Vegan Lunch at Ain Soph. Journey, Shinjuku

Recently my hobby has been trying out vegan restaurants in Tokyo because their vegetables taste a lot fresher than most places, so I decided to stop by Ain Soph Journey which is right near my boxing gym in Tokyo.

I ordered the vegan taco rice salad and tiramisu cake. Both exceeded my expectations! The taco rice had delicious fresh avocado and tomato, and the “meat” tasted like salsa which was the perfect dressing. The tiramisu cake was very light and creamy! This was definitely one of the best lunches I’ve had here in a while.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a good salad in Japan because they often use cabbage leaves that taste extremely bitter, or sprinkle bits of meat and corn on it which throw off the texture. Fortunately I’ve been finding a lot of luck at local vegan restaurants and my body had felt a lot better. I’ll be sure to share my findings in the future!

Hello Kitty Desserts at EGG & SPUMA

A diner and dessert restaurant called EGG & SPUMA located in the Shinjuku Lumine building serves up some of the most delicious Sanrio collaboration items you’ve ever laid eyes on.  They serve a lot of comfort food like omelettes, risotto, and pancakes on their menu that changes with new featured items each season.  Cocktails and sweet drinks are also available.

I ordered Hello Kitty pancakes topped with apples slices, custard, and whipped cream.  They melted like butter in my mouth and had an extremely soft texture!  I also tried pink lemonade topped with a Hello Kitty donut.  Thought it was an extremely unlikely combination, it was amazing!  The donut was extremely thick and completely covered in strawberry frosting.  The lemonade size was noticeably large compared to most drinks here.  I wanted to try more, but felt extremely full after this!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of food here for it being part of a theme cafe.  Be sure to try their seasonal pancakes if you ever get the chance to stop by!

The Best Mixology Bar in Tokyo: Bar Benfiddich

If you are looking for a unique bar experience with no menu but endless possibilities, Bar Benfiddich in Shinjuku, Tokyo is the bar for you.  With a selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, chocolates, herbs, and spices, mixology master Hiroyasu Kayama will whip up amazing cocktails with ingredients you’ve never even thought of trying before.  I’ve been to this bar a total of three different times and have never once been disappointed.

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A bashful Snorlax won at the game center nearby sips on some fine scotch at the bar counter.  His look says it all.

On my first time there, I decided to request something fruity with vodka as the base.  The bartender pulled out a basket of fruit and I selected strawberries and bananas for my cocktail.  He also mixed in some chocolate to give it a nice kick. In addition to that, you can choose from the selection of bottles on the wall or ask for something specific if you have anything in mind.  Chances are this bar will have it or will be able to create something similar, plus they have their own array of homemade liquors that will make for quite the evening out.

If you come to this bar, be sure to come early because it opens at 7pm and usually fills up before 10pm.  There are now 2 floors in the same building available for seating, but I would still try to come ahead of time because reservations are generally not accepted.

Though Japan is full of bars due to the loose liquor laws, your efforts for coming to this bar in particular will be rewarded with some of the most elegant drinks you’ve ever had!  Be sure to bring at least 6000 yen with you so you can sample more than one.

 

“Moment” by Bahi JD Exhibition at Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery

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Framed album artwork for Carpainter’s “Returning” (2017).

If you have any interest in animation, please stop by the Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery and check out this amazing exhibition by Austrian artist Bahi JD, who has worked as a key animator for various Japanese companies and has created many original designs. Not only has he drawn covers for Carpainter albums (“Returning” and “Digital Harakiri”), but he’s also drawn his own original manga (“地球のマグノリア”) and has worked intricately animating scenes of Blade Runner, Fate/Apocrypha, SSSS.GRIDMAN, and more, as well as his own original GIFs that went viral. I’m really lucky I had the opportunity to meet him here, as I have cherished his art for a while!

For those who would like to see the in-depth animation process behind his works; a room of the gallery is covered with stills and a looping video so you can see each individual frame of his original animation up close:

Most recently Bahi has created the storyboard for and directed the beautiful opening for the anime “Carole and Tuesday” which premiered April 10, 2019:

The dynamic colors and physics he uses in his animations are quite unique and highly entertaining to watch! I hope people who are interested in working in animation can see this, as he is a major inspiration as a foreign artist that is very successful now in Japan.  

