I wanted to talk about an experience I had this morning. I woke up around 5:30 and went for a walk, resolved to find a group doing Tai Chi (太极拳, or Taiji quan) so I could observe and practice (I studied Tai Chi for a while when I was living in Maryland and it feels counterintuitive to be looking up Internet tutorials for Tai Chi while I’m in China). At first, I didn’t find anyone practicing when I was walking around my campus, so I decided to try again later on in the week. On my way back to my apartment, however, I found a group of three people doing Tai Chi—an older couple and a middle-aged man standing in something of a line to practice together. I stood off to the side to follow along as best as I could, and after they finished the set they were on, the middle-aged man left, and the older man gestured for me to get into line with them for the next set. It’s been years since I did Tai Chi regularly, so I was rather rusty—I was heavier on my feet than I would have liked, and I didn’t know the set they were doing—but I felt better because despite my clear lack of knowledge, they helped me feel included in the activity.
In my experience with mainstream America, such an act of inclusion is rare, especially since these people had never met me before and I was very obviously a foreigner (I imagine they also assumed I don’t speak Chinese). It has been my experience in America that society focuses so much on the individual that we don’t know our neighbors and we are automatically wary of strangers. I imagine because the group and I had a shared interest (in this case, Tai Chi), it was somewhat easier, but I wonder how many problems in the world we can solve by showing people that they belong.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Tomorrow I start teaching, so hopefully I can post later this week with how that goes. See you then! Zai jian!
Hi, guys! I know it’s been a while since I last posted on here, and for that, I apologize. I wanted to post a short blog article to talk about what’s been going on.
Well, for starters, the month of June got super busy with getting ready for my next year in Yueyang, and then I went back to the States around the end of June. Shortly after that, I went on a trip to Alaska with my parents, which was a long but fun vacation. And then my old, beloved laptop wheezed its final wheeze, so as we speak, I’m typing this out from my tablet. I’m back in the U.S. for another month or so, and then I’ll be back in Yueyang for the next year around the end of August.
So, what does this mean for the blog? Well, I hope to post some articles about my time in Alaska, and then we’ll see how it goes from there. I’d love to keep more content coming your way, but I’m also not sure what you would find interesting. Please let me know in the comments what you want to know about! See you next time!
It’s been a long time since I posted an article, and I think a lot of that has to do with the end-of-year burnout that seems to plague teachers and students alike. I’ve been working on lessons for the rest of my time in Cili, getting ready for my next year in Yueyang, and heading home next month, as well as thinking about where my path will go next.
People who know me outside of the blog know that I am a very creative person. I love working with music, art, and above all, writing. For reasons that are many and varied, I decided not to bring a lot of my creative outlets with me to China, like my knitting supplies—a decision that I regretted when culture shock reared its ugly head. I have learned this year that I need music in my life, as well as the tools to create it on my computer, and I also need to work on my writing. One of my goals for China was to self-publish a book before I leave; while I’m nowhere near achieving that goal, I’m very close to getting the first draft finished, which is a huge step for me.
Part of my path going forward is to include creativity into my life for self-expression, if not to sow the seeds for a future career. I have started a blog under my pen name, and I hope to keep that going as I keep writing and hopefully publishing my work. I hope to be able to develop a music production setup for next year so I can start composing and producing music again (that’s on the blog too).
I always get the question of “where I see myself in five years”, but it’s a bit tricky when my life has changed so much even in the last year and a half. I’ve changed career paths and moved to rural China. When I first came here, I didn’t plan to stay in Yueyang next year, yet here I am. That said, some things like writing and music have stayed the same. I’ve been listening to a lot of self-development podcasts, and they talk about living one’s truth; wherever the path may lead, I hope I’m getting closer to living my truth.
I’ve been working on my visa for next year, and I’m hoping I can talk about my process and lessons learned. If you want to hear about that, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below! I hope to be back here soon, so I’ll see you then! Zai jian!
Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.
I have decided to stay in China for another year!
As I’m typing this, I have sent off a signed contract with the Hunan Institute of Science and Technology in Yueyang, just north of Changsha, and am working to extend my visa for another year. I will still be teaching English, only this time at a university level in another part of Hunan.
