Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Something for the girls! Honey Mi Honey Cafe

Another day, another cute cafe springs up in Tokyo! This time in Harajuku, a stonesthrow from Takeshitadori lies a very pink cafe. Probably the pinkest I have encountered in Harajuku, a place renowned for cutesy things. I read about this cafe in the last issue of Larme magazine in an article about new "cute spots" in Tokyo. Larme magazine is my favorite magazine at the moment, reporting about "Larme-kei" a new soft and sweet fashion sweeping the streets of Japan. The Honey Mi Honey Cafe not only fits with the vintage-pop aesthetic of Larme but is foremost a shop that sells Larme clothes, so you can shop while you dine!

The decor is "Pink Motel" theme and I commend the cafe for all the little details they added to make you feel like you're relaxing in a sugary, sleezy, vintage motel. There were bubble gum-pink neon signs galore and the furniture was pink from the tables to the floor. Probably due to the popularity of the magazine there was a line and we had to wait about 15 minutes to be seated, but this was on Sunday - the day Harajuku is at its busiest so I imagine if you go on a weekday you should get seated immediately.

The menu was huge! Maybe three whole pages with extensive drinks and desserts, I ended up settling for the lunch special - a tuna toast melt with soup and salad, a maple latte and a "lovers heart" cheesecake dessert. I will definitely go back to try their french toast and ice cream. A nice touch was the number they give you to collect your food was in the shape of a pink hotel key and the points card they made for me was equally as pink! The serviettes were also pink and the cutlery was gold, again, the small details were seriously impressive.

The food was delicious and it was one of the best cups of coffee I have had in Tokyo yet and even the cup was cute!  The meal itself was about 1,500yen which I think was a nice price for such a lovely experience and quality food. The Tuna melt was pretty hench and I didn't feel hungry until dinner which is pretty rare for me.

Of course I dressed for the occasion, I picked out my outfit inspired by Larme magazine with pink accented clothes from OneSpo, WeGo and a pink and white souvenir jacket from Romantic Standard.
If I eat cute food then I need to be equally as cute!

The final charm point of the cafe is an adorable table built from a cup and saucer ride and of course - painted all pink! The staff were really friendly and are on hand to snap pictures for you. Then once you have finished your meal you can start shopping. The store is a little pricy, but the clothes are high quality and the accessories are particularly gorgeous.

This cafe isn't a pop-up cafe and will be running for a long time, so if you are a lover of all things pink or just love the vintage motel aesthetic, mark it in your itinerary!

Square Enix cafe - Final Fantasy XV edition

After ten long years of making us wait for Final Fantasy 15, it is finally here, and no wonder Square Enix are trying to sweeten up the fans with perks such as an anime, movie and now pop-up cafe based solely around FFXV. Where else would such a cafe be apart from "Electric town" Akihabara?
Now there's not just one, but two Final fantasy themed cafes in "Akiba" waiting for your visit!
The other is the "Eorzea cafe"produced by Pasela Resorts and based upon Final Fantasy 14 - the Online MMORPG. I also visited that cafe and the feel was very different - the inside is built like a traditional tavern that you might see in any J-RPG with meaty weapons clinging to the walls and dancing moogles hanging from the ceiling. The ambiance definitely seems more "fantasy".
The new FFXV cafe however seems more futuristic and sleek in nature and very reminiscent of the game.
The process of actually reserving the cafe was a little difficult, we had to reserve the ticket online and then pay and print at one of the little machines you see inside convenient stores here. Upon entering every table was full, so I really recommend getting a reservation if you can! It seems as though you can also reserve at the cafe.

Upon entering everyone gets to wear a cool-looking "Square Enix Cafe" Guest pass to make you feel important, the waiter leads you to your table and an MC explains in Japanese that you can take photos of anything, but not to take videos or bother other guests.

The cafe was pretty huge and two stories high, with two gift shops! one sold specifically Final Fantasy XV goods whilst the other sold all manners of Square Enix products including Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts goods. Everyone has their own favorite Final Fantasy game and luckily there were copious amounts of plushies to satisfy even the most hardened collector, including three types of Moogles!
The walls were adorned with oodles of concept art, posters, TV screens screening snippets of the game and anime. Luckily I completed the game first, the cafe is merciless when it comes to spoilers!

