Japan Photolog – Yasukuni Shrine and Diet Building

June 20, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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Final selection of photos from the Diet and Yasakuni, more on Flickr.

Diet Building.
Diet (1)

Final stage of the Diet tour – people taking photos.
Diet

Everyone wants to get their photo taken!
Diet (3)

Walking towards the Yasukuni Shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine

Entrance to the Shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine (1)

The Shrine.
Yasukuni Shrine (2)

Yasukuni museum.
Yasukuni Shrine (3)

Japan Photolog – Meiji University, Imperial Gardens and Metro Towers

June 20, 2007 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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Selected pictures from Meiji University, Imperial Gardens and the Metro Towers. More on Flickr, follow the links.

Meiji University campus.
Meiji University

The area around the campus has plenty of instrument and music shops.
Meiji University (2)

I love a country which offers more Coke at the same price as a regular can and both sold side by side in vending machines.
DSC02013

Entrance to the Imperial Gardens.
Imperial Gardens (18)

Amateur artists.
Imperial Gardens (17)

One of the many parts of the garden. A water theme.
Imperial Gardens (24)

A big field. Exciting.
Imperial Gardens

This random kept trying to use his phone, turning it every which way and doesn’t seem to be successful.
Imperial Gardens (3)

Through an arch, looking at a moat.
Imperial Gardens (13)

The Municipal Towers.
Tokyo Municipal Towers (9)

Plaza in front of the towers (with school groups assembling).
Tokyo Municipal Towers (10)

Looking down on the plaza from the observation desk.
Tokyo Municipal Towers

Panoramic view. Mt Fuji is somewhere on the horizon but pollution obscures the view.
Tokyo Municipal Towers (16)

View over park.
Tokyo Municipal Towers (18)

Observation deck, with a high ceiling makes the room feel quite empty.
Tokyo Municipal Towers (21)

Despite being a modern high tech building they still need staff to clean out the pools.
Tokyo Municipal Towers (8)

Japan Photolog – Shibuya, Asakusa and Roppongi Hills

June 20, 2007 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Asakusa, Japan, Roppongi Hills, Shibuya, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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Selection of photos from Shibuya, Asakusa and Roppongi Hills – more on Flickr, click the links.

Hachiko’s statue in Shibuya.
Shibuya (6)

The main (and very busy) intersection in Shibuya.
Shibuya (5)

More of the activity.
Shibuya (4)

Life in motion.
Shibuya

Wallking!
Shibuya (7)

Entrance to the Asakusa district.
Asakusa (8)

Main entrance to temple area.
Asakusa (6)

Shopping district leading towards the temple.
Asakusa (5)

Facing the temple.
Asakusa (27)

Close up of the temple.
Asakusa (29)

Pagoda in the temple area.
Asakusa (26)

Another temple? The Asahi factory.
Asahi Building

Roppongi Hills Tower at night (blurred).
Roppongi Hills (3)

Roppongi Hills again blurry.
Roppongi Hills (6)

A very blurry picture of Tokyo’s Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower.
Roppongi Hills (1)

Japan Photolog – Harajuku & Meiji Shrine, Ginza and Akihabara

June 20, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Akihabara, Ginza, Harajuku, Japan, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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Photos of Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Ginza and Akihabara. Click on the links for more on Flickr.

What I thought was part of the Meiji Shrine complex in Harajuku…
Harajuku 2

But not.

Here is the Tori Gate at the entrance of the real Meiji Shrine.
Meiji Shrine (10)

The couryard in front of the shrine.
Meiji Shrine (3)

The main shrine building.
Meiji Shrine (2)

Harajuku station with the Meiji complex on the left and the random place I went to originally somewhere in the top right.
Meiji Shrine (8)

Sunday in Ginza where the streets are closed and people can walk freely.
Ginza 13

Ginza even has foreign entertainment! Fancy.
Ginza 9

While not the tour book advertised cafe lifestyle spilling onto the street it does feature chairs. Chairs!
Ginza 1

Returning to Ginza.
Sony Building

The Sony Building. The showroom is the corner on the right of the mural.
Sony Building (2)

A funky looking building and older style lamp post.
Ginza (6)

“Quil fait bon” – best cake ever.
Ginza (3)

Akihabara with the streets closed to traffic.
Akihabara 11

Festival activity in the streets of Akihabara.
Akihabara 8

Festival goers carrying shrine?
Akihabara 5

More of the festival atmosphere.
Akihabara 1

Japan Photolog – Ueno

June 19, 2007 at 7:44 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Ueno | Leave a comment
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Some of my photos from Ueno. More can be found at Flickr.  

