Lost in Translation

lost-in-translation

One of my favourite movies is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a story of lonely newly-wed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and faded movie star Bob (Bill Murray) who strike up a quirky friendship in Tokyo. Of course, for me, the biggest appeal of the movie is the backdrop of the bright lights of Japan’s capital city, and I knew that when I eventually returned to Japan I wanted to have my own ‘Lost in Translation’ moment.

That is, to visit the hotel where the film was set, not sing karaoke with Bill Murray… although that would be pretty cool! The characters in the movie stay at the Park Hyatt hotel – a 5 star luxury hotel rated number 1 in Shinjuku on TripAdvisor, and sadly WAY out of my budget.

So I couldn’t afford to stay at the hotel, but all was not lost (excuse the pun), we would just go for a drink at the bar instead. The New York Bar features quite prominently in the movie and has a spectacular view over Shinjuku. As the hotel applies a cover charge of 2,200Y (about £12) after 7 or 8pm, we headed to Shinjuku fairly early in order to have one drink and then leave before having to pay said cover charge. We must have arrived sometime between 5 and 6pm, so we had plenty of time to sip a drink and savour the view. We were also early enough to be seated at one of the small tables, closer to the window, rather than at the long bar at the back.

I already knew what drink I wanted, you can’t be a Lost in Translation fan and not try the L.I.T cocktail – named after the film. The L.I.T consists of sake, sakura liqueur, peachtree and cranberry juice – all very Japanesey and delicious! My husband (not much of a fan of the film) just ordered a beer and the waiter brought us over a little bowl of spicy nuts (which may or may not have been complimentary, I’m not sure).

We didn’t get a seat right next to the window, however we did get up to take a few pictures, sadly the camera doesn’t quite do justice to what the naked eye can see.

view-from-park-hyatt-tokyo

As we enjoyed our drinks and soaked up the atmosphere, we noticed that the bar began to fill up quite quickly, perhaps people were arriving for the jazz performance due to start at 8pm. We could have easily stayed a little longer but as it was quite expensive (my cocktail was 1,900Y / £10GBP), we decided to just stay for the one drink.

All in all I enjoyed my Lost in Translation moment and you never know, if I make it back to Tokyo for a third time, perhaps I’ll be wealthy enough to stay at the Park Hyatt.

Top tips for the L.I.T fans

  • Look presentable. This is a stylish place, so wear the smartest clothing in your suitcase. For me, that was a pair of black trousers, some black ballet pumps and a pretty top.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time because once you get inside the Park Hyatt it isn’t as straight forward as heading to the bar, there are steps and elevators and plush corridors to navigate first.
  • Aim to arrive before 8pm (or 7pm on a Sunday) to avoid paying a cover charge.
  • Don’t forget your camera!

A taste of Tokyo

What city would I choose as my dream dinner destination? I’ve visited a fair few places and still have almost everywhere else on my travel wishlist so I racked my brain to think of where my dream dinner destination would be. Although I’m not what you would call a “foodie”, I would probably say Tokyo would be my dream dinner destination, and it may surprise you to learn that Tokyo has more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris!

Why Tokyo?
Japanese cuisine is amongst the healthiest in the world – why else do the people there live for so long? We had many great meals and dining experiences during our time in Japan – ramen, bento, katsu curry, conveyor belt sushi, okonomiyaki, kaiseki and of course, quirky themed restaurants. Plus let’s not forget that pizza we were really craving one night!

I’m not going to lie, not everything I ate in Japan was my cup of tea (or cup of matcha if you will), deep-fried bean curd with vegetable and sea urchin – nearly saw that for a second time! And I did learn some things as well – I don’t like prawns but I do like tempura prawns and unagi isn’t as bad as you think it will be. Oh and purple sweet potato ice cream is yummy but cold wedges of purple sweet potato sprinkled with sugar are pretty gross!

One of my favourite meals while I was in Japan was this…

japanese-lunch

I don’t know what it all is but I enjoyed it and as it was all laid out there in front of me, I was happy and willing to try it all.

The only issue with dining out somewhere like Japan is the language barrier. Yes they do have picture menus and plastic models of food but if they didn’t and there were no English menus, I’m not entirely sure what I would do. I could ask a local to help me but if they didn’t speak English, then my little Japanese wouldn’t get me too far. Before we went to Japan we were trying to teach ourselves a bit of basic Japanese using some translation apps on our mobile phones. Unfortunately, when I tried to say “I am English” the app translated it to “I am God” and when I asked my app “Where is the cat café?” it translated back simply as “cat poison” – good job I didn’t try using those phrases on any people!

