Day 6: Nakano Broadway – Harmonica Street – Zauo Restaurant

It’s been a long time since my last update, and some 1 year 2 months since I actually visited which makes continuing this blog absolutely ridiculous -_-   But I will continue to write for the sake of…posterity?.. Slowly.

 

Nakano Broadway (中野ブロードウェイ). Those of you who are familiar with the otaku scene in Japan will most likely already know that this place is a must-visit for native and overseas otaku alike. Along with the previously covered Akihabara (秋葉原) and Otome Road (乙女ロード) in Ikebukuro (池袋), the three locations make up the absolute major “holy sites” in the Kanto region.

These areas host shops, hobby stores, food places and event venues for fans of anime, games, manga etc. Places where people are less likely to judge and pull funny faces when you let out your inner geek 😀

If you’re lucky enough to visit western Japan (towards the Kansai region), make sure to also check out the electronics street, Osu Denki-gai (大須電気街) in Nagoya (名古屋) and Nipponbashi (日本橋) Otaku Road in Osaka (大阪) which provide similarly for the local folks (too bad I won’t be covering them!).

1 nakano alleyway vending

You’d think that by now I’d learn not to constantly get up so freaking early when shops don’t even open – some habits are hard to kick.

Since most places open between 10am-12pm, adjust your travel and timetables accordingly unless you want to watch salarymen bustling about commuting to work!

Since there was nothing to do for about an hour, I wandered the side-streets in the area, soaking up the atmosphere and as usual drinking myself full on vending machine stuff.

I’d read about this area before coming. The small maze-like streets near Nakano Broadway are known for their colourful yet dingy izakayas (pub houses/ taverns) and street food. If you love your alcohol and hearty grub then this is the place to be. The streets come alive at night, & you often hear of people crawling around and getting lost in all the sake and yakitori. Unsurprisingly, there’s not much to do in the morning, not that it was my kinda scene anyway (huff).

2 nakano alleyway 1

3 nakano alleyway 2

4 nakano alleyway 3

5 nakano alleyway 4

6 nakano alleyway restaurant

Back round towards the station area, near the Sun Mall entrance to Nakano Broadway there are a few shops dotted about, including this weird Soba (buckwheat noodle) stall I just happened to notice. All these guys were having their breakfast stood up. I just found it weird and funny. Normally, I’d be right at home dining in a ramen-ya but I was kinda too intimidated to squeeze in here.. would’ve been pretty awkward for a foreigner girl!

7 soba stall

I got hungry after seeing this and started to look around for breakfast myself. Thankfully, I could trust the fast food chains to be ready for me when I needed them! Enter Matsuya Foods (松屋フーズ) – these ubiquitous yet often overlooked yellow signed chain stores offer comfort foods such as curries and meat & rice dishes like gyūdon (beef bowls). My nickname for the outlets is “squirrel house” since the kanji for “松” reminds me of the Chinese word for squirrel “松鼠”.

8 squirrel house

I’d been curious about the brand for a while but had no idea what to expect. Upon entering, I located a ticket machine to the left (hell yeah!) , which menus could be set to English (whoopee)! To my pleasant surprise, the breakfast menu included variations of the traditional Japanese breakfast, which typically consists of (Japanese short grain) rice, miso soup, a portion of fish or tamagoyaki  and assorted pickles or veg. Having a proper Japanese breakfast was always on my to-do list so I was glad to have it ticked off  🙂

9 squirrel breakfast
My choice for the day – rice, miso with seaweed, salmon, veggies, and natto.

I know it sounds pretty ludicrous but I was quite excited for this meal. There was a soothing sense of homeliness to it. Probably also because it was so quiet in the morning. As a tourist it’s easy to get under the false impression that sushi, ramen, and karaage are “normal” Japanese foods rather than the fast food junk they are (not to say those things are crap – I LOVE ramen).

Anyways, it was nice. Especially the natto. That is, a dish of fermented soy beans. Sounds simple enough right? Well if you don’t know already, let me just warn you that natto is not for everyone! Like cheese, coleslaw, or marmite, you’ll either love it or loath it! First, stir in the sauce, then stir like crazy with your chopsticks (do learn how to use chopsticks by the way). Eventually, you’ll produce a clump of sticky beans stuck to what looks like a thick band of cobwebs that stretches and gloops around like slime.. the final taste is fermenty? But the sticky slime is surprisingly light and not nearly as gross as I thought it would be.

10 natto 1
Try it. I dare you
11 natto 2
Stirring this up was damn fun, just look at all that goo! Lovely 😀

Okay, needless to say this can be quite an acquired taste. According to one of my colleagues in the UK, it’s possible to find this stuff in big Chinese supermarkets, though I haven’t really looked for it myself. Also, I suspect that what they give you in the chains are probably the “clean” versions. Homemade stuff can get seriously pongy! For an anime lesson on natto, look no further than episode 2 of Sabagebu:

11.5 natto 3
God do I love this show. I gave it a myanimelist rating of 9. That’s right. Bite me.

