Japan Day 15: Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Nakano Broadway

Tokyo is a mecca of shopping districts, divided by subway and train lines, thrown up around major stations and sprawling like monstrous octopod extensions of the skyscrapers that house them. In an effort to find everything you seek, you may tromp back and forth, up stairs and down escelators, through the metro and across the Chuo and Yamanote lines…

So here I will give you a comparison of the super-meccas of anime/video games, because everyone has heard of Akihabara, but perhaps you have not seen or heard of Ikebukuro or Nakano Broadway–and both of those may prove more interesting and fruitful in your search.

We shall start with Akihabara, which I have covered in part on a previous post, but I’ll touch on it briefly here.

Akihabara is a major stop on the Yamanote line. It is home to Electric Town, and if you walk out of the JR Station from the Gundam Cafe side, you will see before you staggering towers with Sega, Apple, Sony etc on them. If you walk out past the Gundam Cafe you’ll find the seedy electric flea market area off a distance to your right. The area is filled with bins and shelves crammed with electric devices that might be of value to someone. Many older computer parts and lots of shops with $100 laptops that probably weren’t more than $250 new. Buyer beware, because even the cheap stuff will garner a profit. If you want cheap cables, I advise trying Amazon (if you have a Prime subscription) rather than surfing through these bins. But you might find rare camera parts, and patience will net you some interesting treasures.

Aside from this, Akihabara houses at least a dozen shops at ground level (and more higher up) that are exclusively dedicated to figures and “character goods” and cards. In Akihabara you can find a lot of the most current and popular animes and games. And that’s just about it. If it’s not One Piece or Gundam you aren’t likely to find anything older than the last couple of years. Even Sailor Moon is only around because of the reboot they’re releasing, and you can’t find much Final Fantasy or anything else around. Lots of Jpop stuff, though. The shops are fairly well split into appealing to “girls” and appealing to “boys.” And maid cafes are everywhere. Almost every building has two or three. I reviewed Queen Dolce in my last post about Akihabara, but most of the cafes target guys and involve girls in costumes serving drinks. A large and popular cafe is inside the building right in front of the station.

Akihabara is the place to spot lolitas, the place to wander around and be ignored by the cool kids. It’s the popular anime destination, but also a madhouse of teenagers, especially on the weekends.

Move on to Ikebukuro, a major stop on the Yamanote line.

Most people don’t realize that Ikebukuro hosts any anime shops at all. It has lots of big shopping right outside the station, and is also home to Sunshine City, a big shopping mall with absolutely zero geek merchandise. But it does have a large Tokyu Hands (DIY for geeks of all types, really). And if you walk straight out from the station and past the Sega sign for a crane game arcade, you’ll find the largest An!mate store in Japan (and arguably the largest anime store in the world). THIS location has a floor dedicated to each kind of interesting shopping, from the bottom floor with series snacks, to the 4th floor with doujinshi, to floor 5 with figures and keychains and everything else series related (and Kingdom Hearts/Ghibli/Final Fantasy goods galore) all the way up to the 8th floor. If that wasn’t enough, the “old” An!mate store around the corner and down a couple of blocks now houses 5 stories of cosplay goods. They only have full costumes from newer series, but loads of wigs, makeup, accessories, etc.

Dispersed between An!mate the new and An!mate the old are a series of KBooks satellite stores. Rather than renting 9 stories of a building, they have 9 main-floor shops that split out each category including CDs/DVDs, figures, character goods (like pillows,   folders, etc), manga, doujinshi, etc. And right next to the old An!mate is a store called Mandarake, with its largest Doujinshi supply (and some CDs/DVDs in the back). This place buys/sells doujinshi new and used, and loads of their titles are available for only 200jpy/ea. They are by far the cheapest supplier we’ve found.

Now, move on to Nakano Broadway, which is a very quick jump from Shinjuku Station if you grab the red Chuo Rapid toward Nakano. Walk straight out from the exit (south side I believe, turn right from the JR platforms) and you will see an arcade archway. Just walk to the end of that archway (passing a used game store on your left) and you’ll find Nakano Broadway. There are anime stores on every floor, but the best stores are on floors 2 and 3. Be careful, though, because the escalator in front of you will take you right to the third floor.

