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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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