There are a few reasons why I decided to stay. The first one is about the language and culture. I feel like while I’ve learned a lot of Chinese while I was here in Cili, I would do best in an academic setting where the learning is structured and I can then apply the lessons in daily life. I feel like I’ve let myself down with the amount of Chinese I could have learned if I had taken classes, but if I’m taking classes at the institute as well as teaching, I hope that will change. I also feel like with a year of being in China, I have spent a lot of it dealing with culture shock; now that the culture shock has been manageable, I feel like I’d be better able to appreciate the culture of China.
I knew I wanted to stay in China, but I didn’t really want to stay in Cili. The good part about being in Cili is that I was away from the chaos of the major cities; that’s also the curse of being in Cili, as being so far away from major cities is a nuisance when I’m trying to travel. In Yueyang, I can easily take the gaotie (high-speed rail) to Changsha in half an hour, as opposed to three to four hours by bus or slow train from Cili. Also, while I feel big cities are really chaotic (in this case, Changsha falls under the category of “big city”), I need things to do to get out of my apartment like coffee shops to work in and hangout spots similar to the archery range we went to for orientation in Changsha. I did not have many options in Cili, and I hope that being in Yueyang will help me get out more and get the most out of living in China.
Also, while I’m ready to visit home after being away for so long (this is by far the longest I’ve ever been away from home), I’m honestly not ready to return to the U.S. for the long term. Ever since my month of traveling, I have been enchanted with living abroad and going on more adventures. I already have planned some adventures for the future, and I’m hoping I can bring you along with me!
This feels like such a small article compared to others I have written, but I wanted to let you know what was going on in my life and the future of the blog. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with another article! See you then! Zai jian!
I have seen other people do a “thirty before thirty” challenge, with entries like “go skydiving”, “cook dinner for the family”, or “travel alone”. While these are all good ideas, and I have my own list of similar goals (e.g., “publish one of my novels” and “release a music track”), I’ve also been plagued with this feeling that I’ve seen so little of the world. I have never been to South America. I have never been to Africa. I have never been to the South Pacific. I have only been to a fraction of Europe, to the point that I can’t say I’ve really been there. (For instance, if one has only been to the tourist spots of Paris, has one really seen France? I’m inclined to answer “no”, though it’s definitely better than not going at all.)
I turn twenty-five this year, and I’m already feeling the quarter-life crisis creeping in. I know I’m almost expected to go back to the United States and live a “normal” life (whatever that means), but I also can’t deny that I feel the strongest and most capable when I am on the move. When I was in Guilin, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Inner Mongolia… it always felt like I was in my element, being out in the world and experiencing it.
As a result, I’ve decided to make a challenge for myself to travel to thirty countries before I turn 30 years old.
I wish I could say this was my original idea, but that would be a lie. I was inspired after reading an article from the travel blog The Sweetest Way, in which Leah Davis challenged herself to travel to thirty countries before she turned thirty. When she posted the article, she had just turned twenty-seven, so she had three years to complete her “thirty before thirty”. (Spoiler alert: she accomplished this goal a year later!)
Here’s the extra challenge I want to give myself: Leah included all the traveling she had done before she had set that challenge for herself. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I want to challenge myself to include only the traveling I do from this point on (with the exception of China, because I already live here and not including that would be ridiculous). I definitely would love to continue traveling and exploring, and hopefully I’ll be able to achieve this goal!
It’s a stormy day here in Cili, and as I’m typing this, I’m preparing for today’s classes. I hope to be back later this week with another article about a life update that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while. See you then! Zai jian!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.
Last week was the week of the Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Jie), so that meant that we get classes off while the students were observing the holiday. I had hoped to travel to Guilin for this holiday, but since we were told we only had three days off for the holiday, I decided it was not worth the stress to travel anywhere far away, and grudgingly decided to stay in Cili. With that in mind, one might easily understand why, after learning on Tuesday morning that I had no classes that day (effectively lengthening my holiday from three days to four), I decided to throw all my essentials into a backpack and travel to Guilin anyway for a last-minute vacation.
Spoiler alert: That decision was SO WORTH IT!
Guilin is in northern Guangxi Province, a province southwest of Hunan Province that shares a border with Vietnam. The mountains surrounding the Li River are featured on the 20 yuan bill, so it’s no surprise that’s considered a jewel of Chinese scenery. Another cohort went to a lake that looked almost identical to the one from Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (for fellow Tomb Raider buffs, it’s the scene where Lara and Terry Sheridan enter China by pod and they crash it into the lake); I don’t think I was able to find it, but the scenery on the Li River and in Guilin still made me feel like we would turn a corner and see the Argonath (the giant statues of old kings) from Fellowship of the Ring.
