Kawaii at Hyper Japan 2014

The kawaii life is a tough life. You constantly find yourself clasping your cheeks and screeching at the top of your lungs, all because something features a loveable mascot, or is fluffier than usual (etc etc). Yes, kawaii really is a lifestyle choice in Japan, and it’s everywhere. Whereas the term doesn’t really have a literal translation, the closest we can come to understanding it in English is: cute or adorable. The concept has become so big that recently Western cultures have picked up on the phenomenon – you’ll even find it in the Oxford dictionary. So I was pretty impressed when I saw just how well Hyper Japan embraced the idea this year. 
‘Hyper Kawaii’ was a special section of the exhibition that probably took up half of the venue. It featured a variety of British and Japanese fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands, as well as live performances and activities. The rise of kawaii in London was showcased by brands such as: Tofu Cute (snacks and lifestyle goods), Dreamy Bows (clothes, plushies and accessories), Doki (Japanese tableware), Glitterbomb (jewellery)Artbox (stationary and goods), Cutesykink (clothing) and so much more. 
Fashion and beauty are big parts of the kawaii lifestyle, but I plan to feature those separately in upcoming posts as I just couldn’t fit all of the photos and content into one post. ちょっと待って下さい!

Miso Tasty

I miss Japanese food, or should I say I miss cooking Japanese food. When I was living in Japan I didn’t think twice about the ingredients and products I had available to me. Now I realise just how lucky I was. The food is incredibly delicious, with a variety of amazing flavours, and it’s healthy to boot! Japan is the only country I’ve lived in where I’ve eaten everything I wanted and lost weight. I felt healthy, which is the most important thing to me. Miso is a very traditional, healthy ingredient in Japanese food and is something I’ve eaten and cooked with many times. So when Miso Tasty contacted me about an press event come dinner party, I jumped at the chance to attend.
When I arrived I was greeted by an enthusiastic group of people and my own personal place card, in the form of a miso spoon. A lovely touch! Bonnie (the founder of Miso Tasty) told us all about the brand and it’s origins as we nibbled on veggies that we dipped into different types of miso. As we sipped sparkling sake (even better than regular sake), we were told about the different fermentation processes, and why each miso tasted as it does. If there was a wine tasting of the food world, it would have been this. My favourite was the hatcho miso, which we were told is the champagne of the miso world (and is the only miso eaten by the Emperor of Japan). Trust me to pick the most decadent and expensive of the selection! Bonnie then served us our own bowl of miso, along with a variety of ingredients such as: smoked salmon, noodles, tofu, spring onion and more. I have only ever had miso soup by itself, or with mochi at New Year, so I thoroughly enjoyed trying something new. Next we were served saikyo miso grilled black cod and smoked salmon (to die for!) with an aubergine-miso dish. I didn’t want to intrude on the veggie/vegan option so I didn’t try it but it looked good. The coleslaw (made with tahini and miso) was void of mayonnaise and still managed to be creamy. In fact it’s probably one of the best coleslaws I’ve had! I felt like eating all of the fish and coleslaw, but controlled my urges, which I’m sure my fellow diners were very happy about. Finally, we were served freshly baked gluten-free miso cookies…it might sound odd, but these were beyond delicious. We all snuck a few home too. 
Miso Tasty showed me that whereas their miso soup may be great for eating on the go, or as a healthy lunch option, you can also make a meal out of it. I had actually tried Miso Tasty’s soup before and was impressed by their use of miso paste, over other brands who usually opt for powder. The lovely company added to the atmosphere of the evening, but in the end the food was the star of the night. Every dish left me wanting more, and wondering how on earth they had managed to seal so much flavour inside. I’ll definitely be using my Miso Tasty to create some of the delicious recipes I tried during the event, and for some of my own creations.

You can find Miso Tasty in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Whole Foods.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Tokyo Kawaii Guidebook App

I don’t often deviate from European fashion and beauty, but you will see me post the occasional Japanese fashion/beauty article on here. So when I heard that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (a Japanese street style model come pop idol) was releasing an iPhone app for her English and French fans I knew I had to write something about it. Not only because it combines four of my favourite things; Tokyo, shopping, travel and food.

Moshi Moshi Tokyo is Kyary’s guide to her favourite spots in Tokyo. The app allows you to explore Tokyo through her eyes, visiting clothing boutiques, cafes and more. Kyary has become a worldwide hit – her London tour was a sell-out with devoted fans turning up in hoards. It’s because of this success that the release of this app makes so much sense. It’s also a great way for the Japanese government to garner interest and promote tourism. Tokyo is an amazing city but it can be slightly overwhelming at times, especially if you’ve never visited before. This app will be a great way for fashionable young things to check out some of Tokyo’s hot spots.