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Now there are also some cheap clothing stores and other things around here, so it’s a good place for bargain shopping. The stores tend to be a little dusty, and there are antique shops studded throughout. In the very center of this mostly-geek mall is a super high end watch shop. Weird.

If you’re looking for the new stuff, this isn’t the place to search. But inside you will find a vintage movie poster shop, something like 8 Mandarake satellites catering to doujinshi, figures, games, DVDs/CDs, character goods etc. Loads of Mario and Disney goods (some made in Japan, lots of Disney imported back from the U.S.). Lots and LOTS of toys. You have to search the whole place to find the right bargain, but there are also several suppliers of antique robots and things of that nature. An entire store dedicated to Kaiju (Godzilla).

The storefront of the branch of Mandarake that is filled with expensive antique robots–it might as well be a museum.

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And an awesome ice cream shop.

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But it’s not all innocent, because this vending machine next to the ice cream shop vends *coughcough* panties and vagina-shaped sheaths. Yes, really.

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But then all the doujinshi…

 

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There is a super cool game store on the third floor filled with games older than my parents maybe, and gold copies of everything. They have more reasonably priced vintage games in the back, but everything in the front case is at least $60, and more likely $250.

There’s also a big cell and drawing auction store up on the 4th floor, with some neat stuff from Full Metal Alchemist among others.

Nakano Broadway does have a few downfalls–aside from the fact that most of what it carries is not totally new, some of the shop owners are not overly fond of foreigners. But even in the late afternoon it was much less crowded than Akihabara or Ikebukuro, so we could mostly shop in peace. That’s definitely an improvement.

Oh, and there’s this place called Uogashi Nihonichi down in the arcade (it’s a chain). It’s a standing sushi bar, and one of the best sushi experiences I’ve ever had–the prices are really good too. Give it a try.

Tomorrow I’ll cover Shinjuku in its entirety, as well as our experiences in a wholesale kimono shop.

Japan Day 14: Matsumoto Castle

Our host family brought out a book with beautiful pictures of an ancient Japanese castle that is still standing and in good shape. Matsumoto Castle is a National Treasure of Japan, and located in the Nagano prefecture. Since this was our last day for our JR passes, we decided to go.

The direct line train between Shinjuku Station and the Matsumoto station only leaves once an hour, on the hour, from (currently) track 9. The train takes just over 2.5 hours and is the most direct route.

A long ride…

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So that means it took us about 3 hours to get there, and since we missed the 10am direct, we had to catch the 11am. Around 1:40PM we finally pull into Matsumoto station.

The walk from Matsumoto station isn’t far. It’s about ten minutes, and very well marked with big signs and arrows. There are a few nice things along the way, like this clock:

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These carp over the river:

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A frog samurai riding a frog mount:

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Another clock:

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And my favorite, an old temple that has been converted to an antique book shop.

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We finally reached the castle and turned over 610jpy/ea to get inside. And what a splendid sight it cast with a sprawling moat and stony foundation lifting it high above the water.

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We walked through the grounds, snapping photos of the sakura blossoms along with the throngs of other tourists–many of them speaking German, French, or other Western European languages.

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Aubri’s only behaving for about the next two minutes.

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We got stamps on the backs of our tickets…

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The castle with sakura.

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And then we went on to the castle itself. Matsumoto Castle is darker than most castles in Japan, and so is nicknamed the “Crow Castle.” The castle was built and then expanded upon from 1504-1590ish. Because of the time period it was built in, it has both archer openings and rifle marksman openings in the walls.

As we entered, we had to put our shoes in bags that we carried with us.

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Rifle holes are more square.

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Arrow holes are longer rectangles. Either way the holes are smaller on the outside and have thin wires spanning them, also to discourage outside objects from coming in.

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A little about that you can’t read because it’s a tiny photo…

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An old painting of the grounds.

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Building materials.

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The view from the second floor arrow holes.

