If you've lived in Tokyo for any amount of time you've probably visited the Shin-Okubo area known as Korea Town. Most of the time I pass through it a lot without stopping-usually because I'm heading from one shrine or temple to another-but yesterday I headed there with intention. If you didn't already know, Madeline is a HUGE K-pop fan. She's been bringing the music of Blackpink, Twice, and others into our home for a little over a year. Usually we hear it in the kitchen when she and Shannon are cooking up a storm, and though there was some initial resistance, we've all found a group that resonates. Naturally, before Madeline left I had to bring her to K-pop central within Tokyo!
It was a hot day, but such a fun one. I don't think I stopped laughing! We went on the Yamanote line from the Idabashi area-post-PCR testing for her re-entry into the U.S. It was such a short trip, maybe 15 minutes, and since the type of test she took required no food or drink before Madeline was pretty hungry. Naturally I had to bring her to my favorite cheese dakgalbi place in the area: Shijan Dakgalbi.
Dakgalbi, or spicy stir-fried chicken, is a popular Korean dish made by stir-frying marinated diced chicken in a gochujang-based sauce with sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots and other ingredients. Highly recommend, 10/10 you should go and enjoy. I'd been talking this place up for some time and it was completely worth it to get the reactions I did when the food arrived and the burner switched on.
Ooey-gooey melty yumminess and a tribute to Jackson all in one picture? Perfection!
Once we were content (ie. full), we began our walk through the neighborhood. I let Madeline guide us, stopping whoever she wanted, taking the time to simply enjoy her company and enthusiasm. I learned A LOT about K-pop culture during our day together. It was pretty overwhelming for someone who doesn't know the scene, so I listened and gained a genuine appreciation for something she enjoys. That was really nice.
So was watching her react to the merchandise in the Idol stores. There was so much to see-like I said, overwhelming-but it was so cool. We had our teen hearthrobs in groups like NSYNC, The Spice Girls, but K-pop takes the whole merchandising machine to the next level. They still sell albums (CD's) but they put them in these gorgeous "books" that are uniquely decorated/packaged so you have to buy more than one to get all the different versions-and people do! They also have tons of different items to buy, all of which are super inexpensive: pins, pens, stickers, pictures, posters. It takes me all the way back to the 80's when my walls were covered with posters and my over-sized jean jacket was covered in band pins.
It was wildly fun!
Of course it was hot so we would take small breaks in-between the Idol stores and K-beauty shops. Korean beauty deserves it's own post, though. I should direct you to my friend Caitlin. She knows all about it. You can find her here on Instagram.
One place we stopped was Snowy Village for a cool treat-an Oreo cold cream with Oreo churros. It was deceptively large and that was a nice surprise! The Oreo cream was the single scoop you see in the picture, very small, the churros the reason for the cup's height. There were no complaints since the churros were the star and Madeline thoroughly enjoyed bite after bite!
We had plans for one other place but took our time and continued to walk through the neighborhood. We made a stop at a shrine famous for their baby and pregnancy blessings-so much so they have signs for it on the electric poles! It was unique, one built into someone's tiny upper garage, and a lovely break.
But soon enough we were back at it, exploring another side of the street and heading to a very special cafe, a K-pop Idol cafe called Caesar's.
My face in the next picture should say it all. I was trying to stifle my giggles the entire time-it was amazing. By this point I had gone so far down the rabbit hole I was all in, requesting a very specific coffee mug for my macchiato. It had to be Seventeen. Madeline was tickled pink to see they'd created their insignia on top, I was just happy to sit down and enjoy the drink!
A little bit about Caesar's. Many of the drinks are served in a ceramic mug featuring your favorite K-pop favorites. You can choose any K-pop insignia printed on the foam. Have your favorite idol’s birthday marked on your calendar? Celebrate it at Caesers! Extravagant birthday shrines are set up as the perfect photo backdrop. Not to worry-during COVID times seating is well spaced and mugs used for drinking are carefully stored behind plastic coverings so they are not exposed. The ones atop the espresso machine are just for show.
And so concluded our day in K-Town. Needing to pick up her test results so she could get on the plane we said sayonara, for now, and began our journey home. It was a fabulous day-a memorable one-and like the flowers we saw on the way back to the station, beautiful.
Just like my sweet girl. Love you always Mads!