Recently a lot of cafes in Tokyo have adapted to using iPads as menus, this cafe was no exception and made the joint seem even more futuristic. The twist to the cafe is; every item on the menu is actually an item Ignis cooks within the game! So you have the choice of feasting on a hearty beef stew to replenish your HP or a cocktail to build up your Mana.
The menu itself wasn't so extensive, but each dish and drink was connected to a character in some way. The character Gladius had his own dish of a Pork chop and kiwi combination but I wasn't brave enough to try it, I guess that leaves something for my bucket list..

Pork katsu sandwiches are one of my favorite foods; I could eat katsu for breakfast, lunch and dinner although my doctor would advise against it, thus I ordered the simple in appearence, but heavenly delicious triple katsu sandwich. I also ordered the mysterious chocobo concoction that I thought was a cheesecake but ended up being a "chocobo meat tart" designed to taste just like real chocobo. I must say it was delicious, meaty and I feel a bit guilty now having eaten one of those majestic golden birds!

There are cardboard cut outs of the characters on-hand for much needed selfies. I asked my friend if it looked like Noctis and I were on a date but she just told me to get a life.

When you order addtional food or drink you will be given a coaster, but it will be selected randomly from one of the characters from the game. I was super lucky to get Prompto - my favorite character and then also win a Prompto badge from the Gatchapon machine in the gift shop. My friend wasnt as lucky and kept getting the elderly father of Noctis.
At the cashier I was also given a Prompto poster, too as I ate his chocobo tart abomination, so I ended up with a nice haul of my favorite characters goods without even having to buy anything! That was a really nice point of the cafe.

I am not sure how long this cafe will run, as apparently there are plans to extend it due to popularity so if you find yourself in Tokyo anytime soon, take the Yamanote line down to Akihabara and get yourself some chocobo pie!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Pom Pom Purin Halloween party bus!

Recently in the world of Sanrio, Pom Pom Purin is beginning his rise to stardom with his own cafe in Harajuku, Happy meal set in McDonalds and now his very own bus in central Shibuya!
This is an extremely big deal as central Shibuya is the equivalent of Leicester square - a huge hub full of tourists snapping pictures and the place where people come to meet - next to the bustling "Scramble" crossing. Right outside of the station there is the iconic Hachiko statue; the most popular meeting spot in all of Tokyo. In front of Hachiko there is an old-style bus parked in the middle of the pavement, offering tourists advice and a place to rest their feet.  If you are ever lost in Shibuya, or fancy asking about nearby events, you should definitely check out this quirky tourist office.
This is the only time since I have moved here that I have seen it decorated, the theme being Pom Pom Purin Halloween, no less!

 Japanese Halloween tends to focus more on cosplay and the cutesy aspects of Halloween than the spooky; nothing about this bus was scary but it was extremely adorable and intricately detailed. The idea was Pom Pom Purin and friends cosplaying as their favorite Halloween characters, there were so many of them it would be impressive if you could find them all! For those of you who are not familiar with Pom, the concept is easy enough to understand - he is a dog made of caramel pudding!

Other Sanrio characters also made an apprentice, some of them being very old, much like Pom Pom. There are actually over 400 Sanrio characters, with Hello Kitty, My Melody and Gudetama being at the top of the popularity ranking and yes - there is actually a ranking where people vote for the most popular characters! Which is your favorite?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Harajuku trend spotlight - Souvenier jacket - the Sukajan!

The souvenier jacket, or Sukajan has always been one of my personal favorites. A mix of Eastern and Western fashion in the form of a silky bomber jacket, with embroidered art or design on the back and front. The design can contain very western symbols such as military motifs or eagles, or incredibly Japanese art such as cherry blossoms, dragons or Geisha. They were very popular amongst military members and biker gangs in the 1960s, and thus gained their badass and almost negative connotations. In the last ten years it could be considered a little uncool and Garish to wear such an old-style jacket, however the new season of fashion n Tokyo has re-invented the Sukajan into every kind of cute and cool style.

Noticeably the iconic Harajuku brand 6% Doki Doki, released a black and purple Sukajan with unicorn motifs that I happily snatched up. Another of my favorite brands Onespo has released an all-white version with delicate embroidered roses, meaning this style of jacket is infiltrating its way into a variety of styles.

My friend over at ACDCrag contacted me about their new collection of souvenir jackets that will be released this month, and actually let me take a peek before they were released. If you have ever been to Harajuku you will know ACDCrag, they have around four huge stores dominating Takeshita dori in a range of styles from Harajuku pastel pop, to gothic and visual-kei. They are actually dear to my heart as one of the first items of Japanese clothing I ever owned was from this store from my first trip to Japan 6 years ago. The products themselves are extremely affordable and they really have something for everyone.