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Pulling Aubri up the stairs.

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The next flight up. The bamboo hand rails are a new addition, but basically as the stairs climb they get more steep and narrow, to discourage intruders.

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Aubri as an archer.

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Climbing the stairs to the third level.

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There are dozens of firearms from the 16th, 17th and 18th century on display throughout the castle. Some of them are really beautiful and would make great reference for a non-Western Steampunk.

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Also body armor.

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I love the six-revolver in the top right, so big.

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At the top of the tower the windows face East, West, North and South. The castle is six levels high but only five can be seen from outside.

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A view from the North window.

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And the East window.

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Tired and ready to head down.

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Running around at the top causing trouble.

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Another view from the arrow holes.

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So we hauled Aubri down all the stairs, trying not to bowl anyone else over in the process.

An adorable kimono on the way back to the station!

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We grabbed more sakura ice cream and a sakura sweet roll that had sweetened potato in the middle. Yum.

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They can’t speak English but try it!

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The view from Matsumoto station. I got to see this like four times…

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We got back to the station at about 4:30 and caught the train at 4:58 after buying a few quick snacks from the Newdays shop in the station (large convenience/souvenir shop chain in some stations). About 25 minutes into the ride, Jamie realized that she had left her glasses at the station when she changed into contacts. So we hopped off at the next stop, waited 15 minutes for a return train back, rode 25 minutes back to the station, spent another 20 minutes locating the lost and found and getting her glasses, and discovered that the next train back wasn’t for another 35 minutes (now at 6:35pm).

Fortunately they had a coloring book and colored pencils at a book shop in the station, to occupy Aubri (whose ipod battery was dead). Unfortunately we didn’t buy her any more snacks. So the 2.5 hour ride back to Shinjuku was probably the most miserable train ride yet. And since it was so late, everyone else was trying to sleep…

We caved and got her a cheeseburger at McDonalds at Shinjuku station before stacking on the last two rides back to get home.

So, that was our entire day. And we missed the good dinner, alas. But the castle was very cool and its weapons collection is worth a visit for the firearms enthusiast. They have English guides too, but they were out when we were there.

Tomorrow: Ikebukuro (yes, again), Nakana Broadway and Shibuya.

Japan Day 13: Tokyo Disney Sea

So we decided to go to Tokyo Disney Sea on Monday rather than the weekend. The weather predicted a small chance of rain and partly cloudy, so I had to coax Jamie to go on this day. Aubri also didn’t want to wake up.

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After much coaxing and repeated reminders that she would get to see mermaids, she was finally ready to go.

It’s about a 20 minute train ride from Tokyo station to the park station at Maihama station. Then it’s another about 10 minute walk to the gates. The entire walk is neatly trimmed and beautiful, though, so we suffered willingly.

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Once at the gate, it was 6400jpy/ea for the adults (about $64 right now) and anyone 4 and under is free. Before you choke at that price, realize that as of this writing Disneyland in California is $86/ea for ages 3-9 and $92/ea for ages 10+. Yikes! Now, Disneyland/Disney Sea is technically licensed to the company who runs them, but not actively run by Disney themselves. I’m not sure about the Disneyland side, but I imagine that’s why only older characters are present on the Disney Sea side.

But on to the park.

From the moment we stepped foot inside, the wonder for Aubri began.

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This place has a big map with lots of zones, so we just folded up the map and started walking. If you take a right from the entrance, you’ll walk through a big open walkway and step into the Shipwreck and Castle area (Noted as Fortress Explorations on the map).

I should note that even right here, everything has both ramp and elevator access. The entire park is super easy for both strollers and wheelchairs.

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So we let Aubri go and explore…

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These canons really fired with a little blast of smoke (after a long loading noise) when you tugged the fuse.

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Heading up to the castle portion…

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And then she found this…

 

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This awesome tucked-away play area has a contained weather system with ships. For 100jpy/play (which lasts several minutes) you can steer boats through rain, storms, whirlpools, dangerous straits, and other hazards. It’s super fun and I had to drag Jamie and Aubri both away from it…

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The inside of this castle is done up as though it belonged to a secret society of explorers.

