Wednesday, October 22, 2008 | 4:13 PM

Japan: user guide

Japan: user guide

The Tokyo Game Show being over, and our stay in Japan behind us, the great Tyrant BlimBlim gave me the order to write a small report on our expedition in these oriental lands. As I believe you had your amount of TGS stuff in the past days, we’re gonna focus on something else: the life in Tokyo.

Of course what follows is my personal opinion. And since we’re talking of Gamersyde here, you don’t have the right to disagree. By the way, the first part’s more blah blah blah, while the end is more about pictures.

Let’s skip on the necessary 12-hour flight to get there, but as Gamersyde’s making so much money, first class seats were waiting for us. Talking seriously, my long legs and I were quite happy to walk on the Japanese ground. After one check (fingerprints and photograph, including zombie-like face), and a second check, and maybe a third one, we find ourselves in the train which will lead us from Tokyo-Narita airport to the heart of Tokyo. I almost forgot: of course the train is cleaned for top to bottom before we can get in. Indeed, everything’s clean in Tokyo: streets, subway trains, stations, shopping malls… nothing’s to be seen on the floor.

We’re still one hour and a half by train from Tokyo, something like the countryside. After half an hour, the city’s starting to catch up with us. Step by step, houses are turning into flats, flats into tall buildings, and tall buildings into sky-scrapers. By the end of the journey, there’s no doubt we’re in Tokyo: giant buildings, giant ad screens, all kinds of billboards all around, people everywhere, cars going on the left side of the road… Anyway, let’s go to the hotel, quite easy to find: it’s just next to Sunshine 60, the 3rd tallest building in Tokyo (240 meters, 60 floors, you can see it here)

We’re spending this first day like walking deads losing ourselves in the nearby shopping mall ("Comme ça ism", "Mono comme ça", "Olive des Olive", "Café de crié" and many other shops were quite funny to see for French people), to bump into a local MacDonald’s and enjoy a delicious Teri-Yaki burger. We finally reach the exit of the mall to go the shops on the other side of the street. Just a little comment on the crosswalks: here in Japan you cross the road only when it’s your turn even if there’s no car to be seen. And when it’s your turn, you might even be granted with this nice traffic light song.

After crossing the road we can see of the many “game centers”: arcades, machines with claws to grab plushes, virtual horse races, and especially pachinko. Pachinko is like slot machines, with music playing very loud, cigarette smoke, many people, male, female, young, old… Pachinko shops are just everywhere, like every 20 meters (and I’m not exaggerating that much), and always full of people. Anyway, talking about arcades, well, it’s exactly like in my dreams: weird games you’ve never seen in France, plenty of music games (you know, like this), shooting games, racing games… quite everything actually, that rocks!

After a pit stop at the hotel for a energizing shower, we go to Shibuya, a nice quiet area in Tokyo. In fact that’s when we got out of the hotel, by night (it’s dark outside at 5:30 pm these days), that you realize how many ads there are in the streets.

To go to Shibuya, you have to go by subway. The question is: which one? Because in Tokyo, there are 3 different companies operating the network. And for each of these companies, there’s a specific subway lines map. Luckily there’s the useful-for-everything line called: the Yamanote JR line. This line stops at almost all major spots of the city, and I believe there’s not a single when we moved by train without using the Yamanote line.
So after… (let me count : Mejiro, Takadanobaba, Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku, Shibuya) after 7 stations we arrive in Shibuya. You’ve surely already seen images: giant screens, giant crosswalks, people everywhere? There you are, this is Shibuya.

We eat a good ramen bowl, and we’re back to the hotel for a first night in Tokyo. Early wake up, breakfast, let’s go to Ginza, the luxury shops area to have a look at the Nissan showroom and the Sony showroom. Rainy day though, so we didn’t stay long, but long enough to discover a place like this at the corner of a street: a cinema or theater I don’t remember, spared by the bombings.

Don’t be fooled by this picture because Ginza is very much like this actually: buildings, buildings and some other buildings…

Ginza is nice, but Akihabara’s better. Akihabara Electric Town actually, I mean that’s how is indicated the exit of the subway station. Heaven for electronics, a little bit like rue Montgalet in Paris, except here it’s not only about pc stuff: all hi-fi is there, and all electronics in general, from the air conditioning machine to the camera, including sewing machines (on the last floor, I hate them! …picture available on request). Large avenues with huge shops on several floors (Sofmap, Yodobashi, BicCamera…) that all have their song stupid and you-remember-it-the-whole-day song. Of course you’ve got your piece of games shops, figurines shops (Macross and Gundam being slightly over-represented), mangas shops. And you cross the variables: figurines from games shops, games from mangas shops, etc. Then you get to add the “rated R” dimension to all of this to have a heavy load of shops.

Akihabara’s also about very tight streets where you don’t see the sky, small galleries where shop owners are stuck behind their counters, everybody selling the same thing (5 guys next to each other are selling LAN cable, the next 5 are selling plugs, the 5 after are selling walkie-talkies…).

