What can I say? I love sweets, in all shapes and sizes! You only live once, so why not indulge once in a while? Or, in my case, most of the time...
WARNING! This post contains much more kawaii photos than these cute bunny shoes that I bought on Takeshita St in Harajuku before I went for my Lolita experience. If you can’t handle this, stop reading now.
The last time I went to Japan was way back in 2007 – not long after Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’ came out and Harajuku Girls became a HUGE thing. Did anyone else have one of the Harajuku Lovers perfumes? Go around singing “if I was a rich girl – na na na na na na na na na na na na na na naaaaa” (if you are in your late twenties/early thirties and didn’t just sing that in your head I know you’re lying). If you need a little refreshing of your memory, you can listen to the song again over here. The point is, the whole crazy costuming that was popular with young Japanese people had just broken onto the world stage in a huge way. I remember going to the bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku where they were all supposed to hang out for photos and being so disappointed that there were only a hand full of people there. Boo.
Let me start this post by saying that I’ve always been a huge fan of Japanese food. One of the most exciting aspects of planning this leg of our trip has been the anticipation of juicy gyoza, fresh sashimi and diabetes-inducing crepes. As money was tight, we tended to eat one meal out each day then forage for other sustenance from the incredibly well stocked convenience stores. This is one wonderful difference between Japan and Australia. In Australia, if you’re going to rely on convenience stores, be prepared to navigate the super unhealthy shelves of donuts, microwave meals, chips and slurpies. Not so in Tokyo! I know how this makes me sound, but I had so much fun looking at the huge array of ready or almost ready made meals that decked the shelves of stores such as Lawsons and Family Mart.
Also, I feel the need to confess that we basically lived on peach iced tea. These one litre cartons from Lipton were everywhere and came in smaller sizes too. They were so nice because they didn’t seem to have that weird taste that the Australian ones get from replacing sugar with stevia. I’m still not on board the ‘cut all sugar out of your diet because it is the latest way we want to look healthy’ train. We downed cartons of this stuff like it was water. Which might have contributed to the fact that i’m writing this post in my pyjamas because they are the only comfortable stretchy items in my suitcase and everything else is too tight. Hmm.
If you’re itching to get out of Tokyo central and want something fun and quirky to do, you could always take a day trip out to Yokohama and visit the Cup Noodles Museum! Costing only 500 yen for entry, it definitely won’t break the budget, even if you splurge an extra 300 yen for a custom cup noodle experience!
I think someone was watching a little too much Wizard of Oz when they thought up this statue of Mr Momofuku.
Scratch that. How can you watch TOO MUCH Wizard of Oz?
We passed through Yokohama on the way back from Kamakura and it was a pretty quick and fuss-free trip. The exit from Yokohama station was a bit confusing but we pieced together some maps and found our way out to the street where we could see signs pointing the way to the cup noodle museum. It’s really only a 5-10 minute walk from the station but you might get distracted by the amusement park that is situated halfway between the station and the museum. Go with the flow!
The museum building is an interesting one. Inside the foyer, it feels almost as if you are inside a giant white plastic noodle cup. We came at the end of the day and it was empty with no lines to wait on. We bought our ticket and arranged the time for our custom noodle making. You can wander through the museum until the appointed time or pick an earlier time and do the museum later.
Yes, hubs rolled his eyes when I asked him to take this photo.
I didn’t know much about the cup noodle phenomenon, having been brought up on fantastic noodles and the ubiquitous maggi noodles, but it’s a pretty big concern over in Japan. There were huge displays explaining how Mr Momofuku had pioneered particular ways of packaging the noodles and reconstituting weird ingredients. There was even a tribute to the first packets brought up into space! The displays are part art/part normal museum and it was fun to wander through, but I wouldn’t spend hours and hours there.
When it came time to make our noodles, we went up to the special noodle making floor where we washed our hands (very important) and selected our cups. The staff showed us to a little circular desk with a pot of coloured pens in it and left us to decorate our cups.
I went for a ‘Japanese meme’ theme in the style of doge.
Once we were done, we were ushered over to the ingredients bar where we could choose three ingredients to go into our noodles, as well as a specific flavour. This was a bit bamboozling but I went for dehydrated shrimp, green beans and corn. Why not?
The cups were then sealed and passed through a weird conveyer belt then given to us to place in a plastic bag that we pumped with air to cushion the cup. The only thing to remember if you’re not eating them right away is that noodles can be flown internationally but you need to take them out of the air cushioned bag as the changes in air pressure on the plane can crush your cup!
