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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Postcards from Japan

Dear everyone,

Sorry to have posted in a while, but you see, I am in Tokyo. There was a little issue of not being allowed to post on blogs at work, and the no-internet-at-home thing, but all has been resolved and I am back in the game. I'm sure you're expecting the usual tourist-y OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM IN TOKYO photo-journal post, but I'm so, so sorry. Unfortunately for you, I am as they say at my workplace, an "old Japan-hand" AND terrible at taking photos. That said, it's great being back here and I am braving the brain-scrambling/hairstyle-ruining humidity to take photos of my favorite places in Japan. The above photo is remarkably un-Japan-ish, you might say, but ah! Ah! That is me, sitting next to the conveniently larger horn-playing statue, in Kobe's Kitano neighborhood.

Kobe (yes, Kobe Bryant is named after it) is one of those cities that was irreparably burned to a crisp by U.S. planes (sorry) during World War II, subsequently pretty much crushed in the Great Hanshin Earthquake a few years ago, but manages to be vibrant and gorgeous throughout. The Kitano area was spared U.S. firebombing because of its historical significance--it's where all the foreign merchants and diplomants lived since Japan opened up to Western trade and influence. Many of the houses have been preserved in their Victorian/Meiji-era condition and are now owned by the city, so it's a wonderful blast-from-the-past sort of cutesy Euro-hood. I love that part of Japan, and Kobe in particular...it's still traditionally Japanese but with the most fascinating Western influence, like women wearing Victorian high-necked dresses with bustles, but made out of kimono fabric. AWESOME.

Of course, Kitano is just one enclave of "old" Japan left. If you walk down the hill to Sannomiya, you're in downtown Kobe (all rebuilt since the earthquake AND war), but head back up towards the old railway station next to the ruins of the castle and there is an old, dingy, formerly black market area that sells little old toys and things American GIs would hawk. Everywhere else is, as you might imagine, neon lights and dancing girls and robots. Seriously. It's getting harder and harder to find areas of Tokyo and Kobe that aren't all TV screens and automated drink dispensers and department stores groaning under the weight of shoppers chasing after that Louis Vuitton overnight bag.

Back in Tokyo, there is another neighborhood lost in time--Shimokitazawa. My heart aches to tell the world about it, but since my last visit, someone's spilled the beans because my beloved Shimokita was just full to the brim with confused-looking tourists. Shimokita, as those who know and love it say, is a funky little area to the west of Shinjuku where Vietnam War protestors and jazz artists hung out back in the day, sort of a rabbit-warren beat poet sort of version of Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. Nowadays, it's all used/vintage clothing stores, record shops, cafes, boutiques, and ethnic restaurants. There's been a huge revival in the area of Shimokita history, all the jazz bars that have been around since the 1970s and funky-hippie shops pulling ahead of the brand-name boutiques. When I was a student here, I spent a lot of time sitting in Shimokita's cafes and buying hat after hat, plus some bags. It is just too cute. Unfortunately, the city is trying to mow down a good bit of the neighborhood to put in a highway. We may lose the Williamsburg of Tokyo, people!

More half-assed photos of Japan later. If you're curious, my sunglasses are Kate Spade, tank top from Uniqlo, pants from Old Navy, and shoes by BC footwear. Not that it matters.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Some Sephora favorites!

I love Sephora, I really do. It is a place where I can easily drop my money for all sorts of brands that I love all at once. They carry four of my top five cosmetic lines: BeneFit, DuWop, Fresh, and Urban Decay. (The fifth is MAC, which Sephora USA does not carry.) Other lines I love include Tarte, Stila, and Cargo, and let's not forget my beloved Philosophy, either.

If you haven't already joined Sephora's Beauty Insider program, you definitely should. Whenever you spend a hundred dollars (easier to do than you think), you get a free exclusive sample -- once it was a deluxe of the Urban Decay Primer Potion, which is easily worth the money you spend on it, but getting it for free? Boy howdy! Plus they give you recommendations based on your hair/eye color/skin type, Insider exclusives such as a Stila lip glaze that's only been released in Japan (!!), and it keeps track of everything you've purchased either online or in a brick-and-mortar Sephora after joining up. It's pretty awesome.