I downloaded the French version to get a taste of the app before the English release. My French is terrible but surprisingly I still managed to understand everything. I loved the interactive features and thought the photography and design was incredibly cute and fun. The small magazine-style section highlights 9 clothing stores, featuring some of my personal favourites, including Nadia, Avantgarde and Tokyo Bopper. Ultimately though the interactive map is the most helpful as it highlights a large number of restaurants, stores etc. making it much easier to find your desired location. Unfortunately the promise of “Kyary’s favourite spots in Tokyo” actually translates to chosen spots in Harajuku. However this is the area that made her famous, making it slightly more understandable. It may seem limited but there are still tons of places to visit and it’s nice to see Harajuku is still getting some love, after a decline in popularity in recent years.

The app is currently available to download on iTunes, however the app only offers a download for the French version right now (to coincide with Japan Expo 2014). The English version will be released on July 18th, in time for Hyper Japan in London (and J-Pop Summit Festival 2014 in San Francisco). The first 500 people to download the guide (via the app) will also receive a voucher for a free badge that they can collect at Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s booth at Hyper Japan/J-Pop Summit.

Download Moshi Moshi Tokyo.

Source: 1

Discuss: Test Drive Your Clothes, Before You Buy

Japanese clothing brand GU (a Uniqlo sister brand) have released a new concept into their new Shibuya Parco store (Tokyo) this month. The concept behind the store has been labelled “GU Fitting” and claims to be the first of it’s kind in the world. 

So what is ‘GU Fitting’ and how does it work? Essentially it’s a service that allows you to test drive an item, or items, of clothing before you purchase it. It may sound a little crazy, and you’re probably wondering how it could work, or why it’s even a thing. Well GU want you to be able to really get to grips with their items, so they’re willing to loan you the items for the day. Say you walk into GU’s new store and your eyes fall on a cute dress, but you’re not sure how it will fit or feel. All you need to do is visit the GU Fitting Counter (they take 30 requests a day) with your item/s (3 max) and put in a request to ‘test drive’ them. You can meet up with friends at a cafe, do some window shopping, or maybe even sit around at home. All you have to do is return them by the end of the day. You can then decide whether you want to purchase them or not. 
But won’t people steal the items? This part has a lot to do with the culture, in my opinion. GU are trusting their customers with the items and are only asking for a name and telephone number, no ID or deposit etc. This is because they have trust in their customers. If you lose your wallet in Japan, chances are someone will return it or give it in to the police. It’s because of this that a lot of Japanese people have a very trusting mentality and it translates well into schemes like this. As for the items on sale – most are priced around 2,000円 (around £11.50) or less, so this is purely fast fashion, nothing high-end. 
GU have certainly come up with a unique way to sell their clothing, and with a large selection of on-trend quality items I can see this becoming a big hit with the brand. GU are already considering expanding the project if it is successful, and as a fan of the brand I would love to try the idea out. Will it catch on? I really don’t see it working outside of Japan, without a few changes. I could see it working in the UK if the customer left their card details/with a deposit scheme, however I’m not too sure the idea would catch on. It does seem like something that would only work in Japan, for now anyway. The store will be open until the end of June, so you still have some time to check it out if you’re in the neighbourhood. 

What do you think? 
Would it work in your country?
Would you ‘test drive’ an outfit/item of clothing? 
Source: 1, 2, 3

Introducing: Stranger London (and a purchase)

I love handmade items, and I have so much respect for those who are talented enough to create them. Yet I often find that I’m not drawn to most handmade shops due to the style not suiting my own. However when I came across Stranger London (selling handmade & one-off items) I was automatically drawn in. I knew that this is a brand that would fit into my lifestyle, and onto my dresser. I can’t get enough of the prints that Yasumi uses; they’re so perfectly suited to my style and taste. She handpicks every print and turns them into amazing bags, cases, passport sleeves and more. Yes, there is so much more –  she also sells items that she has found (including vintage pieces) and picked lovingly for the site. It really feels as if Yasumi is letting you step into her own secret magical world. 
I happened to come across her ‘London to Japan’ Coasters, which was incredibly well-timed as I happened to be looking for more items for our lounge. As avid tea drinkers I find that a coaster is always needed, but they often seem a bit old fashioned. So when I stumbled upon Yasumi’s creation I knew I had to have them! The Liberty London and traditional Japanese prints are timeless, and speak volumes about mine and Ben’s life – previously living in Tokyo and now in London. So yes, it did seem that it was made especially for me, something which is not easy to come by. The quality is superb and everything was handled professionally and quickly. So when it arrived I didn’t expect that the service could be any better. Well I was wrong. Yasumi had included a little surprise gift of a Parisian style pouch (another city I’ve lived in and loved), along with a beautifully handwritten note. C’était parfait! I will definitely be purchasing items from the store again. In fact I currently have my eye on: Jurmo Marimekko Tote, Mono Unikko Case, Texture Colour Lines Bracelet, and Stranger Forest Patisserie Tote. Hurry up pay day!
You can check out Yasumi’s creations at Stranger London.