What is your dream dinner destination? And have you ever had any funny translation mishaps when abroad?

Visiting a rabbit cafe in Tokyo

So the world pretty much knows about cat cafes already, but when I found out that there were also a couple of rabbit cafes in Japan, I knew I had to go visit one too.

The rabbit café I visited was called Ra.a.g.f which stands for Rabbit And Grow Fat. It is situated in Harajuku and is a bit of a mission to find, to be honest, if I didn’t have my husband and his pigeon instincts with me, I would probably still be wandering round Tokyo like Alice in a labyrinth looking for it!

The rabbit café is the same sort of set up as the cat café, you pay for the first 30 or 60 minutes you are there and then additional yen for time after that. Ra.a.g.f is 600Y for the first 30 minutes, which to be honest is all you really need. The café is tiny (and I mean tiny!) there are literally 3 little tables, where you sit on a cushion on the floor. A drink is included in the cover charge and for an extra 100Y you can purchase some nibbles for the rabbits (carrots or apple I believe).

rabbit-cafe-1

While we were there, only 1 rabbit was out and about, the rest were shut away in their cages although we could pet them if we wanted to. I was told this was because the rabbits either fight or try to mate if there are too many out socialising together. I must admit I was a little disappointed by this but understand the café staff’s reasons. The rabbits apparently all take turns in being allowed to roam the café but I do hope that there is somewhere else they go (beyond the café) where they can stretch their little rabbit legs and hop around to their hearts content.

Anyway, as cute and quirky as it was, we only stayed for half an hour and then we left. I would recommend visiting if you’re a rabbit fan or just want lots of quirky experiences, but if you only get chance to visit one animal café then the cat café wins hands paws down.

rabbit-cafe-2

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Visiting a rabbit cafe in Tokyo

My visit to a cute and cosy cat cafe in Tokyo

Cat Cafe Nekorobi Ikebukuro

cat-cafe-japan-1

So I ticked maid café off of my Japan wishlist, but one of the other cafes I really wanted to visit was a cat café. When I stayed in Tokyo for 3 nights several years ago, I came close to visiting one but didn’t (I don’t know why) so I made sure that this time round it was one of the first things I did!

And sure enough, our first full day in Tokyo we spent wandering around Ikebukuro in the pouring rain. I’d done a little online research and found out about a cat café I quite liked the sound of so we headed to Ikebukuro mainly for that reason (although I do enjoy Tokyu Hands!).

NOTHING is easy to find in Tokyo. We walked around in circles a few times and just when we thought all hope was lost, we saw it – Cat Café Nekorobi!

cat-cafe-1

It was quite strange climbing the stairs, it felt a little like we were intruding on someone’s apartment building but sure enough we found the entrance to the café. We had to leave our umbrellas and shoes at the door but once we were inside it was so toasty and warm, and lovely to see the friendly smiling face of one of the staff members, a young girl who spoke very good English. She instructed us to hang our coats up and place our belongings in a locker. We were also required to wash our hands before interacting with the cats.

Cat cafes, similar to maid cafes, charge per the hour. Each cat café operates differently, at this particular one you pay a set price 1,100 yen for the first hour (1,300 on weekends/holidays) and then 250 yen (300y weekends/holidays) for every 15 minutes afterwards. Included in that price you can help yourself to snacks from the basket on the table and drinks from the vending machine. We were also given a small bag of cat treats each to encourage the cats to interact with us.

cat-cafe-japan-2

The concept of cat cafes is to give those who cannot have pets in their own homes, for reasons such as housing restrictions etc, what I like to call – a cuddly wuddly fix. Although you aren’t allowed to pick the cats up yourself, you must let them come to you.

I tell you what though – in my next life I am coming back as one of these cats! They were sprawled out snoozing all over the beanbags while us mere humans were made to crawl all over the floor!

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I really enjoyed the cat café and because it was so cosy in there away from the horrible weather outside, I could have easily stayed for much longer than an hour.

