Tag Archives: shopping

I got a Lolita makeover in Harajuku, Tokyo

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Inside the “Alice in Wonderland” book at Maison de Julietta in Harajuku, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an adorable porcelain doll, Maison de Julietta in Harajuku, Tokyo has a solution for you.

Maison de Julietta is a small shop on the bottom floor of the LaForet Department Store that offers guests a “Harajuku Lolita Experience.” The experience includes a head-to-toe makeover featuring Lolita clothing, hair and makeup, followed by a professional photoshoot in the “Alice in Wonderland”-themed photo studio.

Maison de Julietta’s official spokesmodel is Misako Aoki. Misako is a well-known Lolita model and a government-appointed Japanese Kawaii Ambassador, which, yes, is a thing. So, you know that this shop is pretty legit.

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Lolita fashion at Maison de Julietta. SCREAMfmLondon

LaForet is filled with impressive and trendy boutiques selling all the latest fashion and accessories — from Lolita styles and beyond. The Maison de Julietta boutique is fully stocked with the biggest, most deluxe Lolita brands there are: Metamorphose, Angelic Pretty, Alice and the Pirates. My Lolita outfit was comprised mostly of pieces from Baby, The Stars Shine Bright — a popular brand that typically retails around $300-500 for just one jumper skirt.

The base price for a Lolita experience is 9,980 JPY (about $84), but there is an additional charge for adding a wig (1,500 JPY), false eyelashes (500 JPY) or an undershirt (200 JPY). Included in the package are three professional photographs from your shoot — any additional copies you want to save will cost 1,000 JPY each.

I recommend going all out with the wig and the eyelashes because YOLO, when in Rome, etc. Once you make your selections, the adventure begins.

“Do you know ‘kawaii’? You’re going to be hearing it a lot today.”

“First, you’re going to pick out a dress!” said one staff member, gesturing toward the impressive rack of clothing in one corner of the shop.

“Are you going to help me?” I asked weakly. I didn’t know the first thing about putting together a coordinate. I didn’t really know anything about Lolita in general, aside from the fact that it looked cute and fun.

I also didn’t feel particularly confident that I was going to be able to squeeze my entire self into these delicate, cutesy outfits. I expressed this concern, and she waved me off, assuring me that the clothes would fit and, if not, they just wouldn’t zip it up all the way and would take photos from the other side. I was lowkey discouraged by that prospect: it didn’t seem very Lolita to be walking around with your zipper hanging open, but what can you do?

I selected a bouncy pink dress with lots of lace detailing and an undershirt with delicate bell sleeves. (“All the foreigners pick this dress!” the staff member told me.) She helped me find matching glitter socks and chunky pink heels, and then sent me to change.

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(✿◠‿◠). SCREAMfmLondon

To my surprise, the dress fit! It was a Harajuku miracle. But I cannot say the same for the undershirt, which would not at all button over my chest. However, the jumper ends up covering everything but the sleeves, so it didn’t really matter. Add several layers of petticoats, fluff, and you’re all set.

Finally, I emerged! They told me I was wearing it wrong, so I slunk back to the changing room to fix it. Finally, I reemerged!

The next step is hair and makeup. The artist worked her magic on me with various blushes, glosses and, of course, the false lashes. I wish I had been paying more attention to her process, because this was the best my makeup has ever looked in my entire life.

After makeup, I picked out a dark, curly wig. I was very wary of this step, but they reassured me that I could take it off if I felt weird. And I definitely did feel weird: I laughed hysterically at how goofy I looked when I first put it on. But once it was styled into cute pigtails and topped with a pink bonnet, I had started to feel comfortable in my new skin.

I sat in the makeup chair and took more selfies in a few minutes than I had in the past few years.

“I thought you said it looked weird,” said one staff member, checking in on me after a while.

“Yeah, I did. But now I’m feeling it.”

“Yeah, but now I’m feeling it.”

Eventually, it was time for the grand finale: the professional photo shoot. The photographer was very skilled and had his shoots down to a science. He told me exactly where to stand, how to pose, and what props to hold. It put me at ease since I felt extremely awkward the entire time.

Honestly, I was having the time of my life just standing around wearing the outfit. I don’t particularly enjoy being photographed, but a Lolita’s gotta do what a Lolita’s gotta do.

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(ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧. SCREAMfmLondon

I was perfectly alright with only getting to keep three photos from the shoot. I knew that if we took 100 photos, I’d probably only like three of them.

