From hedgehog cafes and dining with cuddly toys to having a Gwen Stefani Harajuku Girls moment...
While poolside cocktails and tanned, sandy manicured feet used to be all the rage on our Instagram feeds, the social media crowd now seem to be forgoing the beach aesthetic and opting for cool city breaks for their holiday shots.
What’s getting all the likes in 2018? Japan – from the kawaii food (we’re talking teddy bear shaped rice) and cool animal cafe pop-ups, to city skylines and very eccentric fashion parties.
All the influencers are doing it – and reaping the rewards, so I boarded a 12 hour flight and flew 6,000 miles to the Land of the Rising Sun to see what the fuss was about.
The verdict? My favourite country I’ve ever been to – and as a result, my Instagram feed has never looked better.
I started my Japanese adventure in Osaka, home to the humble pot noodle, before riding the bullet train east to the bright lights of Tokyo.
But with 72 hours to fill and two cities to co-ordinate, where should I stay? I went with the Moxy – Osaka Honmachi and Tokyo Kinshicho.
While there are Moxy hotels in most capital cities (there are three in London alone), each hotel is a different homage to its location, with Japan’s Moxy hotels offering down to earth but efficient on-trend central accommodation, with traditional Japanese hospitality – at a very manageable price.
The rooms are minimalist in pink and grey tones, with optional fold down furniture hung on hooks on the walls to open up the space and make it customisable. What else would you expect? This is the country that brought us Marie Kondo after all.
From the Pimp My Noodles breakfast bar where you can legit eat emojis and the USB ports built into every furnishing imaginable, to the personalised welcome message graffitied on each visitor’s mirror, it is truly a millennial’s dream – not to mention, an Instagram goldmine.
Known to surprise its visitors, Moxy guests can be unexpectedly met on arrival by anything from a basket of Japanese junk food on their beds (the Taiyaki is the best – it’s essentially a giant fish-shaped custard cream) to having a cocktail created and named after them at the downstairs bar. This writer was even met by some Japanese arcade games and a record player. #hotelgoals.
I quickly found out that Japan can be whatever you make it, but personally wanting the full ‘Kawaii’ Instagram experience I headed straight for Osaka’s Owl Cafe, a cosy room where your hot chocolate comes with a side of 20 owls and half a dozen staff eager to take photos of you with each bird balancing on your head.
People watching is best in downtown Namba, and Shinsaibishi is an essential stop to invest in some sheet masks (everything from snail slime to black sesame).
Then onto the Shinsekai area or ‘new world’ as it is known for a Kushikatsu and some peach rice wine at Yokozuna, sat Japanese style (shoes off) on the floor. For lunch however, head to Bodejyu for some DIY Okonomiyaki (a cabbage and batter seafood pancake that makes a great Instagram video).
My second stop was Tokyo – a short and very speedy bullet train away. Pick up a bento box for the journey – eating sushi rolls wrapped in banana leaves is apparently all the rage onboard, and tucking in as we shot past Kyoto and Nagoya, I wasn’t alone.
My arrival in the capital coincided with the opening of Moxy Tokyo, and if the launch party was anything to go by, I was going to love Japan. Temporary tattoos, giant pastel coloured teddy bears, harajuku girls, cap customisation stations and cocktails in blood bags – one of Japan’s latest party trends. I could have done without the fish marshmallow to be honest, but still, it made a great story.
In Tokyo there were plenty of foodie recommendations from the Monster Cafe to the Robot Restaurant, both offering multicoloured spaghetti and fluoro shakes. But while having one out-there kawaii meal is a must – I went for a fish curry shaped like a pink teddy bear – I would recommend heading off the beaten track once in a while for something a little less touristy.
The DIY bars were for me the best food finds – head to Chanko Kirishima for Chanko broth – the sumo wrestler diet or ‘weight gain diet’ as it has become known. Plus if you’re lucky you can catch a wrestling match afterwards over a cone of matcha ice cream.
Coffee-wise, you’d do well to forgo the commercial chains and go down the side streets where making a coffee is done with scientific precision. Head to Koffee Mameya, a hidden coffee lab off the beaten track, known by locals and coffee addicts alone. It gives Shoreditch coffee houses a run for their money, Instagram-wise.
Or if you want a uniquely Japanese experience (and Instagram opportunity), I would definitely recommend the Moomin cafe. Dubbed the ‘loneliness cafe’, single coffee drinkers are sat opposite giant cuddly moomin toys as they tuck into pancake stacks. Top tip: bring a book so unlike this writer, it doesn’t look like you’re actually on a date with a stuffed toy.
Then for a final dose of Japan’s eccentricities, the hedgehog cafe is an obligatory stop, named ‘Harry’s – a play on the Japanese word for ‘hedgehog’, harinezumi.
Drink your coffee in protective gloves as you play with the miniature spiked animals and feed them dried worms with tweezers. As far as Tokyo’s Instagram opportunities go, this is your goldmine, but top tip: don’t go late in the day – the hedgehogs get very bored of human contact as the day goes on, so make it a morning stop.
After just a couple of days in Japan, your Instagram account will be thriving, and you definitely won’t want to go home.
How to book:
You can book a room at the Moxy via the Marriott website, with the standard room rates starting at 12,000 Japanese Yen (£82) a night.
Moxy Osaka Honmachi:
2-2-9 Kawaramachi, Osaka, Japan
Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho:
3-4-2 Kotobashi, Tokyo, Japan
And if you’ve caught the Moxy bug, you’re in luck as you don’t just have to travel all the way to Japan for it. First launching in Milan in 2014, there are currently 20 Moxy hotels across Europe, Asia and North America, with nearly 90 more in the works.
So wherever you are, you should be able to find a Moxy, for great service, on-trend food, Instagrammable interiors and an endless supply of USB ports to ensure you can upload to social media from wherever you are in the world.
See you there.