Cherry Blossom Chocolate

Cherry Blossom Chocolate

It isn’t even cherry blossom season any more, but I had never seen this version of Dars before so felt honour bound to try it.

To be honest, I am not a great fan of the sakura taste, although I have consumed it in tea, ice cream, and no end of delightful cakes where there is a piece of dried blossom as decoration. There’s nothing wrong with it, there just isn’t much of a flavour there to form an opinion on. So apart from the pretty colour, there doesn’t seem much point.

Here, the predominant flavour is the white chocolate, with just a hint of something extra which is hard to define. The pink colour is not particularly striking, either.

No, I wasn’t impressed, I only ate 1 piece and will not be buying this again.

Water Brush

This is one of those supremely useful inventions that you did not know you needed until you saw it.

It’s a paintbrush, but a hollow plastic one which holds water and feeds it through a tiny valve to the brush itself.

Ideal for those artistic moments when you turn a drawing made with those wonderful ‘watercolour’ pencils into an actual painting, or when you let small children loose on that special paper which changes colour when wet.

These things need practise, as it takes a while before you work out how hard you can squeeze the brush without ending up soaking your masterpiece, but otherwise they are a joy to use.

From the art stores of Japan, obviously…

Man ‘Blotters’

Facial ‘blotting paper’, carefully packed into decorated folders about the size of a business card, can be found in the handbags of many Japanese women.

They provide a sort of halfway stage of freshening up before you need to actually get out your makeup and make repairs. That is, if you start to feel slightly shiny, a few dabs with one of these will usually do the trick.

What I have not seen before, however, is the male version, and I only really noticed it on the shelf because I was wondering why this particular packet held twice the number of sheets but was cheaper. Not only that, further inspection revealed the blotters are specially embossed, to absorb more and stickier sweat, all without it leaking through the paper onto your hands.

Although it is designed for men, this product is also perfectly suitable for ‘active women of metabolism’, apparently. Which is a nice way of suggesting that you might be sweating more than the delicate ladies version can cope with.

As this was packed into a small square booklet with a gold cover, and was actually called ‘Gold man’, I was a little disappointed that the pages inside were just a slightly shiny caramel colour instead of something more sparkling.

Also, my husband professed himself baffled at the suggestion that he might find them useful – he had never heard of these and saw no reason why he might ever use them.

Oh well… I suppose it’s the thought that counts.


Miniature Compact

There’s something very appealing about those make-up compacts you find in airport duty free shops – the ones combining everything you might need to paint your face into one handy, slim line container. Never mind the fact that half the colours don’t really suit, or it’s the wrong type of mascara…

I’ve even been known to make my own, cannibalising some existing compact or (for really short trips) pressing together a variety of different colours into one small lidded tray.

This one, though, is the tiniest, most adorable compact I have ever seen. In fact, it is so cute I cannot bring myself to use it, but simply take it out to delight over once in a while.

A cube barely 3 cm a side, it has slide out trays and manages to include 6 eye shadows, 2 lip and cheek gels plus 2 incredibly small brushes with which to apply them. Not to mention the mirror in the lid so you can see what you are doing.

I bought this in Tokyo, at the Daikanyama Minipla, and don’t regret a single yen.

Drip Tea

I was sceptical at first… this looks like nothing more than an attempt to hijack the ‘origami’ coffee trend for tea.

It’s the same ‘rip open at the top and pour hot water in’ bag, suspended by dinky cardboard arms over the sides of your cup. How could it possibly be any different from a tea bag?

But I was surprised and delighted. It may simply be the quality of the tea, which comes from the mountains of Imari in Kyushu, and whose leaves are apparently wrapped whilst budding for a ‘sweet undertone with a sublime taste’. It may be the quality of the filter, which is very fine mesh rather than paper.

Whatever the reason, this was the nicest green tea I can recall tasting – delicate, aromatic and fresh. The poster that caught my eye promised this would taste and smell like green tea steeped in a pot, because the way the filter opens out gives the leaves chance to unfurl and thus produce a deeper flavour than they would in a normal tea bag. It seems this was right, and I will be rushing back for more.

Hedgehog Cafe

Harinezumi means ‘hedgehog’ in Japanese (actually it means needle mouse, which is fairly descriptive…) and Harry seems to be the oversized hedgehog who rules the roost in the Harajuku hedgehog café.

Visitors queue up to spend half an hour admiring, feeding, and – if they let you – playing with the couple of dozen hedgehogs who live here.

You might think that hedgehogs are not the best creatures to pick up and cuddle, but leather gloves are provided to protect your hands. And it is just as well, because you soon discover that the prickles are the least of your worries when it comes to playing with these shy creatures – however gentle you might be, a grumpy hedgehog has no qualms when it comes to pooing in all directions.

Half an hour (at the fairly steep price of ¥1,400) is actually long enough, because the best you can hope from your hedgehogs is that rather than struggling to escape they will curl up and go to sleep, possibly in your hands.

But the café is clean and bright, the price includes a drink you can get for yourself from the line of vending machines at the back, and the walls are covered with amusing posters explaining all about hedgehogs and how to hold them. Friendly staff will even take your photo, as it is very hard to manage a creditable selfie with 2 hedgehogs in your hand.