I noticed the patrons (around 4-5 of them) were all men who looked between the ages of 25-40. Possibly single with little time to prepare breakfast for themselves in the morning. Who knows, but I’d like to come back here at a different time and see what kind of clientele the chain normally draws in.

So enough of that. Moving on I continued to explore the surrounding area, spotting the popular chains Matsumoto Kiyoshi (drugs/cosmetics store) and Don Quijote (a discount store selling a mishmash of different toys, gifts and household items). This is mega handy for a bit of time-killing.

13 nakano donkey
Don Quijote storefront. Random shit galore.

I was too lazy to take a photo of a particularly interesting toy I came across inside here (and I completely forgot to return to buy it later ;_; ). It was a replica of a Nagashi Somen (flowing somen) setup – an elaborate slide, made up of connected bamboo halves with water flowing down it. Somen (thin white flour noodles) are then trickled down the slide so that dinner guests are able to playfully grab them with their chopsticks into their own sauce bowls. Only the Japanese could come up with shaz like this… it’s also very unhygienic.

Somen
Nagashi somen as depicted in Koufuku Graffiti

Towards noon, places were starting to open up, so I headed to the Sun Mall Shōtengai (サンモール商店街), a walkway lined with all manner of diners and shops which leads straight to the entrance of Nakano Broadway. This street is a mini-trip in itself. For more details and nice looking pictures follow the link to this page: http://likeafishinwater.com/2014/06/03/nakano-sun-mall-shotengai/

So after all that faffing around in the morning, I finally visited the main attraction of the day. My immediate impression upon stepping inside Nakano Broadway mall, was that the place had seen better days and that some renovation was required. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it felt like an old shopping centre from the 90’s, like the Arndale was in my hometown Manchester – before the times when massive conglomerates with their chains and coffee shops completely conquered the retail space. The decor on the upper walkway is strangely rickety and nostalgia inducing. It’s too bad I forgot to take pictures along the way 😦

Since it’s been covered well and extensively in other articles all over the net, I won’t go into posting a sh*t-ton of pictures (also mainly because I don’t have any lol). I’ll just be musing over my opinions of the place. In fact, for your otaku needs I recommend using the brilliant resource that is Danny Choo’s website http://www.dannychoo.com/en/post/25749/Nakano+Broadway.htm Also, here is the official webpage of Nakano Broadway, which includes floor maps: http://www.nbw.jp/index_e.html

15 nakano shop 1

16 nakano shop 2

Other than the seemingly endless Mandarakes stores populating the mall, there’s also an odd hodgepodge of bric-a-brac gift stalls, clothing boutiques, clinics and mundane grocery stores on the basement floor. The atmosphere is surely unique, and yet also reminds me of the quirkiness of a place back in Manchester UK, called Affleck’s Palace. Though it’s nowhere near as big as broadway, Affleck’s is also home to anime related goods, as well as other underground (indie, rock, occult etc.) related clothing, accessories and stuff.

Not surprisingly, as foreshadowed by my visit to the Akihabara branch of Mandarake, I wasn’t overly fond of the experience of shopping in Nakano Broadway. The buying and selling of used merchandise is standard practice for collectors and  denizens of the otaku subculture – keeping the secondary market and trading industry alive. However, I normally can’t stand the idea of owning something that’s used, unless it happens to be a rare game that otherwise cannot be found. Add that to the dingy, grungy atmosphere with the dull reddish decor and lighting (which I swear they do on purpose), it’s all just a bit too stuffy for my tastes. Call me a snob, but I’d much prefer the clean and tidy spaces of Akiba!

It didn’t really help that I couldn’t find what I was looking for either. Broadway is known for housing rare and retro goods, catering to fans of the old favorites like Astro Boy, Gundam etc. Some spaces have even been redecorated to look more like museums than actual shops. Broadway is advertised as being the the place to go to get the stuff you can’t find elsewhere, and yet, there leaves a lot to be desired. Minus the experience of physically shopping (if you love that sort of thing), I am pretty confident that you would be much better looking online for very specific items.

A lot of merchandise from popular anime of recent years also make their way onto the shelves. Video games seem to be under represented. But shops that do carry game-related figurines tend to house them in random junk-filled boxes on some dusty floor, or in those glass cabinets owned by private individuals (which they rent to advertise their collection for sale). To say one would be looking for a needle in a haystack is an understatement…at least, I didn’t stand a chance at locating the object of my desire ;_;  (a figure of Hiro from the Spectral Force/ Spectral Souls series):

Hiro
Twas never meant to be…

One thing I always find amusing though are the unmanned gashapon shops. Just rows and rows of toy capsule machines ready to eat away those ¥100 coins weighing down your pocket. You can get some of the funniest souvenirs from those things 😀

gatch machine
Sushi cat anyone?

And of all the crap I thought I might have bought on the day, this (below) is all I took home, and for some reason I always remember the old lady who sat by herself at the stall, surrounded by these random bits of cutesy looking stuff:

cats
What a weird day.

