Kawaii Monster Café: Monstrously Adorable!


“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”  ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Masuda

Masuda

The Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku opened not too long ago, but apparently it’s already become a “must-see” stop for locals and visitors alike in Tokyo.  Created by well-known Japanese avant-garde artist Sebastian Masuda, the mastermind behind the famous “cuteness-fashion” store 6% DokiDoki (see the video below), the candy-colored, monstrously darling café has become a top competitor for the title of Japanese Queen of Cuteness.

For just a 500 yen cover charge (a little under $5) visitors can spend 1 ½ hours inside just gawking at the overboard, overwhelmingly cute designs and décor inside.  No purchase necessary.  But you’ll buy something if you go in – it’s all just so…enticing.

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I have to admit this establishment was Jody’s “find” online.  I think she searched for something like “uniquely obscure places to eat” and this café of cuteness topped the list, every list, although maybe just behind a vampire themed – and staffed – restaurant.  It was her birthday, I mean actually her birth day, so we had to have a party, right?  What better place than one with a larger-than-life birthday cake turned merry-go-round?  I’m not sure what’s coming out of those lips on the top, though.  And that’s just the start of the cute oddities that, like the Robot Restaurant (see Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto for more on our visit to that iconic Tokyo venue), can only truly be produced and experienced in Japan.

Entry with "Choppy"

Entry with “Choppy”

We went on a late afternoon, and were pleasantly surprised to only have one small group (of Americans) ahead of us waiting to get inside.  I have read reviews of people waiting well over an hour….  There is a waiting lobby, crazily decorated, but that’s just a hint, just a small taste (pun intended!!) of what’s to come.  The café’s monster mascot, “Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks,” or just “Choppy” for short, is first seen here.  The entrance to the café is through doors shaped like his tongue.  As the staff warned us, we were about to enter the belly of the beast!

Selecting Your Eating Area

Selecting Your Eating Area

The hostess will take your name and ask you what “area” of the café you’d like to sit in.  Not knowing much, and quickly reviewing a video screen with a named picture of each area, we picked the “Mushroom Disco,” an odd choice since we are both NOT fans of mushrooms…of any kind.  In a disco, however?  HELL YES!

Jody with the Sweets-Go-Round and Monster Girls

Jody with the Sweets-Go-Round and Monster Girls

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-monster-hostesses-to-our-seating-in-the-mushroom-foresttokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-selfie-with-a-monster-hostessWhen your table is ready, double doors open and you are greeted by one of the five resident “Monster Girls”!  All I can say is WOW.  This is where the weird journey down the rabbit hole really begins….  Keep in mind that this café is square in the middle of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, which is well-known as Japan’s mecca for zany fashion and alternative youthful culture.  Seriously, there is such a thing as “Harajuku Lifestyle,” and the “Monster Girls” are prime examples.  From the café’s own website, Harajuku is described as “a colorful and crazy town that has been creating its own original culture by engulfing the world’s most trendiest fashions and cultures.”  One of Japan’s most famous pop and fashion icons of the moment, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, was in fact a repeat customer of DokiDoki, and a close collaborator with Masuda.

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The shop is hosted by five of these so-called “Monster Girls” in all their hallucinatory glory —name Sweet Baby, Selfish Dolly, Happy Candy, Sexy Nasty, and Moody Crazy, names hopefully divorced from their ideas of customer service.  These young girls are carefully selected, embodying the eye-popping lavishness of the café’s very essence.  Their characters where developed by Masuda himself to reflect the different personalities of the café, and to help promote the idea of Japanese Harajuku “cute culture” abroad.  We only had three attending to the café during our visit; I would image all five are present during rush times.  It’s hard to tell if they role-play their character per their name; there is very little English spoken here, so we didn’t have much interaction other than various photo ops.  They do walk the floor and stop and chat with most everyone.  Oh, and it’s hard to figure out who’s who, unless you have the cheat photo from their website!

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There are four main seating areas splayed throughout the interior.  The “Mushroom Disco” includes larger-than-life, neon-colored shrooms of all types, surrounded by alien vegetation, which makes for quite a psychedelic-drug induced dining experience.  According to the shop’s website, this area is “a big forest with its ceiling covered with poisonous colorful mushrooms and space plants.  There is also a secret room for gossip ladies further inside!”  I’m not sure how “disco” fits the motif, but hey, it’s Japan, and it’s CUTE (kawaii!!!).  And gossip is always fun.  For ladies apparently.

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Milk Stand

Then there is the “Milk Stand,” a corner of the café where massive heads of giant rabbits, sheep, and unicorn adorned with large non-descript creepy unfeeling lights for eyes drink milk from tubes emanating from oversized baby bottles hanging from everywhere the ceiling.  I honestly am at a loss here; this is unlike any nursery I’ve ever seen.  The website describes it this way:  “It’s a crazy baby room where the animals drink their milk.”  Okay….