For more information on his work, please see his online portfolio, and stop by this gallery which will be available until July 3rd, 2019.  There will likely be more of his works display in the future, which I will be sure to visit and write about!

Menmeiz Retro Aesthetic Vaporwave/Citypop Art Gallery

If you’ve ever walked through the streets of Tokyo, you’re probably familiar with flashing neon lights, the bustling districts highlighting fashion and music, and the fleeting nostalgic moments you feel as people in this city come and go.

In the most recent gallery/pop-up store by Menmeiz, vintage and retro-inspired artwork is on display from various artists on the 4th floor of Beams Japan in Shinjuku. The artist I wanted to see the most was Shiho So, who has not only done VJ work for some of my favorite DJs in Tokyo, but also has designed posters, album covers, and a book cover for “Ring of the Day” too!  Her art combines pastel colors with a retro art style that is reminiscent of the 80s in Japan.

In addition to brightly-colored balloons, shirts, hair accessories, zines, posters, and wands, this gallery also features citypop music by Night Tempo for the best viewing experience!  Conveniently located next to this exhibit, there is a store with vintage Sony stereos and cassettes for sale.

If you would like to know more about vaporwave and how this kind of internet subculture originated, you can browse through zines on the table for more information.  I personally enjoyed the one titled “ももたろう/PEACH BOY” because it was a nice homage of the old Japanese classic.

If you are in Shinjuku, please be sure to check this gallery out!  It is only viewable for the short duration of June 14th – June 23rd, but there will be more events like this available in the future.

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This is the Future: Shinjuku VR Zone Analysis & Review

Welcome to the VR World

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Since the beginning of my early childhood, I had always dreamed of escaping reality and entering a virtual world.  Not because I had a bad life (because I actually had a really good life), but because I was heavily influenced by anime and games as a kid and wanted to live in a fully interactive world where I could freely express myself.  My fascination with VR started when I first watched Digimon as a kid, then later grew as I became engrossed with Yu-Gi-Oh! (specifically season 3) and Sword Art Online.  When I entered college, I had the opportunity to test VR games with an Oculus Rift through my university’s gaming program, and even got to try some indie VR games at Tokyo Game Show last year!  Just recently in 2017 the Shinjuku VR Zone has opened in Tokyo as an experimental VR gaming arcade and playground for the public to try out, so naturally I had to go and visit!  Currently boasting 15 different immersive activities and an interactive VR exhibition by Tokyo Art City, this zone is growing at a rapid rate and was definitely worth the trip!

The System

I came here early Saturday morning with my friend visiting from America who is also a huge nerd like myself.  We purchased 4 different colored tickets online (each for a different selection of games) so we could ensure that we got in.  Tickets are available at the door, but some attractions are so popular that you may not be guaranteed entry so I recommend booking in advance online.  You can buy tickets in sets of 4 (for 4,400 yen) and also individually (for around 1,200 each).  After showing our tickets at the door, we were welcomed in by friendly staff and decided to explore the area!  At the center of the building we saw a hologram projected on the wall and a giant glowing VR tree structure  looking like it was radiating powerful energy.  This was such a fitting atmosphere–I already felt like I was the hero of a sci-fi series!

Immersive Horror Room

After staring in awe at all of the cutting-edge decorations, we made our way to our first game, which was the Immersive Horror Room (IHR), just because we wanted to be thoroughly spooked before we had to wait in line for the more popular attractions.  IHR was overall the best way to start our VR experience because the wait for short and the game was extremely entertaining and high quality.  The aesthetic was very Silent Hill-esque and some parts of it actually made me scream out loud.  Fortunately, I was not the only one!

