Friday, July 15, 2016

Tokyo 2009 part 5

continued from part 4...

Thursday our plans were (a) shop in Shinjuku including the Sekaido art supply store, and (b) meet K. for dinner somewhere and (c) not much else, because we had to be packed and ready to go on Friday, and to be honest after a week of marching all over Tokyo we was tired. I got ahold of K. using the hotel's lobby computers which were still equipped with Windows 95, and then we set out for breakfast and Sekaido. 

Sekaido is a great art supply store, and I'm not just saying that because they have three aisles of screen tone. It's three floors of just about everything; pens, pencils, brushes, inks, papers, wood, glue, computer software, light tables, guidebooks, hot glue, plaster statuettes, and official Toei animation company brand cel paint. 

Because they still use cel paint! I dunno, maybe they do. Their three aisles of screentone includes screentone of buildings, clouds, cityscapes, rural and urban backgrounds, interiors, crowds - as Ed Wood would say, "Why, you could make a whole comic with this stock footage screen tone!" And there was always somebody shopping in the manga accoutrements aisle, too. You can pretend it's famous manga-ka stocking up on supplies or a gofer from a big studio stocking up on supplies for famous manga-ka. 

After that we went to the Shinjuku Tokyu Hands. (We went to the Shibuya one previously with Roy on Wednesday night but I forgot to mention that). Tokyu Hands is the local Target/Wal-Mart/Honest Ed's - hardware, sporting goods, toys, stationery, small appliances, USB drives that are little mechanical humping dogs, you name it, they got it. So if it's coming close to Halloween and you do not yet have a costume, Tokyu Hands can supply! 

This being the knockoff Detroit Metal City costume it was just a wig and face makeup. The official DMC costume comes with a mask and is more rockin', IMO. Either one will likely shock and horrify your friends.

After Tokyu Hands we figured it was time for some nature, so we headed to Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens and joined other picnickers with our combini box lunches. Shinjuku Gyoen is a beautiful breath of fresh air after the noise and confusion of Tokyu Hands and Shinjuku in general. I
t's another one of those spots that's quintessentially Japanese. You're literally walking through souvenir postcards here! 

And the carp... when they see you coming towards that bridge they come from all over the pond. You can see their fins leaving wakes as they charge desperately for a few crumbs.

Entrance is 200 yen, a bargain at the price; if you're in Tokyo I highly recommend getting a bento and wandering through Shinjuku-Gyoen. 

After a lazy afternoon in the park we dropped our stuff off back at the hotel and then set out again for the Studio ALTA sign to meet K. for dinner! On the way we wandered around Shinjuku/Kabuki-cho again and got some Chip Chop at the combini based solely on their hallucinatory TV ads. We also witnessed a karaoke bar apparently endorsed by Satan.

We met K. right under the ALTA screen, and after hellos and some discussion we hopped onto the train and went back out to Shimokitazawa, which is even trendier at night! Dinner was curry and lots of beer at a funky place three floors underground that has a giant lizard on the ceiling. Oh, you don't believe me? 

We kept K. out way too late talking and catching up, but all too soon it was time to get back on the train for our last trip through the maze of Shinjuku station, time to get back to the hotel and get packed up and ready to head out. 

In the morning we checked out and took a taxi to the Airport Limo bus stop outside the Keio Department Store in Shinjuku. It was a beautiful clear day and it was sad to say goodbye to our vacation and return to the 'real world'.

That's a Friday morning photo of the Cocoon Tower, one of Shinjuku's newest landmarks and a controversial architectural choice in a city filled with questionable architectural choices. As a Toronto resident I quickly learned to orient myself downtown with a quick glance towards the CN Tower, so it's nice to have something distinctive on the skyline to get your bearings with. 

The bus ride took us through downtown Tokyo, past the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Disneyland and generally a lot of the city we hadn't had a chance to see. We had time to kill at the airport so we got lunch at McDonalds, which for a limited time was serving the "Tomago Doburu Mak Setto", a combo meal featuring a Big Mac enlivened with an egg. That's one thing that stands out about Japanese cuisine, if they can put an egg on it, they will put an egg on it. This particular sandwich is advertised with a friendly-looking, slightly dorky Caucasian man.

