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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: Asia

Feeling Goofy at the Trick Art Museum Tokyo

Paula Gaston

Before our trip to Japan I had never heard of a Trick Art Museum. It was such an interesting and fun place to visit that I decided to devote one post to it. After we toured around Japan for two weeks, we wanted to dedicate one day to our 4 year old daughter, who had behaved so well during this trip and made us proud parents. First we thought we would visit Disneyland Tokyo for sure, but after being on the road we decided that something less hectic would be nice. So we headed to the island of Odaiba to visit both the Trick Art Museum and Legoland. 

Odaiba itself would be an interesting place to visit already. This island was originally built for defense purposes, but it is now full of entertainment like malls and amusement parks. One can get to Odaiba by taking a local train, and the Trick Art Museum is located inside the Tokyo Beach Island Mall. There are also many stores and restaurants in the same building. 

 
One can see this special building which is mentioned in many architectural web sites from the train on  the way to Odaiba. It is actually the headquarters for Fuji Television and guests are allowed to go in.  

One can see this special building which is mentioned in many architectural web sites from the train on  the way to Odaiba. It is actually the headquarters for Fuji Television and guests are allowed to go in.  

The idea in this museum is that the visitors will participate in the art and create illusions. A staff member showed us what we should do and how to create them, and then we headed out on our tour. Next to every painting they also have some instructions on how to take a photo in order to make the illusion work. We did not manage to catch it every time but it sure was fun to try.

Our pictures can speak for themselves:

Help! They are going to eat me!

Help! They are going to eat me!

Trapped in a glass. 

Trapped in a glass. 

Mean mirrow image. 

Mean mirrow image. 

Oh well, this is didn't quite work out but next time...

Oh well, this is didn't quite work out but next time...

We had plenty of other pictures as well but I think these are the best ones. We had so much fun, I can highly recommend visiting the Trick Art Museum! 

Lunch at Kawaii Monster Cafe

Paula Gaston

In my previous post; "Crazy Cafés of Japan", I promised that someday I will tell you more about the Kawaii Monster Cafe we visited. well, we didn't see any monsters, but it sure was an interesting and fun experience, and our daughter still talks about it every week. Kawaii actually means cute or sweet, so I think that is why the monsters we met were not scary at all.

Kawaii Monster Cafe is located in Harajuku, Tokyo. It was opened in 2015, and designed together with an artist called Sebastian Masuda, who is behind many other theme cafes in Japan as well. During our trip to Japan we also visited the Moomin Cafe and a Hello Kitty Cafe, but there is also a Lisa in Wonderland Cafe, Vampire Cafe and many others in Tokyo.

We arrived at the Monster Cafe right when lunch started since we figured that later we might have to stand in a line. Smart move, we were escorted right in, but when we left we did notice that there was a line. Before letting us in, we were asked which room we would like to sit in and we had to pay an entrance fee which was a couple dollars. We had no idea what the restaurant would look like, so we went for the room called Mushroom Disco. The doors were opened in a very theatrical way, and in we went...

It is very hard to describe the atmosphere in this place, but this video will show you what it was like.  

The words that come into my mind from this place are; colorful, crazy and corny. It was very dark and colorful, and the music was very loud. Well, at least it was something we had never seen before. The monster girls were dressed kind of like Harajuku girls, and they also did a show on a merry-go-round that looked like a cake. Our daughter was invited to dance with them on the carrousel which she loved. The monster girls were also happy to pose for pictures.

While we were waiting for our food we did a little tour in the restaurant. Along with the Mushroom Disco, there was the Meal-Tea Room, Bar Experiment and a space called Milk Stand. After leaving the restroom we accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in a private room. It was a pretty pink room with a huge kitty cat on the wall. It was very cool! And I should probably also mention the restroom too. It had an interesting collection of colorful marbles in it. 

The menu at the Monster Cafe was quite limited and unfortunately many of the desserts were sold out even though the day was just starting. My husband chose the only Japanese sounding dish on the menu while I decided to try the Monster Burger. Our little girl got the french fries she had been asking for, since it took a while for her to get used to the Japanese food. They were served with colorful dipping sauces. My husband also ordered a drink, which was served in test tubes. What was in it? We have no idea, but it sure looked interesting. The food at the Monster Cafe was ok, but I would not choose this place based on the culinary experience. They were fun, but not as tasty as the food we had been enjoying during our Japan trip. 