We packed our cup noodles into our suitcases without the extra packaging and they survived a long haul flight. When we ate them a week or so later, they looked like this:
They tasted pretty much the same as normal cup noodles but it was a lot of fun for not a lot of cashola and I would actually do this again! Did you eat cup noodles as a kid? As a poor uni student? As a still-poor adult who has blown all their cash on smashed avo?
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm with last admission at 5pm – Closed on Tuesdays
Address: 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001 Japan
Map and further directions: http://www.cupnoodles-museum.jp/english/map/index.html
We took the train from Shinjuku Station to Katsushima and then a short walk to the carpark where the flea market is held. Make sure that you plot your walk on a map first or use your gps as it can be a bit disorientating and the market is only signposted when you are nearby.
This is about as far away from a Paddy’s Market as you can get!
You will be faced with stall upon stall of proper flea market traders, often with their goods laid out on plastic sheets on the ground. Everything is second hand and most stalls just have a huge pile of stuff that you are free to dig through. If you are prepared to search, you can make some great finds. Here are a few things I picked up:
this sweet pair of leather boots for 100 yen
A few pins for 100 yen each with a free “chokosnacko” thrown in by the grinning stallholder
I wanted to take home these pretty plates but, as Tokyo was at the start of our trip, I knew I would never be able to fit them into my luggage. Boo. There is some Royal Albert and Royal Doulton in that mix.
There were also a bunch of stalls selling beautiful pre-loved yukatas and kimonos that you could pick up for relatively cheap. Those beauties were VERY difficult to leave behind. Still, I had a grand old time digging through piles and piles of clothes and bric a brac, and hubs scored himself a couple of second hand cameras that were apparently the bees knees (clearly the quality of my photos shows I have zero interest in cameras). So, are you a fan of the old car boot sale/flea market? What has been your best find?
Think of the craziest show you’ve ever seen and then multiply it by a million. You will have something halfway close to the insanity that is the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Firstly, a disclaimer: this is not a show that draws on some ancient Japanese culture. It is purely for entertaining tourists. If you’re happy to join the ranks of Australian and American tourists who are out for a night of joyous calamity that embraces the quirky kawaii of comic book culture, this is the thing for you. If you want zen gardens and authentic ancient samurai swords, move along.
Robot Restaurant is situated in the heart of Kabukicho – a suburb of Shinjuku known for its bright lights, pachinko parlous and host/hostess bars. It is essentially a night life district but far safer and cleaner than Kings Cross or equivalent districts in other nations. It is easily accessible and only a short walk from Shinjuku station. You will need to pre-book your tickets online and collect them from the ticket counter opposite the restaurant around half an hour before the show begins. Don’t worry if you’re discombobulated by the bright lights and loud music, there are plenty of staff wandering the street, ready to point you in the right direction.
Once you have collected your ticket, you will proceed to the restaurant entrance, go down some stairs decorated in a style that seems like (trucker hat designer) threw up his most audacious designs and enter a waiting room decked out in a mix of porn star’s boudoir and Liberacci.
Here you can cash in your free drink ticket and relax in a luxuriously cushioned nautilus shell
and be serenaded by a pop singer and her band of musical robots. I’m not kidding.
Then comes the show itself. I can only really describe it as one of the most joyously neon lighted robotic nights of my life. The show is filled with crazily kawaii dressed dancers that twirl and flip and scream HAH! At what seem to be random intervals, then, when it couldn’t get any more random of crazy, the robots enter. The dances and robots seem to change from season to season but the theme and quality seems to remain the same.
There will be a sweet robot dancing number, a fight to the death involving pretty Japanese girls and robotic dinosaurs or similar giant creatures, and an upbeat dance and song number to round out the show. A short interval punctuates the brain overload and gives you a little bit of time to catch your breath (and purchase quite outrageously priced food/souvenirs) but really, the show is all colour, all loud, all of the time.
At the end, I had huge sequin envy, huge neon envy and seriously considered trying to learn to dance so that I could join the ranks cast members who seemed to be having the times of their lives. Have you been? Did you enjoy it? Could you understand what on earth was going on? Leave me a comment!
