Friday, 17 November 2017
If you are a fan of Japanese Kawaii you'll of course know of Sanrio, the huge monster conglomerate of cute and creator of Hello Kitty, but more recently also the creator of Kawaii superstar Gudetama,
Gudetama is my favorite Sanrio character for a plethora of reasons, mostly because he is a different kind of Kawaii, dubbed "Gude the lazy egg", this particular character is all about doing nothing and questioning the hustle and bustle of life's eccentricities. Most Japanese kawaii characters are the physical embodiment of "do your best!" a popular sentiment of hard working Japanese men and women, but Gudetama is a lot more relatable in the sense that he just doesn't want to do, well, anything.
Sanrio pop-up cafes come and go but Gudetama ones are always my favorite because Gudetama literally IS a food, so its much easier to create a convincing and exciting menu using his design.
Plus, his color pallet is so vibrant and colorful compared to other characters and their pastel color schemes, you cant help but feel happy being surrounded by so many colorful items bearing Gude's lazy face design. The menu itself was impressive; drinks served in light bulbs, towering roast beef on rice bowls and tapioca drinks, all with a comic strip theme. The only disappointing thing was the decor, as usually theme cafes are filled to the brim with plushies and goods that you can buy at the end, in that area the cafe was lacking. I did however enjoy the wall made of the many faces of Gude!
First up I ordered the strawberry tapioca drink, which came with a Gudetama straw, whipped cream and Gudetama marshmallow, this was incredibly delicious and the presentation was spot-on. It also came with a free coaster! Theme cafe lore in Japan has a consistent theme of getting a coaster with your drink, usually there is a selection, but you get given one at random, meaning you have to visit frequently to get them all.
My food came first with an extremely sadistic theme! Gudetama is laying in a puddle of mushroom stroganoff next to a chicken leg, his speech bubble says "Okaasan...Kamoshirenai" which translates to "Mother! ...Probably". The joke is that Gudetama is an egg, so maybe the chicken is his mother, Japanese humor at its finest. The sauce tasted good, but the rice was a little hard as it had to be compacted to form Gudetama's shape. The chicken leg needed more seasoning, but most Japanese foods do. I was surprised that Gude's face was drawn on with chocolate! but I strangely didn't mind the taste.
My friend ordered the roast beef on rice with onion sauce, topped with a Gudetama egg picking his nose. This was a safe choice as roast beef don is almost always delicious and filling. It came with a light soup with more beef and spring onion.
The whole cafe experience was really fun, the atmosphere was lighthearted and the customers ranged from children to older women, as no one can resist the subtle cute charm of Gude. On the way out we spotted a giant Gudetama plushie too, which made me happy as a theme cafe visit just isn't the same without squeezing the big fluffy version of the character you came to see. This cafe is running for a month and runs on and off in Ikebukuro Seibu department store, please check the website to see if it is running during your trip!
As many of you know, I have a one year old pet hedgehog called Bottchan. Hedgehogs are a pretty popular pet in Tokyo, particularly after hedgehog cafes started opening in the city center. They're small, nocturnal and they don't make a lot of noise or have a strong scent which makes them the perfect pet for city dwellers. Of course their most redeeming feature is their grumpy cuteness, especially when curled up in a ball with their belly fluff on show, thus the hedgehog brand of kawaii has caught the eye of a few Harajuku designers. Hedgehog-kei could really be the next big thing!
One in particular is my friend; a designer at the popular Pop and Gothic Japanese fashion brand ACDCrag. ACDCrag is very special to me because since I first ever visited Japan six years ago, ACDCrag has constantly dominated Takeshita dori, in an environment that is constantly changing and evolving, they have been a constant feature of the scenery. When my friend expressed interest in having my hedgehog Bottchan model for the new collection I was elated, but also curious to see how he would handle a photo studio environment as he is notoriously grumpy.
