Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 3: 四ツ谷と秋葉原へ行こう (Let's go to Yotsuya and Akihabara)

The third day of the trip was definitely the best so far, although due to very sore feet that are that way directly because of all the walking done today, things will probably be condensed a bit. Although every time I say that, I end up ranting quite a bit anyway, so we'll see if irony strikes again. Considering I managed to have a hotel elevator door hit my arm as I tried to get in, I imagine karma may continue to be a jackass and force me to ramble some more, much like I am right now.


Today's itinerary in Yotsuya had very little do with Sophia University, unlike previous days, as well as tomorrow. Instead, the focus was primarily on touring Chiyoda-ku, the ward in Tokyo which Yotsuya is a part of. I'm not afraid to take back what I said yesterday about the area being somewhat bland; after learning that the area actually has quite the fascinating political history behind it, as well as some very lovely parks I somehow managed to avoid before, I think the area is pretty nice now. The details given on the tour are too many to list, but I will mention that I really liked our tour guide, a Mr. Akira Yoshida, an older man who was a native to the area. He was very charismatic and seemed to enjoy showing us around at least as much as we did getting to know it. A few people in the group, myself included, took the opportunity to practice our Japanese. I know that native speakers are often prone to praising anybody who can speak even just a bit correctly, but receiving praise for using some of the more complex grammatical points for me personally was something that made me feel good. My main issue with Mexican Spanish was that I had a really solid theoretical understanding of it in writing, but when it came to speaking, I just had no real world practice. Hopefully, with any luck, I'll manage to avoid those same pitfalls with Japanese in the end, even if I won't be around so many native speakers for a year.

After concluding the tour with a subway ride back to the university, we all ate bentous, highly iconic boxed lunches that are common in Japan. The fact that I was able to eat one in its native country made a world of difference in terms of taste. Everything from the lotus roots to the rice to the marinated chicken just tasted a whole lot better than most anything I could get in Colorado. After all, living in a land-locked state like mine essentially means that I have to sacrifice freshness and at least some "soul" if I want Japanese food. But in its native land, I have to make no concessions when it comes to the food and I'm beyond glad I don't have to. It really was marvellous food.

Post-lunch primarily involved more orientation stuff, none of which was particularly fascinated and can be skipped. That said, let's move on to the second major part of today for me: Akihabara.


It's a bit difficult to explain the significance of visiting Akihabara for the first time to someone who doesn't have the right tastes from the get-go. In a nut shell, Akihabara is an electronics-heavy district in Tokyo. There are probably shops for most everything you could possibly need, from electronic dictionaries to refrigerators and everything else in-between. But that description doesn't really convey the charm of the area that well at all. Akihabara is special in that it unflinchingly flaunts its nerdiness with regards to how it presents itself. It's an area where a lot of anime, manga, and video game fans go if they want to satisfy whatever hungers they have pertaining to their hobby and Akihabara doesn't hold back at all in telling you that's what it's there for. Flashing lights, maids, and arcades are seemingly everywhere and it makes for a sight that, while potentially seizure inducing, is really unique when compared to the rest of Tokyo. So, knowing that I am indeed quite the coinosseur of video games, I knew I would end up in the area sooner or later and it turned out that the first time would be today.

This first run to Akihabara was spent visiting predominantly two places: Club Sega and Super Potato. Club Sega is essentially a multi-floor arcade run by the mega game company Sega, best known in the States for its Sega Genesis and Dreamcast consoles, as well as its mascot, the blue Sonic the Hedgehog. Different floors at Club Sega have different types of game machines. The very first floor, for example, consists mainly of anime-themed crane machines, whereas the upper floors are devoted to fighters, space shooters, and the like.

