Culture: Hatsumode and New Year

Okay last post I talked about a more commercial aspect of New Year in Japan but now I want to talk about the more traditional New Year activities. This New Year I went to Tokyo because it’s also my birthday and I wanted to spend time with my friends there. After getting suitably drunk and then sleeping it off as is our tradition, me and my friends went to do one of the most important New Year activities in Japan, hatsumode. This is the first shrine visit of the year and because everyone goes within a couple of days of new year you can expect it to be very busy. Also, where I was staying in Tokyo, the nearest shrine was actually one of the most famous in Japan, Meiji Jingu. I used to live nearby and it was always crazy busy but I feel like this year especially it was so well organized that it was actually lots of fun. I also didn’t go until around 5 pm when most people were already done.

meiji jingu

I didn’t take loads of photos because it was really really cold and my hands were shaking too much to take a good one. Also I didn’t want to hold people up so once we arrived at the shrine me and my friends quickly washed our hands (so.cold!) and went to pay our respects/make our wishes for the year. I recommend having your money ready if you’re going to a busy shrine, hatsumode or no, because there’s only so much space for people to pay their respects and throw their money and it’s annoying to be waiting beside someone who is rifling through their purse.

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After that we went to go and buy mikuji. Normally, mikuji tell you your luck for the year but thankfully the ones at Meiji Jingu were not really mikuji I guess because they were actually advice for your spirit. I say thankfully because I’m not super superstitious but I don’t feel like being told I have bad luck on the first day of a new year (that also happens to be my birthday). If you don’t know how to get mikuji you pay money to have a turn shaking a wooden box until a stick comes out of the hole at one end. Pull the stick until you can see the number written on it (don’t pull it fully out)  and you tell the shrine maiden/staff and they will give you the corresponding paper. Once you have read it you go and tie it on either branches or strings, depending on how the shrine is set up. My friend also bought Ema which is a wooden board that you can write your wishes on and also tie it up. I didn’t get one because they cost like 800 yen and my hands were too cold to write anything anyway. For the new year the boards had sheep on the back which was super cute.

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After we finished at the shrine me and my friends hurried to one of the few cafes that were open. A lot of stores were actually open on New Years (unlike on Christmas in my home country) but they closed much earlier than usual. The cafe we went to was really nice though and had really gorgeous cake.

Most Japanese people spend New Year with their families. Apart from Hatsumode they also eat Osechi ryori (New Year Food that is very pretty and every dish has meaning. It is meant to last for 3 days so nobody has to cook during the New Year period) and Zoni (soup with mochi in it. Killed 9 people this year but so yummy!) and play games like Karuta (sort of like snap with poetry). Japanese New Year is one of those events I have a love/hate relationship with. If you are with people it is so much fun and as joyful as Christmas but if you are alone it is quite depressing and there isn’t much to do. If you get a chance and have close Japanese friends, hopefully one day you can experience a more traditional Japanese New Year.

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New Year Sales

In many parts of the world, the winter period hosts a lot of sales. However, at least in the UK where I am originally from, stores have sales all the time, so even if the New Year Sales tend to be bigger discounts, it’s not the biggest event ever. I never experienced anything like America’s Black Friday growing up and I don’t really take advantage of it now online (other than my new laptop but that was just coincidence). In Japan though, just after New Years is one of the only times you can score some great deals. Almost every store is offering something, whether it’s just huge discount on stock or specially put together sets for fukubukuro (or lucky bags in English)

When I first came to Japan I was really into gyaru fashion. Being a poor student I couldn’t really afford to drop the cash on all the stuff I wanted so i was eager to participate in Shibuya 109’s particular brand of crazy consumerism. My birthday is just before the sales madness too so for once I actually had some money to play with. Back then I really wanted the D.I.A lucky bag because it was so coveted and my aesthetic that year was country music singer turned reality TV spectacle.  My Japanese friends asked if I was cold a lot (this is code for telling you you look like a whore).

Contents of the lucky bag that year

Contents of the lucky bag that year

109’s sales are so popular you actually have to queue up the night before. Japan, being ever capable in the arts of crowd control (seriously I missed that level of organization when i went back to the UK), arranges long winding queues underground the department store. This is a god send because at this time of the year it is so cold i couldn’t have stayed outside. Lots of the other big department stores get similar queues so if you want to have first pick at some of those places I cannot recommend going the night before enough. The lucky bag I wanted sold out in under an hour so if I hadn’t have queued I’d have missed out. Also queuing overnight gave me the opportunity to see some much older, much more hardcore gyaru that literally brought their young families along to carry all the stuff they were gonna buy.

