Saturday, 31 January 2015

JVlog #5: SOGO Food Hall & Malls

Good Day Everyone,

I typically try and post a video on a Friday but this past week has been a little tough. The weather has been incredibly cold in our part of Japan. Yesterday I woke up to a blanket of snow and it rained all day. The wind was the icy, migraine inducing kind, so I went about my day wearing my winter beanie. All this cold wet weather has taken a toll on my arthritic joints and as a result I've been in a lot more pain than usual. So I apologies for the quality of this video. My editing is not great, in fact its quite jerky in places. All this tech stuff is new to me and I'm learning as I go, so please bear with me :o)

In this video, we take you around the food hall in the SOGO department store. Typically, most malls and department stores in Japan have a food hall in the basement. Often there will be a fishmongers and a supermarket too. The actual restaurants tend to be on the higher floors. As you will see from the video, the food halls sell everything from fresh fruit juice, salads and cakes to bento boxes, sushi and chocolates. Everything is presented and packaged beautifully.

We also show you a few other interesting things such as the Bay Bike rental scheme...Think Boris Bikes in London and the free tissues that we are always being given. Japanese brands/companies give out free packets of tissues as a means of advertising. The tissue packets usually contain an information leaflet and tend to be branded. They actually come in really useful these days as with the cold weather one of us always has a runny nose ;o)
Dried mushrooms and fresh leeks and carrots from the market
One of the things that we love about Japan, and in particular Yokohama where we live, is that there is always something going on.There was a market of independent retailers at the Bay Quarter mall where we picked up some vegetables, dried mushrooms and tried some cherry blossom honey. It was delicious! The cars had changed again at the Nissan HQ Gallery and so we popped in to have a look. There was some sort of event going on at Nissan where people (when I say people, it was predominantly grown men ;o)) were bring in their own remote control cars to race against each other at a track that had been assembled.

We ended the day by having a bit of an impromptu facial at a place that my friend had told me about which was very relaxing. On our way home we popped into Kaldi Coffee Farm which sells a range of specialist foods and drinks, including imported brands. The great thing about shopping at Kaldi is that a member of staff always greets you at the entrance with a free cup of hot coffee and on this particular day they were giving out free chocolates to try too. You really can't beat Japanese hospitality :o)

I hope you enjoyed this insight into our life in Japan and once again I'm sorry about the not so great quality of this weeks video.

Love Sheen xxx

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Super Facialist Rose Hydrate Intense Moisture Mask

Good Day Everyone,

Since living in Japan, a climate with seasons for the first time in three and a half years, I have been very aware of the toll the cold winter is taking on my skin. My skin is naturally on the dry side. I’m not sure why this is, maybe it’s genetic but I’ve been a psoriasis sufferer since my teen years and that is a dry skin disorder so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. My skin also gets dehydrated very quickly and we all know that dehydrated skin emphasises any fine lines and wrinkles all too easily.

So with my dry skin concerns in mind, I stocked up on a few skincare products when I was home last month, as well as picking up some products that I have used in the past that I love. Whenever I try a new skincare product I like to use it for at least a whole month before forming any firm opinions on it just so that I’ve used it during the time of the month when my skin is at its best and worst…. I’m sure you ladies know what I mean ;o). 

Today I wanted to share my thoughts with you on this Super Facialist Rose Hydrate Intense Moisture Mask by Una Brennan. There’s been quite a bit of buzz around the Super Facialist range in the online beauty and skincare world given its affordability. Una Brennan has over 15 years of skincare experience and is now a sought after facialist in the UK. Her range, the Super Facialist has been designed to address specific skin concerns. I picked up a couple of products from the range in a Boots 3 for 2. The masks costs £8.99 but is regularly on offer at Boots and you get 125mls of product in the tube. I have been using this moisture masks for the past 6 weeks on a weekly basis (occasionally twice a week) and I really like it… a lot. I won’t go as far as saying I love it as I don’t have anything to compare it to since I’ve only recently started to get into masks but it’s something I would definitely repurchase

The mask contains a number of key ingredients that work to hydrate the skin and improve its appearance and texture, namely;

  • White willow extract which is good for removing old skin cells that cause dullness in one’s complexion, making way for new skin cells due to the presence of salicylic acid in the white willow extract.

  • Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant which is good for mopping up free radicals that cause dryness, fine lines and wrinkles, thus helping to repair and protect the skin.

  • Urea, a humectant which in effect is a moisturising agent because it absorbs water and promotes the retention of water in the skin.

  • Marshmallow extract, given that the only marshmallows I know of are the type to go into a hot chocolate, I had to do some Googling to fully understand it’s role. Apparently marshmallow root extract, which is the type contained in this mask, has a soothing and softening effect on the skin. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat dry skin conditions.

The mask has a strong rose scent which can be a bit over powering upon application but eases over time. It is not unpleasant to the extent where it would put me off from using this mask but if you are particularly sensitive to scents then it is worth bearing in mind and perhaps smelling the product before parting with your money.

The mask comes out as a thick white cream that is easily spreadable. I use it once or twice a week, as per the instructions, depending on how dry my skin is. The instructions say to apply a ‘generous’ layer on to cleansed face and neck. I'm sure we will all have a different interpretation as to how much a generous layer actually is and that will certainly affect how long this product lasts. I don’t go crazy with it, but at the same time I ensure it covers all of my skin.

The instructions state to leave it on for 5mins, but I’ve always left it on for about 10mins and not had any adverse effects. Over time my skin seems to sort of absorb some of the product because when it comes to taking it off, there are some patches on my face/neck where there is less product than when I applied it, as you can see from the photo above. After 10mins I rinse it off using a damp flannel and some warm water. 

This mask leaves my skin feeling soft, supple and hydrated. However, the effect that has really impressed me is how my skin glows after using this mask. My face is left looking incredibly radiant, bright and glowy, and the best thing is that this radiance lasts. I still see it in my skin the next day. 

Even my hubby noticed and commented on how great my skin looks. When I asked him to describe it he said it looked like I’d just had a very expensive facial because my face was glowing, my skin looked soft and bouncy, like a baby’s bottom and just altogether happy and healthy. Now that’s a pretty comprehensive description from my hubby ;o).

Over the weekend my hubby was complaining about how his skin looked dull and greyish. So I pulled this face mask out and he loved the effect too. Now we have face mask sessions together lol. He may not want this knowledge out in the public domain, but as I explained to him, men need to look after and pamper their skin too. Skin is skin at the end of the day, irrespective of whether it’s on a woman’s face or a man’s…. that certainly made him feel a bit better about it ;o). 

The mask is apparently suitable for even the most sensitive of skins. I don’t have sensitive skin and so can’t vouch for that but my hubby does. He hasn’t had any issues with it, however, he has only used it a couple of times so far. 

Have you tried this mask or any other products from the Super Facialist range? What was your experience? What would you recommend from the range? 

Love Sheen xxx

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Monday, 26 January 2015

Japan Journals: Tokyo

Good Day Everyone, 

Today’s post is going to be a looong one as I bring you the last of my Japan Journals so you may want to grab a cup of tea/coffee before continuing ;o). If you'd like to refresh your memory then you can read about the previous Japan Journal here.
We left Kyoto late Wednesday morning and caught the bullet train to Tokyo, the last stop of our trip. The journey was just under three hours and along the way we manage to get a good glimpse of Mount Fuji from the train :o)
The snow capped peak of Mount Fuji in the distance

Upon arriving in Tokyo we got a taxi to our hotel.We stayed at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premiere, in Ginza which is a great shopping area of Tokyo…think Oxford Street London. After not being overly impressed with the Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo, I was a little apprehensive as we were staying four nights at this one. I was hoping that the word 'Premier' was actually going to mean something ;o) I needn’t have worried, it did. This particular Mitsui Garden hotel looked like it had been recently renovated. The room was very small but not as small as the one in Kyoto, plus it had a huge window to let in plenty of day light. Again there wasn’t much room to open our suitcases but we managed.
The smallest double bed we've ever slept in

