Posts Tagged Akihabara
Today I went to Tokyo to do some shopping. From Numazu to Tokyo station it’s only about an hour on the shinkansen, or about 2 hours on the Tokaido line.
My first stop was the wonderful Blue Parrot book store near Takadanobaba station, home to used English books, movies, and CDs. I really should have done this last because I ended up carrying heavy books around for the rest of my day.
My next stop was Ginza to look for a long overdue sympathy card for a friend of the family who had passed away recently. Sympathy cards are very different in Japan – I hadn’t had any luck shopping in Numazu. I had heard good things about Ito-Ya, the 100 year old Stationary store in Ginza. It’s located between Tiffany and Co and Bulgari, both stores that I can’t afford to window shop in. Ito-Ya’s selection was HUGE – I never thought I would be entertained looking around a stationary store. After some searching I found something that would work as a sympathy card in Canada.
My final stop was Akihabara, which is always a fun place to explore when you have free time. I was trying to find stores that sold English language video games. It’s very easy to find places to buy games in Japan, but there are only a few places that import English language versions of games. Finding these is not easy, but it’s still easier than learning enough Japanese to play RPGs.
I’m lucky that I live only a few hours away from one of the worlds biggest and most exciting cities. Not everyone can just hop on a train for a shopping trip to Tokyo!
Disclaimer – this story is about a friend nicknamed UPS. This story is no relation to United Parcel Services.
UPS and I finally got out of the Capsule hotel, clean, fed, and still hungover. We needed to be at the airport by 3:00, which left a few hours to visit Akihabara, one of the last places on UPS’s Japan wish list.
I have been to Akihabara several times before, but it’s always interesting to return and see new things. UPS wanted to visit the duty free shops, which I had generally avoided to date. There are some good deals to be found on export ready electronics if you have your passport on hand and are prepared to shop around. Akihabara Duty Free shops are also one of the few places in Japan where it is acceptable to haggle.
After a few hours of exploring duty free, comic, and porn stores, we stopped for Italian food. Yes, UPS’s last meal in Japan was pasta. During lunch we discussed some of our favourite fuzzy memories from UPS’s short trip, along with some of his upcoming plans for his 4 months in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
We also talked about The Penpal, and how UPS thought she was pretty cool. We discussed whether or not she would ever move to Canada with me when I decided to stop teaching English. I really hope she will consider it.
UPS and I had an adventure free trip to the airport, and after watching him go through security, I started my long train trip back to Numazu. I was looking forward to catching up on my sleep!
After spending a few hours in Asakusa, Team Awesome Sauce and I went to see Akihabara, the famous electronics district of Tokyo and centre of geek culture in Japan. None of us had ever been there before, but we expected to find lots of electronics stores, duty free shops, video games and anime models.
Akihabara is served by several JR lines as well as the Tokyo Metro. Since we were coming from Asakusa, we were on Tokyo metro. Subway stations in Tokyo are huge and can sprawl under several city blocks. If you don’t know which exit you need to take, you can end up a long way from your destination. That’s exactly what happened to us.
We came out of the subway in an area that didn’t have any of the brightly coloured stores that we were expecting. We wandered around for a few blocks while I took some abuse over not knowing where I was going. Eventually we found a movie and book store. Most stores in Akihabara are in tall narrow buildings, with different things on each floor. The first and second floor of the building had lots of cool looking movies. The third floor had porn. Lots of porn. The fourth floor was also entirely filled with porn, but not your typical, every day, conventional porn. There were several things that I will choose not to describe here. Let’s just say that you should love your pets, but you shouldn’t LOVE your pets. Japan has some strange obscenity laws that allows porn to contain all kinds of things that would be considered illegal in other countries, as long as the genitals are blurred out. After escaping the fourth floor we found that the fifth floor also contained porn, this time discount porn of a more conventional variety.
We left the store and eventually found that the electronics shops were conveniently located around JR Akihabara station. If we had taken JR instead of Tokyo metro we would have found them easily. I lost track of how many electronics and games stores we went into. Most of the electronics stores sold both Japanese models and export models of their goods. All of the game and toy stores had porn.
Akihabara is a really cool place to explore if you are into anime, video games, or electronics. You should never bring kids to Akihabara. Ever.
(2014 update) It’s amazing how much Akihabara has changed in the past 10 years. In 2005 the Yodobashi camera mega store opened in Akihabara, giving the other electronic chains some serious competition. In addition to game and electronics stores, the streets are now loaded with maid cafes. The area is always busy and crowded. Also, the porn is still everywhere.
So. Much. Porn.
The Wife and I woke up refreshed in our tiny, tiny hotel room in Tokyo. We then went through the difficult dance of moving around the hotel room without bumping into each other. The room was so small that one of us had to get on the bed to let the other walk past. The good news was that this hotel had an 11:00am check out time, unlike the unreasonable 10:00am that I had experienced while extremely hung over a few days ago in Koriyama.