Our meeting turned into an impromptu photoshoot as I selected the jacket I wanted and we began shooting. I fell in love with the combination of black, pink and red at first sight, along with the extremely intricate design of waves and dragons, reminiscent of old Japanese script paintings. I threw together a "bittersweet" outfit of pink lingerie crop top from Onespo and black plaid school-style skirt with pink platforms.

The material itself was light and silky, I felt as though I could make multiple coordinations with it and not get bored, plus it felt like literally wearing a piece of art, which is what excites me about fashion.

Pastel colors are also rarely found in Sukajan jackets, so I felt like this product is really something unique. My friend toured me around one of their main stores in Takeshita dori and I never appreciated how aggresively Kawaii and well-decorated it is, as though walking into a pastel,glittery dream . The walls are hand-painted and they change from time-to-time. Even if you aren't into fashion I suggest checking out their stores just to see a slice of Japanese contemporary art, plus all the jackets are of course, unisex and come in a variety of styles and sizes! In-store they also have examples of the jackets used in outfit co-ordinations if you need some inspiration. They usually have English speaking staff too, so don't feel shy to strike up a conversation!

The other designs include pandas, unicorns and cats and came in a range of colors. The ACDCrag staff girls are all incredibly adorable and did a wonderful job of modeling them for the website!
All the jackets are 3,900yen +tax and you can order them overseas from their Rakuten online store too.  That is a steal for a wearable piece of art!

I look forward to the Autumn season Harajuku and Shibuya fashion flooded by cool, powerful guys and girls strutting around in their different Sukajan jackets!
Please check out ACDCrag on both Facebook and @acdcrag on Instagram. They sometimes make an appearance with pop-up stalls in Europe at events like Hyper Japan, too!

Halloween in Japan ; Spooky.....Bacon?!

Every year at this time all the restaurants in Tokyo scramble to make a spine-tingling menu. From the 25th of September, McDonalds in Japan released its spooky, spectacular and special set of Halloween fries! Cue eerie music, bone clattering and spiders descending from the ceiling.
Five or more years ago Halloween was almost non-existent in Japan, however due to the massive influx and popularity of American culture, you can expect some Tokyoites to start decorating their houses from late September. I am already seeing houses decorated with pumpkins, black cats, witches and spider webs and October hasn't even started. This is unusual considering the average Japanese person doesn't know the roots of Halloween or any of the symbolism, but Halloween does contain cosplay, themed foods and parties and that is enough to get them interested.
"What exactly are Halloween fries!?" I hear you cry. Pumpkin cream and chocolate sauce, of course!
Japan actually released chocolate fries earlier this year and they were a huge success, no-one actually liked the flavor or ate them all, but they were fun to dare your friends to eat or throw at each other. In Japanese however they're known as "Halloween choco potato!" as fries in Japanese is literally "potato". I always have a cheeky giggle at this whenever I am ordering at "MakkuDo" in Japan, but none of my Japanese friends see the humor.

The first thing you notice when you receive your "Halloween Choco Potato" is how cute the packaging is; an orange pumpkin amidst a purple sky with the little silhouette of an Anime-esque witch that would not look out of place in "Little witch Academia". I'm such a sucker for cute Mahou Shoujo. The box is filled with plain fries, with the sauce given separately in a twin pack. This part is actually quite fun as you squeeze the pack together and the sauce comes out in a jet of orange and brown, not dissimilar-looking to tooth paste.
One thing you will notice in Japan is that people do not usually eat fries with their hands; in an Izakaya *Japanese style bar* you will be given chop sticks, in this case I was given a fork. I actually didn't notice it and wolfed them down with my fingers, like the animal that I am.

The verdict?

Presentation - 9/10 You have to admit its a little cute.
Practicality - 9/10 - They were compact and came with a fork, even the sauce packaging was well designed.
Taste - 3/10 - Unless you are the kind of person who dips their fries into their McFlurry, you heathen, you probably wont enjoy chocolate flavored fries. The orange sauce actually did taste like pumpkin, but in the form of a super sweet cake icing,

I actually didn't finish them all, but the experience was worth it!

