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Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

 

Up at 4 AM and too excited to sleep, I fiddled around on my brother's laptop and began what would become my early morning ritual of watching weird Japanese television. We decided to make Akihabara the first place we visit, not only because it's the place to go if you're into video games, but also because we needed extra batteries for our video camera and a power strip to charge all of our electronics at once. (The hotel room only had a total of two outlets, one of which was in the bathroom.)

Since my brother and I got ready so early, the only place we knew of to eat at, and the least intimidating, was a Western-style breakfast cafe on the 7th floor of the Annex tower of the Shinagawa Prince. It was a nice place to eat, with large windows covering the room allowing one to look out at the surrounding city, with nearby buildings growing lush yards of green grass on their roofs. The cafe served exclusively a generic breakfast combo in which the only choice given was how you wanted your eggs cooked and whether you wanted coffee or tea. Besides that, you're given a nice variety of things to eat: two sausages, potato salad, regular salad, a fruit cup, a roll, and Texas-style toast along with some kind of soup and orange juice. The meal was pretty good, though I didn't care for the soup. It was at this cafe that I started noticing the amusing pattern of all the Japanese people speaking English to me as I spoke Japanese to them.

We left and walked the couple of minutes it takes to get to Shinagawa Station (I would recommend this hotel on its location alone) and took the Yamanote Line to Akihabara Station. As soon as you enter the district, it's immediately apparent that the moniker "Electric Town" is well deserved. Dozens of shops line the streets selling every type of electronic you could think of, with plenty of arcades and capsule machines in between. Our first task here was to buy the Canon BP-827 batteries we needed; they were nowhere to be found in Texas, and the ones we ordered online never shipped like they were supposed to. In Akihabara, we literally walked into the first shop we saw and there was a rack full of them. Shortly afterward we obtained the power strip, and in less than 10 minutes all the important shopping I was worrying about was complete.

 

     
Some advertisements along with the power strip we bought.

 

Down the street was Akihabara's SEGA GiGO arcade complex. I made a separate, unedited video of our visit here. Knowing filming wasn't allowed, I held the camera at my side most of the time, resulting in a lot of shaky footage. It may be unwatchable for some, but I also wrote about our experience here.

 

 

Near the complex was a row of capsule machines, one of which featured Dragon Ball Z characters. (You can watch my brother and I fail miserably at obtaining a Vegeta Final Flash figure in the video.) We then went into a store called Asobit City which, like many others, had several floors that each had a different theme. The first floor contained video games, including a section devoted to English-release titles like Red Dead Redemption, and also had an area full of capsule dispensers. One of the dispensers had six different Famicom-themed holograms, so we went back to SEGA GiGO to use a change machine (we didn't notice the one right behind us) so I could get them all. Thankfully the holograms were given in order, so there was no worry of receiving a duplicate.

 

Must ... collect ... them all!

 

The 2nd floor focused on toys and figurines and the like, ranging from Rockman to Batman, Aliens, and a wide range of anime characters I didn't recognize. There were also Persona 4 keychains and a Jack Frost plushie that stood out. The 3rd floor was devoted entirely to Gundam which, if I were a huge Gundam fan, would have been amazing - having only seen a couple of episodes, however, we didn't linger in this area for long. The 4th floor was a hobby and crafts area, featuring trains, models, and building materials. The 5th floor contained a large arsenal of airsoft guns which, in Japan, look incredibly realistic and don't have orange tips. There were Tommy guns, UZIs, M1 Garands, a Peacemaker, and various other machine guns, submachine guns, and pistols. In one of the aisles was the awesome picture you see below. As my brother was fishing for the camera in his backpack, a male employee watched us and approached when he took it out and said, "No picture." We pointed at the amusing photoshop to indicate that's all we wanted to shoot, and the employee laughed and said, "Just that." He was very nice, and we put the camera up right afterward. I'm not sure if it was this floor or one of the previous ones, but Asobit City also had a section for cosplay. The one that stood out to us was a mannequin wearing a full SS uniform with swastika and all. It reminded me of the incident with Prince Harry several years ago, though I didn't see his actual outfit until yesterday. I thought it was far more than just an armband.

 

After her successful guest appearance on "30 Rock", Condoleezza Rice went on to star in the Tomb Raider reboot.

