Saturday, 17 June 2017

Pink Holiday - Barbie cafe in Yokohama

During my time living in cafe I have visited a lot of cafes, specifically theme cafes. I can say wholeheartedly, without a doubt this is the best theme cafe I have ever visited. For me personally, small details make a theme cafe great; a lot of theme cafes just throw up a couple of posters and call it a day so it was really nice seeing such a high level of dedication to their aesthetic.

Barbie is somehow extremely popular in Japan, with a lot of stores, like the ones in Nakano selling second-hand or vintage Barbie dolls at bumped up prices and shops in Harajuku selling Barbie themed clothes and accessories. Naturally when something gains popularity, a theme cafe emerges shortly after. However most theme cafes are just pop-up, running for a few months at a time in locations such as department stores; thankfully, Pink Holiday is a permanent cafe.

The cafe is based in Yokohama, a little far from central Tokyo but well worth the ride. The cafe is on the second floor and is a little small, but that adds to the kitschy doll house-feeling of it. Upon entering you are greeted  by a gorgeous waitress, decked out in all-pink Barbie clothing with a definite Gyaru vibe. You will notice that every inch of wallpaper is lovingly decorated by both vintage and modern Barbie goods; rare dolls, magazine clippings, clothing and photographs adorn the interior. Even the toilet had clipping from Popteen, Ageha and Larme magazine.

My friends and I were seated at the biggest table, surrounded by boxes upon boxes of dolls, toy cars and pets. The cafe was bustling with cute Japanese girls, snapping selfies with the dolls and tucking into petite pink dishes, so the atmosphere felt pretty wonderful.

My friends and I dressed for the occasion wearing Barbie themed baby pink and fuchsia outfits, making use of the many Barbie embroidered cushions and props dotted around our table. Then it was time to order; the menu was pretty vast and almost every item dangerously pink. They also included a lot of original drinks, cocktails and even birthday courses.

I may have ordered too much food; everything seemed so well crafted and presented I couldn't resist gouging myself on pastel foods. I expected pink curry to taste sickly and disgusting, but it was actually delicious. My friend attested that the hamburger with fluffy pink rice was also pretty good, but of course at cafes like this, the desserts are what really shine. My friend ordered the "Surprise parfait" which,  to its credit was pretty surprising because it came with a huge sparkler stuck inside!
We also ordered white chocolate fondue and little brightly colored cupcakes. Al the foods were very toy-like and definitely something Barbie herself would have enjoyed.

The best part ended up not actually being the food, but the fact the surrounding Barbies, cars and toys were totally open to be played with while we enjoyed our meals. It was really nostalgic for me to sit there with my friends dressing up the dolls and filming short videos. It shows you're literally never to old to enjoy Barbie. It also gave me a chance to see and touch Barbies I had always wanted as a child!

There was a table charge and the food wasn't overpriced but, not cheap either. That aside I really recommend this cafe, even those who aren't a big fan of Barbie, the food and interior are aesthetically pleasing and the experience is very interactive. Reserving is recommended, but we managed to get a table without reservation on a Monday afternoon. Also, on the way out there is a life-size doll-box so you can become a real-life Barbie!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Powerpuff girls cafe in Harajuku

Sugar, spice, everything nice; these were the ingredients chose to make the perfect cafe, but they accidently added something extra....Chemical X!
Growing up watching Cartoon Network, I idolized a different kind of magical girl; Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup and, apparently, they have developed somewhat of a cult following in Japan, too. Recently American cartoons such as Adventure Time are also gaining increasing popularity, for their own unique brand of kawaii. The Powerpuff Girls alongside other American animations also inspired the anime "Panty, stocking and Garterbelt". This style of cartoon drawing is also becoming popular amongst Mangaka and animators in Tokyo, especially the quirky sense of humor and dark connotations, I look forward to a lot more western style Japanese anime in future.

Naturally, when something becomes popular in Tokyo, a pop-up cafe soon follows and we were eagerly awaiting the PPG cafe for a long time, which was made possible due to the collaboration between Spinns 2.5 - a street wear clothing store hysr off Takeshita dori in Harajuku and a new collection of Powerpuff girl themed clothing from ACDCrag, also in Takeshita dori.

I wore the Bubbles oversize T-shirt from the ACDCrag line to wear to the cafe and styled myself into a casual Bubbles cosplay. I always related to Bubbles the most - a  happy-go-lucky crybaby with a strong sense of justice, so luckily I could purchase a lot of Bubbles themed goods at the cafe.

The cafe itself is situated on the 3rd floor of Spinns, up a huge PPG themed staircase that's a perfect place to take photos, but on busy days there could be a line of people waiting all the way down the stairs but if you go on a weekday, you might be lucky enough to walk straight in.