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It has a whole scavenger/clue finding game you can play throughout the castle to “Crack DaVinci’s Code,” but we felt that Aubri wouldn’t have the attention span for that. So we reluctantly moved on from the fortress and found ourselves in the Mysterious Island area. This is about the time we started realizing just how great the attention to detail is here. Every inch of the entire place is not only themed but segmented by zone, down to the lamps totally changing styles. And every single ride has its own style of costume, in addition to each zone having different costumes.

We’ve been to Disneyland California several times, and this totally takes the cake.

So in Mysterious Island we had our first batch of Sea Salt ice cream. We were a little disappointed that it didn’t come in blue on sticks, but it was very tasty (310jpy for ice cream, so around $3).

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Then Jamie and I grabbed Fastpasses for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and we moved on to occupy Aubri for a while.

Now, something we didn’t realize about until later (but would be very handy to use) is the fact that they have “Baby Ride Cards.” Basically, you both fast pass and then ask for the ride card. The first person gives the card to the second person when they come out, and that second person gets to go up the exit line and ride basically immediately. No second fastpass wait. Pretty cool.

We grabbed a sausage bun (basically gyoza meat inside a fluffy steamed bun, 430jpy ea):

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And then moved on to the Mermaid Lagoon area.

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Now, the Mermaid Lagoon has an outdoor area with several rides (all kid themed, but one is a mini-roller coaster which only ages 3 and up can ride), and then it has an additional area “Triton’s Kingdom” that has more rides inside, is dark like the deep sea, and has a giant play area and a stage.

So we rode some rides, all with virtually no wait because the park wasn’t that crowded:

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And then we went inside.

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We rode the Jellyfish ride and then I sent Jamie to go ride on the first Fastpass while I rode with Aubri.

We rode this Blowfish ride…

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And then the “Kelp cups (Teacups)”

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Then played with some lights on the floor…

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And then we found Ariel’s Playground.

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In Ariel’s Grotto

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Climbing through a dark tunnel of evil squids

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And then Jamie found us in the play area and I tapped out to go ride. The Journey to the Center of the Earth is fun, and the detail even in all the displays leading up to the ride is pretty cool. Alas, I left the camera with Jamie. It took me about 20 minutes to get out to the ride, get through the Fastpass line, ride and get back.

Then we rode the blowfish again.

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And it was time for lunch. We ordered the chicken and salsa set lunch for 1080jpy and the scallop sandwich set plate for 960jpy.

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While I found the apple tea soda weird, the sandwiches weren’t bad. The scallop sandwich is mashed scallop fried into breading. Overall filling enough for roughly $20.

There was a show coming up at 2 that we wanted to see, so we packed Aubri into the stroller and headed out to grab a fast pass first. We grabbed a Stormrider Fastpass from Port Discovery since it’s a quick walk from the Mermaid Lagoon. Naturally Aubri passed out just before the show started, and slept through the entire show:

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They had dragon-styled jet skis and they were flying kites from them…

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So we watched the show and she slept on. Then we headed back toward Port Discovery and Lost River Delta. In Port Discovery we stumbled across a Japanese Steampunk Brass Band. Seriously:

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They were really fun to watch, but they woke Aubri up (of course). So we took her grumpy self over to take a picture with the Goofy Inventor.

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And then it was time to go see the show at the Hangar Stage in Lost Delta. Along the way we saw some plane wrecks:

I love that this plane is called C-3PO.

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The stage was too dark to take pictures, but the show is basically this story of the various element spirits. Lots of cool special effects and great acrobatics, definitely a great surprise. We felt like we’d just watched a small segment of a Cirque du Soleil show.

Afterwards we left to go ride Storm Rider, which is a virtual reality storm chaser ride. It’s fun, but Aubri had to sit in her own seat so she got a little nervous (we also had to tell them she was 3 *koffkoff* because she is over 90cm tall and thus tall enough to ride).

But then we grabbed a Fastpass for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. We moved on to the Arabian Coast, and the Flying Carpets, to kill time.

