Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 13

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We intended to start Sunday’s shopping finale by getting away at 9am. Sadly, an amazingly comfy bed encouraged us to take it a bit easier and by the time we found our way to Harajuku it was closer to midday 😛

The Harajuku run started with a trip to the bargain store Daiso. We had been making a habit of dropping into ¥100 stores during the trip for bargain hunting/amusement, so a multi-story Daiso packed into Harajuku was, not surprisingly, amazingly good fun! We grabbed a few more goodies for ourselves and friends and family back home while we were there for a ridiculously cheap cost, including stacks of Japanese lollies and chocolates to enjoy when we got home!

From there we wandered to the tip of Otomesando-dori to grab a crepe and go cosplay hunting. Sadly we only found one pair of cosplayers (not sure if we were in the wrong spot in Harajuku or maybe we were too early in the day), so we headed over to Yoyogi Park to watch the locals relaxing on a Sunday and the rockers showing off their amazing pompadours.

It was really cool to spend a little bit of time chilling out and watching what the locals were up to on a Sunday – a guy was playing a guitar on a bench under some shade, groups of teens were playing badminton and soccer, and in the distance we saw a group of people dancing it up. Young families were out with their kids and dogs, but everyone was just relaxed and enjoying the sunshine and awesome weather.

After polishing off a bite to eat, it was time to jump back on the Yamanote Line to visit Shibuya. While there Wifey did some much-needed shopping and we also hopped down to the Bingo second hand clothing store located in the basement of the Shibuya Book Off we visited when we were in Tokyo previously to see if anything interesting had found their way to the shelves in our absence.

After dodging the hordes of gaijin and the impressive cache of locals (and getting some photos of some street art down one of the side alleys, JSR-style!), we were back on the Yamanote line for our last portion of the shopping day – Akihabara Mk. 2!

For this run I dropped Wifey off at the Caffe Excelsior opposite the UDX building (passing what looked like a group of protestors bearing cosplay outfits and someone who was wearing a Gundam mask) and started the final hunt.

First stop was Gamers, a place I’d wanted to visit since getting on the DiGi Charat train back in 2000. Sadly, the multi-floor building was a disappointment, catering to the creepy otaku with long pillows with arrays of moe (including selected pillows with squishy bits for the characters’ breasts), porn, DVDs and BRDs, more porn, cosplay, and a bit more porn. Bummer.

With a hasty exit I figured I’d visit Kotobukiya (we stumbled across it when running the maid gauntlet during our last trip – it’s close to Super Potato!) and then check out the Hard Off I missed next to Mandarake during the previous visit. Because I’m special, I promptly got lost for 15 minutes before finding my way back to Hard Off/Mandarake (should have listened to my initial instincts and walked where I thought I needed to go).

Kotobukiya proved to be great fun for this second round of shopping (picked up some anime stuff), but the trip to Hard Off wasn’t worth it, as it specialised in audio equipment and little else. While this wouldn’t be a bad thing in ordinary circumstances (while I don’t know a lot, I enjoy looking and learning about amplifiers and what-not), I was trying to go as fast as possible because I was conscious of not being too much of a pain in the rear since Wifey was at this stage getting to the end of the coffee/cake set at Excelsior.

So I jumped next door to Mandarake, this time appreciating the slight price increase in Akiba vs Nipponbashi. That being said, there was also plenty there I couldn’t find in Akihabara, and Mandarake is generally a very easy to use store for nerdy stuff. I ended up grabbing a handful of gear for the PSone, Saturn (including Street Fighter Zero 3!), Mega Drive, Mega CD and Super Famicom; SFZ3 was the most expensive at around ¥7,000, the rest of the gear was pretty reasonably priced, especially the PSone games. I managed to nab Keio Yugekitai for the Mega CD in great condition complete for around ¥1,300, so that was pretty cool too!

After finishing up there I texted Wifey and picked her up, then dropped past the Tokyo Anime Centre just up the escalators on the second level of the UDX building to see if we missed anything (picked up an awesome Macross t-shirt!), then off we went to have a look at Liberty and Traders 1, 3 and 4, all of which came up blanks for anything other than current gen systems of PS2/PSone, and at this stage I had crossed both of them off my to-get list owing to a lot of success grabbing titles for them in the wild.