Night in Ueno.
Ueno (6)

Maze of streets, food shops and pachinko parlours.
Ueno (1)

Lake in the middle of Ueno park.
Ueno Park 4

Towards a shrine in Ueno Park.
Ueno Park 10

Founder of Japan’s Red Cross.
Ueno Park 7

Cats are everywhere, I’m not sure whether it’s natural or if they’re fed by the homeless.
Ueno Park 6

Tokyo National Museum, bleh!
Ueno Park 20

Cemetary North of Ueno.
Ueno 8

These graves have a modern and austere compared to the more traditional styles.
Ueno 7

I like the broom leaning up against the grave.
Ueno 9

It’s a little difficult to see but on the other side of this road are a few small statues. I wonder if they are ancient shrines or a Japanese variant on the cross on the road when a person has died in an accident.
Ueno 13

10.5 Last day in Japan and off to London

June 19, 2007 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Japan, London, Tokyo, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Checked out of the hotel without difficulty – well other than the mad rush to get to the airport in time. Rather than go through the hassle of changing a few trains and too many commuters jostling me with my luggage I decided to take the Airport Skyliner. I almost missed it when the ticket vendor gave me the wrong type but a mad rush back up the stairs and back down to the platform again had me sorted out. The train trip was uneventful and arrived at the terminal without difficulty. There was already a line for the check in counter but that was easy and now the waiting for boarding.

Food, wandering, sitting and more food helped to fill the time.

My BA flight was ok, the service and food was fine but the lack of variety in the entertainment (same content cycled through every few hours) and the alternating squalling child on the right aisle and noisy Germans on the left with me in the centre did limit my sleeping. Granted I rarely sleep well in chairs. Which makes the lack of good media all the more pressing.

Arrival in London! Passed through immigration with my British passport and felt a thrill of “Oh wow so I’m really British now” and naturally, having checked my bags in early in Japan meant they came out onto the carousel late. Next to the trains where the efficiency and attempted assistance to foreigners so readily found in Japan was replaced by….London.

I asked three different staff how to validate my pass and all gave me different directions and gruff exteriors. I’m sure they’re all cheer on the interior though.

Eventually got to St James and my hotel Vandon House. Decent enough for a single room with shared facilities and located in a central location. It is well situated and after checking in I walked to Buckingham Palace to look out over my new home and thinking everything looked quite twee.

Post mini sightseeing trip went back to the hotel and fell into bed for some quality sleep. 

Day 10 – Yasukuni Shrine and Diet Building

June 17, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 2 Comments
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My last full day in Tokyo (Thursday for those keeping score) started off poorly as it was a rather rainy and blustery so I contented myself with email and blogging until things clearer up a bit in the afternoon. Luckily, there were only 2 things to do today go to the Diet and the Yasukuni shrine.

Japan’s Diet (pronounced more like “D-et” than “I’m on a Jenny Craig…) is its House of Parliament and for a politics geek like me it seemed a fairly obvious choice however none of my guide books cared – except to say it has interesting architecture. I can appreciate this stance given that the tour is only in Japanese but you are given a reasonably comprehensive English brochure. The only tedious point is sitting in the Lower House chamber when the guide puts on an audio track talking about political …stuff… and the question and answer session afterwards. Nonetheless having the opportunity to wander (in a regimented line) through these halls and viewing the Imperial Hall, Suite and Entry (only used by the Emperor, so basically once a year) and other portions of the building, in addition to the information in the guide was a worthwhile activity. The guide, although not speaking English, was friendly and always made sure my guidebook was at the correct place. Language barriers to one side the only problem I can see with this tour is for anyone with disabilities or poor fitness as you do go up and down a fair few steps.

After about an hour I now had to rush to the Yasukuni shrine (controversial for housing the remains of several Class A War Criminals from World War II). The shrine itself appears rather simple, in keeping with most shrines I have seen in Japan and there is no external sign that this is anything more or less than a shrine. In other words nothing seems outwardly controversial. I thought I would have very little time to look through the museum as it was almost 4:30 by the time I arrived – however I’d assumed I could get through it pretty quickly like I did most museums in Japan. I was wrong on both counts, luckily the opening hours had been extended to 5:30 and unfortunately there was considerable English text and displays meaning I was barely a third through when told to start making my way out. This of course precipitated a mad rush through the remaining sections getting a bare grasp on the contents before moving on.