 

The 6th floor was the shooting range, which we didn't bother checking out. As we were leaving Asobit City, we noticed we had missed the basement level. Upon entering, we were greeted by rows and rows of porn. I didn't take specific notes on this area, but it was by far the most crowded floor of the entire complex and walking through the aisles was difficult. It was here that I showed my brother his first taste of lolicon (or so I'm assuming). While most things were censored here, there was a small poster featuring a drawn depiction of an underage girl, let's say ... somewhere between seven and ten years old, completely naked, vagina fully visible and all. That's something you won't see so easily in the States! And while I felt a bit weird being here, everyone else was so casual about it. There was a male and female running the checkout counter with a long line of people waiting to purchase their pornographies. It felt so normal. I liked that, but I'm also a pervert.

Our next stop was a place called Big Apple, a massive pachinko parlor. Unlike similar machines I've seen in America that feature boring 7s and cherries, these were far more interesting, making you match up pictures of things like Neon Genesis Evangelion characters instead. The floor above had a video game theme, like a Resident Evil machine (Pachi-slot Biohazard is its official name) that, graphically, reminded me of the remake for the GameCube. This machine was a bit more interactive - as I watched a guy hit the buttons to stop the slots, he was also shooting a monster as Chris Redfield.

We headed back to Shinagawa Station, dropping by Super Market for the first time. I got some milk (there were cows on the side of the carton so I knew!), a bag of "Tortilla Chips Adelita Au Fromage" (basically Belgian Nacho Cheese Doritos), McVitie's Strawberry Cream Digestive Biscuits, and something else that I don't know the name of since I threw away the label before taking notes. I also bought a box of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that I didn't get to eat until I got back to the States. We returned to the hotel to charge our electronics, and it was then that the front desk called. I picked up the phone and said, "Moshi moshi" ("Hello"), a customary greeting for when one answers the phone and something I've always wanted to do. It might have been better for me to just say hello in English, however, as the employee started speaking in Japanese. I replied, "Nihongo wa hanasemasen" ("I don't speak Japanese"), and he proceeded to ask, in English, if we wanted the room cleaned today. I said no and decided to never answer the phone in Japanese again. On a side note, these may totally be the wrong English spellings as I don't spend my language-learning time on rōmaji.

 

     
Om nom nom nom nom nom

 

Though fairly exhausted, I knew I needed to eat a proper meal before retiring for the day, so, a bit later, we went to the food court on the second floor of the Annex tower for the first time, which soon became a common place for us to eat. Various restaurants are located in a sort of semicircle, with seating and a beverage counter in the middle along with an eating area outside. Instead of ordering your food at the restaurants and having the chefs handle your money, you use touchscreen kiosks located at the entrance. You put in your money, pick your selection of restaurant and food, and a ticket is printed out with your order that you hand the cooks at your restaurant. My brother went to the Soba Udon place and ordered minced tuna and rice and was handed a yellow numbered ticket after ordering. I went to Shinagawa Ramen and got the ... Shinagawa Ramen. I was given an electronic device that beeps when your order is ready (like the ones you would find at a Buffalo Wild Wings or Olive Garden). We went to the beverage counter while our orders were being made to get our drinks. For dessert, we ordered from a place simply called "Crepe", whose motto is "Sweet, fruity & happy taste." My brother got the crepe wrapped around green tea ice cream, which he thought was OK but tasted weird (like, DUH). I got the super delicious banana crepe, which was warm and wrapped in a cone shape, holding cool cream and banana slices inside. Happy taste, indeed.

We decided to head back to the Super Market before returning to our hotel room. My brother's green tea dessert started to melt and, after commenting that finding a trash can in Japan is like trying to find a toilet in France (extremely difficult), abandoned me in front of Shinagawa Station for what felt like far more than the ten minutes he claimed. He apparently bumped into some sort of festival where they were serving food and was able to discard his dessert in a cardboard box they were using to collect trash. We bought more milk (a red carton instead of blue this time!), and my brother got some Asahi Tea and Asahi Beer.

 

         

 

       

A Weekly Shōnen Jump I picked up somewhere. Also, all the receipts I have from July 17th! Woooooooo, receipts!

