I have started using Twitter as a way to connect with the outside world for business. It’s been a slow process but I think I’m starting to understand it a bit now. There are all these how to’s out there, but nothing works like trying it yourself.
In the beginning, it is very strange. You have this vague idea that you’re supposed to follow people and they follow you back, but how does that happen actually? Following celebrities and news agencies seems safe and anonymous. But then, it gets trickier. There are real people out there who are doing and talking about things that you are interested in. Do you follow them? What if they don’t follow back? Do you comment on a tweet? Will they think it’s weird getting a comment from someone they’ve never met? Who are these people who are following you and how did they find you? Twitter is not for the paranoid. You just have to embrace the experience. Don’t be self conscious, you can always delete a tweet if you change your mind. It is possible someone may have read it before you delete it, but hey, you probably don’t know them anyway.
So slowly and tentatively, I started following people. Then you find someone saying exactly what you think and how exciting is that? It’s easy to tweet back enthusiastically about something you agree with wholeheartedly. This is where the kindness kicks in. I have become connected to many people who are skilled at what they do and are also very generous with their knowledge and advice. It’s great to feel supported by people who know what they are talking about and in some cases, have been through the same experience. Running your own business can be very lonely, especially when it’s still tiny. There are times when it all seems futile and you’re tempted to just let it slide. But then I go on Twitter and read about all the things my tweeps are doing, the projects they are involved in, the new ideas they are working on and it gives me energy. I’ve even met some of them in person and they’ve been just as lovely as they are on Twitter. It’s just been a great tool professionally.
So while I am very much a novice and still trying to figure it all out, if you have a small business or a project you are trying to get off the ground, I recommend Twitter highly.
You can start by following me – @KinomiLondon.
People have long bought into the notion that youth is good and ageing is bad. Some alter their outward appearance to maintain an image of themselves when they were younger. But while you may reach your physical peak in your 20′s and 30′s, is that when you should peak as a human being? Because if you do, it’s only down hill from there, right? That’s many decades of a slow decline because most of us will live into our 70′s or 80′s if not longer. Do you want to keep looking back reliving what was, instead of looking ahead to see what the future holds?
But what if you embrace the idea that you only improve with age? Then every year brings new adventures, new confidence, new skills. They weren’t kidding about this wise woman/man stuff. I find as I get older, things that mattered desperately when I was younger are no longer that important and I am able to put things in better perspective. It is a truly liberating feeling to follow your heart and not really care what other people think. I just saw a trailer for a wonderful new film called Advanced Style. These are some wonderful women who are following their hearts and expressing themselves through fashion. I hope to be like them when I grow up although I have a sneaking suspicion they may always have been like that. All of us have a desire for self expression and growing older has given me the courage to act on it. My current form of self expression is trying to build and juggle two businesses. I did not plan for this to happen. I didn’t sit down and think, “I want a business, what should it be?” They evolved organically and although it took a lot of work to get them started, they are both growing. Growing slowly, because that’s something else I’ve learned along the way, it doesn’t have to happen in an instant for it to count as a success. A major lesson for someone so impatient that I read the ending of the book first and then fill in the middle bits. What I bring to the table now is the experience from many decades of life lived. I’ve been fortunate enough to have very interesting life experiences and they have all shaped my outlook. And so most days I am happy. I procrastinate a fair amount but also gets lots done. I can’t remember what I did before I became this busy. Sure I have days where something sets me off and I have a good rant about it as well as the days of self doubt where I wonder if I’m just crazy to be doing what I do. But I have a wonderful family and friends who will very patiently listen to me and support me.
But most of all, I am proud of who I have become. It’s been a very long time coming but I think I can truly say that I am comfortable in my own skin and with the place I occupy in the world. Okay some of us learn a bit more slowly than others. But who cares as long as you get there in the end. It’s not a race, it’s your life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
My life these days is one big juggling act. I have so many demands on my time that I don’t have any down time mentally. The cooking classes have really taken off this time and every class is full. Plus I am now getting requests to do private classes which is lots of fun. The famous foodie blogger Ms Marmite Lover came to a class and wrote about it. You can readher post here. This has led to new enquiries about classes and more followers on Twitter. All very exciting. So I spend a fair amount of my time thinking recipes and menus. It’s almost two years since I started teaching and I am finally comfortable enough to not be in a panic before. But I’m also thinking of restructuring the class schedule so more thinking, more planning.