Monster Burger

Monster Burger

Video; Non Druggy Cocktail (Experiment)

People exit the Monster Cafe American style; by walking through a souvenir shop. Overall the lunch was very interesting and fun, but maybe one time in this place will be enough for me. If you want to experience something really crazy or if you are traveling with kids, I would recommend this cafe just so you can see something different. The prices are little bit higher than the average restaurant in Japan, but here you will be paying for the experience, not just for the food. But it wasn't too expensive. I think Monster Cafe definitely takes the first spot on my "weirdest restaurants" list! 

Kawaii Monster Cafe can be found from; YM Square Building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo.

 

How I spotted a Geisha in Kyoto

Paula Gaston

When we started to plan our trip to Japan, one thing was very clear to me; I wanted to see a real geisha! But I soon realised that it was easier said than done. I read many articles about geishas and found out that they are almost a disappearing tradition in Japan. This profession doesn't attract young people anymore, and there are only about 200 working geishas in Kyoto. So my chances of seeing one were pretty slim. I felt like my obsession was kind of silly and even a little childish, but we still decided to try. I tried to prepare myself for a disappointment.

A geisha is sort of an Japanese hostess or an entertainer who mostly works at tea houses, but can also be seen at different events. They usually perform dances, play games with guests or serve tea and drinks. Against many believes they are not prostitutes. In the Kyoto area, the geishas are called either geiko or maiko (if it is a young apprentice geisha). Geishas usually have a long training which they start as early as 15 years old. They start as maikos and then graduate to become geikos when they are about 20. You can tell the difference between a maiko and a geiko by the way they dress up, and their decorations and make up. Also many tourists want to try out the geisha costume during their visit to Japan, so if you run into a geisha in a touristy spot in the middle of the day, then you have most likely just seen a tourist. 

I chose our travel dates to Kyoto on purpose for the weekend because I knew that the geishas would be most likely working at least on Saturday nights. We planned to walk around and maybe even have dinner in the famous Gion Geisha District. I read so many articles about where I could spot a geisha, and based on those, geisha hunting was pretty popular among the tourists. Some of the pictures of people chasing them on the streets looked quite horrible honestly, and I didn't want to harass them. Many of the articles mentioned that geishas are usually busy getting to their work, so they wont stop for photos or to chat with tourists. I read somewhere that you could stand and wait by a known geisha school on a street called Hanamikoji Dori, and they would most likely appear at some point. This seemed a little much to me, so as a back up plan I thought that we could see a show with geishas at the Gion Corner Yasaka Hall  cultural center. In this show the geishas perform some dances and a tea ceremony. A few times a year there are also some public events in which geishas participate and you can join in.

On Saturday night, we arrived at the Gion District which was already occupied by the tourists. The tea houses had opened their doors and the atmosphere there was somehow special. We walked around admiring the paper lanterns when suddenly we heard a jingling sound. And just like that, a real geisha walked by us! She disappeared as fast as she had appeared and we didn't have time to do anything. I had seen my first geisha! In the next two hours we saw almost ten maikos on their way to the tea houses, and they all seemed to appear from no where and disappear in a heart beat. It was magical! But unfortunately, we also saw some tourists who were running after them or standing in their way while taking pictures. We mostly stood behind others, but at least my husband was able to get a couple nice videos of them.  

When we left Gion District we were standing at a traffic light with a maiko. She seemed to like our little daughter who was so fascinated by the geishas. They smiled at each other and waved. This maiko was maybe on her way to work or was waiting for a ride. At first I didn't notice a man standing next to her who might of been a client of hers. I have heard that you should not take pictures of geishas with their clients, so I blurred his face. Although I have no idea if this was the case or if they were standing there together. 

Even my husband was intrigued by the atmosphere at the Gion District that he suggested we should go back the next day. We walked around looking for a dinner spot, and then stopped in some of the souvenir shops and at Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. I already wrote something about it earlier. This time we were not lucky to see geishas, but we did enjoy our evening stroll. We also visited Pontocho District one night, which is another geisha district in Kyoto. No geishas there either! But Pontocho was lovely with it's narrow little alleys and tea houses. Overall we felt very lucky that we happened to see so many geishas on that one night. We were definitely in the right spot at the right time!

If you happen to see a geisha, don't forget that they are in a hurry to get to work. They must be tired of big tourist groups chasing them around and getting in their personal space. Our special vacation time in Japan is their everyday life. Even the sign in the Gion Geisha District tells us that some people must have forgotten that. 

