Tag Archives: akihabara

A part of nature

We think about it but only for a second, as is our wont, brain-service, pretty ideas. Apparently there is a large typhoon coming to meet us as we vacation in Tokyo, it’s gonna shake our hands a little bit, tell us what is up. Because we have not looked it up on the Internet or watched about it on television, it exists only in the real world, where nothing is real. Ignoring reality I go to Akihabara and buy a couple Famicom games at Super Potato, which is a name that makes no sense in any language. Jessy goes to Shibuya for clothes shopping at the trendy Shibuya 109 department store, where it is a virtual certainty that even the maintainence workers dress better than me. I’m gonna meet her in a few hours to give her time to buy stuff, but before we split up at Akiba station, my woman idiotically suggests that we spend money and buy some decent umbrellas, because it “might rain.” I tell her it is a stupid idea because carrying umbrellas is for rat finks, but fork over the clams anyway and tell her to get me a nice one. One hour later, as I push past the Gundam Cafe, which is deserted, I witness a teenage girl’s umbrella being ripped from her hands by a massive gust of wind. It implodes on itself forty feet in the air, metal pieces and vinyl careening end over end like it just bit the end of Char Aznable’s MS-06 Zaku II machine gun. She emits, as though a weak-battery klaxon, a pathetic whimper, and is instantly soaked from head to toe by sheets of rain. I pretend in my mind that she also explodes cause of the force of the rain and another, tinier her is forced to eject from within, to safety, to refuge. To avoid her same fate I let the spring down on my umbrella so it collapses shut around me like a comically large hat, point myself down, and proceed under heavy fire. Suddenly, for the first time in history, I am a rat fink.

Amidst this ridiculous tropical storm, I missionize: I’m off to the Akiba Mandarake store, a multi-floor complex of rare games, anime, figures, toys, comics, and freaks like me (the freaks are not rare). The store is named “Complex,” which is a fact you could find out if you visited their website, where you would also see that on this very day, they are closed for store inventory and renovation. My sneakers, over five years old, slosh with each step as the water seeps in through sole holes. There is no more room for the water to go. When I arrive at the Mandarake I already expect it to be closed due to the weather. Instead it is closed due to the pre-existing condition, which somehow dampens me from the inside. I turn around to meet a like-minded kindred spirit behind me, a homely boy with pudgy fingers gripping his tiny shit umbrella desperately. Exchanging no words our faces droop in soggy disappointment. It is time to take refuge in the least terrible place to be stranded: the greatest arcade in the world!!!!!!…? It is called HIROSE ENTERTAINMENT YARD. It has an entire floor just of shooting games, and the floor above that is entirely fighting games. In the arcade, which was teeming with people yesterday but is essentially my vacant playground today, I drop 100 yen into Night Striker, a sit-down cabinet with flashing lights on the sides and the loudest bass, man-shaking bass, of any video game I have ever played. It is one of the greatest experiences of my life and is over in six minutes, “ha ha ha.” Here is a video of some other schmoe who is lucky enough to have one in his garage playing, which will convey to you a fraction of the greatness. Look at the sides of the monitor frame, there are MOTORIZED FUCKING LIGHTS that zip around as you pass through the streets. This game along with Hideo Kojima’s 1988 Snatcher to me is the complete typification of late-80s cyberpunk Japanese animation and gaming and owes no small debt to Blade Runner and by no small debt I mean “massive debts.” I probably need one of these in my house whenever I get a house. Anyway here is a video, oh my god. (This is the U.S. cabinet but they’re pretty close whatever.)

Later, after I have exhausted all possible avenues of primarily non-moving entertainment possible by myself at 1 PM on a weekday in Akihabara, I hop on the Yamanote line and meet Jessy in Shibuya. We decide to leave Shibuya for Yokohama and stay at the hostel we have booked, and fast. Curiously, however, virtually every train out of town has been closed due to wind. So we rush to the one that hasn’t and buy a ticket. And then, as people smash out of the gates and toward the gates, they announce “yep this train is closed now hoo hee hee.” And I feel like I am at a concert again, surrounded by a thousand people, no literally probably more than a thousand. We decide it would be nice if the group “ebbed” us over in the direction of that stairway, but have little choice in the matter, like the flakes of Oreo left over in your coffee mug of milk. We go only the way we are sloshed, and finally emerge broken mans. There is no refuge–even the walls of the jewelry stores are packed with people who cannot stand around outside cause of the rain and wind, and cannot leave cause all of the trains are closed. Having nothing to do we push up the street into Shibuya, away from the station, where it is getting dark but the lights make it bright, and notice a huge tree in the middle of the road. This tree is special because it has landed on a taxi. Instead of trying to clear the debris or help in any way or even allow support personnel to the scene, dozens of Japanese do as the Japanese do and huddle around, trying to grip their umbrellas tightly so they don’t blow away, holding their cell phones in the other hand, pushing around each other to snap the best picture. This is so insane that I laugh out loud like a diseased banshee, the deranged caterwaul of a pleasure-seeking feline echoing in the streets. But not before I take a picture like a serious piece of shit.

