Hanging out with my younger self


If you are lucky you might be able to live to 100. Thus, one could think about life a bit like a 100 metre race (that most of us want to get through in Usain Bolt-style but in slow motion). Worryingly, instead of slow motion, I have started approaching the halfway mark of the track in Benny Hill show-style (in fast forward). Worse still, pretty much at every birthday for the past 10 years I have been able to visualise my young self around the 30 metre mark blow me a kiss goodbye.

But, this last month has been different, even though it saw me move another metre further down that 100m track. For the first time in nearly 9 years (since my son was born), I’ve had a chance to remind myself what it was like to be spontaneous and carefree. The reason being that while I have been in Japan for work for a month, my children and husband have been back home, in England.

So, four weeks ago I walked back to that 30 metre mark, embraced my young-adult self and went wild. Well, maybe wild is not an accurate word here, given that wild in my 20s meant something quite different than it means to me today. I will not go into explaining what wild meant to me in my youth, but for the past four weeks it’s meant:

  • not cooking a single lunch or dinner
  • checking my alarm clock at 6.45 am on Saturdays and Sundays, and going back to sleep for another 3 hours
  • indulging on culture (visiting temples, shrines, cemeteries and bamboo forests)
  • my social calendar having been so full with BBQs and dinners with friends, colleagues, school mums and even with some new acquaintances, takoyaki (octopus dumplings) gatherings and birthday parties that my young self would have been proud of me. (If I wanted to show off my busy social calendar I could mention that I’ve had 18 social events in the past 30 days!)

Even though I’ve loved my freedom, seeing new places and meeting new people, in a moment I will start making my way back to the 42 metre mark on the track of life. And I will do that with unprecedented enthusiasm. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am today. You see, I am at Kansai Airport on my way back to England where I will be reunited with my children and my husband.

Japanese women’s anti-aging tips

One of the faces of SK-II

One of the faces of SK-II

Pretty much every Westerner that comes to Japan notices that Japanese women look amazingly young for their age. Most 50-something year old Japanese ladies look like they are in their 30s, and 30-year olds practically look like high school students. This really ruins my day, usually about 8.05am when I walk out of my building and pass the first Japanese lady on my way to the tube.

Not only do I suffer during my way to work, but at work I am constantly reminded about Japanese ladies’ perfect complexion, given that I work with two Japanese women who are roughly my age (mid-late 30s) and who have hardly any wrinkles. I feel like a Shar Pei in comparison.

Shar Pei (photo from: dogbreedplus.com)

Shar Pei (photo from: dogbreedplus.com)

Even worse, when I’ve compared our ages with ‘How old do I look’ – a software that relatively accurately estimate the age of people in photos – my work colleagues are consistently estimated as 25-year olds. Me on the other hand…

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 00.03.43

(not only does the software estimate me being 79 years old – it also thinks that I am a man!)


So the question that for the past year has been keeping me awake at night (in addition to my 4-year old Type 1 diabetic daughter’s blood sugar testing) is:

What the hell do these women do to stay looking so young?!


I believe many labs have been/are running tests here in the far East, trying to figure out why Japanese and Korean people retain their youthful skin decades longer than their Western counterparts. Unfortunately, genetics (and one’s facial structure) seems to play a big part in whether your look like a Shar Pei at 40 or not.

Since there isn’t much we can do about our genetic make up or facial structure, in a desperate attempt to get some sleep and to shave a couple of years off my face (try 30 years!), I’ve been slyly observing my Japanese friends and their habits and even asked them what their beauty secrets are. Here’s what I’ve found out.


1. Diet

Green tea

Most people in Japan drink green tea every day, and many people I’ve talked to say they believe green tea is one of the most important reasons for their skin looking like that of Michelle Pfeiffer’s, or perhaps nowadays more appropriately that of Kim Kardashian’s.

Green tea is full of antioxidants which not only fight many diseases but also are beneficial to your skin, so there might really be something to be said for drinking green tea. Having said that, my husband really likes green tea but he looks like the above Shar Pei’s grandad.

Japanese mothers tend to give their children green tea instead of water and most of the children grow to love it. I feel the word ‘grow’ is important here because green tea is an item on my list of acquired tastes. I mean, having a mouthful of green tea or neat vodka results in a similar grimace on my face. And thinking about it the grimace caused by a gulp of green tea probably counterbalances any positive effects that mouthful has on my wrinkles, so (in my case) I am not sure if it would prove to reverse the damage done by drinking too many mouthfuls of vodka over the years.

I suppose I could attempt to reach my daily green tea quota by eating the tea in the form of ice-cream (green tea is one of the most popular ice-cream flavours in Japan). As you might have guessed, it’s not my favourite ice-cream flavor – but the fact that green tea is combined with ice-cream fools my brain into thinking it is something edible – a similar phenomenon as having rum-raisin ice-cream: not in my top 100 ice-cream flavours but I’ll down it if there’s nothing else on offer.