Our hotel featured a breakfast buffet that had both Japanese and “Western” options. We got to choose from noodles, fish, rice (of course), bread, eggs, toast, hash browns and other goodies. Travel tip: always stay at a hotel with a breakfast option. Nothing beats checking out full of breakfast and ready to go.
From the hotel we went back to Akihabara. Both of us being
slightly geeky, we always had fun exploring Akihabara. The main streets contain non stop video game, comic, model and anime stores (and porn). You can also find game centers, karaoke, duty free shops with export model gadgets, porn, books, CDs, restaurants, costume shops, and porn. The side streets get closer to Akihabara’s history: electronic component stores. If you need a fan for an old computer or an obscure cable to connect two devices, you are guaranteed to be able to find it somewhere.
Another popular attraction in Akihabara is maid cafes. A maid cafe is a uniquely Japanese invention born in Akihabara. Waitresses dressed in anime maid costumes serve you food and drinks and treat you like the “master” of a mansion. Naturally the food and drinks are slightly more expensive than other places. During our walk through Akihabara we found “maids” handing out brochures promoting their cafes at most major intersections. The Wife had been to a maid cafe before while chaperoning Canadian high school students on a trip to Osaka. I had never been before, and was not really interested. To me the whole idea sounds like a hostess bar, but cuter. Having someone serve me drinks and treat me too nice because it’s their job is still a bit strange for me. I do not, however, have any objections to The Wife buying an anime maid costume.
Most of the stores in Akihabara are tall and narrow, with different products on each floor. There are usually very narrow stairs or a tiny escalator to travel between floors. We spent a lot of time in one particular used game and movie store, just wandering around. One floor was full of classic video games and systems. I nearly bought a used Super Famicom and games, but then considered carrying it around in my backpack for the rest of the day. The next time I live in Japan I will have to get one. The TV floor had DVDs of all kinds of old anime and live action TV shows. I watched in amazement as a small TV showed the opening theme from Himitsu Sentai Go Ranger. Stop what you are doing and click on the link. DO IT NOW!
The computer game floor had a small selection of English language games, which are very hard to find in Japan. As someone who lived in Japan for 3 years who likes computer games, I loved hunting through the game stores until I found the few that sold English games. It was like an epic geeky treasure hunt. The rest of the floor was full of porn games. Some brilliant sales person had set up a display full of Tenga masturbation toys in the middle of the porn game section. I have seen a lot of game stores in Akihabara with a lot of dirty games, and I have seen stores that sell solo sex toys for guys, but have never seen a store that made the obvious connection between the two products and offered them for sale in the same place before. Genius!
The movie floor is where we found the dark side of Akihabara. In addition to the regular movies and porn movies, we found a section of bathing suit model DVDs. These movies feature no nudity, just female models wearing bathing suits and frolicking around. Normally this would not be terribly creepy, until we noticed that the girls on the package looked a little too young. I was able to read the Japanese on one of the covers and found that it proudly proclaimed that the model was 14 years old. I pointed this out to The Wife, who showed me that the next DVD featured a 12 year old model. We quickly walked away from that part of the store, disgusted and feeling wrong. Keep in mind – we were in a major, reputable store on one of the main streets. Worse things exist out there should a person want to look for them.
I didn’t write this blog post to promote debate on any moral or legal issues that exist with this material. No matter where you are from, Japan probably has different laws than your country. Nothing you can buy in a major store in Akiba is illegal in Japan. Whether or not you find it ammoral is entirely up to you. Personally, I would like to see stricter laws in Japan, but as a person with exactly zero political power in Japan, I can’t do very much about it other than blogging.
We left the game store and moved on to much more pleasant things – lunch. We ate at Becker’s Burgers, which is notable for serving what is possibly Japan’s only attempt at poutine. Proper poutine has thick fries covered in gravy with cheese curds. Becker’s poutine has shoestring fries with a gravy like sauce and shredded cheese. It doesn’t compare to the real thing, but does fill the void as a comfort food for a homesick Canadian. Across from Becker’s was a t-shirt store. The front window featured a shirt that said (in Japanese): “Seriously, I want to quit my job”. I was going to buy it and wear it upon my return to Canada on casual Fridays. I changed my mind at the last minute, just in case someone at the office did figure out the meaning. My boss does have a good sense of humour, but it is never a good idea to push your luck.
Overall, Akihabara is a fun place for anyone visiting Japan that is interested in games, anime, movies, electronics and any manner of “geek stuff”. Be aware, you may run into some unpleasant things for sale, but that hopefully won’t detract too much from the overall experience. If you are really concerned or on a tight schedule, stick to the giant Yodobashi Camera next to the station. You can get a sample of all the good stuff that Akihabara has to offer in one massive store. I do wish you the best of luck getting that stupid song out of your head. You have been warned.