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“Bar Experiment” is another area, and reserved for adults (mostly).  The motif here is ocean, but maybe a darker side of the deep sea, including a somewhat sinister black lit flickering jellyfish engulfing the countertop bar.  It’s a bit more sophisticated and offers silly drinks that have a rather adult silly effect.  The café says this:  “The bar counter is surrounded by mysterious glowing jellyfish and is the experiment room for lurking adults in the deep sea….”

Mushroom Seating

Mushroom Seating

Finally, there is the “Mel-Tea Room,” a more open and spacious area of sweets-on-parade where “ants will lead the way through the sugar signs and will take you to a tea party with melting ice cream, chocolate and macarons.”  How can this level of Alice in Wonderful-esque bizarreness possibly be resisted?  Regardless of where you’re sat, walk around and experience all the other areas, each with a crazy twist of their own.

Sweets-Go-Round

Sweets-Go-Round

The café centers on an actual revolving merry-go-round in the shape of an extravagantly decorated cake, appropriately dubbed the “Sweets-Go-Round,” which serves symbolically to capture the very essence of any visit.  Obviously the perfect place for a photo, and Jody’s birthday cake for 2016!  “This cake shaped merry-go-round going round and round is the symbol of KAWAII MONSTER CAFE and also a photo spot.”

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Don’t expect your typical diner fare.  The food is certainly as cutesy and colorful as the eye-popping décor, and varied to an acceptable extent.  The menus themselves are absolutely adorable touch-screen cakes, easy to navigate and with screens provided in English.

Electronic Cake-Shaped Menus!

Electronic Cake-Shaped Menus!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jodys-kawaii-pasta-lunchtokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-monster-burger-for-lunchJody opted for the totally fun pastel-colored pasta (“Rainbow Palette Pasta”) cleverly arranged on a painter’s palette and flanked with swishes of differently flavored sauces which appear as paint.  I selected the special that day, a monster burger of curry, chicken and pork with fries.  Literally, shaped and decorated as a monster!

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The food was okay; Jody like hers, and mine was not bad, but our meals came out at least 20 minutes apart, and mine was not very hot.  And I had to ask a couple of times about getting my meal.  There are other varied and whimsical selections, all of which are heavily dosed with food colors certainly not found in nature, but be prepared to pay for this level of cuteness.  Apparently being so cute is not cheap.  The fact is, I’m pretty sure people don’t come here for the food.

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tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-with-one-an-experimental-cocktailWe ordered some adult beverages as well.  Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are offered of each drink, the booze served in mock test-tubes.  While we can’t recall Jody’s kawaii-cute fruit-based concoction, mine was listed as “Druggy Cocktail (Experiment).”  I poured and mixed my two test tubes with a measure of foreboding, not knowing exactly what to expect.  The drinks were fairly good, but failed to deliver drugs (and their effect) on any measureable scale.  Waiting for our food, we wandered wide-eyed and with mouths open around the café’s various zones.

Monster Girl Show

Monster Girl Show

There was a “show” after we finished our meal.  Theatrical lights came on, the music and bass started pounding (ah, finally the disco!), and we all knew something was in store.  Everyone gathered around the Sweet-go-Round, and the wait staff came out and started clapping.  After building a good measure of suspense, the Monster Girls paraded about, boarded the carousal and started some type of “cute” performance!

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After their couple of songs, there was an invitation to join the Monster Girls on the Sweets-Go-Round for pictures, but only after buying a 500 yen lollipop as your ticket.  I attempted to encourage Jody up for a birthday photo, but I was the one who ended up hanging with the girls!

Jody's Monster Cupcake

Jody’s Monster Cupcake

For dessert, I ordered a completely over-the-top ice cream sundae named nothing less than “Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme.”  It was killer kawaii and certainly a monster to eat!  I didn’t finish it.

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Jody ordered the special, a new addition to the dessert menu with a much more pedestrian name of “Monster Cupcake.”  It was less-than impressive, covered with what we thought was rather tasteless icing, but which turns out to be sweet potato paste.  Only in Japan.

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In the final analysis, if you are on the fence about what to do in Tokyo, GO TO THIS PLACE.  Weird, campy, but fun, and have I said “cute!” yet?  Hitting this and the Robot Restaurant in the same day is part of a Japanese Trifecta that probably can best be completed by unwinding in a cat café….  Remember, the Kawaii Monster Café not cheap, and the food and drinks are spectacular presented, but this is all about ambiance, and perhaps captures part of the very essence of what makes Japan…so Japanese!

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Oh, and for my birthday girl armed with an active imagination aimed at battling a more mundane reality of the common birthday?  Couldn’t have been better.  Happy Birthday Celebration and blog #2 Jody!  There’s still more to our celebration of Jody’s birthday in Tokyo.  Stay tuned.

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Choppy says “Happy Birthday Kawaii Jody!”

Kawaii Monster Cafe

Open Mondays to Saturdays for Lunch from 1130-1630 (LO 1600), and Dinner from 1800-2230 (LO 2200).  On Sundays and Holidays, the café is open 1100-2000 (LO 1930).  Reservations are NOT taken on weekends and holidays.

