Forever Hungry: Chabara Store in Akihabara

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We went to Akihabara one weekend searching for a place to get a 3DS capture card, but unfortunately missed its open hours. So we instead wandered around when a store called Chabara caught my eye. It is right near the AKB48 and Gundam cafés (and no, I do not plan on going to either of those) and contains many wonderful food stuffs from all over Japan.

Inside is a food market that sells exceptional ingredients from different prefectures, ranging from snacks and drinks to frozen high end meats.

We were checking out some stuff when a staff member approached us for a picture:

The picture was taken with an Instax and was pinned to a bulletin board on a pillar in the store along with pictures of other customers. Sadly the board wasn’t there when we went again a couple weeks later, so it must’ve been a super temporary thing.

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Close up of some brownies we bought (walnut and ginger flavors)

 
We spent a loooong time just browsing all the different types of food the store had. Everything was laid out so that you could leisurely explore, and they were generous with samples.

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Bought this for a friend who is into decaffeinated coffee. One is coffee blended with soybeans, while the other is blended with red rice.

 
I appreciated seeing speciality foods from different prefectures since I’m not sure if I would ever visit them on my own. The prices were pretty affordable, and our haul came to a little under $20USD. Of course there were higher end items that would easily put a huge dent in your wallet, but it was pretty easy to get a variety of stuff without feeling any financial guilt.

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Close up of the top on the nyan cup saké, which is a play on the ubiquitous one cup saké.

 
If you’re ever in Akihabara and need a break from the intense otaku atmosphere, consider popping into Chabara to explore some regional Japanese food! This is a place I definitely would love to visit again and again.

Out & About: Plant Life Balance

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One Saturday we decided to do some more exploring while waiting for some laundry to finish at a nearby laundromat. Sakura season was cut short by a ton of heavy rainfall, but there was still a lot of things in bloom to look at as we walked around.

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Right near us are these containers filled with fish and vegetation by the roadside. Who made the decision to put them there?


 
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Looking pretty vibrant.

 

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The whole makeshift pond set up.

 

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Even though there aren’t a lot of trees in our area, houses are usually surrounded by plant life like this.

 

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This huge building had a bunch of dead vines climbing down from the second story.

 

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Right around the corner.

 

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Mossy fish tank with a wooden plank on top.

 

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Riverbed with dying sakura trees. This would’ve been a great viewing spot during the prime sakura season.

 

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Pigeons look the same no matter where we go.

 

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Pigeon and Roy. Roy carried our IKEA laundry bag all over the place.

 
This miniature journey has made me want to attempt a small garden for our balcony as we get ample sunlight. Not sure if I’m ready to dive into gardening territory though! Maybe I’ll get some more inspiration first.

Forever Hungry: Takara Shochu Highball Ginger & Ramuné

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I know what you’re thinking: Sarah! You don’t talk enough about booze! You’re right. I am here to rectify that with a double booze review: Takara Shochu Highball in Ginger and Ramuné flavors. (You might remember my first Takara Shochu Highball review with Shikuawasa flavor.) This time I spent some time taking close-ups so you can see the special artwork and dimpled can texture.

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The “ramuné for adults” flavor.


 
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it still weirds me out just a little bit that Takara would mix alcohol with a flavor that’s usually associated with kids: syrupy sweet and fizzy ramuné. Normally I don’t really care for ramuné so I took the ginger flavor while Roy took this one.

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The back has artwork of what looks like a matsuri.


 
After trying each other’s drink, though, I found I liked the ramuné flavor more while he liked the ginger. I think I was expecting a stronger ginger flavor, so the drink felt kind of muted to me. The ramuné one had a toned down flavor of the kid’s drink so it appealed to me more.

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Closeup of the artwork on the ginger can of what looks like a yakiniku place.


 
Like the shikuwasa one I had a while back, both drinks were light on the sweetness and really refreshing, which I’m finding is a huge selling point for myself. I don’t wanna drink to get bogged down! I need to stay light and airy so I can keep drinking feel like a lady.

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I’m horrible at product staging, but at least you can see what the drink actually looks like!


 
I’m glad I had the chance to review a couple more of these limited edition flavors. Looking forward to what they come out for summer!

Out & About: Sailor Moon Café in Anion Station

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A couple weeks ago a friend on Facebook tipped me off about a Sailor Moon Crystal Café in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku. I immediately made reservations the same day because I am a healthy adult with responsible hobbies.

