I went to Japan to do otaku stuff, to meet with people, and to relax. I think I accomplished all three to some extent, and now the internet gets to hear about it. Actually, it’s just about the food and the nerd stuff. Bullet-style.
But first, loot pic. And this isn’t even everything.
I went to two maid cafes. I’ve written on Schatzkiste already but hearing that Cirque De La Lune (Tsukiyo no Circus) is closing in a few days, a bunch of us went to it to catch a final glimpse. I thought about going to Backstage Pass but it’s a little too much to handle. Also decided to save my Dear Stage cherry when I go with Paranda or someone who really enjoys that kind of stuff. Supposedly the MaiDreaming in Shibuya has a famous interior designer do their interior and that might be worth exactly one visit. I’ve never done the whole service-oriented maid cafe schtik anyway, so that could be cool.
Wotagei gear: Ruifan’s King Blade x10s are still the de-facto ruler of them all. This year’s X10s come with Eneloops in them, which makes a lot of sense. They’re also all sold out–of all the places that sold these srsbzns light sticks, only Akibazone had it in stock. We had to pick up some MAX Super S’s for a friend and maybe half of the spots sold those. The normal MAXs seems to be in good stock everywhere (like… the Akiba Donki—check there first). There is also a competing brand but they don’t seem to be as good, and they are also somewhat less expensive. On a separate note, we saw some towel holders in Akiba. It’s a great idea and they’ve made ones for Steins;Gate and Love Live. In reality it’s just a clip plus an extra-large strap, and will ring you up 1000 yen or so. Still a great idea. I’ve always tucked it in my pants, busboy style, which is still the idea here I suppose.
Shiny Festa may be on iOS (and English!) now, but they are still a little hard to find in the shops. I guess I didn’t go to too many used game places, but the few used places I went to didn’t really have them. K-Books? That was it. Book-off by Akihabara station only had a copy of Groovy Tune. One of these days I probably should set foot in a proper used game store. Any ideas?
Speaking of which, the used market for some of these older Blu-ray upscales are pretty solid. Kamichu for 13000? Not horrible. I saw all of Hanasaku Iroha for about 26000-29000. I picked up Fate/Zero (with the bonus box) at just under 40000. It still hurts. If I didn’t opt for the box that holds both sets it would’ve saved me about 4000. Meh. Compared to Amazon Japan, the prices sometime are lower, sometimes are higher. It’s really a wash as to who had the best prices.
That said, some shops still were better than others overall. Shibuya Mandarake ~= Nakano Mandarake > Akiba Manadarake. I guess this is obvious. Similar can be said of Animate, after going to the main one in Ikebukuro and the Akiba shop (main strip), the rest of them just feel like, eh. Maybe I should go to Yokohama next time. I didn’t really come across any really special places to shop, as I didn’t really have that true off day to just walk around Akihabara’s back streets and dig into the various small shops. Hard to explore when there’s not that much time. We still visited a bunch of places, like Liberty in Akiba. I suppose there’s just tons of 2nd-hand stores if you really want to bargain hunt, but I get the feeling that the prices aren’t going to deviate much. I kind of want to know where the “new” stuff stores are, how to get the best prices for them… And this time I actually paced through Tora no Ana fully. Both buildings. Found most of the stuff I wanted to see. Actually doujinshi was the one thing that I could have bought but somehow just never really got to it.
[As an aside, OreImo S2 episode 4…nailed it. It wasn’t the true focus of the episode but yep.]
Kotobukiya store had some fierce prices. It was also the only place that sold dedicated figure shelf accessories. There has to be a place in Akiba with lower prices and sell the same stuff. Would like to know! I ended up buying some Fate/Zero plates because I didn’t really see them anywhere… and they were kind of expensive.
I did the AKB48 cafe daily show raffle thing with my travel buddy. The thing requires you to be there at around 4pm on a weekday (realistically go at 3:45). Somehow my friend (the AKB48 fan) was told to line up at 3. It is dumb to line up at 3, especially when the weather was chilly. What happens after that is everyone gets a number, and the event organizer raffles the number. If yours get called you pay 2000 yen and line up on the other side. Then you go in based on those numbering. 40 people gets called in I think; there were about 130 or so people that one time.