And guess what! I only liked two of them. My selfies turned out way better. In all the professional photos, I have this highly skeptical look on my face; you can almost hear me asking, “Are you sure this is going to look cute…?” through the lens.

When the shoot was finished, I was very reluctant to change back into my street clothes and undo the transformation. I was amazed at how cute and comfortable I felt in the Lolita look. I wanted to wear it all day, and the next day, and every day after that.

Maison de Julietta’s Lolita experience was the most fun I had in Japan. The staff was sweet and helpful (you even get a little Lolita sugar cookie on your way out the door!), the clothes were darling, and the whole experience was a blast. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a unique taste of Japanese culture.

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(◡‿◡✿). SCREAMfmLondon

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SMTown: Getting a 3D print with a k-pop star

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The future is now: my 3D print with Key from SHINee (featuring a photobomb from cardboard Infinite). SCREAMfmLondon

This is absolutely one of the coolest souvenirs imaginable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: k-pop is truly on the next level. The k-pop fan’s experience is unparalleled. With hologram concerts of the biggest stars and 3D-printed statuettes of fans standing with their favorite idols, it does not get any better than this.

SMTown Theatre: 3D Printing

SMTown at COEX Artium’s sixth floor houses the 3D printing theater, where fans can buy tiny, keychain-sized likenesses of SM artists or go all out with a sizable print of themselves posing proudly beside their idol of choice.

The full-size, unique figurine with an SM artist costs 625,000 KRW (that’s about $550 USD). The price is pretty fair — most places that sell 3D prints will charge around $300 for one person. It’s definitely well worth the cost to have such an incredible memento of this moment in your life while you’re still young, cute and really into boybands.

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3D prints of the artists on SMTown at COEX Artium’s sixth floor. SCREAMfmLondon

First, you select your favorite k-pop star and the appropriate pose. I picked Key from SHINee — a controversial choice, apparently, as the staff gave me incredulous looks, repeating, “Key? Are you sure? …Key?” throughout the process.

But I think he was the perfect choice. Of all the SM artists, I feel like Key and I are an excellent match and could totally be friends. Like, we’d really get along well and could probably watch RuPaul’s Drag Race together. Beauty fades, but that kind of spiritual connection is forever.

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Best friends forever. SCREAMfmLondon

I wanted a pose where we were interacting somehow, but I couldn’t imagine us standing in a romantic embrace with his arms around me. Plus, they had to digitally alter him so he was tall enough (“I think you are… bigger than him,” a staff member said, very delicately. “Do you want us to make him taller? Or the same size?”). We finally decided to loop one of my arms through his as he stood casually with one hand in his jeans pocket.

Next, I was led to a green screen studio where I had to hold my pose, arm crooked awkwardly in the air, while they scanned my entire body with a kind of radar and snapped several close-up photos of the details like my face and hair.

As I was scanned, the three-dimensional image materialized on a computer screen at the front of the room. This part actually turned out to be a huge hassle because the print on my dress did not scan well on the first try. I had to change my (meticulously-selected for the occasion!!) outfit to something with bright, solid colors and come back to be scanned a second time.

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Before the big reveal. SCREAMfmLondon

After the scanning, it takes about two weeks for the product to be printed, painted and finished. It was carefully packaged and presented with a weird little Polaroid of Ki-bum and myself outside on the patio that I now have framed on my desk because what else do you do with that?

The finished product is amazing. It’s one of the best things I own. It’s so strange to be able to hold myself in action figure form and inspect it from every angle. It’s surreal, and I love it. I will treasure it for the rest of my life. It will be passed down for generations, until the kids are asking, “Who’s that random cute guy standing with grandma?” It will be my legacy.

Check out my guide to SMTown’s SUM Celebrity Shop and LIVErary Café here.
Check out my guide to SMTown’s Studio and professional k-pop dance class here.

SMTown: SUM Celebrity Shop and LIVErary Cafe

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K-pop cafe: EXO cupcake and SHINee “Dream Girl” green apple drink in SMTown at COEX Artium’s LIVErary Cafe. SCREAMfmLondon

SMTown at COEX Artium is a sprawling, six-story k-pop hub. Located beside the gigantic COEX Mall in Gangnam (a shopping center so big it houses an entire aquarium and a huge movie theater inside as well), SMTown offers everything a k-pop fan could want: a hologram theater, branded merchandise, vocal lessons, a photo studio, a cafe, etc. And I’ve done (pretty much) all of it.