I didn’t linger around for too long, since the weariness from the previous day was catching up with me. One last thing I’d like to mention though are the spooky closed hallways. There was a floor with a half of the place closed up! I had no idea why, whether it was just the wrong time of the day or if they were refreshing the area for a later – if anyone can shed some light on this please let me know.

17 nakano shop 3
Why is nobody home?!

 

My next destination was Harmonica Yokocho (ハモニカ横丁) in Kichijōji (吉祥寺) which is easy enough to get to from Nakano. I took the Chuo line (中央線) from Nakano Station to Kichijoji station & headed to the north exit.

A colleague of mine commented that no matter which station you get off on in the Tokyo metropolis, or wherever you go, there’s bound to be something to see or do whether you are looking for it or not. This holds true for wandering the local Kichijoji neighborhood.

18 harmonica street near

18.5 street event 1
A few minutes later, some cutesy idol looking girls clamber onto the stage at the end of the road and start pratting about. I think it was a pageant or something.
18.6  temple
A random Buddhist temple I came across. After looking into it, I discovered that 月窓褝寺 hosts a traditional matsuri (祭), or festival at some point during the year. Looks pretty fun too.

19 harmonica street entrance

I finally discover the entrance of Harmonica Yokocho which gets me all excited. The maze of outlets inside, crammed tightly side by side in little alleyways are supposed to be reminiscent of a harmonica formation. It’s known as a great place for bar hopping, with plenty of eateries and street foods. I spotted what looked like a crafts store and a grocery stall. But guess what? Yup. NOTHING WAS OPEN!! Goddammit!

I would normally laugh at myself, but at that moment I was simply too disappointed and rather annoyed 😦

It’s basically a ghost town in the daytime, and though I would’ve liked to have stayed in the area or return later, as it were, I had to meet my sisters for dinner in the evening.

22 harmonica street mochi stall
Freshly made mochi.

At least this one place was open. It’s a wagashi (confectionery) store! I watched the lady here prepare a fresh batch of mochi. If you’ve read Day 3 of this blog, you might remember me mentioning mochi when talking about dango. Mochi are rice-based (generally round) pudding looking things with a unique soft texture, and in the center is usually a sweet bean paste of some sort. There isn’t anything quite like it and it’s hard to describe accurately. As I’ve mentioned in Day 3, you can buy packaged mochi from most Chinese supermarkets in your local Chinatown. However, fresh Japanese mochi has a melt-in-the-mouth quality that can’t be replicated overseas 🙂

If you would like to try some fresh mochi in UK, head down to Cha-ology tea-house in Ancoats, Manchester. The owner is trained in preparing matcha tea and wagashi. It has a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere, resembling a traditional tea-house in many ways.

cha-ology
Cha-ology mochi, made using proper Japanese rice flour.

I headed back to my hotel shortly to rest and prepare to meet up with my sisters. I’d been walking around so much the previous days that my body was aching all over by this time. Nothing a hot bath and late afternoon tea party couldn’t fix. I grabbed myself some sakura and mung bean flavored mochi from Harmonica street earlier.

23 tea 1
It’s soft, and bouncy, and sweet, and sticky…mmmnn
24 tea 2
There’s nothing like chilling out by yourself in a hotel room halfway across the world with trays of delicious mochi (plus a dorayaki) and a nice cup of kocha.

My last meal of the day was to be at Zauo restaurant, just west of Shinjuku station (ざうお新宿店). It’s rather easy to locate and is in the vicinity of a great many other popular Shinjuku sites. In addition to the department stores such as Lumine and Isetan there’s the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑), Meiji Shrine (明治神宮), Yoyogi Park (代々木公園, Yoyogi kōen) and the quirky Golden Gai (ゴールデン街), which like Harmonica Yokocho, is full of seedy bars and eateries, gearing up during the night.

Although Shinjuku is little more than a train stop for the purposes of my trip this time, it is a place full of history and home to a plethora of museums – well worth looking into.

Zauo restaurant is rather different to most places. You’re given the opportunity to catch your food – alive, which is then cooked and prepared for you! After being taken to a table, you are free to grab a fishing rod and go fishing! (Actually, my sisters were to afraid to do anything at first so we ended up sitting at the freaking table for 10 minutes before deciding to just up and go). The mini-shrimp bait cost about ¥200 per small tray I think, but since practically no-one mans the damn things or even cares you can just grab them. They don’t work properly anyway! I’m not guilty!

There are several big pool-like tanks with different types of fishes swimming about, and well, you just fish. We had too much fun to take pictures it seems, but you can easily research if you’re curious.

In the time we were there, 2 foreign dudes caught something. I also got a bite. A feisty little bastard it was too. And let me tell you, those damn fish are bloody strong! I had no idea how to get it out of the water and eventually it got away ;_;   Had I been serious though I’m pretty sure I could’ve just yanked it out! But I was too mindful of other customers who were near me. Just struggling with the thing made crazy splashes everywhere, I can’t image what would’ve happened had I tried to fling it towards the surface – it probably would smacked someone in the face…

But screw that, if you happen to visit, don’t give a damn about the person next to you. You get that damn fish! Else you’ll end up with regrets (sniff). Although we technically had a time limit of 2 hours, one of the staff decided to target us obvious gaijin and give us a secret cheat (clearly in the hopes that we would promote the establishment). He took some blue-tack looking bait from a tin, and as soon as he lowered it into the water, a crap ton of fish swarmed towards the rod. What took me the best part of an hour to achieve was done in just under one minute -_-‘  , successfully too.