While sitting down with VR helmets, you and your partner control characters in a wheelchair and navigate through a haunted house full of wicked obstacles and enemies that try to kill you.  It was a bit hard to get used to at first, but you could use a flashlight to choose different directions so the gameplay was easy to learn.  At one point, I triggered an alarm and was blindfolded and captured by the enemy.  Once I regained my vision, I was strapped to the floor and couldn’t move my character was twisted figured surrounded me and other victims.  I watched them murder characters around me one by one with gruesome weapons and was truly terrified that I was next.  Luckily my friend was able to solve a puzzle and save me just in the nick of time!  The game has multiple scenarios, and you can see and talk to your partner through a headset.  Though we won the game, it had a “To be continued…” screen at the end implying that it might be developed into a “real” full-length game someday.  I really hope that it is because it was a lot of fun and it was truly immersive making me feel a lot of terror, suspense and excitement!  I would rather pay for this than go to a horror movie any day.

Evangelion: Throne of Souls

Next, we decided to go to the Evangelion Throne of Souls attraction, because who doesn’t want to pilot a giant robot!?  Since I was 14 (the same age as the pilots) I’ve wanted to volunteer myself at NERV HQ, so I am happy that nearly after 10 years later I can finally achieve my dream!  This VR attraction was extremely personalized and you could choose to pilot Unit 00, 01, or 03, and see a launch sequence that made you feel like you were in midair!  After launching, you need to stealthily navigate through Tokyo-3 and pick up weapons along the way to destroy the AT field of a giant Sachiel with your partner co-op style.  The simulation was amazing because when you looked down at yourself, you were wearing a plug suit, and piloting the Eva felt a bit narrow and clunky just like its frame implies.  It felt genuine–like nothing else I have ever experienced before.  My only complaint is that there weren’t multiple stages and the simulation was so short.  In the future I really hope they give you the option to pay more to continue, because I definitely would!

VR Mario Kart

Next we made our way to everyone’s favorite attraction–VR Mario Kart.  The wait for this was nearly an hour, but there were places to sit while waiting in line (unlike Tokyo Disney and Universal) so the wait was actually quite pleasant.  The game was complete with 4 different players going against one another!  They let you choose your character (Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, or Peach), and I of course chose Princess Peach!  The game sequence begins with the 4 of you lined up at the starting point, and all of you can communicate through the headset!  Then 2 popular villains show up, and you must all race them to the finish!  Along the way you can pick up and throw turtle shells, whack other players with hammers, and also throw bombs at one another!  Fortunately blue shell VR technology has not been developed yet (and for the sake of friendship, it hopefully never will).  The game was very fun and had a lot of obstacles that balanced out who stayed in first.  You could not customize your car so everyone plays on equal ground.  Being launched in the air and flying through the sky was my favorite part!  I came in 3rd but I had a wonderful time and was glowing after the experience.  I highly recommend doing this one, because before a long-term VR world like SAO and Accel World is developed, this is a once in a lifetime experience.

Panic Cube

The last attraction that we did was one called Panic Cube which is a non-VR activity where you are locked in a prison cell and must solve puzzles on a giant touch screen while handcuffed or else a giant balloon will pop and you will meet your end!  We were specifically asked not to publish any hints about this game online by the staff so I will respect their policy, but one thing I recommend is not sharing the cuffs with your partner.  We did this thinking it would make the game easier, but it did not!  We sadly lost in the simulation, but it was still a fun way to die.

Final Thoughts

After finally processing this mind-blowing experience, I am eternally thankful for my trip here. To those who truly interested in VR and have the money, I highly recommend it because currently this is one of the most cutting-edge public areas where you can have a hands-on VR experience.  However, unfortunately the long wait lines and ticket purchasing policy ruin some of the momentum, so if you are just looking to spend the day at an arcade playing with a friend then I would recommend going to something like a Taito game center instead.  I really liked how clean the place was as well.  They make all players wear a face mask before putting on the VR helmet and also thoroughly wipe down the controls before the next players get in (hence the long wait).  It is reassuring to know that the facility is well-maintained and treated with respect so it was last long! It is clear that this is a very experimental project and a lot of the games they have are still in development, but it is drawing a crowd and gradually expanding!  Being one of the first to try it out truly made me feel like a hero.

Because I know that my money is going to a good cause, I will likely return in the future.  I would really like to try the Gundam, Dragonball, and VR rock climbing games next time.  I have high hopes that they will develop more angels for me to fight and more courses in Mario Kart that I can go back and triumph over.  From 8bit to virtual reality, I will always appreciate the glorious gaming world that has forever influenced my life.