As to the museum itself, there are plenty of displays outlining Japanese soldiers’ efforts during their civil war and those further afield. As mentioned there is a sizeable amount of English and my inner cynic says this is to try and argue the Japanese case for various conflicts to a non-Japanese audience. The non-cynic simply thinks that the museum curators wanted to improve tourism.

I’ll be honest about my thoughts on Yasukuni and I’ll provide a few caveats before hand: as noted above I did not read everything fully so I may have missed out on valuable information, and I am obviously not Japanese nor a follower of Shinto so I am unaware of the religious/cultural issues. First off, I don’t have a problem with Japan paying its respects and thanking its soldiers for their work (much as today with the politicians’ mantra of supporting troops but not the policy) and doing this at a Shrine doesn’t concern me any more than any other war memorial. However, that respect and tribute shouldn’t apply to war criminals. Having said that and this is where I lack information, Shinto may (or not) have a particularly strong forgiveness element (after all don’t most religions?) which would permit interring these criminals, but with that in mind, shouldn’t the losers in the civil war also be forgiven and interred? While pondering that I wonder how the dead Southern soldiers in the US civil war were treated (Australia not having a similar experience for me to draw upon). Without knowing more about the religious context I am at a loss as to the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of having them there.

As to the shrine museum where it provides a (revisionist?) explanation for Japanese expansion and I acknowledge that every country has different interpretations, history is written by the victors and in the long view of history Empires come and go and normally there may be a few winners but generally there are lots of losers. Having said that and recognising that this is a commemoration I don’t think you can talk about history and arguing a point (like these criminals should be here) without offering a refutation or indeed explaining the reason why people are angry is ‘x’ and this is (or is it?) false because of ‘y’. Basic academic debate. For example, I’ve lived in Nanjing and gone several times to the Nanjing Massacre Museum and while I concede that the death toll will never truly be known, there was definitely a death toll and it was more than simply an incident with about 3 small paragraphs tucked away on a wall in the shrine. Although this is favourable compared to the POW labour camps which received no mention at all. Comfort women may have had some comment but I cannot recall the specifics. I’m unaware of Tokyo having a shrine/museum of remembrance dedicated to these acts that would offset the Yasakuni avoiding the subject.

I suppose what my rambling is trying to say is that if you want to argue a point you need to offer and dispute the counter argument or failing that acknowledge the fault and hopefully move on. I would hope any memorial/ museum could aspire to that but I cannot recall what was (or was not) featured in the Australian War Memorial Museum and have yet to go to the British. Lastly, if the Japanese Government’s/PM position by going to the shrine is one of supporting the bulk of troops but not the acts of (hopefully) a minority then this needs to be argued and presented better.

Now feel free to disagree/argue but note I do not in any way shape or form pretend to be an expert on the Yasukuni and its associated issues, these are simply my reactions as I claw towards a better understanding.

Day 9 – Meiji University, Imperial Gardens, Metro Towers, Meiji Shrine, Ginza and Roppongi

June 11, 2007 at 4:00 am | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 2 Comments
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Day 9, Wednesday, was hectic as I ran around Tokyo trying to cover off the last items on my list. Although my first item was a new entry – the Meiji University Museum. I’d only heard about this museum quite late as it didn’t appear in my Time Out Tokyo guide book, however in the Lonely Planet Pocket Tokyo guide Karen gave me it is given a brief description. The pitfalls of relying too much on one guide I suppose, thank you Karen! My main reason for going was to check out its crime section but I was pleasantly surprised by the range of archaeological content, including ancient Jomon period artefacts and belatedly post-Sakai kofun materials as well. Additionally they had some handicrafts but I skimmed through that area. The crime section largely focused on torture and misuse of official power during Japan’s medieval period and ended with a small cross comparison against similar means of coercion from Europe (for example Iron Maidens and the like). The latter element seemed a little defensive in nature but for the small space and the period of history it’s discussing it was a reasonable display on crime. I was disappointed that there wasn’t anything more recent in the collection – not in terms of torture – but rather the state of crime in the post-medieval period. At any rate there is a reasonable amount of English and these descriptions help to place the items into a broader context which was very useful. Given the space available, its lack of crowds and that it’s free mean it would be worth a visit – in many respects I feel I gained a better historical perspective of Japan after visiting this university museum than after going to the much hyped Tokyo National Museum. Although I’ve already complained about that institution.

