Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hello Sandwich’s First Japan Interview - Ii-ne-kore!

When I first decided to do a Hello Sandwich Japan Interview - the first person to come to mind was the lovely Bree from Ii-ne-kore! I am so happy Bree agreed to an interview and I think you too will love reading this! Enjoy! And THANK YOU BREE for sharing your J-thoughts with us!

Like me, you seem to be in love with Japan! Can you tell us how you first become interested in Japan?
In year 7 at my school we had to study both French and Japanese. Then come year 8, and they asked us to choose: just French, just Japanese, or no languages at all. My 12 year-old self chose Japan, and i thank her for it!

What do you love most about Japan?
The wonder it inspires.

How is Japan a part of your current life? Are you working in a Japanese company, researching Japan, or have another link with Japan?
I am doing a masters in publishing at Melbourne uni, and this semester my coordinator has allowed me to kind of create my own subject – choosing two pieces of Japanese writing to translate and also writing a piece on the challenges and insights of translation as an art and science of language. I am really interested in things like cultural non-equivalencies across language and the way a country’s language informs (and expresses) its culture.

Have you been to Japan a few times or lived in Japan? Please tell us about your time there.
I lived in Japan about 5 years altogether. I kept studying Japanese all through high school and at uni as well. Then as a little 20-year old I took a year and half off my arts degree to live in japan. When uni started calling me to say come back or we will cancel your enrolment, I dragged myself back. About the week after I completed my degree I was back in Japan again, I stayed that time for another 3.5 years.
I lived first in Sapporo, in a tiny old flat we found via a random contact. It had no hot water or heating, no shower or bath, and it was the dead of winter. The first time I had ever seen snow in a city. we kept the water dripping constantly so the pipes would not freeze and explode, and took baths in the local sento. Rent was ~$100 per month between the two of us, so was pretty cheap. After that I moved to Tokyo for about 3-4 months. Then on to live with a friend in their big old Kyoto machiya. From then on Kyoto was my home. To survive, I had various jobs: stints at an italian restaurant in Shimokitazawa, and at a bar. teaching English was a big one of course. Nice teaching jobs that took me on long bus rides out into the outer suburbs and countryside to tiny schools with no bus stops, and a rather more lucrative but very challenging one at a (delinquent) Kyoto high school.

What is your favourite city in Japan and what do you love about it?
Kyoto. The Kamogawa (kamo river) that runs through the city north to south: BBQ and fireworks, hanami parties under the cherry trees, couples sitting on the banks with heads on each others shoulders watching the moon on the water, and slow bike rides weaving up into the mountains in the north. the life of the city runs through that river. And I love the Kyoto machiya, tiny narrow back streets and alleys, the hills all around, the looms clacking in the twilight in the textile district, the wonderful cafes, the tofu, oh, the tofu, I could go on and on and on…

Do you speak Japanese? Any tips for anyone interested in learning Japanese? Most useful Japanese phrase for beginners?
Yes. Try and immerse yourself in it in some way? Even for a little bit each day – watch the Japanese news on tv, listen to Japanese music, watch Japanese movies, and repeat bits back - it can help to get the flavour of a language to hear natural expression and intonation, and also be inspiration! kanji is a killer, make yourself heaps of flashcards and read them on the train and things. for hiragana and katakana, mnemonics help, like visual associations: ね = a hole in the(ne)t, ぬ is chopsticks and noo(nu)dles.

I don’t know/understand
No way? Really?
mecha oishii
Insanely delicious

These are in kansai-ben(kansai dialect from Osaka, Kyoto etc). Try these ones out with your Japanese friends first, just to test the water. Japanese people often fall over laughing when they hear a gaijin busting out the kansai-ben☺ sorry, probably not actually useful, per se!

Your favourite Japanese food? (Don’t tell me it’s Natto! He he)
Yuba (a tofu by-product eaten dipped simply in soy and wasabi). But I also love (vegetarian version) Agedashidofu, Ochazuke, Okonomiyaki, Kushikatsu, Kimuchi Nabe, Zarusoba, Shiroae.

