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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
6-44-6 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo
KAWAII MONSTER CAFÉ
4-31-10 Jingumae 4F, Shibuya, Tokyo
4-31-10 Jingumae B1, Shibuya, Tokyo
6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo