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The Punk/Lolita/VK Shops of Sendai
One of the first weird but cool and so very Japanese things my friends fell in love with in college was Gothic Lolita fashion. This trend/lifestyle choice started a while back and you can learn more about the history here. There's even a wikihow on how to be a lolita here. There are a few variations of the Lolita theme, but the vast majority come with extremely detailed and expensive clothing and accessories. There are plenty of shops, first hand and second, for any style of lolita in Tokyo or Osaka. Sendai is not so big and offers significantly fewer options, but they do still exist here, mostly clustered together on the seventh floor of the Forus building, walking distance from Sendai station. Just walk down the arcade until it dead-ends at Sun Mall Ichibancho and turn right. Forus is on the right before you get to the Disney Store. Take the escalator up and get off when you see "Gothic Lolita * Sports" sign on the seventh floor. As amusing as it sounds, this isn't the floor for displays of Gothic Lolita Sportsmanship (Pretentious petty-coat fluffing? 50 yard Scowl? Delicate field hockey in painful footwear?) but the sign is an accurate description of the floor's contents as a sporting goods shop takes up half of the floor. On the other half you can find Angelic Pretty, Alice and the Pirates, and KERA Style shop in addition to a small Doc Martens store front. There are also wigs and alterations available for the discerning customer. The first thing you see is the media shop, which usually has the most recent copies of the Gothic Lolita Bible, a bi-yearly seasonal style guide for the lolita, complete with sewing patterns for a few select pieces every month. Also, this place sometimes holds in-store events for current Visual Kei artists and other similar genres sold in the store. If you're looking for the lolita outfit of your dreams or just wanting to window shop, this is one of the more peculiar but fun areas of Sendai in which to do it. Serious budget-conscious lolitas in the area also know of several small lolita-specific resale shops, though they still tend to be a bit pricey for some budgets, including my own. The frilly and fun things I find these days are far closer to the station, on the sixth floor of the building once known as Sakurano. The company went under earlier this year and took with it access to one of my very favorite shops in Japan-- Ozzonste. This was the store on the second floor, before Sakurano died. Ozzonste isn't strictly lolita but does work some nice details into some fun and well-made garments, usually with fabric stretchy enough to accommodate a larger American woman like myself. I can't wear everything they make but the stuff I can makes me feel so very cool and frequently can be paired with more plain clothes to make a cool outfit that doesn't scream VK/PUNK/GOTH/WEIRDO (not that there is anything wrong with any of those things-- I love those things, but I don't have the bravery, budget, or wardrobe to wear them every day). So for the more tame among us, this isn't a bad brand. Unfortunately, I haven't been financially capable of shopping at this location in years, though I always found the window shopping to be inspiring. Instead, I go up to the floor dedicated to second hand clothing and hunt. Scouring for badass clothing is actually one of my favorite past-times in Japan. If my daughter is stroller-bound and asleep, I can kill more than an hour looking through all the women's sections for anything with a brand-name I like. On this specific trip, I bought one beautiful Ozzonste top (regular retail: way over $100. BookOff Price: less than 2000 yen) and a really cool h.Naoto shirt for a friend back home...no really. That is way too badass for my housewife-life. There are several brands that specialize in classic Lolita including Angelic Pretty, Baby The Stars Shine Bright, and Alice and the Pirates. I've known some to wear the latter few in combination, but generally all to the full-lolita ensemble. These are not things you can just pair with your jeans, generally. You will find them at the name brand stops, the lolita resale shops, and very rarely at BookOff. My favorite designer, H.Naoto, might use some of the frill and flare from lolita for some of his brands but generally tends more toward the goth-androgenous VK side of things. Hell Cat Punks offers similar clubbing options edging toward the punk side, if you're planning on attending many hardcore live performances. Both of these sometimes find their way into the KERA shop in Forus or BookOff. In the meantime, here is my purchase in action, completing an outfit I didn't know I needed or had. For anyone not believing that little green top can fit anyone above a US size 12, here's proof! So now you've seen that stretchy Ozzonste tops can fit people outside Japan's concept of normal sizes, but you may still be thinking, "Didn't you say something about jeans? Could you really wear that with jeans?" And I would tell you no, that this top really is more of a theatrical piece in my opinion. That said, I do have a few pieces from this brand that can be added together, even with red high-wasted mom-jeans.Still theatrical, still dramatic, but not as much as a full ensemble of similarly designed clothing, which might feel like overkill.How do you adapt interesting Japanese trends to your lifestyle?
