Day 2: Akihabara – Tokyo One Piece Tower

Akihabara is known by the locals as Akiba. A kind of a holy land for the otaku creed where games, anime, manga, toys and all sorts of related merchandise get sold and traded. I won’t go into too much detail about the place’s past (for loads of glorious photos visit good old Danny Choos website: http://www.dannychoo.com/en/post/25744/History+of+Akihabara.html), in short, after WWII a black-market trade of electronic bits and radio parts made it an ideal place for students and manufacturers to build gadgets there. Eventually, things like household essentials like TVs, washing machines & refrigerators were being sold, and then later on computer hardware which attracted otaku-like men to the area… As an anime fan, it’s probably one of the first places that people recommend you go to, and for good reason! Its traditional status as the home of otaku is so set in the subcultural mind that it’s depicted as the base city for adventurers guilds in anime Log Horizon.

A bunch of guys queuing outside (for AKB48?), probably for a live show
A bunch of guys queuing outside (for AKB48?), probably for a live show

I might have gotten a little overexcited in the morning and woke up waaay too early :-s   Back home in UK, shop opening times vary from 8am – 8pm. In Japan it’s generally from 10am – 9pm. So being the idiot I am I arrive by about 8:30 only to find a ghost town with people dashing here & there to work. Please do not make the same stupid mistake I did on your own trip!

I started off by wandering around the main street Chuo-dori to get used to the place. As well as the commercial area, there are a bunch of side streets which are easily missed if you don’t bother to venture into them. It would be a shame since there are plenty of neat little food stalls & hobby shops with things you won’t find in the big stores. The games district itself covers only a small area of Akiba, but walking around can be surprisingly tiring, especially with baggage. Make use of the coin lockers at the station by dropping off your haul from time to time, and trust me, if it means you can keep shopping without carrying around 5-7kg of baggage it’s bloody worth it!

The first thing I actually did was eat since there was nothing else to do. Grabbed a blueberry & cream crepe (which was very yummy by the way) from a convenience store and gobbled it up at the UDX Plaza.

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Before coming to Japan, I’d been playing a PlayStation Vita game called Akiba’s Trip 2. The game creators used real models of the gaming district to build the in-game town and the result is pretty true to life. I tried using my memory of the game as a map which worked out pretty well actually lol  xD. Granted, a lot of shops don’t exist or have now been replaced by other stores, and the game romanticizes the place but the overall feel is very accurate (actually, it’s superior to the real thing!). Here’s a comparison between reality and game:

(click to enlarge) Pretty neat right?
(click to enlarge)
The world of anime and games is so much better than reality…yep, I said it.

After the crepe I still felt hungry & set out to find ramen. Unfortunately, the only places that open early are fast food chains/ franchises. So off I went to a burger joint – Becks. I had the set menu burger + drink. But since there was absolutely no English support I got a little flustered and pointed to any old random thing (felt like Tomoko from Watamote at this point), which turned out to be iced coffee  -_-

Err.. what was I ordering again?
Err.. what was I ordering again?
Becks as referenced in Akiba's Trip 2
Becks as referenced in Akiba’s Trip 2
Delicious. Just sit away from the smoking area though.
Delicious. Just sit away from the smoking area though.

As the day creeps towards 10:00 the town comes to life slowly. From the quiet hustle & bustle of traffic and salarymen to the sounds of anime music, video adverts on screen, and recorded greetings booming from store entrances.

ak3aki2One of the first things I noticed was how surprisingly touristy some of the electronics stores like Laox and Softmap were. There seemed to be a steady stream of coaches parked outside of these places – tourist guides dropping people off directly so that they could start spending their money en-mass on tax free electronic goods. Even the store greetings are recorded in Mandarin! The buying power of Chinese tourists will no doubt be great for the economy, but it’s also sadly a demonstration of the commercial invasion of otaku Akiba by the big corporations. The reputation of Akiba as a tourist destination draws in mainstream consumers which the government probably thinks is a positive effect of the Cool Japan movement. Sadly, otaku who used to hang out in the streets of Akiba detest the direction the area is taking and have even made protests to that end (see http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2007/09/27/general/akihabaras-awful-truths/#.VaEThvlD5TU). So don’t ever be surprised if the denizens of the town are more likely to be suits & tourists rather than geeks & cosplayers, just a fair warning… I will compare this state of affairs with my future post on Nakano Broadway.