Not a bad burger, but you can feel the cholesterol surging in your bloodstream within minutes. I would not recommend this on a regular basis.

Anyway, we boarded and the flight was uneventful, for the most part.  We landed in Toronto at around the same time we left Tokyo. Customs informed me my Permanent Resident card has expired, which was an oversight on my part, really, and then we got back in our car and drove home and went to bed, which wasn't really the best plan because of JET LAG KICKING OUR BUTTS.  It took me the better part of a week to get back on a normal sleep schedule. 

Big thanks go out to Roy for being our guide and spiritual leader, for Tim and his essential shopping information, and to Jim and K. for taking a little time out of their lives to be a friendly face to a couple of tourists. You are all wonderful people. Look out Japan! When our bank balances have recovered and our jet lag combat techniques are more developed, we will return!

We did return to Tokyo in 2012 and you can see a little bit of our trip at Let's Anime. Our next trip is hopefully not too far off!

Tokyo 2009 part 4

continued from part 3!

On Tuesday our mission was to investigate the Used Bookstore neighborhood of Kanda/Jinboucho (or Jimboucho or Jimbocho, however you feel like spelling it, we saw all three)! We slept late again but were out of the hotel by noon. So, after consulting Tim's information we hopped onto the train and soon we were walking down Hakusan-Dori past bookstores and record stores and a coffee shop where we had a light lunch. Kanda Jinbo-cho is a university neighborhood and there are a lot of publishers there so it's just a real booky sort of place. The record stores have a lot of jazz LPs. And of course the streets were filled with political candidate sound trucks: 

There is a tall thin building near the intersection of Yasukuni-Dori and Hakusan-Dori that is called the Kanda Kosho Center; it contains a record store, a shop filled with movie stills, posters, program books, and other paper ephemera, and a store called Nakano Shoten which was mind-blowingly awesome; walls decorated with original manga artwork, original manga pages for sale (including a Tezuka page), tons of old manga tankubons and weeklies dating back to the 1960s, anime magazines and books, anime cels, LPs and 45 singles, and more incredible stuff than I can describe. 

At any rate we spent a lot of money in that shop, and then we wandered around the neighborhood and went to another of Tim's recommendations, a shop called "Book Dash" next to a crazy lookin' movie theater. Book Dash had a lot of 80s anime books and magazines and manga; their prices seemed to be a bit higher than elsewhere, but they did have neat stuff and it's worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.

Afterwards we went back down to the train station and got some lunch. I looked at the map and noticed that if we just walked up the Sotobori-dori next to the Kanda-gawa (river), we'd be in Akihabara again! The river is in a steep ravine and is lined with trees and the cicadas were ear-splitting on occasion, but it was a gorgeous walk. We went past a truck apparently owned by a Miyazaki fan:

There was only one shop I really wanted to hit again in Akihabara, a store called "Golden Age", but of course it was closed on Tuesdays. So we wandered around some more and watched the packs of foreign otaku tourists investigate the vending machines, and then we went back to the train station and back to Shinjuku. We had dinner in a little place near our hotel that was all pork dishes: we established early on that the wait staff did not speak English, but they had a menu with English and handy photos for us barbarians. Afterwards we wandered around Kabuki-cho and got a bit lost but found our hotel by approaching it from the other direction, which was kinda neat. Saw the first vending machine with beer. And that was Tuesday in Tokyo!

So on Wednesday we got up and over to the station and met Roy in front of that ubiquitous Studio ALTA sign. And it was off to Mitaka Station (named after the Maison Ikkoku character) to go to the Ghibli Museum! This mecca for anime nerds is of course on the must-see list for every stinking roundeye tourist and we're no exception.  Fun fact:  buy your Ghibli tickets way in advance. Don't just fly to Tokyo, take the train to Mitaka station, take the cat-bus to the Ghibli Museum, and expect to walk right in! Here's the bus, by the way.