 After "Halloween Choco Potato" my interest was piqued to find other useless Halloween foods and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

 My personal favorite is - Halloween bacon!
I had to stare at this in the Supermarket for a while in confusion, before realizing how I ever went a single Halloween without Halloween bacon. I mean...It isn't actually different from regular bacon apart from they made the packing creepy cute but at least they included a recipe for Halloween soup!
My Japanese co-workers found nothing strange about this; I asked them "What is spooky about bacon" to which one replied "Well, it's dead isn't it". You got me there.

Next up is - Halloween Pizza! 
They could have at least made a Pumpkin face with peppers and salami, but actually, it's just a regular Margarita pizza. Bonus points for the Zombie lettuce on the packaging though! I'll be having nightmares about that for weeks.

If you don't have goosebumps yet, here's something to really raise the hairs on your neck -Halloween Lemonade! Minimum effort was done in terms of packaging but it was actually delicious. French Lemonade with a hint of honey, although it was quite sour, it felt like being punched in the face by a lemon. In a good way.

I must apologize for making a Japanese Halloween seem mundane; if you are looking for a party, the street party in Shibuya on Halloween night is voted the best in the world with thousands of people cosplaying, street drinking and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Almost every cafe and restaurant in Tokyo will have special Halloween themed menus and of course, Japanese Halloween themed snacks are incredible. You can find many pumpkin flavored items as well as Halloween versions of old classics like Pocky, Koalas March and you can bet there will be special KitKats just for Halloween. In fact, there is a Kitkat cafe open right now in Omotesando!

 I hope everyone has a great run up to Halloween, I am starting to sort out my cosplay now as well as book tickets for Halloween parties here. Please sit down with your family on Halloween night for a nice traditional Halloween bacon pizza and lemonade! Stay spooky!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Beach filler day! Atami in Shizuoka

Any anime series worth watching will contain the famous "beach" filler scene, my favorite one being in "Bleach. If you have seen any of those archaic episodes then you know the drill - taking a long train ride to the coast of Japan, setting up your towel, busting open a watermelon and playing with fireworks. These are all core elements of Japanese summer culture, so if your visiting Japan around summer season, why not give it a shot?

If you are in the Tokyo area there are three beaches that will often be recommended to you; Enoshima, Zushi and Atami. If you check out my earlier blog posts I did write one about Enoshima, its not a place for swimming but a fantastic place for sightseeing. Zushi is a little closer to Tokyo, however the beaches are dirtier and often full of partying teenagers. My personal recommendation is Atami; a clean beach, crystal-clear waters and plenty of seafood. Zushi is located in Shizuoka prefecture, and while further, is only around 50 minutes away by Shinkansen on the JR Tokaido line and you can leave from either Shinjuku or Shinagawa station. A one way ticket costs about 4,000 yen, so you can expect the travel alone to be 10,000yen. This seems pretty expensive; but for summer activities there is nothing better. You can also take the Shinkansen one-way and the slower, cheaper train back to save money.

Atami town is extremely old and traditional-looking - the buildings are mostly wooden and there are plenty of old-style sushi restaurants, souvenir shops and famous hot springs and ryokan. I could have easily spent a week there exploring the winding side streets and hidden shrines. The beach is about a seven minute walk from the station downhill with plenty of opportunity to grab an inflatable or two on the way.

The view from the top of the hill is incredible; as Shizuoka prefecture is quite mountanious, so towering over the beach there are clusters of grassy emerald-green mountains.

Once you make it to the beach be sure to hire a parasol; you can hire one until 5pm for 3,000yen, if you return the ticket at the end they will even give you 1,000yen back!
The sun was beating down intensely so we were very happy to rent a parasol for a few hours - even the sand itself was scorching so remember to bring sandals.

Once we found our space and set down our towels we could begin the party and crack open the chu-hai! I wore a one-piece swimsuit by Japanese brand "Bubbles" paired with a lace Peignoir by another of my favorite brands - Swankiss. My friends and I picked up our inflatables from Swimmer - you can find a Swimmer in Japanese department stores or big stations and basically just sells Kawaii nick-knacks and home-ware.

Usually the sea in Atami is very calm, but on this day it was our misfortune that there was a typhoon nearby in Chiba so the waves were the biggest I have ever seen. Luckily there was a seawall out in the distance that broke the bigger waves - some of them were as big as three-story houses! Even with the seawall the waves were pretty violent, more than a few times they came crashing over our heads as we were swimming and dragged us under. The first attempt my hat and sunglasses were stolen from me by the sea! cheeky. Before we left one of the bigger waves pushed my friend under the surface and when she bobbed back up she was missing something quite important - her wig!
We tried to find it but it was useless, I offered her some seaweed as a replacement but she wasn't having any of it. Somewhere right now in Shizuoka I imagine there is a shark wearing my friends wig, my hat and sunglasses. 