The sparkly new Radio Kaikan.
The sparkly new Radio Kaikan.

Despite my disillusionment I still had a fun time overall, blasting my way through Radio Kaikan, Gamers, Animate, and multiple Softmap stores. Softmap is best in terms of price for toys and figures. I also visited Mandarake, which trades almost exclusively in second-hand goods; toys, CDs, DVDs and games. Perfect for those on a budget who can bear rifling through the stuff in (seriously) dingy shop floors. The fact that I did not like the place doesn’t bode well for a certain place I will visit later on…

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A little wall-scroll & poster store I intend on revisiting someday  :-)
A little wall-scroll & poster store I intend on revisiting someday 🙂
A worker unloads a van of soft drinks/ beverages to refill a vending machine (which are plenty & ubiquitous in Japan due to the lack of vandalism)
A worker unloads a van of soft drinks/ beverages to refill a vending machine (which are plenty & ubiquitous in Japan due to the lack of vandalism)

soyAfter spending close to £500 ($750 or 95000¥), I ended up broke for the day and headed home. My foot in an aching pain due to the sheer weight of my shopping bags 😦 Though I came to revisit Akiba on my last day I never did make it to see the night view, something I regret and therefore aim to achieve on my next visit!

towerIn the evening, I went to the One Piece Theme Park at Tokyo Tower with my sisters. Just a 5-10 minute walk from the closest train station, it really is impossible to miss unless you’re practically blind. The tower is featured in a number of anime. From what I can remember, the Clamp series Cardcaptor Sakura, X, and in more recent memory Tokyo ESP (the manga is great, not too keen on the anime adaptation).

There is a rather large number of market-stalls near the entrance, holding a mind boggling quantity of quirky souvenirs and edible goods. An ideal place to buy random crap for your colleagues and relatives back at home.

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Hey there fat guy!
The fat guy on the right is the titular character from My Neighbour Totoro.

As usual when you arrive late in the day, it’s quiet. At the theme park, the entrance fee is extortionate for the unlimited attractions option (something like £20+, $31, 3800¥) which we did without – it didn’t stop us from taking part in the attractions anyway.

The whole ambiance is very well thought out and planned, with jolly music played throughout the theme park and life sized models painstakingly recreated. As to whether I recommend this place for fans of One Piece, I highly suggest going as a big group since its quite obviously tailored towards being family and kid friendly. There is an attraction based on each one of the main characters, for example, Zoro’s sword lessons, Usopp’s shooting game, Brook’s ghost tour and Chopper’s hide ‘n’ seek in the cabins of the Thousand Sunny. I don’t want to give too much away since it will spoil any surprise for would-be visitors. However, I can say I enjoyed it a lot. There are also live shows performed by the official cosplayers who I think look true to the original characters (we didn’t watch though since it was getting late).

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chopper

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The themed cafe downstairs is pretty standard if not costly, with things like steak, curry, spaghetti, salad etc. There’s also Franky’s bar with corn snacks, soft drinks and meat based churro-looking-things. Thankfully there’s also a food court in the building upstairs offering ramen, pizza, salads etc where we went to eat.

beer
That’s right – alcohol free beer. But unlike the shit you get back at home, this stuff actually tastes good and also has ZERO CALORIES!!!
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Nom nom..

After eating, we headed home.

The sky finally made good on its threat to rain on us. It’s a good thing we were informed in advance by the newspapers the hotel staff kindly bring to us each morning!

As we were leaving, I noticed that the tower looked exceptionally pretty at night in the rain  😀

nighttowerNext up: Day 3: Mount Takao – Shinjuku – Shinjuku Awaodori

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Day 1: Ikebukuro – Mutekiya – Otome Road – Namja Town

Since this was our first day we intended it to be chilled out and relaxing.

The journey to the hotel from our airport limo consisted mostly of countryside. We saw (rice?)fields along the way which was a stark contrast to most of the trip. From that point on, unless you purposely venture out into suburbs it’s all concrete.

We arrived mid-morning at our hotel, the Hotel Metropolitan at Ikebukuro. I stayed here two years ago in 2013 and I think the service has overall improved from the last time. Staff approached us to find out how they could help. Check-in was 3pm so we left our bags and headed off to Mutekiya. A very famous eatery serving “ramen” – Japanese style soup noodle. There’s always a queue for this place due to it’s popularity. The tsukemen (or dipping-noodles) here is said to be the best in Ikebukuro, the birthplace of the dish. I didn’t really appreciate this fact until the end of my 11 day journey. For now I’ll leave the ramen reviews aside for a separate post.

It was a very sunny day and the wait was surprisingly short at only 10-15 minutes. The store keep a little rack outside holding fans that customers can use to cool themselves off while sizzling in the hot sun. A really nice touch and very welcome at the time! We were given an English menu while still outside in queue and had our orders taken there. It’s a pretty novel way of operating, and also extremely efficient because I was served a minute or two after I sat down. I have to apologize at this point for not having any pictures for the first half of the day. I left my camera in my luggage  😦

After lunch we went straight to Otome (“maiden”) Road, a favorite hangout for fujoshi and other people of such ilk. Although in actual fact, it’s a very busy place with all sorts of folks passing by; businessmen, housewives, schoolkids. If you’re reading this post then you’ll probably already know that there are supposed to be butler cafes and anime/bookstores that sell merchandise targeted mainly at girls/women. At the start of the road on the left side is a Lotteria burger joint, a chain I never managed to visit despite promising myself that I would…

On the right side of the road at the entrance there’s Milky Way Cafe, that serves super girly desserts like crepes stuffed with fruit, cream, chocolate etc. There were a load of lively arcade/ pachinko stores and clothes shops along the way. I spent the next hour or so in the multiple floors of Animate browsing through the manga, fanbooks, games, toys & other merchandise for currently airing anime. I find it hilarious that on the second floor is a corner dedicated to hentai yuri, which is in the open in full view of the schoolgirl patrons since there are no age restrictions for entering the store  xD. You’ll see the odd few guys here and there but most of the time it’s young girls/women.

Animate - one of my favorite places to shop as a hopeless otaku
Animate – one of my favorite places to shop as a hopeless otaku
A picture of the Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku themed drinks van outside Animate
A picture of the Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku themed drinks van outside Animate
Kinda regret not grabbing an Eruna themed drink here...
Kinda regret not grabbing an Eruna themed drink here…

At the stairwell to each floor are gashapon machines that drain your 100 yen coins like nothin’ so I suggest stocking up on them to make sure you have no regrets! They’re basically vending/ dispensing machines with toy-filled capsules and can be a collecting obsession for some otaku.

Some of my gashapon spoils! From left to right: Juuzou (Tokyo Ghoul), Ayano (Mekaku City Actors), Shinya (Psycho Pass), Ken (Tokyo Ghoul)
Some of my gashapon spoils! From left to right:
Juuzou (Tokyo Ghoul), Ayano (Mekaku City Actors), Shinya (Psycho Pass), Ken (Tokyo Ghoul)

I’d been itchin’ to get my hands on some Wixoss cards ever since the first season aired so I grabbed the “Black Desire” and “Blue Appli” deck since Ulith & Piruruk are my favorite characters from the series. There were all sorts of trial decks and Weiss Swarchz cards on sale but hardcore collectors will probably be better off in places I’ll be writing about in later posts. After Animate I popped into Tokyu Hands for a birthday card and envelope for my sisters upcoming birthday on the trip. This place just sells all sorts of random useful household stuff, including toys, stationary, gardening tools, hobby materials, DIY and home decor stuff. Parodied in Show by Rock recently.