They don't allow photos inside, and unlike the Schulz museum I actually obeyed their instructions. I was a GUEST in that country, soldier! So you don't get pictures of the amazingly gigantic zoetrope, the enormous soft cat bus that children can play in, the huge pile of every single drawing that went into making PONYO, the reproduced studio and office, or the iron staircases, little cubbyholes, and whimsical platforms to nowhere that give the building character. On the roof they do have a garden accessible by a spiral staircase, and this garden is guarded by... 

AAAA! Giant Laputa robot!! It's a great reproduction, it's not just a solid cast but is metal fitted around parts, so when you thump it it feels just like a real robot. So if you make it to the Ghibli Museum don't forget to go to the roof. There's also a gift shop and a cafe, of course. 

After the museum, we took a stroll through Inokashira Park (you used to be able to see Miyazaki jogging in this park on a regular basis!) and boy, the turtles are totally looking for handouts in this park.

It's a popular cherry-blossom viewing park in the springtime and it's right next to Kichijoji, where we wandered around the shopping arcade and got some lunch. We then went across the tracks...

...yes, the pedestrian crossings you've seen characters waiting around in every anime show ever, the ones you do not want to try and beat because those trains are FAST... to Shimokitazawa, "one of the trendiest and most looked-after area to live for young Tokyoites." This funky hipster neighborhood features trendy boutiques, coffee shops, and toy stores owned by guys who will follow you out the door giving you free Ultraman finger puppets. It's also home to a store called "Grown up Tabatha" which has a giant mural of the "Bewitched" character as an adult decorating its storefront and sells fashion and fashion accessories. We hit three toy stores and then had very good coffee in a wood-paneled coffee shop accented by the owner's collection of lanterns and dolls. 

From there we got back on the train and went to Harajuku. Harajuku, of course, is the crazy young people fashion capital of Tokyo. It being a weekday there wasn't a lot of public exhibition going on, but the crowds were still overwhelming.

Yeah, that's just people, all the way down. Harajuku is home to extremely fashionable shops and high-end botiques of all kinds, as well as "Kiddyland", a multi-story toy wonderland for kids of all ages. We picked up some gifts and learned that Monchichis are back and this time they're dressed as your favorite cartoon characters! 

Having dispensed with Harajuku, we got back on the train and went to Shibuya and wandered around gaping at the love hotels and the seedier side of the Japanese Economic Miracle, including this adult accessories shop whose warning sign was really amusing: 

We hit Mandarake again and I found even more cool stuff that I'd missed the first time around, and then we got some dinner, and then we said "goodnight" to Roy and got back on the train and went back to Shinjuku and went to bed because we were beat! And that was the way it was Wednesday August 26 2009.

More to come in part 5!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tokyo 2009 part 3

Continued from Part Two

After Sunday's long march, we were determined to take it a little easier on Monday. And we did. We slept late and took our sweet time getting out of the hotel and wandered through the neighborhood towards the train station, passing lots of closed up nightclubs. Including this one which apparently has a "Rose Of Versailles" theme:

We never did see this place during operating hours, so who knows what kind of establishment this is? Lesbian bar? Transvestite bar? Transvestite lesbian manga cafe? Fencing school? Historical manga re-enactment society headquarters? We shook our heads and moved on to Mr. Donut, who not only has a decent donut, but the coffee is also OK and unlike Tim Horton's, they will come by your table with refills. 

From there, acting on travel advice given to us by darn near everybody but fleshed out into action-plans for us by the mighty Tim "The Hammer" Eldred, we hopped the train to Nakano Broadway, (warning, link has embedded music so turn your speakers down) a "Holy place for Otaku in Tokyo." For once the internet hype isn't lying. This building is filled with fairly normal business establishments on the ground floor but above is honecombed with shops selling toys, figures, manga, doujinshi of all stripes, video games, animation cels, records, DVDs; much like Akihabara but with less moe and more Showa. Oh you don't believe me. Well, look.