Guilin is three and a half hours from Changsha by bullet train (gaotie). Little did I know when I booked my ticket at the station, that—ooh la la—I got the business class option (not what I expected, but I’m not complaining, since it was one of the last tickets available for that train; after my train ride in Inner Mongolia, I would have rather avoided a standing ticket). It definitely made the three and a half hours go by faster.
Based on photos and feedback from my cohorts that had already been to Guilin, I spent a lot of my time in Xingping (20 minutes by gaotie from Guilin to Yangshuo station, which is technically closer to Xingping than Yangshuo but that’s a separate issue). On a cohort’s suggestion, I stayed at This Old Place (老地方) International Youth Hostel in Guilin Tuesday evening, before heading over to Xingping on a river boat the next morning and staying at their sister hostel there. When I stayed in This Old Place in Guilin, the dorm rooms available were coed, which I have yet to feel comfortable with, so I went with a private room. The rooms I had in Guilin and Xingping were minimal, but clean and comfortable. They serve breakfast for 20 yuan (you have to order that one the night before), and they have really good English. This is not meant to be a review on This Old Place, but I would love to stay there again.
In Xingping, I visited the Tengjiao Nunnery with other hostel guests that I met, and I also hiked Laozhai Hill, where I was able to get beautiful pictures of the Li River scenery. I also met up with another cohort back in Guilin, and we were able to get some beautiful photos and have dinner before I went back to Cili Friday morning.
I feel like I could have stayed a day or two more in Xingping to see everything I could, and an extra day or two in Guilin to fit in a day trip to the region’s famous rice terraces. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go back to Guilin, and I’ll be able to go to the spots I missed and be able to appreciate the scenery there more. Even though this trip was extremely last-minute, I’m really proud of myself for making the choice to go on an adventure!
We’re slowly starting to wrap up here in China; I’ll be going back to Changsha later this month for the end-of-service meeting with WorldTeach, and I’ll be preparing for my next adventure. What will that next adventure be? I plan for that to be my next article. See you then! Zai jian!
Today was my first day back in classes, and I’m glad to be back teaching in Cili. That said, I still have all the memories of being on the road for a month. I’m really proud of myself for packing for a month of traveling in a carry-on suitcase, and that I did all the things I did. From cheering on the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s (OAR’s) men’s hockey team in the Olympic finals at their hospitality house in Pyeongchang, to playing with elephants in Thailand, I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have these experiences. I wanted to wrap up my trip, as far as the blog is concerned, with some things I was grateful for, and some things that I would have done differently.
Things I’m grateful for on this trip:
Things I would do differently next time:
Hopefully, I’ll have some more opportunities to travel and write some more articles for the blog before I return home for the summer! There are some plans in the works for a possible trip to Guilin in the next few months, so we’ll see if that works out! See you next time! Zai jian!
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai thus far, but I feel really bad to say I haven’t really done that much; the first full day I was here (yesterday), aside from going out to eat, I met with my Airbnb host for suggestions on where to go in the city, and I stayed in my place regrouping from my stressful travel day from Tokyo to Chiang Mai (I was worried at at least one point that I would miss both of my flights). I knew I had to do this after being nearly constantly on the move in Japan, and I think part of the reason is because I am an introvert. If you’re an introvert too, welcome and well met! :waves:
As far as the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) is concerned, I’m 50-50 INFP and INFJ, but I identify the most as an INFJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging, you can find out more about all sixteen MBTI types here; all the photos I found on Pinterest). People who are INFJ are known for being a bit self-contradictory and frequently misunderstood. Based on my going-on-twenty-five-years’ experience, I can confirm the self-contradiction part; I am a full-on introvert, but if I don’t have social interaction for a period of time, I can get a bit stir-crazy. I would love to see so much and take in all the information I can about a place, but at the same time, sometimes I just want to hole up with a book in a café and read and/or people-watch.
Let me just make this clear: this is not meant to be a complaint against traveling. I love traveling, and I thoroughly appreciate the lessons I learn and experiences I have in each new place. I can’t deny, though, that it’s hard to recharge the energy I lose from being around people when I’m constantly on the move in buses, trains, planes, and in tourist locations—places where there are naturally tons and tons of people.
