Japan (Part 2)

I woke up early because of jet-lag.  I left the hotel around 6 and was intending to explore Shin-yokohama a little before I headed into Tokyo, but nothing was open yet!  Even the Starbucks and Tully’s next to the hotel were still closed.  I suppose if stores are still open late at night, they open later in the day as well.

I caught the first Shinkansen (新幹線) to Tokyo (東京) and took another train to Akihabara (秋葉原), the electronics and manga/anime mecca of Japan.  The train was not very crowded at all.  Perhaps other routes or other times are busier.  I haven’t quite figured out when rush hour is yet.  I walked around Akihabara for awhile, but everything there was closed too, so I decided to get back on the train and visit Ueno (上野) first.  There, I walked around and saw a large park with a large lake and different shrines and temples.  Pictures to follow in a later edit.

The walking-tour guidebook I had then led me to the house of a famous Japanese painter.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the day (and only open at 10 or later, anyway) so I wasn’t able to go in.  Maybe I’ll start leaving a little later.  I meandered around small alleyways until I found the next stop on the self-guided tour–the Kyu Ishikawa Gardens (旧石川邸庭園).  The gardens were the residence of the Ishikawa family, the founders of the Mitsubishi company.  The large estate consisted of a Western-style building, which was used as a guest house, a Japanese-style house, where the family lived, and a “Swedish lodge-inspired” billiards room.  All three buildings were connected by a series of underground tunnels.  The public wasn’t allowed to see the tunnels, though.  The self-guided tour throughout the buildings was actually pretty well constructed.  It led me through all of the buildings and had little signs everywhere explaining the different rooms and artifacts.  There were a good number of them that were only in Japanese, though, and the formal Japanese used on museum signs is a little over my head.

After the gardens, I headed back to the train station but stopped by Ameyoko (アメ横) Market Street, which is actually a series of narrow streets with pedestrians and bicycles only with street vendors selling everything.  It felt like a pasar malam (street market) in Kuala Lumpur, except the prices seemed just as high as they do in department stores.  It seems like there are a lot of Chinese people in Tokyo too.  I ran into a good number of Shanghainese food stalls, as well as little groceries with imported products from Hong Kong and mainland China.  I also saw a “manga cafe” at Ameyoko.  These are little libraries with massive collections of Japanese comics where you pay by the half hour to sit and read.  My feet were starting to hurt a little so I decided to stop in and see what it was like.  The man at the front desk had me fill out an application, but when he realized that I didn’t have a Japanese phone number or address, he told me I couldn’t enter.  This mystified me a little, but I moved on.

Akihabara’s electric town is huge.  It’s like Imbi Plaza, but spanning several city blocks.  There are electronics stores everywhere, selling computers, laptops, TVs, ham radios, computer parts and all sorts of electronics supplies.  Prices seemed fairly comparable to what one would get off of Newegg, though.  (Oh yeah, I saw some tiny USB keyboards that looked awesome and I was tempted to buy, but they arrange their keys differently. It’s still qwerty, but the open and close square brackets, colon, plus and equals are all in different places.  It would make programming hell.)  There were also a lot of anime stores, selling costumes and anime paraphernalia.  I recognized some of them, but I didn’t buy anything–I’m not enough of a fan of anything for it to make sense for me anyway.  Oh yeah, the different shops often have several floors.  You take an escalator up all the way through 6 floors of shopping and then discover there are no down escalators.  Instead, you take the elevator down.  What’s interesting is that multiple stores share the same building, but each have their own escalators and elevators to go up and down.

There were also a large number of arcades with almost every type of video game ever.  I checked a couple of them out.  One of the largest ones was extremely impressive.  They had “claw machines”, old-school 80s arcades, shooters, sports games, DDR and other rhythm games, and Mario.  Each floor of the 6 story building had a different type of game and arcade machines from wall to wall where people would pay 100 yen, play games and (optionally) smoke.  Each of the arcade machines had an ash tray sitting on it.  It looked like there were a fair amount of business men in suits as well as students.  I wonder why they weren’t at work or school.  The fifth floor of the building was the absolute best: fighters.  They had fighter games ranging from the early 90s all the way to the most recent ones, including every Street Fighter title I can name.  Of course I couldn’t just watch Super Street Fighter 4 and not try a couple rounds.  I put in 100 yen and played Yang.  Surprisingly, I remembered enough of his combos from Third Strike that I managed to go about 3 rounds before I lost.

I stopped by the Tokyo Anime Center (東京アニメセンター) as per the guidebook’s instructions.  I couldn’t figure out where it was so I asked a couple people.  First, I asked a group of middle-school age looking boys.  If anyone knows anime, it must be them, right?  They replied in rapid Japanese, much of which I didn’t catch.  I got the main point though–they didn’t know where it was.  Next, I asked a policeman at a police box (small Japanese police station).  He was very helpful and told me that it was actually in the same building as the police box, just 4 floors up!  Given all that it took to find the anime center, it was actually a little disappointing.  It was just a small store with some official anime trinkets.

At this point in the day my feet were already hurting something awful and it was just barely after lunch time.  There was no place to sit and rest outside the train station or even in it.  Everybody seemed to just know where they were going and never stopped.  I was tired enough from walking and jet lag that I didn’t feel like going to another part of the city to wander around aimlessly again, so I hopped back on the train and decided on the spur of the moment to get off at the Tokyo station.  The Tokyo station is huge.  There are train lines going everywhere and exits at different sprawled out corners.  I wandered round and round the station heading in and out of train areas, and just as I was about to give up and head back to Shin-yokohama (新横浜), I found an exit!  It seems like a lot of train stations here are part of hotels and large department stores.  The stations often consist of large skyscrapers with offices, stores, hotel rooms, and a train station underneath.

Just outside the Tokyo station was the widest crosswalk I’ve ever seen.  I think it was something like 100 yards wide.  When the light turned green, a huge mob of people crossed, filling up the entire crosswalk.  The area outside the station looked like mostly offices and some stores.  I was a little tired of shopping, but there was another manga cafe across the street.  This one let me in without a phone number.  I paid 400 yen for 45 minutes, picked the first issue of Deathnote off the shelf and sat in a chair to read.  They had shelves and shelves of manga and comfortable reclining chairs with coat hangers on the side for you to hang up your suit coat.  Apparently there’s a very strong manga culture here–even stronger than I realized.  Middle aged business men in power suits unabashedly stand at the 7-11 catching up on the latest issue or recline in manga cafes reading stacks of comics.

After leaving the manga cafe, I headed back to Shin-yokohama where my hotel is.  I explored a little, looking at different department stores in the train station building, and a used bookstore outside.

Bicycles!  A non-trivial amount of people ride bicycles around the city.  I haven’t seen bicycles on a train or bus so I haven’t yet figured out how they travel farther distances, or if they just ride around smaller areas.  Most of their bicycles look like the heavier Chinese bicycles with a rack for tying things on to behind the saddle.  Haven’t seen a helmet yet.  Also, people seem to be okay with jaywalking.

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