culture here.

    On Trains

    TLDR: 

    1. Google-map it and figure out which station and line you're going to take.
    2. Buy and fill up an IC prepaid card
    3. Figure out which direction you're going. Not sure? Ask the station manager at the gate. They'll tell you which track number to go to. 
    4. Board the train. Then, watch the displays or listen to the announcement for your stop. 

    Details: 

    Major subway stations consolidate modern day conveniences in one location. Mall complexes surround the subway station with department stores on each floor and food shops located in basements or upper floors. In these large stations, overpasses and underpasses allow passengers to traverse from one side of the station to another. These stations also have convenient amenities like ATMs, coin lockers to store luggage, ticket offices, and rows of ticket vending machines. 

    Buying tickets can be confusing since there are a few ways to purchase tickets. One of which is indicating and destination and buying one-off tickets. Another is buying an IC card that you fill up and place against a scanner as you enter and exit. The turnstile will deduct the right amount based on which station you entered from and exited to. There are 10 major types of IC cards available depending on which city you are traveling in but most cards are compatible for all cities. Using these IC cards saves you the headache of figuring out how to buy individual tickets from the various train companies. 

    Upon entering, commuters follow the directions marked on signs and the ground to keep left (or right). Making the subway station look like flowing streams of humans. Train stations usually have multiple train lines connected underground so transferring between lines is not difficult and one can avoid going above ground. On the subway platforms, electronic displays indicate accurate arrival times. 

    Platforms have markers where the subway doors will open and which car number you will enter into. People wait in line by the door markings on the platform(or create multiple orderly lines already demarcated on the platform floor. There are designated trains cars for women during rush hour. (Train platform photos below are credited to rachelheller.org

    In the train cars themselves, there are many straps hanging throughout the train car for passengers to hold. The seats are soft and plush. 

    The experience of riding the train always felt pleasant despite a crowd. When it got crowded during rush hour, people were courteous and walked as far in as they could to not block the doors. Since the straps were spread throughout the train, everyone had something to hold onto. 

    On longer rides like the ones on the Shinkansen, long distance bullet trains, it's a slightly more complicated experience. Everyone purchases tickets for reserved or non-reserved seats at a specific time. Shops on or near the platform sell drinks, snacks, sandwiches, and various bento boxes. There are waiting rooms on or near the platforms, so you're not stuck in the cold. 

    On Shops

    People here actually treat writing as a common means of communicating and thus stationery stores can flourish. There are two multi-storied stationery stores in Ginza called G.Itoya and K.Itoya dedicated to all things pens, paper, and stationery. (Images below from matcha-jp.com)

    Flower stands arrange and present their variety of flowers exquisitely. My favorite shop in Tokyo is Aoyama Flower Market. 

     Aoyama Flower Market (Photo credit to  anakjajan.com )

    Aoyama Flower Market (Photo credit to anakjajan.com)

    Fruit is given the luxury treatment here and cost exorbitant amounts like $90 for a musk melon. I got the opportunity to visit Tokyo Midtown's Sun Fruits. Check out this article about why fruit is so expensive. (Photos below from theinspiredhostess.com)

    On Restaurants

    There are so many types of restaurants among Japanese cuisine: we all know sushi, yakitori, and ramen. There are so many more specialities like soba, udon, donburi, yokusho, kushikatsu, teppanyaki, tempura, takoyaki, taiyaki, mochi, oden, and yakiniku. Here's a more comprehensive list.

    When you arrive at an izakaya, the whole staff will enthusiastically greet you. There might be a small menu by the bar. A more casual restaurant like a ramen restaurant might have a vending machine in the front, which you can select your order, pay, and hand your ticket to the staff. This saves the need to hire a cashier and you can leave right after you've finished eating. No need to flag down a waiter for the bill. When you get seated, you can hang your coat by wall hooks. Some restaurants with more space will have baskets by your seat to stow your bag in the basket instead of dropping it on the floor. The staff will pour you a glass of water and give you a prepackaged wet towelettes or a warm towel to clean your hands, which is just a delightful way to prepare for your meal.