Burgertime

In order to waste time, maybe thinking that if we wait around long enough the typhoon will hurry up and magically disappear and all the trains will open up again and we will somehow need to go somewhere in Tokyo and stay the night despite having no place to stay anymore on account of we had to cancel our hostel reservation in Yokohama since we could not get there, we decide to pop into a little ramen place and eat so much food that I literally split in half down the middle and all my guts come out in the street and I die and I am now dead as I type this. But after we eat, the hot reality sets in. In our hands-off approach to our vacation we have been thrust into adventure, exactly what we desired! Stuck in Tokyo, weather-a-ragin’, people all around us, and no plans–nowhere even to sleep! Gracious!

There are a few ways to sleep overnight in a Japanese city that you cannot leave and do not live in. You can rent out a karaoke box all night, or go to a manga cafe and lie in the room while your body stink drugs you to sleep, or (generally, only if you are a male) visit one of those fabled capsule hotels where you doze in a little pod in the wall like at a mausoleum. But if you are On The Double, and maybe want somewhere to shower and relax, which is to say if you are looking for a hotel, you are probably going to find something that calls itself a hotel but is not actually a “hotel.” Yes, you will invariably stumble upon the infamous “love hotel.”

Can I tell you what a love hotel is? A love hotel is an infamous part of modern Japanese culture, a generally ritzy, tacky affair with ridiculous, usually themed interiors and exteriors where you can go in and get a room for you and your new(est) honey to share. The trick is that you might only want to share it for a little while, know-what-ahm-sahn, so you can choose to “rest” rather than “stay,” with a “rest” coming at a reduced rate. The only reliable way to actually differentiate a “real” hotel from a love hotel is seeing if they offer a rest rate. If they let you pay less to stay less, bingo! It’s a love hotel. Stranded in a foreign city, looking only for a place to stay on short notice? Good news, world-weary traveler–you are about to sleep somewhere that people mainly use to fuck!

Price of admission

Conveniently, we are stuck in an area of Shibuya called Dougenzaka, affectionately nicknamed “Love Hotel Hill” because of the concentration of love hotels on the hill up behind Shibuya 109, where Jessy was just purchasing clothing hours before. The decision is made easily–tonight is love hotel night–but the matter of selecting a place in which we are allowed to pay small fees for the privilege of performing the duties of consenting adults proves a trickier task. I personally am sort of into the idea of staying at the most depraved-looking one we can find, with the bright lights and the weird names, but we end up stumbling into one that has an exterior decorated like a Japanese rock garden, and I figure this could be it. Any doubts I have are allayed when, as we ponder the selection of rooms (each one has a picture and prices by it) on the large selection wall, I notice a classy, suit-wearing middle-aged man emerging with his elegant middle-aged lady from the elevator. Having, presumably, just finished his business, he stops in front of the payment window, which is barred off so you can see only a glimpse of the elderly woman behind it, offers two crisp bills through the slot below, and says “thanks for every time we visit.”

My mind races with questions!! Is this woman he’s with just “today’s woman?” How often does he come here to be on such friendly terms with the payment lady? Doesn’t it make the woman embarrassed that her man has, in front of her, thanked the love hotel payment lady for ALL THE TRIPS HE HAS MADE HERE? None of the questions matter on any functional level though, for I already have all the information I need: for one reason or another, this literal mother fucking man has a favorite love hotel. He has been around the block, he’s seen what’s out there! And he’s made this his go-to, his number one. Must be a classy joint! If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me! We push a little electronic button on the wall next to our lit-up room, and it de-lights. The lady slides a key under the window. In our room on television there is a laminated plastic card that informs us the adult cinema channel is channel A2. I push it immediately, and see a woman being used somewhat how a cow works, except you put all the milk inside the cow first and then it shoots it out. Good christ did I type that? We change the channel after about 30 seconds, fully 18 seconds longer than I was mentally prepared to watch. At the head of the elevated bed, in our room decorated traditionally Japanese and the air heavy with the stale smoke of years of post-coital fumes, there is a small paper package containing two condoms. I feel sorry for anyone who has entered this room in the past, finding themselves wanting for one more or left with another to spare. I think about it only for a second, as is my wont, long enough not to forget.