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We also had time to run through Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, which is exactly the same ride as Pirates of the Caribbean, but set in the desert with camels. Aubri enjoyed it. The paint jobs are a little newer, for sure…

So we headed to go ride the Indiana Jones ride, and found out about the baby ride cards. So Jamie rode first while I entertained Aubri by the sales carts. So far she’d been a totally awesome well-behaved kid. Naturally I was about to change that.

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The Indiana Jones ride was exactly like the one in California too, except that the model did look older (Harrison Ford ages!).

We caught sight of the full moon rising over Jasmine’s Palace:

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And decided we had time to ride the carousel before we needed to head back toward the front of the park (to catch the big show, Fantasmic).

So we jumped onto an elephant and a purple genie…

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Snapped a picture under the watchful eye of another Genie…

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Ran off to the front of the park (Mediterranean Harbor) to find Aubri a souvenir and grab a snack before the show. It was only about 6:40pm and people were already laying claim to real estate, so we tried to hurry. We did find Aubri a cool hoodie as her souvenir, and then grabbed a Mickey snack:

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And then we found ourselves a patch of the side street on the bridge to watch the show. Our view was pretty good. The show was similar to Fantasmagoria in Disneyland, but with some character variation and a lot of extra frill dancing.

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After the show (for which Aubri was enthralled), we joined the throngs of people rushing back. It was a little after 8:30, and with the walk and the trains we didn’t get back to our host family’s house until just after 10pm. But I would say the trip to Disney Sea was totally worth it, and probably the best experience I’ve had at a theme park. There was stroller parking available at every ride, the only line frustration we had was the swarming of characters (ignoring lines etc), and Aubri was even a little rockstar. High five, Japan Disney.

Tomorrow’s post… Matsumodo Castle in Nagano Prefecture.

Japan Days 11 and 12: Ikebukuro and Akihabara

I’m going to combine some days of exploration (mainly places like Akihabara and Ikebukuro) because it’s difficult to separate them.

First there was breakfast at the host family’s house.

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And then waiting for the bus.

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We started with Ikebukuro, and we were there early but on Saturday morning–and that was our first mistake. There were huge crowds everywhere, of the teenaged variety.

But at least they lock their smokers together in cages:

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It’s a forward thinking place with loads of American food…

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Ikebukuro houses Sunshine 60, a huge shopping complex with 60 floors. The 60th floor is a 360 degree observatory area that you can pay to look out from. But the elevator…it’s the Shinkansen of elevators. Our ears popped as we rode it!

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Aubri was asleep, so we didn’t actually go out on the observation deck. We just rode up and down.

Once back down, we set out to the task for which we were in Ikebukuro…the giant An!mate store that is possibly the largest anime store in the world, and also a couple of manga stores specializing in doujinshi (fan drawn manga).

From An!mate we acquired a huge headache, two hours of losing each other, and a couple of boxes of Final Fantasy Creatures. I got Alexander. Twice. The FFVIII version and the FFXIII version. Seriously.

It took us a bit of wandering, but we finally found Mandarake, our favorite store. It’s actually just a few doors down from the old location of the An!mate store, but it’s hard to locate because it’s inside a basement floor reached only by a deep winding staircase. Seriously. We spent a good amount of time perusing, but we could barely breath inside because of all the teenaged girls. They have lots of quality items from 200jpy, though, and by far it’s the cheapest place to go.

Nearby is KBooks, but we were afraid to venture in with the crowd. We DID make it to An!mate (the big one), though.

Nearby, a few quirky signs:

(RolePlaying Cafe)

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(Japanese Grumpy Cat Cafe)

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And Aubri met some mascots:

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We had some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, but Jamie and Aubri weren’t impressed by the selection. The place we will go later, in Minami-Senju station, is much less expensive and much tastier.

We also passed some BakudanYaki!

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After sheer exhaustion settled into our feet, we headed back home for the night. The next day we ventured out into Akihabara…which might seem like madness on a Sunday (and actually is, if you think about it). Akihabara is home to Electric Town, a place where you can find parts and gadgets for maybe less than they would be normally. It’s like Made In China Ebay, but at a flea market. But Akihabara also is internationally famous for all the anime shops.