Then there’s the Kinomi business. In hindsight it was probably foolhardy to begin this not too long after launching a cooking class business but ignorance is bliss, right? I have added a new flavour, Spicy Chilli Nuts and reformulated the Sweet Miso Nuts and I am really happy with all three flavours. So now I have to go out and sell them. It’s scary, nerve racking and hard not to take the nos’ personally but I have made some small attempts. It is so much easier to advise other people what to do. Lead by example is not one of my strong points, I am discovering.
I also have a translation due at the end of April. It is a continuation of the last one I did so I know the story, I know the format. But it still needs to be done. Fortunately I have plenty of time, just have to get down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the book (really a manga).
So these are the three balls that I have up in the air at the moment. I do plenty of procrastinating during the day but I don’t know that I’ve ever worked this hard. When you do your own thing, it’s hard to not always think about it.
My mental sanctuary is the gym. When I am there doing a class, I don’t have time to think about anything else. For one hour, sometimes two, all thought beyond how to survive the class gets put on hold.
I wonder when I come out the other side, will I still have friends? I haven’t seen anyone for lunch in I don’t know how long. But I am content in a chaotic, panicked, each day is a roller coaster kind of way. Is it time for a holiday yet?
So, from having been in my parents’ home for three weeks, I have come to the conclusion that I am spoiled for space. They live in a typical Japanese flat. My mom always proudly points out that it is considered generous for Tokyo. Yet every time I go home, I marvel at how small it is and how a family of 4 used to fit there. I’m sure part of it is psychological. When my sister and I moved out, my parents took our rooms, blew them out and created their room. So when I go home, I don’t have anywhere to hang out. Coupled with the fact that my mom gets grumpy if I spend too much time away from the never ending TV and of course there are only two good spots in the room which are good for TV watching and my parents sit there, it’s a tough place to feel comfortable.
But everything is relative. There’s this amazing show called Before After. It’s on Sunday night in Tokyo and I just love it. It features an unimaginable small space that is inhabited by a family whose behaviour has adapted to their space without thinking about how nuts it is. Then an architect comes in and transforms the space into something usable. He does it without tearing it down or digging two floors below either. It is simply remarkable to watch. But no matter how cleverly a space is laid out, it still is what it is. And what these people don’t get in the end, is a lot of privacy. Well, at least the western concept of privacy. Take this one episode I watched. An older couple took the upstairs of their house, closed it off from the downstairs, put in an external staircase and turned it into apartments. I think there were 2 studios and 1 one bedroom. So three little flats. They rented the studios and the one bedroom went to their daughter who had recently gotten married. Well the next thing you know, the daughter has triplets. So now the five of them are living in a little one bedroom flat that is only accessible from the grandparents’ home via a rickety external staircase. As the other tenants moved out, they spread out into the other flats but the flats were never connected. I think the show caught up with them when the triplets were just starting kindergarten or first grade. By the end of the show, the architect had reconnected the top and bottom of the house and reconfigured it so that there was a generous kitchen and dining room for everyone plus living quarters for the grandparents downstairs and a little sitting room and bedrooms upstairs for the daughter and family. But what I found mind boggling was the fact that there was now 1 toilet and 1 tub for the 7 of them. Japanese tubs are big deep affairs so I understand why you would only have one bath. But to have 7 people sharing one toilet?
There’s a certain intimacy that comes from sharing such close quarters. You have to be more accepting since you have no recourse. Your bed and surroundings are your personal space but there’s no door. Maybe because they focus on the good examples on TV, it seems these families living in really tight quarters seem a lot more open with each other. When you don’t have a physical door to close, maybe it’s easier not to close your emotional door either. If you’ve never had alone time, do you miss it? So here I sit, back in my flat, surrounded by windows and space and wonder, do I love it because of the space or because it’s mine? It’s probably a bit of both. Either way I am very lucky to be in a place I love.