The Gundam in Odaiba is pretty cool. It’s worth visiting even if, when all said and done, it’s just a giant tourist trap. Odaiba is a scenic place to walk around and there are other attractions nearby, like Sega Joypolis (I didn’t go) or the Gundam shops (only went to the ones downstairs). And there’s always some event happening by the Gundam.
If going by the displays at Tora no Ana, several Animate stores, and Gamers in Akiba alone (that’s a lot of reference material in a way), iM@S and Love Live are actually niche but hot properties that have a lot of focus but don’t take up a lot of retail. When I went to see the Skytree on 4/18, I ended up buying a bunch of trade keychain/dogtag things. Just because. If an oversea-P wants one (random) just give me a poke before I see you in person, it’s on the house (supply limited). In a separate but related note, I bought some used iM@S BD things off Amazon Japan, ahead of flying there so I can then pick it up. I did some price-comparison shopping in order to figure out what’s the best deal. The truth is the iM@S stuff is pretty high in demand and a lot of the usual haunts don’t even have a good selection. Take that as you will. Price-wise, you can still do better if you just go to the various used places first versus online. While I was there, volumes 6-9 didn’t get a good price break because the supply for them is less, and they’re much newer than the earlier releases, and thus the discount is pretty poor on those.
I went to the Cospa store in Akiba. I also went to their Narita Airport popup shop (which runs from Feb to June 2md). They don’t sell anything larger than XL Japanese which means it’s all too small for me to wear. I think even if I become at perfect weight I might still fit only in XL. Which is to say, the Akiba store has XL for every item they have in stock simply because that never sells out, or so I would like to guess. I also think they probably do have some items in XXL Japanese or even larger? I mean, all those big westerners in Narita, they wouldn’t fit.
I visited Garten and A-button, both nerd bars. Why? People took me there. They’re fun places though. Watching OreImo at 2am with the A-Button crew on a Saturday night was pretty weird already, weirder still was when struggling with jetlag and realizing not 12 hours ago you were about 40 feet away from Hayami Saori (CV of Ayase), who was doing some song and dance routine. And yes, it was season 2 episode 2. Garten is pretty solid, and more like an actual bar rather than a glorified closet. At both places you can chill and talk about Zeta Gundam until the night turns day. Not that I did anything like that. I was able to talk a bit with Shin-san, the proprietor of A-Button, via my poor JP comprehension, alcohol, and guys helping to translate. Good guy. A-button was truly “where everybody knows your waifu’s name.”
I left Japan right before Eva Q came out on home video. The Marketing Is Strong. I ended up buying some Eva beer glasses. It’s weird enough that when walking through the Tsukuba Express tunnel in Akiba station, the shops (and we’re talking about perfectly normal ones) were throwing in Eva tie-in merch.
- True Tears x Hanasaku Iroha x Tari Tari concert. Blog post here.
- Coorie 10th Anniversary Acoustic. Love it when artists post it themselves.
- Well, they did like 4 songs for the afternoon event, so I’m not going to bother. Blog post here.
- Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouki no Deja vu – blog post.
- Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home – I understood this movie much better than Steins;Gate, but no blog post because… well. Coorie show is first.
Semi-nerd: There are over nine thousand pop cultural cross-over promo items for the Tokyo Skytree, and I’m probably not exaggerating. The Skytree is built on top of this mall complex and the main shop for all the crossover merch is on the ground level, above the mall complex. It’s really a mind-boggling place to walk through.
I probably should separately write about otaku food or nerd food as a category, as opposed to just delicious, “real” foods. So I can talk about the various “Shiroi Koibito” knockoffs like the “二次元の恋人” boxes they were selling in Akiba. Or the Chiba/Tokyo ones being sold in Narita. Aforementioned Skytree Village store has a ton of this crap. I bought some K-ON chocolate crisps there (which probably tastes okay), and a box of K-ON manjuu (which probably taste nasty sweet). Narita actually had the best collection of Kit-Kats I saw in Japan. I ended up buying some sauce with Kirino’s face on it. No problem; I eat tonkatsu. Lots. See below.
Again, nerd bars. A-Button is like a blaze of glory of game nerdness. And curry has a coefficient of nerdness to it, so A-Button had some. I had the curry there and it’s actually pretty good; got a nice kick.