To back track a bit, it is crazy the amount resurgence Sailor Moon Crystal has caused. Nobody seems to care that they use recycled art to promote new merchandise, as seen in this display for a cosmetics shop in Shibuya:
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I think people are just glad to have an excuse to celebrate the show again. It definitely made an impact on me growing up, and despite many lamentations at the new incarnation of the series, I was still eager to try out the Sailor Moon-themed café that my middle school self would have died to get into.

(Apologies in advanced for crappy cellphone pics! There was hardly any table space – let alone elbow space – to whip out my Nikon.)

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For those who don’t know, Kabuki-cho is kind of a seedy area with all sorts of sketchy-looking store fronts depicting women in various states of dress, with the occasional gaudy sign for the infamous Robot Restaurant mixed in.

So upon seeing the above entrance for the café, I immediately expected somewhat of a derpy experience. It was tiny, next to a karaoke bar, and didn’t look very inviting. The reservations were also free and no hassle to get – unlike the Pokémon and Eorzea Cafés Roy and I went to a couple months ago. (Eorzea write-up still incoming. Whoops.)

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We each got a file containing a menu, track list to pick songs from, and an order sheet.


After entering the café, we were sat down at tiny tables of two clustered right next to each other. We ordered one drink and one dessert each.

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Drinks!


 
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The drinks came with a lit up ice cube inside and a special coaster to go with them.


 
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Close up of my Mako-chan melon drink. There was a little rose wrapped around the straw! Sadly I liked Roy’s Sailor Moon drink more, which was a pink lemonade.


 
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The drinks came with little sandwich biscuits with the characters printed on them.


 
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Taking the time to take some pictures and tweet about being at the café.


 
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Overview of my Usagi waffle plate.

After a lot of pondering over the menu, I decided to get the Usagi waffle plate while Roy went with the Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus one. I unfortunately couldn’t finish my dish because it was so rich – not to say it was bad, it was actually really good! But I don’t think I can handle eating so much dessert at one time anymore.

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Close up of the Tuxedo Mask part of the Usagi waffle plate. The moon was made out of grapefruit jelly, and the top hat was a chocolate flavored biscuit that I unfortunately missed out on.


 
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Sailor Moon side of the Usagi waffle plate. The waffle had whipped cream and ice cream on top, drizzled with syrup. There were some crunchy bits that I think were toffee. It was topped with another biscuit sandwich.


 
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Roy’s Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus waffles with green tea ice cream. The heart was made out of lemon jelly.

 

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A doofus and her waffle.


 
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Place was completely booked. There were a ton of screens wrapped around the room for a “360” viewing experience.


 
The Sailor Moon Crystal Café is a 90 minute experience, which included a “radio show” where patrons could request songs via Twitter, listen to a set battle between two “radio DJs”, and watch the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal together.

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Screen explaining how to request songs via Twitter.

 
The “radio” part was kind of cool in that you could see patrons tweet song requests, although there weren’t many participating. We had finally worked up the nerve to tweet our own request, only to realize they were moving on to the set battle (which worked out since they ended up playing the song that I wanted to hear anyway).

The set battle consisted of two DJs playing three Sailor Moon songs each, and with our little glowy wands we changed the color to match the DJ that we liked. It was fun seeing everyone in the room get excited at certain songs, and I’ll admit I got hit by a huge wave of nostalgia as I recognized almost all of them.

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Finally, the last segment of our experience was watching the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal together. I’m pretty sure they played the fixed up Blu-Ray version, although the artwork still doesn’t do anything for me since it lacks the charm of the older show (which interestingly enough they showed clips of during the DJ battles…pretty sure I heard at least a couple people saying “See! I prefer the way that looks.”)

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Behind Roy was a display case of merchandise.

 

Another layer of the experience was being in a room full of adult Sailor Moon fans. Age range is always hard to tell (although there were definitely two older dudes who had a table to themselves), but I didn’t find myself feeling like “too old” for an event like this, even though the show is aimed for middle schoolers. I think most of us there had grown up with the series versus new fans whose first introduction to Sailor Moon is through Crystal.

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So many toys inspired by gadgets from the show! I want the transformation pen.

 
The café did have a tiny goods shop, but aside from some stellar iPhone 6 cases (I am still clinging onto my 4S), the merchandise consisted of measly scrunchies, lanyards, and plastic cups.