Here is my rundown of the two most accessible floors of the SMTown complex:

SUM: Celebrity Shop, Artist Goods, Artist Picks, Gifts
SMTown LIVErary: Cafe, Music, Media, Books, Special Goods

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SM Entertainment decorations lining the SMTown walls. SCREAMfmLondon

The building is tall and glittery from a distance, decorated with the names of SM Entertainment’s most popular artists: SHINee, Super Junior, EXO, Girls’ Generation (SNSD), f(x). The first floor’s Welcome Stage features a tall tower of flatscreens playing SM artists’ most recent music videos.

The second floor houses the SUM shop. This deluxe merchandise store features branded merch of all the bands and general Korean souvenirs, as well as “artist picks,” which are extremely expensive designer items worn by some of the band members. Some of the merch is cool, but the coolest stuff (tote bags with song lyrics printed on them, t-shirts, posters and pillows) are sold out or not yet for sale, despite the fact that the shop has been open since January.

Unless you’re looking to buy a pair of $400 sunglasses a member of SNSD was photographed wearing, you can find better k-pop merch in any given subway station. But they do sell a (pricey) replica of the treble clef necklace Chanyeol wears in the iconic classic “EXO Lives Next Door.”

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EXO staring at you from every direction. SCREAMfmLondon

On the building’s fourth floor is the SMTown LIVErary Cafe. This is an awkward way to say that it’s an SM-themed cafe. Some additional merchandise is sold on this floor (mostly CDs and DVDs), but the main attraction is the dessert case. Macarons and cupcakes printed with band logos are available for a (high) price, as are some tasty band-themed drinks.

The different bands all come in different colors and flavors. I ordered an EXO cupcake and a SHINee green apple-ade. The EXO “capcake” (har har) is chocolate cake topped with cream cheese frosting and a tiny EXO snapback. Someone informed me ahead of time that the caps are actually not edible, which was good to know because I definitely would have attempted to eat it. They’re about 8,000 KRW per cupcake, which is quite a lot, but they’re actually pretty tasty, and you get to keep the little hat as a souvenir.

SHINee’s green apple ade was also exceptionally delicious, and comes served in a cool, collectible “#DREAM GIRL” bottle. The drinks are super syrupy sweet and slightly carbonated, which I greatly enjoyed.

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Band logos printed on macarons at the SMTown LIVErary Cafe. SCREAMfmLondon

In the cafe, most of the tables and chairs have been signed by various SM artists. The walls are decorated with albums, plaques and a timeline of SM Entertainment’s biggest milestones. While enjoying your expensive snacks, you can try to grab a table at a listening station, where you can play SM artists’ music. It’s a cool setup, and it’s even moderately cozy, so big SM fans can end up spending a lot of time hanging out.

Check out my guide to SMTown’s Studio and professional k-pop dance class here.
Check out my guide to SMTown’s 3D printing theater here.

Food: Angels Heart in Harajuku

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Angels Heart crêpes in Harajuku, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

Crêpes are big in Tokyo, and there are about a million crêperies along Takeshita Street, one of Harajuku’s most popular pedestrian-only shopping streets. The foot traffic on Takeshita is so intense that there’s little room for actual movement, so the small restaurants and side streets are essential for a quick escape from the crowds.

Angels Heart is a crêperie located on the corner of one such side street, which provides a nice reprieve from the chaos of the main drag. There was periodically a line, but it went quite quickly.

Angels Heart serves a variety of freshly-made crêpes (both sweet and savory) with your choice of fillings. The girl in front of me definitely ordered some sort of leafy green crêpe filling, but I went with banana, chocolate and cheesecake for around 500 JPY. It was prepared quickly and served wrapped in a sturdy, pink paper cone. The entire side street is lined with people chillin’, eatin’ crêpes, and I was happy to join them.

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Banana, chocolate and cheesecake in one great crêpe. SCREAMfmLondon

The street is on a slight incline, so it provides a good vantage point from which you can do some great people-watching. While I was hanging out, I heard lots of shouting and clanging coming from the main street as several groups of men dressed in short robes pushed their way through the shoppers carrying some sorts of altars on their shoulders. I assume it had something to do with the Mid-Autumn Festival, Tsukimi, that was going on around the same time as the lunar eclipse during the last week of September.

But who knows.

