Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Perfume Party People! - Perfume 11th Birthday Isetan Collaboration Concept Shop in Nagoya

I arrived in Japan just in time for Perfume's 11th anniversary of their major label debut. Has it really been that long? Sure! Just last year, I was in Japan for their 10th anniversary - for the last of a four day concert in Nihon Budoukan. This year isn't as commemorative, but Perfume still managed to churn something for their fans: a pop-up shop in collaboration with the Isetan Haus department store. Isetan was the same group responsible for the Perfume Dance Heels, replicas of the girls signature heels and crafted to perfection.

This year, Isetan commemorates Perfume's 11th anniversary with a small concept shop entitled Perfume Party People! which sells exclusive collaboration merchandise from designers, inspired by or produced by Perfume. There are a number of goods and a wide variety of them, too. Besides staples like T-shirts (my favorite being the Chocolate Disco design), totebags, and keychains, you can also find some other novel choices. Perfume stockings and - who would have thought Perfume perfume! You may not want to actually eat the Perfume sugar cookies - especially when you see how much they are. Stock is limited by location and while supplies last, and you can check out more at the official website. There is also a blog about the Shinjuku pop-up shop where you can see pictures of all the goods on display. Merchandise from the Cosmic Explorer tour are also on sale at the event and are a lot more affordable than the collaborative goods.

Isetan's Nagoya store is located right outside Nagoya station, easily accessed from the shinkansen or the many subway lines in the city, and was running the shop for about a week right after I arrived. From the station exit, it's literally a crosswalk away to the department store and from there just an escalator to the basement floor where the concept shops are located.

I felt a bit embarrassed because the basement floor was empty when I arrived and I was clearly excited, had my camera out, and came dressed in my Cosmic Explorer T-shirt. Thankfully I wasn't alone for long, as people would start trickling in with just as much as enthusiasm as myself, taking pictures of the exhibit and pointing out all the peculiar goods. Quite a number of people stopped in, even if it was just to take photos. The exhibit itself was very small and took up nothing more than small corner space.

The front had a model sporting one of the new T-shirt designs: a shirt with the words Chocolate on the front and DISCO DISCO DISCO DISCO at the back. I had my heart set on getting one here at the exhibit until I looked at the price tag and thought otherwise. At 7,500yen ($75) it's about the price of admission to see them at Nagoya Dome. I passed.

I didn't notice at first but the balloons had the members names on them, with colors to match.

A shirt rack had all the shirts for sale on display if you wanted to check your size or have a closer look at the design.

I was especially pleased with the illustration above this shirt. The shirt was rather plain: a Supreme brand parody that read Techno-pop in Japanese letters instead. Again, it was 7,500yen.

If you wanted CDs, they had some too! There were socks and other goods that I saw at the Cosmic Explorer goods table.

Unfortunately most of the exclusive merchandise like the stockings, pens, notebooks, and the like, were already sold out by the time I arrived. A friend who visited the shop before I did told me that the Perfume pens were especially popular and sold out quickly. It's probably best to get here on the first day if you're interested in any of this stuff. Otherwise, the high-end merchandise was still available.

Perfume stockings, pens, notebooks, and other items that were limited to the shop were completely sold out, even if they were limited to one per customer. These Perfume cookies that were going for almost $20 a pack were still in stock. I wonder why....

The exhibit might be traveling throughout Japan to other Isetan stores in the future, so be on the lookout for another chance to grab some of the exclusive items! Until next year!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kicell ( キセル ) - toki wo hanarete ( 時をはなれて )

If there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that when it comes to films, books, or music - any kind of media - I can't be forced to get into something. Someone can recommend something to me to the highest degree and even if I know I might like it, I can't just sit there and enjoy it if there isn't some kind of force pulling me towards it on my end. I've also learned that sometimes you can't force stuff on other people either, and they, too, will have to take your best recommendations whenever they find it comfortable to them. I stopped being offended if someone got into something I introduced to them at a later time because I kind of learned the hard way when the same thing happened to me!

Kicell was one of those groups that I had heard so much about and was recommended so many times by both friends and by music websites like last.fm but could never quite listen to. I guess there wasn't quite something there that intrigued me about them and whenever I did listen to one of their albums I was unimpressed. But what would you know - I just suddenly felt compelled to look them up years later and I find them to be particularly pleasant, an excellent companion to a group like Quruli who I've been fond of for years.