Despite my initial fear that the Sailor Moon Crystal Café was going to suck, I ended up having a good time going down memory lane. The event was set up so that you never felt bored or compelled to keep ordering food to make the most of the 90 minute time limit. It was also nice experiencing something together in a room full of other Sailor Moon fans, something that my childhood self desperately craved.

Forever Hungry: Suntory Torys Highball

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This whiskey-based highball is quickly becoming my favorite canned drink. It is a simple concoction of lightly sweetened whiskey, lemon, and carbonated water, at 7% alcohol. It is super refreshing! Tastes like something you would get at a bar but without paying bar prices. Plus check out the adorable retro design!

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Dig this little dude.

 
I am excited to drink it every time. Although I don’t drink soda, I love carbonated beverages, so having bubbly booze is always a fun treat. If you like whiskey but want something on the lighter side, definitely give this a try if you’re able to.

Bonus commercial that just came out:

(Aaand sidenote: why do places in Japan pack their drinks with ice and no straw? It’s a nightmare for my teeth!)

Shop Talk: Pure White Backgrounds for Product Photos

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So you’ve made a lightbox and you’re ready to take product photos. You’ve got your seamless white background and good lighting, but the products still have some gray areas around them. How can you make the background pure white for consistency? If you have Photoshop, it’s no problem.

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First, open up your unprocessed product photo. (…this probably should’ve been taken with better lighting/exposure, but it’ll do.)

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Crop as close to the product as you can get without cutting off its natural shadow at the bottom.

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Go into your Levels and adjust them using the Auto button. This will naturally brighten the picture.

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Then select the eyedropper all the way to the right to set your preferred lightness. By clicking on the gray area next to the product, you are adjusting how the program perceives its lightest levels. So the gray will turn into white and the rest of the levels will adjust accordingly, brightening the whole deal.

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Ta da! Now you can copy and paste the image into a document with a pure white background without worrying about patchy gray areas.

Notes:
This works the best if the photograph itself is originally taken with ample lighting and good exposure. If the white background is registered as too dark, then Photoshop will go to more extreme measures when it adjusts the levels. It can be a nightmare processing photos of things that contain a lot of white if the lighting is bad.

Forever Hungry: New Touch Sano Ramen

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When I was suffering through a cold a couple weekends ago, I asked Roy if he could pick me up some instant ramen since I felt like it would hit the spot. He went off to a conbini and came back with – and I quote – “the most expensive ramen they had.” It was ¥130 (~$1.10 USD). Bless that boy.

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Close up the mascot for this ramen named “Sanomaru”.


 
The ramen is made by a company called New Touch, and this particular product is from their sugomen (“cool noodles)” line. The type is called Sano Ramen, which is based off of a soy sauce broth.

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According to the site, the Sano Ramen was recently revamped in October, making it currently in its 8th iteration. They upped the quality of the onions – which I actually noticed without having known this prior! – and increased the quantity of the noodles by 2 grams.

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Freshly opened, the Sano Ramen came with three separate packets: a slice of char siu with bamboo (what!), soup base, and green onions.

 

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What the noodles looked like. Selling points were that they hadn’t been fried but instead air-dried with hot air, which makes it lower in calories.

 

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After putting in the hot water, the directions tell you to put the soup base on top while waiting for the noodles to cook.

 

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End result!

 
As mentioned earlier, I was surprised to find that the green onions actually tasted like green onions. The char siu practically melted apart and the bamboo had a decent crunch to it. The broth wasn’t as bitingly salty as your standard Maruchan ramen you might find at a grocery store in the States. Overall I enjoyed it a lot as the flavor was mild compared to a lot of soy sauce-based broths.

Could there be such a thing as high quality instant ramen? This experience made me want to do more testing!

Soapbox: Ways to Follow My Antics Online

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

In an attempt to put myself Out There more, I’ve decided to sign up for Bloglovin account. It required me to create a new post with the above code, so I thought I might as well have a quick roundup of other ways you can follow me online:

  • Twitter: my most active social media account. I often post daily ramblings, previews of comics I’ve been working on, and pictures of day-to-day life. My Instagram feeds automatically gets pulled into here and I set up an IFTTT recipe so that the pictures will display in the timeline.
  • Instagram: I find I’m most active here on weekend nights, where I’ll post a pic spam of how we spent our days.
  • Tumblr: Where I mostly post previews of artwork or Gachi Maya updates. I’m planning to start cross-posting some of my blog content there so that it updates more frequently.
  • YouTube: Roy and I are slowly getting back into the podcasting sphere, with plans to revive My Fair Hunter soon. We’re currently waiting on getting a capture card for our 3DS.
  • Flickr: My least active social media account, but with the best looking pictures. Chances are you’ll be able to see photos from up-and-coming blog posts that are scheduled down the road.

