Thursday, 1 October 2015

Caroline vs. Meiji Mura

On our way through Central Honshū, my family stopped at Museum Meiji Mura, an open-air museum featuring Meiji-era buildings about an hour north of Nagoya.  It's similar in concept to Upper Canada Village, which my brother and I grew up visiting, and it had an original Frank Lloyd Wright façade, which was a huge draw for my mother and me as we are the heritage nerds in the family.

The Meiji era had a really distinctive architectural style, as new Western ideas were mixed with traditional Japanese techniques.  Unfortunately few buildings remain in Japan due to earthquakes, bombings, and rapid urban development, but the museum has preserved over 60 buildings by dismantling and transporting them to this rural location.  It is an enormous place with winding paths, long staircases, and even a trolley and functioning steam locomotive!  We only had a few hours, plus it was a sweltering day, so we skipped about a third of the park, but one could easily spend an entire day here.

We stopped in at a functioning post office to send some postcards, admired a stained glass Christmas tree in a cathedral from Kyoto, and eventually stopped in at the Frank Lloyd Wright building for something to drink and some relief from the heat.  FLW designed a new building for Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in 1922, and when the building was demolished in the late 1960s for a larger hotel building the courtyard and lobby area were moved to Meiji Mura.  It's a really beautiful and interesting building, and it is fantastic that someone had the foresight to preserve it.  There is a small shop inside selling Meiji Mura souvenirs, as well as some FLW swag like scarves and jewellery inspired by his designs.  Up a couple flights of stairs is a small café with drinks and snacks; I had a coffee float (exactly what you think: vanilla ice cream in coffee) for the first time ever, and now I wish they were on every menu.

Meiji Mura was a fabulous way to see what urban Japan might have looked like during one of the most pivotal periods of its history, especially since Japan has a much different concept of architectural heritage preservation than Europe or North America, and has lost many buildings to earthquakes and war.  There is enough English signage throughout the museum to give you a thorough history of the buildings, and this is a great under-the-radar stop for history and architecture nerds like me.

xx, C.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Caroline vs. Yokohama

Having my family visit me in May was a great excuse to get out of Tokyo for a while and explore a little more of Japan.  We spent one day in Yokohama, a port city just south of Tokyo, which takes about half an hour to get to thanks to Japan's awesome rail system.

Our first stop was at the Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal, which boasts a sleek roof deck open to the public, and is a great place to lounge as well as a popular wedding photo location.  Depending on the time of day there may or may not be food and drink vans open, but there are a couple vending machines available.  There are few shady places, so if you want to see the pier without other people around you, go on a hot sunny day.

From there we walked along the manicured waterfront promenades towards the !!! Cup Noodles Museum (yes, the exclamation points are part of the name!).  The design of the museum alone was enough to make me fall in love: the lobby was three stories high with whitewashed walls and tons of natural light, and the rest of the museum had clean white walls, bright hardwood floors, and pops of red.  The actual display area was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but it packed a punch.  It had a cute 15-minute video with a brief history of instant ramen and its inventor Momofuku Ando, a replica of the work shed Momofuku was using when he created instant ramen, as well as a room lined with every version of instant ramen created by Nissin Foods, which Momofuku founded in 1948.  We also stopped for lunch in the museum Noodles Bazaar, which has international noodle dishes available for just ¥300 that were actually very delicious.

My favourite part of the !!! Cup Noodles Museum was by far the My Cup Noodles Factory, where we got to make our own Cup Noodles!  You pick up tickets for a 20-minute time slot when you get your museum entry tickets (¥500 for adults, free for children), and head up to the third floor at the appointed time.  This is a popular activity for school groups, so be prepared for it to be busy and loud!  Cups are dispensed from a vending machine for ¥300 each, and then you sit down to design your cup with a rainbow of markers; I drew some sakura on mine and then impressed my family by writing our names in katakana on each of our cups.  Then you go to the production line, where a staff member will put the noodles in the cup and then have you choose four ingredients from a choice of 12, then seal and shrink-wrap the cup.  The final step is putting the cup in a hilarious plastic bag/purse and then pumping it full of air so it doesn't get squashed on the way home.  It was so fun!  The museum is definitely geared towards children, but it was still really fun to visit.

We had to hustle a little bit after leaving the museum, as my mother wanted to visit the Yokohama War Cemetery, part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which closed at 5pm and was a little way out of town.  We got to the cemetery with about 45 minutes to wander its 20 acres and visit some of the more than 1500 graves.  A fantastic groundkeeper walked us over to the Canadian section, which was on a shared plot with New Zealand, and after spending some time there we walked up to the Indian plot, then to a plot at the top of a hill containing graves of 171 servicemen who died during the Allied occupation, including children.  This wasn't exactly a "fun" excursion, but as a Canadian military family we like to pay our respects to our war dead, and we were all very moved to visit the only CWGC in Japan.

Yokohama is extremely easy to reach from central Tokyo, with some great architecture and activities, and is well worth a trip down for the day.

xx, C.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Caroline vs. Shimokitazawa Animal Cafés

Last year Vogue ranked the Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa as the world's coolest neighbourhood for street style.  And while fashion is a huge part of what makes Shimo tick, it also has tons of other stuff to do...most importantly, animal cafés!!  I wanted to take my family out in Shimokitazawa one evening while they were visiting Tokyo, and we ended up visiting a cat café AND a rabbit café, which was, of course, magical.


I didn't love the cat café experience when Clem and I went to Hapineko in December, but I'd heard that Cateriam was fantastic, and I definitely didn't have a problem with the opportunity to hang out with some cats.  You guys, I LOVED Cateriam.  It's right outside the West exit of Shimokitazawa Station on the Inokashira Line, and is way larger than I was expecting.  Prices change seasonally, but we went for one hour for ¥1000 each, with a drink included in the price.  By luck we arrived right at snack time, and we were each given a small cup of treats, which we used to bribe the cats to sit with us.  They also had baskets full of cat toys and costumes that could be used free of charge, unlike at other cat cafés, so I took full advantage and put some hats on a couple very sour looking Persian cats.

Cafe Ohisama

I'd heard of bunny cafés, but wasn't sure what to expect, as bunnies aren't as *tidy* as cats.  Cafe Ohisama is on a quiet street South of Shimokitazawa Station, almost right behind the large Uniqlo store; it's easy to get to but a little tricky to find, so have a map or a local handy.  The Café was quite intimate with room for about ten people at a time, and the bunnies were housed in a little segregated area that kept droppings, etc. out of the rest of the café.  It definitely didn't have the same fun and carefree vibe as Cateriam, especially as many of the bunnies stayed in their cages as opposed to hopping around, but it was still a really cute experience.  Prices start at ¥1000 for 30 minutes (includes one drink).

The animal café trend is taking the world by storm, with a few coming to Canadian cities like Toronto and Montréal, which I will obviously be checking out!

xx, C.