Fabric

Tokyo Travels Day 6

It’s Monday morning and I wake up to the view of a sunny Tokyo skyline. Talia and I have just spent our first night in the guest suite of Kohei’s building and I am feeling refreshed! We put on some tunes as the two of us get ourselves ready for the day ahead of us.  By 10am, we’re already outside grabbing a quick breakfast before we hop on the train to Nippori.

Today, Talia will be joining me as we explore Nippori Fabric Town (also known as Nippori Senigai), the fabric district of Tokyo. Tokyo’s fabric district is vastly different from that of New York’s Garment district in midtown west. For starters, NY Garment district is loud and hectic. Actually, hectic would be an understatement. Anyone who’s had to get in or out of Penn station or Port Authority knows the struggle. The garment district is a hustling bustling neighborhood full of offices from major fashion companies and it’s streets are sprinkled with a plethora of mom&pop fabric stores and large fabric retail stores such as Mood, NY Elegant, and B&J Fabrics to name a few.

A few of the Tomato stores in Nippori

In contrast, Nippori Fabric Town is much sleepier.  Located in the northeast neighborhood of Nippori, this fabric district consists of one street less than a mile long that is chockfull of textile and trim stores. I could literally spend an entire day browsing each and every one of the shops, but today I am on a mission- I will be visiting Tomato, my all-time favorite fabric store in Nippori.

Interior of Tomato's main store

Tomato has several stores in this area. We first head into the main building, which is 5 stories high and carries predominantly fabric. For textile shopping newbies, it can be overwhelming as Tomato has such a wide variety of inventory. Personally, I love the selection of cottons they carry. I feel there is a greater variety here in comparison to what's available in New York. I purchase several yards of different types of ikat for TKK custom kimono client orders and a few yards of a floral cotton as a personal purchase. Since summer is just around the corner, I figure why not get some cute cotton to make myself a new yukata!

Ikat Fabric

After paying for my purchase, I find Talia browsing through the trim section. Tomato actually has a separate store dedicated to trims/notions/buttons/etc. down the street, but the main building also has a nice selection of trims and accessories. Off to the side, is a little table full of cute embroidered patches ranging from 50-440¥. Talia buys a little bunny and a cherry patch. I decide to buy a few as well as gifts for friends back home. These patches would look so cute sewn onto a plain white tee or a tote bag!

Embroidered patches for sale

Finished with the main store, we head across the street to Tomato’s trims & notions store. The store is jam-packed with shoppers rummaging through racks and shelves full of merchandise. The shelves in the front carry iron-on patches, sequins, random knickknacks, etc. One of the front walls is covered from floor to ceiling with buttons. From seashells to cartoon characters, you name it and they got it in button-form! The back of the store carries their wide trim and accessories selection. I head towards the back to buy a few yards of cordedge that I like to use for himo ties. Talia buys 2 little kewpie dolls she found in a basket up front. She says she’ll make them into earrings.

Such cute trims!

Now that I’ve had my fabric fix, Talia and I leave Nippori and take the train to Harajuku for a bite to eat. As this is Talia’s first time in Tokyo, I figure we should do something fun for lunch. We go to the Kawaii Monster Café, a relatively new establishment that I’ve never actually been to before.

A hostess manning the booth out front greets us. She asks us to choose from one of three themed seating areas: Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand, Bar Experiment, or Mel-Tea Room. I let Talia choose and she selects the Mel-Tea Room. Before we enter, the hostess explains to us we are about to enter the "tummy of the monster Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks". She points to the entrance and that’s when I notice that the front door is a monster’s face and the door is his mouth. 

The Kawaii Monster Café is a concept restaurant that is the product of visual artist and art director Sebastian Masuda and restaurant group Diamond Dining. This place is a visual sensory overload. Basically, if Alice in Wonderland had a baby with Willy Wonka, it would be the Kawaii Monster Café.

Mushroom Disco section of Kawaii Monster Café

As soon as you enter, you are face to face with a giant cake-shaped merry go round. To the left is the Mushroom Disco, which is full of psychedelic mushrooms and  vibrant-colored booths. In the center is the Milk Stand, which has colorful (and slightly creepy) animal heads drinking milk out of baby bottles. Take a right from the merry go round and you enter the Bar Experiment, where there is a full bar that is encompassed by a giant jellyfish. There’s a DJ next to the bar who looks like he is literally counting the seconds till he can clock out of work. Straight past the bar is where we will be sitting, the Mel-Tea Room. The walls of this pastel-colored room are covered with giant rainbow macaroons and strawberries dripping with icing. An iridescent curtain with plush red lips on the center covers the back wall.

We sit at our table and soon enough our waitress glides over with our menu. She is decked out head-to-toe in what can only be described as a sugar-high toddler who got to dress herself up for the first time in her play-clothes. 

