Food · shopping

Souvenirs From Japan

Completely unbeknownst to each other – several of my pals have booked trips to Japan in exactly the same time frame as each other.

As such, I’ve been asked for recommendations of essential omiyage – which reminded me of this draft I’ve had on my back burner ever since I lived in Japan. (But seemed a bit pointless to post at the time with the borders being closed…)

Here are some of my suggestions for mostly inexpensive items you can bring back from Japan, and where I recommend you pick them up.

Japanese Supermarkets

Snacks make the best kind of souvenirs in my opinion – but of course if bought from a speciality shop, expect to pay a premium. However, there likely be a supermarket within walking distance from where you are staying (especially in the cities) and most of them are open 24 hours a day, so be sure to stop by on your way back from a day of sightseeing.

I love visiting the supermarket in whichever country I am visiting as you get a feel for what locals are buying, but it also is a good chance to pick up some snacks to bring home.

For savoury, you can’t go wrong with a good ol’ curry sauce for katsu curry (Wagamama could never…), furikake rice seasoning, senbei rice crackers – but my personal recommendation is to bring home a few packets of mentaiko sauce for spaghetti (above) – so, SO good!

Chocolate, cookies and the like are much cheaper at the supermarket than in souvenir shops. Yes, you can usually pick up a range of Japan’s infamous KitKats for a fraction of the price. There have been over 200 variants released over the past 20 years so you’re bound to find some unique flavours not found in your country.
If you’re not sure what to get then green tea Kit Kats are a staple and people back home are always delighted by the bright green colour.

Depending on the time of year, you may also find some speciality snacks in relation to upcoming events. For example, for Hinamatsuri (Girls Day) you’ll often find hina-arare – sweet little rice crackers not unlike ‘Rainbow Drops’ in the UK.

Extra points of this is local. I lived in Shizuoka prefecture which is where most of the green tea sold in Japan is from, and there were several speciality tea shops in Hamamatsu. However, you can pick up a few boxes of good quality Japanese green tea from the supermarket. I especially recommend hojicha (roasted green tea) which has a beautiful nutty taste and is my favourite beverage to pair with traditional Japanese sweets.

¥100 Stores

A right of passage to any tourist to Japan is a trip to the 100円ショップ / Hyaku En Shop or 百均, Hyakkin selling items for about £1GBP / $1USD. The most popular brands are Daiso and Seria. I recommend these for:

Japanese ‘tat’.
I don’t mean this as disrespectful as it sounds, but it sells the usual Japanese stuff that people may expect – fans, charms, chopsticks. They also sell cute Japanese tablewear which look way more expensive than they are. (Never met a female gaijin who doesn’t have at least one sakura plate from Daiso…)

Character homeware goods.
Many ¥100 stores sell character homewear goods (mostly Sanrio and Disney): from lunchboxes and soap to cutlery and sandwich bags.

You’ll quickly discover that Japanese public bathrooms more often than not do not have a means of drying your hands. As such, most people carry and personal towel on them. These can be weirdly pricey in other stores, but just pick yourself a cheapy one up from Daiso.

Washi tape.
There are so many varieties for the bullet journaller in your life. (The rest of the stationary is a bit crappy though.)

Malls/Department Stores/Homegoods Stores

If you’re in Tokyo I love the iconic Shibuya 109, although it does mostly specialise in fashion.
There are also several branches of the PARCO department store around Japan.
AEON is a really popular mall chain in Japan.
For stores which sell a little bit of everything, my favourites are Tokyu Hands, Loft and Muji. Don Quijote is also really popular, but for me it’s a sensory overload!

Here are a few items I have brought back over the years:

Bath salts.
Bubble bath isn’t really a thing in Japan, and if you know the recipient enjoys baths then bath salts make lovely, inexpensive and lightweight souvenirs.

Face masks.
Sheet masks are popular now in the west too, but you can definitely find more interesting themed ones in Japan.

Self-warming eye masks.
I brought a stockpile of these with me when I moved back to the UK, they’re really nice after a long day of staring at screens. I especially love the lavender ones.