As with the previous hotels, robes were provided as well as toiletries and tea/coffee making facilities. It is worth noting that the complimentary teas provided in our room were always green and other herbal teas. There was no English breakfast tea. My hubby bought a little box of English tea bags in Osaka which then travelled with us lol. 
The bathroom was small but clean and modern. We had a separate shower and bath tub. It was a Japanese style tub which means it was pretty small. I loved the Shiseido toiletries that were provided. However, I soon realised that the same words can mean very different things here in Japan. Following my shower I opened one of the complimentary Shiseido sachets that was labelled lotion expecting it to be a skin lotion (moisturiser) but what came out of the sachet was more like water! After a bit of Googling I soon realised that in Japan, lotion is what we refer to as a (facial) toner in the West. I have since gained a fair bit of insight into Japanese toiletries and skincare and realised that it's actually quite different.
The bath tub was enclosed within the shower/wet area
The hotel lobby is on the 16th floor of the building and with floor to ceiling windows it offered great views over Tokyo. We could even see Tokyo Bay from one of the windows and Tokyo Tower from another.
Tokyo Tower in the distance

A very thin and not so cheesy pizza

We had a quick pizza at the Karin bar in the hotel for lunch before heading out again. Now, I'm not a pizza person.. I know I know it sounds crazy, because who doesn't love pizza? That will be me! It is probably one of my least favourite foods but it was a staple on our trip to Japan as hubby and I are not sushi eaters nor big on meat or cooked fish. Luckily for me, most of the pizzas had a thin/crispy base which I prefer over deep pan and they weren't overly cheesy :o) The tomato sauce used on the pizzas was probably the most flavoursome tomato sauce I've ever tasted. Tomatoes taste great in Japan!

Later that day we used our JR Pass for the last time (it was only valid for 7 days) as we headed to Shibuya to meet a friend who lives in Tokyo, for dinner. Shibuya is known for its nightlife, neon lights, huge billboards and shopping. It is home to the pedestrian crossing made famous by the movie, Lost in Translation. The traffic lights turn red at the same time across lanes from every direction, and so pedestrians come pouring out onto the road from all around.

None of our hotel stays included breakfast and so on Thursday morning we headed out to explore the surrounding area, whilst simultaneously on the hunt for somewhere to have breakfast. We came across an American restaurant called Bubby’s at a nearby mall. Bubby’s do plenty of vegetarian options (which is what we prefer to eat) and has become a place that we regularly frequent since moving to Yokohama. The breakfast menu included a variety of pancakes, french toast, poached eggs and even nachos, as well as bagels and some meaty options.
Whilst having breakfast the weather had turned from a cloudy grey sky to a downpour of rain and we could tell it wasn’t going to relent anytime soon. We ended up having to buy an umbrella from a convenience store just so that we could do the 15min walk back to our hotel without getting completely drenched. We had intended on doing a day trip to see Mount Fuji but sadly the weather forecast was rain and cloudy for the remainder of our stay. All the online reviews and feedback from the Mount Fuji tour was that we needed to go on a clear day otherwise we wouldn’t see it properly. So that was a bit of a disappointment :o(.

After several hours of just chilling in our room and the hotel lobby, we were starting to get cabin fever. So we braved the rain with an umbrella each as we made our way to Omotesando to the one store that I had my heart set on visiting, Hakuhodo. Hakuhodo sell handmade makeup brushes that are highly regarded by makeup artists around the word. Since getting into makeup a couple of years ago, I really wanted to invest in some top quality makeup brushes, and you can't really beat Japanese craftsmanship.   