Make-up from Muji, Japan

Last week my lovely friend Renka sent me some Muji goodies all the way from Tokyo, Japan.
Admittedly I went a little Muji crazy after I attended the press event for their new Islington store, and I ended up on their Japanese site. I only visited Muji a couple of times in Japan, but it’s safe to say that the UK stores still have a lot to live up to. The Japanese stores boast snacks, skincare, plants and even make-up (amongst other things). Yes, make-up! As a dedicated beauty blogger I knew that I had to get my hands on some of the products. Renka was amazing and sent me a small parcel before I’d even got the chance to see her enthusiastic reply (to my cry for help)
I really wanted to try out the basics first, and so I asked for the highlighter (in my experience Japanese highlighters are the best), an eye colour base (to use before applying eyeshadow), and one of their foundations (in light natural, with spf). Everything I would need for a simple base. The packaging is also simple, fitting in perfectly with Muji’s ‘no brand’ aesthetic. The addition of helpful application tips on the back allow you to get the best out of your product. I would have loved to try some of their skincare/hair products but I’m a bit cautious when it comes to liquids/creams, due to the Royal Mail suddenly deciding that we’re not allowed to send or receive anything of interest anymore (slight dramatisation).
All 3 products came to just under £11.50, with the foundation being the most expensive product at 900円 (£5.20). Comparing it to UK prices, that’s more than reasonable. Muji may not be a well known beauty brand in Europe, but they’re a trusted company with a loyal fan base in Japan, so I’m really looking forward to trying these and reviewing them on the blog.
Browse Muji Japan‘s make-up section, or take a peek at Muji UK (sadly, sans make-up).

A Guide to Learning Japanese

Recently I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions on how I went about learning to speak Japanese. I’m always happy to help people so I thought I would write a small post on how I went about learning Japanese, and some recommendations I have for those who are just starting to learn, and those who want to take it a bit more seriously. 
You can also check out my ‘Life in Japan’ YouTube series for more info.

My Background

Like most people in the British school system I started by learning French. I then went on to learn Spanish for a short while, before I became interested in Japanese. I mention this as I think having a general interest and background in languages can be very beneficial when it comes to learning a new language. Of course you don’t need to have one, but it helps. I started teaching myself Japanese with phrase books and CDs. I learnt some simple kanji/voacbulary and was able to have short conversations about the weather and my likes/dislikes, which as you can imagine was incredibly useful…not. I then decided that I wanted to study either French or Japanese at university (as my tutors had told me Philosophy wasn’t taken seriously by employers) and I eventually chose Japanese as I believed it would give me an advantage. So I went to university to study Japanese, and when I arrived it was then that I learnt that I knew nothing. Sure my tutors were impressed that I could introduce myself correctly etc. but ultimately I was starting from scratch, like everyone else in my class. Even my tutor informed us all that “[you] will not finish this course fluent, and will never be fluent unless you live in Japan for the rest of your life”. Harsh, but true. I studied Japanese at university in England for 3 years, and studied at a university in Japan for 1 year. I am not fluent in the language but I am competent and confident in what I do know.

Hints & Tips for Learning Japanese

Find your own style of learning: This may seem like a bit of a cope out, but in the age of programs such as Rosetta Stone I think it’s a very important lesson to remember. Sure programs and set plans can be helpful, but if they don’t suit your style of learning then you’re not going to get very far. Which leads to…

Learn Your Strengths & Weaknesses: For example, I am more of a visual person so I watched Japanese TV dramas, which helped me pick up key words and phrases. My weakness is memorising the ton of kanji out there, so I worked with programs that would allow me to go over it and remembered them by creating links in my head (e.g.  Like/Love 好き is made up of woman and child, because a woman 女  loves her child 子). It’s different for everyone, but if you can figure out your strengths/weaknesses then learning the language will be a lot easier.

Don’t be scared of textbooks! Some people avoid textbooks as they only see them as utensils for students, and not for those who want to learn language as a hobby/on the side. Sure textbooks can seem quite intimidating but they can be your best friend too! Learning from a textbook from home means you’re not restricted to lesson plans and that you can take your time, and go over sections as many times as you want. In the same vein, you can create goals and plans for yourself using a textbook.