Card/pass holder.
If the recipient uses public transport, Japan has so many cute pass holders. They range from Y500-Y3000 depending on the character.

Everybody needs socks! In Japan you can find some with some hilarious designs.

You can find a magazine for any hobby or interest in Japan. My local bookstore carried SIX different magazines on the band BTS alone. Many brands even have a specialty magazine which are a little more expensive but come with a gift included. Fashion magazines especially make great gifts – even if the recipient doesn’t speak Japanese, they will enjoy flipping through and looking at all the cute clothes!

Annual schedules can be very inexpensive compared to the UK, and can be found themed for many franchises – Disney, Sanrio, Marvel, anime etc. If you know the recipient loves journalling and you want to splash out, you can buy them a Hobinochi journal which are only sold in Japan! You can select the cover and inserts you think they would like the most.

Physical CDs are still popular in Japan, and if you know the recipient is a music lover you can bring them back a CD. Many music stores such as HMV still have headphones for you to listen to, and if not – go to the section of their favourite genre and choose the one with the most interesting cover!

And finally for some wildcards that don’t really fit in any other category…

Local specialities.
Every prefecture in Japan is famous for something. In Aomori it’s apples, in Hokkaido it’s dairy products, in Wakayama it’s plums. Alongside green tea Shizuoka is famous for mikan oranges. As such, you can find lots of items utilising the speciality items in some way. You can usually find a good selection in local museum gift shops or tourist information.

If you’re just staying in Tokyo and not travelling around a lot – I recommend checking out the Tokyo Government Building. Not just for the free views (pie off Tokyo Skytree and get here early!) but they also have an impressive gift shop selling a lot of these items from around the country.

Gift giving is very important in Japan, and if you’ve been on a trip you’re expected to bring something back for your colleagues. You can usually find these pretty boxes with beautifully presented snacks in train stations, and they’re usually not too expensive. (A Japanese student recently brought some omiyage back into our office which was very sweet of them!)

The most famous kind of omiyage in Tokyo is the Tokyo Banana, which are soft little sponge cakes with a delicate banana flavour – but if you’re elsewhere, they’re usually based around the local speciality as mentioned above.

Keep an eye out for charming little traditional sweet shops. I was lucky enough to live around the corner from the oldest in Hamamatsu, but if you ask at the tourist information/your hotel they’ll probably be able to point you in the right directly.

Daifuku and dango are my favourites, but you can see more about them here. If you’re unsure, most stores have a pre-packaged box of their most popular sellers, or simply ask the proprietors to suggest their favourites.

Gachapon toys.
There are thousands of gachapon machines all over Japan, and you’re bound to find something the recipient would enjoy. They are only around Y300 per toy, and they make excellent lightweight gifts. (If you have space in your suitcase, keep them in their original packaging for an extra surprise!) You can find speciality gachapon stores in nerdy havens such as Akihabara and Nakano Broadway, but most shopping malls and Don Quixote tend to have a good selection too.

If the recipient enjoys a tipple or three, the afformentioned Don Quijote is a good shout as they have a huge selection on Japanese and important alcohol for discounted prices compared to department stores, konbinis and even the supermarket! If they like a certain kind of booze – you could buy a Japanese whisky, gin, rum or vodka. Or you can bring home some Japanese specialties such as sake or plum wine! Of course this can be heavy, so I wouldn’t recommend if you don’t have a lot of room in your luggage – of course if that’s the case you can always pick something up at the airport but this will be a little more expensive.

There are of course plenty more options – but I hope these have provided you with some ideas for your next trip. It’s certainly got my excited for my holiday…even though it’s well over a year away!

~ Carla

Friends · Kyoto

Faith’s Wedding

I met my friends Sam and Faith my very first day of orientation when we were sat next to each other and we instantly bonded.

They say you don’t really make friends in training (mostly true…everyone else was rather odd) but I guess we were the exceptions. Unlike everyone else, Faith had plans to stay in Japan forever after meeting her Japanese boyfriend when he was an international student at her university.