MY TIPS FOR KYOTO IF YOU WANT TO SPOT A GEISHA

  • The easiest way is to purchase a ticket to a cultural show in Yasaka Hall Gion Corner. They cost about $30 for adults, and they have discounts for kids and students. So not too expensive!

  • There are companies who sell a dinner package where you can meet a geisha and take pictures with her. Prices might be a little high but hey, it's a once in a life time experience!

  • The best places to spot a geisha otherwise are the Gion Geisha District (especially the main street; Hanamikoji Dori) or Pontoncho.

  • Geishas arrive at the tea houses after sunset. We saw geishas right before 6 pm and then more of them right before 7 pm.

  • The best days are most likely on the weekends, especially Saturday evening when many gatherings and parties are arranged.

Tokyo Moomin Cafe - Where Nobody Has to be Alone

Paula Gaston

On our trip to Japan last November, we visited a Moomin Cafe at the Tokyo Dome. The Moomin Bakery & Cafe was a fun experience and especially our 4 year old daughter enjoyed it a lot. The idea of this cafe is that nobody is there alone. Different moomin characters circulate at the tables while the guests enjoy their food. Moomin is a cartoon character from my home country, Finland, and is extremely popular in Japan. Moomins are friendly little trolls who look like hippos, and live in Moomin Valley with their friends.

We walked in to the Moomin Cafe right between breakfast and lunch. We would have been ready to eat a meal, but we were told that lunch is not served yet, and we should choose something from the bakery. The great thing about the bakery is that most of the goodies they have are moomin themed. I ate a delicious cheese pie and Finnish star-shaped pie we usually bake during Christmas time. The rest of the family went for chocolate cakes. Also the food looked fun since they all were themed with moomins somehow. I even spotted some Finnish rye bread in the salad buffet. 

Snorkmaiden was sitting at our table, and I had a Hattifattener picture on my latte.

Snorkmaiden was sitting at our table, and I had a Hattifattener picture on my latte.

I really liked the decor in this cafe. It was almost like being in Finland, and being surrounded by moomins. The Snorkmaiden sat at our table for a while and so did the Sniff, until the waitresses moved them to another table. Our daughter also got to wear Moominpappa's hat for a while.

I heard that there are also other Moomin Cafes in Tokyo. With a quick search I found one located in Tokyo SkyTree which is called Moomin House Cafe, and a Moomin store. Many people in Japan seemed to recognise the moomins on our daughters clothes or from a backpack we got from Finland. 

Before we left we stopped at a souvenir shop which was in the cafe. They had everything from moomin mugs to books and key chains. I was tempted to buy some moomin pasta which I had never seen before, but since our trip had just started and our backpacks were full, I decided to skip it. But I could totally recommend a visit to Moomin Cafe and to the Tokyo Dome. There were a lot of cool things here for kids like roller coasters and carousels, and many shops and restaurants. We could have stayed there even longer, but we wanted to move on to see other sights in Tokyo. 

Foods You Don't Want to Miss When Visiting Japan

Paula Gaston

One of the best things about visiting Japan is absolutely the food! We really enjoyed the Japanese cuisine and also tried some new foods. Even though I had thought we have pretty authentic Japanese food in California, I just now realised how the local ingredients give the food a different flavour. The food in Japan is simply to die for!

Before our trip I was a little bit nervous how we would know all the local rules and etiquette in Japanese restaurants, but pretty quickly we started to feel right at home. The Japanese are fairly used to tourists and will usually understand that you can't know everything. Being polite will take you pretty far. Quite fast we started to realise how to eat certain foods, or in which restaurant you should remove your shoes when getting in. And you can always check what other guests are doing. People in Japan are very friendly especially to kids, and our little blonde haired daughter got a lot of attention. They usually brought her a plastic plate with a fork and spoon, or they drew funny faces on her plate. 

If you visit Japan, you should at least try these:

1. RAMEN

Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish which has some Chinese influences. With the noodles, there is some delicious broth, and it is usually seasoned with soy or miso. Depending what kind of ramen you order, there might be some pork or some seafood in it. There are so many different versions of ramen, and almost every region in Japan has their own ramen dish. During lunch hour, many good ramen restaurants have a line. We were told that when you eat ramen, you don't have to be so sophisticated. Slurping and making some noise is allowed.

We found a great ramen restaurant in Kyoto where we kept going back. Our little one really fell in love with ramen there, and still often asks for noodles for dinner (meaning ramen). She especially loved the broth which she kept calling "the soup".  

2. SOBA NOODLES

Soba noodels are mainly made with buckwheat flour which gives the noodles it's darker colour. Soba is served as a soup but can be served in many other ways also like grilled.  