Many Japanese women think that this spicy Korean cabbage-dish also fights aging because of the antioxidants in it. And in fact, many Japanese women think Korean women look even younger than themselves and they put it down to Kimchi. I’ve tried to flag up the fact that Korean women visit their plastic surgeons at least as often as Donatella Versace, but the ladies over here are convinced it is kimchi.


When my Japanese friends and I go out for a BBQ, I tend to opt for sirloin steak or some other meaty part of the cow. My Japanese friends on the other hand go for things like cow’s pancreas, diaphragm or womb (see photos some menus below).

IMG_9245       IMG_9246

I was rather shocked by their dinner choices until they told me that gizzards have a lot of collagen, and therefore anti-aging properties. So, I tried stomach, pancreas, and I don’t even know what else. I don’t want to come across as a princess, but pancreas and the other stuff just doesn’t taste like something I want to eat on a regular basis. Perhaps your taste buds agree more with this anti-aging category of food, but my gagging reflex says:

For the love of God, lets age gracefully without chewy gimmicks!


2. Skin care


This is nothing new to anyone, right? -We all know that sun is not good for one’s skin, in terms of aging at least. But what do us Western women do? We want a (permanent) tan – and so we exchange 50 years of youth for 25 years of tan. It is probably obvious what I will say next, but I’ll say it anyway: Japanese women do not sunbathe. In fact, they carefully cover themselves up especially in Osaka’s 40 degree August even when just popping out for a quick food shop.

IMG_9541    IMG_9550

Face cream

The brand that all Japanese women seem to swear by is SK-II, a brand that I had never heard about until I came to Japan. Although many Japanese women swear by it, they do not use it themselves, largely because its probably more expensive than having Botox. I’ve never had Botox (or any other invasive facial treatment), and please correct me if I am wrong, but I’m guessing paying about £250 for a 50g tub of face cream is not far off from Botox prices.

In any case, this facial product is a Japanese make. It’s anti-aging and its age repair qualities derive from yeast. Apparently in the 1970s, Japanese researchers noticed that people working in sake factories had unbelievably young looking hands in comparison to the age showing on their faces and investigated whether sake could be the Grail of eternal youth. Eventually researchers managed to identify one strain of yeast (called Pitera) that seemed to provide protection from aging.

Like many Japanese women, I use SK-II. I parted with a relatively large sum of money about six months ago (when I turned 40) and invested in several SK-II products. And I have to say, I really like them. My skin has generally been as dry as the Sahara for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried more or less every product under the sun (no pun intended) but, due to central heating, during the winter my skin always looked like a snake peeling its skin – until the winter just gone (and SK-II) when this was not a problem at all.

Disappointingly, the cream has not turned me into an 18-year old, at least if measured by the number times I’ve been ID-ed since I started using SK-II (zero).



Japanese hot springs, or onsens, are similar to places like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The minerals and chemicals in the water are thought to revitalize the skin.

Most Japanese people visit onsens on a regular basis, similarly to your standard British person visiting their local pub. While the geothermal water of onsens is likely to have long lasting benefits on your skin, the pints of lager in your local pub are likely to result only in temporary (drunken) misconception that you are 18 again.



I don’t know what your thoughts are on aging, or whether or not you look like a Shar Pei, but some of the above tips might be worth trying. And if you get really desperate – one way to deal with aging is to visit your local pub every evening and time-travel with a pint of Stella.


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The views here are solely mine. The tips listed above may not have significant effects on your aging or health.

Old lady


This morning I was in a rush squeezing into my dress for work. It felt tighter than usual. So while my husband was trying to do the zip up and I am huffing and puffing and wondering why the dress feels so small, our son, who had been observing the ‘squeeze-into-a dress-two sizes-too-small-operation’, rushes to point out that: Well it’s because you turned 40 yesterday. Ouch. Yes, turning 40 means that you wake up to find that you’ve put on 10kg overnight, and that your breasts hang somewhere south of your knees. Don’t you just love it when you turn middle-aged and many of your (unlucky) friends who’ve already turned 40 greet you with ‘It’s not that bad! Welcome to the other side.’ But you know, I don’t want to be on that side. It’s like the bloody twilight zone to me. Thanks but no thanks. Instead, can I go back 15 or so years?

Just in case you are wondering, I think our 6-year old son wasn’t really all that aware of the connotation that middle aged people are (often) overweight and strategic areas of their body start to migrate to a different latitude. I think he in his 6-year old’s mind is still under the impression that every extra birthday means that you grow taller (and wider).

But forty! Christ. How the hell did this happen? Where did the years between 20 and 40 go? In my teens, time used to crawl like myself embarrassingly often on my way home from the pub in my twenties. The year between turning 17 and 18 was like a triple life-sentence in Alcatraz since in Finland (like most places) you can’t go to pubs/clubs until you are 18. Our friends turning eighteen one by one, and me and my twin sister having been born in October meant that (based on the Finnish school system going from January to December, instead of e.g. the English system going from September to August) we were one of the last ones in our class to turn 18. I suppose, our payback extended from this January to October, when those friends who where making their way home from the pub on their all fours several months before me and my twin sister, now turned 40 several months before us.