Cover:  500JPY / person

Address:  YM square building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to

Address (Japanese):  東京都渋谷区神宮前4丁目31‐10 YMスクエアビル4F

Phone:  +81-03-5413-6142

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto:  Jody’s Birthday at the Robot Restaurant of Tokyo


“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”  ~Mae West

Jody takes leave every year for her birthday, and this year was no different.  Planning a trip to mainland Japan in celebration, I set our trip’s itinerary to be in Tokyo for her actual birthday after a short stay in Kobe.  I must admit, in hindsight, it’s hard to image a better way to rejoice in such a momentous occasion than a visit to Robot Restaurant, what Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown proclaimed as the “the greatest show on earth!”

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Well, no quite, but perhaps one of the greatest shows in all of Japan….

Street-Side Advertising

Street-Side Advertising

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-arriving-at-the-robot-showtokyo-2016-robot-rest-jody-robot-masterThe Robot Restaurant, or Robot Cafe, is a short walk from Shinjuku metro station.  It should be, however, more accurately branded as a “robot cabaret” because of the music, costumes and dance, although it is TAME by any standard.  While bento boxes can be ordered to eat during the show, I (and almost everyone else) recommend a pass and instead purchase a large popcorn and canned “Strong” alcoholic drinks to satiate you in the short-term.  In other words, eat dinner in any of the nearby plethora of real, non-robotically-staffed restaurants.  Believe it or not, this is one of the most visited entertainment venues in Tokyo – check it out on Trip Advisor to see for yourself!

Free Pictures Outside!

Free Pictures Outside!

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-jody-on-the-way-to-the-showIt’s almost impossible to even begin to describe the show which awaits hundreds of eager visitors and tourists every night in the Shinjuku Kabukicho entertainment district of urban Tokyo.  It’s been said that over 1 BILLION yen has gone into the establishment’s development and design.  And yes, that’s billion with a Capital “B,” equivalent to roughly $10 million USD, no small sum by any stretch of the imagination.  I spare no expense for Jody’s birthday.

Lounge View - I think there is where Liberace's soul resides.

Lounge View – I think there is where Liberace’s soul resides.

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-robot-bouncer-at-the-entranceWhile I may not “buy” the validity of this legendary sum (pun intended), there certainly has been a Liberace-inspired sum spent on floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall décor, the pre-show lounge, costumes for the various and multiple performers, and for, of course, the robots themselves.

Another view of the Lounge

Another view of the Lounge

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-american-military-mighttokyo-2016-robot-rest-costumed-paradeThe show starts in the very corridors of the labyrinth which leads up to the lounge, then down to the basement, then back up to the show’s exit.  Seriously, every square inch of each of the narrow passages is covered with paint, decals, and 3-D models of everything ranging from geckos to heavily armed American army women in patriotic bikinis to skulls pierced with what else but unicorn horns….  And what may not be covered with what only an interior decorator on acid would devise is plastered with LED lights and video screens of every type.  Being herded tightly through these narrow halls is not for the claustrophobic!

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tokyo-2016-robot-rest-waiting-area-3tokyo-2016-robot-rest-pre-show-drinks-and-gaudy-seatingThe lounge is, well, one of the gaudiest places I have ever seen.  Two levels down from the street, it is equivalent to perhaps the absolutely worst cruise ship bar from the 1980s….combined with transformer-inspired overboard robotic lighting and displays from some dystopic future.  The place is decked out with gold swivel chairs shaped like gigantic underwater shells, over-the-top crystal chandeliers, wall-to-wall mirrors with Asian animal motifs of every kind, neon sparkle in every overhead recess, and huge seamless video screens playing snippets of the most ludicrous Japanese video montages that one can conjure.

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In a Word: Creepy

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-crazy-interior-decorationstokyo-2016-robot-rest-evil-chic-and-her-heavily-armed-robotHanging out in the pre-show of the lounge is akin, I would think, to a mild trip on hallucinogenic mescaline.  No doubt it’s even more sensory overload when jet-lagged or new to Japan.  It’s really hard to believe or describe.  I imagine the owners providing a small army of 8-year old girls with unlimited crayons, glue sticks, glitter, bedazzles and all the chocolate and caffeine they could consume and let them loose to go absolutely crazy for 48 hours without sleep!  The overall theme seems to be “metallic & mirrored,” and the palette is from a migraine-inducing neon rainbow, if there was such a thing!  There’s live music played by costumed creatures, while two metallic bikini-clad vocalists were doing their best to sing soft ballads to spectators that should have been decked out in polyester leisure suits….  A drink – one cheap one – comes with your ticket.  It’s a dive-bar, longue-lizard vibe that probably can be created most anywhere…but sustain only in Japan.

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By the way, according to some accounts, one of the largest collections of Westerners in Tokyo can be found nightly at the Robot Show.  Be ready for many more gaijin than locals, but of many different tongues.  The place seems to be MUCH more popular with tourists rather than locals, or even visiting Japanese.

