Meet La Carmina, the alternative travel and fashion blogger behind the blog La Carmina.
La Carmina is the author of two books about quirky Japanese pop culture — Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo, and Cute Yummy Time — and also appears on multiple TV shows about subcultures around the world, including Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and National Geographic's Taboo.
"My family and I went to Tokyo a lot when I was growing up, and I became mesmerized by the 'fashion tribes' I saw in Harajuku and Shibuya," La Carmina, who's originally from Vancouver, Canada, tells BuzzFeed Travel. "They dressed in ways that blew my mind! So I started blogging about Tokyo trends in 2007, and since then, my site has developed into a full-time career."
So if you wanna see the weirder underbelly of Tokyo, start with La Carmina's travel tips video ...
"If theme restaurants aim to put their customers in fantasy worlds, then Alice Café takes them 'through the looking glass.' The Cheshire Cat winks from the elevator, and the waitresses, dressed as Disney Alices, hand you a pop-up storybook that doubles as a menu," says La Carmina.
"Even the cutely-decorated food matches the theme, with items like caterpillar sushi, Cheshire cat sundaes, and Queen of Hearts pizzas. I filmed a travel TV show here, and my friends and I dressed up as Goth versions of the characters to fit the theme."
"Look for a giant white egg, and you'll know you have arrived at Square Enix's Artnia café," says La Carmina. "The makers of the cult video game Final Fantasy have built a café to celebrate its beloved characters, like Cloud and Chocobo. Fans can admire rare Final Fantasy figurines in the museum, or hug a smiling Slime stuffed toy. The café fills up quickly, but it's worth the wait for themed food like Moogles-decorated pancakes."
Popular with Tokyo Goths and Lolitas, Abilletage is an independent boutique decorated with red velvet curtains, chandeliers and antiques, says La Carmina. "The owner, Bambi, is a corset maker who sources accessories — like leather gas masks — from all over the world. She specializes in intricate custom corsets, and has designed outfits for Jpop stars Koda Kumi and Ayumi Hamasaki. I love to escape the bustle of Shinjuku by stopping by her parlor, for a pot of rose tea."
"A visitor friend asked me: 'Why are Easter eggs being sold in vending machines throughout Japan?' And I had to explain that these are Tenga, or 'pleasure devices' for men!" says La Carmina. "The company is known for stylish sex toys such as the Deep Throat Cup: sleek on the outside, with a lubricated vacuum and textured nubs on the inside."
"Godzilla is alive and well in Nakano, an eccentric neighborhood for anime-lovers," says La Carmina. "Every Wednesday, the minuscule Luna Base Bar turns into 'Dai-Kaiju Salon,' a kitschy celebration of Japanese monsters like Mothra. The space is decorated with rare toys and drawings by famous manga artists. Customers bond by watching 1960s Ultraman films together, and can take turns wearing a full-body pink monster suit! My friend Naomi put on this behemoth, and gave people walking by a good scare."
"Alien strippers, slave boys on chains, bloody body modifications... that's par for the course at Department H, the most outrageous fetish party in Japan, if not the world," says La Carmina. "Every month, Tokyo's fringe subcultures come together for a night where anything goes. Many wear full-body latex costumes that turn them into anime dolls. On one of my TV shows, we featured 'bagelheads' at the party. This body mod involves dripping saline into the forehead, which creates a temporary bulge that resembles a bagel!"