After an early lunch I hopped back on the train to Tokyo station and the Imperial Palace East Gardens. These free gardens in the middle of Tokyo are a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle and are fine for a wander around or to look at some of the old fortifications but honestly I didn’t think they were particularly fantastic, just another garden (albeit large) to look through. I only hope that the Royal family’s private gardens on the other side are of a higher quality. In my humble opinion this is not a “must do” rather a “it’d be nice”. The Imperial Household offers guided tours (in Japanese) of the palace which you have to pre-book for, I did ponder this (despite the lack of Japanese) but chose not to due to time. In the end this was probably a good choice as I saw the tour group in the gardens and they were all old grandmas forced to wear these white plastic vest/bag things to show they were part of the official tour group.

Done with the gardens I jumped on another train, this time back to the other side of the city and Shinjuku and the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers. Getting to the towers from the station is remarkably easy with an underground path virtually the entire route, lots of English and quite a few travellators to ease your journey. Realistically, the only reason to go to the towers is for the free observatory floors (one in each tower). I chose the North tower (although you can do both if you’re particularly keen). Presumably on a rare clear day the skyline would be absolutely glorious but on a more normal overcast / polluted day it is merely excellent. You freely walk around the windows, comparing the view with the information board in front that shows prominent landmarks. To an extent I think it was a good idea to come here at the end of my trip to see all the places I had been (plus many I hadn’t), it helped to put the geographical experience into perspective. On the other hand at the beginning I wonder if it would have provided a sense of anticipation to all that my trip may offer. Perhaps next time I should go to the South tower upon arrival and return to the North tower on departure? The observatory deck also had a live singer, coffee shop (awful) and gift shop in case you got bored looking at the view.

Now done with the Towers I rushed back to Harajuku and my other Meiji of the day, the Meiji Shrine. Determined not to be beaten by a simple inability to read a map a few days ago I made it a mission to return and actually reach the shrine I had been to so many years ago. After leaving the station I made the two right turns that landed me almost at the entrance to the park and on the path to the shrine. So easy! I walked purposefully across the gravel and under the shaded and cool branches of the surrounds (a completely different atmosphere to the Imperial Gardens from earlier in the day). I ignored the other tourists but did stop occasionally to ponder whether something was a new addition or not. In any even I found my way to the Meiji Shrine without great difficulty and took the requisite number of photos, now feeling somewhat vindicated I walked quickly back to the station to get the next train to Ginza.  

There were two important reasons to come to Ginza today, the first was to check out the Sony Building and the other more important reason was to meet Miki for coffee and cake. First off, the Sony Building does not look particularly cool or innovative but that’s ok it was probably built in a different era. According to the official site and wikipedia it’s from the 60s. Last time I was in Tokyo it was closed so I was adamant I’d get in the door this time around and of course that was done without difficulty. Myself and a number of other interested foreign tourists (ie none of us had any intention of buying) walked through the various floors that made up the showroom. Much like in Akihabara I was oblivious to any new technology beyond what was obvious from the exterior and honestly I was surprised by the limited space and the lack of any “concept” items. Another oddity was the almost complete lack of presence for Sony’s own Playstation range. Is that an ominous sign?

At any rate the lack of anything momentous at the Sony Building meant I could get through it very quickly and try and find Miki. After a few phone calls back and forth we managed to meet and head towards this small French cafe, “Quil fait bon” and the 10 minute wait to be seated was well worth it. While the coffee was fairly average the cake was absolutely delicious. I had a green tea cake that was so light and easy to cut I am still drooling over the thought. One of my London goals is to find a bakery that equals or exceeds my Tokyo experience. While I will probably gain weight it will be well worth it and if you have a suggestion please let me know!

Saying farewell to delicious cake and a very cool friend I made my way to Roppongi to meet up with another awesome friend – jjag80 – where we ventured into the district and got some dinner before heading to a local pub for a few drinks and saying final farewells.

All in all a very busy day that ended rather satisfyingly with good food but also somewhat sad as I said goodbye to both Miki and jjag80.

At any rate my final full day in Tokyo was rapidly approaching.

Day 7 – Shibuya, Asakusa, Ueno (again) and Roppongi Hills

June 10, 2007 at 8:30 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 1 Comment
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Monday had arrived and it was time to get back out there and explore Tokyo, starting with Shibuya. I left my luggage at the capsule hotel for the day and took the train to Shibuya station. Once again got a bit lost (clearly a pattern has emerged) and eventually found the right starting point for exploring the district: Hachiko – the statue of the dog that so loved its master it returned every day after his death until he too died several years later. Reminds me of that Futurama episode. Hachiko is the meeting place in Shibuya and near the station entrance and the main intersection you can understand why. The intersection is reportedly the busiest one in the world and even if not it is nonetheless teeming with people crossing every few minutes.

