Friday, 22 April 2016

Harajuku Hanami, Ueno Hanami and Tachikawa hanami

If you find yourself in Japan between late March and Mid April you will be lucky enough to witness the phenomenon known as "Hanami" - basically an excuse for a big drunken picnic in a park around lunchtime! Hanami simply means "watching flowers" - this can be any kind of flowers, but usually the term applies to sakura (cherry blossom) as they are the most popular and one of the most delicate flowers. They only bloom for a short time, and are at their most lovely, when they begin to tumble from the trees, which makes them even more morbidly beautiful.
During this time hoards of people flock to their nearest parks and rivers where there are clusters of cherry blossom trees and put down their blankets for a picnic. The main item on the menu is beer, so you will see many red-faced people, particularly students, stumbling through the pretty petal rain around Tokyo. It is my favorite time in Tokyo,just as spring behins; everyone is happy and optimistic, sakura reminds people of past love and future goals, particularly as it kicks off the new school term.

Yoyogi Park
The first hanami I attended was for my fashion group, Kawaii Tokyo Boys and Girls, in Yoyogi park, which is bordering between Harajuku and Yoyogi and is literally a stones-throw from Harajuku station. Thus it was the perfect place for a fashion themed picnic! Yoyogi park is popular with students and of course - Harajuku kids. There were a lot of stylish hanami goers that day, and great to drunkely make friends. Yoyogi doesnt have many cherry blossom trees, but they are clustered together well and although it is usually busy, you can usually find a spot to lay our blanket. We made the mistake of laying ours next to a grate leading down to the underground trains so every three minutes you could hear the gatcha-gatcha of the trains going by.

Everyone dressed beautifully, channeling true Harajuku vibes with pastels, neon and Gothic Lolita. The brand of choice on that day seemed to be "Galaxxy" - the cool pop street brand, with its main store located in Shibuya.

I wore "Dark Mahou-kei" inspired by magical girl manga and anime,  wearing a Nile Perch JSK and seifuku style jacket from Miauler Mew. I even found a drink that matched my outfit - purple grape smirnoff! Who knew that Smirnoff was kawaii?

The hanami was a success! Eventough everyone was too lazy to make their picnic and just bought it from the nearest conbini store.
I would suggest coming here for Hanami if you want to meet people and dont mind interacting with strangers, a lot of people will ask for photos or just strike up a chat!

The flowers were not yet in full bloom, but they were gorgeous nonetheless. Tokyo Sakura is extra-white compared to other prefectures and looks like powdered snow!


Next up is Tachikawa, we actually went there because they have a giant Ikea there, but ended up popping into the Tachikawa Koen for a look. Again you have to pay about 400yen enter, but the park is really huge and it has its own bike paths so you can rent a bike and go for a ride. The cherry blossom trees were a little sparse there and it was hard to get any decent shots, but it was worth it for the bike ride! We were having a date so it was a great location for that - very quiet and private.

Ueno Park

The last Hanami I attended was luckily, the best time when all the flowers were at the peak of their bloom in Ueno park. Ueno park is extremely famous for beautiful and closely placed sakura trees, but also infamous for the crowds that border on the obscene, there is free entry which is probably one of the main causes. In order to lay your blanket in a nice location for a picnic, you have to arrive at about 6 clock in the morning. A lot of companies send out their rookie members early to reserve a spot for their company picnic.

Thus we laid our tarp on an extremely muddy spot, a little far from the trees, nevertheless we had a great time! As usually everyone dressed impeccably cute and brought a huge picnic.

Most people came in pastel fashions such as fairy-kei, mahou-kei or decora, so we looked like we were plucked straight from a 90's mahou shoujo manga.

Another charm point of Ueno park is that there is a huge lake with swan boats in various colors and size, if you feel like being a captain for a day.

The sakura trees were blooming beautifully, there was a slight breeze that day too, which meant that the trees were sneezing petals onto the watchers below and sending a sweet sakura scent floating through the air, the atmosphere was perfect! The crowds made it more exciting for me, as everyone was scrambling in excitement, taking photographs and "ooing" and "ahhing" at the beauty,.
There was also a Japanese style food matsuri, which meant we could pick up festival classics like chocobanana, yakitori and squid!

The park is pretty vast and only a stones throw away from  Ueno zoo, but there were also various temples and shrines within the park!