By the time we were drinking in Sam’s hotel room on the final evening, there was already a special bond between us. (I managed to K.O. before they went out drinking…missing the chance to meet my bestie, Felipe!)

The Golden Trio on our sakura road trip earlier this year. Know that Sam said something incredibly vulgar to make us laugh like that.

After training, Sam moved further north east and after six months Faith went even further out to Shiga in the south, but we’ve managed to stay close. And when Faith finally set a date for her wedding a few months ago we were delighted to attend.

Due to the travel ban, Faith’s family were unable to make it over to Japan from the US, so the three of us were the only gaijin there. I was also the only (non-family) female in attendance which was so funny!

I’m glad I read up on Japanese wedding customs while planning my trip as some aspects are very different to UK weddings.

First, instead of presents it’s mandatory to give the bride and groom money instead. Asking for money is still slightly frowned upon in the UK, which I’ve always thought is kinda stupid – I’d much rather the couple spend the money on something they really want, rather than ending up with seven toasters – especially when most couples are already living together and have all the essentials they need.

(Saying that, the last few weddings I’ve been to, the couples have asked for money specifically towards a house deposit or to help pay for their honeymoon which I think is really nice. My friend Claire softened the blow by doing it in poem-form.)

You also have to prepare your gift in a special money card called a shugi-bukuro (祝儀袋). The bills have to be crisp and brand new, facing up and in specific denominations. (For example: the bills can’t be directly halved as it is a superstition that this symbolises the couple splitting up, the bills can’t add up to the number 3 or 9 as this is unlucky in Japan etc. oh it goes on and on.)
Furthermore, the card needs to be wrapped in a special envelope made of material called a fukusa. Silk ones can cost upwards of ¥3000, but I picked mine up for ¥500 because I knew I’d only be using it once.

White and red are lucky colours in Japan, but there are more modern ones available featuring Disney and Sanrio characters.
I went quite traditional and chose this one – I especially loved the crane on the bow, a symbol of love, honour and fidelity in Japan.

The dress code is also definitely more conservative in Japan. I’ve been to weddings in the UK where people have worn dresses that don’t leave much to the imagination and wouldn’t look out of place on Saturday night down the Bigg Market.
(It’s getting more common to go out drinking after the wedding ends, especially for younger people – I guess it’s the UK version of the nijikai!)

I asked my friend Haruna to show me some photos of recent weddings she’d been to, and most girls seemed to be wearing long dresses in quite muted colours – as with most Japanese fashioned pretty high-cut and covering the upper arms.

I had absolutely nothing suitable in my wardrobe (my friends often refer to my dress sense as “quirky”) so I had to do some shopping beforehand. I’ve never dressed more conservatively in my life, but it was kinda fun for one day, like I was playing the character of a classy lassy instead of a lairy Geordie bird. I even bought some fake pearls and matching earrings.

I looked a bit like a Tory’s mistress or a Republican running mate (I’m a socialist), but whatever. I like that I matched Sam’s navy suit.
(All the other male guests wore black suits, but I thought he looked lovely! It’s kinda frowned upon to wear dark suits at UK weddings – black suits are specifically for sombre events like funerals.)

It was a really beautiful, intimate ceremony given the circumstances, a perfect mix of western and Japanese traditions. And of course I bawled my eyes out as soon as the double doors opened and Faith gracefully walked down the aisle, beaming at Wataru waiting for her.

Afterwards during photos, the family gently nudged me and Sam to the front for pictures next to Faith.
It really is true – the expat life really does turn friends into family.

Being that the bride and groom are massive foodies, it came as no surprise that the food was an absolute highlight.

In the words of Michael Scott: “They say that your wedding day goes by in such a flash that you’re lucky if you even get a piece of your own cake.”
So, I was relieved to hear that as part of their wedding package, they could go back the following day to properly enjoy their wedding meal.

One thing that surprised me was in the middle of dinner, the groom’s childhood friends provided some entertainment in the form of a few rounds of the Mr and Mrs game (usually played at hen parties in the UK with smutty questions not suitable for polite company). Everyone at each table also had to stand up and say something nice about the bride and groom (thankfully, Sam did this.)