Do you cook Japanese food in your hometown? If so, what sorts of foods? And do you have any websites, blogs or magazines you refer to for recipes?
For sure. All of above. Except Yuba, as you can’t buy fresh Kyoto-style Yuba here. But am looking into making it! The wonderful Maki at Just Hungry is the best Japanese food and cooking online resource in English I have ever come across. Kurashi-Arekore is a lovely vegan, homestyle inspiration.

Where do you go to stock up on Japanese food / books / treats when in your home city?
For food and things like sushi mats, rice cookers and other fun bits, Fujimart in Prahran is very good. But I like Suzuran on Burke road Hawthorn best. Kanga Kanga in the city for books and magazines.

Your favourite Japanese cultural quirk?
I am not sure it is a cultural quirk really, but my current favourite quintessential Japanese fun are some of the Japanese pranks featured on youtube - hilarious. They show that super weird, wacky sense of humour that comes from a totally different direction, especially this one with the crowds of 100 people running randomly at people walking down the street is just ace. I love how the ojiisan just keeps walking, doesn’t even look back.

Your favourite thing to do in Tokyo?
Walking and shopping in the winding backstreets of Harajuku then an afternoon relax in Yoyogi Koen. And I always want to find that little old 60s jazz café my friend hiro took me to once in Shimokitazawa, but I have never found it again, no matter how I look!

Do you have any funny stories about being lost / lost in translation in Japan?
I am always lost. I get lost in the back street of Brunswick here in Melbourne. As make it easy once said – ‘getting lost in Tokyo is the best thing I ever did’. Phillip Starck’s golden ‘flying poo’ on top of the Asahi building in Asakusa always makes a good landmark.

What is your most memorable moment in Japan?
On the bus to the airport in Osaka to catch plane home after my first 1.5 years there. I remember it was really early, misty highway, I had tears, I did not want to leave for good, I was not ready yet, the story was not done: it was the strongest realisation that Japan would be forever part of my life.

What are you like at karaoke? Or, like me, do you stick mostly to purikura?
Can’t sing in tune to save myself. The only song people can get me to do is Lou Reed’s walk on the wild side’. Which is not technically a singing song, but a talking song. He he he. Marvellously sneaky of me. But the do, do do, do, do do do’s are a bit of stretch.

Chu-hi, Sake or umeshu? Which one is your favourite?
Have to go Umeshu, because the jars and bottles are so pretty, and you can make your own from the neighbour’s plums.

And what about Onsen and Super-cento’s – like them much? Do you have any favourites in Japan?
Oh yes, onsen I like very, very much. It is an integral part of what I love about japan. I highly recommend everyone to at least once sit in an outside bath (rotemburo) in a mountain onsen in the dead of winter snows. Super-sento I am not a big fan of, though I recognise their due place. And people recommend Shomen no yu in Kyoto for ticking off ‘ride naked in an elevator’. I prefer the tiny little local neighbourhood sento. One with interesting old tiling and a long history in Kyoto is Funaoka Onsen.

Favourite Japanese themed websites / blogs?
Well, Hello Sandwich of course☺
Jollygoo, Ouno Design, and Gotasalviento’s posts on Japanese art, deisgn, architecture are always inspired and inspiring. I also love Make it Easy! Natsumi Nishizumi and yasu at aaA are also beautiful. And at home here Souzou and and Le Petit Flaneur are wonderful. To-kichi is great. I wish ping-mag was still in operation! And I think the Shinproducts/Efish site is very sweet web design.

(Editor's note - Oh Bree I am so happy you like Souzou and Le Petit Flaneur too! Yumi and Emma are two of my closest friends!)

Favourite Japanese magazines?
Ku:nel. Arne. Salvia.

If you could live anywhere in Japan where would it be and why?
Kyoto! It is too far in my heart to consider living somewhere else. But if I need a change, I would find an abandoned farmhouse in the countryside outside kyoto, or maybe in a valley in Shikoku or Kyushu, and slowly fix it and live there and grow vegetables and cook food, and invite my friends to stay, and live the slow life, and write and edit for my mystery dream publishing job.