    After you finish your meal, some of the smaller restaurants will ask that you bus your own bowls and dishes and bring it to the tray to the bussing station. Regular restaurants will give you the bill as they bring your order as well, which you will bring up to the register to pay. At upscale restaurants, the process is quite similar to a western restaurant's. 

    On Workers

    Everyone performs their job with great care and dedication. Everyone wears their respective uniform. From the more obvious uniforms like traffic guards, station managers, and salarymen to the waiters, baristas, and shopkeepers. Even the school children have uniforms from elementary school caps to high school uniforms. People care about details—the sweepers at the parks meticulously sweep pebbles to the sides or clear the sidewalks, the shopkeepers stock the shelves positioning their wares neatly, and the deliverymen carefully sort and store their parcels. 

    Employees provide excellent service no matter if the shop is a luxury store or a convenience shop. Staff will greet everyone warmly with a smile and a bow, thank you multiple times, and bid you farewell with a smile and a bow as you exit. 

    Ku's Shakshuka

    Shakshuka ( شكشوكة‎): POACHED EGG DISH IN A TOMATO SAUCE, ORIGINATING FROM TUNISIA

    I first fell in love with shakshuka after watching this video of Dr. Shakshuka in Tel-Aviv: 

    Since then, my love for this dish has grown exponentially—making it countless times for late night munchies or for brunch. I've touted how delicious and easy to make it is to my friends who have neither the time nor cooking experience. Here's the recipe below:

    For 1 serving:

    • 1 14.5 oz. can of plum tomatoes; preferably San Marzano
    • 2 large eggs
    • Rustic bread
    • 2 tbsp Olive oil 
    1. Heat a pan over medium heat and add olive oil.
    2. Add canned plum tomatoes and crush with spatula.
    3. Let tomatoes reduce and thicken for a few minutes.
    4. Add two large eggs and cover with the lid to steam. 
    5. Turn off the fire and serve when eggs whites have turned opaque.

    I made one for a brunch with a few friends a few weeks ago. I sautéed onions, mushrooms, and red peppers with sage, added canned plum tomatoes, cracked a few eggs on top, and garnished with leftover sage. On the bottom left, I made some red potato hash by grating a few red potatoes, an onion, and dropped an egg in there to bind things together. 

    Brunch at Meera's 

    The beautiful thing about this dish is how flexible and encompassing it is. I'm excited about trying new flavors and thus far, I've tried to make variations of this dish with cheeses, herbs, and carbs from different cuisines: 

    • Italian: mozzarella, basil, and rustic bread
    • French: comté, sage, chive, chervil, or marjoram, and a fresh baguette
    • Indian: paneer, onions, paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and rice
    • Spanish: manchego, red pepper, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme, and rice
    • Mexican: queso fresco, cilantro, jalapeño, black beans, and rice
    • Greek: feta, zucchini, oregano, olives, onions, and pita bread

    Feel free to try those variations and let me know what combinations you try out in the comments below. Bon appétit!

    I'm going to leave you with some of my favorite twists:




    #WWIM10 — 10.4.14

    On Saturday, I attended the #WWIM10 bright and early at 6:30am—ironically not very bright that day since it was drizzling throughout the entire morning. The fog hovered over Manhattan and got more dense as the rainclouds settled in. We all met up underneath Gantry State Plaza Park's PepsiCola sign and eventually hide underneath the nearby scaffolding to avoid the rain and meet all our fellow Instagrammers. 

    Dave (@dave.krugman) and Jose (@jnsilva) finally rallied the troops for a group photo and we were off! Photographers walked around in search of interesting subjects and it got tough not to take the same shots as other photographers when there were over 70 of us in the same park.

    I met too many talented individuals; all of whom had a more developed style of photography than myself (which I discovered upon adding them on Instagram). Some highlights include:

    • Learning how to take a #puddlegram with @neivy and @erickhercules 
    • Playing around with smartphones flash and umbrellas
    • Balancing on the loose rock piles by the East River
    • Meeting a fisherman
    • Climbing the Gantries...