On Sunday they close some of the streets to cars so that only pedestrians can cross. The result is a swirling vortex of mostly non-Japanese Otaku mixed with lots of Lolitas and other craziness… All concentrated in a 6 block by 6 block radius.

The last time we were here we got REALLY lost looking for a host club targeted toward girls called Queen Dolce. This time we found Queen Dolce while looking for a used cosplay store called Jupiter.

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Jupiter was OK, but very creepy and packed with almost strictly obscure female costumes (not just for women, but female characters). Add to it the very creepy old guy working there who looked pretty annoyed to be seeing us, and it wasn’t someplace I would recommend for the sewing disinclined.

However, beneath it is a collector store with old figures and sets. I got the Secret of Mana for PS1 collector set (sans the game, alas) for 300jpy. The figures and music box are cool.

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We wandered into a department store afterward and found these essential convention survival kits:

Also this was in the window of an Adult Shop, being advertised as extra sexy. Wait, what?

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Oh, and this thing…

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We went inside virtually every anime and hobby store in this 6 block radius, seeking Final Fantasy action figures among other things. We finally found *one* Lightning from Lightning Returns, and wound up acquiring it. I probably could have paid the same $80 (7910 yen, to be precise) on Amazon, but I can’t tell if the one they carry is the big size.

I also picked up a couple more Final Fantasy Creatures packs. I got the Bomb and another Alexander, alas.

Aubri decided we needed more pictures of her…
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We found a duck while wandering around the Electric Town area looking for friends…

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Gave up on the friends and went back to Queen Dolce (which doesn’t open until 4pm). Basically it’s a small, quiet little place where the girls wear men’s clothes and talk in their version of deep voices instead of high pitched “cute” voices. To be in the cafe you have to buy at least a drink an hour. We ordered their “original blend” tea and a caramel latte, as well as waffles with ice cream.

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Aubri proceeded to adopt one of them and ran her ragged for the next 50 minutes or so. It was adorable, and we talked her into letting us take a picture (normally not allowed)

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We trudged back toward the station, feet aching. Aubri wanted another cameo.

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We found a “Victorian pub”

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And then we stopped by the Gundam Cafe on our way out.

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Fist bump the Gundam…

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Had to get a Gundam-shaped taiyaki of course.

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And then it was time to go home…seriously. And for the next day: Tokyo Disney Sea!

 

 

 

Japan Day 10: Tokyo Pt. 1

As I mentioned yesterday, we decided to forgo Karuizawa and go straight on to Tokyo to meet up with our host family.

We had a delicious breakfast first at the ryokan in Hakone.

This egg was cooked in the onsen water:

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Those braziers are filled with delicious miso. Aubri ate half of mine and spilled a bunch more all over both of us.

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Aubri’s “favor” is the crunchy seaweed.

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It’s a 15 minute walk and then a 14 minute rail car ride to get to Odawara, and along the way we found this crazy machine.

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It makes tiny pancakes filled with white bean paste, and we bought a fresh hot one to try. Very tasty.

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Odawara is where shinkansen to Tokyo  take about 45 minutes. We hopped on, but not before getting Aubri a Qoo because the kid loves this stuff and can spot the bottle in a vending machine at 60 paces.

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She also showed off her cute a bit. It was pretty heartwarming. She sat down and said “Aubri have two moms. A mommie and a momma!” Snuggles ensued.

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So we finally made it back to the more familiar Tokyo station. This is not the largest station in Tokyo by far, but it is closer to our host family’s house than the big Shinjuku.

We found some smelly earrings while we were there.

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So we went from Tokyo station to Ueno and hopped a short subway from there to get over to the Minowa area where our host family lives. Tokyo Sky Tower is our landmark star to guide ‘er by:

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We’re here!

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So Hiro-San found Rapunzel on TV and Aubri basically checked out of reality for the entire length of the movie. I had to go grab us lunch from 7-11 because she refused to budge.