I used to always play the group's albums from the start and find myself falling out of it in no time. Youtube is convenient in that it gets me into some of their singles, arguably their more accessible tunes, and pairs them with a music video to keep my attention so it's a lot easier to get into.

The above video for their track 時をはなれて (toki wo hanarete) reminds me a lot of the kinds of videos I liked before, too, around the time many years ago when I first heard of Kicell. I was really fond of stuff that showcased the scenery of small town Japan and everyday life rather than all the flashy MTV kind of stuff so it felt almost nostalgic, a reminder of a lot of my favorite videos from Onsoku Line. It paired great with the really mellow music.

It also reminded me a lot of the last airbnb I stayed in while in Japan - a spare room in a couple's condo who lived on the outskirts of Tokyo in the suburbs. It was a high rise apartment complex with not much else around it. The river bank was straight out of a Japanese drama or manga, and it was a great place to unwind.
But what it really struck me as was a perfect accompaniment to a Haruki Murakami novel or short story. The strange faces on the characters and the humdrum of everyday life, plus the meeting of the man and woman at the very end in the cafe.

Enjoy more Kicell.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Japan Fall 2015 - Love Live! Part 3: Kanda Myojin

The Japanese word seichi junrei translates to "sacred pilgrimage," but commonly refers to taking a trip to the real life locations found in anime, manga, or video games. The name comes from the fact that it takes a great deal of time and navigation to get to some of these out of the way towns which often require navigating through a maze of small, local trains to towns you never knew existed outside the city, not to mention a lot of time sitting and looking out at the countryside while you ponder how much you spent on train fare. Sometimes the places are so obscure, like the locations in Okayama prefecture which served as the basis for characters in the Tenchi Muyo! series, they require a car and some hiking to get to. My own trip to Toyosato elementary school, which was the model for the school used in K-On!, was quite a way from Tokyo and even required a trip aboard the bullet train.

Thankfully, Love Live! fans have it easy. The series is conveniently set near the otaku/electronics capital of  Akihabara and the neighborhoods surrounding the nearby Kanda Shrine, all easy to access from anywhere in Tokyo by regular train and are very affordable. Forget the sense of accomplishment: you won't miss the expensive train fares, having to navigate through never before seen train stations in a sparsely populated town, or spending hours sitting in a train looking at nothing. Trust me.

The school idols frequently visit Kanda Shrine, easily accessed from Ochanomizu station (NOT Kanda station, as I had to learn). It's a short five minute walk from the station to hill leading up to the shrine's main gate. It's simple to figure out with maps...or if you're like me you can always be on the look out for fellow fans and follow them inconspicuously. They won't mind and believe me, it works every time. Going to an event? you'll never need a map again if you look out for keychains and band t-shirts.

Kanda Shrine is a shrine first and a mecha for Love Live! fans second so you can actual see quite a bit of culture here, even if you did end up coming for to see your favorite member of muse. Wash your hands off to the side once you enter and make a small offering at the main shrine. The girls met up here during New Years with the members of A-rise.

Sit down for a little while and appreciate the architecture, take a break, then pull your shrine fortune from a box to see if you've gotten good luck. This gives you a good excuse to talk to one of the mikos (female shrine helpers) working at the temple. Nozomi was often seen tidying up the grounds of Kanda Myojin in the anime in her miko outfit and Kanda Shrine had some special Nozomi Ema (wish boards) and Omamori (good luck charms) available for sale. You can read more about Miko in this photo-heavy post and this informative article. 

An ema is a wooden plaque for wishes that you post at a shrine. Love Live's popularity has resulted in a sea of ema you can see posted all about the shrine adorned with messages and sometimes expertly drawn renditions of one's favorite member of muse. You can write a wish on the special Nozomi ema in the above picture, or get a plain one and decorate it however you want!

Instead of leaving the shrine through the main gate, head right past more ema boards to a stair case that leads down.

This appears everywhere in the anime, most notably in the race between Honoka and Nico that two friends tried to recreate right after I took my pictures. No fall included!

Once down the stairs, the main street to Akihabara's electric town district is a short walk away! Welcome back to civilization! Just kidding. You aren't that far out in the sticks.

