Ah, sweet city of Harajuku Girls, Kimonos and monster cafés! Tokyo, we meet at last.
I don’t really have a bucket list, although times of idleness find me entertaining ideas of places vividly in my mind. Tokyo was the crowning glory of this not-bucket list, and I frequented it in my daydreams. My fascination started with Gwen Stefani in her L.A.M.B days – good God, that woman is cool. I am still here for that album and I am still here for that lewk.
So, it was without hesitation I said yes when my friend Adelaide suggested we meet in Tokyo. It’s only a stones throw away from Bali, isn’t it? Seven and a half hour flight?
I checked into our hotel in the Shinjuku district, arranging my large suitcase in the tiny room. A moving object caught my eye; a mirror swayed from side to side on the wall. I looked out the window of the 34th floor; the rest of the city appeared steady. I recalled the geographical circumstances of where I was; tremors are normal. Tokyo was welcoming me with a gentle shake. Girl, get up, go out, see the city!
Cleanliness and Crime
One immediate observation was the cleanliness. I saw a guy vacuuming a fountain in front of an office building. The tube had the sanitary disposition of a hospital; I repeatedly spotted janitors disinfecting the banisters of the escalators. I applaud this, vigorously, with disinfected hands.
Another notable aspect of Tokyo is how safe it is. Crime statistics are low and tourists can roam the streets with relative ease. One reason for this is that the Japanese believe every object carries a little of its owners soul; to steal would be to rob somebody of a crucial part of their energy. For example: my friend dropped the equivalent of 20p on the ground and a lady ran after her to give it back. So yes, this belief runs deep. Another reason for this is, well, the Yakuza.
Meiji Shrine and Kimonos
Naturally, one had to adopt the local custom and glamthefuckup, Japan style. When I wasn’t roaming the streets in a pink Sailor Moon outfit, I found the Kimono, or Yukata, a most delightful style statement.
The kimono is a traditional garment worn by women for ceremonies, weddings or everyday glam. A real kimono is made of silk and can feature up to twenty layers. Rather impractical for throwing on in the morning before work, right? The simpler version is the Yukata, made of cotton and more suitable for hot weather. This is what we opted for and at the Yukata rental in Harajuku, we found a myriad of choice. I opted for a purple pattern with a gold obi (belt).
On wooden flip flops, we walked with shortened steps to the nearby Meiji shrine. This is a beautiful shrine in dedication of the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. Nestled in a garden, this has a traditional, peaceful atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists – it is the most visited religious site in Japan. Despite its popularity, the vast space certainly doesn’t feel crowded, so all you agoraphobias out there are safe.
Seeing the Meiji shrine all dressed up attributed to my experience. I am, after all, a firm believer in dressing for the occasion.
Maid Café in Tokyo
A maid cafe serves food and drinks, while entertaining guests with performances by the maids; women dressed in sexy maid costumes. In character, they must smile constantly, laugh loudly at anything you say and speak with a high-pitched baby voice. Our maid, clearly on the tail end of a long shift, smiled compulsively while repeating our orders, voice cracking from strain. I tried to tell her it’s ok, you don’t have to speak like this. But of course, she did. Or she’d probably get fire, her spot filled in a heartbeat by another young hopeful.
Bar myself and my friend, we were the only women in the café. Every table was occupied by a single man, most of whom were clearly returning customers or regulars. They seemed to relish the attention from the young, pretty girls, clapping their hands like little boys at any doll-like move from their waitress.
For an extra charge, guests can pay to have their maid of choice perform a song for them on the stage. Oh yes – the maids are all aspiring pop-stars or “idols”. They dream of making it big with their music, and some partake in competitions from a young age. One step closer to achieving their goal is to be favoured by the men. Patrons can rate their maids, thus it becomes a competition between the girls to perform with extra high-energy. High energy wins the game, here.
This experience disturbed me. Perversion and desperation permeated the air in an establishment that felt like a poorly masqueraded strip joint. At the end of the night, my face hurt from reciprocating a hundred smiles, although this did not feel like a happy place.
The Monster Café
The culture of themed cafes and restaurants really is ubiquitous in Tokyo. Owl Cafe? Cat Cafe? Robot Cafe? Porcupine Cafe? There’s one for every taste.
If my own taste had been soured at the Maid Café, I took a greater fondness to the insta-friendly Kawaii Monster Café Harajuku. Step into this Alice in Wonderland-ish dreamscape for an overload of colour, light, monsters and sugar. Because let’s just say, the menu here isn’t exactly Keto friendly…
Waitresses in this establishment are all dressed in a punk-goth-colour-explosion to match the decor. And, there’s no singing. This is a fun place to visit to get a concentrated dose of Tokyo playtime.
If you didn’t do karaoke, were you even in Tokyo? We went on a Friday night, and let me tell you, it was pumping. Not that we mingled with other people – each group gets their own private room and karaoke setup – but the pumping was evident by the drunk youths roaming the corridors of the venue. In the elevator, we shared a ride with two young men. Come here every Friday? I joked. Yes. Deadpan. Alright then…
Best vegan pancakes ever! Ain Soph is a vegan restaurant with several outlets around the city. Vegans with a sweet tooth line up on the street outside to get a table at the popular eatery. Their signature dish is the Pancakes. They are to die for. Disclaimer: *may contain sugar*.
Oh my gawd, did I love this. This is where Gwen Stefani happens, you guys! This is where people, myself included, walk around in full on costumes and dress-up! The district is known for its colourful displays of fashion, food and touristy attractions such a number of above-mentioned theme-cafés. I loved it here and I can tell you, it is because of Harajuku that I left Tokyo with that big suitcase of mine rather… overweight. I highly recommend you stop by this area for some ultra-Tokyo life; in technicolor.