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But then we finally got to Asakusa. In Tokyo everything is divided by town areas, in a much more extensive way than the Denver Metro area. Clothing styles and even some food styles are totally different between districts, as though each little suburb pod is its own town.

Asakusa is a pretty touristy location now but used to be the “old style” part of town. It is fun to wander around though.

We found a puffer fish restaurant where dinner is 6,000jpy/plate ($60). Not the deadly puffer fish then.

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This guy was doing some sort of a promotion and his handler offered to take a picture of all of us:

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Aubri  put her hands in those of the stars at the Asakusa version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

We ran into the entire Team Deutschland Gerban Futball team? Jamie thought she heard them say they’re an American-style football team though…
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And then Aubri met this dog.

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His owner had him so well trained that he handed the leash to Aubri and she walked him for a bit.

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We took a few pictures of the Gate of Thunder and Wind Gods before heading back.

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And of course we got some ice cream (maron flavor? Macaroon we think maybe?)

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And then we saw this crazy contraption on the way back. It looks like a Steampunk music-making bicycle.

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And there were blossoms on the way.

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Aubri was happy to settle in for a delicious dinner.

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Tomorrow we will hit Akihabara and there is a kimono parade in Asakusa, so we should have great pictures.

 

Japan Day 9: Kawaguchiko and Hakone

We were in Kawaguchiko to see Fuji and Sakura Blossoms. Unfortunately, the blossoms were still mostly buds. But we did get a few good views of Fuji:

Early from our window.

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Earl grey bread

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Aubri found a minion…err, friend…

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And blue rose ice cream…

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Distance from Kawaguchiko to Hakone: 57km.
Four buses and six hours later, we finally arrive at Hakone-Yumoto.

We took more pictures through the window of some of the trains, thus straining our necks and distracting us from the long ride.

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So we finally made it to Hakone and had to walk for a while to find our hotel. It’s an attractive ryokan with an onsen, so there will be a nice bath before bed. But first we drop off our stuff, get directions, and head for the Open Air Museum.

I should add at this point that it would’ve been prudent for us to buy a Hakone Freepass, but I could never figure out where to get them. They cost 4000jpy/ea for adults, but cover unlimited rail/bus/whatever rides in the Hakone area for two days. It would’ve saved me a bit if we’d done anything else except the Open Air Museum.

A 30 minute 720-yen rail ride later, we arrived at the museum.

We came here so that Aubri could play on the structures, really.

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A low-hanging tree.

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Playing with her new best friend.

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Wiped out from all the play.

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So then we were all exhausted. We took the rail back, found some curry at 7-11 and asked the hotel to heat it up for us. And then we had a bath and collapsed with exhaustion.

Unfortunately with the timing, we didn’t get to go to the Valley of Hell (/boiling valley) because it’s apparently in a different area of Hakone. We’re going to pick up the black eggs this morning as a snack anyway.

We’ve also decided to skip Karuizawa, even though I had a reservation. Our host family was kind enough to extend us so we added an early day. We’ve had enough of 4-6 hour train rides each day. So next stop: Tokyo!

Japan Day 8: Kyoto Pt 2, Kawaguchiko, and Tips and Tricks Pt 2

Let me start by saying that Aubri and all the middle school girls are exactly like this with each other.

Once again the hotel’s wifi has emotional challenges, and so I am forced to update late. My tips and tricks today will go at the end.

Naturally we had breakfast at the hotel this morning.

First, part 2 of Kyoto would have been in the Gion area with the geisha-in-training. However, the comical and unavoidable side effect of two adult women traveling together for the better part of a month means that we were scrambling to find a store with appropriate supplies. Japanese drug stores carry an entire wall of “feminine napkins” and exactly three boxes of tampons, apparently. We also needed Excedrin because yeah. After that we just decided to wander Nishiki Market for a while again, this time with more of the shops open because it was later in the day.

And so we had Starbucks at the loveliest Starbucks ever.

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Then we passed by an “Irish Pub” serving ramen and curry with their Guinness. I think it’d go over well.

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We passed a one-tent Farmer’s Market.

