Visiting Japan

Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and one of the biggest cities in the world. Most of what metropolitan Tokyo is, does not interest me. Modern big cities are mostly the same anywhere in the world. Tokyo tower is a well known feature, but nearly every major city has one of these. The one in Las Vegas is the only one I'd recommend (at night). Still major cities draw enough people together where things get interesting - particularly for anime fans. Like pretty much everywhere in Japan, Tokyo has plenty of history to see. Even with a relatively low interest in Tokyo as a city, I could easily spend a week looking at the wonderful sights. Never mind actually absorbing fascinating Japanese culture, and ... well yeah, there's Akihabara.

Tokyo International Anime Fair

Actual: Medium
Expected Awesomeness: Medium

You'd think I'm an obsessive anime fan by my website, but I'm actually pretty humble about it. I wish I had the guts to attend more cons, but I've only been to a handful in my life. So it's kind of overwhelming to attend one of the biggest in the world right at the source. I only went on Sunday when I'd assume the con was winding down as they do in America, so I can't really tell you how the whole experience would actually go.

If you've seen this building... it's huge. I arrived an hour and a half before opening and the line already stretched inside the building far enough it would take me a 20 minutes to get in. I can't imagine the wait for something like Comiket; where lines extend out the building. Waiting in line was a little nerve wracking due to this guy gingerly petting his Gundam figurines with adoration a guy shouldn't show towards ... well anything really. I was sure he'd blow up and kill us all if the kids playing around bumped into him and broke one. Honestly I'd feel bad too, because they looked pretty awesome. Thankfully he let us live, and upon entering someone handed me a flyer. I'm like, yeah something with anime stuff on it! I decided to make my way around the place once or twice to get a handle on it. Within 45 seconds my hands were so stuffed with flyers I could hardly carry them. So I was trying to figure out a solution to that, when an attractive girl clad in black leather handed me a bag. It turns out she was my salvation, and I should have thanked her but instead just gawked at her outfit. If you're reading this, thank you hot girl in leather skirt! Walking a little farther a girl dressed as a miko handed me another bag. With 5 minutes I had so many bags I didn't know how to carry them all. Turning down cute girls handing me stuff was a challenge I never expected to have in my life. Once again Japan is the pinnacle of human civilization. Note: I had no idea how to read anything I was holding.

It was awesome though. With so so much to look at, it was hard to absorb. In American cons, there are events and vendor rooms. At the Tokyo Anime Fair the very studios making the anime have stands. One show that intrigued me had this attractive anime girl terrorizing a dog with her scissors. For the life of me, I couldn't make sense of it, but now that it's been released over here (aptly named Dog & Scissors) I still can't make much sense of it. In fact I didn't really have a clue about most of what was happening at the con, but that situation happens enough in Japan you get used to it. My favorite stand had a setup for people to try voice acting (script + timestamped show). I didn't do it of course, but it was fun to watch. Most stuff sold there didn't interest me, aside from paintings of Leiji Mosumoto's works - I noticed the Galaxy Express 999 painting was about $1500 USD. They also had cells for sale!

Akihabara

Actual: High
Expected Awesomeness: High

Anyone who's followed anime long enough knows Akihabara as the otaku holy land. In recent times it rose to prominence as the Tokyo district specializing in computer and electronic goods. "Geeky" stuff going together, anime and manga shops always had a presence, but as specialty electronics / computers declined, anime started taking over. Anime fans from around the globe make pilgrimages to Akiba specifically, and supposedly it's even recognized as a tourist attraction by the Japanese department of tourism.

I can't give you a good run down on Akihabara, because.. I didn't have much time for that. Blah. Mainly I just hung out on the street to soak up the vibe, which is pretty cool even if it was kind of drizzling at the time. Anime is scrawled all over on the buildings, it's really something to see. Maids also try to encourage you to visit their establishments (the one I visited was on the 5th floor on an off street O_o). They have a lot of the infamous "tissue girls" who stand around handing out tissue packages. I received one indicating girls dressed in school uniforms would "massage stuff".

The Akihabara high tech gadget heritage is also convenient. Standing by spools of copper wire in a shop, I noticed oddball plug adapters. Which I needed badly because I had some things with a grounding plug (Japanese plugs are compatible, but have no ground). Akihabara has tons of tech stores which can help you out if you get to Japan and need things like adapters, memory cards, or parts.

To really soak up the culture, plan for at least a half day, I'd recommend a full day as an anime fan. There are many video arcades (they still exist there), UFO catchers (they're seriously crazy about those) and so forth. Also common to Asia, some stores are VERY compact: filled from top to bottom with cool stuff, with pathways so narrow even two skinny Japanese people can't pass each other. Sometimes you get stuck in them far longer than intended. I loved Akihabara, and really wish I could have experienced it more.

Ghibuli Museum

Actual: High
Expected Awesomeness: Medium

I'm not a huge Ghibuli fan. I really like Ghibuli titles, but I'd don't worship them as some do. I've heard good things about the museum, and it's an essential stop for any anime fan. No pictures allowed inside, which is why I don't have any. It's not because it's bad or anything.