At least the rain stops, which marks our departure from Akihabara. We decide to head towards Ueno where a large park and a few temples are waiting for us. A little ride in the Yamanote line and here we are. The streets around Ueno station are like a giant market: a guy’s selling clothes, then one guy sells vegetables, and the other one sells fish, then another one sells bags, then a fish shop again… Very nice, good atmosphere, as long as I’m not asked to eat some dried octopus. I’m quite sure you get cancer eating this. Yeah, actually, I’m sure of this, there’s no way it could not be dangerous.

Let’s have a break for lunch at C&C for a Chicken Curry (with vending machines giving tickets enabling us not to talk to the waiter), and here we are on the road again for Ueno park, where trees are definitely not like ours.

I just skip the temples for the moment, there are some other for you at the end of the stay, but I have to share this strange vision of this field of water lilies, in the middle of the city, surrounded by buildings:

Ok, I give you this first picture of a temple, because after all there aren’t so many in Tokyo. And maybe this will give you the will to read this article to the end.

Woosh, straight to the hotel (Yamanote line!), a little bit of make-up to get pretty (easy task for us), and we push ourselves to go to Shinjuku. Shinjuku’s the sky-scraper district. You’re gonna tell me “yeah, sure, we know what it’s like”. And sky-scraper like this one, you seen it already?

For this night in Shinjuku we went eating in a nice sushi-bar. We had “a few” problems to find it, considering the address we had was not the good one (don’t count on maps too much), and this dearest bar being hidden on the second floor in the basement of a building (so many people there you can’t have restaurants only on street level, so you find them from the basement to the 5th floor of the buildings). This being said, that was some good fish, one or two strange things as soon as you step too far from the usual salmon/tuna stuff, but all in all, that was great. Hey, since we’re in Shinjuku, have a look at this, you PGR-fanboy:

Come on, we have many other places to visit tomorrow so let’s head back to the hotel, after a short walk in Kabukicho (see the videos of Yakuza 3 if you want to know more about it). Bed time, breakfast, Yamanote line, and here we are already in Shimbashi, south of Tokyo. From Shimbashi, we change to the Yurikamome line that’s going over the Rainbow Bridge (570 meters long…) to take us to Odaiba, an artificial island. Vista from the bridge:

In Odaiba itself, not much to do: a short ride in a self-driving car, an over-sized (something like half a soccer field) and empty (we were about 10 in the place, including 8 people playing pachinko) arcade place, some more towers, buildings, and at the corner of a street you see a wedding village. It’s like a micro French village, with a church and small houses, paved streets, everything you need to enjoy a real fake (fake real?) French-style wedding. Anyway. Ok, I have to admit it to you guys, I tried for you Street Fighter 4, only one credit to reach Seth and almost win.

Subway again, but this time we’re going to a cultural place: Asakusa. Over there is another temple, still in the heart of Tokyo. Many tourists, kind of ruining the experience, but you have to admit that this place is much impressive. Images speak better than words. We have lunch at a local restaurant: tekka-don for me and something like an oyakudon for BlimBlim.
The gate:

The 5-storied pagoda:

Side view of the temple:

At night we spend some time in Roppongi: you can see there the tallest building of Tokyo, the famous Roppongi Hills. As luxury restaurants are quite too shy regarding the size of the plates, we are obliged to get out of the building under a heavy rain to find a restaurant in the area. We find ourselves again in C&C-like restaurant, but with an awful music playing: imagine the worst kind of synthesizer piano loungy-elevatory-background music. You got it? Well, that was even worse. All meal long. Roppongi, take it or leave it: we leave it.

We must be something like Wednesday if my calculation is correct. Yamanote line, blah blah blah, arrival at the Tokyo Dome, covered base-ball stadium for the Tokyo Giants team. Over there, a roller-coaster (the thunder dolphin) where I shouted for almost the whole lap (weird enough, Japanese people shouted at the very quietest moment of the ride). We also tried to find the training dojo from Hajime no Ippo, without success. Going back to Shibuya by broad daylight this time, for this memories-bringing picture for fans of Jet Set Radio.

Back to hotel to welcome our friend DjMizuhara and his well-known Nissan Cube. We unload the trunk and start to move to Shibuya (yes, again) to meet bikoko there who wants to lead us to a local restaurant. When wondering about our opinion, DjMizuahara just says: “I hate places where you have to put off your shoes. It’s even worse when you have to get on your knees”. I won’t make no detour: the place we’re going requires us to put off our shoes and get on our knees. That was worth it anyway, fine local food, in a nice atmosphere (beer’s helping on that point). Yamanote line, bed time.

Thursday and Friday. Not much to say, we live TGS, breathe TGS, eat TGS, camera on the shoulder, shooting every single screen, playing it wise to have quality footage. Exhausting, but I hope you enjoyed it.

