The cat’s out of the bag… or box. The Pirates were in Tokyo last December to work on a travel-comedy TV show for Pro Sieben Europe, starring comedian Olli Schulz.
As the show’s production coordinators, we put together a Jpop potpourri. Our shoot locations included a cat cafe, cuddle cafe, host club… and we even rented a fake Japanese family. As Super Mario would say, “Let’s-ah Goooo!”
My team’s arranged and appeared in dozens of TV shows in the past years, mostly about travel and underground culture. Remember when we gave Klaas a bagelhead, and then sewed Joko’s lips together? These shows were hits when they aired on German network Pro 7, so the crew hired us again to work with Olli.
This new program is called “Schulz in a Box,” and the concept is pretty amazing. Olli is sick of feeling lonely in Berlin, so he gets in a giant box, and mails himself around the world in search of friends. First Mate Naomi (above) and I jumped at chance to do this show, if only to pose in a giant crate in the middle of Kabukicho…
… and hang out with poof-haired Japanese host boys! When Olli breaks out of the box, he meets one and trains to be one of them.
As you can see from club decor, women go to host clubs to be treated like princesses, since men (especially in traditional Japan) can be lacking in the romantic department.
Once you’ve paid your “prince,” he’ll act like you’re the light of his life. But behind-the-scenes, these guys seem bored and play with their smartphones as they wait for a meeting to start.
Mostly found in the Kabukicho “red light district” in east Shinjuku, the clubs try to stand out by having themes or over-the-top decor. This club group is called “Smappa”, and we mainly shot at the strangely named “Hans Axel Ven Fersen”. (Google tells me Axel was a close companion and possible secret lover of Marie Antoinette, which taps into what these clubs offer.)
This space is decorated with plastic chandelier strands, lights that change colors, and long-nosed fish swimming in tanks. (It’s still not as gaudy as Club Ai, where we filmed with Norwegian TV.)
Hair-ready, the hosts gather for the weekly meeting. For about an hour, they stand and listen to announcements, such as the current ranking. All hosts are ranked according to popularity and pull, and the best ones have their faces on the giant posters.
Olli was a great sport, and had his hair spiked and sprayed in a host salon. He practiced his hosting skills with female clients, making dark jokes along the way.
On another day, we filmed with our friend Kanae at a cat cafe! (Remember her from NYC adventures and the Corporate Goth party?)
Cat cafes are another way for lonely hearts to find company. Nothing cures loneliness like a squish faced kitty.
We set up this scene in Shinjuku’s Calico Cat Cafe (where we also shot with Food Network). At the entrance, you can pick up a face mask in case you’re allergic to fur.
Kanae did a great job chatting with Olli about Japanese culture, and the quirky ways that people combat loneliness here.
In Japan, Scottish Folds are hugely popular. Every cat cafe has to have at least one foldy, and this one had several. (But they’re objectively not as cute as my Basil Farrow, right?)
When we arrived, a woman was carrying out about five meowing cats in bags. This fold-eared one looked rather squashed!
If you’re visiting Tokyo, try visiting one of these unique cafes. It’s quite the experience to play with dozens of gentle kitties, and you’re allowed to take no-flash pictures.
Guests can also order tea and snacks, or read manga.
Tip: buy a packet of bonito flakes, and you’re instantly popular! Kanae is wearing a Jack Skellington Trick or Treat sweater from the Rollick collection in Lumine.
I’m wearing an Algonquins teal top from the latest collection, and Angelica Brigade hair flowers.
The German TV crew was enamored with Kanae’s doll-like contact lenses and eye makeup.
Kanae poses like a “nyan nyan” cat, outside Don Quixote Shinjuku. She’s a street snap in the latest issue of Kera Magazine!
The Pirates also arranged a segment in a cuddle cafe. Yes, men pay women dressed in pajamas to hold them in their arms. No hanky-panky goes on, just hugging and cooing.
I’m in one of the “cuddle stalls,” which contain a mattress, ball and stuffed toys. Olli found this place a tad uncomfortable, for obvious reasons.
However, we loved renting a fake family! In Japan, you can pay people to pretend to be your mother, father, siblings or other relatives.
This Japanese “mother” dressed and played her part spot on. She gave Olli quiet encouragement and sang him to sleep, in one of the show’s funniest segments.
In another example of “alone together”, we did a scene at Green Plaza capsule hotel. At night, all of these coffin-sized spaces will be filled with businessmen — women aren’t generally allowed. There’s just enough room to lie down, and watch the tiny TV above (naturally, there are naughty channels).
Finally, we made special arrangements to shoot inside Akihabara’s Taito video game arcade. An anime girl with cat-ears welcomes us.
Olli enjoyed playing Dance Dance Revolution, and a table flipping game that lets you vent your anger.
The game center had several floors of video games, including retro fighting ones. Later in the day, these rows will be entirely filled with otaku (geeks).
Naomi and I had a terrific time working with Olli Schulz and his team. You can learn more about this travel-humor show and see the episode on Pro 7 (note, this may not be viewable in all countries).
My “The Bitter End” sweater is by the defunct brand Banana Fish. Found it at Closet Child Shinjuku, and paired it with old diamond print tights.
If you’re intrigued by host boy culture, take a look at the award-winning show I hosted on Norway TV. (This video is watchable everywhere.)
What do you think about host clubs, rent-a-family, cuddle cafes, and the other strange ways the Japanese deal with loneliness?
If you’re a television production company looking to film in Japan, then we hope you’ll reach out to us! In addition to on-camera hosting, the Pirates take care of all filming logistics, permits, translation and any other arrangements necessary. Click to find out more about our TV fixing firm (and see examples of our past work, including bagelheads). Arr.
I loved getting to know the glam side of Bangkok, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. There’s so much more to this city than backpackers, banana pancakes… and dare I mention ladyboys?
See for yourself, in the latest episode of my Business Insider travel video series. Watch it here — isn’t Bangkok’s pop culture fascinating?
Photos and video by me and Seby. Our Thai adventure included disco clubs, skeleton corsets, and an amusing encounter on the way to Siam mall!
We also visited two sweet designers, who are making Lolita and Japanese-style clothing (here’s a full post about ChuChu). Wonderful to see how the subculture is thriving in unexpected places.
I couldn’t have stayed in a more beautiful hotel, the Sofitel So. They even served absinthe in the lobby.
VIP members get access to the club lounge, which is stocked with food, cocktails and fashion.
Christian Lacroix designed the interior. His colorful couture is unmistakable.
The ground floor contained a Bonnet chocolate shop. I spotted Little Prince sweets, and Parisian shoes and handbags.
Sofitel So BKK is inspired by the five elements. I stayed in this funky Earth-themed suite.
The other themes are Water, Wood, Fire, and Air — represented by modern cloud art.
The entire hotel had glorious views of Lumpini Park. This is a far cry from the Khao San Road hostels…
Stark art is everywhere. I saw a child climbing on this white deer statue.
I spy Ted the Bear in the gift shop.
The lobby’s design mixes traditional and modern.
Also check out the romantic photoshoot I did inside the Sofitel So Bangkok. (My hair is now blue; these are older photos).)
Please take a minute to watch my Bangkok travel video, and leave a comment to let me know what you think!
Did this series change your impressions of Thailand? What is the loveliest hotel you’ve ever slept in?
Hats Off to Israeli Fashion & Bloggers! Tel Aviv style tour: glitter fruit headbands, Art Deco jewelry.
Israel rocked my socks! I had an incredible time exploring Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with my filmmakers. The Tourism Board went beyond our expectations, and put together a dream press trip for the three of us.
If you think Tokyo fashion is the epitome of cool… then read on. You’ll be amazed at what Israel’s young designers and style influencers are up to.
We went on a fashion adventure with Galit Reismann of TLVstyle Boutique Tours. She gives guided style tours that are perfectly tailored to your interests; she’ll introduce you to insiders, and help you find the best shops. I wouldn’t have found any of these labels without her.
Let’s begin with what I wore. So nice to escape the winter weather…
Blue colored hair: by Stephanie Hoy, Avant Garde Hair Vancouver. I put it in two small buns.
Sheer panel little black dress: Gladnews, from Shibuya 109 in Tokyo. Very Metal, for sure.
Gothic cross tights: gifted by UK Tights – here are the exact cross suspender tights I’m wearing
Mary Jane Goth shoes: Demonia; purchase them for only $46
White crown handbag: Baby, the Stars Shine Bright
I met Tel Aviv-based designer Tami Bar-Lev, and we immediately hit it off. She custom-makes headpieces that would feel at home in Harajuku. Fruits, flowers and sequins are just some of the gems that she pulled out of her hat-box.
We filmed at Eden House, a charming and LGBT-friendly boutique hotel, run by two sweet locals. I wish I could have spent more time in the Victorian doll-like tea room.
Tami brought several big boxes. I was amazed by the array of hats and headbands inside.
Photography by Melissa Rundle. (So grateful that I’m able to travel with my friends, who happen to be pro filmmakers and photographers.)
And here’s a triad of Tami’s works — aren’t they adorable? Her hats are sturdily made, and stay on with adjustable combs or wires. Each sequin is sewn in by hand, to form the patterns.
At the top of the staircase is Israel style blogger Korin Avraham of Ya Salam fashion blog. Love her feathered skirt and infectious smile.
Pineapples, fish bones, flowers… oh my! The designs are fun and poppy, but not overpowering, so you don’t wind up looking like Carmen Miranda.
Korin and I modeled these flower hats on the balcony, which overlooks this fascinating city.
Galit joins us on the bed for a hat slumber party. From banana splits (one of Tami’s first creations) to fairy bridal crowns, and turbans with fabric ties… there’s something for all tastes.
A salute to my talented new friends! We could have hung out all day, but the tour was only beginning, and I had three more places to visit.
Galit took me to the fashion-centric Noga district, and introduced me to jewelry-maker Shelly Dahari. I was drawn to her bold pieces, influenced by Art Deco and African art.
Shelly hand-crafts accessories from carefully sourced and limited-edition materials, such as vintage buttons and shekel coins.
She showed me around her store, and offered us coffee and cookies. Everyone I met in the Israeli fashion scene was so hospitable. There’s a close community here that encourages creativity.
Shelly generously gave me this necklace, featuring a row of transparent stars. It has a Sailor Moon vibe, no?
I also loved her rings with retro cars symbols and lion heads.
Close up of the vintage, romantic detailing. Shelly Dahari’s Facebook shows more of her imaginative collections.
Thanks to Galit for these behind-the-scenes photos of our filming (my friends are working on a video about Israel). And this is only half of her personalized style tour… Coming up, I’ll take you inside two more Israeli boutiques.
Did you know Israel has such an exciting fashion and indie scene? What do you think of my “Very Metal” outfit and blue hair?
Great balls of lighting! My mind felt like it was exploding with color, when I went shopping in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market.
Seby and I spent a morning at the largest market in Thailand (also known as Jatujak, or J.J.). What type of designs are sold here? Did we buy anything cute? Let’s shop and see…
Take note that Chatuchak (Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road) is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. We were grateful to have Sylvie from Destination Asia as our guide, since there were over 15,000 stalls to explore, and the narrow walkways were packed with shoppers!
I’m wearing a cut-out black top by TwoPercent Hong Kong, and studded ankle boots by Yosuke from Shibuya 109. The round orange sunglasses are vintage Gucci.
The little shops sell everything from Buddhist items to home goods and food. We asked Sylvie to take us to the area featuring hip local fashion, and spent about an hour browsing. Fortunately we were there early, as the market can get very hot and packed around noon onward.
Some Asian markets, like “Women Street” in Hong Kong, sell poorly made goods. This is not the case at Chatuchak. Most of the boutiques sold lovingly crafted designs with a touch of cute. This Queen’s Guard necklace is a great example.
I’m always on the lookout for Scottish Fold cat items. When I saw these rings by Good After Nine, I simply had to have one.
The store is run by two young Thai jewelers, who are passionate about making unconventional pieces. Basil Farrow says: the painted lines on the face, folded ears, and slightly angry expression are spot on!
Like in Siam Discovery Mall, a lot of the young, Bangkok designs have a twee and vintage feel.
Spotted another Scottish Fold item. I didn’t get this shirt, as the print is a bit much.
However, Seby and I went nuts at Le Petid Print shop. All their t-shirts are 100% cotton and chemical free, with soft screen prints. I got the Halloween bunny tee, and he got the Stormtroopers one, among others.
Tip: if you buy more than one item, you get a discount – which ends up being about $2-4 US per shirt! Insane, considering the superb quality and prints that we found.
Another tip: some stores sell the same or similar items, so it’s worth walking through the halls first to see what’s available. However, if you come across something remarkable — like the cat-face jewels — get it right away, as you may get lost on the way back.
Among my favorites were these sweet, character-print scarves and bags.
A smiling fox family. See what I mean about the natural, charming vibe of the stores?
Put a bird on it, as the hipsters in Portland do.
These glowing ball lights would be great for home decor, or a photoshoot.
Love the faux flower crowns and My Fair Lady hats.
On the darker side, you can find studded Goth-metal clothing. Many Bangkok designers start out at JJ Market, since it’s not too expensive to rent a space here. It’s a great way to present their works and gauge the reaction.
Many items are handmade one-offs, which lets the creator experiment and gives the consumer something special.
A final tip: stock up on souvenirs and small accessories here. Since prices are so low, you won’t regret spending baht and supporting these local businesses.
Look for illustrated iPhone cases…
Nightmare Before Xmas t-shirts, printed with Jack Skellington’s face…
And don’t you dare leave without a funny t-shirt or two… or eight. (I think that’s how many Seby and I got!)
I leave you with a peek inside a rockabilly store. Skulls and subcultures are everywhere around the world now.
Isn’t Chatuchak Weekend Market inspiring? Did you know there was an indie design scene like this in Bangkok?
Coming up next: a video of my poppy Bangkok travels. For all my Thailand coverage, including temples and restaurants, check out the SE Asia category.