Ueno park wasnt as relaxing as Tachikawa, but it was the most aesthetically pleasing and had the most "Japanese" feel; if you are planning to travel to Japan I definitely recommend hanami season and particularly Ueno park!

Happy flower viewing~

Sailor Moon Exhibition and Chibi Usa cafe in Roppongi Hills

This Sailor Moon exhibit had been announced months before its opening, because its location would be "Mori tower" in Roppongi, which meant that it would be a really big deal. Mori tower only usually showcases the best and most thought-out exhibitions. It is also a very mature and professional setting, meaning that the final products are always polished and well produced. The opening weekend people queued for over an hour to enter!

Sailor Moon is still at the height of popularity in Japan right now, with the release of season three Sailor Moon Crystal - a revamp of the original series. This exhibition features artwork from both the original and new series, attracting both old and new fans.

Once you arrive at the tower you have to purchase a ticket at the booth, one ticket is 1,800 yen for adults, which is pretty reasonable. Then you have to take the elevator up, it is actually on the 52nd floor! The elevator moves at extremely high speeds and it makes your ears pop, I wouldnt recommend this for people who have a phobia of heights, like me.

The view was extraordinary though! one could be mistaken for thinking you were standing on the observation deck of Tokyo Tower or Sky tree, it was the perfect setting for the exhibition too as Sailor Moon is set in the city and often features the skyline.

This was a "Mahou Shoujo" or "Magical girl exhibition" so naturally my friends and I wore "Mahou-kei" a magical girl inspired sub-style of Japanese fashion to keep with the theme.

Actually within the exhibition, photography is mostly prohibited, so I highly recommend visiting. The first part is a timeline of the story of Sailor Moon in hand-colorized sketches. Everything was incredibly detailed and painstakingly done by hand, not only with paint and pens; but also collage, spray, pencils and all other kinds of mixed media. Seeing it so close in person was really inspirational and brought a tear to my eye. At the beginning of the exhibition there is a huge mural of Princess Serenity, laden with jewellery, I included the Japanese girls in the photo for scale. This was one of my favorite pieces - the colors, art style and mood were all perfect. I hope this gives you a taste for what the actual exhibition is like!

This was the signature piece, which was used on the promotional material for the exhibition. Usagi resting on the moon and looking dreamily into the sky, this perfectly captured everything Sailor Moon means for me and signed by the original artist - Naoko Takeuchi

Around the building there were also giant water-color style sailor moon prints, hopefully you can tell from the photo, but they were colossal, and each one really captured the spirit of each character.

This exhibition was not only of art, but also goods! Sailor Moon is also famous for having such a large collection of goods, costumes, stationary and cosmetics. A lot of it is very valuable as the original series is so old, so most of the merchandise was behind glass. Replicas of some of the weapons and jewellery was also on display! It made me want to increase my collection;  some my favorite pieces were actually the newer dolls which were a collaboration with Japanese doll maker "pullip".

In addition, there was not one, but two gift stores for Sailor Moon goods including stationary, confectioneries, figures and even ear phones. I picked up some trading cards and clear files to keep my papers organized at work.
 Before we left we took a promotional photo *pictured at the top* in a special photo area they set up with a camera, you could have a small photo for free or a big one for 1,200en.

As we exited the exhibition there was a bonus section - The Chibi Usagi cafe!
Usually you have to wait anything from thirty minutes to one hour to enter the cafe, but luckily we went on a rainy Friday afternoon, so we only waited about ten minutes.

The inside isn't overly themed, but the tables are decorated with Sailor Moon characters, they play the original sound track and there are screens showcasing clips of Sailor Moon Crystal.
The menu was pretty ranged, with a burger, curry and spaghetti option for main, and multiple desserts and a drink for each sailor scout.

We all opted for the Usagi burger!

Despite it being alarmingly pink in nature, the bun tasted normal and the burger was pretty tasty, with an egg and also cheese and salad included. Apart from the cherry on top, it tasted like a very ordinary, decent burger accompanied with star shaped hash browns and pickles.

Next for dessert, I ordered the Princess Purin! This was my favorite part of the meal and really well constructed! The compact was made from half of an almond macaron and jelly for the jewel, resting on raspberry sorbet and a single pudding, encircled with fruits. It was also my first time trying dragon fruit, the whole dish was very delicate and fresh.