Shazam, it’s Saturday already. Some fresh will do us good, we’re on track for the “countryside”. Kamakura, a village on the seashore with multiple temples, has been chosen by the tyrant as our destination of the day. A one-hour trip by train later, here we are in a small town typically Japanese.

The first temple, Engakuji, let’s us stare at its wonders, with notably a monument dedicated to the Tri-Force (or so I think). That’s when we heading towards the exit of this zen temple that we hear a familier music… Who on Earth could be playing the Dragon Ball theme that loud? Ok, don’t worry, it’s just the people from the area who decided to set up a party in the zen temple, with music, challenges for kids, speaker for the girl entertaining the kids. It seems we don’t have the same conception for zen.

BlimBlim being today in a very naturish mood (yes, this word exists), we decide to walk by the railroad to reach our next destination. Good idea boss! Along with this genuine atmosphere, we arrive at another temple (this one’s not zen but much more quiet), Kenchoji. Some particular event must have been taking place because we met lots of ladies dressed with ceremony kimonos.

A path leading to another path, we find ourselves down some stairs. Your two courageous reporters don’t fear death nor steps, so we decide to go to the top of the mountain facing us. It’s only 250 steps later that we reach the first level. That’s not a moment for complaint, or the crow-guardians will beat us down.

Some more steps and we have this nice vista for us, the sound of students from the nearby high school training at base-ball in the background (for those who don’t know, a bat hitting a ball sounds like “poc”). We even could see mount Fuji behind the clouds. For you guys, here’s the vista we’re talking about (don’t look for mount Fuji, it’s not that way):

But hey, we’re talking Gamersyde here, right? Other steps just got in our way: “Listen, we’re steps you know, we’re twisted, we’re slippery, but would you like to go upstairs?” 50 steps are nothing, so we’re climbing again. And as a good beer after a hard day’s work, the new vista up there fills us with energy. That’s what I’m talking about:

Come on, we go down all these stairs, we haven’t seen the tenth of what’s too see in the area. We’re going through the forest thanks to a small path to finally arrive at Kamakura (we stopped at Kita-Kamakura in the first place). We meet a battery vending machine. You know, in case you need batteries when everything’s closed at night.

After a well deserved break at Kamakura’s MacDonald’s (I can’t believe we doubted there would be a MacDonald’s in Kamakura… there’s ALWAYS a MacDonald’s nearby in Japan), we pull our forces together to go to the other side of the town. Exhausted, walking on the hands to better rest the feet, we at last arrive at a giant Buddha. To tell you the truth we were quite disappointed, but it was rather different from what we had seen until then.

Not too far from there, I see the sea in Japan for the first time. Not very sexy actually, but this sea is there and that’s nice. I don’t regret not having brought my swim suit with me.

Ok, time to head back. One final ramen bowl at Ikebukuro, some more yens to spend, and it’s time to pack up. A short sleep, a trip by bus this time to the airport, and here we go again for 12 hours in the air. Back to France, its dirty sidewalks, its uncheerful shop owners, its tagged trains, its rinse-ass-less toilets, its neonless streets, its disorganized pedestrians… The good point I see, is that I understand the language.

All comments

Commented on 2008-10-22 16:16:41
Ok, this article didn't go through the usual "english-speaking" validation process, so don't hesitate to let me know if some things are unclear, or don't mean anything.

Enjoy the reading!
Commented on 2008-10-22 16:56:02
I'm English, and I'm fine with it - so don't worry!

Good read, very nice photos - and it takes me back when I went to Tokyo nearly three years ago. I'm planning on going there again in future. :)
Commented on 2008-10-22 16:56:37
Merci pour ce carnet de voyage, très intéressant !
Commented on 2008-10-22 17:01:14
That's pretty awesome guys but, what no upskirting the girls?

I thought that is all the rage.
Commented on 2008-10-22 17:04:20 In reply to PlumbDrumb
Ask DjMizuhara about this. Didn't we upload that Naruto Wii video with that booty-shake session?
Commented on 2008-10-22 17:11:44
Awesome :] - quite interesting to read, though I've been there frequently. Props
Commented on 2008-10-22 17:50:44
LOL, it's impossible to escape those awesome synthesizer piano loungy-elevatory-background songs. It's like the official OST for japan.
Commented on 2008-10-22 19:12:59
Japan is pretty much the most awesome country in the world. I weep knowing I'll probably never be a citizen.
Commented on 2008-10-22 21:56:48
Ha ha! Great work you guys! I was in Japan earlier this year (Before my country Georgia got invaded by Mr.Pukins Russia Motherland)

It actually reminded me all the times I've spent there.

Here's some pictures:

(We have actually visited few same places... Ginza, Akiba,Asakusa...)


Asakusa is amazing indeed!
Commented on 2008-10-23 08:35:21
This article didn't help me much. i was meant to be going to Japan earlier this year but stuff came up. Reading this article makes me want to go over there even more.
Great pictures too, thanks :D
Commented on 2008-10-24 02:07:46
Really awesome. I hope to fly to Japan next year.

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