Know before you go

  • Don’t be disappointed if the cats aren’t very playful. In a room full of cats and with a handful of biscuits, there was only one cat remotely interested in socialising with me and climbing onto my lap. The rest were sleeping or had climbed up high to observe their kingdom below. The sleeping cats are fine to stroke though.
  • If they have a guestbook or a little book with cat biographies in it, don’t forget to have a look. It’s a nice little touch.
  • Cat Café Nekorobi also had a laptop and games console and stuff like that, so if cats aren’t your thing and you’re dragged here against your will by a crazy cat lady or something, there is still stuff other than cats to look at.
  • There are many cat cafes dotted around Tokyo, but if you want to visit this particular one then head for Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuru and follow the building around. It’s kind of behind the department store (although there is one inside the store as well).

cat-poking-its-tongue-out-by-quirkylittleplanet

If you enjoyed this then you might fancy reading about visiting a rabbit cafe in Tokyo.

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Cat Cafe Nekorobi Ikebukuro - cute and cosy cat cafe in Tokyo

What to expect at a Japanese Maid Cafe

What to expect at a Japanese Maid Cafe

One of the strangest hours of my life took place at a Japanese maid café.

I find Japanese culture and all that kawaii stuff fascinating so I was curious to see what the fuss was with a maid café, much to the surprise of my husband. So one evening we took a walk around Akihabara and were approached by one of the maids of MaiDreamin. After a very mixed up conversation of her little English and our very little Japanese we made our way via elevator to the café. Upon the doors opening we were greeted by enthusiastic cutesy Japanese cheers and the tiniest cutest little maid of all took us to our table, calling us “Master” and “Princess” as she kneeled down and ‘lit’ a battery operated candle for us and handed us our menus.

The menu choices are basically a package, you choose either an omelette, katsu curry or ice cream, plus a drink, plus a gift. Or instead of food and drink you could just have an alcoholic cocktail and a gift. Yes a little confusing but thank goodness for the Japanese love of picture menus! My husband chose an ice cream, a soft drink and a keyring that looked like a little maids outfit, I went for a cocktail and an A4 sized poster of MaiDreamin (?!). The ice cream was pretty cute looking and normally I love ice cream but I was feeling a bit off colour that night. The curry and omelette however looked pretty gross, no matter how adorable they make them by drawing smiley faces in ketchup on the omelette or shaping the curry to look like a teddy bear.

Kawaii ice cream
Kawaii ice cream

Now, Maid Cafes require some audience participation. I can’t remember if we got involved singing one, two or three songs in our over all time there, but what I can remember is being adorned with some fluffy animal ears (bear? mouse?) and then the maids came over to our table to sing a song something like “miow miow cute” and “delicious delicious”. We had to get involved with the singing, clapping and actions, and as bizarre as it felt, it was kind of fun.

When my cocktail arrived, the shaker and glass were placed down on the table, so I figured I would just pour it. However, I was wrong. The maids came rushing over because there was a little song that had to be sung before the cocktail could be poured and so there were two or three maids stood at our table clapping and singing about who knows what.

After that they pretty much left us to it, there was a bit of singing and dancing on stage but other patrons were arriving, thankfully there were some other female tourists in there and not just pervy Japanese men.

As you pay by the hour in these places, we decided that 1 hour was enough for us, so before we left, the maids invited us on their little stage and two of them had their photos taken with us as extra little souvenirs. I asked the tiny girl that had been our main waitress how old she was, because her English was pretty good and I was beyond curious.

“Seven” she replied
“Seven?” I questioned. I wondered if I had misheard her, so I began to count in Japanese – which of course, she loved and counted along with me. And when we reached “nana” she said yes!

I couldn’t believe it, it was about 11pm when we left the maid café, how could a 7 year old be working, let alone working at this time of night? In hindsight, I think she was lying to me, I can get away with knocking 10 years off my age so this girl was probably doing the same!

So that was our surreal café experience, definitely one to do once in your life as it’s not quite the same seeing it all written down. But given that was the most expensive ice cream, coca cola and cocktail we’d ever had it won’t be an experience we’ll repeat (I think it cost £25-30 GBP all in all!).

If you fancy going to a Maid Café yourself, then you can mostly find them in the district of Akihabara, aka Electric Town – well-known for it’s manga, anime, video games, electronics and otaku (geek) culture. Also note that while you may take photos of your food, it is not permitted to take your own pictures of the room or the maids.

MaiDreamin souvenirs
MaiDreamin souvenirs

If you like this then you might enjoy reading about cat cafes, rabbit cafes or an Alice in Wonderland restaurant!

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What to expect at a Japanese Maid Cafe