And finally, what do you miss most about Japan?
Oh dear, that is difficult!
The privilege of living inside a beautiful, intriguing, inspiring culture.
My lovely friends. The sound of the tofu man’s horn at dinner time every day, and the yaki-imo van’s deep bass tune in winter. The yukata (cotton kimono) and the crowd’s oohs and aahs over hanabi (fireworks) in summer. The feel of tatami, and the steep narrow stairs in my machiya.

And the Yuba of course.

Thank you so much Bree for your special and thoughtful answers and your generous time commitment. Your answers were amazing and so so inspiring! Can we please all go to Japan now! xxx ありがとう!

Love Love
Hello Sandwich


  1. Nice to be reminded of all the many wonders of Japan. Great interview. たのしかった!

  2. thanks ebony, you are so very very lovely. i must say it is a little bit scary to see photos of little old me up on the gorgeous hello sandwich!

  3. Hello Wendy! Thank you for your comment! Wow you are an author. I would like to read your books!

    Bree! YOU are so very very lovely! You look so cute in the pictures! Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you! xxx

  4. Hello ebony, this is great! I kept "niya-niya" smililing while reading this, really enjoyed it :)

    oh, the link to jollygoo doesn't seem to work. but anyway, arigato!

  5. I loved this interview Ebony - it was so nice finding more out about the lovely Bree and her love for Japan... and thank you both for mentioning souzou!

  6. Thanks for posting this interview with Bree! It was great to read. I share so many of her 'likes' about Kyoto and Japan :)

  7. like hiki, I'm smiling :) kansai ben is a little strange to me! (im from fukuoka) loved this interview. arigato for the link too!

  8. Hiki! Honto ni gomen nasai! I fixed your link as soon as I saw your comment earlier today! I hope it's okay now! :( Isn't Bree just the best! Thank you for visiting Hello Sandwich! Have a happy weekend!

    Hello Emma and Yumi-chan! Yes I was so excited when the answers from Bree came in! It was right as I was leaving work so I had to print them out (eek not very eco of me) and read them at traffic lights on the way home from work! Are you guys coming to finders keepers markets tomorrow?

    Hello Mizu! Thank you for your visit to Hello Sandwich and for your lovely comment! I also share lots of her likes! I love Japan!!!!!

    Yasu! He he me too! Kansai-ben is so strange for me! ha ha! I remember once returning to Tokyo on my first trip to Japan (and I couldn't speak Japanese) and my Tokyo friends teasing me for saying 'meccha kawaii'! Hasukashii~! Thank you for stopping by Hello Sandwich!

    Love Love
    Hello Sandwich

  9. nice interview! i love japan too.. i want to travel around the country side there one day. thanks xx

  10. ahhhh great great great interview!!
    (thanks for the shout-outs to make it easy too!) <3

  11. This is a great interview! I am a big fan of Ii-ne-kore blog too!
    Thank you! ox

  12. Hello Marie! :) Thank you for your comment! Japan is just the best isn't it! I would love to travel around the country there one day too! when my Japanese is better perhaps! he he! Have a happy weekend!

    Hello lovely Aron! :) It was a goodie wasn't it! Looking forward to posting yours this Friday too! Yay!

    Hi Natsumi, I am happy you enjoyed Ii-ne-kore's interview too! My pleasure treasure!

    Love love
    Hello Sandwich

  13. what a great personal insight into japan, it is my dream to visit

  14. great interview eb!bree is so sweet!lets move to japan now!xxx

  15. This is a wonderful interview, it's nice to know there are people out there as obsessed with Japan as I am! Her blog is very inspiring and full of beauty.

  16. Great interview! And Bree, thanks for mentioning my blog, which I hardly deserve considering I only occasionally write about Japanese design, but I was so pleased to be on your list. And Hello Sandwich: great blog!