Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Calico Cat Cafe (Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan)

Visiting a cat cafe was one of the things on my Japan to-do list. While I was a cat hater for most of my life (with a few positive cat experiences along the way), about 6 months before the Japan trip I suddenly found myself with three cats in my life. Once my allergies had subsided, acceptance gave way to mild interest, which eventually gave way to a small measure of  cat love. I now fully understood what cats were about (even if they are still obnoxious little creatures a good chunk of the time).

My cat cafe goal in mind, one morning I hopped on the Marunouchi Line and headed to Shinjuku to visit the Calico Cat Cafe. Emerging from the Shinjuku station, I was greeted by a less toy/game/electronics oriented version of Akihabara. Shinjuku is a very busy town, with a "Times Square" feel that seemed to go on for blocks and blocks. There was an intense feeling of visual overload as I whipped my head around, trying to take everything in.

I found the building the cafe was in, and climbed the steps up to the 6th story. There was a small reception area where a worker handed me a laminated sheet describing the amenities, rules, and prices in English. $10 per hour was a pretty decent deal, with some package offerings for multiple hours. I left my information, and then stuffed my bag into a free locker. I put on my cat cafe slippers (shoes are not allowed inside), and I stepped into cat lover's mecca...

There are cats galore...tons of breeds I am not familiar with (so feel free to comment if you know what they are). They have shy cats, friendly cats, and even ambitious cats...there was one in particular that, once he saw I had food, would not stop following me around. He pounced on me when I sat, and even started pawing at the food, trying to bring the little food container I had down to his level. He had the whole "food acquiring" thing down, it was pretty damn cute.

Calico Cat Cafe itself takes up two stories. You enter through the top story, which has a few tall cat trees and cat beds. The upper level play space is small, as the reception area takes up about half of the floor. There is a staircase in the corner that takes you to the lower level. It has a much more open feel to it due to the larger amount of space and windows. There is a variety of seats lining the walls, and even a library full of manga and other books. Empty shelves line the wall above the seating area, which the cats make use of nicely as temporary homes.

The hour I spent at Calico was pretty great, I got to play with cute kitties, feed them, and relax. As you can see from the photo above, there are a few people sleeping. I saw more than one person come into the cafe and go right to sleep, so it seems the allure of a place like this is not just for cat lovers. There were some people working on laptops here as well! The people aren't the only ones relaxing though:

There are drinks (coffee, tea, soft drinks) and snacks available for the humans, as well as fresh cat food you can purchase to feed the kitties. Some of the cats won't give you the time of day without a food offering, so it is highly suggested you get some. There is a binder available for perusal that catalogs the cafe's cat family and chronicles their individual history and life stories. It's a nice extra way to connect with the cats you are surrounded by. (I suggested to them that they should make trading cards for the cats with their story, people would love those)

After my hour was up, it was time to depart. My Calico Cat Cafe adventure was a success. It was very highly rated by many people, and lived up to the hype. It was so awesome, that even my friend who is not fond of cats ended up bonding with one. It's a great experience, and one I look forward to repeating next time I'm in Japan. That, and an Owl cafe!

Calico Cat Cafe website (be warned, it's in Japanese): http://www.catcafe.jp/

All photos shot on a Canon 5D MKII, with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L lens. You can check out more photos from Calico Cat Cafe here:

04-29-15 Calico Cat Cafe (Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hatsume Festival @ Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens 04/19/15

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden is a lovely spot to get away from the trappings of busy South Florida life. This is a hidden gem; for as many people as I introduce this place to, there are hundreds more that have never heard of it. For one, it's tucked away inside a pretty suburban higher-end area, far away from the reaches of most in their daily driving lives. For two, if you are from South Florida you know that people from Miami hate driving to Broward, and people in Broward hate driving to West Palm Beach. For such an incredibly connected tri-county area, the lack of exploration is disturbing.

Poor adventure spirits aside, Morikami represents a nice slice of Japanese life 7,400 miles away from the real thing. You first walk in through the main museum building, which houses a theater, authentic tea shop, library, 3 galleries, a cafe, and a gift shop  (a shop does some people a world of good). As you leave the building, you walk down a set of stairs onto the main Roji-en Japanese Garden grounds, which snake around the lake in front of you. Along the way you walk through a bamboo forest, see a rock garden, experience a nicely cultivated Bonzai collection, and walk through the Yamato-kan building (modeled after a Japanese villa, and featuring a hands-on exhibit of Japanese culture.

There is a much stronger emphasis on the Japanese garden aesthetic as a whole, rather than on the individual gardens. That's not to say that the gardens aren't beautiful, I just think there's a bit of conflict when it comes to our weather and temperature situation when compared to that of Japan (thereby hindering our ability to locally grow a lot of the plant/tree/flower life that can exist over there).

The Yamato-kan building is a very cool experience, letting you walking through Japanese culture in a much more visual manner. As with most gardens, I find the whole endeavor to be best enjoyed on a slower, more quiet day (in order words, not on a huge festival day!). Speaking of festival days...

Hatsume is Morikami's annual spring festival, celebrating the new life that comes with the season (in most places in the world, as in Florida it just means more heat). Officially, it's a celebration of the first bud of spring. The majority of the fair takes place on grounds that are off the path from the actual gardens (wouldn't want to trample all over those, now would be?), and start off with a sea of tents. There is a main tent that features many local artists selling their Japan/anime related wares. Tate's Comics, a local comic/toy/game megastore, had a large presence.

Outside of the main tent are many other local vendors, although the Japanese theme got a little muddled with these (unless the Japanese are big fans of Carribean Jerk Sauce). Sponsors are sponsors, of course, and there were still some cool tents (Bonzai!). Past the tents you found the food (teriyaki chicken/beef, fried rice, etc) and the drinks (Japanese beer as well as a sake station). Continuing along the path you came upon the stages: the Sake Stage (sushi and sake discussions), the Tokyo Stage (Taiko drummers, costume contest, fashion show), and the Osaka Stage (martial arts demonstrations). Traveling back to the main museum building, you'd find a snack market, as well as anime being played in the theater and Japanese karaoke.

The festival had an official shirt that was available free of charge, provided you brought your own shirt. The designs were done by Brian Reedy (www.attacktheplanet.com), and were screen printed on the spot. If you didn't bring a shirt, they were $10 (which is a pretty damned good price as they were nice quality shirts). The designs were pretty killer, so the chance to get them printed for free was a nice bonus

That just about covers the fair's offerings, at least on the end of Morikami itself. The unofficial side show is the cosplay: South Florida's youths take this festival as chance to show off their costumes, in what I can only call an extreme feat of immense dedication (due to the lovely heat we are already encountering). You can see a nice mix of traditional Japanese dress, modern Harajuku fashions, anime stylings, and others. I unfortunately missed the costume contest on Saturday, but I can imagine it was pretty swell.

I had a pretty nice time at the Hatsume Fest. I don't go to Morikami too often, but it's always a nice time. I was sad to have missed the lantern festival they do later in the year, so at least I now have one Morikami festival under my belt! Since this is the closest I can do to going back to Japan (aside from the Japan pavilion at EPCOT), I am going to need to visit here more often before my next trip to Nippon!

All photos shot on a Sony A7II, with Sony Sonnar 55mm F1.8 and Sony Sonnar 35mm F2.8 lenses. You can check out more photos from the Hatsume Festival here: