Turning Japanese Again, Touring Tokyo

The household woke up slowly. The events of last night had done us all in. Kaz and Chris were tired from all the attention they’d been getting. Jen and I were tired from all the things we’d done and drinks we’d had.

As such, we were in no hurry to do anything. I was the first up, my bladder calling attention to itself, and sat down to catch up on my journals. Chris and Kaz were up shortly afterwards. Chris needed to go back to his apartment before going to work, and suggested that I come along to collect last night’s laundry.

Chris was already half-dressed for work (pretty much everything, actually, save the tie) when we left. We stopped briefly at the 7-11 near his old apartment for breakfast, and continued to his place.

There’s not much left. The bulk of his things have been brought to the new apartment. It’s now mostly clothes and odds and ends. By the 10th, he’ll be completely moved out, and probably a lot happier for it. The apartment was good to him, but in all honesty, he needed something better. It’s a little too dingy and not terribly clean (though that’s not for fault of Chris cleaning — it’s more the building/environment).

We ate, chatting about stuff (we do that from time to time), and collected all the wet clothes to take back to the new apartment to dry. (There aren’t really driers in Japan — people generally hang out the washing to dry. The new apartment has a south exposure, which will help immensely for drying.)

Returning to the JR Station (where the bus stops; Chris stayed at the apartment), I boarded the bus Chris had said would take me back to the new apartment. Within a couple of blocks, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn’t going where it was supposed to be going. I gave the driver one block to turn back the way I needed him to before I hit the button and got off.

Apparently, the bus I had thought was was right, wasn’t.

Having kept track of where I was, I walked back to the main road (Dianichi), and walked the rest of the way. It only takes about 20 minutes — if you walk as fast as I did — and it was turning out to be a beautiful day. Returning home, Jen was awake, and playing “Devil May Cry 2” on Chris’ Playstation. She’s declared that she needs a Playstation so she can play this game. I can hardly blame her.

Around 13:00, we headed to the JR station, and boarded the first train to Chiba. As we switched to a train to Tokyo, an idea suddenly hit me. We could catch a Limited Express. That would take us to Tokyo much faster, and save us the agony of having to hit every stop. The Shiosan 6 Limited Express, an old, somewhat odd-looking train that I’d seen many times before blitzing through Yotsukaido, took us to Tokyo station 1/3 faster than any of the regular trains.

Can’t complain about that!

Once there, we switched to the Yamanote line. This line runs in a circle around the core of Tokyo, hitting about 40 stops. The key places to visit in Tokyo are here: Akehabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ueno, or puts you within a short distance of them.

We started off in Akehabara, the electronics district of Tokyo. Usually, this is the best place to find the most recent, coolest, bleeding-edge thing to take back. Unlike last year, however, nothing stood out for me. The collection of keitais seemed to have doubled, the number of cameras shrank, and the one thing I was looking for — MP3 players — were almost non-existent.

That didn’t stop us from wandering around the stores, seeing what was offered for sale, running in and out of the arcades, and popping 100 yen coins in a few vending machines. But even that has limited appeal. After about an hour and a half (trust me, Akehabara can suck up a whole day, if you let it), we returned to the train, and headed for Shibuya.

We took the long way around, so Jen could snooze a bit on the train. She’s turning more and more Japanese with each day.

We exited the train station and found ourselves on a side I wasn’t familiar with. Realizing that we were on the wrong side, we went around the corner of the station building, and emerged into the main Shibuya intersection. Jen uttered a half-breathless, half-astonished “wow”.

Jen sees Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, 5 April 2004

I let Jen pick the direction at first, which was basically straight across the intersection, running diagonally from the station, into one of the many narrow, pedestrian-packed streets. It was almost as if by instinct as she led us right to HMV.

Jen had wanted to take a look inside a Japanese CD store since we’d arrived. See what’s available, listen to a few things, maybe find a couple of albums that you can’t get elsewhere. And with six floors of auditory gold, how can you go wrong?

I listened to a lot of music, but didn’t really find anything that I wanted to buy. Jen, on the other hand, had some difficulty retraining herself from the available options. She simply couldn’t resist a copy of Audioslave’s first album … on vinyl. One very good score, if you ask me. You can probably find it in North America, if you knew where to look. And it wasn’t a bad price, even with the exchange.

We headed out the other door, in search of our next quarry: Mandarake. For those who love manga, this is the store to go to, if you know where it is. Theoretically, I knew where it was, but because I took a wrong turn coming out of the HMV, it took a while to remember where it was. For a while, I was a little concerned that my memory was going to fail me completely and we would end up going home empty-handed. But somewhere in the deep depths of my subconscious, my map of Shibuya directed me. Mandarake appeared as if finding Shangri-la.

Jen’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head when she saw the rows of manga books, reaching well over her head, disappearing back into the depths of the store. It think I actually saw her drool.

The catch, obviously, is that all the manga books are in Japanese. There are no English translations. That didn’t matter to Jen, since she was looking specifically for Japanese books for herself, and for friends who had asked for some special requests while she was in Japan.

We both had special requests. My friend Paul had asked for anything to do with Godzilla (Gojira), specifically Mothra, if I could find any. I figured that Mandarake would be the best place to find this sort of thing. You’d think that a store dedicated to manga and manga-related paraphernalia would be the ideal source. You’d think. Nuthin’. Not even a blob of plastic that might resemble a giant flying insect attracted to bright lights. (You’d think they’d have tried that in the movies, incidentally…)

Figures. Sorry, Paul…

Instead, I found something for me. At first, I thought it was just a little model of a train. But when I looked closer, it was … well, it wasn’t a Transformer, but a really cheesy version that turned the front part of the locomotive into a little robot. I couldn’t stop giggling when I saw it. The idea was just so ludicrous. My guess is that it had been someone’s brilliant idea that had failed miserably, resigning them to the Ranks of Unwanted Toys. I rescued three of them — for a mere $7 a pop, how could I resist something like that?

Exiting the store, we went around the corner into the Namco Infi arcade, where we successfully managed to jam the air hockey table (a fortunate happenstance, since Jen was in the process of kicking my ass), and played a couple rounds of Time Crisis 3 before we went back to the JR station. We paused for me to retake a panoramic shot I’d done last year (that had been completely screwed up). Then it was back to Tokyo station and off to Chiba.

The train, when we left, was listed as “For Chiba” (on the JR, the “for” station is where that train ends it’s service in that direction, and either reverses or goes out of service). For some reason, though, it reversed and became a “For Tokyo” train. Naturally, everyone who could understand the Japanese announcements got off, leaving Jen and I on the train.

We’d experienced this once before, in Kyoto. The subway we were on for Karasume-Oike suddenly went out of service, but both Jen and I had missed the announcement. The lights went out, and we very quickly exited the train before the doors closed.

As soon as we realized we were the only ones, we hastily exited for the new train to Chiba. The remaining two stops came quickly, and we arrived in Yotsukaido, Kaz waiting for us at the station. She’d been over at Chris’ old apartment, packing things up. She was going to give us a hand understand how to take the bus back to the apartment. My experience that morning showed that we needed some help.

We popped into Yac’s for some food for dinner, mostly noodles, and some snacks. Then it was back to the apartment for food and games.

Tomorrow, we’re going to try for Nikko. It’s going to be an early morning.