Do set yourself reasonable goals! Don’t expect too much from yourself: It’s easy to become your own worst enemy when learning a language. You can end up expecting too much of yourself, which can be detrimental to progressing. Remember that you can only do so much. Setting yourself goals is a great way of seeing your progress firsthand, and it also means you can pat yourself on the back every time you reach one. Go at your own speed, and realise that you can’t be an expert straightaway.

The Best Resources for Learning Japanese (according to me)

Minna no Nihongo Book 1 (Grammar) & Minna no Nihongo Book 1 (Exercises) [Japan Centre] This series of books are the ones that got me through university, and the first two in the series (that I have mentioned here) are my number one recommendation for those who are beginning to learn the Japanese language. I first worked with Genki, but then my university switched to these (also) as they’re used by most universities teaching the language. In my opinion these books explain the grammar in a way that most people will be able to understand and pick up easily, which other textbooks don’t. Each chapter in MnN gives you a new set of vocabulary and grammar to practise and remember. If you’re a beginner you will probably want to purchase both, so you can complete the exercises (answer booklet is included). They cost around £25 each, but are definitely worth investing in!

Basic Kanji Book Vol.1 [Japan Centre] This is another textbook but this one focuses purely on learning the Chinese characters that make up the Japanese language – kanji. It teaches you the stroke order of the kanji and it also acts as a vocabulary learning device too, as each kanji comes with a set of corresponding words for you to recall. It’s been said that you need to know around 1,000 kanji to be able to read a Japanese newspaper and get by in Japanese society. This book is my personal favourite for learning kanji, and is the one favoured by most UK universities, but don’t let that intimidate you as it is super easy to use. Again this one retails at around £20 but is all you need to get started on your kanji revision.

Anki [Download here] Now this isn’t a textbook, it’s actually a computer flashcard program. You can create your own ‘decks’ of flashcards or you can download someone else’s (there’s a lot out there) to help you revise. It has a great system in that it determines how often you need to revise a particular word or character by your response. For example, I used it to create my own decks from ‘Basic Kanji Book’ and would revise the stroke order and vocabulary. I would always get simple kanji such as 日 so after a while Anki decided that I didn’t need to revise that particular one for several months. More complicated kanji such as 織り I would have to do every day. This is a free program and is a great alternative to having 100s of paper flashcards scattered across your desk.

Tae Kim’s Learning Japanese Grammar App [iPhone or iPad/Android] Tae Kim has created a free app that is simple but incredibly helpful. It’s basically a mini textbook on your phone! It teaches you the basics of Japanese grammar, essential grammar, special expressions, advanced grammar and more! A lot of work has gone into this little app, and it may not look like much but it’s an amazing guide for anyone who is beginning to learn Japanese, or for someone who would like an alternative to their textbooks etc.

Imiwa? [iPhone/iPad only] Imiwa is a free Japanese dictionary available for iOS. You can search for words in English or Japanese and it will show you the corresponding results, along with their kanji (if applicable) and some example sentences. You can also practise your kanji on here, and it will show you the stroke order as well as the readings and example sentences. You can also use the app to search by radicals (these are broken down parts of the kanji) for a kanji that you may not know. This is incredibly helpful if you’re reading a magazine etc. and don’t know the reading of a kanji. This app also lists all of the vocabulary and kanji that you need for the JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test). You can save words, analyse them, make notes and even backup your lists. In my opinion this is best free Japanese language dictionary available on the app store, and even rivals some of the non-free dictionaries.

Japanese Language Buddy Unfortunately you can’t buy or download one of these, instead you’ll have to do some research of your own into pairing with a Japanese language buddy. Learning grammar and revising kanji is all well and good, but if you don’t have someone to converse with then it can seem a bit pointless. Some cities will have language group meet ups, such as the London Japanese Language Meetup. Private tutors (I hired one when I was living in Norwich) are also an option, but they can be expensive. It may be worth meeting with one once or twice a month if you can afford it though as most tutors are native speakers. However I think the best way to practise your Japanese is to make friends with someone and go from there. People often put up ads on the internet for Japanese language exchange with a native speaker (such as Gumtree) or vice versa, and you could even place your own. Remember it works both ways though, help your Japanese language buddy practise their English (if they’re not already fluent) too!

To conclude…

You never really stop learning a language, and there will always be room for improvement. Japanese is not an easy language to learn by yourself, but remember, you are not alone! There are tons of resources, books and people out there who want to help you! Just keep at it and do your best! 頑張ります!

If you have any questions or tips you think should be added to this post, please do feel free to leave a comment, send me an email or tweet me.