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tokyo-2016-robot-rest-costumed-dancerstokyo-2016-robot-rest-armed-robot-and-evil-princessOnce the show floor is ready for seating, it seems like you go up three or four levels.  Entering a very long and narrow show floor that is much smaller than you expect, visitors are directed to squeeze into assigned but well-designed seating, complete with tabletop and cup holders to safely hold drinks and snacks to enjoy during the show.  Popcorn, booze and other munchies are sold prior to the performance’s start and during interludes in the action.  Oh, and take advantage of the complimentary coat check and lockers at the reception counter located across the street from the show-building itself.  The seating is TIGHT, as is most everything else in Tokyo.

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There is Barley Enough Clearance, Clarence!

The program opens with a huge robot-driven float, topped with bikini-clad troupes of taiko drummers alongside monster-masked characters beating on those iconic traditional Japanese drums.  The robot floats are so large and translate so close to floor-side seating that at times we had to duck to allow various robotic appendages to swing safely over our heads.  The rhythmic music, costumed characters and robotics result in loud, fun-filled, AWESOME sensory overload!

Gigantic Snake Robot Defeating Evil? The Symbology may be Reversed....

Gigantic Snake Robot Defeating Evil? The Symbology may be Reversed….

tokyo-2016-robot-rest-dancer-likes-big-buttstokyo-2016-robot-rest-transformer-inspired-robot-in-the-showAnd then the robots come out to play.  Robots of every kind.  Some shaped like huge curvaceous women.  Others akin to something out of the Transformer movies.  Then there are robotic sharks and snakes that battle robotic dinosaurs and futuristic tanks.  Some are commanded by fearsome masked male creatures, while others are ridden by Japanese women adorned in risqué fishnets and showgirl glitter, all flashing brightly colored LEDs and lasers.  Tron-inspired characters dash about in glowing Tron-like single-wheeled motorized bikes, between robots which seem to groove to the constantly beating drums, while Amazonian war princesses from the future vie for power and control.

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In other words, the show descends quickly into utter insanity of a kind to which only pictures can really testify in any believable fashion.  There is no linear story-line; don’t waste your limited time trying to understand, and instead just shake your head in amazement.

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They Really Should Invest in a Godzilla!

While the wildly-costumed performers scream and dance and pound on drums mere feet away, you become overwhelmed and confused.  Really, there is so much going on, seemingly deconstructed and without continuity that you have to ask yourself:  “what the hell is happening here?!”  It all seems ridiculously hilarious in true Japanese style, but also impressively pointless.  It’s what I would simply call “Tokyo Madness,” and it is deliciously enticing.

Birthday Girl!!

Birthday Girl!!

tokyo-2016-robot-show-jody-birthday-presents-from-the-robot-resturanttokyo-2016-robot-show-jody-birthday-robot-resturant-chips-presentAt one point a nameplate was brought out to mark “special guests,” and one was put directly in front of Jody.  She looked at me and went panicked and pale, I’m sure after instantaneously considering the measurable probability of having to do something “robotic” for her birthday in front of the gathered crowd.  But instead, a call-out was made to the birthdays in the crowd, and robot presents were delivered in a metallically colored gift bag.  Not wanting to miss a beat of the show, and being somewhat suspect (and even scared) of what we would find inside, we saved opening the bag for later.

Mr. Roboto, Tron called and they want their Ideas Back!

Mr. Roboto, Tron called and they want their Ideas Back!

Part sci-fi movie and part campy Saturday matinée creature feature, it is one of the wildest but weirdest live shows I have seen.  Baffling yet entertaining, this onslaught of stimulation overkill can be one of the more outlandish Far East experiences to have while visiting Japan.

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tokyo-2016-robot-rest-jodys-frontrow-seats-for-the-showNear the end of the show, colored flashlights are handed out to turn the already confused, drug-induced performance into something resembling an ecstasy-infused rave.  While you might be a little dazed at first to know what to do, by the end of the cabaret you’ll be waving your colored stick in encouragement for more!

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tokyo-2016-robot-rest-swingin-guitaristIn the end, the show not so much “works” as it is just “awesome,” in a way that just has to been seen to be truly understood.  This sounds like a cop-out, but it is the truth.  The interaction of the show with the audience, the performing robots, the epic battles of good versus evil (still not sure who won), combined with the background fantasy fairyland videos and graphics and how good the popcorn actually is makes this comprehensively awesome.  Even the over-top-top bathrooms lend to the entirety of the show.

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tokyo-2016-robot-rest-drums-and-robotsWhile the tickets weren’t cheap at 6800 yen per person (roughly $65pp), the laughter than Jody and I shared on her birthday due to this show was and will remain priceless.  We will be talking about this incredibly fun evening for quite some time to come.  Remember, however, to correctly enjoy this bizarrely corny show, one has to be relatively lighthearted.  Don’t expect a cohesive story, or story at all.  Just expect the unexpected, accept the premise, and engage your sense of humor!

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It certainly made for an unforgettable birthday celebration for Jody, one of many we had during our latest Far East Fling (stay tuned for more!).

Robot Birthday Presents, Oh My!

