Bradcat’s Place Focus… Woktastic

” Feed me takoyaki!”, my stomach has grumbled, since returning from Japan in April. I’m only aware of one restaurant who offers authentic takoyaki in my local area, and that’s Woktastic. So here we go…

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You may recall the name of the restaurant due to a previous visit to Woktastic for my birthday back in January. On this visit I had my first taste of takoyaki as I was yet to explore Japan and try the “real deal”. Now that I’ve been, tried it, and returned, I can safely say how delicious it is in comparison.

There’s a lot to be said for something as simple as diced octopus wrapped in a light batter. But when you combine that with Japanese mayonnaise, you’re in for a taste sensation. Luckily, Woktastic offer both of these. You can either order a plate of 3 balls, or go for their buffet menu where you can take anything from the conveyor belt, where you will find takoyaki on there too. Speaking of the buffet conveyor belt, you’ll find heaps of other nibbles to tuck into, including a huge range of sushi.

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The sushi is much more affordable (not to mention a lot more delicious) than the sushi you’ll find at Yo! Sushi. There is also a much wider choice on offer too. Not too dissimilar from Yo! Sushi, Woktastic offers a “plate colour” system, where the plates are priced depending on the colour. It’s quite easy to find your hands wondering to the conveyor belt to help yourself, adding more items to your bill. That being said, the most expensive dish on the belt is under £5, and the buffet menu is a mere £14.99 on an evening (£11.99 if you go for lunch)

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All of the staff are wonderful. I’ve only visited Woktastic twice now, and both times they’ve been incredibly welcoming, as though we’ve been friends for years. They really try to look after you and try their best to cater to any request you have.

On this occasion, I decided to go for the chicken ramen (surprise, surprise) (ラーメンが大好きです)  while my friend Dan opted for a katsu curry bento box. Bento boxes offer a decent portion of a selection of dishes, packed into a box with different compartments. Typically there are pickles in the middle, a section for rice, a section for the meat, and the last two sections vary from each Japanese restaurant I’ve been to. Woktastic offer a salad, and a side of gyozas (depending on which bento you select).

IMG_4257-4Dan’s delicious katsu bento

IMG_2194-3My equally delicious chicken ramen

On a recent visit to Wagamama, I ordered some pork ramen (which I ate a lot of in Japan.) But something unthinkable happened, I didn’t finish my bowl! I couldn’t explain it, but I think because I’d tasted authentic Japanese ramen I knew how it was meant to taste, and this just didn’t measure up. Sorry Wagamama! However the broth used in Woktastic is almost identical to what you’d find in Japan, even the presentation is incredibly similar.

All in all, a great visit to Woktastic. Delicious food, affordable prices (though it’s easy to get carried away!), friendly staff, and a great atmosphere. If you’re ever in Birmingham, please take your time to find this restaurant. You’ll find it just off Broad Street, near the library and Birmingham museum and art gallery. Full directions on their website.

Woktastic Official Website

Woktastic on Twitter

All prices were correct at the time of posting. Please check the Woktastic website for up to date prices!

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Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Fashion

Fashion is one topic which spans all the countries of the world, with each county bringing their own styles to the table. These designs often become vastly popular and become “the latest fashion/trend”. New York, Los Angeles, London, and Milan are notoriously known for their outlandish clothing, and celebrity trends. However I’d like to throw Japan into the equation, specifically Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya, in Tokyo.

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The reason for this, is because during a recent visit to Japan, I’d never seen such an incredible effort made (by almost everyone) to look fashionable. The slightest hints of street fashion are embellished, turning the streets into a humongous catwalk, as young Japanese men and women show off their latest styles. At this point I’d like to point out, that even though I’m a photographer, I make no claim to be a fashion guru by any means, therefore this post is based purely on my research and what I’ve encountered myself.

I would often see seemingly “normal” culture references displayed to new degrees of presentation. What do I mean by this? For example, in England, it’s not uncommon to see someone wearing a studded leather jacket with perhaps a small Union Jack flag patch (or something similar) as a small nod to “Punk fashion” from the late 70’s. However in Japan, they would take that small reference to punk culture and amplify it; perhaps with trousers sporting the Union Jack, or even a Union Jack flag hanging out of their back pocket (I saw this myself), combined with a thousand accessories and attachments to complete the look.