One of my enduring memories of Tokyo is the proliferation of Pachinko parlours. These are the mysterious rooms behind double doors of frosted glass that look like the slot machine floor of a casino, sound like a hail storm and are prohibitively signposted in Japanese. Basically, if you speak no Japanese, you’re not going to go into one of these places. I was so curious about these places last time I came that when I was messing about on the Voyagin! site and saw that I could have a lesson in how to play Pachinko, I was totally sold. The package seemed pretty good value as it was for a lesson plus a guided session of playing pachinko in a real parlour with the teacher present for guidance. Phew!
You can see the practice machines lined up against the wall, and the table that we sat at to learn the rules of pachinko. It was fun to be a student on the other side of the desk for a change!
We met our guide Jhena outside a convenience store near Ginza station and she took us to her office which is part of a company that run a huge string of pachinko parlours. She spoke excellent English and gave us some of the history of the company before we began our lesson. Firstly, as a teacher, it was so much fun to be a student for the day and I thoroughly enjoyed being on the other side of the desk! Jhena had set up the room to be very welcoming, with little paper cranes made out of the Australian flag, a small gift for each of us, and lots of information on the whiteboard to help us understand the game. There were even model machines that we would use to practise the game before we went down to the real parlour.
Jhena was very thorough, teaching us all about the ins and outs of pachinko.
Pachinko has quite a long history (90 years) and is based on video games which explains the neon flashing lights and crazy videos that comprise many of the special features. Each machine seems to be linked to a different part of the video game culture that permeates Japanese fashion and entertainment. There are over 12000 pachinko parlours in Japan which shows how popular it is. The basic aim of the game is to get as many balls into the correct slot as possible to win tiny slivers of gold. As there is a law in Japan against earning money from gambling, you cannot exchange this gold for cash on the premises. Instead, you need to exit the parlous and find a gold exchange booth (often very close by!) at which you can exchange your gold.
Of course I wanted to practise on the pink machine.
Now that the history lesson is done, lets get down to the game! We began by looking at the setup of the machine and Jehna pointed out the digital display to the left side of the screen where you swipe your card (that has been preloaded with cashola). You type in your password then press the “Tamakashi” button to rent a ball. These are tiny ball bearings that are the main feature of the game. The balls fall into the tray at the bottom of the machine with a huge clatter to mark the beginning of your game. The machine is set up basically like a huge vertical pinball machine that continuously spits balls up that fall randomly into different pockets. Jhena showed us how to rotate the handle to control the force that each ball is thrown at to try to aim for specific pockets. Apparently you should always begin by aiming for “bukkomi” or the top left corner of the machine in order to cause the balls to fall into the middle pocket. When you get a ball into the center pocket, the machine will begin a special feature which is similar to the rotating numbers on a slot machine. If you win this round, another tulip shaped pocket, called the “attaka” will open and you have the opportunity to get as many balls into that pocket as possible. This will multiply your number of points. When you have run out of balls, you can press a button back on the display to use any available credit to get more balls until you run out and the game is done.
Here you can see Jhena turning the handle to keep the balls flipping up, and turning the switch to pass her winning balls into the collection tray below.
There are also three different levels of pachinko machine that increase in difficulty but also increase the amount of gold you can win if you win a jackpot. You can tell which kind of machine you are playing by looking at the display at the top. Green will be the easiest but will yield the lowest number of points, while pink will give you more points but be much more difficult. Unfortunately, when we went down to the parlour, I chose a pink machine without looking at the difficulty and lost most of my balls very quickly! For a short while, the power of pink had forsaken me.
Luckily, my husband and our friend seemed to have chosen lucky machines and were quite skilled at getting the balls in the correct pockets. After a few incredibly fun special features, we had won enough points to exchange for three pieces of gold. Yippee! Also, on a side note, how cool is this machine? The big gold head on top of the machine flipped up from a hidden place when a special feature began. I didn’t manage to get a picture of it but the sword on the right was also involved in some special features and you had to stab it down at a specific time to get more winning balls. So confusing but so much fun!
Gold and bunny shoes. What more could you need?
Wait until the next post to find out more about these sweet sweet shoes!
Pachinko is definitely not something that you could just sit down in a parlour and learn on your own. At least, not without losing some serious money. Our class was super good value as it was on sale, included credit in the pachinko parlour and, most importantly, Jhena stayed with us while we played to help explain what was happening at each stage of the game. Our class only had us and a friend in and I think a small group would be best. It seems from the website that they deliberately keep the number of participants small which is a good thing. So, another thing ticked off our ‘to do in Tokyo’ list and another success. Do you have any must-do activities for Tokyo? Anything you’ve been dreaming of? Let me know, my lovelies!