3. SUSHI

I think this was the best sushi plate I have had in my life so far. I think I might of gone to heaven when I was eating it... or maybe I was just very hungry. But of course, when you are in Japan, you need to try some sushi. We happened to find this little sushi restaurant in Kyoto by accident, and after we had eaten we noticed that the place was full of trophies and diplomas. Maybe this was why the food was so good?

4. TEMPURA

Tempura is a popular, Japanese battered and fried food. Usually it is made with either seafood or vegetables. Tempura can be served as it is, or with noodles, sushi or rice.

5. YAKITORI

Yakitori at it's simplest means a grilled chicken skewer. They are usually served with some side dishes, like here, with two different cheese skewers and a vegetable skewer.  

6. OKONOMIYAKI

Check out the video of okonomiyaki. 

My Japanese colleague made sure that on our trip we would taste a food from her home region Hiroshima. It is called okonomiyaki (meaning "whatever you like grilled") and you can see it on the picture on the left. She told me that it is sort of a Japanese pancake or an omelette. Okonomiyaki fast became one of my favourite foods in Japan. Traditionally it is made with wheat flour, yam, eggs and cabbage. Then you can choose the ingredients you like such as seafood, meat, vegetables or cheeses. "The pancakes" in Hiroshima and Osaka regions are a little bit different from each other, so I would recommend to try the different versions.  Okonomiyaki is cooked on a teppan, a hot plate in the middle of the table, and it is topped with different kinds of sauces. On the right side on the picture you will see a noodle dish my husband ordered; yakisoba. 

7. TONKATSU

Tonkatsu is sort of a battered and fried pork cutlet which is served with some tonkatsu sauce. We actually ordered it several times because our little daughter seemed to like it, and at the beginning of the trip she was very picky about the food. You often get some rice, cabbage salad and other food as a side of tonkatsu. 

8. TAKOYAKI

Ok, fine. These octopus balls might not have been our favourite dish, or maybe we should have tried them more than once to get used to the flavour. But hey, at least we tried! Takoyaki is a popular street food in Japan, and is basically battered and fried octopus. On top you will have okonomiyaki sauce, dried fish (Katsuobushi) and some spices. 

9. DORAYAKI

I already got my first dorayaki in the airplane where it was served as a dessert. Later we bought some for a snack. Dorayaki is basically two little pancakes with some adzuki bean paste in between them. This red paste was used in many snacks in Japan, and it was great since it's not too sweet. 

11. MATCHA AND SESAME ICE CREAM

Oops, I think someone already took a bite from the matcha ice cream.

Oops, I think someone already took a bite from the matcha ice cream.

Everything is colourful in Japan! Even the ice cream. We were curious to try the green tea flavoured matcha ice cream and the sesame ice cream. Maybe they were not exactly to my taste, but I enjoyed the experience. 

12. JAPANESE TREATS (WAGASHI)

You should also try Japanese treats. There are so many kinds, from mochi balls to very decorative higashi cakes. Many of them have the adzuki bean paste inside of them, like the taiyaki fish in the picture below, which also are sort of a treat. Japanese treats are packed in the most beautiful packages, so they also make an excellent gift or souvenir to take home with you. 

13. TAIYAKI

These funny fish cakes seemed to be sold everywhere we went. They are almost like waffles with some filling. Most often the filling is adzuki bean paste but we also found some with vanilla creme inside. These cakes are easy to have as a snack or take them with you when touring around Japan. 

13. BAKED GOODS

When in Japan you should definitely stop by a local bakery. We found them everywhere, and enjoyed different kinds of baked good for breakfast and as a snack. There were all kinds of funny figures and shapes, and it was interesting to taste them all. 

We had so many interesting new food experiences in Japan! Many restaurant have menus with pictures which made ordering so much easier. Some places even had models of food portions on display in their windows. One fun thing to do is to try out a restaurant where you order food from a machine. After ordering and paying, you can sit down and wait for the waitress to bring your food  just like any other restaurant. These places seem to mostly offer ramen. 

Plastic food portions in the restaurant window. The picture on the right has the machines where you can order your food and pay before sitting down in the restaurant. Then you can just wait and the food is brought right to you.

Plastic food portions in the restaurant window. The picture on the right has the machines where you can order your food and pay before sitting down in the restaurant. Then you can just wait and the food is brought right to you.

There are still many foods we didn't get to try in Japan and are not on this list. Do you like Japanese food? What is your favourite?