Even if you aren't a fan of Love Live!, the shrine itself and the serene neighborhoods around it make for a nice getaway from the crowded concrete that densely overrides the Tokyo cityscape. Escape for an afternoon, enjoy a nice stroll around town, and if you really must get back to civilization Akihabara is literally right down the hill.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Japan Fall 2015 - Love Live! Part 2: Minalinsky Birthday Cafe @ Akihabara Cure Maid Cafe

To continue in the series of Love Live! posts from my Fall 2015 Japan trip, we have a visit to the Kotori Minami...or rather, Minalinsky Birthday Cafe held at Cure Maid Cafe in Akihabara!

After I saw the Love Live! School Idol movie at a small theater in Shibuya, I took the train back to Akihabara to line up for the cafe with a friend. Kotori's birthday had just passed, and Cure Maid Cafe hosted a special menu as well some limited edition merchandise to go along with the event.

Cure Maid Cafe is of particular interest to Love Live! fans because it served as the model for the maid cafe which Koto...erm, "Minalinsky," the nickname she takes up while on the job, works for during the animated series. The inside of the cafe looks similar to how it does in the episode and the long maid dress Kotori wears is the same as what all the servers wear.

I went on the last day, so the line to get in to the cafe was long. Located on the sixth floor, customers had to wait along the dreary staircase on the side of the building leading up to the cafe. The wait was a brutal two hours long on an already cloudy, gloomy day, but it was worth it to finally arrive at the top of the staircase to pretty young women in maid dresses.

The atmosphere of Cure Maid Cafe was much different from what most people would expect--myself included--out of one of Akihabara's most popular tourist attractions. This place was much farther from the cutesy, moe-type maid cafe's that Akihabara is known for. Instead of mini-skirts, wide-eyed contact lens, and speakers blaring denpa songs for the maids to dance to, Cure Maid Cafe embraces a totally different outlook on the maid culture that is much more sophisticated. They serve tea, the muscat grape was delicious, and for the event they played all of Kotori's solo songs from the Love Live! series, albeit on a much lower volume. The maids are much more composed, calm, and seem very professional. While they won't infuse your food with super cute powers, ala this hilarious Tommy Lee Jones commercial,  they will be glad to pour your tea for you and make you an omelette that probably tastes just as good. While it's a different atmosphere the no-pictures policy is still enforced, but you can get an idea of how the inside looks from pictures on the internet, like the above one from their official site.

Kotori's favorite food is cheesecake and Cure Maid Cafe offered a special slice decorated with her signature bird face as part of their special menu. They also had omelettes and other desserts on the menu but this cheesecake was too cute to pass up. It was also delicious, especially with the muscat tea. Some of the voice actors also paid a visit to the cafe and left a signature board for them to frame. The post cards below it were presents for ordering items off the special Kotori menu.

Although it was a painful wait to get in, the entire experience was well worth the visit. Even if you find yourself in Akihabara looking for an alternative to a typical maid cafe with a more relaxed atmosphere, pay a visit to Cure Maid Cafe. Check out their official website for directions, a list of events, and the menu. It's located in the same building as a store with nothing but gachapon machines and isn't very hard to find. Cheers!

Japan Fall 2015 - Love Live! Part 1: LaForet Harajuku Hybrid Mind Market

In a previous post I mentioned how enjoyable it was seeing Suiyoubi no Campanella's One-man concert at a time when they were not just at a pinnacle in their career, reaching a wider audience and gaining immense popularity, but more importantly because I was so engrossed in the band that the gig a lot more fun than if I had just went on a whim. It was timed perfectly, and so was another interest of mine during my fall trip: the idol anime Love Live!.

If it wasn't already apparent in my last post where I mention seeing the film not once but twice, I'm actually rather fond of the series even though it's a kind of guilty pleasure. This trip was timed perfectly to coincide with the film release, which gives a solid conclusion to the series and also meant that Love Live! fandom was in full swing just about everywhere you looked. There were plenty of things to do for die-hard Love Live! fans around Tokyo and since I did quite a few things related to the series, I decided to multiple posts about it. I went to LaForet Harajuku's Hybrid Mind Market shop dedicated to Love Live! Then, I went to the Kotori Minami birthday event at Cure Maid Cafe in Akihabara. I saw the film twice in two different theaters, and, finally, I was able to take a "pilgrimage" trip to the Kanda Myojin shrine near Akihabara, a real life shrine that appears frequently in the series and is frequently visited by eager fans.
Hybrid Mind Market @ Harajuku LaForet

A friend of mine met up with me in Harajuku to go shopping for clothes and on the way we passed this huge billboard which stopped me in my tracks. I had to go!