    #WWIM10 was my first instameet and definitely not my last. I highly recommend attending since it's empowering to exercise your skills in a judgment-free environment and make some new friends along the way.

    DUMBO Arts Festival: Day III

    Attended the last day of the DUMBO Arts Festival, an amalgamation of live music, food trucks, interactive art activities, and most importantly—art. 

    We passed by a few temporary outdoor projects:  Reflection / Kolonihavehus by Tom Fruin and CoreAct. Which I admit makes more sense to be seen in all its splendor in the evening. 

    A very full house—Reflection / Kolonihavehus in the late afternoon.

    Reflection / Kolonihavehus (Source: dumboartsfestival.com)

    SEI: Stella Octangula by CHiKA was tucked away in the underpass. 

    SEI :Stella Octangula filled with the attendees. 

    SEI: Stella Octangula (Source: dumboartsfestival.com)

    Overambitious abstract art found their message not as warmly received by the audience. You could tell which artists consistently produced great artwork by the crowds that gathered around the work and the commentary that ensured. 

    It's a tough field to be in—but every time I encountered a work of art that made me think about issues larger than myself I was amazed how these artists perceive the world completely different from us. 

    The High Line: Phase III

    The High Line opened up the final section to the public which continues from 30th & 10th to 34th & 11th. The entrance wasn't obvious since the crowds waiting to board the Megabuses obscured the gate. Here's a map from wiki: 

    I strolled the entirety of The High Line from 34th (between 11th and 12th Ave.) to 12th Street and Washington Street. My only advice is the walk down from the Phase III entrance going South because that entrance closes at 6pm. Today, the sun set at 6:45pm so I couldn't set up without being shooed away by the High Line staff. The final section still has a long way to go before it's completely developed. The buildings lining both sides of The High Line are still many months away from completion. With all the hype around The High Line, flocks of tourists and natives alike came to enjoy a gorgeous, sunny Autumn weekend pacing down the path. 

    Top Brooklyn Chefs Takeover the Wythe

     The Renard at the Wythe Hotel (http://www.livingwithlibby.com/)

    The Renard at the Wythe Hotel (http://www.livingwithlibby.com/)

    This year, Squarespace decided to sponsor Taste Talks in Brooklyn located at Colossal Media, an amazing outdoor advertising company and the quaint Wythe Hotel (80 Wythe Ave). Jessica and Angela, our lovely event coordinators gave me tickets to this celebrity chef-packed weekend. The events turned out to be a complete 180 of what I had thought. All the talks weren't fussy and focused on the origins of food culture, the basics of food photography, and the story behind these culinary icons. The formal demonstrations broke down into casual conversations with the chefs that everyone came to see. The moderators and panelists frequently interacted with the audience members—Bowien asking for help serving his red cooked pork and Krieger teaching a girl from the audience how to take a proper food photograph. 

     Projects done by Colossal Media

    Projects done by Colossal Media


    Danny Bowien and Christina Tosi making the icebox cake.

    Christina Tosi discusses her childhood memories making icebox cake.

    1. Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar & Danny Bowien, Mission Chinese and Mission Cantina teamed up to demonstrate how to make dishes from cheap dollar store ingredients like Icebox cakes and Red-cooked Pork & Congee. Tosi said that the best dishes are the ones that are "ho-hum" and are "remind you of certain childhood memories". She recalled that she made icebox cakes growing up and shared a few variations of them before making a version with Ritz crackers and Grape jam-flavored Cool-Whip. Bowien followed up her act by making the humble congee, a rice porridge in a pressure cooker. My mother still makes congee frequently and especially for days when my family or I fall ill. He also pulled out another pot for his red-cooked pork, made with pork shoulder, soy sauce, Coca-Cola, garlic, fennel seeds, cinnamon, star anise, pepper, and cardamom. At the end of their talk, they invited the audience to try their creations and take a surprise from their grab-bag, which consisted of dollar-store items specific to NY and SF that Bowien and Tosi mailed to each other in the span of their long friendship.