Shibuya is well known for its fashion and walking around and through the fashion stores its easy to see why but if Harajuku has a more alternative inclination then Shibuya could be described as more elitist, more, how should I say, in a Paris Hilton vein of clothing and well vanity. Very glossy, shiny and expensive. I hadn’t intended to spend too much time here but I ended up spending quite some time as I waited for my phone to be recharged at a SoftBank I stumbled across (I had left my charger in Osaka).  So I explored some more, which turned out to be a good thing as a few more stores were opening now that it had reached 11, including a very large anime/mange store – Mandarake. It was very popular with more foreigners in this concentrated space than I’d seen through all my traipsing in Akihabara’s manga shops the previous evening. Afterwards I ate at a random hole in the wall got my phone back and began navigating my way to Asakusa. Shibuya is excellent for fashionistas and for the rest of it’s great to sit down and people watch.

With a more rustic or traditional feel Asakusa may be the closest you’ll get to a ‘traditional’ Japan in Tokyo, well that and loads of tourists, shops selling to tourists and the giant Asahi beer factory. But besides all that it is nice and relaxing to wander amongst the stalls and through the Sensoji temple. Apparently the temple had recently had some sort of event (possibly related to those I’d seen in Akihabara) and as a result there was a great deal of dismantling and other clean up activity going on, however this did not deter me or the other tourists from checking out the large temple at the center, the tall imposing pagoda or the assorted shrines set up in the grounds.

Asakusa is a pleasant place to wander around but at the end of the day the throngs of people put a real dampener on any real enjoyment. Additionally, I don’t intend to write so little on the temple or the district but honestly, I wasn’t overawed by the complex per se but the combination of temple grounds and shopping streets does create an atmosphere and it is this atmosphere that I as a tourist savoured the most from my experience in Asakusa.

It was now starting to get a bit later in the afternoon and it was time to return to Akihabara to pick up my belongings and check-in at my next hotel. I admit I didn’t particularly want to go through the effort of researching a new place so booked myself back in my original hotel in Tokyo – the Oak Hotel. After all it was fine the first time. I paid less than 7,000 yen and received a single room with ensuite. The room also features a TV and phone, while the hotel is accessible 24hrs (with swipe), has several internet computers, friendly staff and a small common kitchen and is located about 10-15 mins walk from Ueno station. Overall it is very good for the money that you pay. Really the only downside for me was having to lug bags there after arriving after a long international flight and train ride into Tokyo – a minor complaint that should not detract from the other advantages.

Once I’d settled back in my room I made my way to Roppongi Hills to catch up with jjag and have a wander around looking at the good side of the tracks area compared to its neighbour Roppongi – which we’ll cover briefly in a future post. There isn’t much to say about Roppongi Hills other than it is gleaming and well to do.

Day 6 – Harajuku, Ginza and Akihabara

June 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm | Posted in anime, Anime & Manga, Japan, Manga, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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On Day 6 (Sunday) I returned to Tokyo in the afternoon once again via Shinkansen and made my way to Harajuku. I was planning on seeing the Meiji Shrine and the cosplayers that make this suburb their home (particularly on the weekend). Harajuku, with its narrow winding main street is filled in equal parts funky clothing shops and food stalls on the one hand and tourists, spruikers and locals (whether cosplaying or not) on the other.

If you’re into shopping and fashion you’ll no doubt be interested in taking the time to explore all of the ins and outs of Harajuku but for me I was here to check out the people and to do it quickly. Time was ticking after all. Unfortunately, after “exploring the surrounds” (getting turned around) I found my way to a shrine or temple which was roughly in the place of a shrine listed on a Japanese language map I’d seen earlier. While it didn’t look as big as I remembered the Meiji shrine from my previous trip I put this down to the access paths were closed and not being at the main building. I wandered around a little hoping to find a big cluster of cosplayers to check out but unfortunately there were none in this area.

Of course if I’d been smarter I would have realised/ remembered that this was completely the wrong part of Harajuku but instead had to rely on Miki to tell me a few days later as she scanned through my photos.

