Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku

The recently opened Monster Cafe in Harajuku is everything you would expect in a Harajuku-themed cafe - heaps of pastel, quirky and sometimes scary-cute looking characters, sugary repetitive pop music and lots of miss-matched colorful fashion.
The cafe is designed by the world-renowned Sebastian Matsuda - father of the psychedelic Harajuku fashion brand 6% Doki Doki and made famous by being the cinematographer and artist influence of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's music video "Pon Pon Pon". If you are familiar with Kyary you know what to expect and you can see traces of Kyarys kawaii aesthetic floating around the cafe;for example one of the staff members "Candy" sports hair that looks strikingly familiar to Kyarys hair style in her MV for "Fashion Monster."

When you arrive at the Cafe you need to select which area you will be in - There are 4 areas and a secret room set aside for reservations. Milk stand is a room based around...Milk? Various animal heads hang in the air, drinking milk from fluorescent milk bottles and lit-up straws.Mushroom disco is exactly as the name states, there are lots of colorful mushrooms in varying sizes. The Macaron room is a little more mature and easier on the eyes, decorated with sweet pastel macaron sweets and finally the "jellyfish bar" is a bar with a jellyfish theme!

When you first enter the cafe you are greeted by a sugary carousel, with strange animals with glowy red eyes that appear to be melting and various iced fruits. Unfortunately you cannot ride the carousel but it adds a very circus-like feeling to the cafe.

The mushroom stand is very prismatic and hypnotizing with its array of bold colors and...Tentacles?!
The mushrooms act as parasols over the various booths, which is a nice touch, however I think this is the least popular area.

My personal favorite is the "Jellyfish bar"! The bar itself is made of frosted plastic with little glowing lights inside that gradually change color. The bar is where you can purchase specific alcoholic drinks that you cannot get in the other areas in a bar atmosphere. My favorite charm point of this area is the luminous jellyfish lamps that are hanging from the ceiling, they also change color, however with a different hue to the background which makes a very ethereal under-the-sea atmosphere.

The food!

The sad part about this cafe is that it is quite expensive - you need to pay a 500yen table charge each, plus everyone has to order at least one drink and one food each, plus tax. This is more than you would expect to pay in a normal restaurant, but you are of course paying for the kawaii atmosphere and themed food.

The food is...Unusual to say the least,but it was all delicious; their unique feature is that they have brightly colored sauces; green, blue, yellow and red sauces make each plate look like an artists pallet but they all had delicious and delicate flavors. There were unusual looking items on the menu such as "rainbow pasta" but also unusual tasting dishes such as "chocolate chicken". The food was a mix of Japanese and western - most of the food was fried however sushi was on the menu.
There were also a selection of beautifully crafted fruit milkshakes and pancakes too, you could get a combined set with pasta, and a drink or pancakes and a drink for cheaper too!

Another problem is that the cafe is quite dimly lit so it is hard to get good quality pictures, so I am sorry for the lack of eye-candy in this article, but at the end of your meal you can take pictures with the Kawaii monster staff!
"Candy" is the staff member with the blue Kyary-esque hair whilst "Dolly" (my personal favorite) is the boy (yes, boy!) with the white wig and heart-themed coordinate. There are a lot of awesome staff members but they are working on different days, it is announced on their Instagram which days they are going if you want your picture with a specific "monster". Their Instagram name is "kawaiimonstercafe" if you want to see more pictures!
The location is opposite the famous "LaForet" shopping center in Harajuku, look up and it should be on the fourth floor of another building. Surprisingly it is usually pretty empty so you shouldn't have to make a reservation unless you want to visit the secret "cat room".
Make sure to add it to your Tokyo bucket list and don't forget to dress up!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Osaka - USJ Japan at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We probably picked the absolute worst time of year to visit Universal studios Japan in Osaka. It was blisteringly hot, so much so at that time that every day news reports were going out of people passing out or dying from heat stroke. Its not so much the heat that is the problem in Japan, it is also ridiculously humid, making it hard to breathe. However, I promised Leo I would take him to USJ for his birthday, so I couldn't back down!

