Hey there! Welcome back to my little travelogue of Japan. If you’ve missed the previous entries, they’re now all indexed under the Japan 2007 tag. I’d watch out clicking that, though, as those entries have a lot of photos for those of you on slow connections.
Just a quick note that the entries are going to lose their “Day” tags in the titles from this point on, because after this day (and even during) our trip compressed, doubled back on itself, and in big parts stopped having anything at all to do with comics. As this is a comics-related blog I don’t want to dilute the focus too much, but almost all of my photos will be going up on a public sharing service thingy sooner or later so you won’t miss anything, promise.
With that, Akihabara:
Patrick Macias recounts the history of Tokyo’s Akhiabara district in the excellent Cruising The Anime City: A Guide to Neo-Tokyo and since you should all read that, I’ll spare you the bio and just point out that Akhiabara is a neighborhood that is in the process of evolving from a discount electronics mecca to a hardcore manga and anime Otaku paradise. Shown above is Chuo-dori, the main drag in Akihabara facing towards the train station, I believe. We visited Akihabara twice during the trip, on Day 03, and on Day 11. The photos here are from both trips.
Continue reading after the cut:
Pachinko is basically Japanese slot machines. This is a Pachinko parlour with not only an Evangelion-themed wing of these machines, but also a fun cardboard cut-out of the cast where you can decide to be Asuka or Rei. This is not the wierdest thing about Pachinko in this post.
This was just awesome. If there was any way to get $11 colour flourescent lightbulbs back to Toronto without them exploding in my luggage, I probably would’ve dropped a ton of money here.
This is the outside of Comic Tora no Ana, one of three such stores within a few blocks of one another in Akhiabara, and contender for “biggest manga store in Japan”. Much like Animate in Ikebukuro there were at least 8 or 9 floors here, though unlike Animate the focus here was mostly on Doujinishi — fan made comics — and sexy doujinshi for men, at that.
Here’s a shot just inside the door, I think, of the new-releases table. The volume of material that is released is just amazing…
It’s Phoenix Wright Manga! OBJECTION! (Hah, I’m only including this for the google hits). Still, one has to imagine that some smart publisher has picked this one up for North American distribution.
Somehow I don’t see UDON picking up this particular Capcom-related manga for release in North America. Heh. Actually, this store was, moreso than anywhere else I visited in Japan, REALLY UPTIGHT ABOUT TAKING PICTURES and so I didn’t get much in the way of comics-related photography, sorry guys… This spank-worthy Felicia drawing will have to tide you over until later in the ‘tour’.
Back outside and we see one of the myriad statues and pieces of Otaku memorabilia that decorate the various electronics and culture stores, all beckoning you inside.
I like taking pictures of convenience stores.
This store on the other hand, just up the street, was very encouraging of my amateur photography. Thank you, Toys Golden Age Akihabara! You are awesome:
There were toys of all makes, models, and origins on every surface of this store, including the floors, on top of display cases, and even some on the ceiling. Shown above there is a Brandon Routh-styled Superman toy(!) from Microman that was never released domestically! Of course I bought it, because I’m a nerd.
I really bet Viz wishes KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC would have taken off.
So in Akiba (as the cool kids call it) they’re really not afraid to let their Otaku-flag fly, as evidenced by this awesomely decorated store on the main drag. They also don’t seem to be too concerned by copyright either, because I can see Namco and Nintendo in the U.S. teaming up to fuck these guys up with lawyers for even HINTING at what they’re showing here. This is another way in which Japan is better than America. THERE, I SAID IT.
Retro gaming is much loved in Japan and Akiba in particular, and there are a lot of stores that feature retro game carts from the exceptionally rare to the 10 for $10 bin. If you’ve got the money, you can also pick up any Japanese-originating video game system you can remember. So, no Atari 2600, but lots of Nintendo.
Here we see the disk-drive add on for the Japanese version of the Nintendo entertainment system, called the “Family Computer” or “Famicom”. I remember as a kid we’d hear stuff like this on the playground and dismiss it as the highest level of ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’. I mean a Disk Drive? For the NES? That’s ridiculous. All of your schoolyard myths are true… in Japan.
Speaking of which, do you enjoy retro gaming, but aren’t interested in dropping $$ on an old-school Nintendo system that might stop working the next day? Well you’re in luck, because for UNDER TWENTY DOLLARS you can pick up the Famulator, a home console system that EMULATES THE FAMICOM. Want to play all your old Famicom and Nes games (that have no copyprotection, FYI) on your big screen without the download charges on the Wii? Here you go. Games sold separately.
Wanna buy a Super Famicom (SuperNES in the States)? They were here for between $15 and $25, depending on the condition. They all worked though.
Sure, you could buy a vintage Sega Genesis (also known as Mega Drive in Japan), but for just 999 yen (that’s about 10 dollars) you could also buy an emulator system called the GAME JOY. All of the Genesis love, plus a 6 pack of games (including Sonic, Golden Axe, and Shinobi). For $6. Japan.
Mario is wearing a sign, telling me not to take pictures. I’m kind of an asshole, I guess, but come on… You’d take this picture too. (Sadly Mario was not for sale)
This awesome throw-pillow? Also not for sale. WTF?! Why would you do that to me?
This is my host, David. He is posing in front of every game you could ever want for the Famicom. He’s really happy to be here, it’s his favourite store in Japan. It’s very close to my favourite as well. And did I mention that the whole time we were in these stores, that the music playing overhead was 8-bit video game theme music? Awesome, awesome, awesome.
As we leave, the sun begins to set on Electric Town. It’s kind of lovely.
…and it actually started to get busier at night.