There is much to anticipate while living in Japan
Starting life in a new country is often nerve racking. There is a lot of getting used to; a new environment, new culture, new ways of doing things and of course for Japan, a completely new language. Often, the simplest things you used to do with ease in your home country becomes immensely complicated and difficult here. Couple that with a lack of friends and the responsibility to make sure life goes on normal for the rest of the family, the anxiety can often lead to grief and depression. Yes, starting life in Japan isn't exactly a bed of roses but it is not always gloomy either. For me, my experience in Japan has surprised me, there is actually much to anticipate in every day life here. All these details has kept me going, keeping me sane and happy regardless of everything else foreign that I have to deal with.I personally think the change in seasons is what creates all the anticipation. The change in season brings about a change in temperature, change in way of dressing, change in choice of food, change in scenery, change in daylight, change in activities and much more. Let's start with spring, the best gift from mother nature. Flowers start blooming, leaves start spouting. It is almost like nature congratulating us for surviving the cold winter. Food choices suddenly open up, you get the fresh produce like strawberries, rapeseed, bamboo shoots, tangerines flooding the shelves of supermarkets. Now you can bring the family out to the parks in weekends without the fear of freezing. You also get to shed the thick gloomy clothes and change into something more flowy and colorful. Of course, there is the plum and cherry blossom viewing, street festivals and hanami with friends. All these just brighten up my days, at least until April. Then comes golden week, the time when we go on extended road trips with the entire family, going to remote places, exploring Japan and her beauties, before the weather gets really hot.Summer is brutal here with the heat and the mozzies, but there's lots of fun too. It is during summer when the river parks and splash pools and water parks start their business. During the summer holidays, my kids and I would pack our bentos and head to the park or stream and spend a whole half a day. Them splashing in the water and me sitting on the side soaking my feet and reading my book. It can be very pleasant for everyone. Summer you get amazing food too. Corn from Hokkaido that's sweet like candy, watermelons, pears, peaches, tomatoes and so much more, all waiting to help cool you down.Fall comes as a relief to the unbearable heat. Also, I can finally get the kids off my back and send them off to school and have some time to myself. It is then I love seeing how the ginkgo trees lose their leaves and get pruned to the point of barren. This is also the magical time to go soak in onsens as you admire the red leaves. Hiking becomes more comfortable again. You get to start getting your cold weather fashion ready for the next half a year. A pretty busy time I have to say. My favorite food also come by in the fall; lucious grapes, persimmons, oysters, sword mackerels and so many other harvests, getting the farms empty for winter!Finally we are back to winter, time to go skiing and onset again. Now we get to feast on crabs and fatty fishes loaded up to survive the cold water (sorry fishes). Going to bed in my fluffy comforter will then be my daily goal. Getting ready for Christmas and New Years occupies much of this season. Also, I get a chance to go home!See, there is so much to see, to feel, to touch, to eat throughout the year I often forget about the mundane difficulties. It is almost like being a tourist in your resident country. Not a bad thing at all!
