I’m typing away in my little pod room (that might be overstating it, let’s call it a pod cupboard) after an exhausting day travelling to Japan.
My flight left Heathrow at 19.00 on Friday, and I landed around 16.00 Tokyo time on Saturday. Sleep was somewhat lacking on the flight; I always get a weird cramp in my bum on plane seats, that never seems to manifest at any other times. Oddly, I can sleep on the tube, the sofa, in warm lecture halls and pretty much anywhere I can be sat down, but hardly ever on a plane. My snazzy new foot hammock (a top tip from my work buddy Nicole) definitely helped make things more comfortable, but I’d say I probably only got 4 hours of broken sleep, tops. I did watch both ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Zootopia’, and as with almost all
children’s films, I had a little cry. I ended up wondered if coming to Tokyo on my own was such a good idea after all, in case I found myself consumed by loneliness, sobbing into my noodles because I couldn’t buy every soft toy in the Disney Store.
Now that I’m here I’m pretty sure it was an excellent idea. After settling into the hotel I went off to explore Shinjuku and Shibuya, doing activities that frankly, had I had a companion with me, probably wouldn’t have happened, including bingeing on hello kitty merchandise and playing the claw machine in an arcade.
I was slightly overwhelmed on first arriving in Shinjuku, it was so busy and noisy and I had no idea what direction to go in. Fortunately my random instincts were right (for a change) and I found two places that were on my itinerary, Don Quixote and the GAO amusement arcade.
Don Quixote is like a department store where the racks and rails of products are so closely arranged that you have to turn sideways to get down each aisle. They sell pretty much everything you could ever want and loads of stuff you never knew you wanted, and it’s a bit of an institution. It’s really hard to find your way around, and it has no natural light so it wasn’t the most stress free experience, but hey, where else would you be able to buy Rilakumma condoms, cosplay costumes, vacuum packed oysters and do-it-yourself ear piercing kits? My kawaii instincts found the hello kitty section pretty quickly, and I bagged myself some awesome goodies:
I also got this super cute Totoro washcloth and some Minnie Mouse… face wash? I don’t actually know what it is but I do know that my face stung A LOT when I used it this evening. Here’s a shot of the outside of the store, my other purchases, and the Hello Kitty section:
After my impulse shopping I was starting to feel rather famished, not having eaten much on the plane. Being both vegetarian and currently on the Low Fodmap diet, finding food here isn’t going to be the easiest part of the trip. I *could* forgo elements of the Low Fodmap diet for the week, but I’m not keen to be poorly and bloated on my holiday so I do need to try and be careful.
After much mooching about, past Shinjuku’s izakayas (traditional pub type eateries), pachinko parlours and soapland salons I eventually spotted somewhere with an English menu outside. Places with English menus sometimes signal tourist traps, however this one was full of locals, so I decided to risk it. It was a little izakaya opposite Shinjuku Station, part of a chain called Yorontaki. The veggie options were limited, so I went with edamame beans, yakisoba noodles, mysterious macaroni salad (surprisingly tasty) and a good old plate of chips. Along with a can of coke it set me back about £7.50, which was pretty good given how much food there was. It was also interesting to experience the noisy, smokey atmosphere of an izakaya, although I probably should have swapped out the gluten-containing (and therefore not low-fodmap) macaroni with some tofu.
One strange mission I had set myself for this trip was to find a companion for my Alpacasso plushie. Alpacassos are pastel coloured, fluffy alpacas, usually sporting natty headgear or accessories. I got mine from HyperJapan a couple of years ago, and he’s been on a couple of trips now as a smaller, more portable alternative to Red Elephant, my usual bedtime soft toy of choice (yes I’m 30, yes I still sleep with a soft toy. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one). My little pink Alpacasso is called Alan Packwood, and I was sure I’d be able to find myriads of little pastel friends for him everywhere in Japan, until I did some googling and discovered that you can only win them in amusement arcades! My research revealed that one particular amusement arcade (GAO arcade) was the place to win plush toys from the amuse brand (which includes the alpacas, but also fat-cheeked hamsters, pastel sloths and a load of other cute characters). A woman on a mission, I found my arcade and scoured it for my prey; a claw machine full of fluffy little alpacas wearing pearls. I’ve never been too successful at the claw machines, and I was very close to tears after spending far too many yen trying to pick one up. Luckily the very sweet arcade attendant spotted me and opened up the case, moving the little alpaca I’d been trying to win right to the edge. One final 100yen coin went in, and hey presto, that alpaca was mine. I actually squealed with excitement and both the arcade attendant and some random strangers applauded me. As you’ll see, Alan’s new buddy (Alice) is slightly bigger than him, but he doesn’t mind – just look at how loved up they are!
(I promise tomorrow I’m going to visit and blog about some highbrow cultural establishments, but for now just let me indulge my passion for all things cute and kawaii).
My next stop was Shibuya, to see the famously busy Shibuya Scramble Crossing and to visit another slightly random place on my itinerary – a photo booth arcade called Purikura No Mecca. The shop is FULL of huge photo booths that teenage girls spend hours in, each booth promising to make them look like pop stars, dolls or models. There’s even a costume rental option, and a powder room so you can look your best for your pics. Each booth costs 400yen, and it’s a really fun experience. The booths have green screens in the back, and they advise you on how to pose, suggesting cutesy ideas such as ‘bunny ears’, ‘cat impression’ and the ever popular ‘grin and make a peace sign’. Once the photos are taken they are automatically put through filters to make your skin look flawless, your eyes bigger and your lips a perfect shade of pink. You then move to another little booth where you edit the photos even more, this time adding text, graphics and effects, like little cartoon kitty cat ears. The whole thing was even more fun than I expected, even though the photos look absolutely ridiculous. It took me back to being 13 years old, wasting my pocket money in the sticker photo booth in Miss Selfridge.
Here are the booths, adorned with photoshopped models, and the pin board showing the costumes you can hire:
I opted to try out the booths called ‘Baby2’ and ‘MiMiy by Sugar forever’ (catchy), and here are the utterly ridiculous results:
By this point in the evening I was exhausted, and my feet were starting to hurt (and smell, really badly) so I headed back to the pod, grabbing what I thought was iced tea from a vending machine on the way home. It turned out to be hot tea, in a plastic bottle. I guess some things are just lost in translation…