Let’s build!

Things are a bit too connected these days. During a visit to Bic Camera I found some inspiration for a new offline hobby.
Check out these model car kits in the Akihabara store.


It seems that building plastic models is a pretty popular hobby. This is definitely the case in Japan. And I think it also has a strong following in Europe.

I decided a new project that might be fun would be to build a few cars.
And to make it more fun, why not collect some of the cars I have already owned in real life.

1. Nissan 300Z

In real life (quite a long time ago)

And in newly acquired model form

2. Toyota Celica GT4

In real life (also quite a long time ago, but not so long)

And in model form

3. Ferrari 360 spyder

In real life

And in model form


Those are the only three in stock in Akihabara, I have a few more to track down.

4. Bonus entry

About 4 years ago I went to Gundam front in Japan. Gundam front is where they have the life size Gundam. That’s the mecha from the very famous anime series.
I bought the special edition Gundam model, but haven’t yet built it. Gundam are a big think in Japan. They call the plastic models Gunpla. There are so many! Big big business.
Real life:

And in model form

The gundam kit looks way more detailed than the others so that will be last. I also have a much more basic model aircraft kit for younger modellers that I will use for a test run.

Stay tuned for some model building updates!

Kyoto, around Kawaramachi and Pontocho ・京都の中に河原町や先斗町の周り

For my second photo walk around Kyoto in January I took a stroll around Kawaramachi and Pontocho areas. Just across the river from Gion; the subject of my last Kyoto post.

I’ve included a map at the end of the post. Let’s take a look at some photos.

1. Shijo Dori

I spotted a lovely bit of old and new on Shijo Dori – a mustang, sporty toyota, old temple, and mcdonalds.

2. Teramachi

3. Shinkyogoku



4. Pintocho








5. Kiya-machi dori




Map

Blue icons show the main locations photographed

Pontocho and the surrounding area really is a beautiful spot for lanterns and traditional restaurants and bars.

Alex x Akiba Zettai Ryouiki ・アキバ絶対領域 (I visit a maid cafe)

I finally decided to visit a maid cafe!

At the risk of destroying my masculine image I’ll start by openly admitting I love cute things. So I secretly always wanted to try visiting a maid cafe.

I was a little nervous about going in the past – it’s a part of Japanese culture that is super different to what I am used to.

But which maid cafe should I visit? I came across a website called ‘maidsrunner.com‘ on twitter; a relatively new website aiming to catalog all the maid cafe’s in Akihabara. It was really useful – they record whether there is an english menu, alcohol, food etc. They also give you a bit of background info and some details of what to expect.

After browsing around maidsrunner, I decided to go to Zettai Ryouiki / 絶対領域. You can view their website – http://akibazettai.com/ or view their entry on maidsrunner.

They are also on twitter – https://twitter.com/akibazettai

The story or theme of Zettai Ryouiki is “God like catgirls have taken human shape in Zettai Ryouiki”.

And what does Zettai Ryouiki mean?  It’s “Absolute area”. This refers to the bare skin between knee sock and skirt!

So I went along to Akiba yesterday. I found Zettai Ryouiki easily – it’s a fairly small cafe on a corner. One of the things I immediately liked about this cafe is you can easily see inside from the street. Often in Japan for cafe’s and bars you need to go down small dark corridors or take the elevator etc.

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When I walked past the maid’s were performing a song / dance, there was a good mix of young and old, female and male customers. It looked really fun.

I bravely decided to go in :)

I got a warm welcome and one of the maid’s gave me a copy of the menu with English and Japanese. She recommended a set menu. I decided to have the desert option. It included a drink, chocolate sundae and a photograph with one of the maids.

The cafe is decorated in bright, light colours and they have some nicely arranged shelves with cute toys and models.

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I think it’s suitable for people of any age / gender.

The chocolate sundae was really delicious (I was surprised!)

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After my sundae, the maid asked which person I would like a photo with. I decided to go for the maid that was serving me; Hani chan. She was very friendly, and I love my photo.

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After my set meal I had a beer. Yes – this maid cafe has beer, shochu, sake, whisky etc. Note – not all maid cafe’s serve alcohol.

Overall, I had pretty good fun and would recommend it. If you can’t speak any Japanese at all I’d suggest to at least go with a friend, that way you can chat together while you enjoy the experience. I think you can still enjoy basic interaction, music, atmosphere, food, drinks etc.

I realise; especially for western readers, that the maid cafe concept might seem strange. Younger girls serving customers in unusual costumes might not be everybody’s cup of tea. I’d like to say that at least from my experience at this cafe the staff and customers seemed to be all having a good time. There wasn’t a weird vibe. I think most of the people simply like cute things and a fun time.

Note – A few of the photos included here are from Zettai Ryouiki’s website / twitter feed, please check them out if you have a chance.

 

 

 

 

Gion, Kyoto ・ 祇園、京都

It’s 2018 and I decided to start the first week of the year with a ‘photo-walk’ around Gion in Kyoto.

Gion is the traditional district of Kyoto, think old style restaurants, souvenirs shops etc.

Let’s take a look at some photos. Each title corresponds to an annotated point on a map at the end of the post.

1 – Shijo Dori

The main shopping street. It’s full of shops selling souvenirs and traditional sweets. Looking west towards the Kamo River and central Kyoto.

And looking east towards Yasaka Shrine.

2 – Shirakawa-Minami Dori

A well preserved historic street.