At the end of the wedding, every guest is given a present from the happy couple – Faith and Wataru’s was very on point: a bottle of champagne, chocolates and coffee. I told you they were foodies.

Thank you so much again for inviting us, Feesu. It was a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience.

Sam took Polaroids throughout the day and presented them to the couple at the end of the day – such a lovely idea!

~ Carla

Food · hospital

Hospital Food in Japan

As you may have seen in my last post, I recently (and unexpectedly) spent two weeks in hospital with with cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder), gallstones and ended up having surgery to get it removed.

For the first few days I was given an IV and put on a fast – I wasn’t too fussed because I’d had no appetite for days already and been unable to keep anything down anyway.

Days 4 and 5 I could only have this high calorie protein drink three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It had a sort of yoghurty-texture and a sweet apple flavour. Not too bad, but after a few days I was sick of the sight of it.

Six days in, I was allowed to have actual food. Some days were definitely better than others, but I ended up taking photos and logging what I ate because frankly there wasn’t much else to do.

Nearly every meal came with some sort of rice and green tea. While I couldn’t get enough of the tea (I’m British after all!), I quickly tired of eating rice three times a day.
In fact they sent a nutritionist round one day as they were so concerned I wasn’t eating much of my rice…of course in Japan you are expected to clear your bowl. But once I explained I’m not used to eating rice so often, they understood.

Rice porridge, fish, carrots and onions, tomato jelly, yoghurt drink, green tea:

Rice, chicken meatballs, braised spinach, apple, green tea:

Rice, teriyaki fish, cabbage and tomato salad, spinach, orange, green tea:

Rice porridge, prawn dumplings, sweet potato, meat and vegetables, mixed tinned fruit, green tea:

Rice with furikake, miso soup, Japanese fish cake, egg salad, yoghurt drink, green tea:

Rice, silken tofu, pumpkin, brocolli, carrot, pickles, green tea. (One of my least favourites because it was all the same soft, claggy texture.)

Rice, miso soup, salmon, ham salad, green tea, milk (I forgot to tell the staff I can’t drink milk beforehand):

Rice, white fish, green beans, steamed sweet potato, aubergine, kiwi fruit, green tea:

Rice, fish, cabbage, mikan orange, pickles, green tea:

Vegetable curry and rice, salad, pickles, green tea. (This was luuuuush!!)

Rice and furikaki, pork, broccoli, daikon, green tea:

Oyakodon (egg, chicken and scallions on rice – loosely translates as “mother and child”), miso soup, pickles, apple slices, green tea:

Rice and furikake, fish, mixed vegetables, pickles, green tea:

Bread, margarine and peach jam, scrambled eggs, tuna salad, Yakult, green tea:(This was my last breakfast and it was SO good not to have rice for once!)

Know that I still haven’t touched rice since I came out of hospital.

While there were some hits and misses, it’s definitely healthier than the fare masquerading as food in UK hospitals. I remember when I had my kidney operation as a teenager I refused to touch the hospital food and instead survived on saltines and Lucozade for a week.

Unlike the UK, Japanese hospitals aren’t free (even with health insurance) but the meal plan wasn’t too bad at ¥700 per day (around £4.50 or $6.00USD).

~ Carla

Food · Tokyo

Marie Antoinette’s Afternoon Tea in Tokyo

As Tokyo is once again in a state of emergency (despite the Olympics being mere weeks away…), here in Hamamatsu I’m reminiscing about my favourite city in the world and how eager I am to go back when it’s safer.

Looking through pictures on my phone, I totally forgot to post about the incredible afternoon tea I had late last year at the Tokyo Grand Hyatt with my friend Farrah.

While the spring Marie Anotinette theme (Marie Antoinette’s Sweet Haute Couture) had a very pastel, sweet aesthetic – this event was called The Queen’s Masquerade, which was more alluring with a sort-of spooky opulence; lots of blacks, pinks, purples and gold – perfect for Halloween!

