Sunday, 3 September 2017

Harajuku pop-up : Nekopen Biyori Cafe

Another day in Harajuku, another obscure pop-up cafe. This time the little known characters of Nekopen Biyori - two characters from a popular set of stickers used in the Japanese messenger application "LINE". For those unfamiliar with LINE, it is the most widely used Social media application in Japan and was created in response to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake that devastated telephone poles and other kinds of telecommunication structures that made it hard to contact each other quickly. LINE features a text messenger service and a way to call freely over wifi and since then has a magnitude of other features including the wildly popular "LINE stamps"a much more detailed version of emoji. Through LINE users can create and distribute their own stamps, some of them becoming popular and this is where the popularity of Nekopen Biyori stemmed from.

The main characters include a happy-go-lucky cat with an affinity for cooking and his best buddy - a small and rather rotund penguin who joins him on his adventures. This cafe is located at the very start of Harajuku street on the opposite side of the road from the end of Takeshita dori on the second floor. We waited in-line only about 5 minutes before entering the cafe which was to its credit, very well decorated.

The theme itself was a little basic, but the white and wooden minimalist interior style is very popular right now in Asia. There were plenty of pictures of the characters set up around the cafe, some to  look as though the characters were actually working in the cafe and preparing the food. My favorite part was the adorable little plushies "playing" in a cardboard box as though it was a car.

The menu was relatively small but a lot of care and effort went into preparing the dishes, which were also inspired from the LINE stamps that had made these characters so popular. The portions were very big, which is sometimes a rare thing when cafe hopping in Japan and of course every meal was adorably themed. Firstly I had the Chinese set of dumplings and fried rice with soup, which were delicious! They were my favorite "Sholompo" soup dumplings which ooze with liquid when you bite them and come steaming hot. I also took a black sesame milkshake to wash it down with the characters' heads molded from candyfloss. Black sesame "Goma" is one of my favorite flavors so I highly suggest trying something goma-related if you visit Japan.

Lastly my friend and I shared the huge berry pancakes and pink chocolate-filled donuts. The pancakes were the main dish of the restaurant as the stickers depicted the Nekopen Biyori characters making them  so of course we had to try them. They were huge, heavy, thick and delicious with oodles of cream and fresh fruits. They were so good that we almost couldn't finish the donuts that were equally as sweet. The price ended up being a little high at around 4,000yen for everything, but overall I enjoyed the experience and it is to be expected from a theme cafe, especially in Harajuku no less.
The journey to the exit was cute too, before we headed out to take Purikura photo stickers and I realized that my outfit matched the pancakes!

Harajuku Sweet Spot: Eddys Ice cream

Harajuku is an ever-changing pocket of changing shops, restaurants and hang-out spots. As much as Harajuku is famed for its pastel colored crepes Harajuku has developed a sweet spot for something a little different, especially in the sizzling, humid heat dead in the Japanese summer Harajuku kids
were craving something cooler. Their prayers were answered when just off  Takeshita dori "Eddy's Ice cream" has opened, - an ice cream shop with all the pop and cute that Harajuku is famous for with the added bonus of letting Harajuku kids use their boundless creativity to create their own ice cream.

My friend and I visited their newly opened store when the temperature was at a boiling 37 degrees, but the humidity made it somehow seem 45. We made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday - Harajuku's busiest day and choc-full of tourists. A TV crew were also rolling inside the parlour at the time,  filming all different kinds of cute Japanese girls devouring their pink ice cream, so we waited over half an our with beads of sweat dripping from us.

The experience however, was well worth the wait. The parlor inside was cozy but comfortable, decorated in the style of a 1950s diner with oodles of pastel pink and turquoise. Menus displayed the different kinds of ice cream and toppings; although the soft serve was limited to strawberry, vanilla or a mix of the two the toppings were infinite. You could choose one of their pre-made designs or build an ice cream from scratch. We both went with the pre-made designs but added a little flare of our own. My friend chose the "Lovely" design, with giant glittery pink lips and pastel ribbon and an extra added star, whilst I chose the "Unicorn" cone with little white chocolate unicorn and candyfloss, I also added a "rainbow" arch for added flamboyance. The pre-made cones are about 900yen - 1000yen each and the toppings range from 50yen to 400yen depending on detail. I ended up dropping 1,500yen but pleased with how unique my ice cream came out.

The interior had counters for eating a couple of cute spots to take photos, one of which being this glorious flamingo-pink vintage telephone.This is a nice place to come even just to take photos, especially if you are wearing Harajuku fashion. You will have to weave in and out of the hordes of Japanese high school girls taking selfies, but the outcome will be worth it.

Thankfully they give you a little cardboard box to rest your ice cream in while you eat it as it is a very messy business. The heat made mine melt almost instantly and cause shards of cone and flake to crumble everywhere, but the coldness of the ice cream was refreshing at least. Honestly the taste was not the best part of the experience, as it was mostly just plain strawberry ice cream and white chocolate which tasted a little waxy. However I will definitely go back for the cute decor and picture spots. If you have a sweet tooth and end up wandering around Takeshita dori for something cool to eat, check out "Eddy's Ice cream", they also have an Instagram with a catalog of their creations so you can plan in advance!

Harajuku Sweet Spot@}