Us living in Japan has made me more aware of my age. The gorgeous Japanese women, who practically don’t age between the ages of 20 and 60 make me look like a dehydrated raisin in comparison. I suppose one benefit of looking like that is that no man looks at me twice over here – let alone attempt to flirt with me. That’s if you enjoy being like thin air to everyone around you. You see, Japan has a big problem with (drunken) men harassing women. Consequently, for instance, trains have specific train carriages only for women. Men aren’t allowed in these carriages, so that they can’t try to sneak their phone under a woman’s skirt and take a photo. I haven’t had a problem with this. No-one has harassed me – other than a deer buck who tried to pull my skirt up when we visited the close by city of Nara. I suppose some of you might say: Well, that’s better than nothing. You are 40, so you should take it when you can get it.


A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I met up with a middle-aged Finnish-American couple in Kyoto, who we had never met in person before. I overheard the Finnish lady telling my husband about her young Finnish female relative going to visit them in New York and added that: She’s blond and pretty like your wife probably used to be when she was young. These kinds of comments are just rolling in. I’m starting to think it is not only your breasts but also the bags under your eyes that all of a sudden drop to different latitudes when you are approaching forty.

I think one reason why I really don’t like the idea of being forty and certainly do not feel like I am forty is because I have a relatively good memory – unlike some of my peers whose memory abilities are comparable to that of a demented spatula. My husband and his brain are heading towards that spatula-like state worryingly fast. For instance, pretty much every time when my husband’s done a food shop, I find bags of fresh mushrooms in the freezer and refill-bags of hand soap in the fridge. Our car has also been pretty much permanently lost for the past 3 years. We know it is parked on a street somewhere relatively near our house in Brighton, but my husband can’t remember where he parked it.

My memory, on the other hand, is still as sharp as ever (touch wood). I can still remember how scared I was of a big bull at a farm near our summer cottage back in 1979. I can remember what my husband had for dinner in a random restaurant on a random night 10 years ago, and at a stretch, I might even remember what the couple in the next table had. I can remember the musky smell of old toys and food in my nursery when I was about 4 and have many more memories of our childhood than my twin sister. I seem to remember a lot of old stuff. Perhaps that’s why I am so shocked to realize that I have actually just turned 40.

I actually didn’t wake up in my own bed that morning when I turned 40. Don’t get too excited about a potentially juicy story. You see, I was invited to give a keynote speech at a Japanese education board’s conference in a nearby prefecture, so me and two of my colleagues stayed in a hotel out of town the night before the conference/my birthday. On our way to the hotel, we stopped at services to fill up, have coffee and, for my colleagues to empty the shop of souvenirs (see photo below). After all we were 50 km from home and as my colleagues are Japanese they needed to buy a gift for pretty much everyone they knew from their dentist to the kitchen porter of their favourite soba-noodle restaurant. A fifty km distance in Japan is treated in the same way that ‘abroad’ is treated in Europe. Souvenirs are a must; a Japanese person cannot return home empty handed. I’m not Japanese so – showing some pretty bad manners – I just bought a couple of toys and things for my kids to take back home with me. That is it.


Before we got to the hotel, we stopped once more at a supermarket to get some bottled water. My Japanese colleagues like to plan and be prepared for any eventuality and did not want to leave it to the conference organizers to remember to provide water for my talk. While in that small rural supermarket, I think I must have had some kind of temporary desire to be young and show some spontaneity and irresponsibility. So, out of the blue, extempore, without thinking about it twice I bought a rice cooker and 5 kg of Japanese rice. You can’t accuse me of not having been rock and roll on the eve of my 40th. No, this old hag still knew how to have a good time! In the name of honesty, when I was lugging the rice cooker and the two bottles of water out of the supermarket, it occurred to me that I don’t even like rice.

IMG_4885   IMG_4889

Until the last minute, I was hoping it was an elaborate scheme on my husband’s behalf to throw me a surprise party. I would walk into the conference hall and be greeted with ‘Happy Birthday!’ and go like: Oh, you shouldn’t have. But since you’ve traveled several thousand miles to get to Japan (predominantly from England and Finland) let’s party. But no, when I walked onto that stage in front of the 450 language teachers I did not see any familiar faces or hear ‘Surprise!’. So, I was forced to collect my thoughts and talk about first and second language acquisition for 80 minutes with my mouth foaming like that of a rabid dog’s (see photo below). After the presentation, I relaxed and had a glass of wine and a lovely lunch with my colleagues in a building designed by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando (see photos at the bottom of the page). We then headed back home with our souvenirs and my rice cooker + 5kgs of Japanese rice.


Ok. That’s it for this blog post. I think I’ve said everything I needed to about turning 40 to get it off my chest which is, as you might recall, hanging somewhere south of my knees.