 

Back at the hotel my brother rested as I organized some stuff related to the trip. I also began research on the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater troupe. I can't remember why, but something reminded me of Phoenix Wright, which in turn reminded me of the Phoenix Wright musicals the troupe had put on a couple of years back. I got the urge to see if the same cast was performing locally and started researching things like how to get to the theater, how to obtain tickets, how one should dress etc. I eventually discovered that the Cosmos troupe, considered the more experimental troupe of the theater and the ones that performed the Phoenix Wright musicals, were performing Trafalgar at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, which was only a short walk and train ride away from Shinagawa Station. After struggling to order the tickets online, I discovered a Yahoo! Group dedicated to the very subject. I posted a message there seeking assistance and went to bed.

We would be returning to Akihabara in the morning.

 

 

-----
Japan Uncut: Inside Akihabara's SEGA GiGO Arcade
Introduction to the Series
List of Episodes
SmugMug Version
-----

Edited by CharlesAlanRatliff

I'm thinking of doing some Q&A videos to get some practice speaking on camera. If you have any questions about my two-week trip, feel free to ask me here on Giant Bomb or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, on Formspring.

Questions I already have: 

1. Do you know any Japanese?

2. How expensive was your trip? How expensive was Tokyo compared to the U.S.?

3. What were the people like? 

4.  Did you get to try any interesting foods that you've never tried before? What were they?
 

5. Did you try any ice cream mochis?

Posted by Jay444111

@CharlesAlanRatliff said:

I'm thinking of doing some Q&A videos to get some practice speaking on camera. If you have any questions about my two-week trip, feel free to ask me here on Giant Bomb or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, on Formspring.

Questions I already have:

1. Do you know any Japanese?

2. How expensive was your trip? How expensive was Tokyo compared to the U.S.?

3. What were the people like?

4. Did you get to try any interesting foods that you've never tried before? What were they?

5. Did you try any ice cream mochis?

Have you tried out the KitKats over there? They even got Sushi flavored ones! Tell us how they are please!

Posted by Ravenlight

@CharlesAlanRatliff: Holy crap, you're not dead! Will read after dinner!

Posted by Pepsiman

As I wrote on one of your previous entries, I always find reading these stories interesting since, as a foreign Japanese speaker, I've never really been able to know what the tourist perspective is on a lot of things and these are good for enlightening me on how "outsiders" (not being condescending when I say that) perceive a lot of little things I and my other longtime foreigner friends take for granted. It's always interesting to hear about stuff like how people such as you and your brother figure out food matters just by using visual cues and just generally how you get by without those sorts of language skills. Granted, Tokyo is most likely the most foreigner-friendly city by a pretty significant margin, thanks in no small part to the English signage present in much of its infrastructure (even if its actual fluency is another matter altogether), but at the end of the day, it's still a city that by and large isn't driven by English speakers. The fact that you and your brother seemingly managed to figure out the restaurant ticketing system without outside assistance actually surprised me a little; when I first came to Japan, I actually had to have someone teach me the concept since I had just never come across it in my own studies back in the States up until that point.

Anyway, with me being who I am, I thought I'd elaborate a little on this point you mentioned specifically:

after commenting that finding a trash can in Japan is like trying to find a toilet in France (extremely difficult)

You might well have caught onto it at some point during your stay in Tokyo, but this is obviously very deliberate. Much of Japan abides by a pretty elaborate recycling scheme that, at its simplest, typically breaks garbage down into burnable and non-burnable categories. Typically the categories you have to keep in mind are usually more than that and often include at least differentiating plastics to the point where you'll often actually stick things like plastic bottles in separate bins from things that they come with such as their caps and labels. It can get a lot more elaborate than that once you start factoring in books (they're burnable, but still often require a different procedure), electronics, and heavy objects (the town I lived in until recently had regulations for how to throw out things like pianos). I bring all of this up because having just general-purpose trash cans everywhere in Japan like you do in the States would potentially be detrimental to recycling efforts since, without that categorization, the country very likely wouldn't have the physical space to actually process the trash that it generates since real estate is already so pressed for space just giving businesses and people spaces to inhabit without also trying to include enormous dumps in addition to that. The closest that you'll often get to a general purpose public trash can is the sort that you'll usually find at a typical convenience store that simply tells you to stick your trash in according to either burnable or non-burnable. Complementing all of that is the general social norm in Japan to not consume food and drinks on the go in public; usually you consume whatever you have at or near the spot you got it and dispose of it right then and there when you're done. If you ever wondered why virtually every vending machine in Japan has a recycle bin right next to it, that's why. Having that sort of social custom also therefore eliminates the need for widespread trash cans since, as long as everybody's on the same page about it, garbage can be concentrated in the places where it absolutely needs to be and nowhere else beyond that.