On July 16 the wife was going to visit an old friend in Odawara. I was going to catch up on some internet time, and then meet up with her at Odawara station at 5:00pm. From there we were going to Tokyo for the night. Since we were planning on looking around Akihabara, I booked a business hotel not too far away.
During the day, the in-laws took me out to their favourite curry restaurant in Numazu. Japanese curry is like a stew with meat and veggies in a rich delicious sauce, naturally served with rice. The restaurant’s lunch special was beef curry, salad, dessert and a soft drink for 980 yen. After taking one bite I could understand why the in-laws liked this place – it was one of the best Japanese curries I have ever eaten. Rich, creamy and a little spicy. Yum!
I took the regular Tokaido line from Numazu to Odawara, giving me an hour to read (always bring a book). I met The Wife and we got a ticket for the Romance Car to Shinjuku. Unlike my experience a few days earlier, this Romance Car had no children running up and down the aisles. In Shinjuku we followed the signs to the subway line. Subway signs in Tokyo can be very misleading. Sometimes you will see a sign that indicates that the subway entrance is just up ahead, but what they really mean is just up ahead after 500 meters of tunnels and probably a few flights of stairs.
After waiting for a very rare train delay that featured continuous updates and apologies from the good people at TOEI subway, we made a quick subway ride across Tokyo with one transfer and got out at Kuramae station. Our reservation was at APA Hotel Asakusa Kuramae, which described itself as close to the station. In previous experience, “close” to the station could be anything from right outside the station entrance to a 15 minute walk down unnamed side streets. Fortunately this hotel was, in fact, actually close to the station, and cross from a 7-11 as an added bonus.
We checked in and went to our “double room” to drop off our bags. I have stayed in business hotels in Tokyo and Osaka before, and they are usually very small. However, this was, in fact, the SMALLEST hotel room I have ever seen, not counting my stay in a Capsule Hotel (story to come in the future). It was literally too small to take proper pictures. The main room space was about 2 meters square. It had a bed just smaller than queen size and a small desk. Under the desk was a small fridge that you could probably fit 3 beers in. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall. The Wife and I were both traveling with backpacks, which went on top of the “desk”. There was literally no place for a suitcase if we had one.
The bathroom was one of those ubiquitous all in one units that can be found in small Japanese hotels. It was a molded plastic one piece unit with a toilet, small sink, and small, deep bathtub. A dial on the sink distributed the water between the shower and the sink, but not both at the same time. I am not a tall person (about 170cm or 5’7 for you Americans), and I was able to stand and put my hand flat on the ceiling.
For the record, there are “normal” size hotel rooms in Tokyo. You just have to be willing to pay much more for them. Our room cost 9400 yen for one night, breakfast included. It was close to popular tourist areas and a one minute walk from the Tokyo Metro. Like most business hotels it was a clean and quiet place to sleep, and nothing else. For 1000 yen extra we could have watched the entire catalog of PPV movies until checkout time. Don’t get me wrong – the room was okay, it was just really, really small. Hobbit small.
Once we got over the hotel shock, we went back to the station and made our way to Akihabara. Our late dinner was at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku restaurant where you cook at your own table. We stuffed ourselves on beef, pork, chicken, scallops, and a few veggies as well. If you are in Japan and like meat, eat at Gyu-Kaku. You will not regret it. English menus are available!
We rolled ourselves out of Gyu-Kaku and took a quick walk around the station planning out our shopping for the following day. During weekends in the daytime, Akihabara is packed with people and is difficult to move around. Tuesday evenings are not very lively, so we had a unique experience of being able to wander around without bumping into people everywhere. Despite being a fairly quiet, slow night in Akihabara, we were well aware that we were in Japan’s geek paradise, full of anime stores, video games, maid cafes, model shops, and porn porn porn everywhere. Seriously, so much porn.
At this point the food and long day started to kick in, and we returned to the hotel. We got into the bed only to discover that our “bed” was actually futon on a frame and not a mattress. I had been sleeping on a thin futon on the floor at the in-laws house and had been really looking forward to a soft, spring filled mattress. The futon was okay, but was a bit lumpy in places. Since I was less likely to get up in the middle of the night for the bathroom, I had to sleep against the wall. There was almost no space between the foot of the bed and the wall, so the only way I could have gotten out of bed was by crawling over The Wife, or by waking her up and making her move. Fortunately for both of us I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and didn’t move until morning.
As I drifted off into sleep, I found myself, for the first time ever, being thankful that I was not a tall man.