Robot Birthday Presents, Oh My!

Happy birthday Jody!  I’m already looking for an Amazonian bikini and taiko drum for you for Christmas for use in the production of my very own birthday cabaret in January!  You can use Roomba as your robot….

Show Closing....I Think....

Show Closing….I Think….

Jody Turns 25…in Naked Age Years!


“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” ~C. S. Lewis

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“Happy 25th birthday Jody,” I say with a knowing smile and a wink.  Jody rolls her eyes in response, like she has so many times before.  She knows that for this particular birthday wish, I am speaking strictly, proudly, and knowingly of just how young she really is…

…in her birthday suit!

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody's birthday celebration

“Act your age!”  Is that something you’ve been told?  If so, congratulations!  The only appropriate response to such an untenable command is, “Why?”  Besides, what actually is age?  How is it, and should it be measured?  Let me explain.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebration 2

Now that is Princess Hair!

Now that is Princess Hair!

Since meeting Jody I’ve solidified my viewpoint on the rather nebulous concept of “age.”  It was starting to coalesce based on my own alternative understanding, but when I realize that Jody has next to no gray in her beautifully flowing and naturally colored hair worthy of any princess, AND that after having served almost 27 years in the military, you realize that chronological age is really a lame measure of age….

How mature is THIS?!?

How mature is THIS?!?

Who runs for their birthday?

Who runs for their birthday?

hello-kitty-40th-anniversaryFor instance, take Hello Kitty, a Japanese native.  She is turning 40 this year, and shares the same birth-month as Jody.  She too, as far as I can research, maintains her natural hair coloring.  Coincidence?  I think not.  While Jody would not so much appreciate the same “cute-a-bration” that the Japanese seem to expend so much of their GDP upon, they both reflect that there are other, much more interesting ways to measure our time on planet earth than simply by the Einsteinium space-time continuum, as fascinating as that truly is.

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Soon after seeing Jody in her never-out-of-style birthday livery, I quickly concluded that there were no less than three measure of “age:” biological, maturity, and…NAKED!  Since that time four years ago, I’ve restacked the list and added a fourth:  chronological, biological, maturity, and, of course, my favorite, naked age.

Aircraft livery is all well and good, but not nearly as exciting as Jody's

Aircraft livery is all well and good, but not nearly as exciting as Jody’s

Wow!

Triple-Digits Wow!

Chronological age, like most concepts that contain the suffix “-logical,” is as boring as it is straight-forward.  As simple as a measure of how many times around the sun one has traveled, it’s the most pedestrian measure of one’s age.  In fact, only when it is in the single or triple digits does it really hold the interest of a wide array of people outside of immediate family.  Oh, and maybe a few more specifics milestones, like turning 16 to get a driver’s license, or 21 for drinking.  Or, see my blog about Coming of Age in Japan.  Of course these don’t compare to the truly odd coming-of-age rituals that are still practiced in the world.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody enjoys her birthday cards

Dinner at Sea Garden

Dinner at Sea Garden

Birthday Dinner

Birthday Dinner

Next we have one’s biological age.  While this notion involves that dreary suffix noted above, it is, at least, slightly more interesting.  Here we have the first distinction between space-time travel and life’s biological ticker.  For instance, I have an Asian friend here in Okinawa who, pictured with her teen-aged children, cannot be distinguished as “mom”!  Or, in Jody’s case, she biologically appears at least 12 years younger than her time spent breathing air on this earth.  Some might say this is partly due to good genetics, but I beg to differ (sorry Mom).  Rather, I believe the secret is in the same body lotion she’s been using since her early teen years.  And she continues to use it daily…on her whole body…for what I like to think is my personal viewing pleasure!  This show, suitably entitled “Lo Sensuale,” (which must be read and verbally stated with a haughty French accent), remains a highlight of my mornings, and to which I have permanently reserved front-row seating.  Oooooooooooooh-la-la!  Sorry, the show’s sold out indefinitely.  Oh, there’s probably some value in the makeup she’s been using for just as long, the kind with embedded sunscreen.  Jody’s biological age is clearly well over a decade younger than her chronological age, but the distinctions don’t stop there.

A very immature depiction of Hello Kitty.

A very immature, and hilarious depiction of Hello Kitty.

Jody as not-quite-matured schoolgirl.

Jody as a not-quite-matured yet matured(!) schoolgirl.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebrationOne’s general level of maturity can also be used to reflect, to some prosaic people, a more realistic representation of one’s overall age.  We’re told, by all those really mature PhDs out there, that maturity helps one know the correct time and place to behave (or, the way I like to think about it, misbehave), and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances and the culture of the society in which one lives.  How dreadfully boring is that?!  In my case, Jody would consider me an adolescent boy at times!  In other words, if you response to being called a “smart-ass” (cause you are being one) with, “…better than being a dumb-ass,” you most likely rate very low in terms of maturity.  And in that case, you and I would be fast friends.  If you say, in response to someone’s opportunistic phrase like “it’s not stiff enough,” with “that’s what she said,” we are kin on a spiritual level.  Or, in terms of my taste in music (angry white-boy scream-o music) and movies (Zoolander, Dumb & Dumber, Wedding Crashers), I remain quite possibly still stuck in my (early) 20s.  And my lack of maturity is something I believe that helps keep Jody young in this measure as well.  Is it me, or is it true that potty humor never really goes out of style?!?  While a high degree of maturity may help emphasizes a clear comprehension of life’s purpose, directedness, and intentionality, which contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful, great for the masses of atheists out there, all the proof of good and god in this world I need is my wife’s naked age!