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Discovered the Making Of Matcha Mochi.

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Found a Sock Merchant.

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This might be why Lesbians like sushi… wait, what?

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And a copper pot and Japanese knife store where everything costs more than your mortgage payment.

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This is an “Italian” restaurant.

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We thought about re-importing the “USA Cotton” but decided the slices of cloth were too small.

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Also a metal mesh gorilla.

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And a Fine Upstanding Tea House.

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A brief break…

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A quick sushi bite…

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And a moment of home.

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Then Aubri ate all of my macadamia nut ice cream, we grabbed a bite of cheesecake (literally), hopped the first shinkansen and headed out.

We spent much of the day traveling again, and let me tell you that for future reference I would avoid coming to Kawaguchiko. We had to ride a shinkansen to Mishima, then hop a rail for one stop, then another rail to Gotemba, then take an over-an-hour-ride city bus that cost 1510jpy/ea to finally arrive in the only travel center where the employee(s) were rude to Jamie when she asked for directions to the hotel. To the point where when I found the note from the hotel saying “call us to send a car!” and Jamie went back to the desk to ask the lady to call them, she said “No! Taxi!” It was like talking to a desk clerk in America. Awkward reverse culture shock!

The udon in the place was pretty good though.

The hotel picked us up and this hotel (Kawaguchiko Hotel) is kinda old and decrepit. It wants to be a beautiful classy ryokan and is instead a gross 60s or 70s hotel with almost no updates and all smelly and weird. Even the items for guests to use are worn. Again, weird for what we’ve experienced in Japan before. It IS right on the lake, but I can’t imagine ever using that hard lump of foam pillow again. Also this is the first place they’ve had combo shampoo/conditioner instead of separate, so I’m going to shower tomorrow…
Fortunately they do have a nice public bath though. With a view. Open 24 hours.

So, on to today’s tricks. These aren’t actually numbered in order of importance.

  1. There’s this website called Hyperdia.com that will let you plan point to point (by station name) destinations in Japan. But you need to know a few things about it—for example, that it plans based on your departure time as its highest priority. So it may tell you that your only option is a Nozomi (most expensive train and not covered by JR pass), but you can tweak the checkboxes to get it down to what you want.
  2. There are tons of local airports all over Japan. Be smarter than me and use them.
  3. The Japanese are very confused by the concept of sharing, but they also serve up pretty large portions (at least to American tourists). So a lot of things are really shareable.
  4. Travel light because you will be lugging your bags everywhere. Plan at least one hotel that says it has a coin laundry.
  5. In order to travel light, realize that basically every hotel provides not just shampoo/conditioner (most of it better quality than anything at a hotel in America), but they will also give you a toothbrush and toothpaste, razor, qtips etc. Make your own judgment call on how much you can use as a disposable. We bring our toothbrushes but leave shampoo/conditioner/razors at home.
  6. Some weird phrasing that makes booking hotels complicated: “Twin” means two small beds. “Double” means one double wide bed (which is actually maybe the width of a “full” bed in America but certainly not the length). A Semidouble might mean you have an almost double bed or a wide bed and a skinny bed depending on the hotel. Japan also charges per adult in hotels, but children under 3 stay for free. Unfortunately that means they usually don’t have a bed arrangement…
  7. Be prepared to carry your trash with you all the time, until you find appropriate receptacles (which are not very common in some of the bigger cities but prevalent in others). Littering is a 30,000jpy ($300+) offense and your tourist status won’t save you.
  8. The Japanese adults are very uncomfortable with loud noises or a lot of talking on the trains or subways. Be prepared to be uncomfortable when carrying a child with tantrum potential onto the trains.
  9. Your digestive system is probably going to hate you for a few days once you start eating different vegetables and pickles with everything. Drink tea. It helps.
  10. Vending machines are a good source of interesting and unique beverages. And ice cream.

 

Now I spent all night tossing and turning with nightmares that I won’t get the Fuji photos I am hoping for, so here’s to dreams being just that. Next up: Hakone and the Valley of Hell! Recently renamed to the Boiling Valley to encourage more visitors…