At any rate, the crêpe was delicious: the slice of cheesecake was solid, the chocolate syrup was plentiful, the whipped cream was cool while the crêpe itself was warm. What more do you need? Angels Heart is a sweet spot to stop by when you become overwhelmed by the crowds in Harajuku.

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The view of Takeshita Street during Tsukimi 2015. SCREAMfmLondon

Guide to: Bukchon Hanok Village

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Traditional Korean architecture in Bukchon Hanok Village. SCREAMfmLondon

Bukchon Hanok Village is one of those must-see spots in Seoul where the traditional (a village that has been preserved for about 600 years) is beautifully juxtaposed with the modern (the streets are jam-packed with tourists holding Instagram photoshoots 24/7).

The hanok village is located pretty centrally between Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace. The neighborhood was where high-ranking government officials and nobility lived during the Joseon Dynasty (a Korean kingdom that reigned from 1392-1897).

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SCREAMfmLondon

It’s a bit like the Hollywood Hills of the Joseon Dynasty — especially with its ornately-decorated, exclusive exteriors and the steep, narrow and winding streets showing off an expansive view of the greenery and busy city life below. On the way up and scattered throughout are ritzy restaurants, clothing boutiques, art galleries and cafés. And in between the groupings of traditional houses are ultra-modern apartments that some poor souls currently pay a lot of money to live in, although it must be miserable having so many strange people milling around outside every time you’re trying to drive the car out of the garage.

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Kkoktu museum in Bukchon Hanok Village. SCREAMfmLondon

One of my favorite parts of Bukchon is the miniature kkoktu museum hidden inside one of the hanoks. Kkoktu are small, wooden funerary figures used to decorate funeral biers during the Joseon Dynasty. Basically, they are colorful little buddies that accompany your spirit on its journey to the afterlife.

Kkoktu come in a variety of styles and, together, form a complete little gang. Some are guides that ensure the spirit doesn’t get lost. Some are fierce guardians carrying weapons to fight off any evil spirits the group might encounter. Some are mother figures that provide comfort in case your spirit feels scared or sad about having left the mortal realm. And some are entertainers who play music or perform acrobatic tricks to keep the mood from getting too somber as the procession makes its way to the hereafter.

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Inside a hanok in Samcheong-dong. SCREAMfmLondon

The kkoktu museum itself is pretty tiny, but the figures (and the stories behind them) are so neat. The museum also offers the unique chance to walk around and check out the inside of a hanok. It’s a win-win. I love this place.

Everything in Samcheong-dong is pretty delightfully scenic, from the street artists to the architecture (both modern and historical, really). Nothing beats the view of those tiled roofs in front of great, silvery skyscrapers and the Namsan Tower in the distance. At Bukchon Hanok Village, you can do it all: drink some coffee, study some history, buy some expensive jewelry, photobomb some selfies.

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I thought about cropping out the random dude, but it gives a more accurate representation of the area to depict all the camera-flashing that goes on here. SCREAMfmLondon

I took a sightseeing tour of my own neighborhood

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The famed RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear talk that sightseeing tours are a great way to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods in big tourist destinations full of historical landmarks, just like Hollywood. I wasn’t sure what I’d take away from one, considering I happen to live in the aforementioned big tourist destination full of historical landmarks that is Hollywood. Maybe I’d learn something new and come away with a fresh perspective? Maybe it would suck and be boring. I was down to find out.

I set off on an “A Day in LA” tour hosted by the RastaBus — a tri-colored van, carefully decorated with “One Love” bumper stickers and peace signs, that played one reggae song at the very beginning of the day.

At 10 a.m., we clamored onto the bus from our starting point at the Santa Monica Pier. It didn’t take long for my boisterous fellow riders to commandeer the sound system, start blasting “No Diggity” and pop open a few bottles of champagne. Whenever I’d previously encountered a RastaBus in the wild, the passengers have always been really drunk and exceptionally annoying. But the thing about annoying, drunk people is that it’s much more fun to be with ‘em than against ‘em. So, I filled a red Solo cup and kicked back as we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Brunch on the water at our first stop on the Malibu Pier. SCREAMfmLondon

Malibu

The first stop was definitely the best part of the whole damn thing, and it was totally an anomaly. This is kind of deluxe treatment is highly atypical for a RastaBus tour, I assume. I just happened to be rolling with some well-connected sightseers who managed to surprise us with a hook up for free food. Individual results may vary.