While I didn’t get to the bridge connecting Harajuku with the Meiji shrine (where according to my guide the bulk of the cosplayers gather) I did see quite a few as I walked around but nothing amazingly outlandish. Did I take photos? No, I feel a bit weird taking photos of people, especially those who are dressing up, as I wouldn’t want to make them feel like they’re an attraction when they’re just trying to be themselves. Granted I’m saying that without knowing their individual motivations and possibly just laying my own preconceptions onto the situation.

With Harajuku done (at least in my head at the time) I was ready to move onto Ginza. Tokyo’s high end shopping district. My guide book advised that on Sunday they close the main street and it turn it over to pedestrians and (not verbatim) ‘cafes and everything spills out onto the streets in a European style’. Except not. Silly incorrect guide book.

Yes the street is closed which means you can walk at pace quite well up and down the main boulevard and there are the occasional street performers but that’s about it. There are no alfresco coffee shops just a few chairs placed in the middle of the street every so often for those weary walkers. I was glad to have gone to Ginza but annoyed that I’d bothered to go on Sunday when I could have visited realistically on any day and spent more time either in Harajuku or my next destination: Akihabara.

Akihabara is Tokyo’s technology district with every shop stocking alternatively a piece of technological gadgetry or manga/anime related products. Honestly, while I should have been uber impressed by the technology I wasn’t.  The items may have been super advanced on the inside but I was oblivious to this due to the language barrier and so I was reduced to a casual inspection of the exterior where they all looked like a variant of a TV/ phone/ camera etc. One of my stops was to the Tokyo Anime Center and it was quite disappointing. When I hear the term “center” I had imagined a variety of things, none of which were the glorified information service and gift shop that greeted me at the (small) Anime Center. It would be so much easier to just walk down the main street and wander into various shops than to bother with the anime center in it’s current size and form.

Speaking of walking, when I arrived into Akihabara I found that its streets were closed as well and this may or may not be a result of the festival that was occurring. Many, many people were working together as they paraded small shrines through the streets. I have no clue what this was in honour of but apparently there was a large festival in Tokyo over the weekend. The participants (from all ages and genders) looked like they were having a ball – it was infectious.

I checked myself into the Akihabara capsule hotel and then headed back into the area and wandered around anime and manga shops. A relatively healthy experience given the number of stairs to climb to cover each building’s floors. I was suitably impressed by the range of products in anime, manga and general merchandise. Whatever your taste there will be something in Akihabara for you – although being able to read it is another matter entirely. If I had any room in my luggage I may have bought more (as it is very cheap compared to prices in Australia/UK – although these are translated) but in the end I only purchased the latest Bleach.

Another Akhabara staple are maid cafes. I’d vaguely heard about these cafes where the staff dress as maids without knowing too much about it or doing additonal research and had considered going in just to check it out but while in Osaka I happened to watch a game show that shed a little extra light (as well as ick) on the cafes. This game show (no idea of the name) pitted various foreign otaku against each other in the struggle to be named biggest otaku. I was quite impressed by these foreigners (from a number of countries) as they had to speak and understand Japanese. After one of the challenges the contestants ended up at a maid cafe where the ‘maids’ dutifully spooned ice cream into their mouths. From what I have since gathered this maid/master relationship is the standard and honestly it doesn’t work on any level for me – even to just check it out and say I went. So I didn’t. For those more interested there are plenty of maids on the street handing out flyers. I didn’t see any cafes on street level but there are numerous signs pointing the way.

After all that walking it was time to head back to the capsule hotel. For those of you not in the know or not wanting to click the link a capsule hotel is basically a single futon in a rectangular box, it features a tv, reading light and alarm clock and the ‘entrance’ has a blind. It is quite high, lying on my back I could not touch the ceiling. The capsules are stacked two high and on this particular night I was on the lower capsule. They are highly affordable at 4000 yen per night and are often used by late night revellers or businessmen who have missed the last train home. Going on a Sunday night was a good option as there seemed little chance of drunken idiots. Men and women are segregated to different floors and there is a gender plity communal (Japanese style) sento bathing. In your little gift bag you receive toothbrush and towels as well as the Japanese yukata. I had a good experience, sleeping quite well but if you were quite tall or claustrophobic it may be a challenge. At this particular hotel the reception was 24hrs which allows for lots of sightseeing. I met a British traveller here who’d spent the past 4 nights at the hotel and had no problems and enjoyed his time.

If you’re coming to Japan and are on a budget then the capsule hotel is a great alternative, conversely you may want to give it a try before they become too old hat and are available in every airport and train station.

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