Next, my friend ordered the Chibi Usa mousse. This dessert looked incredible, but actually my friend said she didn't even know what flavor the black part was and it wasn't delicious, so I wouldn't recommend it.

 Next was the kind of jelly parfait that my other friend tried. This was also very fresh, with different flavors of jelly and again, raspberry sorbet. Everyone thought that the moons were made out of cheese, but actually it was chocolate icing! A nice surprise.

Lastly our drinks; I chose Sailor Jupiter - a melon based drink, while my friend took the Sailor Mars drink - based on mixed berries. The drinks were a little similar and all contained a certain energy drink that Sailor Moon is promoting at the moment. We also received a free can of it as we were leaving!

In conclusion, this event is the best Sailor Moon themed event I have ever attended, and I have attended a lot. The cafe food was well crafted and the exhibition was both modern and nostalgic. I left feeling both inspired and content. The exhibition actually finishes in June, so there is plenty of time to attend! The website also states that they may change some things or add more goods as it progresses, which is worth another trip.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

FEMM - Japans new electric idols.

FEMM - Far Eastern Mention Mannequins are a conptempary mix of everything that makes Japan quirky; high fashion, catchy pop beats, robot-like girls and Otaku culture, yet somehow they managed to turn it into something extremely cool and original.
The duo, named RiRi and LuLa are two mannequins, brought to life to deliver a mix of  fresh EDM, rap, synthpop and Eurodance. Their music style is so fluid that they have attracted a lot of interest from American artists and their music has been compared to American hip-hop. Both American music and K-pop is increasingly influencing the music scene and fashion of Japan. so it is exciting to see Japan deliver something modern, fresh and delivering edgy lyrics. RiRi is actually bilingual, which means no embarrassing Japanglish mistakes within their songs, and they can easily be exported overseas with English versions of their singles. I expect them to take off in the next year, with one song from their major Debut EP "Fxxk Boyz Get Money" recently hitting one million views on Youtube.

The music video features them twerking  in latexmaid-costumes with artistic editing and hard-hitting lyrics such as "I’m in love with the price tag
Gimme yo' number, Imma give that shxt right back". Their themes include freedom of speech and feminism - a million miles from the sweet, virginal lyrics being churned out by idol groups such as AKB48 and E-Girls. I love that they are challenging the stereotype that Japanese girls are supposed to be quiet, shy and submissive. They say their goal is to "free mannequins from human opression" which is as deep as it is nuts. Their latex trademark outfits are mostly made by Shoichiro Matsuoka of GM Atelier, giving them their distinct artificial aesthetic.

The first time I saw them was at LaForet in Harajuku during Vogue Fashion Night Out. I figured they had to be a big deal to be performing at LaForet and knew the act would include elements of high fashion. I was confused at first when staff members wheeled out two PVC-clad mannequins and physically lifted them onto the stage.
Living in Japan for two years I am used to seeing the odd humanoid robot or two so I wasn't extremely suprised to see the mannequins move in an extremely robotic and synchronized fashion.
Their skin, eyes and hair were flawless and they were extremely realistic and well-made.
"Technology is amazing, isnt it?" I exclaimed to my friend, trying to sneak a peek through the bustling crowd that started to gather. "Technology? They are real girls katie" she laughed back.

The music started playing and they started performing, their music had a very catchy EDM feel, their voices sounded synthetic with elements of auto-tune, but that matched perfectly with their mannequin image. Their dancing was both robotic and fluid, perfectly synchronized and reminded me of Para Para, which I then discovered their influences include Eurobeat, a movement that gained massive popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s with GyaruSa and Para Para dancers. After their first set they completely froze and were transported by staff members like actual mannequins around the department store. One of the staff members was a shrimpy Japanese guy, about the same height as me and he actually dropped one of the girls down the stairs in LaForet when attempting to set her on the stage. She stayed completely still, she didn't even blink, as the same man carefully lifted on stage. I pitied him as I suspect he would get a whipping later.
 Their EP is released on the 3rd of February and includes "Fxxk Boys, Get Money" and their new single "PoW!" amongst a host of other new and remixed tracks. Please check our their videos on Youtube! They are artistic, fashionable and include a lot of adult themed and ideas.
They just signed with JP records in London, so expect them to come to a venue near you soon!