The first place we went into had a case full of Prince Planet memorabilia. That's right, the show I watched when I was 2 that began my obsession with bug-eyed Japaheeno cartoons, all rendered in plastic and screen-printed metal still life. 

I am still deeply psychologically moved by my experiences at Nakano Broadway. We bought some cheap cels and old 45 singles and manga and spent most of the afternoon shopping, and then we went downstairs to the coffee shop and had some drinks, and then we went back upstairs and made sure we didn't miss anything. We then got back on the train and went back to Shinjuku and dropped our stuff off at the hotel and rested a bit, and then we went back out to Ikebukuro on the advice of Shain's research which had uncovered several manga/anime type shops in the area. Long ago a turtle came out of a lake carrying a bag on its back, and hence Ikebukuro ("pond bag") got its name. Today it's home to a giant Seibu department store, the Sunshine City entertainment complex, and a Wendy's. 

We did not go in the Wendy's. I am still sore on them for their terribly misleading "boneless wings" advertising. At any rate, we wandered around looking for "Otome Road", didn't find it, found a four story manga/anime superstore (first floor, anime DVDs and doujinshi for ladies. Second floor toys and kits. Third floor doujinshi for men with lots of porn. Fourth floor - big warning signs informing us that beyond this point only those aged 18 and up will be admitted. BELIEVE THOSE SIGNS, people, because if you think it can't get any worse, IT DOES.), found another shop that was tucked away around a corner and was nothing but doujinshi for the ladies, and from there got directions to the Animate store, four floors of anime stuff including the customary floor jammed with deviant transgressive homemade comics about cartoon characters learning more about themselves. Also cool Ultraman merchandise and merchandise from darn near everything else. 

We had dinner at the Denny's, where I found the Grand Slam and the Moons Over My Hammy to be completely nonexistent, though Shain did get the "American Club Sandwich", which contains that basic ingredient of Japanese cooking, an egg. Of course this invalidates it being a club sandwich, but whatever. And then we went back to the hotel for a good night's rest. Tomorrow: Jimbocho/Kanda! Oyasuminasai, inflatable Prince Planet! 

More to come in Part Four

Tokyo 2009 part 2

Continued from Part 1

Where was I? Oh yeah, 2009, Akihabara, Ultraman ginger ale, Mos Burger. We left Akiba and its giant poster of the prime minister proclaiming how much he loves Electric Town, and we went over to Asakusa. This ancient district is home to a gigantic temple, the oldest amusement park in Tokyo, lots of narrow winding little streets filled with shops and bars, slightly shopworn pachinko parlors and movie theaters, and most important, the local OTB where drunk oyaji can bet on the ponies and have important, only slightly slurred discussions. 

This is so Japan it feels like a movie prop or something at Epcot. The shrine itself was being worked on so it was covered in scaffolding and canvas, hence no photos. There was a fountain for ritual washing of hands and a firepit burning incense, the smoke of which is supposed to purify your body. There were also kiosks set up whereby you could randomly choose a printed fortune out of a little box, and if you didn't like your fortune, just tie the slip of paper to the handy little rails provided, and it doesn't count! Leading up to the temple was a long street of vendors selling everything from prop samurai swords to festival masks to candy to dolls and everything in between.

the Kitaro store
Another Asakusa attraction is, or was, since it's no longer there, but there was a little shop devoted to nothing but Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro, the eponymous star of the Shigeru Mizuki manga You can buy piggybanks of Kitaro's eyeball father, you can get a yellow and black striped vest of your very own, and you can even buy Kitaro toilet paper, which I actually did. 

From Asakusa we walked over to the banks of the Sumida river and bought tickets for a cruise downstream to Tokyo Bay and Odaiba. 
We had to change boats to get to Odaiba and while changing we noticed something in the dock next to us- It's the Tokyo Bay ferryboat designed by none other than Leiji Matsumoto, famed creator of Captain Harlock, Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express, Sexaroid, and Danguard Ace! 