DIY Nama Chocolate, Vegan Nama Chocolate, and Nama Tart
I'm a bit of a 'why buy it, when you can make it' kind of person. It's part of my upbringing, you see. When I was young I always thought everybody made their fancy dress costumes because my mum made costumes for all four of us kids. I was shocked when I found out that it was only my mum that did that. It was the same when I went to university. Everybody was so surprised that I could cook and bake. Mum and Nan taught us cooking and baking, Dad did on a regular basis as well. They always taught me that if you can make it, then you you don't need to buy it. It's cheaper and a safe survival mode. I do that with everything, and living here I have learned it's even more important. With Valentine's Day coming up, I've seen lots of shops saying to buy this chocolate and that chocolate. It's actually quite expensive. I found that it's cheaper to do it yourself. You can buy decent cooking chocolate here, and cream, and if you've already got the chocolate molds or a baking tin, then do you really need to buy it? After all, Nama chocolate is not really all that time consuming for the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. So I've already made my Nama chocolate for this year. It's ready to go into work tomorrow. I thought that I'd share the recipe with you. Oh, and I've thrown in a DIY Nama chocolate tart for dessert as well.Nama Chocolate This recipe takes 30 minutes to prepare and cook. It can make a lot of chocolate. It can be halved. Note that all items must be very dry, or the chocolate will seize. 400g (14oz) dark chocolate at 70% cacao or semi sweet chocolate 200ml heavy cream with 38% fatcocoa powder1) If you don't have a mold, then line a 8"x8" baking tray with baking paper.2) Finely chop chocolate. 3) Put cream into a small sauce pan. Almost bring it to the boil, and remove it from the heat just before. 4) Add the chocolate to the cream and stir until completely combined. Spoon into the chocolate molds, or pour into the baking tray and refrigerate for 4-5 hours, or until your ready to serve.5) Remove the chocolate and take out from the tray. Use a warm knife to cut the chocolate. Clean the knife In between each cut, or the chocolate will break.6) Sprinkle cocoa powder. I for some reason, never do this.You see! Super easy! Although, as you can see, I'm a bit of a show off. Some had almond fillings, some had double layers, some almond toppings, and some had a chocolate shell with Nama filling. I simply melted some chocolate before hand, and made the shells by adding a good dollop in the base of the mold and mixed around the edge with a plastic chopstick and added the crushed almonds and refrigerated it before adding the Nama chocolate. For the almond layered ones, I placed the almond in, added a layer of chocolate in and refrigerated before add the second layer.Now then, if you wanted to be a bit more fancy, then have you considered making Nama chocolate tart? If you have time to make some pastry a little earlier, then it shouldn't be a problem. Sweet PastryAgain, this can be halved. If you want vegan pastry, then most organic shops sell vegan butter.225g / 8oz plain flourpinch of salt100g / 4 oz of butter2 1/2 tablespoons cold water2 tablespoons of sugar1) Mix all the dry ingredients together.2) Add butter and bring it together to make breadcrumbs.3) Add water.4) Bring to dough. 5) Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.6) Grease a round baking tin. Cut a sheet of baking paper for the bottom and place it inside.7) Remove dough and sprinkle flour on the table and on top of the dough to stop it sticking to the pin. Roll out the dough to the size of your time and place and press it into place. Cut to a little bit bigger than the edge size, because the dough will shrink a little. Prick holes in it with a fork to help baking. You will need to weigh it down with some baking beads. 8) Bake to tart case for 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees. Keep watch on it. You don't want it to burn. Just a light golden brown is good. 9) Remove from oven and allow to cool before adding your Nama chocolate mixture.10) Add the Nama chocolate and decorate. Then refrigerate for 4-5 hours. Now for dairy allergy sufferers like myself, it can be a little tricky to get hold of dairy free cream. So this is the alternative. Vegan Nama Chocolate Again this recipe can be halved. 300g / 10.6oz vegan chocolate 300g / 10.6oz silk tofu2 tablespoons maple syrup Some rice flour1) Drain the water from the tofu. Try to drain as much as you can. Mix until smooth. 2) Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Boil water in a small pan, and place two thirds of the chocolate into a metal bowl (this will help tempering) and melt over the heat. Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Mix until smooth.3) Mix chocolate, tofu, and maple syrup together. Add rice flour if the mixture is too runny. 4) Line a baking tray with baking paper. Pour the mix into the baking tray. Allow to cool and then refrigerate for an hour.5) Take out and cut into pieces. Keep refrigerated.Note: You may not want to use all the tofu. It will make a slightly firmer fudge that still tastes great!So that's it! Check out the video that I also made for last years Nama Chocolate. And remember....
Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival 2016
On the last weekend of November the Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival 2016 was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium (Tokyo Taiikukan, 東京体育館). There you could experience some of Japanese pop-culture and some traditional Japan. And most of all: the entry is free for all foreigners!!The event was held for public on Saturday and Sunday. On both days there were music acts, Saturday was a little bit more exclusive with some Japanese models. However, I went there on Sunday to see the performance of famous Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at the evening. A list of the complete line-up and the timetable you can find on the Moshi Moshi Nippon website.Already outside of the Tokyo Taiikukan you could find a lot of stuff. They had a food area with different food to try out. Surely, the prices were not really cheap. Some of the sponsors had information booths. On a small stage DJs and girlgroups were performing. You had the chance to climb on two robots of Shinjuku's Robot Restaurant which were exhibited there. Also Mari Car was there, which makes it possible to go through Tokyo by go-kart costumized as Super Mario characters. At the booth you could take photos inside costumes or reserve a go-kart tour.But let's take a look inside the hall. First you have to get your wristband which allows you to go in and outside as often as you want. As foreigner you could register before online and just needed to show a QR code at reception. Or you simply fill out a form with your data at the venue. Japanese have to buy a ticket for ¥ 2,990 at the ticket counter.Inside you could experience a lot of things. Getting dressed into a kimono or lolita dress and taking photos or making some special origami and so on. I especially liked the Oiran - a beautiful Japanese courtesan. Taking photos at some booths and uploading it to your SNS account made you get some stuff for free like a printed version of the photo or small goods. At kawaii room you got a bag with Japanese beauty products after filling out a survey. You also could try flying a drone or play Resident Evil with VR. All was pretty interesting.While not so many people were around in the afternoon, it got pretty crowded at the evening when performances of CAPSULE and KYARY PAMYU PAMYU were held. Many fans went there and enjoyed the short shows which lasted around 25 minutes each.Because the event welcomes many foreigners at nearly every booth at least one staff spoke English. Some bilingual stuff were also walking around the venue. You can get a lot stuff for free from the sponsors, so we ended up with Aeon x Gudetama shopping bags, vegetarian instant ramen, a lot of stickers and even some discount coupons we can use in the future.The festival was held third time now and will probably take place again next year. So if you are in Japan at the end of November, don't miss it. You can get a lot of stuff for free!!