Shops are packed with people and staff

Shops are packed with people and staff

Once you’re in the stores it’s basically a free for all and most Japanese stores are low on floor space so I recommend going as light as possible. If you have a willing helper maybe get them to hold your coat/bags/anything you don’t need so you are more streamlined to grab those bargains. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to try anything on if you’re looking for clothes. In fact, regardless of what you are searching for, please know what you want in advance. You can check the webpages and blogs of brands and stores you like to see what they’re offering and when they are open. Some places have their sales from the 1st, some places start on the 2nd.

The whole atmosphere was crazy, full of people and the shop staff literally screaming the store deals through mega phones. Also one of the downsides of getting lucky bags is the possibility of getting a bag of crap (not so lucky) but there is a solution. At least at 109, girls went outside and laid out the stuff they didn’t want so people could trade their items with each other. If you have passable Japanese and don’t want to have to resale online this might be a good idea too.

some swapping going on outside the building

some swapping going on outside the building

If you’re not on a mission but you wouldn’t mind going to see if you can get something cheaper maybe just go later in the evening after the craziness has died down somewhat. This is my plan for this year because I already have a pretty full wardrobe but if I see something cute and not too expensive I’ll probably get it. You can also order a lot of lucky bags online and just get it delivered to your door. All the bargains, none of the bruises. I’m really interested to see how this year goes because the sales tax increase has really stopped people shopping these last few months. With it set to increase even further people might leap at this chance to save on big ticket items that will only become more expensive.

Christmas in Kobe

At the moment I’m living in Kansai and I realised even though there are a million blog posts on the internet about events in Tokyo there are less for places outside of the Kanto area and even less for the smaller cities. Kobe is the prefectural capital of Japan’s largest prefecture, Hyogo. It’s nowhere near as big as Tokyo and has less going on than Osaka but is very interesting all the same.

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Obviously in mid-December Japan is all geared up for Christmas.  All over Japan you will be able to find illuminations (Christmas lights) and some of these displays are really beautiful, if a little crowded. I’ve always found it a little odd that Japan does so much in the lead up for Christmas when it’s not really celebrated as much more than a secondary Valentines Day but that doesn’t stop me enjoying all the pretty.

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Every year Kobe has illuminations at an event called Luminarie (ルミナリエ). It started in December 1995 to both commemorate those that lost their lives int he Great Hanshin Earthquake and also to help with the restoration of the city. It’s happened every year since then around mid-December too and is well worth a visit in my opinion. There are over 200,000 individually hand painted lights and they are lit with electricity generated from biomass energy. These illuminations have a lot more meaning to them than most displays and are environmentally friendly too!

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This years illuminations are from December 4th-15th so there isn’t much longer. It gets very busy but it’s really well organized so it doesn’t feel like you’re in a big crowd of people, but rather being led around so you have time to enjoy the whole thing and take decent photos.

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Hyogo tourism guide page (ENG)
Kobe Luminarie official webpage (JPN)

Of course there are loads of other cool illuminations to see if you are in Japan around winter time. If you are in Tokyo I recommend going to Ginza or Shinjuku after dark to see it lit up. This year, Tokyo Sky Tree has some really cool projection mapping for Christmas too so if you have a chance I recommend taking a look at that too.

Beauty: November nails

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For my nails this time I wanted to get something deep red because all I’ve been wearing lately are garnets and reds. Also because like I mentioned in my last post, it’s koyo season in Japan and I like seasonal nails. Unfortunately, the salon was out of the colour I originally wanted so these nails are more of a burgundy than a garnet but I love them anyway. The cream/jewel tone combo is clearly trending atm because I’ve seen like 3 other women in the last two days with similar nails to mine. That’s the kind of thing that would bother me if the nail art in this country wasn’t so varied. Like last month I went with something more understated than my heart called out for because….well work. They’re still very pretty though and I like how the light catches off the stones as I’m typing.  I can’t wait for next month though because I have time off work so I can get something a bit fancier done for Christmas. I’m thinking, reds and greens and gold and tartan and maybe snowflakes too.

Culture: Koyo (Autumn leaves viewing)

While not as well known abroad as hanami (cherry blossom viewing), koyo is also an important part of Japanese appreciation of the seasons. I also like it much more than hanami because it’s something I used to enjoy in the UK as a child before I even knew much about Japan. I love autumn! I love the colours and the sounds and the smells. Koyo gives me all of that and the leaves are prettier too!

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From around September to late November if you are lucky if you are in Japan and have a chance I recommend going somewhere to check out the Autumn leaves. Specifically maple leaves, or momiji as they are called in Japanese (I found out the other day that momiji are actually called kaede until they turn red). There’s lots of places you can go to see them if you’re interested. If it’s earlier in the season I recommended the more northern parts of the country or try the mountains. Be careful of volcanic activity though (not a joke at all. Most of the people on Mt Ontake were there to view the autumn leaves). Later on in the season the koyo will spread down the country but check online to see where is best for your particular area.