Much as I loved my time in Japan and other parts of the world, I have to admit that perhaps cities like Tokyo and Kyoto generally run at a faster pace than I do. There would be times over the past two weeks when I’d be exhausted by dinnertime just from being around so many people, and there’d be so much chaos that I’d often get slightly disorientated—metro hubs like Shinjuku and Tokyo were a huge culprit for this. Maybe that’s why I loved being out in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia so much back in October of last year; while I was traveling in a group, there was so much open space and so many things to do that we could conceivably split off and do our own thing if we needed or wanted to.
I know I had to take time to recharge yesterday, but I also feel extremely ungrateful for the time I have in another country when I spend time regrouping, especially after a particularly stressful transit day. I know based on previous experience, however, that if I’m on a tight schedule to see what I want to see, I am often required to push past my need to recharge to do more and more; I know when I do that, I become more and more stressed out, and my behavior towards others runs the risk of becoming less than ideal. That’s not a person I want to be, especially when I’m traveling by myself. I have prioritized my peace of mind on this trip, especially since this is my first time traveling solo for an extended period of time.
I am not a therapist or life coach, so I can only talk about my experience, but some things that work for me are:
Hopefully these help if you are an introvert and love to travel. It is possible for us to go out into the world and take in all it has to offer, while still enjoying our downtime and solitude. Good luck, fellow introverts, and safe travels!
I’m looking forward to spending more time in Chiang Mai, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere compared to the hectic pace of Japan. Is there anything you want me to talk about during my time in Thailand? Please let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading! Until next time, แล้วพบกันใหม่!
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my Airbnb in Chiang Mai, Thailand, adjusting to the new change of weather and getting ready for the next part of my trip. Since leaving Japan, I have thought about what I learned from my experiences there. My time in Japan reminded me to be present in the moment (like when I dressed as a maiko) and to enjoy the small things (like spotting the first cherry blossoms in Gion), and it reinforced my appreciation of the Japanese culture and cities with a strong public transit system. To wrap up my time in Tokyo and Kyoto as far as the blog is concerned, here are some lessons I took away about traveling in Japan.
What would you want to read about my time in Chiang Mai? Is there anything else you want to know about my time in Japan? Let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, now that I’m in Thailand, I have to say “see you” in Thai—แล้วพบกันใหม่!
It’s no secret that Kyoto is arguably well known (if not most well known) for being something of a geisha capital in Japan. Kyoto and geiko, at this point, seem to be inseparable; even ads for the city railways in Kyoto use geisha in them. In Japanese culture, geisha (literally, “arts person” in Japanese) are professional hostesses and entertainers, well-versed in manners, culture, and etiquette to make their customers relaxed at parties and events—unfortunately, Western misconceptions perpetuated with popular culture like the book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha have placed a different image on what geisha do and their role in Japanese culture. As a result, I have to wonder about my experience dressing up as a maiko (apprentice geisha) in Gion District, Kyoto.
Note: Geiko is another name for geisha that refers to a geisha in Kyoto (source); since I’m in Kyoto, I will be using geiko and geisha interchangeably. A maiko is an apprentice geisha that ascends the ranks for over five years before she becomes a geiko; there are distinct differences in appearance at each stage of being a maiko/geiko that are thoroughly explained in this article.
I am fully aware that I was not dressed as an authentic maiko (e.g., my collar was not right for being the level of maiko I was otherwise dressed as), and I realize that this is most likely by design. Because there are still working maiko and geiko, the companies that allow for these costume experiences have to be careful not to tarnish the real maiko and geiko‘s reputations, lest they risk getting shut down by the authorities (source). As a result, there were a significant amount of rules that I had to follow when I was in the full maiko regalia, like no eating (they never eat while working—likely also because they didn’t want to soil the kimono), no drinking (likely so as not to soil the kimono—also, I remember from watching a documentary on geisha that they don’t drink unless they’re offered drinks), and no smoking.
For this experience, I chose Kyoto MAICA for the price and the good reviews I saw online. They are nestled in a side street a short walk away from Keihan Railway’s Gion-Shijo station. They have different plans for photos and style options, starting at ¥6,500 (roughly US$65). They also have plans for guys to dress up as samurai! (For the record, this is not an ad for MAICA; this is just my experience.) I booked a reservation the day before, and I would highly recommend doing so, even if it’s not mandatory. One thing they told me to do was bring makeup remover, because you cannot leave the place with the makeup still on, and I did not see any makeup remover for guests to use (though I’m sure they had some in case people genuinely forgot to bring it). They asked for no photos during the process of hair, makeup, and dressing (in fact, they asked me to lock up my phone), so I only have photos of the finished result—sorry, y’all.
After I chose my photo plan, they asked me to select a kimono; I chose a rose pink kimono with a gradient to a soft golden taupe with flower detail, because I was nervous about wearing a more intricate pattern. They then showed me to a room with coin lockers for my clothes and bag, and asked me to put on a juban (the base layer of a kimono) and tabi socks before going into makeup. They then gave me a full face of makeup, including the white base makeup on my shoulders that left the nape of my neck bare (the nape of the neck is apparently an erogenous zone in Japanese culture, from what I remembered in my research), and then they put me into the kimono.
I imagined that wearing a kimono was likely an experience from what I saw on the Internet, but when they asked me if I needed the ladies’ before I got dressed, I then realized, “things are about to get real.” The maiko‘s obi is worn higher than a typical obi to mimic a more girlish figure, so it’s naturally going to constrict your ribs a bit (while I could breathe normally, I couldn’t help but think of Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean throughout this process), and a kimono‘s usual hemline trails behind you so that was something I had to be careful with (when we went outside, the ladies tied it up as you can see in the photos so the hem didn’t get wet). After the kimono was on, they asked me what kind of wig I wanted. Because my hair is auburn and short (even though I’m growing out my pixie), I went for a full wig, but they do offer partial wigs, depending on your plan.
After the workers made sure everything was perfect, we went downstairs to do the photo shoot. The professional photos you get with your plan are done indoors in a small studio area with screens and props like fans, a traditional tea ceremony display, and a parasol. My plan included going outside to take photos; it was raining that day, so we weren’t able to get a ton of photos outside, but I was still satisfied with the ones we got.
I ended up getting two professional photographs printed as well as tons of photos on my phone that came out really well. When we were done with photos, I was asked to wash off the makeup before I got back into my street clothes (one of the ladies working there helped me clean the makeup off my shoulders). They also had a room where the guests could reapply their usual makeup before they left, which I personally thought was a nice touch.
If you want to dress up like a maiko or geiko and get good photos done, then this is perfect for you. That said, while I have no regrets about this experience, I do kind of wish that there was a more educational version of this for Japanese culture enthusiasts, or people who want to learn more about the maiko and geiko besides dressing like them. Because the maiko and geiko are renowned for their privacy and discretion, I’m not sure if “Life As A Geiko 101″ would be able to happen, but for Asian Studies majors like me, and other people who want to know more about their extensive training, etc., the makeup and costume are a good place to start, but might not be enough. As for me, I was worried that dressing like a maiko without learning more about their life was straddling the line between “culture enthusiast” and “stereotypical tourist”, especially in this day and age with our growing awareness of cultural appropriation. I will admit, though, that when I was in the kimono, I felt very feminine and graceful (minus my trepidation about the high-platformed shoes, especially with the state of my knees); with my research of Japanese culture, particularly that of the geiko and maiko, I hope to take with me their refined grace, poise, and appreciation of art and culture.
Tomorrow, I’m heading back to Tokyo for a few more days, so let me know what you want to read more of in the comments! Until next time, またね!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own.
One of the things I love the most about going to Disney back in Florida is how they execute a theme from the moment you approach the ride to the moment you leave, and maybe that’s why I love the themed eateries in Japan so much. American themed restaurants seem to have a reputation for being famously mediocre if not cheesy, with the food, the decor, the entertainment/service, or a combination of all three. I have not seen that to be the case in Japan, at least in my experience. I wanted to write about my experience eating the food in Tokyo. (This will also include some special first-time foods for me, like conveyor belt sushi!)
One thing that you have to take into account, though, is that some eateries in Japan require the customers to order at least one food item and one drink, some charge a service fee (the ones I went to charged about JP¥500, or US$5), and some restrict the eating time to two hours. One drink, one entree, and a dessert or appetizer cost me ¥4,000 (about US$40), give or take a couple hundred yen, at each themed restaurant I went to, so this was a treat for me. I had seen video reviews of these restaurants by Emma from Tokidoki Traveller (Alice in Fantasy Book and Vampire Cafe) so I knew I wanted to go here; if you’re on a tighter budget, I would highly recommend doing your research and going to the one you like the most (for instance, if you’re like me and are not a huge seafood fan, the Ninja Restaurant in Akasaka might not be for you, as cool as the presentation and décor appear).