Weird to see my online life separated out like that. Sometimes it feels all clustered together! Anyway, I am working on setting up a Patreon that will entail monthly giveaways, so I wanted to give out this little signal boost as you’ll definitely want to follow me in some shape or form to get announcements. Stay tuned.

Out & About: Sakura at Night

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One night after Roy got out of work we decided to see how the sakura trees we live near were lit up near the train station. There was a sea of out-of-towners buying food from stands and drinking champagne out of plastic champagne glasses. Being sucked up in a swarm of people bobbing under the influence, we slowly walked alongside a river that was littered with trees on either side.

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The lanterns have the names of various local businesses on them. Definitely the least gaudy way I can think of to advertise to a shit ton of people all at once.

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The trees reached up towards the train station. I happened to catch a train going by which you can see through the trees.

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Hopefully you can tell the massive size of these trees compared to the crowds. It’s hard to believe that these trees just hang out here all year long and only come to their peak for a few weeks a year.

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As we slowly walked with the crowds, we came closer to this beautifully lit up tree that was illuminated by blue light from the building.

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View from the other side.

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Afuri is the name of one of Roy’s favorite ramen restaurants. Because of the sakura-viewing frenzy, the restaurant had a line straight out the door.

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It’s a good thing we went when we did, because right after this I came down with a horrible head cold that knocked me out for the next weekend of sakura viewing. Ugh! What terrible timing. Still, between this night viewing, the beer festival, and our day spent exploring in the rain, I feel like I was able to get ample sakura-viewing time in different ways.

Flickr Gallery:

Stuff!: Mandom Oil in Body Milk Cinderella Edition

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Living right next to a drug store is dangerous since it’s the one place where you can find a lot of really cool skincare and makeup stuff for lower prices than department stores*. I just ran out of hand lotion and was in dire need of something that would prevent my perpetually dry skin from going full-blown reptile.

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I picked up this Mandom Cinderella edition body lotion almost entirely because of its packaging. I’ve been seeing these Disney Princess-themed skincare products floating around the internet and I finally had an excuse to buy one!

Close up of the elegant artwork and details on the back. This is an official Disney-licensed product and can only be found in Japan.

It was a little on the pricey side of about ~¥750, but I’ve been using it just for my hands and I can tell it’s going to last a long time. The lotion is mixed with macadamia oil and shea butter for extra moisture. The consistency is a little on the thinner/watery side versus creamy, but I’m finding it works better since creamy type lotions wash off easily. I’m a neurotic hand-washer so I hate having to reapply lotion all the time (which is why I think I ran out of my previous hand cream so quickly ughhh), but with this one I can tell it stays put even after a few washes. A little bit will go a long way which helps me justify the cost.

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The one thing I was hesitant about when buying was the scent which is “white jasmine”. When I’ve used lotions from Western brands like Bath and Body Works I’ve always hated the smell of their floral lines since they were always so revoltingly pungent. This lotion however has a really delicate smell that doesn’t make me want to throw up all day every day.

Looking at the product site, they actually break down the layers of the scent this way:
Top: Mango, lychee, bergamot
Middle: Jasmine, freesia, lilac, water lily
Bottom: Amber, cedarwood

Fancy!

Looking at said site, I wish they had the Snow White Fruity Cocktail version available at the store since I prefer fruity smells over flowers. (Also Snow White is up there for one of my favorite Disney movies. Not a big fan of Cinderella personally!)

If there was a downside to the product, I would have to say its use of mineral oil would probably be a deal breaker for people who have sensitive skin as it can cause breakouts. I didn’t realize until after purchasing the lotion that it contained it but haven’t had any issues so far. I’m still pretty happy with the purchase and have a little bit of Disney in my life in a (thankfully) subtle way.


* Tip for travelers: If you see a Matsumoto Kiyoshi drug store (the sign will often be in roman characters), you can take advantage of their free wifi! When we didn’t have a phone with a data plan this was a life saver. Just be careful because these places are always packed with people looking for deals and you might get trapped in one of their narrow aisles.