We took a prize picture with the trophy fish (a Sea Bream). But it was a hollow victory and spoiled the fun. Should you be shadily pulled to one side – you know what to expect!

25 fish meal
As disappointing as it was that we couldn’t catch a flipping fish between the four of us, it was still satisfying eating the little shits.
26 fish raw
And for the sake of sadism, here’s a closeup of the little bastard all raw and cut up as sashimi. Chomp.

There was a surprising number of annoyances today, but it still didn’t stop me from making some good memories. The moral of the story is – wake up late, don’t expect too much, and don’t give a crap about wetting random strangers with icky fish water.

Next up: Day 7 Hanno

 

Day 4: Ichiran – Tachikawa

Click images to enlarge

Tachikawa city (立川) is also known as “Anime City”. The locations/ settings for various anime are based on places here. You can visit actual landmarks making it a great holy site, although I’m not too sure of the popularity of the place in the eyes of Japanese otaku. What drew my good self to this place is one of the first anime I selected to watch myself – とある科学の超電磁砲 (Toaru Kagaku no Railgun, or, A Certain Scientific Railgun). Academy City is based on the futuristic vibe of the city center, with its bright environment, raised walkways and monorail system. Even the pavements look similar with the orange tiles-yellow lines. On my visit, I didn’t know about Gatchaman Crowds yet, another hippish anime which takes actual locations from the station area. I caught up with the series just before the sequel Gatchaman Crowds Insight aired (just finished this summer). With its neon bright colors, shonen action, young cast, and serious subject matter (politics and all) it’s a bit of a quirky show, I’d recommend it for young adults 17+.

Anime City
Anime based on or in Tachikawa city. From top left clockwise: Toaru Majutsu no Index, Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda, Saint Oniisan, Gatchaman Crowds, Toaru Kagaku no Railgun and Hakaiju.

Anyway, the point is, today I came to hunt down certain vending machines. That’s right. Vending machines. This isn’t really relevant to anything but at the time of my visit, the bunny rabbit くるりん (Kururin) was still the mascot around town, then not long ago some kimo-kawaii vegetable dude ウドラ (Udolla) apparently started making his appearance. Weird. If anyone finds news of him on their visit, please let us know.

Mascots
Left: Udolla Right: Kururin as portrayed in Gatchman Crowds with Paiman (the panda looking shit) sitting underneath

The day started off with breakfast at 一蘭 Ichiran ramen in Ikebukkuro, just 10 minutes walk from my hotel. Ichiran is a 24-hour franchise serving ramen fast-food style. You’re able to customize your bowl down to the flavor, richness, thickness etc. on a qualitative scale. Kind of like subway, but more precise. First though, as usual I purchased a ticket from the vending machine at the entrance. The variety isn’t great, but then again, it is fast food. On sitting down I had a sheet to fill out with my preferences (ask for English if you can’t make do), there were instructions in the booth on how to order refills etc. Once I finished picking, I pressed the bell for someone to collect my order. According to a post I found online, there is barely any actual cooking done, most things are pre-made and ready in packets. All the staff have to do is cut them open and mix according to our instructions. Doesn’t bother me ’cause the stuff tastes good. It was nice and quiet in the morning, I was the only one there. Afterwards I headed to Tachikawa via Shinjuku Station. Promise I’ll get that separate ramen review post done at some point!

Ichiran
The tissue looking stuff in the top image are actually disposable aprons. Salarymen wear them to avoid splashing soup onto their work clothes. There’s a partition between seats…perfect for antisocial people like myself (although in some branches they are collapsible).

I exited the station to a fresh and GLORIOUS summer-like day. I put on my headphones and listened to anisongs during the entire visit. The feeling of hearing ‘Only My Railgun’ on such a beautiful day in Japan, in Tachikawa cannot be described. “The otaku in me can now die in peace..”, is what I thought. I was so busy being giddy I didn’t take many photos of the place, so excuse the shitty stills I pulled from a video.

Notice the paving.
Notice the paving.
The monorail can be seen on the right side.
The monorail can be seen on the right side.

As I said earlier, todays mission was to locate vending machines. Specifically those with Index and Railgun images plastered all over them, and which sell the special Coconut Cider soda as loved by the Railgun-sama herself. The inspiration probably came from the idea of machine “7116” in the anime series, which is faulty and gets its butt kicked by Mikoto from time to time (do NOT try this yourself, delinquent, I know you were thinking it). When the cans were first stocked, fans bought so many they were often sold out. Can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same lol  xD. Tachikawa city collaborated with several anime series (mentioned above) to promote tourism. There is an official site which kindly points out the various locations of the machines: http://www.tbt.gr.jp/tachikawa_anime/jihanki.html

I myself only got around to finding 5, I didn’t have the energy for the rest. Especially as I was stupid enough not to make use of the lockers in the early morning and ended up lugging the cans of soda around like an idiot. In fact, I didn’t eat any solid food until nightfall so I was basically running solely on biri-biri juice for the whole day, which by the way, tastes fantastic (think a light cream soda with a dash of coconut flavor in it). It didn’t take me long to spot my first machine – whoopee!