The inside of the cafe is bright and spacious, decorated with character stickers, posters and a projector screening episodes of PPG, a perfect haven for Cartoon Network fans.
There were also giant Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup plushies to take photos with, complete with a photo area.

As for the menu, it wasn't extensive, but the items they did have were well-crafted and aesthetically appealing, of course most of them were desserts. I chose the  Bubbles soda -  a bubblegum flavored soda with candyfloss topping, adorned with a little Bubbles shaped rice cracker (with no traces of chemical X). My friend went for the Bubbles parfait - Bubblegum and vanilla ice cream with blue Hawaii jelly and Lime. There was also a PPG themed hamburger and a Blossom burger, but we came for the sweets.

For dessert I had the "Power Power Rainbow" pancakes; butter pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and a side of fruit to give the illusion you are at least trying to be healthy. I would recommend this out of everything because the portion was big and there were a lot of individual delicate flavors on top of being rainbow.

We sat by the huge windows and enjoyed people watching, as it was Sunday, the most busy day for Takeshita dori, it was nice to get away from the endless sea of tourists and shop staff screaming bargains at the top of their lungs.

After paying up, we took some photos with the novelty plushies in front of Townsville and checked the goods by the door, before heading down to the Spinns store below for even more goods. Some are shipped from overseas while other designs are Tokyo exclusive.

The whole experience was amazing for me; a lifelong Cartoon network and PPG fan, but irregardless to that I think it would be a good experience to those who aren't a fan of the series. My only complaint was that although they had Mojo Jojo themed items and a coffee based around him, I didn't see my favorite PPG character anywhere - "Him" the androgynous and somewhat sexy lobster-devil-creature thing. I'm not sure if its down to licensing or people in Tokyo purely don't like that character, but that was the only disappointment for me.

If you are a Cartoon network fan, love sweets or even just like cute things, give this cafe a visit. As its a limited pop-up cafe it may change, but the theme is always cute with a ton of goods to buy, I will report on the next theme, too.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Secret garden cafe in Koenji

In Tokyo I am always on a quest to find new and exciting cute cafes. Sometimes for something to be "kawaii" it doesn't have to be disgustingly pink, sparkly or pastel, it can just be aesthetically pleasing in a whimsical way, much like the hidden-gem I discovered when vintage shopping in Koenji. The cafe goes by the name of "エセルの中庭" meaning "Ethel's courtyard".

This cafe is not very well known and seldom visited by tourists, the first floor is actually a library, so you can enjoy reading some old, worn books whilst enjoying your coffee. The first thing you will notice when entering is that the floor starts off being made of soil and grass, even though you are on the second floor of a building, everything is made of old wood and the walls are adorned with forgotten treasures and things long dead. There are various plants, statues, fountains and fish tanks which formulate a wonderful secret garden atmosphere complete with old washed out black and white photos that hang from the walls. Stepping in the cafe honestly feels like stepping back in time, it is the kind of cafe I could imagine pirates or adventure seekers frequenting hundreds of years ago.

The menu is pretty small, but unique and changes almost every week. I usually order iced chestnut milk tea, but they also sell sweets and they have a vast array of teas and even cocktails. They always serve their tea in lavishly decorated tea cups and the staff are friendly and always up for a chat. The cafe itself is in the center of Koenji shopping district, just off of the main arcade strip and is a nice oasis from the hustle and bustle.

The only downside is that the cafe itself is quite dark inside and while very relaxing, isn't great for taking photographs. The calm atmosphere and classical decor more than make up for it though and, on the way out, the cafe also sells a variety of colored crystals! I really recommend this cafe if you want to see something that not many people have seen on their trip to Tokyo and have a curiosity for old, whimsical objects.

Magikarp shaped sweets!

Taiyaki is considered of one of the more tradional types of Japanese sweets - a sweet, fish shaped pancake usually filled with red bean jam. Usually sold as street food, tasty and inexpensive, tayaki has always been a favorite, especially amongst children and has led to an array of different fillings such as green tea, custard, chocolate and even savory options such as tuna mayonnaise.
Kurikoan is one of the most famous chain stores, selling the sweet delicacy and have shops all around Tokyo, recently releasing their latest concoction - Magikarp taiyaki.

For those of you not familiar with Pokemon; Magikarp is possibly the weakest of them all. Small, weak and unable to attack with its most popular move "splash" never achieving anything, Magikarp has always been a favorite.  Especially as in later levels it evolves into one of the strongest Pokemon on the series, Magikarp is a true underdog tale, and who doesn't love that? It made sense that sooner or later Magikarp would be reimaged into this sweet snack, so I took a trip down to Akihabara to try this snack for myself.
Kurikoan is on the main strip of Akihabara and is almost unmissable if you follow the sweet scent of pancake batter, the store itself sells many variety of taiyaki including the most popular - vanilla custard and the slightly weird egg and bacon. Magikarp unfortunately only came in two varieties; red bean with cream cheese and green tea. I went with the red bean and I was not disappointed. You even got to see the staff make the taiyaki fresh from scratch!

