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.

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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!

 

 

 

Wednesday: Steampunk World And Anime

I could’ve sworn I had covered this topic before, but since I can’t find the post in my archives, we’ll revisit. Since it’s September 11 and the country is likely to be rife with mournful posts about something that happened many years ago, I’ll revisit even older times–the world that Never Was.

Since Hayao Miyazaki has finally chosen to retire, and Nan Desu Kan (Denver’s major anime convention) starts here on Thursday, I’ve been spending time contemplating how I went from an anime enthusiast to a Steampunk enthusiast. The leap is easier than you might think, especially inj Miyazaki’s realm of “what ifs.”

Take Princess Mononoke, one of Miyazaki’s premier works. The biggest message from this film is the battle between advancing technology and the magic and simplicity of the forest. The message pervades in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind as well, and where the former focuses on interesting weapons, the latter surrounds forms of transportation as well.  In both of these films (although I am listing them in reverse chronological order), the most important thing is for people to flex their ingenuity and discover new and better ways to make their lives work through technology–but they most also learn how to live with the world they have, and not destroy the earth with their hunger for progress.

If we move on, Miyazaki’s film Porco Rosso came sandwiched between the other two, and is really more Dieselpunk than Steampunk–but with an anime about goggles, flying machines and battles in the sky, who can argue the appeal? His film Castle in the Sky came right after Nausicaa, and is really a legendary search for ancient advanced technology–a Steampunk Atlantis (speaking of which, the Disney movie Atlantis is certainly Steampunk as well). Howl’s Moving Castle is also technology-laden and anti-war, but with the idea that technology and magic are inexplicably intertwined. I love this take on things because the Victorians were weirdly obsessed with the unexplained–and for them, science WAS magic.

Miyazaki had this to say:
“To be born means being compelled to choose an era, a place, a life. To exist here, now, means to lost the possibility of being countless other potential selves.. Yet once being born there is no turning back. And I think that’s exactly why the fantasy worlds of cartoon movies so strongly represent our hopes and yearnings. They illustrate a world of lost possibilities for us.”
― Hayao MiyazakiStarting Point: 1979-1996

But Miyazaki isn’t the only anime director to obsess over concepts embodied by much of Steampunk. Another great series to look into is called Last Exile. It is best characterized by the fact that warfare in this series involves two propeller-driven airships lining up side by side, the hatches being opened, and men in 19th century uniforms firing at each other from steam-powered rifles. As if that’s not enough, almost the entire series occurs in the air.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is another great tale, based very loosely off of the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. VERY loosely. The premise is that a girl born of Atlanteans–who were really aliens with superior technology–is running from villains who want to capture her and her blue water pendant, which allows her to enter Atlantis–assuming she could remember why she was being chased, of course. She is accompanied by a young French lad who is bound and determined to invent a real flying machine, and his ingenuity often gets them into trouble.  The costumes are great, some of the series is very entertaining, and it’s a fresh perspective on 20,000 Leagues.

No list of Steampunk animes is complete without Steamboy, although it’s not my favorite film. The movie was basically Steampunk encapsulated, but I felt the plot was stiff and anticlimactic until the very end. However, the animation is beautiful, and certainly worth watching once.

Lastly, Fullmetal Alchemist has robots, alchemists, the personification of the 7 Deadly Sins, and a fine line between science and magic that makes it a great choice–not to mention awesome costumes and a few episodes that conveniently slip into the “alternate dimension” of Victorian Earth. Yes, this is a Steampunk series worth watching from start to finish.

With so many series personifying Steampunk, I’m surprised the obsession in Japan has not been more complete. Groups like Strange Artifact and the Tokyo Inventors Society are looking to change that.

If you are planning to attend NDK, remember that the Colorado Steampunks have a Steampunk Photo Shoot scheduled at 1pm at the flagpole. They’ll also be playing Emma: A Victorian Romance and it looks like an interesting series. Don’t miss it!

Wednesday: Phoenix Comicon Convention Report

So, for the next couple of weeks–due to my adventures coming up–Wednesday will be devoted to convention reports.

This past weekend I was at Phoenix Comicon, which is both reportedly the only Comic Con that drops a C, and also reportedly was rather small until only a couple of years ago. This year there were around 46,000 people (their count) turning the styles to make it in. At those kinds of numbers they couldn’t really even keep track of whether people had badges in the panel rooms, so who knows how many actually paid to get in.

Based on the sheer amount of (redundant, in a lot of cases) programming, we only had a few things we specifically wanted to see. We drove the 13 hours overnight starting Thursday around 5pm. On Friday we met up with the Arizona Steampunks at their Steampunk 101 panel. We hadn’t slept yet, so I probably hallucinated about half of that panel, but it gave me some diabolical mod plans for later this year.

We spoke with Jason and Dianne(sp) about doing a sistership with the Wild Wild West Con–we tend to have more guests than they do, and we have different philosophies, but I think our audiences would appreciate each other.

On Friday afternoon I got to hear Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from ST:TOS) speak. She’s a hilarious spitfire even at 83. One person asked her a question about her stance on gay marriage. I admired her ability to answer in such a way that everyone would believe she agreed with them regardless of their stance–one can’t be too careful I suppose. I know from following Takei that she’s actually very supportive of equality. Makes sense, she WAS the first Black Woman on television.

I do contend that “first interracial kiss” with Kirk though. I just rewatched TOS and she kissed Spock in episode 3 (might have been episode 2), before she even officially met the captain.

Friday night we managed to pass out for like 9 hours, thank goodness. Saturday morning was quieter than I expected, but still hectic.

On Saturday Afternoon I was at an Author Chair Dancing event. It was supposed to be like Twitter live–Delilah S. Dawson, Sam Sykes, John Scalzi, Kevin Hearne and Leanne Renee Hieber. It was a hilariously good time. I finally got to meet Delilah by harassing her at her table later.

This year the PCC folks were hosting the bulk of the Babylon 5 cast for the Bab5 20th anniversary. I’ve met Claudia Christian before, and technically Robin Atkin Downes and Pat Tallman as well (previous Starfests when Bab5 was still running). It was still really cool to see most of the cast on stage Saturday night.

Sunday was quieter. We were mostly just interested in seeing the Lantern City preview panel. Unfortunately, Bruce Boxleitner couldn’t make it. We also found out it won’t be premiering for a couple more years. But the panel was still awesome.

I also attended a panel by the Apocalypse Girls on “con saturation.” Apparently Arizona has dozens of cons as opposed to Denver’s 8 or 9 cons. The giant nature of PCC (due in part to San Diego Comic Con influence, I am sure) has also made it difficult for many people to really get to know the less huge authors/artists/etc. The twitter flurry afterward from some of my favorite web comic artists somewhat follows the same thoughts.

Ultimately, I hope AnomalyCon can draw big crowds some day…but it’s important for us to keep our perspective and maintain our “for the people” attitude.