Apart from the life-or-death experiences and sea-muggings we had an excellent day; much ice cream was eaten and we got the relaxation we deserved. On the way back to the station we stopped at one of the local restaurants for my favorite food, Kaisendon - raw fish on rice. The fish was extremely fresh and tasted even sweeter after a tiring day in the sea and came with a selection of tsukemono - Japanese pickles. I hope if you visit Japan around summertime you too will embark on your own anime beach filler episode!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Wedding Photoshoot with Hiroko Tokumine

Did you know there is such a thing as a Lolita Wedding dress designer?
Neither did I until I met Hiroko Tokumine! She creates beautifully crafted Lolita dresses, and also Lolita inspired wedding dresses for an extra flamboyant touch to your wedding. I had seen images of her work online, specifically on her instagram @hirokotokumine and was amazed  veteran Lolita model Misako Aoki modeled some of her beautiful gowns, as I had seldom seen her model for indie or lesser known brands.  Looking at the products up close I could see why Misako was interested; every design is incredibly intricate and lovingly hand-made. The "Kawaii" silhouette, ruffles and lace concept which is the bones of Lolita becomes fused with the elegance of wedding dress fabric, veils and flowers. Hiroko says she is inspired by "The Rose of Versailles" and "Grimm's fairy tales" when creating her pieces.

 I think the concept of a "Lolita" wedding is a beautiful idea - a bride in a huge billowing, ruffly dress gliding down the aisle, a princely groom and hundreds of chattering girls in huge dresses at the service, packed into the church like frilly sardines.

 Her website is also pretty interesting; you pick the silhouette or base of the dress you want and from there you can custom design your idea and she will make it for you! I am assuming that if you chose to get the skirt and top separately, you could incorporate them into regular Lolita coordinates too!

Although she only speaks Japanese, her sister lived in California and speaks English fluently, so I am sure just using English, you could still order something to your specifications.

Now on to the photoshooot!

I had never modeled a wedding dress before so I was both excited and extremely anxious; what if I make it dirty? what if I fall over? What if my butt is too big and I rip it?
Luckily Hiroko and her sister were very lovely and comforting, two other models also attended the photoshoot, as well as Leo acting as my groom for the day. I thought the entire shoot would be in Japanese but actually, the photographer  and one of the models spoke English very well!

The dress I modeled was intimidatingly colossal - I needed two people to help me into the skirt and petticoat. However, to my relief, it fit very well and the material was extremely silky to the touch. The majority of the dress was a champagne-tinged white, covered in cascading lace and mammoth veil complete with Tiara, the parasol even had its own veil! There was also a giant bear, I named him Papa.

Leo made a very dashing groom! It made me realize that in a few years we could be walking down the aisle together...

The studio itself was in Ebisu - luckily in Tokyo there are many themed rooms or studios available to hire per hour for photo shoots. Some are more targeted at cosplayers or editorial shoots, however this room was all white, complete with a floral "kitchen" filled with fake pastry and a giant stuffed bear. If you are interested in modeling in Tokyo I suggested looking into themed rooms for photoshoots!

The second part of the shoot was for a new collection by Hiroko - Lolita dresses themed around fairytale characters, with a Japanese twist!

I had been given the role of the Rapunzel, so the hair and makeup artist transformed my extensions to super long flower embedded locks! The other girls took on the roles of Snow White and Cinderella. The dresses each came with fitted corsets, so we didn't have to worry about size, and the fabric itself was a mix of white cotton, lace and gorgeous printed Japanese patterns.

I could also watch Hiroko working away making last minute adjustments to the dresses. She herself is a Lolita, so there is something charming knowing that your wedding dress was lovingly handmade by someone who also enjoys the fashion!

You can check out her website here;!designer/cee5

Lastly, one of the other models, Ai Akizuki actually makes beautiful flower arrangements and bouquets, this added a very personal touch to the photo shoot, please check out her other work on her instagram at @aiakizuki.

Overall it was an incredible experience and opened my eyes to the possibility of a Lolita themed wedding! Please check out Hiroko's collections and Instagram!