The plan for July 10 was a solo trip to Tokyo while the Wife spent time with her family. I have been to Tokyo many, many times before, so the goal was to find something new. After some time spent on Wikitravel, I ended up with a plan to go to the Edo Tokyo museum, the nearby Fukugawa Edo museum, and then shopping at Disk Union in Shinjuku.
From The In-Laws house I went to nearby Ooka station on Gotemba line. Ooka station is so small that they don’t have an automatic ticket gate. You have to show your ticket to the JR employee in the station window as you pass. When I arrived at the station I was wondering why everyone was sitting down in the station building and nobody was waiting on the platform. Then I realized that the platform was directly in the sun with no shade. Even at 9:00am it was crazy hot. Travel Protip: when all the locals are doing something, it’s probably for a good reason.
From Ooka station it was a short ride to Numazu station, where I changed to the Tokaido line bound for Mishima. At Mishima I upgraded my ticket to a Shinkansen ticket for Tokyo, which can be done on the machine easily in English. My train was not coming for some time, so I went into the nice, air conditioned waiting area hoping to find some Wi-Fi. Unfortunately there is not a lot of free Wi-Fi in Japan, and I didn’t have a subscription to any of the available paid options. This is exactly why you should always travel with a book.
On the platform at Tokyo station I got my first blast of the days weather. It was just before 11 but the temperature was already north of 30 degrees and the humidity had to be in the high 70% range. I quickly worked my way inside to the main station and followed the signs for the Sobu line. Tokyo station is quite simply well organized chaos. There are excellent signs directing you to the various train lines and exits, and a huge selection of restaurants, food stands and souvenir shops. Also about a zillion people walking around in every direction.
One final quick ride had me at Ryogoku station. Ryogoku is the home of sumo in Japan, with several stables in the area. On this particular day there was a tournament going on in Nagoya, so I didn’t see any wrestlers walking around on the streets. Ryogoku station to the museum is only a few minute walk, but in the heat it felt like half an hour. The museum itself looks like a giant AT AT walker from The Empire Strikes back. Unfortunately due to its massive size it is nearly impossible to photograph from ground level.
Edo Tokyo museum shows the history of, unsurprisingly, Edo, which is now known as Tokyo. The main attraction is the detailed scale models of street scenes from Tokyo’s history. Most of the scenes of the have hundreds of tiny people, all with different clothing and facial expressions. Binoculars are provided so you can get an up close view. You could literally spend hours looking at everything in the models. Other highlights include a recreation of a late 1700’s book store, Japan’s first phone booth, and full size recreations of houses that you can walk around in. The museum is one of the best in Japan, and an absolute bargain at 600 yen.
After the museum I walked back to the station. At this point the sidewalk was so hot that I could feel the heat through the soles of my shoes. I avoided the nearby McDonald’s and stopped to eat at Pepper Lunch, a hamburger steak chain. Hamburger steak is a ground beef patty usually served with some veggies. When I left the restaurant, I was so hot that I decided against the Fukugawa Edo museum due to the 10 minute walk from the station. I instead headed to Akihabara, the geek capital of Japan.
Knowing that I would be back in Akihabara about a week later, I confined myself to Yodobashi camera. If you like electronics, video games, models, etc, and only have time go to to one place, make sure you go to Yodobashi Camera. The Akihabara store is 6 floors of awesome. I bought a memory card reader, a Bluetooth audio transmitter and successfully avoided buying about 500 other things that I really really wanted to buy.
Escaping from Yodobashi, I returned to the station and took the Chuo line to Shinjuku. The Chuo line cuts right through the centre of Tokyo at a high rate of speed. It is very convenient, but it is also host to a lot of train suicides due to the high speed and number of trains. Fortunately I got through with no incidents.
At this point it is repetitive to say that any part of Tokyo is insanely busy, but Shinjuku station and surrounding area is the very definition of insanely busy. The station is used by over 3.5 million people per day. The key is to think of the crowd like an ocean current and just get into the flow that is going in the direction you want. Also, know which exit you need to use.
Disk Union has 5 different stores near Shinjuku station. Some of these have multiple floors and different genres of music on each one. The stores are very narrow and crowded, so I immediately regretted wearing my big traveling backpack. I ended up in 4 different Disk Union genre stores – classic rock, Japanese rock, punk and metal. The final tally was 8 used CDs and one brand spanking new copy of the 40th Anniversity Ziggy Stardust rerelease with Japanese writing on the package.
Since I was close to the entrance to Kabukicho I wandered over and started taking pictures of the famous entrances and tall buildings full of stores. I wad not feeling adventurous enough to wander through Kabukicho itself and take pics, and by this time I was started to really feel that I had been walking around in the heat all day. In fact, other than sitting to eat lunch I had been on my feet all day. It was well and truly time to call it a daay.
If going to Tokyo – wear comfortable shoes, check out the Edo Tokyo museum, and don’t go during the summer. Just don’t. It’s too f**king hot.