In the basement of one of Harajuku's flagship stores, the LaForet buulding, is a shop called Hybrid Mind Market which frequently collaborates with the most popular animated series and sells a plethora of merchandise online and at their store in Harajuku. It's a little out of place seeing a store dedicated to anime in a neighborhood known more for clothing brands and street fashion but its worth the change of scenery. I just so happened to be here at the right time, too!

A staircase leading to the bottom floor let out to displays of many new and unreleased Love Live! figures on display in a well lit showcase.

From there was the shop which featured all kinds of apparel, stickers, and other merchandise to tie in with the film. Some of this was exclusive to the store. I picked up a T-shirt to wear to the movie the next day and a draw string bag with my favorite member Hanayo. Among the merchandise was this outfit from the movie and a banner with Umi's AIDORU written in kanji:

The shop then transitioned into an exhibit of more merchandise and close to life size cutouts, notably the street scene at the end of the film. There were also large collages for each member. You can see Hanayo's below.

Thanks for reading! See you in Part 2.

Monday, January 11, 2016

岡山 cafe moyau

Don't let the aging architecture deter you - cafe moyau is a cafe/restaurant in Okayama prefecture that embraces its antique look to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere, evoking both familiarity and nostalgia. Even if we don't all live in a picturesque shack right by a river it's hard to not think of it as feeling like home - or at least establishing what home is supposed to feel like.

The cafe faces the Asahigawa river, lying on the outskirts of downtown Okayama, positioned right between the office buildings and skyscrapers of the business district the two biggest tourist cultural tourist attractions a bridge away: the Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's best, and Okayama Castle. Moyau's location in between the tourism and business sectors feels symbolic, offering an escape both from the concrete jungle to its left as well as the busy commercial tourism and sights on its right.

The wooden entrance door rattles as it moves into place and the steep wooden stairs to the second floor loft creak underfoot with even the most careful step. The chairs and tables look slightly worn but are obviously clean and well kept. The furnishings lack the uniformity of most restaurants and cafes in favor of picking and choosing what looks to be the most comfortable over the most symmetric. The lights are dim and you call the servers, all whom looked to be at home here as well while dressed in their own attire, with a small bell placed on your table. The menu is made of bound, decorated cards and is hand written. The smell of stewing curry filled the room from the first time I opened the door and  conversations were short and sweet among the men getting off work and the woman with her two children sitting across the way. The mood seemed to always hover just slightly above the ground, being neither too gloomy and quiet nor too festive and rowdy. It was just right.

A small library with shelves of books is located just to the side of the cafe in a separate room where you can also enjoy your drinks or lunch, with windows facing the river. The sun was just setting when I was there and I saw a girl enjoying her lunch outside the window on a chair she pulled up by the small road in front. I chose a short story collection by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo and skimmed through a novel by Ryu Murakami. There are a variety of drinks and food on the menu and the whole place smelled of delicious home stewed curry, but what caught my eye the most was the azuki coffee. It arrived at my table with a topping of whipped cream and the expected red beans fashioned on top.

One of the reasons I was so inclined to go to cafe moyau when a friend suggested it was because the name sounded familiar: Oomori Seiko stopped by just a few weeks before I was there to give an intimate acoustic concert in the event space located in the basement of the cafe. They seem to do a variety of interesting events besides live shows, too. I spotted a signed vinyl record of singer-songwriter Shibata Satoko's EP on the way out.

If you ever find yourself looking for a nice place to relax off the beaten path or after a days worth of sightseeing in Okayama city, cafe moyau is a convenient place to unwind. Okayama is a city best explored by bicycle, the transportation of choice for most of the city's inhabitants, and rental bicycles for non-residents are available from a number of places. Cafe moyau is a short bicycle ride from Okayama station, although it can be a little longer on foot. For directions and more information, check out the cafe's official website as well as this handy google map location or the map posted on their homepage.