Unintentionally twinning in black and white! (A bit of a rarity for me!)

While special events are usually served buffet-style, due to the pandemic nearly everything was table service.

Anything you did have to get yourself had a strict queuing system. If you wanted to take photos of the settings (I mean, who wouldnt???) we were called up table by table.

It ran like clockwork and all the waiting staff were so amazing under such difficult circumstances.

Two Hama girls living their best lives.

Of course afterwards, there was purikura to be had:

It was such a special day, and I’m dying to go back and experience some of their other themed events.

Howay man Tokyo, sort yer shit out.

~ Carla

EAT! Hamamatsu · Food

EAT! Hamamatsu : Mein Schloss

There is absolutely no reason a huge German beer hall should exist in Hamamatsu, but here we are.

Mein Schloss (“My castle” in German) looks like a monstrosity from the outside, but it actually very aesthetic inside.

Lamb is a bit of a rarity in Japan, so me and my fellow Brit, Ama, went for the lamb chops. Lamb can sometimes be a little greasy, but it was succulent, juicy with no grisly fat.

However they only came with a few waffle fries so I recommend getting some extras on the side – we shares some french fries and onion rings, about ¥400 per plate.

Elizabeth went for a Flammkuchen which although originating in France, is somewhat a German twist on a traditional pizza. Although there is no tomato sauce or mozzarella, the pizza is instead topped with sour cream, onions and bacon.
I tried a slice and although very rich, it was nevertheless creamy and delicious due to the light flavours.

I inherited my dad’s love of craft beer, so was happy to learn there is a brewery on-site creatively called Hamamatsu Beer where they have a lager, a helles, a wheat beer and an ale.
George would be buzzing.

If you’re just looking for a drink, there is plenty of space in the beer garden with beer taps available for convenience. You can also order Hamamatsu Beer from their online shop.

My only criticism is although the live oom-pah band is very charming and fitting with the theme, they’re also pretty bloody loud with the sound echoing around the large beer hall so it can be difficult to chat to your group.

It’s also a bit of a splurge – my lamb chops, the sharer plates and a large beer cost around ¥3600, but they also do lunch specials and offers for parties and enkais. I also wish there was a set menu option.

Keepin’ it classy since ’89

However if you’re in the area and looking for something fun and different – look no further and give it a try.
Achtung, baby!

Opening hours:
Weekdays 11:00-14:00, 17:00-22:30 CLOSED MONDAYS.
Saturday 11:00-22:30
Sunday 11:00-22:30

Reservations available via phone or online.

ADDRESS: 〒430-8691 静岡県浜松市中区中央3丁目8-1
Approximately a 10 minute walk from Hamamatsu station.

~ Carla


Conveyor Belt Sushi

My introduction to Japanese food came in two forms – virtually via the Nintendo DS game Cooking Mama, and IRL via the British chain Yo! Sushi in the mid 2000s.

And while not a truly authentic experience, sushi belts do invoke a nostalgia from when I was just a baby weeb.

Excuse the Lego hair and non-eyebrows, 2006 was wild.
Also that’s one way to use chopsticks, I guess.

Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) is very popular in Japan with tourists and locals alike – especially families, which makes sense as there are many options for fussy little eaters.

The major chains are Genki Sushi, Hamazushi, Kurazushi, Sushiro and Kappazushi – the latter of which we have in Hamamatsu.

Kappa only very recently offered English support, however many places don’t.

If you’re like me and your Japanese is sub-par you can just stab away at the tablet until a little train delivers your sushi to your table. Although before the English text was added – twice I pressed the wrong button which calls staff to your table, and twice I had to apologise in garbled Japanese for being a nuisance.

A little video of my sushi arriving!

Smaller mom-and-pop belts likely won’t have a tablet, and you can either pick off the belt or order from the chef or waitstaff.

(While of course – in normal circumstances – you can pick dishes off the belt, I actually prefer to order every time via the touch screen because then you know it’s made fresh. I’ve also noticed since opening again after Japan’s non-lockdown, there’s been ONLY made-to-order sushi available.)