Not only formal restaurants, but also some cute small businesses like this espresso stand.

One of the more formal restaurants.

 

Gion Tatsumi Bridge

Lot’s of people taking photos here, including some girls in Kimono with professional photographers.

Turning 180 degrees from the last photo a traditional restaurant.

A sushi bar at night on Shirakawa-Minami Dori.

A few more restaurant entrances.

5 – Tominagacho

Tominagacho is one of the main side streets running parallel to Shijo Dori. There are lot’s of bars and restaurants here.

4 – Sushi Izakaya

I really liked this Sushi bar / restaurant on a corner of Hanamikoji Dori.

Further along Hanamikoji Dori there are some other interesting restaurants.

6 – Old Style Pub / Restaurant

At the west end of Gion I spotted a fairly unusual black and white izakaya. This one claims to be one of the older casual bars / restaurants in the area.

Locations map

This is just a brief snippet of Gion, there is quite a lot more to see. If you visit there you will see so many people in Kimonos and so many restaurants, coffee shops and guest houses. You will also likely see a few Geisha and Maiko if you walk around all the side streets.

Otafuku Coffee, Kyoto / 御多福珈琲、京都

While out taking photos around the main shopping street in Kyoto I spotted a couple of friendly looking, stylishly dressed guys disappearing down the steps into an understated looking cafe / restaurant.

In line with my recommended way to enjoy day to day life – I decided to follow!

What I found was Otafuku Coffee (御多福珈琲).

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Otafuku is an old style traditional coffee shop.

I’ve come across a few traditional coffee shops in Japan. I think they are modelled on an old style Parisian influence. It’s all dark wood, burgundy velvet covered seats, and china coffee cups and saucers.

To enter Otafuku you go down a narrow set of stairs and upon opening the door you have a number of small tables to the left, a booth to the right and a bar with around 7 seats opposite you.

I took a seat at the bar and I noticed the barista had just made hand drip / pour over coffee for another customer.

I ordered the same.

For the next few minutes watching the coffee be prepared I couldn’t have been happier – It was a meticulous display of attention to detail and skill.

The first thing I spied was a large metal kettle on a burner. No electric kettles or fancy coffee machines here. As I sat there I noticed how lovely it was to hear the water simmering away in the big kettle and to see a little steam.

To prepare my coffee they filled a smaller pouring kettle / pot with hot water from the large kettle. If you are familiar with pour over coffee, this is the type of kettle with the long thin spout. Then they filled the glass server (the thing the coffee filters into) and the cup with hot water from that.

So this first step was getting everything up to the right temperature to ensure my coffee was brewed / served correctly. This reminded me of the way I learned to prepare tea in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

I’ve never seen this done in London despite going to a lot of ‘gourmet’ coffee shops.

Next, the main attraction! – the barista put a filter and freshly ground coffee into the pour over device (what are they called?). Then using fresh hot water in the small kettle he began to pour this over the coffee.

I think this is where skill and experience come in. I previously read that the size / consistency of the ground coffee together with the motion and speed of the pour are key to how the coffee will come out.

At Otafuku I noticed the Barista had the telltale signs of highly practiced actions – almost automatic and precise movements. He poured the hot water in circular motion over the ground coffee using his whole body in the motion. It reminded me of the way you are taught to draw circles and straight lines using your whole arm / body, not just your wrist.

The coffee was then served to me in a china cup and saucer.

I’m no connoisseur, but I do like coffee and I visit a lot of coffee shops in London. However I am often disappointed. If I am honest I find what I am served with is often too bitter, or watery.

However, the coffee at Otafuku was rich and flavourful without being bitter. I tried both with and without cream, it was excellent both ways.

One of the things I could really appreciate about Otafuku was they aren’t trying to be cool or elitist. They seem to be trying to do two things 1) make good coffee and 2) create a nice community environment for people to enjoy coffee.

Everything; from the layout of the store, to the equipment and process used seems to serve these two objectives.

The lack of trying to be cool, makes it very cool in my book!

My first visit was at around 8pm. I went back the next day at 2pm before leaving Kyoto. On this second visit half of the seats of the small bar were full. While I was there people came and went, a few came on their own and spent 10 minutes chatting to the owner and other customers.

Not just a coffee shop, but a community spot for friendly people who enjoy coffee and friends.

I regret we don’t have businesses like this in the UK.

Small coffee shops / bars / restaurants with counter seats and friendly locals aren’t rare in Japan. But Otaku nails it in terms of doing the small community orientated business together with one of the best and most skilfully made coffee’s I’ve had.

For my day job I do contract consulting in finance transformation. It sounds complicated, but it’s not really. I simply work with finance departments to try and simplify or otherwise improve the way the operate. In that world there is a lot of talk of complex analysis methods, complex IT systems etc. But often I find that most companies have difficulties simply because people aren’t clear about what they should be doing. And further to that they are not motivated to do what they do well.

Doing even the most simple actions can be turned from a mundane task into an exercise in engineering or art – depending on how you look at it.

The action of pouring hot water over coffee is so simple, but yet has such opportunity to became something beautiful.

This is my take away from Coffee Otafuku. Not just a cup of coffee, but a zen outlook on life.

Imagine if we could put this kind of energy into more things in life. Imagine the next time you attend a meeting, a party, or are given a report or a gift. In any of these scenarios if the preparation had the care and attention to detail we see at Coffee Otafuku wouldn’t it be amazing?