Fireworks over Jody's Naked...age.

Fireworks over Jody’s age.  All of them.

Much like the naked truth being always better than a well-dressed lie, so too is naked age so much more revealing than the well-dressed person.

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Naka's youthfulness lends to our celebration.

Naka’s youthfulness lends to our celebration.

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday celebration 3If you haven’t noticed, Naked Age happens to be my favorite measure of age!  And yes, although many of you may not want to admit to having one, you do.  It’s that inescapable birthday suit of yours that you can’t quite seem to part with, even though it may need to be ironed and/or taken in here or there.  When I talk about this with new friends (and I always do), I see many people get visibly uncomfortable.  Why, exactly, I remain dumbfounded about.  Is it the American puritan heritage?  Is it that we replace a healthy respect for nudity (like you can find in Europe) with violence and gore (missing in many areas of the world)?  Is it the Church (all of them) and their insistence that sex is for procreation…and between a priest and young boys?  No, I just think it’s because we Americans continue to characterize sex as dirty, shameful and overly private.

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker!

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker!

We did a Hello Kitty birthday last year.

We did a Hello Kitty birthday last year.

Okay, I didn't get her a plane with her image on it....

Okay, I didn’t get her a plane with her image on it….

...but she's my all-time favorite nose-art pinup!

…but she’s my all-time favorite nose-art pinup!

Jody, already famous for driving naked in Japan, shouldn’t be too embarrassed by putting into print what I so much like to bring up in public.  And besides, it’s her birthday, regardless of the measure of age chosen.  While I couldn’t give Jody the worldwide Hello Kitty celebrations, like the Hello Kitty Con in Los Angeles and the Thanksgiving Day-like parades in Tokyo, we did manage, like we always do, to have a quietly intimate celebration together.  But Jody can be sure that she shares with Ms. Kitty much younger alternative measures of age.  Taking a number of online tests online as Jody’s proxy, I have scientifically and irrefutably verified my own personal assessments of Jody’s age, all four of them:

Chronological Age:  45

Biological Age:  33

Mature Age:  20s-30s

Naked Age:  25

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, Jody with her apple caramel birthday cupcakes

Happy Birthday Jody.  Here’s to looking forward to a few years of you turning 25, again and again (wink)!  Oh, and for the guys, remember, you’re only as old as the woman you date!

Thank god, because my naked age is most definitely NOT 25….

How old are YOU?

Jody's Birthday Okinawa 2014, birthday dinner at Sea Garden

For some of the online tests I referenced, see the following:

http://www.biological-age.com/

http://www.allthetests.com/quiz03/dasquiztd.php3?testid=1035132458

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2518019/Whats-YOUR-real-age-New-calculator-reveals-old-body-really-based-mood-diet-exercise–youre-probably-older-think.html

Birthday Babel in Japan


“If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted.”  ~ Franz Kafka

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel

“English?” Jody asks the two Japanese women wait staff that were just visible inside the restaurant’s curtain-draped entrance.  Sorrowful smiles graphically illustrated our answer, along with at least two “gomenasai,” Japanese for “sorry.”

It was my birthday, and we were on holiday in Kyoto, Japan.  Jody had asked earlier in the day what I wanted for dinner, and I immediately thought of some good, I mean really authentic Japanese teppanyaki steak.  We had spied a few potential places that day and during our explorations of the days prior, but after checking them out more closely, we dismissed them one-by-one.

Searching for Birthday Dinner in Kyoto

Searching for Birthday Dinner in Kyoto

One was just too small and cramped.  Another looked promising, but the patrons already there were all smoking.  We even asked the tourist police along Shijo Dori, the main commercial throughway marking the northern boundary of the famed Gion area of Kyoto…only to take a taxi to their recommendation…which turned out to be a rather lame take on an Amerasian diner, which apparently served steak, Salisbury style.

“Teppanyaki?” was the next question we placed, in what limited Japanese vocabulary we possess, although Jody is getting better with the apps on her iPhone.  This question was met with frowns and, mostly silence, but through steady eye-contact, the kind that searches for meaning in accents so unfamiliar.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Gion, dark alleyway

We found ourselves at this particular non-descript place after walking what seemed like forever.  Quite honestly, I was becoming downright HANGRY, and Jody’s dwarf alter-ego “Grumpy” was starting to shine through her rather reliably contained exterior as her blood sugar continued to decline.  There was a picture of beef, or maybe it was simply a picture of steak, with an establishment name written only in Kanji that we couldn’t read.  Other than for the word “dinning.”