I bundled him up in his carry case with plenty of food and water and began the short train ride to Harajuku with him resting on my lap, only to find he really enjoyed riding the train! perhaps the rhythmic swaying of the carriage, or the gentle humming of the wheels relaxed him, but the whole trip he was an extremely contented hog. The studio however, was a whole different story. The bright lights, fresh news smells and playthings exhilarated him, which meant I spent the whole shoot chasing him around, trying to get him to remain still for photographing. At one point he even ran up the photographer’s trouser leg!
The set comprises of pants, T-shirt and seifuku-style jacket and comes in dreamy lavender with pastel gradient accents and little pink lightening bolts, the design itself is so soft and perfect!
Many of Bottchan’s pictures adorn the pants with him running, posing and curled up in a neat little ball, I couldn't believe the photographer was able to take that many quality photographs!
The T-shirt is my favorite as it has a ridiculously oversized picture of Bottchan complete with wet nose and whiskers covering the front, the whole set making me one incredibly proud Mama.
You can pick up the entire set at any of the ACDCrag stores in Tokyo, or from their online store that ships overseas ; https://global.rakuten.com/en/store/acdcrag/
I really adore my set, mostly because they are so comfortable and airy. Expect many pastel hedgehog coordinates from me in the coming months!
Lastly, they will be selling at Comic Con in LA! If you are attending please give them a visit and stock up on some hedgie themed goods, I look forward to seeing all your hedgehog-kei outfits!
Monday, 30 October 2017
Since the release of Sailor Moon Crystal, Japan has once again fallen in love with the Sailor Moon franchise; pop-up cafes, clothing and cosmetic collaborations galore are popping up, but most impressive of all is this store in the heart of Harajuku. Laforet department store holds some of the most influential "kawaii" Japanese brands such as Angelic Pretty, Nile Perch and Metamorphose, so holding a store there is an impressive feat indeed and actually, this is two stores.
When the stores opened under a month ago of course there were long lines, pre-orders and crowds but now they have thinned out it is safe to go inside and shop leisurely.
The shops are split in two; one holding miscellaneous items and the other selling apparel and jewelery. The decor of each store are both different and impressive in their own way ; the first being oodles of shocking pink and bubblegum blue, sparkling hot pink chandeliers dangle from the ceiling and the displays are all reminiscent of Usagi's magical jewellery,
You can find stationary, phone accessories, home ware, plushies, cosmetics, confectioneries and my favorite of all - the Pullip dolls that did a Sailor Moon collaboration. You can find almost every character, although Usagi sold pretty quickly, but at 17,000yen a pop you might not want the whole collection! One of the most popular items are the Moon and Star rod shaped eyeliners, both cheap and high quality these are my recommended item!
Of course like every other kind of pop-up store in Japan there are plenty of Gatchapon machines! mostly 300yen each they give you the chance of winning a plastic make-up compact, phone charm or earring set. My favorite variation is the charm bracelet, although I never got lucky enough to actually complete it after getting the same charm four times...
The second store has more of a mature feel, gorgeously decorated in royal and eggshell blue, selling an array of casual Sailor Moon inspired clothes and handbags. The most popular of which being the cat-shaped "Luna" bag. The clothes range from inexpensive to pricy, but you should be able to leave with something little over 2,000yen. The dresses were a little plain for my liking but I really love the bags and little attention to details.
The items change seasonally, depending on which collaborations are running at the time, keep that in mind when visiting if you have your heart set on something. Although this store seems permanent, like everything else in Laforet it is subject to change, so if you love Sailor Moon I suggest coming quickly. Sailor Moon fan or not Laforet is full of interesting brands for both men and women, if you are in Harajuku it really is a must see, especially on the fourth floor where there is a very unique restaurant experience. Happy traveling!
Thursday, 28 September 2017
Tickets for any of the Hilton Hotel sweets buffets are pretty hard to come by due to popularity so I was surprised to find that my friend camped in front of her computer until the release of the tickets and snatched up a couple as soon as they went up for sale. At 4,000yen each this particular buffet is one of the more expensive albeit most extravagant experiences you can have in Tokyo. Last year the theme was "strawberries" and similarly sold out instantly, this year the theme is "Marie Antoinette" based on Rococo era decadently designed sweets. Coincidentally the buffet fell on the day on the Liz Lisa x My Melody collaboration dress release, something else that requires patience so we had a very busy day ahead.