This then led us back to Super Potato for some more nerding – I grabbed a couple of Dreamcast, Saturn and possibly also some Super Famicom gear (memory is a bit hazy!). With Super Potato sorted, we then went to the Sofmap wedged between the two Club Sega arcades on the main strip. The reason for the extra trek was to nab a cheap DS Lite (¥2000) as they were getting rid of them nice and cheaply (this one was in great shape physically, it just needs the fuses replaced which is pretty easy to do).

We finished up by heading into Club Sega where I played a round of Virtual On Oratario Tangram on a dedicated cab, then a couple of rounds of Super SF2: Hyper Anniversary Edition, where I got owned by someone using an M. Bison/Vega exploit by timing the psycho crusher to hit when I got up without the chance of blocking.

Normally this kind of play would piss me off, but I managed to get a few hits in before I got taken out in a succession of cheap shots, and playing against someone in an arcade in Japan was still a thrill at this stage so it didn’t really bother me 🙂 We left via the bottom floor where I failed to win a plushie from one of the crane games (got close though!) but took a couple of the Sega plushie bags as a souvenir from the trip 🙂

So with the shopping out of the way, we hit the subway and braved the rush to head back to Maihama and grabbed some delicious home-style pork and fried rice from one of the vendors before heading home.

The early night didn’t really happen, but it still made for an entertaining day 🙂

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 10

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The first full day in Osaka was set as a half nerd/half not-nerd shopping day. Osaka houses the west-coast equivalent of Akihabara, Nipponbashi or Den Den Town, so we had planned to head over there in the morning and then jump over to the Dotonburi shopping district in the afternoon. To make things more time-efficient, I used Sebaattori’s excellent blog entry on retrogaming in Osaka as a base and headed to the Ebisucho Station via the Sakaisuji line, exit 1-B, and found Super Potato two meters to the right of the exit once we got out onto the street. We ended up crossing over the other side to check out the Sofmap over there only to realise the Sofmap on the same side of the street as Super Potato (and our other destination, Game Tanteidan) was where we needed to go.

Before going on, I have to say that Nipponbashi is a completely different beast than Akiba. Where Akiba is gaudy but full of life, Nipponbashi is gritty, grimy and dark; Wifey commented the same, and where in Akiba she felt pretty comfortable and found the spectacle entertaining, she felt a bit uncomfortable in comparison in Nipponbashi. We started off hunting for LDs in a store on the corner before starting the nerd run, and once again inadvertently walked into the porn section on the second floor (which felt a little more seedy than the other accidental walk-ins). Exiting, we headed to Sofmap and found their retro collection was located across 6 bins (3 x 3 – so two rows), where the whole thing was a bit of a mess. Games in there were certainly cheap enough (I grabbed Virtua Cop 2 for only ¥50), but it was a lot of effort for comparably little return time-wise, so we left after grabbing the above and headed to Game Tanteidan (or to use Sebaattori’s translation, Game Detectives).

The store isn’t massive, but the selection is fantastic and pricing wasn’t too shabby either considering we were shopping in an urban area – on the whole, it was probably 10% to 20% cheaper than Akiba, though in some instances it was also more expensive (consistently inconsistent then!). The bottom floor is where the hardware is (they had a set of boxed Virtual On Twin Sicks for the Saturn for only ¥960!!), as well as most of the software. The Famicom selection is extensive, but being conscious of time I wasn’t in a position to go through everything individually, and instead prioritised the Saturn and DC, and checked out a couple of Super Famicom games and some Mega CD titles. Upstairs is dedicated to MSX, collectible cards, game music and art books (and probably guide books as well). Up here I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the Phantasy Star Compendium art book for around ¥3500 and snapped it up, then grabbed some titles from downstairs on the way out, with my amazing and patient wife helping by holding onto games while I shopped (and by now I’m sure you’ve noticed that Wifey being amazing and patient has been a continuing motif throughout this entire trip!).