First MachineThere are also series banners dotted around town. It’s nice to see how open they are about it (being outside of Akihabara an’ all). Japan have come a long way from the negative stereotypes of otaku as associated with Miyazaki Tsutomu. Most western fans wouldn’t know about the social stigma attached, but it makes for an interesting history lesson, so have a nosy.

07 - IndexAccording to google the next location was at a shop. I didn’t find a machine in the vicinity though. Not sure if it was because I got flustered and just missed it. On entering 菊川園 (Kikukawaen – a tea shop, as it turns out), I was greeted by this:

08 - Tea Shop 1Pretty swell. But since I wasn’t familiar with the (Index?) character in pink, I passed it by. The owners of the store politely offered me some green tea for tasting, which I declined. Come to think of it, I’m not sure exactly why. That was kinda rude. Next time, I’ll be sure to try it since they were so polite. The overall layout of the shop is pretty and I wished I knew how to read more Japanese. I ended up getting some mugi-cha (barley tea) and other fancier stuff. There’s quite the range here, from cheap-cheap to premium. I just brewed myself some of the special edition tea for reviewing right now:

10.1 - Tea
The mascot Kururin is on the packet. It’s some sort of special edition roasted green tea.

I’m no poncy connoisseur, but judging from the lack of any kind of textural aftertaste this is probably some quality tea. The taste itself is what I’d describe as malty roasted seaweed, quite prominent but not overpowering. Tastes lovely. Now I’m curious to know what the other ones I gave away as a gift tasted like.

Tea Shop 2Tea Shop 3

The bill came to about £30 (roughly $45, ¥5400). I’m not sure if this is what qualified me for a free gift, but the store owners were sure being friendly about it. Perhaps I’m meant to say nice things about them. Which I would’ve done anyway 🙂

A Kururin sticker and ceramic pen pot. Sweet.
A Kururin sticker and ceramic pen pot. Sweet.

There’s another good reason to visit this store. There is a particular leaflet that displays where anime locations can be found in the city, complete with maps and commentary, it also gives some information about the city itself, albeit in Japanese. There is a section for each of the 6 titles listed above. I kept mine as a souvenir:

11 - Leaflet 1 12 - Leaflet 2 13 - Leaflet 3

I went about exploring the local area. I didn’t pay attention to most of the shops though since I was too busy with glugging biri-biri juice and enjoying the sun.

16 - Explore 2
The outside of Marion store, where one of the Railgun scenes is based The outside of Marion store, where one of the Railgun scenes is based

Eventually, I came across a familiar blue sign…

17 - Explore 3 18 - Explore 4

Mwahaha! Jackpot! No otaku trip is complete without reckless spending on anime goods 😀  I set about browsing through the air conditioned aisles of the quiet Animate floors. Before I realized it, I’d spent 1.5 hours and bought enough artbooks and posters to weigh me down significantly, and it was still just afternoon. Since they opened till 9pm I thought I’d come back later. Again, I stress the importance of finder lockers where possible, else you’ll end up like me..

19 - AnimateBack out in the sizzling hot day I continued my hunt for those pesky vending machines. This next particular one was also at/ inside a store, according to google. Nothing inside seemed to suggest it though so I went around the back of the building, and bingo!

22 - Mikoto Can 21 - Cans

Next stop, a particular shopping mall past the North Station.

20 - Flag 23 - To HMV

According to the leaflet, the cafe/ diner where Mikoto and girls frequent is based off a place in the area. I didn’t think to look for it though since I wasn’t hungry. Once inside the building I found the machine quickly.

The side of this machine holds an amusing scene, I'll let you find out for yourself though...
The side of this machine holds an amusing scene, I’ll let you find out for yourself though…

I didn’t stay for long since most of my shopping was already done. The next closest target was in 昭和記念公園, known as Showa Kinen Park. By this time of the day, I was frying. Burning up. Crisping. Carrying bags did not help one bit. Today I was right on time for not one, but two freakin’ special events. The first was some sort of culinary festival with pork as the main ingredient. It seemed to be a family thing since I saw a load of kiddies about. The other event was the flower viewing which was in full bloom (pictures online look so pretty!). Sadly, my fatigue from climbing Mt.Takao the day before (my previous post), meant that I was way too tired to bother walking around some more in the heat. Next time for sure…

View of a monorail track. The feel of Academy City walking down this path is real.
View of a monorail track. The feel of Academy City walking down this path is real.

26 - At the Park 27 - Pig Festival

28 - Walk in the ParkI have honest to god tried my bestest to find that damn machine but it was nowhere to be found. If anyone does find it, send me a picture to prove it exists!