I had cataract surgery last autumn. I thought it all went well but then I stopped being able to see. Of course from having spent decades where everything was blurry, it took a bit to figure out that this was something I should be concerned about. So I went back to the eye doctor who informed me I had fluid build up behind my eyes and prescribed eye drops. He wanted to see me in three weeks time but I was off to Tokyo so I made an appointment for after I returned and off I went. Now I had been on the drops just about three weeks, when literally in an instant my vision blurred. At first I thought I just had something in my eye, so I rubbed it a bit and when it didn’t come out, just figured it was one of those things and ignored it. By the next day, my eye was bloodshot and swollen. You could see the left eye was protruding beyond the right one. It felt like an infection because along with it, I got what felt like a sinus headache and what I could only imagine a migraine might feel like. Anyway, it was all very unpleasant but I didn’t want to make a big deal of it because my parents would worry. So I kind of stuck it out and came home with it. I went to the eye doctor who was concerned with how high the pressure in my left eye was and gave me pills to bring it down. Well, the pills themselves were something else all together. It made the back of my head down to the soles of my feet tingle like in a pins and needles kind of way. It also made my nose and lip numb like when you are coming off anaesthesia, oh yeah and the same thing happened to my palms. Really weird. But it seemed to bring the pressure down to the point where the doctor was no longer alarmed. Now I am on different eye drops and I’m supposed to go see him again. Frankly I am not seeing terrific improvement here. I’ve stayed away from my usual classes at the gym in case the extra blood pumping through my head causes something bad to happen. I couldn’t take it any more and when to pilates today figuring that it’s at least more gentle. I won’t say I wished I never had the surgery because I know I needed it, but still what a pain. I only hope it goes away soon.
I just got back from my annual trip to Tokyo. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, going to see my parents on my own. Three weeks is a long time to be away from your life and I am paying the consequences now, but still I thought I would take a couple minutes to put down my impressions.
For the first time, transport did not run like clockwork. I was on a train that was running over 20 minutes late. Now of course, there was snow and someone had thrown themselves under the train but still, little delays happened throughout my stay. What does it mean? The day of the 20 minute delay, I remembered what it was like to be on a real rush hour train. People had to get to work, so there was no mercy. Not a word was uttered, silently everyone just pushed on and with their backs toward the car, so they wouldn’t have to actually see the people they were squashing. It was a little eerie. It makes the occasional rush hour trains I get stuck on in London seem like a walk in the park.
I had a run of meals in a variety of price ranges and it was an eye opener. I have a favourite series of cookbooks, they are written by the owner of Waketokuyama. So it was with great anticipation that I went to eat in his restaurant with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. The food was beautiful and the ingredients very luxurious. But the experience overall didn’t fill me with awe. Of course it was delicious but at the price, you would expect that. So I tried to figure out what had left me cold. You really couldn’t fault the food or the service, but I felt it was lacking warmth. They didn’t make you feel special. God that makes me sound like a spoiled brat. But I do think restaurant eating is more than just consuming, especially when you pay top dollar. Maybe they just had an off night, I would like to go again to see if there’s any difference. Compare that to my meal the next night at MayuZen in Nishi Azabu. Now of course this is a place owned by my mom’s friend’s daughter so I do have a personal connection. I brought a friend of mine, the two of us sat at the counter and were just blown away with dish after dish of amazing food.?It is an intimate little restaurant and maybe that was the difference, even though I spent most of the evening catching up with my friend, the owner joined in where appropriate so that my friend went away feeling like he had found a new great place to go. There was not the distance as there was at WakeTokuyama where I very much felt we were strangers as opposed to guests. So the next night, another meal with another friend. We stumbled onto AnNon looking for a place to eat in Naka Meguro. It is a combination of Japanese and Okinawan food. Although we had the set dinner which didn’t feature any Okinawan dishes, everything was again really pretty and delicious. The restaurant itself was gorgeous, a spacious place with lots of blonde wood. We felt like we’d found the deal of the century given that it was dinner. Skipped a day and went for what has to be the highlight of the trip in terms of fish. A friend drove me out to a fishing port to have brunch in a diner owned by a fishing family. I don’t think I have ever had fish that fresh. No nice decor, no gorgeous crockery, just amazing fish. I was very bad at taking photos, but here are a couple taken by my friend at brunch.
Note the iphone in the photo for scale
The individual slices were very large as well
I’m going to sign off here, but there will be more posts to follow about my time in Tokyo, I hope. I start with the very best intentions, then life happens.
rice with umeboshi
I was chatting with a gym friend in the locker room the other day and I was telling her about the importance of rice. If you have a pot of rice made, you have a meal. Now ideally you will have a rice cooker and you will have hot rice always. But that isn’t always the case. But rice is one of those truly versatile things that tastes good in a variety of ways.
There is nothing better than a freshly cooked pot of rice. You open the lid, the steam comes pouring out and it smells wonderful. The Japanese prize white rice. Even though I know that brown rice is better for you and I actually like the way it tastes, it’s not the same. For people of my parents’ age who grew up in a period when there was no white rice because of the war, brown rice just brings back those memories. So in my house growing up, there was always a pot of white rice. When the rice is fresh, it is an anchor to your meal. Whether it’s a bit of grilled fish, a little stewed veg, some pickles, or even umeboshi, the pickled plum, they are all wonderful accompaniments to the rice. If you’re ever had umeboshi, you know it is very sour and makes you salivate. Just writing this, the thought of the umeboshi is making me salivate. There is a story in rakugo, a classic form of comic storytelling in Japan, about a man who was so tight that he would eat a bowl of rice just looking at the umeboshi. In addition, Japanese curry and hayashi rice are stew like things that can be poured over freshly cooked rice and are a big hit with kids.