The puffy pancake comes still warm with its own Pokemon themed packaging and filled to the brim with sweet paste, not too sweet and with a hint of salt it was the perfect snack to munch on while we strolled around Akihabara. If you are travelling to Japan then of course you will want to head to the nerdy Mecca that is "Akiba" and if you do, make sure to grab a Magikarp taiyaki on the way!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Patty and Jimmy Sanrio cafe!

If you ever wondered how Japanese people imagine America, the Patty and Jimmy Sanrio cafe in Harajuku is a pretty good representation. Patty and Jimmy are two blonde-haired American children who live in Kansas next door to each other, they love sports and hate studying, this is the basis for their character design. When I first saw the cafe I assumed they were new Sanrio characters, I then found out they debuted in 1974! As there are now hundreds of Sanrio characters I see how they could have gone unnoticed, however their wholesome all-American style is a little different to other Sanrio characters and is somewhat reminiscent of Snoopy. 
This cafe is in the middle of Takeshita dori, next door to my favorite Sanrio character cafe - the Pom Pom Purin cafe, however this kitsch little cafe also had its charm points.

The decor is painfully cute, designed to look like an American diner and the color scheme being stars and stripes, the designers did a good job turning the American theme into a Japanese style of cute. My favorite point of the cafe was the little red mail box next to the door, which you could actually open.

The food itself was mostly different kinds of Omurice - a fluffy omelet wrapped around flavored rice and covered with sauce. For some reason Japanese people seem to think this is a western dish, but I have only ever seen it in Japan. I chose the big set with the "American sports" theme. My Omurice was in the shape of an American football, complete with mashed potato baseball and a tiny corn baseball bat with onion rings for extra Americaness. You got to choose a sauce for the Omurice, I chose mentaiko cream - pink creamed fish eggs. Despite it being almost completely carbs, it was delicious, if not a little heavy.

My favorite part of this cafe is definitely the milkshakes, huge, thick and served in a giant glass boot with plenty of chocolate sauce, I'm not sure exactly the symbolic purpose of the boot but this was the best shake I have ever had in Japan. The meal was about 2000yen altogether, which is slightly cheap for a character theme cafe. It was also completely empty, which is pretty rare in Takeshita dori of Harajuku, so if you need a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of Harajuku, I totally recommend coming here and getting a giant shake!

Interational Larme fashion meet and Kajitsuen Fruit parlor!

As Larme fashion continues to gather speed we decided you have a second sakura themed Larme meet admiring the flowers in Shinjuku Gyoen park. Larme fashion as been described as "innocence with a splash of poison" so lavishly admiring flowers whilst wolfing down fruit parfaits seemed a perfect setting.
We picked Shinjuku Gyoen as it is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo and also there is a 200yen entrance-fee, which weeds out the riff-raff and guys hanging around the cherryblossoms looking for their hatsukoi (first love). The park itself has a distinct Central park feeling, with the huge Tochoemae government building looming overhead that looks strikingly similar to the Empire State building.  The park itself is made up of lots of themed gardens including a British, French and of course Japanese garden, with the chance to see many different kinds of cherry blossom.

From the end of March until the end of April the cherryblossoms start blooming and so everyone heads to their nearest park for a big alcohol-fueled picnic; expect to see many red-faced salarymen face-planting under the cherry blossom trees, women cackling loudly to their bosses jokes and plenty of debauchery. As its busy at this time of year, people usually get to the park in the early morning to reserve a spot under a nice tree and placing down their tarp.  For the perfect hanami you should prepare a big tarp, cushions, blankets, a decadent picnic and plenty of booze. Shinjuku Gyoen closes at 4pm, which is extremely early for Tokyo, but other parks people do hanami into the early hours of the morning. This is extremely annoying if you live within earshot of a park and woken to the sound of "Yamada-san! we are out of chu-hai! go to the conbini, you are the youngest after all"

We picked a nice sunny spot, laid down our tarp and then enjoyed a day of lazy feasting until it was time for the park to close. There are ponds and lakes filled to the brim with koi carp, I assured my friends that if we ended up stranded in the park after hours I would catch them a nice big fish and make them yaki-sakana, but they weren't amused. Seeing pretty girls under the cherry blossom trees is supposed to be healing, although by the end of the day I mostly felt tipsy and fat, everyone was cute though.

Larme fashion is still relatively new and expanding so it was nice to meet in a big group and discuss our favorite brands and models. Some of us were meeting for the first time so we each did a self-introduction, and I discovered we had girls from all over the world, it was lovely all being connected through the love of a fashion. We discovered that E-Hyphen World Gallery Bonbon and Swankiss were the most popular Larme brands amongst us and Risa Nakamura was our favorite Larme model. Compared to other Japanese fashion styles Larme is a lot easier to put together if you live overseas, as shops such as Forever 21 and H and M stock similar pieces.