Talia checking out the menu

Our waitress

Even the menu is a trip. It’s an Ipad encased in a giant plastic cover shaped like a cake. We scroll through the menu and Talia orders the chick & waffles while I order the sliders. 15 minutes later, our food arrives and I hesitantly take a bite out of my mini burgers. To my surprise, it's actually pretty good! By the time we finish our meal, the lights go dark and an announcement is made that there is a performance about to happen at the merry go round. Curious, Talia and I walk over to check it out.

My sliders with rainbow sauces!

The “performance” is essentially two of the waitresses jumping around the merry go round, trying to pump up the crowd. Eventually, they hop on top and do a little dance there. At the end, they allow the patrons to take photos with them. Overall, this place is pretty kitschy, but if you want to try something different for a fun experience, it’s worth visiting- but probably just once...

We leave Kawaii Monster Café and head over to Kinji, a vintage clothing shop right next door. Kinji, along with Chicago, are two of my favorite vintage/second hand chain stores here in Tokyo. If I had endless time, I could spend hours at this store! But alas, my heart and my wallet know I really shouldn’t be spending frivolously. We peruse through the racks and eventually settle on a few items to purchase.

By the time we’re done, it’s around 7 o’clock. We’re starting to get hungry again so I suggest we go to my favorite gyoza shop in the neighborhood, Harajuku Gyozaro. Located on a back street close to the Kiddyland store, this restaurant is a must for dumpling-lovers. Every time I’ve been here, there has always been a line. Fortunately for us, the current line isn’t too crazy so we queue up. Soon enough, we’re ushered inside to a bar seat.

Pan-fried gyoza

The restaurant has booth tables on the left hand side to the entrance and bar seating in the center that surrounds the open-air kitchen. I love this place because not only are the gyoza absolutely delicious, but also the prices are such a steal! Both pan-fried and steamed dumplings are 290¥ for a plate of 6 (that’s less than $3USD). We order 1 pan-fried original, 1 pan-fried with garlic & chives, 1 steamed original, a boiled bean sprout, and a cucumber salad. Talia and I hungrily watch as the cooks transfer the prepared dumplings into the fryers and large steam pots. It’s just like how my grandma prepares dumplings, except on a much larger scale!

 

Giant pots for steamed gyoza

Talia getting silly with her chopsticks^^

Soon enough our food arrives and we scarf it down. Oishii! So delicious! With our bellies full, Talia and I head back to the apartment. We wind down and watch some TV. On one channel, there’s a talk show discussing American politics.  The host is using a crazy diorama to explain the current Democratic candidates for the presidential race. There’s a cartoon-like Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, all with giant bobble-heads. We flip to the next channel, which is a cooking show called “Cooking with Dog”. We literally watch this for 2 hours. It stars a miniature poodle named Francis and a female chef (she's just called "Chef" lol). The show is essentially this woman cooking while the poodle sits patiently on the table watching her. Basically, everything I want in life. 

Finished with our mindless TV-watching, we get ready for bed. Tomorrow is Talia’s last full day in Tokyo so I will show her around one of my favorite neighborhoods, Shimokitazawa. Stay tuned for my next post where we check out the antique stores in Shimo and stop by my favorite curry shop. It’s sleepy-time for me now so until next time…

Sasa 莎莎


TOMATO

6-44-6 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo
Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm

 

KAWAII MONSTER CAFÉ

4-31-10 Jingumae 4F, Shibuya, Tokyo
Monday-Sunday 11:30am-11pm

 

KINJI

4-31-10 Jingumae B1, Shibuya, Tokyo
Monday-Sunday 11am-8pm

 

HARAJUKU GYOZARO

6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
Monday-Sunday 11:30am-3am

 

 

Tokyo Travels Day 4

It's Saturday morning and I wake up bright and early at 8am. One bonus of traveling internationally (at least for me) is that I tend to sleep and and wake earlier than usual while still managing to feel refreshed^^. 

Kohei has invited me to a group lunch today at a nearby restaurant with some of his friends. I take it easy in the morning and by around noon I get ready to head out. Eno messages me and asks what I am up to for the day. I tell him about my lunch plans and invite him to join. He messages back saying he'll meet me at the restaurant. Perfect!

By around 2pm, the entire party has arrived. Kohei's 4 friends Cindy, Ken, Len, and Misa are in attendance, all of whom live in Tokyo except for Cindy who is here on holiday, like me. Kohei, Ken, Len, and Cindy all work in finance. Misa is a flight stewardess. We're all chatting with one another from across the table when I find out that Ken grew up in New York. A fellow American, yay!

The Lunch crew! (I have no idea what's going on with my face here lol)

After lunch, Ken heads out to meet up with a friend of his. Kohei wants to go check out the Aoyama Farmer's Market and I want to go to Morita, a textile store specializing in antique kimono and fabric. Cindy, Len, and Misa follow Kohei while Eno comes with me to the store.