The popularity of the place surprised me. At 11am on a Monday, the place still had many visitors. When I say museum, it's not a huge sprawling complex. The building isn't huge, but it packs plenty of content inside. I didn't have any expectations of the place, and honestly many Ghibuli titles are still on my "to do" list, but even after an hour and a half, I felt I could have stayed for two or more. The museum has production sketches, inspirational material as well as other anime production technology. Little is in English, but it's still a treat to see. There's also the showing of the first Ghibli film ever made every 20ish minutes or so - which you can only see at the museum! It's a cute story about a puppy that gets lost. There isn't much dialog so you don't need to know Japanese to get the gist of it, but even with my rudimentary Japanese knowledge I could understand most of it.

Speaking of film, for admission you also get a strip of film from an actual Ghibli Movie. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I'm like.. Kiki's Delivery, Kiki's Delivery. The entrance was dark, so I only looked at it later and... Kiki's Delivery Service! FREAKING SCORE!! It even had Kiki in it. There are tons of features in the museum, including a cafe and a shop full of Ghibuli memorabilia. I highly recommend watching kids assault the fuzzy cat bus - a spectacle in itself. Of course there's also the robot on the roof. I'd recommend hanging out there for a while. Every few minutes a tourist will show up and do something crazy. I got a picture of a nekomimi there.

If you happen to go during the cherry blossom season, there is a nice park right behind it with a decent number of cherry trees.

Maid Cafe

Actual: Medium
Expected Awesomeness: High

First there was the cosplay cafe, where the waiters/waitresses are dressed up in character outfits. Only Japan, would this concept get refined to where all the women dress like French Maids. This had the highest priority of my trip. It embodies that which makes the Japanese freaky yet fascinating. While people might be bored hearing about the historically significant stuff, EVERYONE will want to hear about the maid cafe if you explain to them what it is. This topic is kinda weird for me. Something about that kind of place makes me want to take a girl by the hand, and say You poor poor thing, how can they make you do this?, which would likely be followed by You look adorable in that outfit, I wish my country were awesome enough to convince our women to do this!

The maid café wasn't what I expected, but common sense should have given me more realistic expectations. If you don't speak Japanese, there is a limitation to how much you can interact with the maid (which is kind of the point). By the personalized nature any given café can only handle so many people at once, not a big group of foreigners like I happened to be with. I expected a refined atmosphere, like where you'd expect a French maid to be, but was surprised to find it very pink with posters everywhere. I guess most cafés are oriented towards pop culture. The more refined sort also exist from my understanding.

The nature of the maid café can only thrive in environments like Japan where formality and politeness aren't considered an affront to independence. The maids were very cute, and I could see the appeal as they interacted with regular Japanese customers. This isn't to say you can't have a good time in a maid café, it just happened the one I visited was a dud (for various reasons). I noticed reading some brochures for cafés in Osaka looked more eager to deal with foreigners, so perhaps it's better to consider one prepared to deal with non Japanese. I'm glad I went, but wouldn't make it a priority on a trip. I'd only try one if you have spare time.

Odds and Ends

There is a long shopping arcade, and at the very end Nakano Broadway that has many anime/manga related stores. I walked around when I heard some video game music.. but it wasn't an arcade. It sounded like a late 90s Capcom arcade game (which I can place by the sounds of the synthesizer - yeah I can seriously geek out with the best of them sometimes). This had all sorts of soundtracks and anime - much of which I'm assuming was used because it wasn't particularly expensive. Compared to Akihabara, or Nipponbashi in Osaka it's not that amazing, but it's still a cool place just because it has so many anime goods.

I didn't find much, but it wasn't due to time limits. Instead I couldn't find things fast enough. Something you need to plan for is spending time digging through a store, even if you're only looking for one specific thing (maybe even longer if you are). Budget lots of time to really comb through one or two good stores. You can spend 3 hours in a good store coming out with full of bags, but visit 6 stores at half an hour a piece and come out with nothing. (See also advice from Nipponbashi in Osaka).

While not a Gundam fanatic, I did visit Gundam Front. There's a display of nearly every Gundam figurine made, which is cool to look through. There's a 3-d.. "experience" movie thing which I rather liked. If interested in anime production, there is a TON of resource materials shown for the making of Gundam Unicorn. As a mecha anime fan, seeing a life size Gundam statue outside was a huge treat. If you've ever wondered how big mecha in anime are, you get a handle on the scale of them with the life sized statue. At night it also lights up!

I also had a stop in Harajuku - a big fashion center in Japan. Due to odd circumstances I ended up waiting at the beginning of the high fashion street. You stick out like a sore thumb in Japan as a foreigner, so this turned into a really weird people watching experience, like I was a zoo exhibit watching people pass me by.

I didn't get to see Shinjuku. Not that I'm interested in red light district entertainment, but I heard it's hilarious to see. I also missed seeing the statue of Hachiko that I always wanted to visit. I did see the Imperial Palace which is a waste of time I wouldn't bother with. If you have time to sit outside the Emperor's house looking at (nothing but) his front door, you have the time better spent with cute maids!

On to Kyoto...

 

Kyoto

Population: 1.5 million

Region: Kansai



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