Shirohige’s Cream Puff Shop/Tolo Café and Bakery, Setagaya
As a Studio Ghibli fan since I was six years old, this was a dream come true for me. This one doesn’t have as stylized of a theme as the other themed restaurants I visited (e.g., servers did not wear costumes), but there were Totoro plushies and references to Studio Ghibli EVERYWHERE, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it’s nicknamed the “Totoro Café”.
Okay, so technically, the cream puff shop (apparently run by the sister-in-law of Hayao Miyazaki) is on the first floor while the bakery and cafe are upstairs and run by a different group, but nevertheless, the cafe serves the cream puffs too.
From Shinjuku Station, I took the Metro to Setagaya-Daita on the Odakyu line, and it was a relatively straightforward walk from the station to the cream puff shop. At the end of the road, there’s a little Totoro on top of a nearby building that says “Well come [sic]” so you know you’ve wandered into Studio Ghibli territory.
One thing I didn’t realize is that the Totoro cream puffs have cute decorations depending on what flavor they are. Since I ordered the strawberry cream, my Totoro came with a little cherry blossom on his head. The result was the first food that has made me feel like a heartless monster to eat, since it was just too precious!
The shop also sells little cookies in the shape of natural patterns like mini Totoro, leaves, mushrooms, and acorns! I got a box of assorted cookies for just over ¥1000, you can also get cream puffs to go for ¥400 (according to the Tolo Café menu). I ended up spending just over ¥2000 total (about ¥1000 for a cream puff and a coffee, and just over ¥1000 for the cookies). If you can’t get to the Studio Ghibli museum (which I couldn’t; all the tickets for the entire month were sold out), this will likely be a great substitute. My childhood was so happy here, and when the lady at the counter (who I’m 70% confident was the aforementioned sister-in-law, but I didn’t bother her since the store was pretty busy) handed me the cookies, it almost felt like I was being handed the bundle of nuts and seeds Totoro gave Satsuki and Mei in the movie.
While we’re on the subject of Studio Ghibli: as I mentioned before in my article about Kiki’s Delivery Service (you can find the article here), I’ve been looking for a Jiji mug. I FINALLY FOUND ONE at a Donguri (Studio Ghibli merchandise) store in Skytree Solamachi! As I picked up the mug, I kid you not, my favorite song from Hayao Miyazaki’s movies (the end theme from Castle in the Sky, in case you’re interested) started playing over the loudspeaker. I saw that as a sign to buy it, along with a phone charm with the Laputa crystal from Castle in the Sky. They had a lot of merchandise for Studio Ponoc’s new movie Mary and the Witch’s Flower, as well as Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, but not that much for the other Studio Ghibli movies like Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite after Kiki), which kinda stunk but I’m not complaining!
Alice in Fantasy Book, Shinjuku
One of my favorite Disney movies is Alice in Wonderland, particularly the Tim Burton version; lucky for me, Alice in Wonderland is apparently really popular here in Japan, so visiting this restaurant seemed to be a no-brainer. This is in the T-Wing building of Shinjuku, and this was an experience. I did not have a reservation (if anyone from Alice in Fantasy Book is reading this, I’m sorry!), so they went over the rules about the service fee and one food and one drink before asking me to sit and wait for Alice (I think now’s a good time to explain, as far as the guests are concerned, all the servers are apparently named “Alice”) before showing me to my table.
When my waitress told me I had to call “Alice” loudly if I needed her, that kind of threw me off; I personally hate yelling, even if they expect it, and I kind of wish that they had a different system for people that don’t like yelling, or are nonverbal. I was thinking of something like the Vampire Café’s bell or like the “Run Forrest Run” license plates at Bubba Gump Shrimp, but with card suits or the white rose and the red rose—Diamond Dining (the company that owns both the Alice in Fantasy Book restaurant and the Vampire Café) is making good use of their imagination in executing the Alice in Wonderland theme so far, so I have full confidence they can come up with a good alternative to “go ask Alice” (yes, reference to the song intended). I kind of cheated and called for her at a normal volume when she was done introducing herself to a group that was seated nearby.
Needless to say, these restaurants are geared towards people who come in large groups, possibly for special occasions (quite a few groups were celebrating birthdays). Alice ushered me to a small table that would have been hidden to people who were walking in. (A similar instance happened in the Vampire Café, so it wasn’t an isolated incident.) I had a nice view but it did feel like I was being somewhat partitioned off from the other guests. I’m not sure if this was a foreigner thing, an eating by myself thing, or a this-is-the-only-table-that’s-suitable-for-one-person thing, but I didn’t mind; I imagine this is something I as a solo traveler have to get used to.