For one reason or another I also went to Manten, a cheap, student/salaryman curry place. It’s the kind of hole-in-wall that makes the term every bit as literal and actual as those words mean, and it sells curry. For ordinary curry, it sure tasted extraordinary. Wah’s writeup says it all. It’s in Jinbocho, which is a bit of a hike up (or down?) Meiji U from the Ochanomizu station. We probably should’ve gone from the Suidobashi JR station or took the metro, in retrospect. I really like Mantan. It’s “my kind of store” from the way they give you an espresso-sized serving of coffee gratis, to the way their curries work. Or that they’re in Jinbocho.
Nagi Ramen at Shibuya (The Niboshio location, one by the station) is a very solid pick. We waited for about 10 minutes to get a seat on a weekday night (it was 8pm or so). The soup got this combination of fish-ness and burnt-ness. That sounds bad, but the end result is full of high tones and body, with umami out of the wazoo. The shop gives you options on noodle firmness and oilness, I picked abura noodles because, well why not? I think futsuu is probably just as good though. If you love ramen for the broth then Nagi should be a top 5 destination.
I went to the meat-ramen place in Akihabara, Tanaka’s Akihabara location. It’s “soba” with a focus on the fillings and a lighter soup, which is great if you are coming to soup noodles in the Chinese or Vietnamese style, since this feels a little more honest and simple…and plain greasy. You get a pile of sliced pork when you order the “niku soba” and it’s actually quite rich. It’s the sort of thing you probably don’t want more than once every blue moon though, since the normal chuuka seems to play with the flavors better. At Tanaka’s they offer you bowls of roasted red peppers that you can add to your soup. It’s the steady, mild kind of heat commonly associated with spicy Japanese noodles. For some reason I don’t see the Akiba location listed on their site, but it’s right about here.
There is at least one high end katsu place in Akihabara and maybe that’s where we went to–it’s called Marugo and it’s right next to a tiny shrine. We ordered filet katsu which is, in retrospect, probably not the best choice. The set lunch was 2000 which puts it squarely on the high end for katsu, but the quality of the fried pork was top notch. The set meal comes with soup and rice; the katsu comes with a pile of the usual salad. There’s some special home tonkatsu sauce available, as well as pickled vegetable and plum if you want that to go with your rice as well.
Tsukemen was another objective–seems like the latest fad from Japan? Is NYC ready? I don’t know. But Tsujita is where we ended up eating, which also has a LA location (or two) now. The Ochanomizu location is one of the brightest-lid noodle bar that we went to on the trip. The food is as good as they say it is, and while the broth is salty on its own, it pairs with the noodle in a peerless way. The location is a brisk walk from our hotel, and really not all that far from the Electric Town section of Akiba. This was the other spot that I probably should have revisited at some point.
This is probably more nerd than food, but I had a late-afternoon snack at the Ufotable Cafe. Speaking of revisiting, for some weird reason we made 2 trips to this Nakano-based hideaway of animation x cafe crap. It was running a Girls und Panzer theme when I went. There’s a cafe menu and a dinner menu, but when I was there it wasn’t a dinner menu day (despite being late enough for the dinner menu) so whatever. The first trip we made, it was closed. Kids, don’t go to Ufotable Cafe on Mondays! It’s a good 20-25-minute walk from the Nakano stop, or about 15-20 minutes from Nakano Broadway. Being stubborn about it means I was able to score a Team Duck pin and pick up some coasters, as I stopped by again when it was actually open. The menu item that takes the cake was…the tank cake. Which, well, looks like a tank. The special drinks were not very good (at least, if you don’t spike it–a 150y bonus item on the menu), but it’s a legit cafe and they serve real food, which is kind of better than this other nerd place.
This other nerd place, Good Smile Cafe, is much more slick than Ufotable cafe, which is, well, kind of like the rest of Nakano–worn, but has character. The GS Cafe has the honor of serving my only meal in Japan that I didn’t think was any good. My Rin x Ren katsu-thing felt like something they serve on ANA. Now to put it in perspective, ANA’s in-flight meals are actually pretty okay, but that is quite a low bar for a normal restaurant. At the cafe I think the waiter just sat us somewhere by the door and gave us menus for all three of the promotions that were going on at the time: Sakura Miku, Project Diva F, and Disgaea D2. I ended up getting something from each promo; the Sakura Miku dango (this was actually quite good) with pairing tea, the Rin x Ren katsu as previous, and this weird softdrink that is mixed in Laharl’s color scheme. You get a coaster for the drink and snack and a place mat for the meal, but I think they ran out of the coaster for Sakura Miku. What is probably best about the Good Smile Cafe is the decor, and how they have nice displays around the whole place. You get this little coin for eating there in which you can try your luck at a pin of your choice out of the promotions they have at the time. GS Cafe also serves “real food” that doesn’t have the promo, but it didn’t seem anything special either.
