Heading to Southeast Asia, it was an easy decision (for me at least) to stop in Tokyo. Any tech geek knows full well about the city and the famous streets of Akihabara, I count myself very lucky to be back here once again.
Coming from Honolulu and its lovely weather, we knew that heading north means Japan was right in the middle of winter and the temperatures would be in the single digits, when checking in to the flight we were prepared by the JAL staff to be ready.
For accommodation, we picked a slightly different style hostel with more of a budget hotel feel to it. The first night turned out to be a bit cold, I spent a while the next day with the Aircon controller which was all written in Kanji, pressing every button until I could get it to heat the room up. It was a nice place to stay, great facilities and most importantly a washlet, basically a toilet seat that warms up as you sit on it and washes your bum with a spray when you are finished, brilliant.
The next and first full day, Annie went off to find a swimming pool leaving me at 9:45am standing in Akihabara with a pocket full of 100yen coins and the streets of tech city to explore, tremendous! First thing I noticed was queues outside the big arcades, waiting for the doors to open at 10am, now that’s a queue I don’t mind joining.
The arcades here are nothing like you have ever seen, up to eight floors each themed from UFO pickup machines, sticker printing machines, sit down arcade cabinets, full sized cabinets and rows and rows of beat em ups. I worked my way though as much as I could, one game that stood out was Taito’s Groove Coaster. I’ve since looked it up and it’s an iOS ported to the arcade, normally something I avoid. It reminded me of Dreamcast classic Rez, basically a rhythm game with trance and J-Pop (Japanese music) blasting out as you tap along, addictive stuff.
The toilet in Sega World make me laugh, they have a screen and sensor above the toilet that counts as you pee, the display shows how many cups you have filled, I got to three and 605ml, I sadly didn’t get a chance to go back so I’m unable to tell if that’s a lot.
I was trying to avoid buying gadgets as my backpack is already crammed with boring essentials such as clothes, with the shops selling amazing items left right and center, it was hard work. The retro shops especially Super Potato is where I spent a lot of time, drooling over rows and rows of 80s and 90s nostalgia. I almost picked up a NeoGeo Pocket colour, a Wonderswan and a Famicom Bluetooth iOS controller. In the end I stumped for a PS Vita with a lovely OLED screen, should make long journeys coming up a bit easier.
Enough with the geek chat, for culture we explored the city by foot and metro, from the busy intersection of Shibuya (which has the strange tag of worlds busiest crossing, it wasn’t rush hour when we were there but still a ton of people flooding the road) to the rituals at the Meiji Shrine where you can join in with various local ceremonies including picking your fortune. We picked ours and both ended up with a bad ones, the rules allow you to fold and hang it up in order to get a second attempt, which resulted in better luck, hooray. Mine told me “Employment should be stopped”, um okay… I’m particularly anti religious and hate churches and all the brainwashing that goes with it, but Buddhist temples have such a nice feeling to them, gone is preaching and hymns, instead you have rituals and respect, very cool.
What amazes me about the city is that vending machines pop up all over the place, every few minutes you find one selling drinks, both soft and beer in the strangest of locations. We tried to work though as many as we could, highlights included strawberry milk in a can and hot sweetcorn which was more like a soup. With all these machines, it’s a sign of how well brought up the people are that you rarely see rubbish, the streets are clean as a hospital, yet I found myself walking for ages looking for a bin.
A sumo wrestling match was something we were keen to see, Lady Luck was watching over us as the Grand Sumo Ryrogoku Kokugikan 12 day tournament was in mid flow. Its on every day during the afternoon until 6pm, we went along early to get some cheaper tickets. We made a half assed attempt to find our seats, the numbering made no sense, something confirmed with another westerner who asked us for help. I told them just sit anywhere, that’s what we did and it worked out fine.
The game is very easy to follow, two wrestlers are paired off, not taking into account of weight or height, they stare each other out and then rather violently clash together. The first one to either be pushed out of the ring or touch the floor with anything bar the soles of their feet loses. Matches last between a few seconds up to about half a minute, very entertaining stuff. The normally über quiet Japanese get behind their favourites and shout out their names.
Whilst there we ordered some food, I went for the “Beer and Octo Ball” combo, I like beer and seafood, what could go wrong? I love new foods and will happily try most but this gooey substance didn’t sit well, I thought I was going to puke it back out. We managed to finish the three and happy to leave the under “tried, not recommended”.
The Tokyo Skytree Tower sits looming above most of the city, it’s really gigantic at 605 meters high, second tallest in the world. Inside was a bit of a long queue, this being Japan it was dealt with efficiency, no pissing about like South America here. Views from the top were great, enhanced by interactive displays showing historical and nighttime views of the city, got to love a tech spin on it.
Food in Japan is always interesting, the problem starts when menus do not have any English, looking at a page of Kanji is rather tricky, what is a starter, a main or a drink? We looked around lots of places and managed to find either English menus, or places with picture that give a hint on what you are ordering, don’t want to end up with more Octo Balls!
The sushi was phenomenal as expected, cheap and really good. At home you normally get sushi with wasabi (the green playdoh looking stuff) on the side, here it’s spread on top of the rice hidden under the fish, a bit of a surprise on first bite. I had more than my fair share of soups with gorgeous udon noodles and even a rather good kaitsu curry. Though I loved the food, at the end I was happy to be moving on to different flavours as it does get rather repetitive.
Final day I went to the Taito drumming museum whilst Annie went off to find a temple, it was quiet and I had the whole place to myself. They have over 800 drums, the majority had a note beside them which means you can play with it. I obviously wasn’t making enough noise as the lady working there came in to tell me that I can play them – I already was, best get hitting harder! Some cracking drums there, none that would fit in a backpack.
Another fantatsic time im the city, now heading to the airport nice and early for a flight to South East Asia and our first port of call, Vietnam, or so we thought.