There are various Shinkansen *bullet trains* going from Tokyo to Osaka, varying slightly in price and speed. You can pick up a cheaper one if you book in advance, but I have the serious flaw of leaving everything to the last minute; so ours were 13,000yen  each for a one-way ticket to Osaka.  

Firstly, as all tourists in Osaka do, we visited Doutonburi street in Namba to greet the big neon Glico man, The streets of Osaka are so lively and people seem noisier than in Tokyo. People also stand on the opposite side on the escalators, which was super confusing for us!
Osaka is famous for two foods; Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki, we decided to try the latter. Okonomiyaki is a kind of cabbage pancake, that you fry yourself on a griddle with a mixture of fish, meat and sometimes cheese. Osakan Okonomiyaki is supposed to be the best in Japan, but actually I didnt notice the difference x3
Osakan okonomiyaki is cooked at a lower tempterature for a lot longer, so has a crispy texture. I prefer the softer and gooier Hiroshima version, but this one was delicious too!

After that it was too swelteringly hot to do anything but eat ice cream in a local arcade, we were both drenched in sweat from carrying our luggage and not being used to Kansai heat, so we head to a nearby hotel for an early night.

Universal studios opens about 8am, but some rides and areas require time-based tickets that you can acquire on the inside. At the moment, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most popular, so as soon as the park opens everyone dashes inside to get their time ticket for that area. We woke up at 6am, packed our stuff and head to the park, getting in for the opening and getting an early entry in to the Harry Potter world. Even at that early time, the heat was unbearable.

The park itself was huge, I am not to well versed in Universal Studios projects but they did have rides for Jurassic park and Back to the Future, which were pretty exciting. The streets were so wide and all the shops had an american theme, it didn't feel like being in Japan at all. There were various souvenir shops, but the hot items of the day were the "mist gun" which shoots a fine watery mist and the "Minions" style water pistol. As it was so blisteringly hot, there were hordes of children having water fights outside, there was even an area for "water wars".

Of course we headed to the Harry Potter souvenir store first; it had such an old and magical feeling inside, as though it just popped out of one of the books, I bought us two sets of wizard robes to get in the spirit, even though they were ridiculously expensive at 14,000 yen each!
Leo went for the Griffindor duds, whereas I'm a Slytherin at heart ;D
After getting all dressed up we went off to the Wizarding world as our timed ticket was ready, and we were not disappointed.
Firstly, you need to make your way through the "Forbidden forest" which builds a nice atmosphere as you weave through the fur trees and listen to the ominous music and owl noise soundtrack. You pass by the Whomping Willow and encounter the car from the Chamber of Secrets, which was a nice touch.

Then you arrive at the gates of Hogsmeade.
The village is extremely well-made and realistic, the snow on the roofs was a nice touch, even though it was kind of weird standing in snowy scenery when people are passing out from heat stroke.

Walking in you get a view of the Hogwarts express and the opportunity to take a picture with the train driver, but we opted to get a nice cold frozen butter beer instead.

The Butterber itself was super delicious, it seems to be some kind of butterscotch based drink, the frozen version was kind of like a frappe. However it was super sickly sweet, so it was difficult to drink a whole one, I feel as though it was too sweet for Japanese tongues in general and I don't think I saw one person finish theirs.

Then we watched the various shows around Hogsmead and did some light shopping in the many sweet and souvenir stores and then took some pictures with our house colors. Leo bought a wand from Olivander's wand shop for 3000yen.

The last part of the Wizarding World is also the most anticipated - The ride inside Hogwarts castle. The castle itself is well-made and awe-inspiring like everything else, they even included the black lake. However the line to the ride took about two hours in total, which was very uncomfortable due to the heat and humidity. The line wound round the castle and into the botanical gardens of Professor Sprout, which made the wait less painful. 

The ride itself was exhilarating. You get strapped inside and given 3d glasses with the premise of riding a broom in the Quiddich team with Harry, encountering magical monsters and even Voldemort. The only problem is that the ride moved a lot; with sudden shaking and turning upside down. Paring this with the 3D images made it really easy to get motion sickness. There was even a warning to not ride if you are susceptible to motion sickness. Admittedly I felt sick afterwards, but it was totally worth it!