So, pretty much a no brainer on enjoying freshly cooked rice. But what about rice that gets a little older or if you don’t have a rice cooker that keeps it warm? I do not like the microwave and try never to use one, but rice is one of those things that warms up beautifully in the microwave. Just remember to put a lid on it and if it’s really old and crunchy, sprinkle a bit of water, zap in on high for about 20-30 seconds and it revives beautifully. If you are one of those very organised people, you can freeze leftover rice in portions that make sense for later and zap when you need. It freezes very well too.
You can fry rice that is no longer fluffy and warm. In addition to the classic fried rice, you can put chopped onion and whatever else is lying around your fridge and season with ketchup for a western style fried rice. Or season with a little curry powder and add raisins for curry pilaf. But when it’s beyond even fried rice, put it in a pot with lots of water and cook it into congee. You can start from stock, dashi or just plain water. Swirl some egg, throw in some green leafy thing and whatever else strikes your fancy, it’s the perfect one person dish in front of the TV. A thin rice gruel just made on water with umeboshi is what you eat for an upset stomach or when you have a fever and have lost your appetite. My kids still associate it with being sick and being taken care of.
So remember, if you start with a pot of rice, you can eat for days without getting bored.
Happy New Year. This is a post I meant to write at the end of last year, but in true procrastination form, never quite got around to it.
2011 was a very eventful year for me and the world. The world you know about, but here are some highlights from my year, good and bad.
The year did not start off great with my dad in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I learned that Japanese medicine is crap at telling you worst cast scenarios, so he went in thinking that this was a routine procedure (triple bypass) and came out not knowing his PIN number. I couldn’t make it to the surgery due to the masses of snow on the ground, so arrived to find my dad in ICU post op, completely disoriented, hallucinating and looking ancient. A bit of a shock when no one has prepared you for it. Anyway, a year on, he is making slow but steady progress to the point where he is starting to make more sense and according to my mom, his eyes are regaining their focus. I’ll be home next week so I can see for myself but it did really make me think about existing as opposed to living. He was a vibrant, vigorous man who at 85 had a very active social life and was out on his own all the time. Maybe it would have been better for him to have had a couple more years on medication but maintaining his lifestyle as opposed to having a surgery that will probably rob him of maybe two years of his life. He made the decision so this is the way it turned out but it does make you think. My kids came out to help and they were wonderful, they took turns so my mom would have support for an extended time as opposed to everyone turning up for 2 weeks and disappearing. My son, who was on his gap year stayed for a month taking his grandpa for walks everyday even if it was to the end of the condo building and back.
Back in London, I resumed my cooking classes and pursued the opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I serve in class into a product. Working with a distributor, Kinomi was born. I had never done anything like this before and I know if it wasn’t for J, I would have given up. By the end of May, I had a product that I could actually start selling. I had really good feedback at the first show I did and there is nothing like having someone who isn’t your friend like what you are selling and actually pay money for it. The next step beyond that is having people who haven’t even met you buy your product. Obviously we all do it all the time but when you’re on the producing end, it’s surreal in a good way. By the end of October I was selling in Harvey Nichols. Hopefully they are selling well enough so that the store is willing to keep stocking me. I even got a little write up on their website http://www.harveynichols.com/hnedit/food-and-wine/whats-in-food-wine/kinomi-nuts-by-hiromi-stone-at-harvey-nichols/. I have also started selling in some local shops and hope to grow the stores I supply in 2012. Any suggestions or leads are most welcome.
My husband came home after a year in Prague and so the whole family went to Hawaii on our summer holiday, including my parents. My niece got married, the first of the nieces and nephews to do so. We became empty nesters in the autumn when my son went off to university. He and his sister are at opposite ends of the country having very different experiences, but they are both enjoying themselves so my day to day obligations as a mom no longer exist. I now enjoy them when they come home and know that the chaos in the house won’t last. They are kind, smart, thoughtful young people and I am very proud of them. And did I mention funny, some of the best times are when we all sit around after a meal and just “banter” as my kids call it.