I wore a see-through black bouse from H and M and offbrand gingham pencil skirt with fishnet tights; fightnet tights in various colors are the most hot and popular fashion item in Tokyo right now.
It is also becoming popular in Larme fashion to weave ribbons into your hair, I styled my hair using a tutorial from Larme magazine.

The flowers actually had not fully bloomed yet, but they were beautiful nontheless, sneezing a rain of pink petals onto us, it was the perfect place to take pictures. My favorite part of hanami is how fragrant the air becomes when its filled with dancing pink petals. Before we knew it, the park began playing the "goodbye" jingle and we left to our next stop; the Kajitsuen fruit parlor.

A short walk from the South entrance of Shinjuku station, the Kajitsuen fruit parlor is a restaurant, patisserie and fruit stall all in one, meaning you can buy fruit to take home too. Japan actually sells some of the biggest, juiciest - and most expensive fruit in the world. The square watermelon isn't a myth, you can actually buy it for around 80GBP!
The cakes at Kajitsuen are also particularly decadent, especially the snow strawberry chiffon cake, but we came here to eat one thing and one thing only - parfaits. The parfaits are all about 1,300yen each, which as far as desserts go in Japan, is pretty cheap and are choc-full of ripe and extremely sweet and juicy fruit and ice cream. If ice cream is not your thing, they also do a selection of pancakes! If you find yourself in Shinjuku with a sweet tooth, I completely recommend this place!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Vintage Fashion shopping in Koenji!

Koenji is definitely somewhere you should mark on your bucket list if you are traveling to Tokyo and have an interest in fashion, people always head to the big names such as Shibuya and Harajuku so they often overlook the hidden gems. Koenji is labelled as the "hipster" town because its flourishing with small indie shops, fantastic coffee and alternative fashion. A lot of foreigners of different backgrounds also live in Koenji so naturally, the food is very diverse and exciting.

A close friend recently moved to Tokyo from Australia and is incredible knowledgeable about "vinatge-kei", so much so that I enlisted her help to introduce to me the best boutiques in Koenji. There she introduced me to Yun and Remi, who actually work as apparel staff in small vintage stores around Koenji and often seen on the streets, if you do visit please be sure to look out for them!
Firstly, Yun introduced us to a resturant called "Shepherds Lunch" which had a very British home-cooked meal feel to it and lots of wood and natural colors, the aesthetic matched Yuns look perfectly.

For a mere 1000 yen we had a delicious and healthy lunch with coffee. My friend had the pasta, while I took the "Rice Koroke" - different flavored breaded rice balls; curried prawn, coriander and squid ink!

 Chatting with my my friends I could learn a lot about Vintage-kei. A lot of Japanese fashions use vintage pieces in their looks, but Vintage-kei uses earthy tones, layers and frills for a doll-like appearence. Very similar and intertwining with Dolly-kei, Mori-kei and Cult Party Kei, Yun uses a mix of vintage and pieces she remade herself for her ethereal and very angelic look. There are a lot of sub-styles centering around layers and second-hand pieces but as of now, Vintage-kei seems to be rising in popularity.

There are so many different vintage stores, some even clothes all the way from the Edwardian period! We managed to catch Remi at work, who gave us a tour of her shop, which sold a collection of vintage clothes and accessories from all over the world - from American-style negligees to real silk kimono and even antiques. Usually the fashion in Tokyo is all so current it was surprising to see items such as real mink scarves and satin ballet shoes used in everyday fashion, but that is what made the whole experience so refreshing after spending so much time in Harajuku.

The girls I met wore mostly beige and off-white earthy tones for their angelic and virginal aesthetic, however Koenji also had a number of stores with an array of pretty pastels. I could see a lot of these items being used in decora or Fairy-kei and at second-hand prices I hope people will consider having a shopping spree in Koenji. As fast fashion becomes increasingly popular in Japan, buying something second hand insures its rarity and uniqueness.

My personal favorite was a kaleidoscopically colorful shop called Kiki2 selling a range of 80s pop themed clothing, which is ultra cool in Tokyo right now since "Peco-kei" became popular. Peco-kei is an assortment of bubblegum pop and sexy grunge and due to popular brands like "Bubbles" based around pastel tartan school skirts, edgy cuts and dark accents leading the current trend in Tokyo right now. The store itself has a mix of original pieces and second-hand, but also a room filled to the brim with stuffed toys, you can't possibly leave without feeling happy.
I had such a fantastic time away from the hustle and bustle of Harajuku, which is usually over run with tourists, our next destination will be the vibrant, unique fashion of Shimokitazawa, so please look forward to my next post!