    For a look into who they are and what they do, here's a video of Tosi and Bowien on Munchies:


    Dan Krieger teaches an audience member to practice food photography techniques.

    2. Dan Krieger discussed food photography to an overcrowded room at Kinfolk Studios. He charismatically paced across the front of the studio explaining how lighting was the key to food photography (and every other genre of photography). He didn't really brag about all the work he's done and neither does he say he's the best at any point of the talk. Krieger simply states some of the common practices of food photography such as bird-eye views for lattes, and using hashtags to reach new audiences on Instagram, and having friends use their smartphone flashlights as an extra source of light in dimly-lit restaurants. 

    For more of his work, here's a brief article on photographing cocktails located here Be sure to check him out on Instagram!


    Samuel Richardson tells his narrative on moving to the east coast.

    3. Samuel Richardson talked about his journey to opening the Other Half Brewery, different kinds of IPAS, wheat beers, and belgian ales that OHB produces, varieties of hops and yeasts, and the craft beer community.  He's a quiet individual but Mike Conklin, Editor-in-Chief of Brooklyn managed to pull a couple stories and trade secrets from him. 

    Big thanks to Jessica and Angela, our lovely event coordinators who gave me tickets to this celebrity chef-packed weekend. 

    Hiatus

    I have always been early—to rise, to school, to work. I was fortunate enough to be elected as president during my Junior year at Baruch—a year earlier than previous Presidents in the chapter and my peers in other universities. Managing 10 executive board members and 61 brothers has been a fulfilling, thrilling, and trying experience. From dealing with conflicts between brothers to resolving bureaucratic inconveniences with Baruch College's Student Life, I learned two valuable lesson on sympathy and patience.

    Since I pledged 3 years ago, I had filled many roles—some assigned and some I sought out. I filled the role of recruitment chair for our 2nd class of Alpha Kappa Psi hopefuls as a Freshman and planned out two weeks of professional events where I shared with potential members how our organization will benefit their college years and propel their careers. As a Fundraising Director in my Sophomore year, I ambitiously coordinated a team to find local venues to advertise for. We made mutually lucrative relationships for recurring sponsors like Schnipper’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Jamba Juice. The most impactful role came during my Junior year as President where I implemented new processes that helped the chapter make informed, objective decisions and shared my vision of a chapter as a community that invested back into their members and looked out for one another.

    Coming back to Baruch on the first day of my senior year was bittersweet, I sat in our old clubroom on the 3rd floor of the Vertical Campus, and a brother comes in  and joins me—bright-eyed, full of energy just like when he was a potential member. A transfer student stops by our doorway and looks on the signage outside our room and asks, “Is this Alpha Kappa Psi?” Just as I stand up to greet our guest, that same bright-eyed brother swooped in and warmly welcomed the transfer student, extolling how Alpha Kappa Psi builds great business professionals. I realized at that moment, the processes that the previous leaders and myself had put in place had worked. 

    I’m currently working at Squarespace and working on a few side projects—furthering my professional career. I’m happiest impacting others’ lives. Balancing my academic and work careers has filled up most of my schedule. I'm unable to be as present as I was before. However, my brothers have become my family and I make time for family. 

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    3 Charismatic YouTubers to Subscribe to

    A portion of my job is to find personalities that exude passion and in doing so when they talk about something they love, they're able to communicate to convince you to love it as well. There's a handful of content creators on YouTube that have caught my attention. Enjoy!

    1. Drawfee

    Nathan Yaffe and Caldwell Tanner take viewer suggestions and make dumber drawings. They're talented, seasoned illustrators at CollegeHumor and generally, very sorry. 

    2. Sorted

    Ben, Jamie, Barry, and Mike make up Sorted Food, a half bro-out, half cooking show.

    3. Markiplier

    High-octane (just like the teddy bear in the thumbnail) and the least bit self-conscious, Markiplier entertains his viewers with walkthroughs of horror and indie games.