It’s also very reasonably priced, with plates starting from just ¥100.
There are also special events, such as all-you-can-eat for ¥1500 promotions to seasonal items – such as the beef, urchin and salmon roe plate in the video.

If you have a sweet tooth, their desserts are surprisingly pretty great too so don’t forget to check them out!

Green tea cake.
Matcha brownie and soy-sauce and caramel ice cream.
This was just before Christmas so felt like a two-dessert day!

Is it the tastiest sushi in the world? No.
Is it the fanciest establishment in the world? No.

But sushi for ¥100?
Take THAT, Yo!

~ Carla

Food · Hamamatsu · Life · Lifestyle

Groceries vs Eating Out In Japan

I thought it would be interesting to show the sort of things I buy in my groceries shop, and the price of food in general in Japan.

Now I’m going to be totally honest here – I actually hate cooking, and prefer making quick meals as long as they’re fairly healthy-ish.

Here’s an example food shop earlier this week.

♥ Can of beer: ¥250
♥ Vegetable oil: ¥170
♥ Packet of crisps: ¥97
♥ Frozen edemame: ¥320
♥ Rice crackers: ¥190
♥ Miso paste: ¥280
♥ Frozen broccoli: ¥170
♥ Button mushrooms: ¥175
♥ Eggs: ¥190
♥ Soy milk: ¥250
♥ Salad/sandwich chicken: ¥250
♥ Instant vegetable curry: ¥320
♥ Cup noodle: ¥120
♥ Frozen peas: ¥150
♥ Bar of chocolate: ¥160
♥ Peanut butter: ¥600
♥ Ketchup: ¥250
♥ Sushi set: ¥598

There’s a few other essentials I always have to hand:

♥ English breakfast tea bags: ¥600 (box of 120)
♥ Fresh noodles ¥20
♥ Tofu ¥70
♥ Soy sauce ¥120
♥ Sesame oil ¥170
♥ Mayonnaise ¥320
♥ Cereal ¥500
♥ Bag of flour: ¥350 (I like to make pancakes at the weekend)
♥ Nutella ¥400 (See above re: pancakes…)
♥ Frozen pizza ¥190 (Hangover purposes only. Mostly.)

My Saturday tradition if I don’t have plans – chocolate chip pancakes!

I also buy a huuuuuuge bag of rice every few weeks – a 2kg bag costs me around ¥2000+.

You’ll notice a distinct lack of meats and fruits in my grocery haul, and that’s because they’re both ridiculously expensive.
I don’t miss meat too much because I was a pescatarian for a few years prior to coming to Japan – so I only ever eat meat when I’m eating out.

Egg fried rice rice with mushrooms and furikake, miso soup and edamame.

The cost of fruit is a piss-take, though. Here are the average prices in my local supermarket:

♥ Punnet of strawberries ¥750
♥ Punnet of grapes ¥400
♥ Small bag of mikan oranges ¥400
♥ Small bag of kiwi fruit ¥400
♥ 1/2 a watermelon: ¥360
♥ 1 persimmon ¥300
♥ 1 peach ¥700+ (yes, really!)
♥ 1 apple ¥350
♥ 1 banana ¥90

It’s a shame I hate bananas, right?
Frozen fruit isn’t too bad – around ¥350 for a huge bag, but mostly it’s just frozen berries.

Fish is quite cheap, but I hate fiddling around with removing bones – so I rarely buy fish too unless it’s marked waaaaay down and can freeze it immediately.
I can usually find 3-4 fillets of salmon reduced to around ¥350.

As far as my cooking skills go – salmon, rice with furikake, miso soup, edamame.

However living in the city, for me personally I’ve found it’s just as cheap to eat out as there are so many quick eats options.