We were dropped off at the Malibu Pier, where we were served an elaborate array of breakfast food at Malibu Farm, a ritzy farm-to-table restaurant located at the end of the pier. After weaving our way through fishermen with their wriggling mackerels, we were escorted into the Surfrider Room, a private dining area on the second floor of the restaurant that overlooks the gorgeous Malibu beaches.

We were treated to fresh-squeezed orange juice and local syrah rosé wine. Quinoa oatmeal with pomegranate and chia seeds. Swedish mini pancakes with homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Vegan chop salad. Grilled chocolate and whole wheat olive oil cakes. And my personal favorite: a fried egg sandwich made with bacon, arugula and baby potatoes on top of country wheat toast.

Next time, I’d skip the rest of the tour and come straight here.

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Malibu Farm’s fried egg sandwiches that made it all worthwhile. SCREAMfmLondon

Beverly Hills

There was supposed to be a tour of celebrity homes, but we mostly just peered up at Will Smith’s and Prince’s houses as we headed back eastward on the freeway. Seriously, that was it. Oh, and the tour guide also pointed out some scenery that appeared in a panoramic shot of “Two and a Half Men.” You know, just the essentials.

We drove in abject silence to a backing track of old school East Coast rap (for some reason) toward Beverly Hills, where our driver shared some fun facts about Rodeo Drive and offered to let us stop to walk around for a while.

“Keep driving!” someone yelled from the front of the bus. “Unless anyone has a black credit card we can use.”

The Grove

We had a scheduled lunchtime stop at the Grove and Original Farmers Market, where we had about 45 minutes to explore by ourselves. It’s a cool place to hang if you have a pocket full of cash and longer than 45 minutes.

As we left the Grove, we took Melrose Avenue followed by Sunset Boulevard, and our tour guide finally began sharing some information about the area via the RastaBus intercom system.

I was glad to finally hear from him. I was beginning to worry that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, just as I feared, most of his information was pretty basic. Like, he explained who Judy Garland was. I kind of wished I was giving the tour myself; I’m full of useless historical and pop culture trivia. It took a lot of self-restraint to keep from interrupting his monologues.

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Griffith Observatory. Not pictured: nachos. SCREAMfmLondon

Griffith Park

Our next stop was the Griffith Observatory, where we were given another 45 minutes to wander aimlessly and not really accomplish anything. I must admit I was getting a little tired of being forced out of the pleasantly air-conditioned bus into the actual great outdoors.

Since there isn’t much science you can accomplish in 45 minutes, I headed straight for the café and emerged with a plate of nachos. The Café at the End of the Universe is significantly less cool than it sounds with a name like that, but they did sell me a plate of tortilla chips covered in fake cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo, so what more can you ask for?

Hollywood

Cruising through Hollywood, the tour guide actually shared some interesting information! Did you know that the blinking light atop the Capitol Records Tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code? I did not.

Shortly, my tourmates grew jealous of my uncanny ability to locate and devour nachos under strange circumstances, so they insisted that our driver stop at Chibiscus Asian Café and Restaurant on Sunset for some food. We called the restaurant from the van (“Hello, there are about 13 of us, and we’re coming in right now.”) and filled the entire small space with our raucous presence. I watched K-pop music videos while everyone else ate ramen.

And, then, very awkwardly, I said, “Hey… Would it be weird if I asked you to leave me here?”

They didn’t seem to think so, so I ditched the RastaBus and hiked back home by myself rather than sticking around for the ride back to Santa Monica.

And, well. I did learn the thing about the Capitol Records Building.

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View of my ‘hood from the RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

Here are some cool tours to take in LA that will circumvent the RastaBus experience:

Pamela Des Barres Rock Tour

Rock groupie Pamela Des Barres guides groups around Hollywood and Laurel Canyon, reading excerpts from her book, “I’m with the Band,” which details her escapades with Led Zeppelin and other classic rockstars.

Esotouric Literary LA Tours

Tour the hangouts of famous Los Angeles writers, including a jaunt to Charles Bukowski’s favorite liquor store, a Raymond Chandler-themed gelato shop and settings from James M. Cain’s “Mildred Pierce.”

Dearly Departed Tours

Creepy tours include the classic Tragical History Tour of celebrity death locations, the epic three-hour Helter Skelter tour of the Manson Family murder locations, and a horror movie location tour, among others.

Esotouric True Crime Tours

These morbid tours dig into LA’s most famous crimes, including the Black Dahlia murder, the serial killings of the Night Stalker and “hotel horrors” at hotspots like the Alexandria and the Cecil.