I was debating whether to go to Super Potato as I heard the prices there were really expensive, but Wifey said I should still go in, and as always she was right 🙂 We skipped the bottom floor as per Sebaattori’s advice and went straight to the second floor where the retro love is. Since the shelves weren’t quite as packed as Game Detectives, more games were facing with the label-side visible rather than the spine, so it made it faster than relying on my not-so-speedy ability to read Japanese to trawl though carts 🙂 I ended up buying some more gear from there, as price-wide they were often similar to Game Detectives, with some titles more expensive and some gear cheaper (they had piles of Model 1 Mega Drives for around ¥1500 a pop which was pretty cool, and Saturns for ¥3500), but of course the selection was a bit different which was great. We passed a couple of other gaijin in the shop taking turns playing Super Mario Kart which was pretty awesome too.

Where this Super Potato really came into its own were some readily accessible premium titles I was after – I snapped up Radiant Silvergun for a shade under ¥8000, Asuka 120% Final Burning Fest. for under ¥5000 (closer to ¥4500 I think) and a few other titles I hadn’t seen elsewhere (like Dead of Alive on the PSone for a cheap price too). Wifey, again being amazing, pointed me in the direction of the bargain bins towards the back where I snapped up a whole heap of goodies for ¥50-¥200, including a boxed Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and some loose Sonic carts for the Game Gear, Godzilla Generations and a few other DC games and a DC lightgun as well.

After exiting Super Potato, we headed back to Ebisucho Station and took the Sakaisuji Line up to the next stop (Nipponbashi) and jammed the nerd stuff into a coin locker (note to all tourists – coin lockers are amazing and should be utilised to reduce shopping fatigue!), then walked out and passed a couple of dodgy looking pachinko parlours (pachinko is huge in Osaka) before arriving at the start of Dotonburi, which signalled the end of nerd shopping and the start of food and Wifey-friendly shopping!

The general perception is that in Osaka you eat and drink your fill when you’re out, and the proliferation of so many places to grab a bite down this street was impressive and set your belly rumbling. We passed all manner of cuisine, but being Osaka we knew we had one destination – takoyaki.

We ended up stopping off at a place with an impressive line-up considering the time of day (close to 3pm if memory serves), so I jumped in and managed to order a small selection of takoyaki to share with Wifey. As much as I enjoyed the goodies from the night before, I’m pretty confident that these topped them and were mouth-burningly delicious. With our belated lunch sorted out, it was time to work off all that yummy batter with more shopping.

Doutonburi is a long and densely-packed open-air mall, with shops initially sitting along the main street when you enter it from where we came from. As we progressed though, the foodie haunts gave way to all manner of shops and amusement centres, and these eventually gave way to labyrinths of other enclosed strip malls spidering off the main street. The scale really was impressive and we barely scratched the surface, instead prioritising a visit to H&M across a bridge that showed off some amazing views of the concrete jungle that is Osaka (no H&M locally and the EU sizes meant it wasn’t too tricky to work out what to buy).

As the afternoon wore on, the middle and high school students hit the pavement and Doutonburi became alive with a sea of people. Apart from catching up and going shopping they were also checking out some live performances on one of the bridges that lead over to H&M and all manner of other gear was happening in the area. We ended up doing some shopping and purchasing around this part of Doutonburi, and I have to take this spot to give huge credit to the incredible pride the Japanese guys put into looking the part when they head out. I felt comparatively under-dressed sporting jeans and a t-shirt (the humidity meant I couldn’t layer stuff otherwise I would have become a sweaty gaijin, which isn’t a good look!), but it was great to see pride in appearance and passion in the stores with guys out shopping in force. There was also an abundance of headwear that I picked up while we were over there (one of the catches with being a ranga with a thinning hairline means hats are a bit of a necessity these days!), and they’ve certainly been put to use as the Australian summer kicked in locally.

After finishing up there we wandered our way to the nearby Tokyu Hands department store at Wifey’s very sensible insistence (passing a Konami fitness club on the way!).