Our Score with "Dining"!

Our Score with “Dining”!

Until more babel set in.

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“Steak?” was the final question in our trinity of query, placed with great anticipation of a positive response here on the 2nd story of what had become our own personal Tower of Babel.  “Hai-Hai!” came their excited response in almost perfectly synchronized union.  “Steak Dinning?”  Worked for us!  Steak dinning?  Worked for us!  I won’t go into how much babel we expended in trying to figure out what exactly came with our $60 meals….  At some point we caved, and decided to take the adventure this night promised.  And with that we were escorted into our own private dining room, eagerly awaiting whatever it was we were going to have for my birthday dinner.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe steak dinner

“Babel,” from the Hebrew word balal, meaning “to jumble, confuse or confound.”  The Tower of Babel forms the focus of a story told in the Book of Genesis of the Bible (Genesis 11:4-9).  According to the story, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood spoke a single common language.  The people decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven, thereby becoming on par with God.

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In the biblical legend, God came “down” to see the human’s city and the tower they were building.  Recognizing the fallacy of their intent, God knew this “stairway to heaven” would only lead the people astray…and to a hit record thousands of years later that ultimately would unite Rock-n-Roll fans across the globe, regardless of native tongues.  Wanting to check the people’s powerful unity of purpose resulting from their common language, God confused their speech and scattered the people, resulting in the many different tongues and peoples found today across the globe.  It still doesn’t explain how the kangaroos got to Australia, and only to Australia.

Okay, it’s not very religiously sensitive, it’s too long, and ends poorly.  But there are some dang funny parts in this interpretation of the story of the Tower of Babel!

Kevin's Birthday Jan 2014, candy topper decorations for the ice cream!

Kevin's Birthday Jan 2014, Disney happy ice cream party boxKevin's Birthday Jan 2014, yummy Baskin Robbins ice cream celebration!Jody, not wanting to drag all my presents hundreds of miles to Kyoto, celebrated with me on Okinawa prior to our departure.  While dinner that night has long been forgotten, my ice cream jamboree lives on!  Our local Japanese Baskin Robbins has a fully English-speaking staff; babel is not much of an issue in such an Americanized corner of the Ryukyus.  Except for the ice cream tower that, given just a few more scoops, could reach to heaven!  Luckily for us, God doesn’t spite ice cream steeples and Jody and I continue to share a common language…and location.

Our Ice Cream Tower of Goodness

Our Ice Cream Tower of Goodness

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, sizziling Kobe beef cooked to order!Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe Steak and White WineThe birthday dinner turned out to be quite good, filling, and even included a teppanyaki element we so vainly searched for.  Although it was a relatively simple dinner; the salad was absolutely delicious, the rice fresh, and the steak we were able to cook on our own person griddles to our individual tastes.  This particular beef remains the best I’ve had so far in Japan, and given the price we paid for 200 grams (actually, a hearty serving at almost 8 ounces), it was more than likely Kobe.  The steak, heavily marbled in fat, literally melted in our mouths. Top the meal off with a shared bottle of chilled white wine (booze is itself a form of a common, international language), and we had a wonderful time!

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Kevin's Birthday Dinner, Kobe steak dinner spread

Like the biblical tale underscores, communication is such a fundamental element of life.  Although I’m ashamed that I don’t know more Japanese after spending so much time here, technology is starting to fill in my own personal gaps in translation.  In fact, we were able to have a complete conversation with a taxi driver in Kyoto through an app on his iPad.  He would speak Japanese, and the iPad would translate and speak to us in English.  The tablet would then record our speech, and translate it into audible Japanese for the driver.  I wish I know that particular application, because many if not most of the machine translations between Japanese and English are full of…babel.

Machine Translations can be Ridiculous.

Machine Translations can be Ridiculous.

Regardless of the limitations of technology and the barriers of divided language (no thanks to God), we all can still overcome and strive to find power in unity of purpose.  Although perhaps we shouldn’t attempt to physically reach heaven (again), we can and should still find or make our own heavens here on earth, be it a celebratory meal, or something much loftier.  We all should be on guard so that we, as individuals, political parties, religions and even cultures, never build towers of babel so large and imposing that they interfere in a life that should be well-lived, excitedly shared, and passionately loved.  Although there exist many tongues, we all can strive to speak with one voice!

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A Kite Breeding a Hawk (鳶が鷹を産む)


“A kite breeding a hawk (鳶が鷹を産む),” meaning a splendid child born from common parents.  Of course no parent thinks of their children as common, but you get the point (hopefully).

My son, his wife (the Kites), and Baby Z, the Hawk

My son, his wife (the Uncommon Kites), and Baby Z, the Hawk

“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” ~Voltaire

“It takes a long time to become young.” ~Pablo Picasso

“Let them eat cake.” ~Marie Antoinette

Marie knew that cake held great value...for toddlers.

Marie knew that cake held great value…for toddlers.

