Alice on Wednesday! Tokyo Rose Part 2: The Japanese Concept Store

 
On the last day of my travels in Japan, I jumped on a train from Kyoto Station to the nearby city of Osaka (a 30 minute train ride) not knowing what to expect. Reality was setting in: I was going back home and most of my travel companions were already homeward bound so I needed to feel like I was still ‘travelling’ just a little bit longer before my flight that evening. 

My guidebook pointed out a cool shopping district a stones throw from Shinsaibashi Station that goes by the name of  ‘Amerikamura’, or American Village. The district has been in existence since the 1970s, initiated by the large amount of US clothing and general Americana memorabilia imported for the expats based there (hence the name). It has been referred to as the ‘Harajuku’ of Kyoto due to the large alternative scene based here, where fashionable teenagers flock to in order to show off their latest outfits. Signs outside various stores advertise ‘Gothic Lolita Fashion’.

‘What is Gothic Lolita Fashion’, you may be wondering? Well, it is a particular style which basically involves wearing the frilliest, girliest dresses you can possible think of. And in predominantly black. Think Gothic Japanese Little Bo Peep or Little Red Riding Hood. Lace, bows, frills and more frills, this is clothing originating from the Victorian Era, but with an cooler edge to it. There is nothing seedy about it, the look originated from women simply not wanting feel like they have to wear skimpy clothes in order to attract the opposite sex. And because it’s fun to wear. The clothing is very modest (petticoats are essential garb) and most of the girls wearing look like they’ve escaped from a Disney Film. 

Lolita Goth: Japanese Street Style. Image from Pinterest (Bethany Hoffman)

Osaka is also home to a very large number of 1970s era vintage fashion shops, a great selection of bars and restaurants and what looks like a thriving music scene (I was only there for a day trip but saw lots of advertisements scattered around the shops).

So, back to the purpose of this article; the Alice On Wednesday concept store. I was wandering past a queue of excited teenagers being policed by an elderly, rather angry looking security guard. Two english speaking tourists asked if I wanted their spare tickets for the 2pm time slot to join said queue. 

Here marks the start of the queue.

 

‘Sure, Ok!’ (I was feeling spontaneous)

(Thought a minute) ‘Er…so what is the ticket for exactly?’

‘It’s an Alice in Wonderland concept store. We read about it on the internet, they’re supposed to be the new thing.’

‘Ah, Ok. Thanks!’

I was still none the wiser to what a concept store was exactly, so I decided out of curiosity to return to the queue at 2pm and see what was at the front of it. Because when has there not been anything worth seeing at the front of a long queue? Unless your waiting for a bus. Or buying stamps. Or going to the bank. OK, maybe there are exceptions to this statement. Nonetheless I was joining that queue.

So after buying a large quantity of slogan T-shirts, knocking over several precariously balanced bicycles outside of a cafe (they weren’t looking where I was walking!) and a rather delicious meal in a Spanish themed noodle bar ( I don’t get it either) I headed back to The Queue to see what the fuss was about.

The security man had since become more bad tempered, was shouting in Japanese and waiving some tickets for later time slots (the earliest was 6pm). I took a closer look at the entrance to the store. ‘Alice on Wednesday’ has three fairytale-esque potential entrances and excited teenagers appeared to exiting the smallest door (about 4 foot in height) in dribs and drabs. They must be the 1.30pm time slot. I took my spot at the back of queue of about 10 excited teenagers taking selfies.  

The Entrance (and exit) of Alice On Wednesday

 

‘Do you speak English?’ An Australian tourist has sheepishly approached me in the queue.

‘Yes’.

‘What’s at the front of this queue?’

‘I don’t know’.