I didn’t know much at all about Tokyu Hands before we visited, but I cam away really impressed with it! It’s a multi-story department store with a tip towards the more affordable end of the spectrum, and while we were there we bought a couple of souvenirs and a lightweight piece of luggage to accommodate all the crap we had bought to date (I can’t recall the cost, but it was incredibly lightweight and strong, with four wheels on the base for easy movement and was extremely good value). The only trick with purchasing the luggage was that I got my Japanese mixed up, but between my command of the language and a touch of English, everything got sorted out and after 5-10 minutes a staff member brought out a fresh, new piece of luggage from the storage area out the back. With the new luggage in hand, we headed back via the train station to grab the nerd haul from the coin locker to take home with us. Turns out it all fit quite nicely inside the new piece of baggage too and made it very easy to take all our shopping back to our hotel!

We dropped our collective haul off at the hotel before hitting the Universal City Walk again for dinner (yes, we were being a bit lazy by relying on going somewhere so close to the hotel rather than exploring more of Osaka at night!), settling for Mos Burger as Wifey was interested in more comfort food as she continued to fight off her cold, and then picked up a banana and strawberry crepe from the crepe stand and more drinks from Starbucks (being the manly-man I am, I continued my addiction to their mango passion iced tea, while Wifey grabbed a mocha espresso to warm up) to finish off at our hotel.

Osaka continued to gel with us after a day of shopping – while not as clean as the other cities we visited, the place was full of life and everyone seemed to be milling about with purpose. The nerd run to Nipponbashi blew a reasonable wad of cash, but it was so much fun and while you’re paying a bit extra for the convenience, when you’re strapped for time it’s a pretty good compromise in my opinion. Time’s the central key point here I guess – there was so much more to explore in Osaka and we only touched on Nipponbashi, Doutonburi and the immediate surrounds of our hotel during the day. We also needed bigger gaijin appetites to take advantage of all the amazing street food, and that’s not even counting the copious flow of cheap and tasty beer on offer either!! I have a feeling we’d have trouble keeping up with the locals, but I’m sure if Wifey and I get back to Osaka in the future we’ll be ready to give it another crack!

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 2

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Wednesday was officially nerd day, where Wifey was happy to indulge the crazy nerd adventures I’ve been wanting to do in Japan for many years. After a slight sleep-in and a nice buffet brekky, we hit the subway station to make our way out to Mitaka to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum.

Being a long-time anime fan who jumped on the bandwagon around ’94 when Siren started distributing the classy Manga Entertainment label of anime locally, over the years I developed an incredible love of Studio Ghibli’s work. The first Ghibli movie I saw was Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, thanks to SBS screening it around ’96. In 2001 Princess Mononoke had a limited screen at the Palace Nova in July that year, and around the same time I bought my first DVD player (a multiregion Pioneer DV-344) and started importing all the Studio Ghibli releases direct from Japan.

The trip to the museum was amazing for two reasons. The obvious one is the museum itself – I had never contemplated that a physical structure could in any way capture the whimsy, charm and nostalgia typical of Studio Ghibli productions, but somehow it had. This is the kind of experience that is difficult to put into words, because it was at once tangible but yet ephemeral at the same time. There was a screening of a specially-produced short movie in the small theatre, a big Nekobus that the kids were going crazy over, rotating exhibitions (which I think was looking at the history of folk tales in the West), the giant from Laputa on the roof, a cafe, book store, gift store (named after the Mama Aiutto from Porco Rosso) and a recreation of the working space of Miyazaki or Ghibli staff (I believe), with some amazing memorabilia all over the place, including lots of sketches, cells and production gear from various Ghibli movies. There was a particularly big emphasis on Kiki’s Delivery Service, which being my favourite Ghibli movie, was great to see.

After making a modest deposit at the gift and book stores (I had to resist the temptation of spending around $500 on getting a framed cell from Princess Mononoke or Kiki’s Delivery Service), we jumped back on the shuttle bus that went from the museum to Mitaka Station. Now this is where the second part of this experience came into its own – whereas the original bus between the station and the museum was pretty direct, this time we wound through all the back streets on the way back to the train station. This was a mind-blowing experience – Mitaka is a really pretty city, with residential houses, busy main streets and bikes everywhere. It evokes the same qualities that many of the nostalgia-infused moments in Ghibli movies set in more contemporary circumstances, like Whisper of the Heart or From Up On Poppy Hill (despite the discrepancy in time periods).