Unfortunately this was not the boat we'd be riding. And there were guys standing around it preventing me from sneaking on board to take pix. And our boat was leaving in a minute anyway. Still, it's kinda awesome. 

the Matsumoto-designed ferry we didn't ride

So, we got on the other boat and set out across the bay to Odaiba, an artificial island built to defend Tokyo against Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships, but now welcoming tourists and visitors from around the world! This is where Tokyo Big Sight is and where Fuji TV has its headquarters and there's a replica of the Statue Of Liberty, for some reason. Anyway, the whole reason we and millions of other tourists are going to Odaiba is the 1:1 scale Mobile Suit Gundam that was built by the Green Tokyo Gundam Project in an attempt to create the most-photographed object ever built.

You'd think that nearing the end of its display dates, the public interest in the Gundam would have diminished a bit - the thing had been up for months at this point. Would there be enormous standing room only swarms of people crowding around as close as possible to the Gundam, even minutes before the park closed for the night? Yes there would.
yes, there were cosplayers in the crowd

And we left the crowds ourselves and went back past the Statue Of Liberty into the giant mall complexes that share Odaiba. One mall contains Shueisha's JUMP SHOP, where you can buy all things Shonen Jump!  No, I didn't check to see if they had jump ropes or jumper cables. Though I will bring it up at the next stockholder's meeting. One of the malls is called Decks Tokyo Beach and what makes it special is that one of the floors is a Showa-era museum of popular culture! Showa era means postwar, baby boom, Ultraman, manga, anime, robot, Tokyo Olympics 1964, Godzilla, Kamen Rider, you name it, all the things that made me a fan of Japanese cartoons. So it's like a place built completely out of dreams, literally my dreams. 

Yeah, that's an arcade full of vintage pachinko machines and 60s and 70s coin-op games, surrounded by anime posters of anime features from the 1960s and toys from everything from Olympic Sam to Kinikuman to Kikaider to Kenshiro. Watching over all this is a giant 2:1 Astro Boy.

The rest of the floor is candy shops, a store where you can buy LIVE giant horned fighting beetles, a deliberately cheesy haunted house, and little dioramas of everyday Tokyo life circa 1964 and 1978. I say "1978" because of this display:

The famous Yamato Bike!! It actually exists. And after a stroll through the mall and some rehydration via vending machine drinks, we made our way back to the train and back to Shinjuku station and from there Shain and I sort of wandered aimlessly for a while until we found a KFC and got our bearings, and our dinner, and then it was back to Hotel Tateshima for a well deserved rest, because that was kind of a long day. 

Tokyo 2009 part 1

Back in the summer of 2009 we visited Tokyo for the first time! Here's our story.

Narita Airport is about forty miles from Tokyo. When our flight arrived, full of  punchy international travelers dazed from 12 hours of "Mad Men" reruns and the abandoned-two-thirds-of-the-way-in film "Adventureland", we still had that forty mile march between us and our final destination, "Demon City" Shinjuku.

It was always daylight during the flight. This meant we could look forty or fifty thousand feet down and clearly see chunks of unidentifiable somethings floating in the large bodies of water that make up Canada's extreme North. Logs? Ice? Floating eddies of windswept plastic garbage? Who knows. All I know is that I'd rather be having lunch above them than among them.

Our friend Roy met us at Narita after Customs (which didn't take long at all) and was immediately of vital assistance, namely because we didn't have the faintest idea of where we were going or what we were doing. He got us tickets on a slick JR train that whisked us through the lush, rolling countryside past fields and farms, through Chiba and right to Shinjuku Station. Even if you think you don't know Shinjuku, you actually do, because that's where that great big Studio ALTA video screen building is -that same Studio ALTA that was in the background of all your favorite anime hits of the 1980s, if your favorite anime hit was "Megazone 23". We took a cab from the station to the hotel, even though it isn't that far, really, but we had luggage. You know we've just arrived because we're trying to close the cab door by ourselves. Silly tourists, in Japan, cab door closes for you!