For example you can get:

♥ Corn dog ¥100
♥ Sandwich ¥250+
♥ Gyudon ¥500
♥ Karaage ¥500
♥ Omurice ¥600
♥ Curry and rice ¥700
♥ Yakitori ¥700 (for 5 sticks)
♥ Ramen ¥700
♥ Bento ¥800
♥ Burger and fries ¥800
♥ Sushi belt aprox ¥1000 (depending on how many plates you have.)
♥ Tonkatsu set ¥1100

5 yakitori for ¥700 at Tori Mero
Forever lured into this place with their ¥200 beers.
Karaage, omurice and a bottomless drink.
FYI: Japan has Denny’s and it’s GREAT.
Tonkatsu set at Wako.
Comes with unlimited rice, shredded cabbage and green tea.

This suits my lifestyle a lot more, but it’s completely up to you.
One of my close friends here also lives in the city but prefers to cook at home. Another pal says he hardly shops for groceries at all.

There’s also a few fast food places (no KFC tho????), but I’ve found they’re more expensive than back home.

If you like alcohol, a beer in my city costs around ¥500 a bottle or ¥700 for a schooner or pint. Spirits and cocktails start from ¥700-¥800.

Anyways I hope this has been somewhat interesting – if you’d like to see anything else, please just let me know in the comments!

~ Carla

Christmas · Drinking · Food · Friends · Life · Travel · UK

Flyin’ Home For Christmas

Hello! I’m sorry for the lack of posts in December – this was because last month I flew back to the UK to spend winter vacation with my family.

Are you even returning from Japan without bearing a bounty of Japanese KitKats?

Christmas Day as per was lovely and chill – my dad cooked as per, and my mam bought so much buffet food their fridge now makes a groaning noise when you try to close it.

On Boxing Day my sister’s boyfriend Calvin came over with a bottle of Asti and we played Mario Kart for hours.

My dad made my favourite dish of his – peri peri chicken with halloumi and sweetcorn fritters (which we ate catching up on Only Connect), I went to Starbucks with my mam and sister, played board games and video games with my sister and her boyfriend, went sales shopping with my mam, and had a cheeky Nando’s with extra cheeky on the side. (LADS LADS LADS!)

Cafe India in South Shields – my favourite curryhouse.
I had dhansak and she had korma – although korma is futile:
“Pete…are you eyeing up my bhunas?”

Indian food and a few too many glasses of wine with my best friend Claire.
I’ve missed Indian curry like nothing else, but my teacher friend has promised to take me to her favourite Indian restaraunt in Hamamatsu this month!

I also got to see her baby Ruby who has grown into a REET lil chunk in six months.
Claire actually text me this morning and told me she can not sit up by herself. It’s going to be strange to see her toddling about the next time I’m home!

June vs December. The cutest baby in Shields.

My favourite ice cream sundae from Minchella’s – I mean could I really have come home to South Shields and not had a Minchella’s? Thank you so much to Marie who treated me!!

The best burgers in Newcastle – Meat Stack, pints and a trip to our favourite drag bar Boulevard with my other best friend and head cheerleader Sam.

In between all this was just pure quality time with my family, and I’m so sorry to everyone I couldn’t get around to seeing!

New Years’ Eve was spent at my Uncle Paul’s as we do every year – I introduced the geriatrics (sorry) to Instagram filters, and we watched Craig David doing a really awkward DJ set.

The morning of New Years’ Day I flew back to Japan and I cried my eyes out.

I cried in the taxi, I cried in the airport and I cried when I bumped into my friend Rhiannah en route to some winter sun in Tenerife.

A tear-stained mess and Kween Rhi
I always order a ‘special meal’ on board – mostly because you’re guaranteed your preference and you are always served first!
British Airways’ vegan dinner was actually really good: sweet potato mash, bean stew and vegetables, salad with dressing, dried fruit, a fresh fruit plate and a roll with vegan butter. (The creamy pasta thing everyone else had looked RANK tbh.)
Lunch: spaghetti, vegetables, edamame in dressing and peach jelly.

I did struggle and have a wobble my first week back in Japan – for some reason it was much harder leaving after visiting, than leaving back in August. I think first time around I had so much to occupy my time – training, moving into my apartment, starting a new job, making friends etc.
But when I got back to Hamamatsu it was just me in my apartment for three days straight.