More youngsters leave the store laden with large themed shopping bags and I eventually get to the front of the The Queue. My time to enter the Wonderland has finally come…

The small, modest entrance immediately opens up into ‘The Red Queen’s Room’ which is a gothic themed room painted bright red with a black and white chequered floor. A ceiling adorned with glistening chandeliers, floor to ceiling mirrors and a long dining table which stretches from one end of the room to the other. Floor to ceiling antique bookcases line the walls. And located in every possible nook, cranny and crevice is gifts and memorabilia associated with The Lewis Carol story. Watches, hair slides, necklaces, cushions, playing cards, you name it’s here. An everything in here has a sparkly, almost magical appearance (it must be the lighting); all of it screams ‘Buy Me’. And buy they do; another large queue of teenagers starts form at the checkout. 

The Red Queen’s Room in Alice on Wednesday

 

Moving on into the second from ‘The White Queen’s Room’ is bulging at the seams with sweets and random themed food items for sale. Giant lolly pops, jars of wonderful looking sweets and glass bottles containing mysterious concoctions with ‘Drink Me’ labels on the front. My personal favourites were the themed ‘recipe boxes’ which contained ingredients to make a small selection of meals.

Emblazoned on the front of one of them was the following: ‘Alice made this Thai Green Curry for the White Rabbit. Do you want to try?’

A stretch too far? Certainly. Did I want to buy and try that curry? Of course I did!

Alice On Wednesday: A new, rather unique concept in shopping. 

To find out more visit http://www.aliceonwednesday.jp

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas World of Pain: The Loftus Poultry Run

Something you should probably know about me is I do a LOT of running. I started a few years ago, not for your usual weight loss reasons, but to improve my mood. After a difficult start, it ended up having a phenomenally positive effect on my life and significantly reduced my stress levels. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll decide to go for a run thus completely forgetting what I was in a bad mood about in the first place!

The thing about runners however that can really irritate non runners is that they can become quite evangelical about running. Google ‘inspiration running quotes’ and you will see what I mean. I’ve selected a few here for your viewing pleasure (or annoyance depending on how inactive you have been of late!):

If that doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what will

Here’s my personal favourite for when I’m having a ‘slow’ day:

Remember folks: It’s the taking part that counts!

So when my friend Sharon suggested I sign up for the Loftus Poultry run just before Christmas because it would be ‘fun’, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. You see, I sign up for races probably every few weeks as they always have a really good atmosphere and having something to aim for keeps you motivated to keep training.

And I knew at this one there would be Christmas fancy dress.

You will see from my previous running post that there are some ‘unusual’ costumes which can appear at these events. Jesus was my personal favourite this year. Other than the Santa hat worn at my previous race, I haven’t worn a costume as such for a race before so thought I’d give it a go; it is Christmas after all! So ‘Mary Christmas’ was born. I customised my existing lady santa costume with the following:

1. Present bows

2. Christmas Gift Tags

3. Plastic cake decorations that I’d found in a cake tin 5 minutes before I set off which I’d sewn into the skirt, my personal favourites were Mr Reindeer and Mr Robin.

My_Hastily_Improvised_Christmas_Costume.JPG
My Hastily Improvised Christmas Costume

I drove to pick up Sharon from the main road and found her stood in full Santa costume complete with beard. We got some funny looks on the drive there!

Loftus Poultry run (http://www.poultryrun.info) has been going for over 30 years now and attracts both serious and comedy runners purely out to enjoy the day. On this occasion, I was in the latter category. The race has got it’s name because the main prizes consist of Poultry from a local butcher; when I arrived I saw a series of chickens and turkeys being loaded onto the a table for afterwards (don’t worry, they’re already dead!).

Me and Sharon before setting off for the 8 mile Poultry Run

So after having a quick catch up with my running friends (we are rather a sociable bunch!) we all set off from Loftus leisure centre for the 8 mile mainly uphill slog which is a loop around the surrounding villages. It was a very tough race. I spent the first two miles trying to keep pace with a man who was playing Christmas music from his phone (it can be surprisingly motivating!) and was keeping up with the main crowd until about mile 5. The I hit massive wall. Thoughts going through my mind consisted of:

‘Why is it so windy?!’

‘Where has everyone gone?!’