What else? We went to a yakitori place (some cheap chain place in Nakano), a beef tongue place by Kichijoji station, Denny’s (lolol), the kaitenzushi place at the Yodobashi, this delicious and cheap chirashi lunch special, and some taiyaki afterwards. Killing time one afternoon we went to this pasta place, which isn’t half bad, just kind of weirdish.
We did have a brief meal inside the Ghibli Museum. There are two food vendors; a hot dog and ice cream stand with free seating, and a proper cafe with waiter service (that sells all those Ghibli-art milk art that you may have seen). Since we were in a small hurry we went and got food from the hot dog place. It sells “Valley of the Wind” branded beer! And it even sells this pork rice combo that is nice if you want something more fulfilling than a $5 hot dog that looks like this:
The dog looked worse than it tasted; at least the buns were toasted. Certainly it wasn’t the worst thing I ate in Japan (GSC food was probably it), but it’s not nearly the bargain as this Freshness Burger:
Unfortunately, the one food destination I wanted to go was a little too much of a climb to make it in terms of our schedule; actually the fact that I have to make a reservation ahead of time basically nixed it since we can’t play it by ear. Plus I had already spent $400 on a blu-ray box set early on, so I wasn’t really feeling up for it anyway.
Tourism with Google Maps is superb. Especially when you’re walking around in Tokyo where everything is everywhere and you have no way to find it short of a map. I mean even pre-internet days you need a map to get around. Now you have an interactive map, with optional navigation powers. It also helps that Tokyo is blanketed with wireless signal, even much of the underground and inside expansive department store buildings.
What doesn’t help is crazy roaming problems. Getting wireless data in Tokyo can be a post on to itself. First let’s just get this out of the way: wifi is kind of worthless. It is workable but for 4000 yen you could pick up a GSM-compatible (2100 MHZ UTMS…which is likely any pentaband GSM phone made the past few years) data-only SIM. That does basically all you need (sans voice). And even if it’s Softbank, it works pretty okay as long as you don’t do anything data-intensive. Thankfully that means Google services are generally OK. The $20 travel router I bought years ago actually came in quite handy as most hotels (including the one I stayed in) do not have wireless in the guest rooms, just in the common areas. What bit me in the butt was not knowing that Verizon LTE devices do not do data roamimg (3G CMDA) on NTT DOCOMO for some unknown reason. Voice and SMS works, just not data. They’re suppose to be able to (and VZW’s website says this, explicitly), but VZW is having problems with the “local carrier” and it’s persistent. Which means while my phone is capable of doing it, I didn’t get any data service in Japan on my phone. Plan B, then, was using my travel buddy’s phone as a hotspot, and my backup voice/SMS-only rental phone. Given how much I end up using SMS I probably ran up a good bill in the end, sigh.
I did get to see the suburbs a little. Went to visit a friend up near the Koshigaya Laketown mall. The mall is quite large (and according to Aeon’s site, it’s not even the “biggest”) and it’s even got a proper parking deck and all. But that was pretty much it on my trip; other than going to or from Narita, it was Tokyo-to the whole time.
In conclusion, I probably need a small vacation to recover from this vacation, but it wasn’t because my schedule was jam packed with things to do. There wasn’t much of a schedule, so we took things at our own pace. What there was in abundance was the stuff we wanted to do, and it was just not possible to do all of them. I was quite relaxed for the most part during the trip. Adjusting to jetlag after I got back to Eastern Time was more of a challenge. That said I’m still in recovery mode. It certainly doesn’t help with work crunching down right after I got back and having pulled a couple 4-hour nights (I blame Nico Chokaigi). Expect more soft-pitch blog posts until mid-season. No new noitamina anime has a perceivable impact for me after all…
And very lastly, just a round of thanks to everyone I ran into and especially those who gave me a hand, doubly so if you helped me booked something. I’m very glad to have been able to see all these people again, you know who you all are. I’m happy to see some new folks too (and learn about host cafes?) Biggest shoutout to old-timer Moyism for putting up with me the entire time.