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!