A parody of Tokyu Hands in the recently aired anime Show by Rock
A parody of Tokyu Hands in the recently aired anime Show by Rock

After checking into the hotel room and freshening up we headed out again to Sunshine City, a sort of shopping/ entertainment complex inside a skyscraper. Our destination for the evening was Namja Town, an indoor theme park accompanied by a bunch of food and dessert stores. It’s easy to find since it’s right near the relatively new J-World, another indoor theme park which focuses on Shonen Jump series and franchises. But we heard the place is overpriced and underrated so gave it the miss this time.

Heading off to Sunshine City... there's no such thing as pavements in Japan
Heading off to Sunshine City… there’s no such thing as pavements in Japan
Passing by the Pokemon store in Sunshine City, I put a poor Pikachu into Black Charizard's claws...mwahahahaha!
Passing by the Pokemon store in Sunshine City, I put a poor Pikachu into Black Charizard’s claws…mwahahahaha!

At Namja Town we started off in the haunted village which was kind of labyrinth-like and claustrophobic, the ghost themed buildings and attractions are sweet for those who love their Yokai mythology. Yokai are ghosts/monsters/spirits/possessed objects from old Japanese folklore. They are seen in anime like Nurarihyon no Mago, Inuyasha, Jikgoku Shoujou, and very recently Re-kan!. For those of you who are interested, check out this English language picture-book: http://matthewmeyer.net/the-night-parade-of-one-hundred-demons/

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The narration for the stories were all in Japanese, and even though we couldn’t understand anything we still found it creepy as shit in some places. The music and ambiance made it feel like walking through the set of Corpse Party sometimes. In one particular attraction, visitors don headphones and sit in an isolated darkened toilet cubicle while listening to a freaky story of what happened in there.

Creepy as f*** toilet seat. Wouldn't put my ass anywhere near it...
Creepy as f*** toilet seat. Wouldn’t put my ass anywhere near it…
Spotted something in the window...
Spotted something in the window…

After getting out of there, we came to an arcade area which was a nice breather. There were plenty of snacks and souvenirs about too.

out

sweets

My sister playing a crane game. In case you're wondering- she scoops the little bugger!
My sister playing a crane game. In case you’re wondering- she scoops the little bugger!

We finished the day by eating in the food district which is designed to recreate the feeling of dining in old Tokyo, possibly in between the years 1900-1950. The narrow street paths feel quite realistic, and there’s the nostalgic Kirin beer crates that double up as seats.

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We ate at the crate/tables on the right
We ate at the crate/tables on the right

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In my opinion, the food could have done with some improvement. Portions were small and the Gyoza (meat dumplings) are expensive for what you get (per tray of 5 or 6 pieces it was something like 800-900 yen, £4-5, $6-7). Some of the steamed/boiled gyoza were delicious, and I do recommend avoiding the fried ones since they’re very oily. We then had desserts which were just round the corner. I had a yummy black gelato ice cream called “Nero” (I think the Kanji for the ingredients translate as ‘big bean’). My sisters bought a set of funky tasting ice creams from a pick ‘n mix store where you can try flavors like green tea, soy, salt etc.

Pick 'n mix ice creams
Pick ‘n mix ice creams

After eating we headed back down the streets of Ikebukuro. It’s more crowded at night than during the day, the bright lights and noisiness might suit some more than others. Most shops close at around 8pm but a lot of department stores were still open, including bars and restaurants.

Finally got back to my hotel room, and as I nodded off, I heard the sound of a motorbike roaring off into the night which made me think of the anime Durarara!! even though I’ve never watched it before… it’s set in Ikebukuro and has something to do with a rumour of ghostly motorcyclist. Overall, a good start to the week 🙂

Next up: Day 2: Akihabara – One Piece Theme Park