Tokyo Comic Con 2016: Cosplay and kit in images
Tokyo Comic Con 2016 wrapped up today after it's weekend residence at Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Hall, Chiba. This year was the first Tokyo Comic Con, the brain child of Tokyo Comic Convention Committee Chairman Mitsuaki Munegumi, who spotted a need to quench the thirst for American comic books and Hollywood produced movies amongst Japanese readers and enthusiasts. Stars at Tokyo Comic Con included a 93-year-old Stan Lee, the man who helped bring into our live's comic book legends like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men ... a staggering list, basically. Jeremy Renner (the dude from Hurt Locker) was also floating around somewhere, presumably on the back of his character Hawkeye in the Avengers movies. Those who like their sci-fi of a older vintage would have enjoyed the prospect of meeting Lance Henriksen who played the android Bishop in Aliens.When you hear or read the noun phrase 'comic con', those in the relative know will likely think of the San Diego Comic-Con (with a hyphen). By all accounts, Tokyo Comic Con cannot compare its Californian counter part in size or scale, nor is it as big, noisy, and sexy as the Tokyo Game Show. But it's still a lot of fun.The first Tokyo Comic Con laid out it's stall early doors; as soon as you entered the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, and KITT from Knight Rider lay in wait, and you knew that American productions were ruling the roost at this convention. The Stan Lee influence was best reflected in the number of Spider-Man cosplayers wandering among the booths. Batman, The Joker, and Stormtroopers (along with other Star Wars characters), were also well represented by the delightfully bonkers cosplayers in attendance on the Sunday.A lot of the booths at Tokyo Comic Con displayed/sold models of super hero mainstays. Some of the detail that goes into these things is staggering. As are some of the prices they were selling for (this blogger didn't see much money changing hands other than at the official Tokyo Comic Con souvenir area). But whilst most models seemed to be aimed at collectors, there were plenty of 'cute' versions of Spider-Man et al going for far more accessible prices. There were a couple of spaces at Tokyo Comic Con for cosplayers to pose and for regular visitors to take photos. It probably doesn't need to be said, but the visitors with the best photography kit were the otaku, and they weren't really interested in the dudes dressed as Spider-Man. At the other end of the scale, plenty of giddy tourists were bouncing off the walls in the their attempts to take a selfie with the maddest/cutest cosplayers they could latch onto. Video game, and soon-to-be movie, Assassin's Creed had a pretty big presence at Tokyo Comic Con, as did Japanese staple Biohazard (Resident Evil to everyone else). Star Wars fans also had plenty to get their teeth into, including the chance to mess around with some lightsabers, debate about whether or not to pick a very smart looking 'coffee table' book, and ogle models/figures that basically most of us can't justify buying. This blogger enjoyed the chance at Tokyo Comic Con to check out props and replicas from movies which included some bit and bobs from the Alien and Predator stories.As the for the sex-sells (or sex-increases-the-chance-that-you'll-go-home-with-our-flyers) ethos that you can find at, say, the Tokyo Game Show or any exhibit that involves cars/motorbikes, well it was at Tokyo Comic Con, too, just less of it. With all the fantastic cosplayers wandering around, it seemed a bit pointless and boring anyway. Enough of the words and on to the pictures. Here are images taken by me of cosplayers and kit at Tokyo Comic Con 2016.Toys, props, originals, and replicasIron Man outside the Hot Toys boothGodzilla seems to have a goofy grin from this angle.T-800 (Terminator) gets a change of look with the lights.DeLorean (Back to the Future)KITT (Knight Rider)CooProps use the original moulds to recreate props from classic movies like Predator and the Alien franchise. Some of the models/figures from Prime Studio 1 drew a lot of attention from both fans and regular visitors. The attention to detail is quite frankly jaw dropping. The Pop collection of toys from Funko do a sterling job of blending 'cool' and 'cute'.Tokyo Comic Con CosplayAs I said earlier, there were two 'cosplay' zones at Tokyo Comic Con, as well as cosplayers walking between booths, contests, and special events/photo session organized by exhibitors. There had been a bit of furore online about a decision by organizers to prevent males dressing up as females for the purposes of cosplay at this convention. I can't remember what became of this bizarre decision, but I don't recall seeing any 'crossdressing' cosplayers (on the male side) which might have been to the detriment of the spectacle. I don't know.Data storage device producer drobo organized a cosplay session on the Sunday.There were plenty of Star Wars cosplayers to spot Tokyo Comic Con.This blogger arrived at Tokyo Comic Con early afternoon on the Sunday. Given the swarms of people pouring out of Kaihimmakuhari Station I had that sinking feeling that getting into the convention was going to be a major hassle. It wasn't, and it wasn't that crowded around the booths either. I got my 'ticket on the day' within about 5 mins (2,000 yen) and after security had a cursory look inside my bag, I was in amongst the action. There's a bit a food court in there, and when you exit you get a stamp on the hand that'll let you back in again. Website (Japanese): http://tokyocomiccon.jp/