Anyway, back to the Urban Decay Primer Potion: this is possibly the best stuff for eye make-up ever. You put it on and let it set before you put on your eyeshadow, and then your eyeshadow stays on. All. Day. For someone like me with easily creasing eyelids, it's amazing. I wore it in New York the day after a blizzard -- no creasing, no budging for hours. I wore it in San Diego last weekend in the muggy heat -- ditto. The salesgirls at Sephora will always ask you if you use it if you wander anywhere near the Urban Decay display, and they're not just upselling, it's really that good. Whenever I'm at Sephora with anyone, I will point it out as something everyone needs.

Fair warning -- it won't keep your cream eyeshadows (like BeneFit's new cream eyeshadows) on; I tried and got almost immediate creasing, probably because the cream eyeshadow is formulated to stick to skin, not primer. Another warning: apparently it has latex in it, so if you've got latex sensitivities, it's not a good idea to use UDPP.

While UDPP is legendary among the beauty communities online and off, I really haven't seen much love for this product: BeneFit's Galactic Shield. Maybe everyone's ashamed to admit that (gasp!) they get pimples every now and then? It's a concealer with salicylic acid built in, so it works on shrinking your bumps as it conceals them. Brilliant! I'm surprised we don't see more salicylic acid-added concealers around in different collections. It also has a twist-up tip, so you don't have to sharpen it (let's face it, how often do you really sharpen your pencils?).

So these are just a few little things from Sephora that I love and are definitely worth checking out. Don't get me started on eyeshadows, lip glosses, and bath and body products, though...

images from sephora.com

Thursday, August 02, 2007

You've finished Harry Potter? Here's a few mysteries to read.

While most everyone I know is busy reading Harry Potter, I've been busy compiling a list of my favorite beach reads to share. The problem was- it was way too long! So I decided to go with a mystery theme, since my local library is doing a mystery-themed summer reading program this year, and I've been reading more mysteries than usual. Mysteries aren't always the best beach reads, since it's harder to pick them up and put them down, but I have to recommend something engrossing to read after you all finish Harry Potter, right?


An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, By P.D. James
Blame Jeanne for this one. Her copy has traveled quite aways with her, and while it never made it to a beach with either one of us, it is an excellent read. Despite being set in the 1970s, it's got a timeless old-world feel to it, and Cordelia Gray is a clever detective you want to see succeed.

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammet
This is a classic! It's lighter in tone than his other mysteries, and Nick and Nora have one of my favorite literary relationships to date (and I'm not the only one who loves them.)

Size Twelve is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot
Anyone who knows me knows I love Meg Cabot, so obviously this was bound to end up on here. Cabot is clever at including pop references, and she writes a great love story. While the underlying mystery isn't the most difficult to solve, it's a nice change of pace for me to be actually able to guess who the culprit is and have a good chance of being right.

Bad Kitty, by Michele Jaffe
Okay. So this is a Young Adult Book. Whatever. You're on vacation. Everyone knows that's the best time to be reading silly books. Bad Kitty is a delightful piece of fluff, with cute boys, excellent setting(Vegas! Who doesn't love Vegas!), and several mysteries in one (like why the cute boy does not make out with Jas sooner. COME ON.)

Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Phillip Pullman
Pullman's been getting a bit of a reassurance lately with the buzz behind the His Dark Materials trilogy and the movie getting made for that. Having read most of Pullman's books while I was actually in the Young Adult target range, I kind of find it hilarious that all these adults are reading his books now. But why not? They are quite good. The Lockhart series is quite obviously aimed at younger readers, but it also presents an engaging web to entice the readers in. Sally as a heroine is quite clever, and Pullman uses the Victorian setting to it's fullest advantage.

And the nice thing about mysteries is that they often have sequels. I'm working my way through the second Cordelia Gray mystery as I type, and am anxiously awaiting the conclusion to Meg Cabot's Heather Wells Mysteries, Big Boned, due out in November. More to read!

Images from powells.com.

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