Here we see a dude escorting his girlfriend to work at a Maid Cafe. Seeing them reminded me that I needed to see a Maid Cafe before I died, and so we decided to go to the only place where I knew there was one for sure: Don Quixote department store.
It’s hard to explain Don Quixote. It’s 8 floors of a department store on Acid, in Japan. Whether you want to dress up like Goku…
…or buy novelty underwear branded by a comedian…
…or buy cheap cutting-edge street fashion…
…or get lost in the toy section…
…or become a goth…
…or go to a maid cafe, Don Quixote in Akiba is the store for you! Heh, seriously though, this particular maid cafe is actually NOT the maid cafe inside Don Quixote. When we got upstairs to the one inside DQ, it was not only completely full with an hour-long wait to get in, it was also being actively patrolled for folks taking pictures. Apparently the girls who dress as Maids at DQ and then perform are actually becoming famous idol-singers, and if you’re going to take photos, you gotta pay!
Meanwhile, this Maid Cafe was just down the street and took up two whole floors in a shabby little commercial building. As you can see, they’re pretty serious about photos as well, so I didn’t get anything from inside (sorry) but I’ll try and explain what a maid cafe is for you.
Basically, you’re either a total desperate nerd (male or female) or on a date and want to go someplace insane for a coffee, so you go to the coffee shop where the girls are dressed like maids. They all talk in anime voice-actress-voices and charge you for the privilege of spending money. All of the food is made of refined white sugar. They hit on you non-stop, if you can communicate in Japanese. If not, it is awkward when they hit on you. When they bring your food, they do a little song and dance routine to make your food “MORE DELICIOUS!!!!”. Then, the floor-show starts.
Everyone has to go to a maid cafe before they die.
Can you make out that sign up there? What does that say…
Oh, that’s right. It’s a maid-style beautician. In case you want to be groomed by a psychotically happy and subservient woman dressed like a French maid. If that’s like… your thing.
As you can tell here, we’ve entered the criss-cross of small streets and ‘back alleys’ that make up the dense, hardcore area of “Electric Town” that’s more-or-less across the street from the train station.
Andrew and The Colonel.
Their afros are silver pachinko balls, FYI. This is the same pachinko parlour that had the Evangelion display out front.
This is how it actually looked.
This is how it felt.
The thing you need to understand is, in Japan, stores have no problem sending people out front to yell at you while you walk by, on a loudspeaker. HEY YOU COME IN WE HAVE THE BEST PRICES!!! Usually they’ll have three or four people out front, yelling over one another, at the bigger electronics stores. Yeah.
Coolest toy display in Japan.
Oh, Yotsuba! revoltech.
Derek, those two were for you.
Ashitaka No Joe lives in a shop window, beckoning you in. I thought this was kinda cool.
On the other hand, I thought this “life size” manequin of Asuka from Evangelion that was for sale was a little creepy, for some reason. Perhaps because it was for sale next to a young-girl-in-school-outfit manequin that was life-sized, anime-styled, and also for sale.
Let’s just chalk it up to ‘cultural differences’.
Speaking of cultural differences, this is LAMMTARRA, the 8 floor (plus at least one basement level) porn store around the corner from the train station. As you might imagine this place was INCREDIBLY BUSY at 10pm on a Friday night. No, really, really busy. It just kept getting dirtier with every floor you ascended. The 8th floor is called “MANIAC WORLD”. I probably should not describe what is for sale in MANIAC WORLD. Let your imagination run wild.
Needless to say, no pictures of the inside. Sorry.
Speaking of the train station, directly across from Akihabara Station on the JP line is a huge ultra-disturbing nerd-mecca department store, that I only found out about after I got back to Toronto. Fuck. Somehow, I managed to take multiple pictures of it without ever figuring that I should have gone in.
It breaks my heart, seriously. Just go to that website (SO NOT SAFE FOR WORK) and you’re like “OMG THIS IS AWESOME” and I could’ve seen it in person and didn’t. Can you hear my sigh from where you’re sitting? You should be able to.
Ah well, it’s not like I didn’t see a million other awesome things, right? Like this. THis young lady is a worker at a Maid Cafe, and she is handing out free packages of tissue paper that advertise her maid cafe (includes map!) in front of the station. This could be your job, dressed as your own personal fetish, handing out leaflets every night.
I think that one is actually a sexy nurse. Anyway, these people have nothing on the folks who show up in front of the train station to sing, perform, or throw an impromptu magic show WITHOUT any commercial aspect. Seriously.
Singing, choreographed movements, the whole kit and kaboodle.
She performed to her own pre-recorded voice describing the tricks on a loudspeaker.
Man, these guys looked awesome, like Japanese hip hop harlequins, but we were there for 10 minutes and they couldn’t seem to get their shit together. I secretly feel like their performance was amazing.
Japan really is the future.
CUTE BABY! This is Noa, the son of our hosts in Japan David and Kiko. You may remember a blog post from a year ago or so where I was holding him and he was tiny. He is big now and likes to talk and run around. He was exceptionally well-behaved in Akiba, though he was a little weirded out by all the freaks. Pft, amateur.
So we’re in the train station, and at this point I’ve resolved to buy a different kind of Japanese beverage every time I’m thirst. I ask David if this one is any good, and he says it’s alright, but it tastes “mediciney”. But it’s a health drink, apparently, and I could probably use a health bonus. So I drink it.
Then Kiko mentions that it has nicotine in it. And I was like “What?!” and David looks at the ingredients, and apparently the second or third ingredient there is nicotine. Japan.
Finally, we’re ready to head home. I just want to thank Kiko, David, and Noa again for being such great hosts while we were in Japan. We had a great time. And at this point there are like 10 and a half days left…