After giving up I slinked back to North Station all sweaty and tired (but not thirsty). And holy jesus was I happy to find literally ONE vacant locker. I must’ve looked mad dashing towards it but I could finally rid myself of the cans I bought from each machine (I collected all 4 designs which are sitting proudly on the top of my bookshelf).

29 - To North Station
Lockerss…lockerrrs where are they….

For the next and last machines I had to hop onto a train bound for West Tachikawa. The station area shows up a good deal in Gatchaman Crowds. While I don’t have the exact POV shots, you can tell the overall match is supposed to be rather accurate:

30 - N Station 32 - Screen

The (red steel structure) "Dragon" of J.J.s prophecy
The (red steel structure) “Dragon” of J.J.s prophecy

Away from the hubbub of the city center, west Tachikawa is very much a residential area. I had the strange feeling of invading some sort of private space. Somewhere a tourist shouldn’t be..

Cute. Kids don't hang out like that here in the UK. As a girl, I can get away with taking this...
Cute. Kids don’t hang out like that here in the UK. As a girl, I can get away with taking this…

33 - Downtown36 - River

35 - Machine 3

Just before the last machine, I found a quaint little shrine (Jinja, 神社) in a park. It didn’t seem to be in use, but I tossed a coin in and prayed anyway. I’m not religious, but I do get a feeling of connecting with the cosmos in places like this. I also love the peacefulness and tranquility of praying on a lovely sunny day.

37 - Shrine 38 - Last Machine

Back at the station, I hopped onto the monorail to see if I could get to 砂川七番駅 (Sunagawa-Nanaban) Station. A 20 minute walk beyond this station is 阿豆佐見天神社 (Azusamiten Shrine) a.k.a “neko/cat” shrine. Totally random, but I thought it might be a fun visit. Too bad I turned into the wrong street and ended up walking 10 minutes before I realized I could see the next station not far off. As anyone could guess, I was way to tired to continue  -_-‘

Instead, I finished off the day by quickly popping into Gamers. It started to get dark by the time I left, and I felt sad as I turned my back and headed off home. After a quick nap back at the hotel, I went to eat some do-it-yourself deep fried food restaurant with my sisters. I don’t remember the name though.

Overall, it was probably the best day of the trip so far. I plan on returning to Tachikawa, and this time I’ll be prepared!

39 - MonorailNext up: Day 5: Ooedo Onsen Monogatari – Decks Odaiba – Aqua City Odaiba

Day 3: Mount Takao – Shinjuku – Shinjuku Awaodori

(WARNING: picture heavy – Click to enlarge images)

On this day I went to climb Mt. Takao (or Takao-san 高尾-山). Being just 599m tall it’s very easy to climb and is a popular tourist destination. The mountain itself has six main trails to follow, each route varying in terms of walking effort and sights to see. It’s easy to spend a whole day or more here exploring the different trails since there is something new to see each time – if you are healthy enough of course lol 😀  I bet most of you aren’t really outdoors people and think it’s a waste of time. Well normally I would think so too but I’ve been encouraged by a little anime series called Yama no Susume ヤマノススメ (it’s English name is ‘Encouragement of Climb’ xD).

Aoi (left) and Hinata on the train to Takao-san
Aoi (left) and Hinata on the train to Takao-san. Each episode of season 1 only lasts 5 mins, I highly recommend it for those who like moe-blob anime.

In the show, the main character Aoi is a wimpy little midget who doesn’t like to go outside much and prefers to do craft-related hobbies at home. Her friend Hinata wants her to break out of her shell and arranges a series of mountain climbing trips to make her more active. Towards the end of season 1, they arrive at Takao-san, a place for leisurely hikes where even babies like Aoi can climb. The great thing about this whole trip is that unlike other anime pilgrimages or holy sites (real life locations where anime are based and are visited by Otaku), the whole mountain rather than one little area is the visiting site. There are plenty more introduced in the anime and I plan on visiting the rest someday (even Mt. Fuji!). In fact, on my seventh day I go on another YnS related hiking trip. I think anime fans should join forces and claim all pilgrimage sites by invading them throughout the year mwahaha! Even Reina (Hibike Euphonium) thinks mountain climbing is cool..

"..no one else would be crazy enough to hike up a mountain on a festival day right?" ~ episode 8
“..no one else would be crazy enough to hike up a mountain on a festival day right?” ~ episode 8

So on with the actual trip!

We started out by heading to Shinjuku which, as expected was freakishly busy in the early morning. We planned to take the Keio line direct to Takaosanguchi Station 高尾山口駅. Unfortunately in our rush to dash on, we didn’t get the direct train (didn’t notice at the time) and had to make a switchover somewhere down the line. Luckily I paid attention to the monitors and announcements and we jumped off in nick-of-time to make it to the other platform.

At the station there is a large map of the different trails, and a path to the side that everyone walks down to go straight to the base of the mountain. There are a few quaint looking tea-houses along the way but unless you’re an old geezer you probably wont need to stop this early on. We shortly arrived at the junction between the cable-cars and the paths. Two of my sisters took the chairlift to go up halfway while my other sister and I took Trail 1.