Ginkakuji in Kyoto is not quite peak yet

Ginkakuji in Kyoto is not quite peak yet

I live in Kansai so it’s just getting towards koyo season but it also happens to be typhoon time as well. For the past couple of weekends we’ve had bad weather and I hope if won’t ruin my plans to see the autumn leaves this year. I ideally want to go to Kyoto since the sceery is just so beautiful anyway but I know it will be very busy, If you are planning to travel to see the leaves I recommend you book everything early because the most beautiful and popular places will be packed. If you can, try going on a week day. It’ll be less crowded so you can better take photos and enjoy the atmosphere. Don’t miss out.

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Beauty: New nails! (。•ㅅ•。)♡

It was time to redo my nails so I went back to Bambi which I’ve blogged about previously. I originally wanted to get something Halloween themed and they actually had loads of cute themed art but alas I have a job and bright oranges and purples are a bit much.

They had loads of cute monthly art too so I went for a checked designed (before check well and truly goes out of style). My nailist was surprised I chose navy instead of the pinks I usually get (and I know she secretly judges me for) but I figure it’s a better colour for autumn. Also navy goes with basically everything.

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Fashion: Searching for the Perfect Autumn Coat

Okay I shamelessly love Autumn and Winter fashion. Everything is snuggly and usually more comfortable than Summer and I spend a lot less time worrying about my weight/body etc. However since I spend most of my time outside covered up by some coat or jacket it’s a pretty weighty decision. What do I want to look like for 50% of the time this season? Last winter I put a serious amount of thought into it because I good coat is functional and can last forever. It cost a lot but I did get the most compliments ever (both here in Japan and back in the UK over Christmas) so I want to put a similar amount of work into my Autumn jacket hunt.

First of all, what’s trending in Japan during for Autumn. I’ve been searching the magazines/web and I’ve narrowed it down to 3 styles. My body type rules out most of those for me but I’ll list them all anyway for you guys. I’ve tried to include a few different examples of each style, from different brands. Like every year a lot of this is just straight catwalk clones which is no bad thing in my opinion. Until I’m making that Beyoncé money, store clones are the closest I’m going to get anyway. My first thoughts on everything: so long! so very long! I’m glad my legs are long because otherwise I’d drown in half these styles!


  • The Trench Coat
    emoda long trench coat Liz lisa 3-way trench lowrys farm trench coat murua caped tench coat
    Always a classic the trench coat is actually really good for this season with it’s unpredictable rainy spells and gales. Until I get my hands on a Burberry trench I’m gonna consider one of these options. From cuter brands like Liz Lisa to mode brands like Emoda, the trench is forever an Autumn staple.  I’m particularly into the styles with detachable capes because not only are capes cool (who doesn’t want to look like you’re in a spy movie?) they are also a cute, very current touch.


  • The Chester Coat
    murua long chester coat liz lisa chester coat lowrys farm chester coat lodispotto chester coatI love Chester coats and this Autumn they are EVERYWHERE. Lodispotto have some cute ones and Lowry’s Farm has too many to chose from. They’re super on trend and can see you into the colder months too…hmm decisions decisions.


  • The Bomber Jacket
    murua bomber jacket liz lisa bomber jacket emoda wool bomberThe Bomber Jacket, called a buruzon jacket here, is a stark change to all the other offerings shown here but has made a showing at most every brand baring the super sweet ones. They’re functional and totally fit with the sportier side of the catwalk trends, not to mention actual street style here. I’m top heavy so they’ve never suited me but there are some really nice options around for those of you that can wear them!

Fashion: I’m a mouse….duh!

It’s nearly time for one of my favourite holidays, Halloween! When I was little I could give or take Halloween (especially since it was never really a thing in the UK like it is in the US) but back then I took it for granted that I could dress up whenever I felt like it. Now as a young 20 something with a full time job I cannot wait to dress up like god knows what and gorge myself on vaguely spooky sounding treats.

I’ve put a lot of thought into what I’m gonna be and this year I’ve settled on pirate. I’ve been a pirate before (with awesome results!) but I don’t care I’m gonna do it again. Might try out a few other costumes depending on how many events I go to. Definitely gonna get some Halloween themed nails! But this begs the question, where will I get my outfit from?

Now for those of us in Japan the obvious/easy suggestion is Donki to get some Leg Avenue costume or something or maybe Tokyu Hands if you feel like spending a little more for basically the same product. OR you could shell out loads more to one of the gal brands! This year 109 is doing a special 109 Halloween thing with various events to encourage shoppers to splurge at one of the many gal brands they host that sell their own Halloween costumes. In this post I wanted to highlight some of my favourite examples of these gal-brand takes on Halloween. The prices are the only scary part.