Staff at our hotel told us how to get to the nearest subway station and once there, I kid you not when I say it took us over an hour, in the pouring rain, to find this store when it was in fact no more than 10mins away from the subway station! Being an actual store, rather than a concession stand like in Osaka, we had imagined that it would be inside some large shopping mall as we were in a shopping area, but after walking up and down the same street three times we were starting to lose hope. We asked several passerbys and despite having the address in Japanese, not even the Japanese people we asked for help could find it, and they really tried. With our feet soaking wet, damp jeans clinging to our legs and my hair looking like I’d stuck my finger in an electric socket (rain does that to my hair) I told my hubby that I couldn’t take any more! We would have to come back another day. He, not wanting to be defeated by makeup brushes, refused to give up. We were walking down the same street for the fifth and final time when through my transparent umbrella a bright bit of orange on a pillar caught my eye. I'd recognise that shade of orange anywhere! We had found it…hallelujah! The store was on the third floor in some non-descript office building, set back from the road. Had I blinked at that moment then I would have missed the tiny bit of orange on the pillar, and we’d have walked straight past the building.

As the elevator doors opened into the store, all the rain, the wet feet and frizzy hair were forgotten, I was like a kid in a candy shop. My hubby, sensing that I may be some time, left me there as he went to a coffee shop in the building next door. I cannot put into words how happy I was, right there, in that moment. There was shelf after shelf, after shelf, of these beautiful hand crafted makeup brushes, which by the way, are cheaper than MAC makeup brushes and of a much higher quality. For fear of boring you, I’m going to leave it here on the Hakuhodo front. I may go into more detail in a future blog post or video, but needless to say I left the store a very happy girl…along with a Hakuhodo loyalty card ;o).

Walking back to the subway station, we stopped off at a couple of malls to do a bit more shopping and soon realised that it was late afternoon and we’d not eaten since breakfast. I didn’t need to eat… I had Hakuhodo to keep me satisfied but this wasn’t a sentiment shared by my hubby ;o) Whilst in a mall we came across a rather nice looking restaurant called Franzuya. It had comfy chairs and more importantly provided shelter from the rain outside. We had a lovely meal of bruschetta, pizza and mushroom risotto. The restaurant had a beautiful terrace with great views that we sadly couldn’t take advantage off due to the rain, but it’s definitely a place I would go back to in the summer. After the meal, we headed back to our hotel to get out of our soggy clothes and relax for the remainder of the evening.

Food at Franzuya
The next day I woke up in more pain than usual. Traipsing around in the cold rain the day before had taken a toll on my arthritic joints. I knew that if I didn't take it easy that day and rest my joints, I would risk getting worse and ruining the rest of our trip. So we took it easy on Friday and just stayed in the local area of Ginza. Plus the sky was quite grey with a little drizzle. Whilst I rested at the hotel with my hot water bottle (seriously I think I must have the world's most well traveled hot water bottle. I take her, yes her, everywhere with me), hubby went to explore the shops on the main shopping street in Ginza. I ventured out of the hotel around lunchtime and met hubby at the Uniqlo store. This store was spread over 11 floors! There was a whole floor dedicated to just T-Shirts! I picked up a few bits for my younger brother and hubby stocked up on a few staples as the prices were lower here than back in Singapore. We then came across an Italian and had, yes you guessed it, pizza for lunch. I then went back to the hotel to rest so that I would be well enough to go out in the evening whilst hubby shopped.

We ventured out early evening and went to a Turkish restaurant that we'd found online called, Konya, which was just a 10min walk from our hotel. It was so nice to have a break from pizza. By now, I was starting to miss the fresh fruit and vegetables that are abundantly available in Singapore but not so much in Japan. We enjoyed a lovely meze platter with some Turkish bread along with some cheese borek rolls, and there was even a salad on the menu, something that is not all that common in Japan. I cannot tell you how happy I was to have fresh vegetables. Hubby and I shared a main course of donner kebab that came with rice and some vegetables and salad. We finished our meal with some good old baklava. The presentation of the food was beautiful, something that we noticed at every place we ate at in Japan. We left the restaurant feel very satisfied. 
On Saturday, our last full day in Tokyo, the sun came out and my joints were feeling better. After a quick breakfast at Bubby's again, we headed out to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to go and see the cherry blossoms one last time. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo's largest and most popular parks. Historically the park was used by the Imperial Family for recreation and to entertain. However, the majority of the park was destroyed in World War II. It was eventually rebuilt and opened as a public park in 1949.
The park contains three gardens with the oldest being a traditional Japanese landscape garden. There is also a French garden and an English landscape garden. The park was incredibly busy with it being the weekend and sunny after two days of rain. We only managed to make our way around the Japanese garden before the weather turned again and we had to make our way back to the hotel.
The Japanese garden was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a large pond with Koi Carp fish that would swim to the surface and pop their little mouths open. The cherry blossom trees were a real feast for the eyes, ranging from white to various shades of pink including a bright intense cerise pink colour. The blossoms created a beautiful pink carpet on the ground as they were starting to fall from some of the trees.
The park was incredibly busy with many Japanese people celebrating the cherry blossom festival and the arrival of spring by having picnics with friends, family and work colleagues. The weather was quite cold but that didn't seem to stop people from sitting on the ground with their food and drink.

We ended our last night in Tokyo with a trip to the New York Bar & Grill at the Park Hyatt Hotel, again made famous by the movie, Lost in Translation. Being Saturday night the place was incredibly busy and so we were unable to get a table for dinner. Luckily though, there was a space for us to eat facing the open kitchen where we could watch the chefs at work. There wasn't much in the way of vegetarian options and so I ordered the salmon just so that hubby and I wouldn't be eating the exact same main course. The sides of mushrooms and mashed potatoes were delicious, and actually better than the main courses.

The restaurant offered the most amazing views of Tokyo at night from the 52nd floor, however, I would recommend not going on a Fri/Sat/Sun night simply because of how ridiculously busy it was... it kind of ruined the experience somewhat, which is why we didn't stop for dessert.
Our coach to the airport wasn't until the evening and so we spent Sunday doing some shopping and then relaxed at the hotel. On Sundays the main shopping street in Ginza is actually closed down to traffic and becomes a pedestrian only zone, including the road itself. It was quite strange walking in the middle of the road as we mooched along the shops. I couldn't imagine walking down the middle of the road on Oxford Street in London... could you?

I hope you enjoyed this blog post concluding our trip to Japan. It really was one of the best holidays we've ever had, albeit very tiring and a little cold for my liking ;o). Having said that, it was a dream come true for me to see the sakura (cherry blossoms). I guess the only outstanding thing from my Japan Journals is to share with you some of the things that we bought. I will try to do a blog post on that in the coming weeks.
I would highly recommend Japan to anybody. Having now experienced all the seasons by living here, I would say that the best time to come is during the cherry blossom season or autumn/fall when the leaves change colour. That is when you will see Japan in all it's natural glory. At those particular times of the year the Japanese gardens are breath takingly beautiful :o). It is a wonderful country and although the lack of English was a bit frustrating at times, the people are so friendly and helpful that you really needn't worry about the language. My only advice would be to research and plan your trip before arriving. I personally don't feel it is one of those destinations where you can take more of an ad hoc approach to exploring it, unless you have ample time and money ;o)

Love Sheen xxx
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Friday, 23 January 2015

JVlog #4: Japan Apartment Tour

Good Day Everyone,

Thank goodness it's Friday! This week has been a bit of a write off for me. I wasn't feeling too great over the weekend and just took it easy. As the weather was pretty cold and I wasn't feeling well I ended up eating a bit too much cheese on toast (wintery comfort food). This had a really bad affect on both me and my arthritic joints. I've had two migraines to deal with as well as a very angry arthritic spine this week. After making a conscious effort to eat very cleanly over the last couple of days, I'm finally feeling better today... Just in time for the weekend.