0If there’s any advice I can give would-be trekkers, it’s to take it easy. You will get to the peak within an hour so there’s plenty of time unless you want to take multiple routes. It’s much easier to soak in the sights when you’re alone too mind you. Less talking = more breathing and concentrating. Also, on a 23 degree Celsius sunny day it was probably a good idea not to bring too much clothing  -_-‘

1I tell you now, Trail 1 is not easy. The climb to the cable-car checkpoint is tough and very steep at some points. I’m able to run 5 miles (8 kilometers) without stopping on a treadmill at the gym so I consider myself “not-unhealthy”. Even then I found this to be a bit challenging.  Bring proper running shoes ’cause you’re going to need that grip to resist gravity on the way up! My poor sister and I were sweating like hell – remember to bring tissues, drinks, and a bag to carry your litter in!

2I think we reached the (halfway) cable-car point after about 20 mins. At first we went at a steady pace. But I felt slightly embarrassed to be plodding side by side with an old age pensioner we kept meeting on the way up (who seemed pretty damn sturdy for his age!). I stubbornly refused to lose and walked with all my might. Despite all the sweating and breathlessness going on we still managed to appreciate the greenery around us, taking breaks from time to time. The trees surround the trail like a wall and grow strangely upright on mega slopey slopes. It’s a sight you can’t quite capture on camera because the depth doesn’t show through very well.

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I’ve never been more happy to see steps in my life! Trust me, they’re far better than climbing slopes!

At some point along the way we came across a rest point where the views of the surrounding area must have been stunning. Not that I could tell, being short sighted…

Top image, from anime Yama no Susume.
Top image, from anime Yama no Susume.

We finally met up with others, who lazed their way up on the ropes within minutes & started eating and chilling out (grumble). There’s a nice little food stall nearby selling cold drinks and dango at very reasonable prices. Dango are basically blobs of mochi skewered on a stick. They do not contain fillings whereas mochi do (for those of you who don’t know, mochi are super popular treats in Japan made by pounding sticky rice into a smooth paste with sugar and flavoring. It’s typically set in a ball shape and has a soft and bouncy, yet firm consistency. Something any weeb can try by going into the local Chinese supermarket). The kind owners of the stall will spread some miso paste on the dango for you, so don’t go grabbing one off the stand like a gaijin! (ahem)

Top image: the stall as seen in the Yama no Susume
Top image: the stall as seen in the Yama no Susume

The salty miso paste and the mild ricey flavor makes it a savory combination. An interesting experience but I do prefer a sweeter taste. In any case I scoffed it down all the same. Very yummy – hiking makes you freakin hungry. We had another short rest outside the Monkey Park where there are ice cream vending machines (passed, since I don’t like monkeys).

Top image from Yama no Susume. Bottom: half eaten dango, observation deck
Top image from Yama no Susume. Bottom: half eaten dango, observation deck

6.1On the way to the top we came across a souvenir stall. You might see a certain furry little bastard being sold here…watch the anime I keep blabbing on about, you’ll know what I mean 😉

7We continue on our way with it being easier now. The paths built with families in mind, making it suitable for old and young. You’ll notice many of the same spots that come across in the anime. I don’t cover them all in this post but the level of detail and accuracy is impressive.

Rubbing the octopus head...
Rubbing the octopus head…
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When my sister asked why we were racing up the steps I replied by saying “For the sake of NOT BEING OUTDONE BY GRANNIES!” – seriously, old people are too healthy in this country…

8.1From this point on to the peak we saw loads (I mean loads) of shrines and praying altars (including fountains to cleanse your hands & face, and to bless coins). Also, the more superstitious of you will be happy to find trinkets and charms at the souvenir stalls. It’s a nice and calming feeling to walk among the shrines (even without being religious). You know everyone around you is praying for things like peace and safety for their families. I’m sure Buddhists and most oriental families will enjoy a place like this.

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The red Tengu mask at the top right corner of the shrine makes an appearance in Yama no Susume too
The red Tengu mask at the top right corner of the shrine makes an appearance in Yama no Susume too

At the peak, there are yet more food stalls around to take advantage of your hunger and tiredness (also restrooms). It was just midday and not too busy. The view of surrounding landscape was very pretty. There are tourist boards and signs up and about with details on what mountains are where. And since it was a lovely clear day, we managed to spot Mount Fuji too (click on the image and see if you can find it…)

In the distance towards the right...
In the distance towards the right…

After a victory celebration, I parted ways with my sisters. They headed down Trail 4 past the suspension bridge and back to the cable-car point, whereas I stayed true to the anime path and took on the toughest route – Trail 6. Instead of going back down to the station though, the more adventurous of you might want to tackle the trek to Mount Jimba over 18km away! I initially planned to do this but realized it just wasn’t feasible. It takes approximately 6-7 hours depending on your level of fitness, and there is no guarantee you won’t get lost and miss the last bus service at the base of Mt. Jimba. Not to mention, you’ll be knicker-knackered for the rest of your stay in Japan!