At any rate, we got to the hotel and checked in and the first thing we did was to turn on the TV, and the first thing on that Japanese hotel room TV was a rerun of Mach Go Go Go, or Speed Racer to us, which was very apt, as it's cartoons like Speed Racer that got us interested in Japan in the first place. 

And we soon were back out onto the street, back to Shinjuku station, to try out our Suica cards and go to Shibuya! Shibuya, the heartbeat of young, wild-haired, shopping crazy, love-hotel addled Tokyo, is home to the famous Hachiko statue of the faithful dog, but it's also home to a Mandarake store which is where we was goin'. Mandarake is a chain of Japanese stores that exist to torture me and my bank account, being full of vintage robots, anime books, Roman Albums, manga old and new, doujinshi, DVDs, toys, model kits, advertising memorabilia featuring the little girl in my LJ icon, posters, if it's a crazy anime/manga thing and they can slap a price tag on it they will sell it and the prices aren't bad either. Immediately I found stuff I've been looking for for years. Had a great dinner in a traditional shoes-off place on the 8th floor of a shopping center, wandered around Shibuya for a while, took the train back to Shinjuku and Roy squired us around Kabuki-cho to scope out the tiny narrow streets full of tiny narrow bars that virtually cry out for you to belly up and down a shot in each. How could you not get sloppy weepy drunk in a bar decorated with famed prizefighter, the doomed Joe Yabuki?

Ashita No Joe themed bar in Kabuki-cho
Sunday morning we met Roy and went over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, seen being destroyed by Godzilla and/or Mecha-Ghidorah in the fine cinematic gem "Godzilla Versus Mecha Ghidorah". This has observation decks on both towers that, on a clear day, allow views as far as Mt. Fuji. Sunday was not one of those days. Afterwards we had a Western-style breakfast at a place that (a) has little egg-shaped things on the table that when picked up, alert the wait staff that you need more coffee, and (b) have a children's meal featuring the Benesse corporation's little toddler tiger mascot who is best known in the West for being taught how to use the toilet in an amusing short animated film. 

From there we went to Akihabara, the famed "electric town" nerd magnet moe capital of Japan and therefore the world. If you are looking for sexy body pillows featuring doe-eyed girls in underwear, or little plastic figures of doe-eyed girls in underwear, or dating simulation video games starring doe-eyed girls in underwear, or generally any sort of merchandise that can be made starring doe-eyed girls in underwear, Akihabara is the place for you. Judging from the girls in maid outfits standing on street corners in Akihabara, there must not be an unmaid bed or a dirty bathtub within fifty miles! 

Seriously though, what they're doing is handing out flyers advertising maid cafes where girls in maid outfits will serve you two-thousand yen cups of coffee. This is appealing, apparently. We went into a bunch of stores, most of which were very excited about the new season of Haruhi Sazumiya and K-On! and whichever version of Evangelion is currently being sold to people who already have other version of Evangelion. However, there are a few places that cater to the Showa-era nerds such as myself, with display cases full of vintage Spectreman toys and X-Bomber robots in four different sizes and Jumbo Machinder super robots of all shapes and sizes and prices far beyond what I'm willing to shell out.

There is a Mandarake in Akihabara, though, and the bottom floor is full of guys who are choking back bitter tears as they sell their prized toys to the soulless, unfeeling claws of Mandarake. The upper floors are full of really awesome stuff, display cases of early pay-library Tezuka manga, used DVDs and Famicom games at reasonable prices, and doujinshi starring doe-eyed anime girls so unbelievably grotesque you'll want to claw your own eyes out.  I had some Ultraman ginger ale from a vending machine, we witnessed hundreds of people playing the new Dragonquest on their Nintendo DSes on free wi-fi in front of a giant electronics store, and we met my old pal Jim  at Mos Burger for a Mos Burgery lunch where we had burgers and Licca-chan shakes.