Next up was the sacred pilgrimage that is, in many ways, one of the other important things from this journey – visiting the Sega headquarters in Ohta. To get there was an exercise in patience on behalf of Wifey, is it was a little convoluted! We took one of the JR lines to Shinagawa Station from Shinjuku, and from there we transferred to one of the private lines to get to Otorii. Things got tricky because we used the wrong entrance/exit (we should have exited out of the main JR gate using our JR pass, then used our Pasmo card to get to the Otorii line), and then we weren’t sure which train to catch to get to Otorii since there were a handful of options. We took one of the local lines on the Haneda route to get off at Otorii. After exiting Otorii we started walking the wrong way, then turned around and realised that if we looked both ways when we exited the station originally, we would have noticed the great big Sega logos on top of two buildings down the street.

We stopped at a neighbourhood soba place to eat an amazing (and cheap) meal of plain soba with dipping sauce and spring onion and wasabi paste (around ¥280 each!), then walked down to the Sega building, where I was finally, after years of obsessive fanboy passion, able to step on hallowed ground. And it was awesome 🙂

Unfortunately the building was closed for some reason, but Wifey indulged my nerd spirit by peering through the windows and trying to take picture of things, including some people who must have come out of a meeting and walked through the lobby.

At some stage I think we had started attracting the attention of the police nearby and we promptly left while trying to look unsuspicious (which probably didn’t work – a gaijin with a limp and a hat to protect his thinning ranga hair don’t exactly blend in over there). As we were walking down the street I saw the people from the lobby in front of us, and being excitable, took their picture while walking quickly down the street in a fit of nerdy giggles. In my mind I imagine they had just come out of an amazing meeting at Sega, but I lacked the Japanese skills (and balls) to ask them anything.

Once the pilgrimage was over, we grabbed a couple of yummy pastries from Peter’s Deli (I think that’s what it was called) at the entrance of the Otorii Station, then made the trek back to Shinagawa, then we hit one of the JR Lines to visit the final nerd stop for the day – Akihabara!

As much as it’s a clich&eaccend;, Akihabara still put an amazing smile on my face. The first stop was the Tokyo Anime Centre in the UDX building to grab an English language version of the Akihabara map (thanks to Orochinagi for the tip!), then off we went to explore.

Despite getting lost a few times, it was good fun – we hit up Super Potato, Trader 2, Mandarake and Sofmap before stopping off at Club Sega. I didn’t play stacks of games since it was getting late, but I had a whirl at Parodius: Fantastic Journey in honour of my brothers Miguel and Tank, and my mate McAdam in honour of the amount of hours we sunk into this game on the Saturn. I managed to get about three or four stages in on a single credit which I was pretty happy with, and Wifey noticed a couple of the locals stopped to watch me play, so maybe I wasn’t doing too badly 🙂

We then checked out the other floors, and the top floor showcased the most amazing Gundam team battle game I’d ever seen, resembling a fusion of Virtual On and the Gundam universe with an awesome team-based mechanic.

Part way up we came upon a floor of SSF4AE (Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition) machines, and I had the balls to Ken scrub on a machine against a Japanese player with a massive score card playing as Fei Long. I got owned without landing a hit on the first round, won the second round, then lost the subsequent rounds without being able to put up much of a fight.

We were about to exit when I noticed there was a basement floor, so down we went and I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights ever – a floor dedicated to only Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Once again I plonked in ¥100 and took on another player with Sarah, the only character I’ve invested much time in over the years since getting hooked on the series since the VF2 days. The outcome was similar to SSF4AE – was annihilated in the first round as Akira juggled me with some amazing techniques, held my own in the second round, then lost the next two without being too much of a challenge. With my VF dreams complete (playing VF in Japanese arcade, regardless of winning or losing), I had a crack at a crane game (and lost!), then off we went to Book Off for some final nerding before finding a nearby place to grab a bite.

We found a place near the Akihabara Station that promised casual dining and enjoyed some awesome Japanese beer, edamame, an amazing pot of gyoza and a selection of skewered awesomeness (including vegetarian skewers, chicken thighs, chicken liver, tendons and gizzards – the kind of thing encouraged by Bourdain and Zimmern when traveling!). Bellies full, it was time to go home after a massive day.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.