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Trail 6 is perilous. The ground is uneven and many times winding, the steps are crooked and all paths are entwined with bumpy roots ready to send you over the edge when you’re not concentrating. I was so glad to be heading DOWNWARDS. I felt sorry for those guys going up thinking “where’s the peak?…how long is it going to take?…will it get easier towards the top?..”. Oh boy. The answer to that is “far away… ages…it gets painful” lol.

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Some paths are literally just wide enough for one person, so if you meet someone along the way you might have to wait to one side. You may come across groups of older men and women or single teenagers/young people. Be polite and say “konichiwa” (hello) as you overtake them – the anime will teach you! Had I been wearing slightly inappropriate shoes on a wet day, I could quite easily imagine myself slipping over the edge into oblivion, lost forever into the abyss. Which is the reason why statues of gods are dotted around the place in order to protect people from harm. So guys, if you are planning to visit, just don’t be stupid like me, prancing around like a mountain goat till I realized how dangerous it was. A couple of old men even shouted out to me “abunai!” (look out! danger!).

Buddhas dotted around the mountain to protect travelers. Or more likely - remind you not to be careless.
Buddhas dotted around the mountain to protect travelers. Or more likely – remind you not to be careless.

Tricky though the path may be, it is very well signed, so the chances of you getting lost are next to nil. If in doubt, just take a break and someone will come along at some point.

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The stone steps are nowhere near as smooth as portrayed in the anime, please bring good shoes

Towards the base of the mountain, I saw mostly single young men or young couples. All very polite. I even spotted a high school girl (trip complete!). The paths become wider and paved.

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The trek down took me roughly 1hr and something minutes at a steady speed. Trail 6 leads into the cable-car entrance (with restrooms and cold drinks) which in turn leads directly to the short street lined with souvenir stalls – so don’t forget to bring ya wallet. There’s toys, charms, local snacks and of course, mochi. You’ll notice a lot of the stuff here is tengu themed. These are mythological supernatural beings that look like a cross between man and bird with a long nose. Like Usop’s nose from One Piece. According to folklore, they live in mountains and are wise/ powerful with varying temperaments and do not usually like to come into contact with humans.

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And thus, concludes my trip to Mount Takao. Overall, it was very fun and relaxing. More so since I was able to identify things I saw from Yama no Susume. I would like to return here one day following a different trail and taking my sweet time.

Next stop. Ramen in Shinjuku!

Yokohamaya 横浜家 ramen in Shinjuku. I'll cover all ramen reviews in a separate post.
Yokohamaya 横浜家 ramen in Shinjuku. I’ll cover all ramen reviews in a separate post.

I spent most of my time in Shinjuku just window shopping in the department stores since I was too tired (& poor) to do anything else. The point was to kill some time before meeting up with my sisters for dinner later, and with the prices being extortionate near the station it’s not like I could really do much. To be honest, I don’t know much about Shinjuku, except that it has the most insanely busiest station in Japan and is home to a massive business district. In retrospect, I should have stayed longer in Mount Takao.

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After all that walking there was no place in the big city to sit my bum down. Space is precious, so for resting there is no choice but to eat somewhere. I ended up in a coffee shop inside the station, the name of which I can’t and don’t care to remember. All I know is that the smoking there was nasty enough to stifle most of my ability to taste. As you can probably tell, I don’t enjoy Shinjuku that much. The only thing that saved my sanity that afternoon was finding a Gamers store in some random building on some random street. The cool air conditioning, merchandise, anime, & anisongs calmed my soul ❤

No English menu by the way. Just point.
No English menu by the way. Just point.

At long last I headed for a grand meal at the restaurant Shinjuku Awaodori 新宿 阿波おどり which was relatively easy to find. It’s actually more of an izakaya – which is like a cross between a pub and a restaurant, serving alcohol and relatively cheap food. Places like these generally have a relaxed and chatty atmosphere where workers can wind down after a long hard day at work.

awatadori 1This place is unique in that it offers entertainment in the form of traditional Japanese dancing (Odori) on stage while you eat. To my pleasant surprise, the music was live, played with traditional instruments. The staff really do make an effort to involve all customers by speaking English and holding up translation signs in multiple languages. Diners were invited to go on stage to learn the dance and at one point, the whole floor was ordered to get up and parade around the venue in a silly dance, which I managed to avoid by filming the whole event – giggling at how ridiculous everyone looks! It’s all good fun though and nobody looks more idiotic than anyone else. The overall feel of the place is lively and light hearted. Even as a reserved person, I found the whole thing a blast  😀

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As for the food itself, all I remember is that it was nice. Especially the edamame beans.

foodWhen we eventually left, one of the staff passed us a freebie (a fan each) and politely saw us off with a bow. I guess we’re supposed to help promote the establishment, being foreigners an’ all. So here’s my recommendation for all it’s worth. They also sell souvenirs so stop by if you ever go to Shinjuku!

fanNext up: Day 4: Tachikawa

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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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.

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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

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.

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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