Waking up in a strange bed is a pretty unsettling moment.
Waking up in a strange bed in Tokyo when you’re not expecting it is really quite terrifying.
My morning started like that, with a bit of sheer “where the hell am I?” panic. It’s gotten better, though.
The flight to Tokyo, now that I’m fully aware of where I am and have spent a full day roaming the city, was pretty decent. I’m getting used to the process: I get up godawful early to make a plane, spend an hour or two getting to Seattle or San Francisco, spend several hours reflecting on Douglas Adam’s “It is no coincidence that no language on earth has ever created the phrase “Pretty as an airport””, and then spend 9 to 11 hours on another plane slowly grinding its way across the Pacific.
It’s important to get on the plane and fall asleep pretty much immediately; this makes it so you’re almost on Tokyo time when you get there.
Just as I’m getting used to the flight, Japan seems to be getting used to me. The customs inspector flipped through my passport, commented on the multiple entry visas, and wished me a friendly “welcome back”, the front desk guy at the hotel thanked me for returning and didn’t even ask if I needed help finding the room.
The JR pass I bought for this trip is turning out to have been an awesome investment, by the way. It means slight delays at every station – I have to use the single manned ticket gate and can’t whip through the automatic turnstiles with my Suica – but it’s saved me Y5000 at least in train fare so far, and I got to take the Narita Express in from the airport instead of the slow train.
Getting to the hotel around 6PM last night, I had the bright idea of trying to go out and do stuff; this might have been a good idea if I hadn’t also squeezed in a much-needed bath and change of clothes. By the time I got to Ikebukuro, it was after 8PM and places were starting to shut down. I grabbed a chicken curry rice omelet and trudged back to the hotel to get some rest.
This morning started with the aforementioned moment of sheer terror, and as also aforementioned it got better.
First, I went off to Ginza to visit the Sony Building, which was full of shiny things I could not buy. The few things they DO offer for sale in their store there are all “overseas” versions – basically the same stuff I could get at a Sony store in the US. Very disappointing from a buy-stuff perspective, less disappointing from a “wow, neat shiny things” perspective. I got to watch a terribly perky saleswoman demonstrate a Rolly, and I am befuddled as to its popularity.
Then I went back to Ikebukuro, where all the stores were open, and hit up the Uniqlo for a bunch of T-shirts. Damnit, I put in an awful lot of effort to get myself down to the weight where I COULD wear a Japanese XL size, I’m going to buy some shirts. Uniqlo has a cool thing going where they have shirts based on Shonen Jump manga, so I wound up with a lot of shirts.
I thought about going into the Ikebukuro Animate, but then I walked over to the street it’s on.
The girls have taken over. That is to say, that part of town has been Otome Road for a while now, but when I was there a year ago, it was at least partially boy-themed stores mixed in with the girl-oriented stores.
It’s all BL and yaoi now, and the hordes of teenage Japanese girls crowding into the shops were, well, they were a MULTITUDE. Saturday being a school half-day, most of them were wearing their uniforms; this would have been a fantasy-fulfilling vision if it weren’t for, well, knowing what they were there to buy.
I made a quick exit. I’m all for equality in access to naughty manga, but actually seeing equality in action was more than a little intimidating.
I did get a cool sticker in Tokyu Hands. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually put it on anything, though. Nobody’s likely to be able to read it, and constantly having to explain what it says would take the humor right out of it.
So, Ginza and Ikebukuro visited, it was off to the first of Japan’s Three Holy Places: Akihabara.
My eternally suffering wife puts up with an awful lot, and her husband trotting halfway around the world to the Land of Fanboy Temptation is just one of the things she has to deal with. Her exact words were “don’t buy too many gadgets”, and my reply was “I won’t buy TOO MANY gadgets.”
I intended to buy one of the Crimson Red PSPs I saw on Kotaku a few months ago, and it turns out that this was surprisingly difficult, even in Akihabara.
Put this way: I saw multiple “Crisis Core” PSPs for sale, and that was a famously limited edition. I didn’t see a single red PSP.
The Crisis Core PSPs were in the $300 range. Presumably the red ones, if they could be found, would be that much or more. That’s a lot just to get another PSP. I was half thinking that I might be able to get out of Akihabara without breaking the bank.
Then I thought to myself “Hey, the hotel has free internet access and an ethernet jack in every room. Wouldn’t it be cool to pick up a cheap used laptop and blog from Japan?”
Used laptops are pretty available and pretty cheap in Akihabara; if you don’t mind that they have no warranty whatsoever and are probably going to have a completely dead battery, you can pick one up for under $200. It was looking like I’d had a pretty good idea.
Then I walked by a display for the Asus EEE, and, well, I was lost. I hadn’t gotten a chance to use one in person before, so I hadn’t gotten to see how cute it was and how surprisingly decent the keyboard and touchpad were.
I wound up dropping roughly $400 on the EEE. At least it runs Windows XP home and they include a USB optical mouse and 4GB SDHC card in that price, a US machine for the same amount comes with Linux and no accessories.
Oh, and they offer it in pink, but the last shreds of my manhood surfaced just in time to make me buy a white one.
I wanted to pay a return visit to Mai:lish, a maid cafe in Akihabara that’s remarkably foreigner-friendly, but they had a heck of a queue to get in.
I wound up, instead, at Cafe With Cat, the nekomimi-maid-themed restaurant in Comic Toranoana. Perv factor: very high. Food (I had beef curry): Not bad.
They serve it with your rice molded into the shape of a valentine heart, which I would call a touch over the top if it weren’t being served by a girl in a frilly maid outfit with cat ears. Really, once you’re there, there’s no more “over the top” to go to.
No pictures of the staff, sorry. You’ll just have to go there for the experience.
Oh, both Comic Toranoana AND the Akihabara Mandarake are pretty much given over to the girl themed doujinshi. So you have this male-fantasy-fulfillment cafe on the second floor of a building that mostly caters to girls now. It’s a little odd.
On the way out of Toranoana and headed back to the station, I realized that the crowd on the sidewalk was considerably heavier than normal, and then I realized that I was approaching the memorial that’s been set up for the victims of last weekend’s… I don’t know what to call it. Tragedy? That’s an over-used word. Sheer damned craziness is a better term; the whole thing is so non-Japanese that it doesn’t seem possible.
The memorial is a huge mound of bouquets and the crowd of people stopping to offer prayers is pretty intense, made the more so because the nearby shops seem to have considerably turned down the volume out of respect; it’s a small area of quiet and contemplation in the middle of the neon hurricane that is Akihabara.
I didn’t expect to walk past it and doing so shook me up a little. It’s not enough to make me feel unsafe here; this is still Japan after all, but I hope it stops here and that nobody decides to go copycat.
OK, serious moment over. Tomorrow I’m going to take full advantage of this JR pass and head off in the direction of Japan’s SECOND Holy Place: Osu in Nagoya. The shinkansen northbound is still out of service from this morning’s earthquake, but I’m assured that southbound is running just fine.