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Jessica Dovey, Jessica, Dovey, MLK jr

So much has happened since last we spoke! Where do I even begin? Perhaps with last night’s meal at a place called Kura Sushi, which is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is literally operated almost entirely by robots which pack the rice, ferry the food to you, and even pour your drinks.

DO ANDROIDS BREAM OF ECLECTIC FISH

Perhaps the New York Times did a better job just a few months ago explaining what makes Kura a neat place than I will. But for those of you who are reading my articles on devices unable to process hyperlinks (like paper), I shall explain! You sit down at a booth with a conveyor belt on one side. It repeatedly shuttles plates of sushi past you, and if you want one, you take it! Every plate is 100 yen. We had stuff like tuna, grilled shrimp with cheese, salmon, salad rolls, eel, shrimp tempura(!), and there’re even things like potato cheese gratin dishes, ice cream desserts, french fries, hamburger sushis, and onion rings.

If there’s something you want that you haven’t seen, you tap it in on a touch screen, and in a few minutes it is ferried to you exclusively on a separate, second conveyor belt, atop a cute little train that alerts you when it has arrived. When you’ve finished a plate, you drop it into a little dispenser under the conveyor booth, where it is automatically scanned by a mysterious sensor that detects a pickup on the bottom of the plate. The plate is added to a running total on your touch screen! Even the beer is served by a robot. You put in 450 yen and stick a mug underneath a nozzle on the machine, then hit a button. It tilts and fills the glass, then at the end even shoots some in at a high speed to leave you a little head. It fills it to the absolute top of the glass. When you’re done with your meal you hit another button which displays the total plates you’ve eaten, and summons a lady to come over and write the number on your ticket, which you bring to the register to pay. (We managed 45 plates between the seven of us, for an absurd six and a half bucks a head.)

Kura Sushi is the pinnacle of Japanese achievement. If you needed any further proof, for every fifth empty plate you drop into the hopper, a tiny video animation plays out on your screen, which you will randomly either WIN or LOSE, like a lottery scratch card. If you lose, oh well. But if you win, a large capsule machine mounted atop the conveyor belts screams a ding at you and kicks out a plastic ball with a tiny prize in it (we won two mini-magnet clips last night). Is Kura Sushi the greatest place on earth? Duh.


(Original picture of Kura Sushi and cute Japanese kid by some person on the Internet named yamakazz, not me, because I do not regularly dine with children.)

IN OTHER, NON-FOOD, JESSICA DOVEY NEWS

When she is not busy eating at robot-operated sushi restaurants, my companion Jessica Dovey now moonlights as a massive internet celebrity. Jessica Dovey, Jessica Dovey, just to piggyback off the inevitable Google search results for Jessica Dovey. What happened was, she wrote a little line about her feelings on this whole Osama bin Laden thing on her Facebook, then followed it up with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. And her friends reposted it, and those friends reposted that, and Penn, of Penn and Teller, reposted that, only somewhere along the way in the Internets the whole thing got made out to be a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, when only part of it was, and then we got her on Twitter and we had her say “hey, I wrote that,” and there it goes.

She has had articles about it and interviews with her in such media outlets as: CBS News, USA Today, BBC Radio, The Atlantic, kottke.org, and a million blogs. I figure probably three million people have read her quote and/or her name, which is about three million more than will ever have any idea who I am. I am… okay with this. Does any of this all sound weird? It is. It is also a situation almost impossible to explain elegantly, so riddled with odd paradigms of language mutation and memetic spread from person to person. The Kids Today like to say something like this is “going viral,” but to me that sort of sounds like a buzzword infection, and I’d rather not refer to diseases when it comes to people sharing things they like. “Hey dude, Jessica Dovey is going viral!” “Is she gonna be okay”

The true gem in all of this hullabaloo, however, is obviously JessicaDovey.com, which some random purchased bought and registered, and which now displays, in giant, ominous font, the phrase “MARTIN LUTHER KING JR VS OSAMA BIN LADEN VS JESSICA DOVEY.” This elicits the thought of a battle royale grudge match, keep it clean let’s come out boxing, during the course of which these three terrors will fight a battle of spoken ideals, and come out as best pals.