In terms of what I ordered, I ordered the Beef and Guinness pie with broccoli, carrots, and beef, the fries with cheese sauce (served in a teacup because why on earth not), and a seasonal (non-alcoholic) strawberry drink that gave me a Cheshire smile. I was also served a standard (if I remember correctly, it was complimentary, at least in this place) appetizer: a cracker with a heart shape in it and a cup of what I believe was a corn-based hot drink (this was obviously a reference to the “drink me” potion and the “eat me” cake). After I paid for my food, I was given a packet of strawberry tea as a sort of party favor; I guess it was to keep the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme going all the way to the end.
Final verdict: the food was pretty good, presentation was off the chart, but I could have done without the Disney songs being played (maybe cute instrumentals instead would have been nice). Given that Alice is so popular in Japan, that might explain why they went balls-to-the-wall with the theme.
Bonus #1: Gansozushi, Akihabara
There really is no special reason for why I chose Ganso; I just Googled “best keitenzushi [conveyor-belt sushi]” where I was in Akihabara, and Ganso came up, so I headed over there to try Japanese sushi for the first time. I had tried sushi and sashimi in America, with disastrous results, so I decided to give sushi another try in Japan, and even though I’m not quite sure if I like sushi just yet, I’m glad I ate here.
A very basic description of the way keitenzushi works: I sat at a diner-like bar counter that had a conveyor belt with plates of sushi going around on it (keitenzushi is often translated as “sushi-go-round” on signs). You take the plates from the conveyor belt and eat as much as you want. Each plate design shows how much it costs, so you keep the plates in a stack, and then you pay based on your stack of plates. I was able to have some kind of salmon nigiri (a type of sushi with raw fish on rice), an egg (tamago) sushi, and a tuna wasabi nigiri (it was then that I learned I do not like the taste of wasabi… I kind of liked the pickled ginger, though). I ended up having four plates for around ¥1,000 ($10 USD), which I find to be a decent price, considering the location in downtown Tokyo and the amount of food.
Final verdict: It was much better than I thought it would be, but I still feel like sushi might not be my thing just yet.
Bonus #2: Kin-No-Torikara, Shibuya
Once again, this particular suggestion was from Google, but the original idea was from word-of-mouth; I heard from a friend who had been to Japan that fried chicken almost anywhere in Japan was really good. Kin-No-Torikara is a takeaway stand at a shopping center in Shibuya, and I ordered fried chicken and loaded fries. I loved experimenting with all the sauces; my personal favorite (the red-tinted one on the left in the photo) tasted like a sweet chili sauce—for those of you who are familiar with the American fast food chain Popeye’s, it tasted almost like the Sweet Heat sauce. For about ¥500, I got a decent amount of food (but then again, I get stuffed with a small amount of food, so keep that in mind).
Final verdict: If you’re looking for good fried chicken in Shibuya, you might want to check this place out. That said, they do not have a place to sit and eat, so be prepared to walk and eat or awkwardly stand around their waste bin like I did.
Vampire Café, Ginza
Moving to the dark side of the themed restaurant spectrum, my second night in Tokyo, I headed over to the Vampire Café in Ginza. This was in a building that had a lot of different restaurants—one on each floor (I didn’t catch the building’s name, since I was following Google Maps). For a Monday evening in Ginza, it was rather empty (again, no reservation… don’t do what I did, kids).
As far as decor goes, I say this in the most loving way possible: they clearly designed this with Mundanes (to borrow a term for “normal people” from the City of Bones series) in mind—red blood cell pattern on the light-up floor in the entrance hall, cobwebs, black and red textiles, blood, skulls, coffins, spiders, and bats. Everywhere. The decor was a bit too hardcore for my taste, even with my appreciation of the Goth subculture, but I will caveat that the red rose theme in the food presentation really spoke to my soul. So, if you’re at least somewhat familiar with the vampire or Goth subculture, be prepared for at least a small degree of eye-rolling.