And regarding your romaji, you did it right. There are a few different standards that change up certain spellings very slightly depending on the situation, but what you wrote would be correct across virtually all of the standards. Just thought I'd throw in that note, too.

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff
@Jay444111: Added to the list! 
 
@Ravenlight: Those bastards haven't gotten me yet! 
 
@Pepsiman: I remember a lot of standing around at the restaurant watching others before making any moves. Usually my most uncomfortable situations when traveling is figuring out etiquette in restaurants, but there was a line in front of the kiosk with pictures of food and drink on the screen, and there might have even been a sign saying to use it, though I don't remember. There was a lot of time spent walking around and looking at the menus of the various eateries so I would know exactly what to get to avoid holding up the line (it was pretty crowded). I did encounter some confusion a couple of times when the English usage on the kiosk didn't match the signs at the restaurant, specifically regarding gyoza and whether I wanted it fried or steamed. I can't remember the specifics, though - I just figured it out by accidentally getting the wrong kind and finding out I liked it more! 
 
Thanks for the info about the recycling! For some reason I never looked it up and that's because, as you said, recycling bins and such were always right by where we bought our stuff. The green tea ice cream situation ended being unique, thankfully. I had no idea that those trash cans were separated between burnable and non-burnable - I just made sure I looked inside to make sure whatever drink I was throwing away at the time matched up. I always liked seeing vending machines because I knew I could get rid of whatever empty bottle I was currently carrying. And here in the U.S., I always have to throw away the caps to bottles since the recycling people won't take them.  It's been like this in the past two neighborhoods I've lived in. 
 
And thanks for clarifying my rōmaji. I always find it really awkward to write, and a Google search will bring up several different answers from a variety of sources.
Posted by Ravenlight

Okay, now for the important questions:

  • Did the Pokemon Mac&Cheese taste any different than the kinds we get in the US?
  • Was the pornography expensive?
  • Did you end up taking any video of pachinko?
  • Were Japanese people constantly amazed that you knew any Japanese?

and, most importantly

  • What's your favorite flavor of Pocky?

This continues to be my favorite blog on the Citadel.

Posted by Commisar123

Love these blogs keep em coming

Posted by Bocam

@Ravenlight said:

  • Were Japanese people constantly amazed that you knew any Japanese?

This gets to be fucking annoying after a while.

Posted by Ravenlight

@Bocam said:

@Ravenlight said:

  • Were Japanese people constantly amazed that you knew any Japanese?

This gets to be fucking annoying after a while.

You should retaliate by asking for help with your math homework.

Posted by Bocam

@Ravenlight: Japanese people don't get western stereotypes of Asians

Posted by Ravenlight

@Bocam: Do modern Japanese still think all Americans carry firearms? Or just that we're all fat. I'm a bit out-of touch :/

Posted by Bocam

@Ravenlight: That we're loud, we love guns, and that we...

Posted by Ohgawd

Good to see you're enjoying Japan.

Posted by PenguinDust

Bring me back some tissues distributed by moderately hot Japanese girls in maid costumes.

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff
@Ravenlight: Thanks! I'll add the questions to the list. 
 
@Commisar123: Thank you! 
 
@PenguinDust: Every lady I saw in a maid costume ignored foreigners.
Posted by JCTango

@CharlesAlanRatliff: Got a few more questions for you to answer!

Compared to living in North America (which I assume you live :) ) how safe did you feel walking around the streets (primarily in high density areas)?

Now that you've been to Japan, would you ever consider living there permanently if the chance ever arose (employment, life situation, etc.)? If not, why not? :)

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff
@JCTango: Good stuff! Added to my document.