First up is Liz Lisa:

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For 17,928 yen you too could be the owner of the Liz Lisa “Cat girl” set. It reads more lamb to me but it’s effing adorable and it looks very soft and fluffy. It comes in white or pink and is already sold out!

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With the apron on it seems part Alice, part maid, part Queen of Hearts, part fluff monster. Very cute but at 17,928 yen it would need to be.

Next up is GLAD NEWS

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To be honest half their normal clothing would be very Halloween appropriate but for 12,960 yen you too can be a gothic bride. Mmm…shiny and overpriced.

Dance/ b-gyaru brand lb-03 is offering these:

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I actually don’t care if these are supposed to be Halloween costumes. I love Gremlins (fun fact my first Furby was actually a little Gizmo) and I will happily lounge around my house in that big face jumper. Get on my body. Also none of their Gremlins themed offerings are that expensive by which I means it comes in at under 10,000 yen. A steal!

Of course Glavil (tutuha) has a costume for sale:

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This is another brand that struggles to make a distinction between its Halloween outfits and its normal clothing. This is not a bad thing and tbh this is my favourite of all the costumes the brands have put out. The choice of a devil costume is super appropriate and cutely done too. I love the hood! This could be yours for 8,100 yen!

You can check out some of the other costumes on the 109 Halloween page.

http://e-shop.shibuya109.jp/ladies/events/halloween/index.html

http://e-shop.shibuya109.jp/ladies/events/halloween/halloween_catalog.pdf

Beauty : ‘Bambi’ Nail Salon in Kobe

Japan has some of the most beautiful nail art in the world in my opinion. Since nail art is so popular at also means you get a lot of options in regards to the materials you want to use or where you chose to get them done. When I lived in Tokyo I knew plenty of salons but when I first arrived in Kobe I wasn’t sure where was best to go so I turned to Hot Pepper. Hot Pepper is a magazine (and website) that offers coupons for everything from food to massages. It’s a bit like groupon I guess you could say. I’ve been to a few salons here now and I thought I’d review them.

Most people in Japan get soft gel nails done. Hard gel and acrylic is also popular but if you look around most people tend to have gel nails art done. When I was still a student I tended more towards the really glitzy 3D gal nails that you see splashed around tumblr but I try to keep it more muted for work now. Makes it easier to use my hand too tbh. Throughout the review I’ll put pictures of all the work I’ve gotten done here.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 2

Everyone has different things they want from a nail salon but for me I care about price, art and the atmosphere. I can’t stand it when nailists don’t make conversation. We don’t have to talk a lot but if I’m gonna be sat there for 2 hours it can’t be in oppressive silence. Also I like a at least a few ‘trendy’ options to chose from. Some salons seem to have very stagnant art selections and even if well executed that is pretty boring imo.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 4

Bambi is the salon I have been to most frequently.I don’t see any specific nailist at Bambi but I like all of the ones I have met so far. Usually it’s the owner that does my nails and she is super chatty! The other girls are quieter but it doesn’t ever feel awkward. In April this year they changed location so now they have super comfy chairs and a big tv so you can watch TV. Usually they show movies (last time I went it was Pirates of the Caribbean) so you don’t get bored. Since the summer they have started offering barley tea for refreshment (nicely covered with clingfilm to avoid anything gross getting in the glass) and in winter they give you blankets for your lap. The whole atmosphere is just really nice and welcoming which is probably why I keep going back. The new location is much closer to Sannomiya station and it’s quite easy to find.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 3

They are fairly well priced and their flash art is nice. You can pay to change details and of course changing the colours is free. Recently they’ve started offering a couple of designs that change monthly. They’re also priced pretty well and tend to be really seasonally appropriate. If you book via Hot Pepper there’s also a small selection of other designs to chose from.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 5

You may have noticed from the photographs that I tend to stick to french-tip style designs. This is partly because I don’t want super flashy nails at work and also partly because you don’t have to worry so much about regrowth. My nails actually grow pretty quickly which can be pretty harsh on my wallet when it comes to nail appointments.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 1

In addition to gel nail art I have also gotten repairs and chips applied here. They’ve always been applied really well and aren’t that expensive. I have had their ‘care’ treatment before as well which left my cuticles looking really cute. I try to not do that too often though.

Nail Art Bambi Salon 6

I’ll include links to their website and their Hot Pepper listing. You can book an appointment via either of these sites or by phone. Nobody at the salon speaks English so if you don’t speak Japanese well (or at all) I’d recommend booking through Hot Pepper. Also you can see other reviews on Hot Pepper (all positive that I can see) and access their blog via their main website.

Main website:
http://www.bambi-nail.com/

Hot Pepper listing:
http://beauty.hotpepper.jp/kr/slnH000170655/