I show Eno the address and thankfully, since he is a local, he becomes my IRL Google Maps. 15 minutes later, we arrive at Morita. Opened by Tadashi Morita, the store is a little mom&pop shop run by Morita himself along with his wife. 

Morita storefront

If vintage fabric isn't your cup of tea, don't fret, this store carries more than just that. Not only do they carry a lovely selection of vintage kimono and fabrics, they also sell furoshiki (wrapping cloths), antique ceramics, and mingei (Japanese folk crafts). But alas, fabric is my bread and butter so that is what I gravitate towards! Morita carries a wide range of textiles from vintage cottons and silks to elaborately stitched sashiko and neatly woven sakiori pieces. This is fabric heaven for me. 

Stacks of vintage kimono

Beautiful Sashiko fabric

I rummage through the textiles for nearly 45 minutes before I settle on what I want to purchase. Although a bit pricey, the quality of the textiles justifies the high price tag. I buy 3 different fabrics, each about a yard per piece. One is a black cotton with a lovely woven white geometric print. The other two are deep indigo dyed cotton pieces that I will be using for a Haori coat I am currently making for a Brooklyn based client. I always get so giddy when I go fabric shopping, especially when I have the opportunity to get my hands on fabric like this! 

The fabric I bought at Morita

After I’ve purchased my fabric, Eno invites me to meet up with his friends for some dinner and drinks at an izakaya in Shibuya. When we arrive, two of his friends, Yuno and Jiyeon, are already standing outside (they will also be the models for tomorrow’s shoot). As we’re making introductions, I feel my phone buzz. Brendan’s been texting me throughout the afternoon. I check his latest text and he’s asking to FaceTime. As the group begins to head upstairs to get seated, I excuse myself to go talk to Brendan.  

Owner, Tadashi Morita, packing my fabric purchases

About 20 minutes later, I finish my call and return to the group upstairs. Another one of Eno’s friends has joined; his name is Toto. A few minutes later, I get a message from Kohei asking what I’m up to. I text him back telling him to join us. Just as I hit send, I get a message from Derek, a friend who was introduced to me by our mutual friend Anthony Latouche (aka Mr. Hat). Derek is from London and has been living in Nagoya for the past year for work. His message says he and his girlfriend are in Tokyo for the next 48 hours and would love to meet up if I’m free. I invite the two to join us, because, well, the more the merrier!!!

Isabelle, Derek, Yuno, and Aaran

Our group has gotten a bit too big for the izakaya, so we settle the bill and make our way to another izakaya. Eno says this place is great because of its crazy cheap beer and ample space. Not too long after we get there, Aaran comes with one of his friends. At this point, we’re taking over two tables. 

It's Kohei! 

Finally, the group decides to call it a night and head our separate ways. I walk Derek and Isabelle to the train and bid them goodbye. I’m so happy Derek messaged me during his precious 48 hours in town- it was such a wonderful surprise! I tell the two of them to hit me up if they find themselves in New York and they say the same if I find myself in London.

Got a cute snapshot of the 3 of us before Isabelle & Derek head home! 

Kohei and I take the train back to Akasaka. We get off at our stop and on the way we pass by his local watering hole, The Quarter House. He asks if I’d be down to pop in for a quick drink and I say sure! The first floor is a restaurant and the basement is the bar. Kohei tells me a locale runs the restaurant while his son runs the bar. As we descend the stairs, I see there is a small group hanging out. A friend of Kohei’s is rummaging through a stack of records while the owner, his wife, and their two friends are drinking at the bar. I take a seat and start talking to the bartender.

Her name is Minami and it turns out, she used to live in New York for 6 years! Minami is a jewelry designer and used to work at Momo Sushi in Brooklyn, right off the Morgan stop on the L. I’m so surprised. I tell her I go to that place all the time! I must have seen her before. She asks what I do and I tell her about The Kimono Kid and how I make custom kimono. I tell her my studio is also in Brooklyn off the Grand stop. She asks me where exactly the studio’s located and it turns out, her ex-boyfriend has a studio in the same building. What a small world!

The Quarter House (photo courtesy of @mizuki_1120)

It’s around 1am when Kohei and I finish our drinks. We say goodnight to everyone at the bar and head back to the apartment. It’s been a fun day but boy am I happy to be crawling into bed now!

Tomorrow, Talia will be coming to stay with me in the guestroom suite that is available via the building management. I’ll also be shooting with Eno, Aaran, Jiyeon, and Yuno tomorrow. It’s going to be a big day so time for some shuteye now. Night night!

 

Sasa 莎莎


MORITA

5-12-2 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Monday-Sunday 10am-7pm

 

THE QUARTER HOUSE

5-1-34 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo 
Monday-Saturday 6pm-2am