They call the Vampire Café a “café” but it’s more of a restaurant. The same rules applied as in Alice in Fantasy Book—one food, one drink, ¥500 service charge—as the server explained the notice on the menu’s front page. One of the things I noticed in some of the reviews was that the staff were allegedly cold and not very accommodating. That was not my experience at the Vampire Café, but I did notice they were rather hands-off. The sentiment I think they were trying to go for with their vampiric characters was “we’re trying to be polite enough not to drive you off, but we’re trying very hard not to bite you so we’ll keep our distance”, so I can kind of understand that that’s not what some people have in mind for good service. I had no issues with my service, and I think the glaring issue was the language barrier, but that was nothing Google Translate couldn’t fix (like when I asked if I paid at the entrance or at the table). To call the server, you ring a bell, which is loud enough to hear in the relatively quiet place (barring the music), so I’m really grateful I didn’t have to yell.
This is a personal preference for me, but I like to be able to look around the venue, especially if there’s a loft area or a top floor to look out on the street below (I think in a past life I was a ranger like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, or possibly a bird of prey). In the Vampire Café, they had red curtains around the booths so I couldn’t see around the place. I imagine with a group of people that would make everything seem a bit more cozy and intimate, but by myself, it kind of felt like a warm and plushy form of solitary confinement. That said, if they were trying to get you feeling “whoa what was that” when the dark shadows of the all-black-clad staff walk past the gap in the curtains for a split second, they definitely hit that nail on the head. I heard a lot of nervous giggling from other patrons, but even if it was meant to be scary, the mystery just intrigued me more; I can’t deny the sartorial choices and overall aesthetics of the staff were a part of it (*shy blush*).
In terms of what I ordered, I got a non-alcoholic drink called the “Elizabeth Bathory”, the red-wine-stewed beef cheek (which was actually really good; it had a texture similar to that of pulled pork), and a strawberry-matcha ice cream dessert in the shape of a spider (I will admit, the spider was kind of cute with the big eyes, and I almost laughed out loud when I read that the spider ice cream was ¥666).
While the restaurant does have a good amount of English on their menu (though their seasonal specials card did not have any English—consider yourself warned), I used the website MyOrder to check the menu before I came to Japan, and they claimed the drink was blood orange, cranberry, and pomegranate juice with tonic water. Also, according to MyOrder, the beef cheek was called “the dead body of Van Helsing”; people who know me outside of the blog may understand why I found this hilarious (I had to flip a coin between the beef and a pizza shaped like a letter with a rose “wax seal”—the beef won). Be advised: the website seems to have not updated the menu in a while, so they might not have all the items you’re looking for when you eat at the restaurant.
Final verdict: Food was actually really good, design was a bit hardcore but I’m not complaining, and the style of service might not be for everyone. Also, if you don’t like enclosed dark spaces or sudden noises when the server opens and closes the curtains (they weren’t too startling for me, but I imagine that could get to some people), this might not be the place for you. For me, I’m highly tempted to go back before I leave Japan to get the rose-letter pizza that didn’t end up on my plate—after making a reservation, of course.
My experience with the themed cafes in Tokyo was really good, but I also noticed that they are either really cute and light and fun (case in point: Alice in Fantasy Book, or what I’ve seen of the maid cafes in Akihabara) or dark and creepy (e.g., Vampire Café and the prison-, ghost-, or ninja-themed restaurants I’ve seen on YouTube) with hardly anything in between. I imagine this either-or feeling is more apparent to me because I notice this in America as well as with my experience shopping in Japan; while I understand the ambience and the feelings you get at these eateries are meant to be temporary, like a sort of escapism, as someone whose interests are divided between both sides of the dark-cute spectrum, it was a bit annoying to have to choose. If they had a Phantom of the Opera café, or a Brothers Grimm-themed restaurant? I’d be on the phone booking a reservation in a heartbeat. (Ya hear that, Diamond Dining?)
What else would you want to know about my time in Tokyo? Let me know in the comments below! I still have a few more days in Kyoto, so until next time, またね!
As I’m writing this, I’m on a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’ve been in Tokyo since Sunday, and I must admit, by the end of it, I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do in Tokyo! I want to put my experiences in Tokyo into more articles, but for now, I’ve been thinking about my overall impression with Japan thus far, and some points come to mind:
I’ve been having a great time here so far, and I hope I can have an equally good time in Kyoto! I’ve been thinking about posting a sort of food diary about the themed restaurants and other places I went to in Tokyo, but I’m not sure if y’all are interested in that. Let me know what you want to read about in the comments! Until the next article—well, it feels weird saying zai jian since I’m in Japan, so I’ll say またね!