9 June, Heisei 22 (Wed)
I’m a sucker for landmarks, which is why I went to Asakusa on this slightly rainy Wednesday. Asakusa has some awesome-looking old-fashioned Japanese architecture, along with a couple of honkin’ huge red lanterns that mark the portals to a bazaar-market type thing. Were it not for all the schoolgirl sailor suits and other tourists (both Asian and Western) the place would be a dead ringer for a Samurai Champloo setting.
Moving along, I took the Ginza line to Ueno, then the silver Hibiya line to Akibahara (Akiba), which was once know for being a center for electronics, but has become a haven for otaku, or lovers of the anime/manga/video game culture. I didn’t want to miss seeing such a massive concentration of a specific culutral phenomenon unique to Japan. Even the vending machines, numerous here as well, contained “dinner in a can” for those who were too busy gaming, gambling, or gawking at the maids or whatever obsessive activity to sit down to a proper meal. I saw a lot of posters and flyers advertising the imminent video release for many anime I’m currently watching, which strangely enough was a nice connection to home.
For lunch, I headed to a familiar place, another McDonalds. This one had an eating area in the basement as well as one floor above ground level; I went up. What is amazing about fast food in Japan is that while it is incedibly fast, it still manages to be neat and tidy, exactly how it looks in the pictures, not like someone sat on it. It’s perhaps a little thing, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I didn’t buy that canned soup, though because I was scared of it.
Done with Akiba, I backtracked to Ueno. Ueno is characterized (by me) as being dominated by a huge park. Containing gardens, a zoo, and several museums. Unfortunately the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closed for repairs, but the Japanese National Museum was opened, so I took a look. Its exhibitions chronicled the roughly 5,000 years of arts and culture of Japan, from simple pottery to impossibly detailed and accurate map scrolls to early modern Japanese art influenced by the West. There were also some exquisite swords and armor.
After a leisurely walk around Ueno’s park, I head not back to Shinjuku, but to Ikebukuro for supper. Today’s choice of eatery was much easier for some reason, despite being just a random one. I got a whole roasted fish with some kind of horseradish-type garnish, rice, and miso. After dinner I checked out the nearby Toyota Auto Salon, the second-largest in the country. I saw such unsurprising models there as the Camry, Corolla, and Prius, but also many quirky and interesting models not sold anywhere but Japan, or at least not in America. Six floors of tire-kickin’ goodness. Probably only an automotive fanatic such as myself would car about such a wealth of proverbial fresh meat.
From the Auto Salon, I made for the nearby Sunshine 60 building in Sunshine City. This building is prominent in both the beginning and ending credits of Durarara!! and shown throughout, and is so-called because it has 60 floors. It was also built on the site of a former prison where prisoners such as HIdeki Tojo were executed, and is believed by some to be haunted. Anyway, an elevator shoots you up at 600 meters a second…which is fast. It puts on a very dramatic show, too, as the elevator’s lights go dim and switch to a cool blue planetarium atmosphere with constellations and dreamy music; why I don’t know but it’s cool. I imagine Hitachi or someone makes them. Can’t imagine them letting Koreans build their elevator, but who knows. The top floor had excellent views of the city, from a different perspective than Shinjuku or Roppongi, as well as an elaborate display for an anime I haven’t seen called Hetalia World Series.
When I came back down to earth I wandered around Ikebukuro a bit more. It really is something to behold when the sun is down and the lights are up. Most people seem to be wandering around like me too, sometimes stopping at some store like Bic Camera, which seems to sell nothing but white signs with tons of red or blue writing on them. Also everyone seems to always be in need of a new phone from Docomo, SoftBank, Apple, or the like, despite the fact everyone already seems to be covered phone-wise.
The typical cell phone in Tokyo is a flip-phone; rather large and rectangular with squared-off edges and stuff hanging from it like charms. Anyway, I think I may know why everyonee’s out wandering around, eating, drinking, buying big cells and playing Pachinko: because Japanese TV is, on the whole, not that great (at least the analog feed I was getting in my hotel room; an HDTV would have cost extra.) To avoid it, and the creative if structurally repetetive ads, they go out. Such practical people.
Anyway, from Ikebukuro I take the long way home on the Marunouchi line. Shinjuku is 18 stops away, but I paid for unlimited subway service and I’m going to get it; not like I’m in any particular hurry.