I’m doing MUCH better now though – I work best in a routine (I’m a Taurus!) and am getting back into the swing of life in Japan.

Anyways, I hope you all had a wonderful festive season whether you celebrated or just had a quiet one by yourself.

~ Carla

Food · Tokyo

Kawaii Monster Cafe | Harajuku

(This entry was originally posted on my main blog

After our wild night at the Robot Restaurant with my friend Hiro back in 2014, I had my bets on him booking us a table at the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku when we met again the following year.

Lo and behold, he came up trumps!

The brainchild of Harajuku legend Sebastian Masuda – best known for being the founder of the iconic Harajuku brand 6% DokiDoki and the art director behind my queen Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

It’s without a doubt, the craziest restaurant I’ve ever visited.

Not to everyone’s taste of course, but if you’re like me and can appreciate the creepy, cute plastic-y world of kawaii then you’re in for a treat.

Hiro also brought his friends Marcel and Eddie along, who were adorable.
(Marcel has kindly allowed me to use his photos since I got distracted and pretty much forgot!)

Upon entrance, there is a huge wiggly red carpet which the host explained (and Hiro translated) is the tongue of the monster and we are entering the belly.


I had stalked seen several of the hosts online, and they are dressed in stereotypical Decora-influenced Harajuku get-up.

But we hit the jackpot and got a ‘Harajuku boy’ (aka ‘Monster Dolly‘) who was utterly adorable.

There are several areas in the restaurant to sit, all with a different theme.

We selected an area covered with plastic almost-kinda-sexual red lips and milk bottles hanging from the ceiling because why not?

The menu itself was an ipad encased in a big plastic cake. There is an option for Japanese and English.

It’s incredibly easy enough to understand, but the very cute waiter still took us through everything.

And of course the food is absolutely mental.

Everything is brightly coloured and looks like something Rainbow Brite would have for lunch.

Hiro went for the rainbow pasta in a creamy sauce, but he reckons it was less of a pasta and more like ramen in cream cheese.

Me and Eddie went for the egg sushi which was pretty standard, not the best or worse I’ve had in Japan – however the brightly coloured smears of wasabi mayonnaise were actually pretty delicious.

What really stands out are the desserts, which don’t even look real.

We chose a huge ice cream parfait to share – and even for four greedy people, it was more than enough!

Packed with ice cream and cake which was delicious but the real surprise was the rainbow frosting – each colour had a different flavour, and reminded us of the lickable wallpaper from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

You are supposed to stay in your allocated area and there are rumours online of being thwacked with another charge if you go on a wander, but it was fairly empty when we went and nobody batted an eyelid.

There is also a huge merry-go-round shaped like a cake with lashings of whipped cream, fruit and creatures.

Apparently the Kawaii Monster girls (and boy, I guess) put on a show on the merry-go-round, but most likely due to the restaurant being almost empty when we went this sadly didn’t happen.

Our waitress asked where we were all from and was delighted we were all from different countries (I’m from the UK, Hiro from Japan, Marcel from Brazil and Eddie from Vietnam). When she returned with the bill, she presented us with colourful chopsticks to take home for free, decorated with our country’s flags which was a lovely touch!

There is also a merchandise section, but nothing particularly caught my eye.
The usual though: pens, mugs, badges etc.

I think the price was quite reasonable for the experience – there is a Y500 (£3.50) cover charge per person, but you then receive a ‘Fall In Stomach Monster Card’ which means if you return your group gets in for free.

Mains are approximately Y1500 (£10.00) each and desserts between Y750 (£5.50) and Y2800 (£20.00) if you get something to share like we did..

It certainly doesn’t break the bank – especially for Tokyo!
Note that some evenings, the place has more of an adult vibe – including hosting fetish nights.
So if that’s not your bag baby, best to check the website before planning your visit.

Overall the food is fair for what it is – the mains are not incredibly tasty, but the desserts are to die for.
The overall experience? Unmissable!

~ Carla

DISCLAIMER: Most photos (aka the good ones!) by Marcel Ferragi.