I am a Grandfather.  Yes, I must put that in writing and mumble it to even myself.  It helps convince me that I am already that old!  My Granddaughter Elizabeth (“Baby Z” or “Eli”) just had her first birthday late last month, and after seeing the pictures of that mixed-cultural by still very American birthday celebration, I got to thinking about how the Japanese mark the occasion and recognize the milestone.

Me and my Granddaughter

Me and my Granddaughter

And, of course, like most other major life events, the Japanese have more formal and more rooted traditions and celebrations.

Thank you card for our gifts

A less formal thank you card

Totoro is my Granddaughter's fav!

Totoro is my Granddaughter’s fav!

In Okinawa, the first birthday of a child is marked by a celebration called tanka-yu-eh, meaning, loosely, “1 year old celebration.”  On this day the child’s family prepares a festive meal to share between relatives who have usually come from all around the island in order to celebrate together.  And, of course like most other aspects of cultural celebrations in Japan, this particular celebration becomes a much more regal and grand celebration when a couple’s first child is male.

erabitori

One of the central elements of the wider celebration is long-practiced ritual called tanka-uranai – the one year fortune-telling, designed to foretell generalized aspects of the child’s future.  This can also be referred to as erabitori (選び取り), or loosely “pick & keep an item”).  Certain items are placed on a tatami mat in front of the son-to-be toddler:  a Japanese abacus, festive red rice, a book, ink and ink stone, money, and in case of a girl a pair of scissors is added.  The baby is turned loose to make his or her way to the item of their choice; all the while, the eager and anxious family members hold their breath in attempts to contain their desire to influence the fortune!

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Money. Smart kid. But will he keep it??

totoro_birthday_card_design_by_mikkimoo27-d5vck0zSo, the first item the child reaches for and touches – NOT the one he or she ends up with – prophesies potential for the youngster.  If the abacus (generally a calculator in more modern times), the youth will become a fellow mathlete (I have been accused of being worse!), which presages a strong business sense.  Red rice (or chop sticks) forecasts plentiful food throughout a long life or culinary skill, while a book or dictionary portends a studious nature leading to a solid education for the child.  Money or a wallet, perhaps the most obvious elements, predicts a life of riches, while the ink and ink stone divines a livelihood in writing.  Some families have also recently started adding a musical instrument as a way to forecast for talent (music, signing, acting), a ruler to predict successful homeownership, and a game ball or sports shoes to prefigure an athletic career.

More Fortune Telling

DSC_4701-1-550x365Finally, for girls turning one, scissors are meant to imply a future as a good housewife and mother, or, what I like to refer to as a “Domestic Engineer.”  Funny thing about sexism in Japan:  the kanji (姦) for kashimashii (noisy/boisterous) is made up of the symbol for “woman,” but not just one woman.  Not two women. No.  There are three women (three “woman” symbols).  What happens when you have three women together?  Of course, they get really noisy.  C’mon ladies; everyone knows that to be an absolute truth (wink)!

noisy-kanji

Happy Birthday in Japanese!

Happy Birthday in Japanese!

In wider Japan outside of Okinawa, there is also another tradition that is only once in a lifetime on hatsu tanjo (初誕生), or “first birthday.”  Although many if not most of our western birthday customs have been thoroughly adopted here in Japan, most Japanese parents continue to celebrate this special day with one or a pair of red-white birthday rice cakes, tanjo mochi (誕生餅).  Here in the Kyushu province of Japan, this particular cake is known as mochi fumi (餅踏み, mochi stepping), and the custom entails the birthday child stepping on the mochi wearing baby-sized waraji (草鞋, straw sandals).

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Mochi Fumi and baby-sized Waraji for “Cake Stepping”

Unhappy Mochi Carrier

Unhappy Mochi Carrier

However, in the rest of Japan, this mochi is commonly known as shoi or seoi or issho mochi (一升餅).  In most areas of Japan, the children carry the mochi on their back or shoulder, either in a bag or bundled up with a furoshiki (風呂敷, wrapping cloth).  Issho is a unit of old Japanese liquid measurement equivalent to ~1800cc, so the mochi are crafted to weigh around 1.8kg (almost 4 pounds exactly), a pretty heavy load for a baby!  And, in a strange twist, some parents attempt to deliberately interfere or prevent their child from walking or crawling smoothly with light pushes, an early attempt at educating children about the bumpy ride of life, full of its ups and downs.  While this may seem an odd way to “happily” celebrate a first birthday, by carrying out this ritual, good-natured parents can extend their wishes that their child be blessed, throughout their life, with enman (円満), an affirmative word representing perfection, harmony, peace, smoothness, completeness, satisfaction and integrity.

The plastic bag is a...nice touch.

The plastic bag is a…nice touch.

For my Granddaughter, I too wish her to be blessed with plentiful and long-lasting enman.  But, I can’t help but wonder what she would have “picked and kept” if the tanka-uranai items were placed in front of her.  What would YOU want your precious one-year-old to choose??

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Anything but scissors, right?!

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Happy First Birthday, Baby-now-Toddler Z!!