Most of the animals live in glass sided tanks set into the counters, so you can see them amble round at their eye level rather than just peering in from above. Strict rules mean you must disinfect your hands before holding them, and also keep your hands below the top of the tanks so there is no chance of accidentally dropping a hedgehog to the floor.

Small tubs of worms, and tweezers with which to handle them, mean you can feed your hedgehogs as well as simply pet them, and whilst I was there the café was full of happy customers. Whether the hedgehogs were happy as well is not something I can be sure of, as you can’t have the sort of personal interaction with them you might get with a cat or dog. But it was a quirky and interesting way of spending half an hour, and a welcome break from the freezing cold of February in Tokyo.


Seasonal Sakura

Christmas can start as early as September in the UK, with decorations going up and seasonal specials on sale. Cadbury’s crème eggs have even been spotted in October, many months before Easter…

It’s not quite as bad in Japan, but still – despite the February snow – the spring time cherry blossom is hotly anticipated with posters, decorations and products submerging Tokyo in pink.

There are even seasonal brews from the big beer companies, with the limited edition cans adorned with shiny flowers.

Starbucks coffee shops also prove to be no exception, with these delightful if very creamy sakura flavoured specials on sale already. Daughter #1 was persuaded to sample the latte, which came with festive pink sprinkles, but not the sakura chiffon cake complete with blossom bud.

Her verdict: who can tell what cherry blossom really tastes like? The best drink by far was a regular hot chocolate topped with pink blossom shaped marshmallows.

Fishing for Dinner



Kudos to daughter #1 for spotting this hilarious fish restaurant in Meguro.

The premise is simple: you take a rod, attach some bait then do your best to catch your own dinner.

It’s not quite as easy as ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ but you are pretty much guaranteed a bite if you stay there long enough (although in cases of desperation you can get the staff to catch something for you).

Somehow, the Zaou restaurant has constructed a ‘river’ running through their 5th floor premises, complete with bridge and wooden boat effect. There are plenty of fish in the river, and also plenty of room for them to dodge out of harm’s way, making the fishing part of the experience an exciting and drawn out affair.

Once you manage to entice a sea bream or flounder onto your line, there’s a great deal of shouting and splashing about. Nets are wielded, drums beaten and photos taken as you proudly hold your catch aloft. Then you choose what to do with it – grill, fry, simmer with soy sauce or simply serve as sushi. If your fish is big enough you can even half and half it to savour 2 different serving styles.

It’s all really good fun, there’s plenty of beer to help along the catching, plus a menu full of tasty side dishes to supplement your fish.

Separate troughs hold more expensive shellfish, but a basic horse mackerel grilled to order will set you back just ¥1,000 and the biggest flounder less than ¥5,000. We had a great time here and will certainly be back.




Opuro Bath Salts

The Hayakawa Valve Production Co. is a fairly unlikely candidate for the manufacture of perfumed bath salts – they usually make water purifiers for safe and palatable drinking water. Opuro salts, apparently, are the result of experiments to produce purified bath water as well.

Many countries use chlorine to sterilise tap water and make it fit for consumption, but some of the chemical always remains in the water and gives it that unpleasant taste and smell, plus the potential to irritate your skin. This bath powder contains ingredients including Vitamin C and amino acids to reduce the amount of residual chlorine in tap water to virtually none, which ought to have a noticeable effect on anyone suffering from dry and sensitive skin.

Collagen and hyaluronic acid are added for a moisturising effect, plus green tea and papain for a refreshing feeling that should last long after you have stepped out of the bath.

This all sounds so scientific and comforting that I would really like to be able to say I noticed a big difference. But in fact, if I hadn’t seen the explanatory leaflet next to these sachets amongst all the other varieties of bath salt in the shop, I would never have known the difference.

Still, my bath (pink water, with the smell of flowers of the southern counties) was very nice, and I loved the idea of this range being ‘cosmetics for bathing’. I’m sure that if sensitive skin is an issue for you, these bath salts would be ideal.

Character Contacts

‘Characters’ are huge in Japan – cute creatures promote everything from TV stations to tourist hotspots, and if you love any of the famous faces from the likes of Sanrio or Studio Ghibli you will be spoilt for choice on clothes, toys, stationery and accessories.

And this is not just for youngsters. You would be surprised at how many adults are proud to sport their Hello Kitty lace socks or their Totoro shoulder bags.

If you are less of the sort who spends the weekend in full costume as your favourite character, but prefer to keep your allegiance more low key, there are also many options. Rather than hitting the streets in Sailor Moon’s distinctive schoolgirl uniform, for example, you could simply wear the lingerie version instead.

The latest fascinating trend along these lines is for character contact lenses. Those Sailor Moon fans can also transform their eyes into the sparkling shades of the 5 main characters with ‘moon prism’ lenses for only ¥2,300.

Anyone who prefers the cuter, cuddly animal characters can find something even better. Lenses are available in varying soft shades of pink and brown, which incorporate tiny pictures of the characters printed round the coloured part of the lens.

You can choose Hello Kitty, My Melody or Little Twin Stars, although the designs are so small and intricate I suspect someone would have to get very close indeed to make them out.

All these are non-prescription, obviously, and they come in 2 different sets – 5 pairs of one day only lenses for ¥1,800, and a single set you can wear for a whole month, for ¥2,000.