‘This is NOT fun!’

‘I wonder if I’ll win best costume?’

On this occasion (and this happens some times in races) I just lost all motivation to continue and just started walking. This is highly unusual for me, but I always refer to the quotation below in rare circumstances such as this:

I kept this mind whilst the wind of the North Yorkshire moors smacked me directly in the face

Towards the end as I ran through the housing estate behind the leisure centre, some little girls were stood on the window sill in their bedroom and were cheering me on to finish and shouted ‘Merry Christmas!’. It’s moments like this that keep you going to the finish and I was spurred on to start running again (albeit slowly).

‘Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas!’ Shouted the crowds as I did a last sprint towards the finish line.

‘Never AGAIN!’ I said through gritted teeth to Sharon as I ran through it.

As always however, once I’d had my post race cup of tea, I was feeling rather euphoric and very quickly changed my mind about the whole experience,

‘Now I know what to expect from the course, I’ll definitely do it again next year!’

I didn’t win best costume in the end; there wasn’t a best costume prize but were instead giving bottles of wine away to those who finished in fancy dress. They’d run out of wine by the time I showed up!

Isn’t that reason enough to go back next year?

Merry Christmas from Mary Christmas!

x

Dinner at The Waiting Room and The Ongoing Tipping Debate

So tonight I went for dinner at a lovely restaurant near my house called ‘The Waiting Room’ in Eaglescliffe. It vegetarian, but don’t let that put you off; it’s been voted one of the best restaurants in the UK (and that’s including the ones that have meat!) and I’ve been going regularly for years.

The Waiting Room in Eaglescliffe is one of the best Vegetarian restaurants in the UK
The Waiting Room in Eaglescliffe is one of the best Vegetarian restaurants in the UK

It’s name (I assume) comes from the fact its over the road from Eaglescliffe train station. Either that or people just enjoy loitering in there without buying any food, but that wouldn’t be a particularly good business model so I’m going with the former. One of the reasons I bought a house close by was so I can easily hop on a direct train back to AFormerLondonGirl HQ to visit the parental unit and then hop back up quickly enough when I need my space again.

Helen had the spinach and feta pancake, Katie the lasagne with sesame potatoes (yum!) and i had the goats cheese roulade (double yum!). I (as per usual) was the only one with room for dessert so had the usual..

‘Sticky toffee pudding please, with LOTS of custard!’

I have no shame.

They also have cool events on a Sunday night called ‘Waiting for Sunday’ and they have anything from bands, to comedians and it’s usually quite eclectic which I love. One year I saw a brilliant band called The LoveSick Cowboys and because it was Halloween me and my friend went along as zombie cowgirls.

Me as a Lovesick Cowgirl at a Halloween gig at the The Waiting Room
Me as a Lovesick Cowgirl at a Halloween gig at the The Waiting Room

If you are ever in the Teesside area for any reason, you must visit this restaurant, you won’t regret it.

So, to follow on from my tipping dilemma as discussed in my previous blog, I mentioned this to my friends Katie and Helen at dinner and asked for their opinions on the matter.

‘What, you tip at beauty salons?!’ says Katie,

‘Of course, it’s the same as hairdressers isn’t it…except the hair is erm, elsewhere!’.

‘Well no one tips me to to my job!’ (Katie is an accountant).

So there we have it folks.

I know for a FACT that my window cleaners avoided me last month so I would have to see them to give them a tip this month. The truth is, they are so suspicious looking, I continue to pay them (even though I’m not even sure they are fully cleaning my windows) just to prevent them from potentially burgling my house when I’m at work. Yes that’s right, I’m paying my window cleaners protection money.

So we had a wonderful evening, we laughed a lot, ate loads of lovely food and have agreed to head out together over Christmas to have a few drinks, have a dance and attempt to meet some eligible batchelors. Due to my ongoing social awkwardness this is highly unlikely…but one can but try!

I’m off to bed as I’m tired after that epic dessert!

Good Night All 🙂

Claire

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