TK-2014-03-09-018-001-Harajuku-600x900Kentaro and Asuka are two punk rockers with spiky colorful hair who we spotted in Harajuku.

This isn’t to say we don’t see “punk fashion” like this in the West, we do, obviously. However it feels more natural, rather than a fashion statement. Most of the people I know who dress like this, do so for their own benefit, they don’t care if other people notice what they’re wearing. However in Harajuku this isn’t the case, you’re dressing this way to be noticed, and why not?  Some of these people spend hours putting their outfits together, or making their hair look so extravagant. They’re doing it so people notice.

Japanese fashion doesn’t just take heavy influence from Western trends though, they bring more than their fair share of styles to the table, so let’s take a quick look…

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Shironuri (白塗り) translates as “Painted white” or “Whitewashed”. The main fashion element here is that the people who dress in this style, wear white make-up, however the style of clothing can vary. This is often combined with other fashion genres such as “gothic” to create a dramatic effect. One famous shironuri artist is Minori, she has been featured on Tokyofashion.com

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Gothic Lolita (or Gothloli, ゴスロリ) is a combination of gothic and lolita fashion. For those unfamiliar with lolita, it’s a very popular style based on Victorian fashion, with petticoats, stockings, cupcake shaped skirts, and frills. However because the lolita style is so vast, it is often broken down into sub-genres. Gothic lolita is one of these.

Maintaining the Victorian style, other elements are brought in to give it a darker quality such as red lipstick, and dark eye make-up, (black eyeliner) however the focus is still on natural beauty rather than the “white powdered face” gothic style make-up seen in the West.

Brands which exemplify the Gothic lolita style include Atelier-Pierrot, Atelier Boz, and Black Peace Now.

108561My friend Ren sporting a style similar to Visual Kei

Visual Kei (ヴィジュアル系) translates to “Visual style/system” is popular amongst Japanese musicians, however similar to the lolita style, there are many sub-genres and varying degrees of extremes. The main focus is on elaborate hair styles and loud outfits. It is similar to punk fashion, however there seems to be a degree of flamboyancy, with elements of “glam rock” thrown into the mix. There are notable musicians who sport this style, including DISACODE, Golden Bomber, X Japan and many more.

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Kogal (コギャル kogyaru) is a style based on the Japanese school girl uniform, with subtle differences to make them more fashionable. These differences often include shortened skirts, large socks, and dyed hair colours. This style was huge during the 1990’s, however it has recently started to die off as some people see the style as materialistic and shallow. On the flip side, some people see them as kindhearted young women of today. People associated with this style of fashion tend to have their own slang words, sometimes combined with English words, which I find intriguing.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 20.59.41Eon from Osaka Shunkashuto shows “Today’s CODE”

While this isn’t a fashion style, it is something that is very popular among Japanese girls, and it’s called “CODE”. This comes from “coordinates” and is essentially a way for girls to show off their outfit for the day. You’ll often seen Tweets, Instagram photos, or blog posts featuring photographs of the details of the outfit for the day. In the example above, Eon was wearing a white skirt, black belt, chequered red shirt, and very cute cherry ear rings. During a webcast from a radio station she showed her outfit or “Today’s CODE”.

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With all of these unique fashion styles, people might be concerned that the traditional Japanese dress of Kimono is all but gone. This is far from the case, the Kimono is very much alive more so on “coming of age day” (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) when Japanese people celebrate turning 20 years old. It is a celebration of their expanded rights and new responsibilities as adults. During my visit to Japan in April I was able to witness the “entrance ceremony” for new students, where during which, they also wore traditional kimono. While the males usually opt for a suit, it is not uncommon to see them also wearing traditional attire.

As I said previously, I am no fashion expert, and these are just some of the hundreds of fashion styles you’ll see around Japan. If you’re interested then please head over to Tokyo Fashion’s website. They kindly allowed me to use their photos for this blog and they work very hard to share the fashions of Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya with the rest of the world. You can also follow them on Twitter here: Tokyo Fashion on Twitter

If you have any photos or stories to do with Japanese fashion, please share them in the comments below.