Liz Lisa is one of the most popular feminine brands in Japan, a floral mix of hime-kaji and otome with oodles of flowers and pink. Every few months they collaborate with arguably the cutest Sanrio character - My Melody - or known in Japan simply as MyMelo. MyMelo is adored by both children and especially older women and has a large range of collaborated clothes, nails, fragrances and recently a collaboration with Larme Magazine. This months release from Liz Lisa featured a "letter print" dress, mirror and large plushie backpack. The back pack proved particularly popular with Japanese girls on twitter so my friend and I knew we would have to arrive super early to be first in line to snatch one up,
Liz Lisa stores are peppered all over Tokyo and Japan; the most popular ones being in Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya. My friend and I headed to Shibuya 109 at 7am and were lucky enough to be first in-line. Shibuya 109 isnt open yet so for all releases you have to wait underground in the station in a line. There were a few other girls waiting alongside us, all wearing Liz Lisa too. Shortly before the store opened, one of the shop girls came out with samples of the goods, we chose which we wanted and she gave us tickets to be able to purchase them ahead of the crowds, my friend and I made number one and two so we could have our pick of whatever they had! This was lucky as the backpack sold out almost instantly.
We each bought the dress and backpack, while my friend also bought one of the smaller handbag charms, then head to Hilton Hotel in Shinjuku to change into our new purchases and ended up looking as sugary as the sweets themselves. The dresses were course gorgeous; the print featuring little My Melo holding letters, however the backpacks were the highlight even though they could barely hold a stick of gum. The plushie itself has a silky flower crown with embedded jewels and she is also wearing the same dress as the collaboration! The straps can even be taken off to turn it into a regular plushie to keep in your room,
After much picture taking, we head into the hall for the buffet. The entrance was an arch made of real scented roses leading to a red carpet and as we entered, live musicians playing cellos and violins started playing angelic classical music.. The staff led us through the buffet and on the way to our seats we were able to snap pictures of the feast; large towering cakes, plates upon plates of jellies, cheesecakes and mousses - more sweets then we would ever be able to eat in a lifetime!
Of course plenty of Marie Antoinette's favorite - chocolate and rose flavored Macarons, as well as ice cream, marshmallows and two kinds of chocolate fountains! Of course there was savory food too to break up the insane sugar rush and that was delicious too; breaded chicken, sandwiches, pasta and my favorite - ratatouille!
I am not sure how many plates we managed to consume, but I am sure it was more dessert than I have eaten this whole year. My favorites included the "raspberry champagne jelly" which had a wonderful alcoholic kick, and the creamy apricot panacotta.
There was also unlimited supplies of tea and coffee both hot and cold to wash everything down. I loved the color palette of deep rococo colors and the decorative touches such as glass chandeliers and the little horse and carriage. The small details are what made this buffet particularly mesmerizing; such as cakes sparkling with golden flakes, topped with real rose petals and strawberries dipped in chocolate, no expense was spared.
We ended up staying at the buffet over three hours and I don't even want to think about how many calories were consumed, but the entire experience was magical. We spied a fair few Japanese Lolita also attending the buffet, women in kimono and other extravagant styles but just being in a warm, friendly environment surrounded by girls happily munching on cake is food for the soul. If you feel a little sick of the sub-par food served at many of the "kawaii cafe" within Tokyo I definitely recommend a hotel buffet like this, or even high tea. To find out about events like this, I often find using Twitter is the best place, as for dress releases such as the one from Liz Lisa its helpful to check now and then on your favorite brands. Recently brands such as Liz Lisa have also started shipping online so you don't even need to leave your bed. However there is something said for the adrenaline rush of a dress release in Shibuya 109, too.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
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 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!