Field Report: Notes from Abroad (featured on No Greater Good Magazine)

This week I had the pleasure to meet with Kirk Bairian, Co-founder of No Greater Good Magazine, and take him around Tokyo for the weekend while sharing my experience for his magazine! Thanks again Kirk for entrusting me for the weekend! Excerpt taken from original published post here

My name’s Lillian Lin. I’m a full time Interior Designer.. chef, blogger, and photographer who moved from Los Angeles to Tokyo in May 2014. You can follow up with my latest recipes on and my adventures on my personal blog:!

a. What drove you to Tokyo?

Throughout my childhood, I loved cooking, arts and crafts, and architecture.. and I was always mesmerized by Japanese cuisine, art, and culture. I was so keen to learn how to properly assemble a bento box and package gifts so well since I loved preparing meals, baking and shipping cookies for friends… and I also wanted to learn to live more minimally and nourish my own future family well. All the Japanese moms I’ve also met have always excelled in all these hospitality and household managing areas…so I thought I could really learn from them to apply these skills into my life since I’m so passionate about design, hospitality, and building a bright, future family.

While I was studying architecture at USC, I was accepted a job opportunity to design this rooftop cafe in Ginza for Itoya, this stationery company I was interning for in their LA office. Itoya invited me to come, move to Tokyo as soon as possible, so I had to fly in a week after graduating and start working on this project immediately…Hahah It was an INSANE transition,  since I had to move out of my apartment,say goodbye to all my friends within a week, start learning Japanese quickly since hardly anybody in the office spoke English, and I was completely financially broke… but I believed it was an amazing opportunity I couldn’t miss and that it was worth immersing myself in this culture that excels in all areas I wanted to grow…Although it’s still been a difficult journey, I’m very thankful that I came and am at this point today, because the experience of working and living here has definitely honed all the hospitality, design, and woman skills I wanted to hone.

b. What’s been the hardest aspect of Japanese culture to adapt to? The easiest?

I think the hardest aspect of Japanese culture is the communication barrier…not necessarily speaking and listening to the language (which is difficult), but more-so understanding, accepting, and committing to Japanese standards. I think Japanese expectations are generally exponentially higher and stricter than American/European standards… Particularly, the Japanese working environment is very unique, strict, traditional, and usually not flexible. I’ve been working here for almost two years and although I’m very used to constant bowing and speaking like this Japanese…secretary, it’s still a very physically, mentally difficult environment to adapt to.The easiest is figuring out things to do and what to eat, whether you’re by yourself or with friends. Japan comes up with some of the craziest, strangest, and most fun activities that are easily accessible all over the country so my friends and I never get bored. The food and restaurant standards are so high that you don’t need to Yelp or check with people for food recommendations. You can easily walk into a random place and find something at least decent to eat… People even waited 2 hours for the Taco Bell here since it tastes exponentially better than the ones in America haha.

c. We know the Japanese aren’t exactly famous for their love of human interaction. Do you find this to be true, and is it affecting you at all?

Hahah oh yes… I actually didn’t know this about Japan until I settled in. But I was totally creeped out when I walked into a ramen restaurant with my senpai (professional mentor) and couldn’t see him nor the person serving food to me. I was sitting on a small stool, facing a counter, and there was a wooden board in front of me and against my sides… I watched the board in front slightly lift and hands pop out with my ramen…and had to talk to my senpai by listening through the wooden boards between us. It was SO weird and awkward to me. I eventually started feeling really uncomfortable and depressed since I went months without a hug/handshake…so my friend convinced me to buy this Duffy stuffed animal at Tokyo Disneyland so I had “someone” to hug and sleep with at night. And I seriously spent my only $40 in my wallet then on this stuffed animal for unlimited hugs and more loving nights…

d. I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese fiction lately (cough Murakami cough), and it seems that there’s always this aspect of… surrealism, or sense of magic that pervades everyday life. Do you think this is just the vestiges of ancient Japanese mysticism, or a vehicle of escape from the soul-crushing banality of the salary-man life? Or both? Or should I just stop reading so much Murakami?

I’ve actually never finished reading a Murakami book… oops…. hahah, so I’m not sure if I understand your question. But I think there is a strange aspect of surrealism here because it’s so crowded here and a lot of us still tend to feel extremely lonely and troubled to express our feelings and ideas…especially with all this high technology and little human interaction and .  It’s hard to explain but even though I keep myself preoccupied with work and friends, I definitely feel it.. Especially when I’m squished commuting in trains to work, or when I  hike, run, visit parks, shrines… explore and travel through Japan by myself.

e. Best food? Best coffee?

Food-wise, I am a huge sucker for izakayas. They’re basically these small, cozy, loud and lively Japanese gastropubs that serve a variety of yakitori (chicken skewers) and other traditional Japanese comfort food and drinks. My local friends and coworkers typically go to these after work or any evening and spend hours in them having a blast. Sometimes we’ll also order nomihoudai, a 2 hour all you can drink option. For something more upscale and intimate, I like Kachou in Ginza – my last CEO surprised me by treating me and my friends to a private dinner here for my last night at my first job. The interior and food presentation is absolutely stunning with gorgeous fine wallpaper, napkins, floral arrangements, and shoji screens.

My favorite coffee shop was this coffee kiosk called Omotesando Koffee; it was this 3×3 meter cube coffee kiosk tucked away in a 60 year old traditional Japanese house in Omotesando. It was always an obstacle to get to since it’s tucked away in a neighborhood, but that was part of the fun of it. Eventually you’d step into this mysterious wooden cube with delicately arranged lights and paper bags…and finally reach the counter and order from this ridiculously good looking, pleasant Japanese gentleman – barista – owner. He made the best macchiato and even small cheesecake cubes. It was like…this coffee ritual experience I enjoyed by myself on weekends. But since it sadly closed at the end of 2015, I’ve been searching for the next best coffee in Tokyo.

f. I’m in town for one night – where are you taking me? Let’s get wild.

First, we’ll eat an early dinner at an izakaya and nomihoudai (all you can drink) with a Japanese set course menu for 2 hours, run through Harajuku’s Takeshita and Shibuya’s crossing, blast through the arcades, karaoke and bar hop in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai / micro-sized pubs, take kawaii purikura photobooth pictures that filter us to make our faces look thinner and eyes look ginormous, club 11PM – 5AM in Roppongi, and eat ramen for breakfast and green tea ice cream waffles  in Lawson’s until you really have to leave… You can sleep on the airplane.