BEIN’ A GEEK IN AKIHABARA

We used the “Golden Week” holidays this year, which are a period of a few holidays that happen to fall together next to each other in May, to take a little trip to Tokyo and enjoy city life to the max. Some people dig going to temples and shrines and mountains and castles and seeing “Traditional Japan,” but I’ve already kinda done that. I have seen the best temple and the best shrines and climbed the most famous mountain and been in the greatest castle. So I dig kickin’ through the busy parts of the biggest cities and being surrounded by more people than I’ll ever have occasion to after I leave.

The busiest, dorkiest place in the world is probably the section of Tokyo known as Akihabara, where I stopped off briefly when I first came to Japan but returned to this week with two years of haggard grizzle and experience: not fearing the odd constructs of the culture allowed me to really dig in this time. I purchased six Seimitsu arcade buttons from a tiny store on a side alley as narrow as a bathroom stall so that I can modify the new fighting stick I bought recently. We went through anime stores and manga stores and game stores and smoky arcades, drank Dr. Pepper from vending machines, saw maids handing out flyers, and dodged the flannel masses in thick glasses with fanny packs. From other cultures and other countries they are yet my brethren, and as we rifle through shelves of discount, outdated gaming hardware there is an unspoken connection: we were probably both the same, once.

The rest of our journey took us to the top of a building in Shibuya where we drank white wine criminally underdressed, to a basement foreigner hangout called the Pink Cow(?) where we dined on enormous burritos and looked at expat creeps, to Shinjuku for fresh hot udon and izakaya beer, tall buildings, the Tokyo Tower, Asakusa and shrines swarming with tourists, and to a variety of places in between. It is a city I could never see entirely even if I had lived there all my life, which resonates with me in an interesting way–how would life be spread out in all directions forever? Ultimately we must choose a place, I suppose.

THE SCHOOL CELEBRATES CULTURE WITH FRIED FOOD AND SHORT SKIRTS

Hundreds of my students are hanging out the windows as swarms of humanity mill about in the school courtyard, chowing down on cheap teenager-made food and listening to music and dances performed earnestly by Other Students. One all-girl band just busted out a not-half-bad rendition of “I Love You Baby” to the cheers of the student body and their parents and community members, which took place after the dance club, clad in not-just-a-little-suggestive black skirts and purple backless lace-up tops, performed a significantly inappropriate series of gyrations to a Lady Gaga song.

This Is FES, the banners say, where FES means festival, most specifically the school’s yearly bunkasai, a festival of culture. This means performances for two days by every club and group we have here. The brass band busted out forty-five minutes of tunes, some conducted by club members, culminating in an enjoyable Disney medley, while the drama club today put on a full production of “DEATHNOTE,” which is a popular anime-manga-movie franchise here that I have never seen. The choir performed to a house so packed that the old ladies had to fan themselves with their programs.

What this all means for me is that for two weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, I am here at school, at work, during a time traditionally reserved for Not Work. In addition it means I am accosted by students begging me to buy their wares, foods, snacks, pose for cell-phone pictures, and visit the rooms where their club activities are on display. Actually, despite the whole shebang requiring me to wake up at 7 am both days of my weekend and proceed to work as though it’s just another weekday, it’s actually pretty entertaining, and definitely a uniquely Japanese school-spectacle, since these kids have stuff to show off that are the fruits of actual (significant) over-practice, unlike the half-assery often on display back in the US of A.

As compensation I get Monday off, and another Monday next month. That’s fine I guess! As the resident foreigner the day off cannot come too soon–it is easy to understate how exhausting it can become merely being Looked At by every kid you have ever taught, their friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, community members, and their pets. Suffice it to say that after today I will be ready to get all the eyes off me by heading home and setting my hands to work cooking up some steak burritos with the meat I’ve had marinating all day, and sinking these teeth into it, and chilling down with a couple beers while absolutely nobody watches me.

Perhaps this is the counterpart to celebrity: it can get a little tiring knowing how many people are always preoccupied with you instead of themselves. Maybe I’ll ask Jessica Dovey how it feels.

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