2011 turned into an unbelievable year for meeting new and wonderful people. I guess it is because I am now doing something specific that I can tell people about, I have met some really interesting people. People have been so supportive and kind, I really appreciate it and hope to do the same for anyone else who might need a hand. I am also settling into the neighbourhood and making new friends. It’s great to feel connected to a neighbourhood and see people you know in the street to have a quick chat. This is probably the friendliest place we’ve lived in, we are very lucky to have found it.
This is definitely turning into a novel so I will sign off. But you can’t look back on 2011 and not mention the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit my country. The people who live in that region are used to natural disasters, they had training days and scenarios worked out for what to do when a tsunami hit. This one exceeded everyone’s expectations and just wiped the area out. As tragic and horrible as it was, they can rebuild. But the man made disaster of a nuclear meltdown, the effects are so long lasting I worry about the future of the region and Japan. As a Japanese person living overseas, I was very proud of the way the Japanese people reacted in the face of the tragedy. I was also touched by the outpouring of support globally The last time I gave any thought to Japan in the world was the 80′s, when Japanese cars were being smashed in Detroit and Japan bashing articles were fairly common in the American press. I guess a lot has changed in 30 years.
Okay, I’m really done now. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I’m not that great at reflection or forward planning. I hope that 2012 is a wonderful year for all and may we take a step closer to peace.
I was having a nostalgic moment and was on YouTube watching clips from Southern All Stars, a Japanese band from my youth who are still going strong. Their lead singer is the band even though I think all the other members have remained the same since the 70′s. I enjoy them more as I get older. But one thing struck me this morning as I was watching clips both old and new, ”here is a man who is living with passion”. I think that is what has made them so loved by their fans. Maybe that’s why so many people want to be musicians, it is such an overt expression of one’s passion.
There are countless seminars, books and TV shows telling you how to find your passion. Everyone says, “live your passion”. What does that mean? I had always expected it to be a lightening bolt from above, one day I would wake up and know exactly what I wanted to do and it would make me deliriously happy. But I realise now that that’s not the way it happens for most people. You may be one of the lucky few who knew from a young age exactly what you wanted to be when you grew up. For me, it’s finally starting to become clear in my 50′s. But in order to get there, you have to live life and participate. It’s a bit like jumping rope. There are two people turning the rope and you have to find the right timing and jump in. If you hesitate, chances are you’ll get tangled in the rope and fall over. You have to take that risk and jump in. Once you’re in, you can decide if this is what you wanted. But you can’t find that out on the sidelines waiting and watching for the right moment. So all my life experiences have led me to this period in my life when things are starting to make sense and what is happening feels right.
You need to be an active participant in life, pay attention. Listen to people, engage with them you never know when some casual comment will spark something in your brain. You may not notice the connection right away, but it will be a seed planted. Who knows, that may become your purpose, your passion. It’s never too late to start something new, go ahead, jump in.
I’ll leave you with two clips from Southern All Stars, one From 1978 and twenty years later, From 1999. Enjoy.
My Kinomi nuts are now available at Harvey Nichols. It is a very exciting thing for me as they are a premium department store and acknowledged as a fashion leader in the UK. But obviously this is just the beginning for Kinomi. So where to go from here?
I can just tell there’s another growth opportunity coming this way for me. Whee! (and I mean that sarcastically) While I know intellectually that growth experiences are good, emotionally I am unhappy about them. Why do I need to keep growing? I thought I was done, can’t be improved upon and all that. Growth periods are often uncomfortable, embarrassing and chaotic. You don’t notice for awhile after you come out of them because you’re still reeling from the experience.
It turns out that if you put yourself out there and take risks, then you continue to grow. Back in the 90′s, with two little kids, I thought I had achieved what I needed to in life. Obviously that’s not true, look what I’ve done since then. I now realise that it’s because I didn’t have time to think about me, I was too busy trying to keep two small people alive. That all got turned on its head with our move to Tokyo. Suddenly in addition to the wellbeing of the small people, I had to think about my adjusting to a new environment. Although I had family and geography going for me, it was still a tough transition. I managed, thrived and discovered that I was not cut out for suburban living. Then came the move to London which was much tougher. Children older, no support system and a pretty hostile environment compared to my warm fuzzy life in Tokyo. But I managed and 10 years later, here I am.
This is what I think. If you look back, there is a progression in your life. Things happen to prepare you for the next stage. Of course, stepping out into the unknown is scary. The thought of going out there and trying to sell my Kinomi nuts is pretty terrifying. But I have to remember that if I think it’s the right thing to do, then I’ve been logging experience all along to help me get there. Deep breath, off I go.
Here they are, on the shelf.