In the midst of exploring the facility, I ended up playing two somewhat familiar games, the first being Taiko no Tatsujin, or Taiko Drum Master in English. As a music game, the premise is pretty simple. On screen color prompts tell you which part of the replica Japanese taiko drum to hit in time to various popular songs. Beings as I own the only home version to officially come to States, the learning curve was basically nonexistent, although the fact that the noise coming from a billion Street Fighter IV machines and other things in the building meant it was very hard to listen to music and, by extension, maintain proper timing to hit the taiko drum. It's doable without that, but the experience is rougher all around.

The other game I played with was a single-player version of Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core, a two-dimensional fighting game with anime aesthetics and a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor. (There's a character named Faust! YES! THAT FAUST!) Like Taiko no Tatsujin, I own a home version, so the game wasn't completely foreign. That said, though, playing the game with an arcade stick proved to have quite the learning curve attached to it. I'm very used to playing the game with a standard controller at home. Arcade sticks, on the other hand, are pretty different beasts entirely. The joysticks have a different sensitivity and, since I happened to be playing on a generic arcade cabinet meant to house a number of different possible games, the buttons also had no labels to tell me which ones corresponding to what attack type. After a few matches, I managed to work out most of the kinks, but I'll probably have to visit again if I want to be super comfortable playing with an arcade.

The other main place I visited, Super Potato, is a lot easier to summarize in one paragraph. It's basically a hardcore used games store that specializes in retro consoles. Their claim to fame is the fact that their stock seems to have no bounds. Within that tiny space contained within three floors is an archive that puts most any American used game shop to shame. If you're looking for something specific like I was, then more likely than not they have it somewhere. Granted, it's almost all Japanese versions, but that's not much of a problem since I've long since learned how to work with those games for years. This trip resulted in me only buying a few items, but I guarantee I'll be back. Here's hoping I can restrain myself. If nothing else, though, it was one of the places I did practice Japanese with, asking the staff if they had a certain Che Guevara-themed game in stock. No joke.

Other Happenings

On the way back to the Akihabara train station, I stopped off with a couple of friends at a kebob stand to eat dinner. Having not had any since visiting Sydney in 2006, I had forgotten what they tasted like, but much like the bentou I had earlier, the kebob I ordered was really fantastic. You get a decent amount of food at the stand for only 600 yen, as well as your choice of one of seven different sauces. I, being the Denver native I am, naturally opted for what was called "hot," described on the sign in Japanese as being spicy, but sweet. It was indeed pretty much that; the sweetness came first and the spicyness came a few moments later. It actually tasted just fine, despite the seemingly oxymoronic nature. Will definitely get more from there when I return to Akihabara in the coming weeks.

Today was also the day I really got to know the train station well and felt confident about ticketing, switching routes, etc. Getting to Akihabara is a bit of an interesting proposition, since it entails paying for stops that aren't already covered in my pass. It turned out to be an easy enough matter; the system for adding money to the card is really intuitive after a bit of practice and checking how much you have left at each stop is an equally easy affair. That said, however, the day was also a lesson in making sure the lines you do get on stop at where you really want to go. Multiple trains might belong on the same line, but they can go in different directions or have slightly different routes, although it's all easy to verify through signage and maps. The latter proved to be slightly problematic for me and my friends; we got on an express train route familiar to us from going around Tokyo, but inadvertently picked one that skipped our normal stop by one. We all knew that we probably had to switch lines to the non-express variety in the opposite direction, which doesn't skip over any stops at all. Thankfully, we had a very cute and sweet Japanese girl confirm our suspicions on the train. After making one more mistake picking the right line, but the wrong direction, we finally ended up in the right area so that we could return to our hotel.

It looks like that trip to the Studio Ghibli museum is becoming more and more of a reality, though. We have to reserve tickets using a touch screen system with no English option, but thankfully there are online guides that cover that pretty well. Since we plan to go on Sunday, we may very well wrap the matter up on tomorrow. Stay tuned for more because, dammit, I'd really love to visit that place.

1 comment:

  1. I have found a great product cure for this problem or to learn Japanese .  My friend recommended me to visit http://tinyurl.com/ucanspeakjapanese