Whilst I didn't get any blog posts written this week, I did manage to film this video today. It is a tour of our apartment in Japan. We've given this tour to many of our friends and family over Skype as people have been curious about where we are living. We've all heard of the capsule hotels ;o)
We live in a two bedroom apartment. Whilst it is half the size (approx. 65sq.m) of our apartment in Singapore (but sadly not half the price), the spectacular view over Yokohama Bay more than makes up for the lack of space. To be honest, despite the smaller size, hubby and I are managing perfectly fine within the space that we have. It is only when we live in a smaller place that we often realise that we don't need as much space as we think we do to live comfortably. Obviously there is a big difference between need and want... I'm still dreaming of my own walk in wardrobe and vanity area ;o).

From our apartment we get to see the most amazing sunrises. You can see/read more about those here. Also something that I forgot to mention in the video is that we can actually see the heliport from our living room! We can see the helicopters taking off and coming back into land which is pretty awesome. In addition, we see the planes coming into land at Haneda airport which isn't too far from where we live :o)

Although we found this particular apartment ourselves on the internet, we had to use an estate agent to sort the contract because we don't speak Japanese and most landlords don't speak English. Whilst the apartment is owned by a private landlord, the development complex that the apartment is in is owned by a Japanese corporation. In our rental contract we had to agree to be considerate to our neighbours and confirm that we do not belong to the Japanese mafia...Not something you see often in a rental contract ;o)

We do not have any double glazing or central heating in the apartment nor do we have any gas. We cook on electric induction hobs. The apartment has under floor heating in the main living area and air conditioning units in the bedrooms which blow out warm air. Luckily, as we get the morning sun the apartment isn't too cold during the day, but with it being winter, the under floor heating is on every evening.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our current home. Did you notice that I've now learnt how to incorporate music into my YouTube videos :o). I'm hoping to improve my recording and editing skills as I do more of these. Do let me know in the comments section if you have any questions about our Japanese home or life in Japan.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend :o)

Love Sheen xxx
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Friday, 16 January 2015

JVlog #3: Nissan Car Gallery & Night Out In Shinjuku

Good Day Everyone,

Last weekend we went out for a Turkish meal in Shinjuku, which is one of the 23 wards (districts) of Tokyo. Shinjuku is exactly what I imagined Tokyo to be like, before ever visiting Japan. It is crazy busy with bright neon lights and lots of noise. It is a great place to hang out on the weekends and people watch. It is also home to the famous Robot Restaurant. Shinjuku station is the world's busiest train station with 36 platforms, and apparently over 200 different exits. No wonder it took us over half an hour to find our friend, Mike, who we met there.
Shinjuku with it's neon lights

Robot Restaurant
Before getting the train to Shinjuku, we take you through the Nissan Car Gallery that we referred to in our previous vlog. In the current rotation there is a display of some of the old Nissan cars, such as the Bluebird and the Skyline, as well as a life size model of the Nissan Sport Sedan Concept Car which is absolutely stunning (and I'm not even a petrolhead!).

Nissan Sport Sedan Concept Car
To travel around on the subway, trains and buses we use a Suica card which is a bit like the London Underground Oyster card / the Singapore EZ-Link card. On the train, we caught a good glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. I cannot tell you how happy I was to get that on camera for you all to see :o).

Trying to find a specific place in Japan is very difficult for us as we cannot read any of the signs and Google maps does not work in Japan. The Japanese address system doesn't seem to be compatible with Google maps. This means that we have to try and remember places that we may want to go back to by landmarks and key buildings. We were planning to go to a specific Turkish restaurant that we had been to before. However, after walking around for 20 minutes in the area where it is but still failing to find it, we gave up and went to a different Turkish restaurant. As you will see from the video, the portion sizes are on the small size, and we've noticed this to be the case at a few other restaurants but nevertheless the food was delicious.

I hope you enjoyed this night out with us :o)

Love Sheen xxx

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