Monday, March 28, 2011

28/03/11 - BRUSH UP! A woman is weathercock. the next chapter My favourite collection

The title of this blog I saw on a t-shirt today. My first genuine sighting of engrish!

Anyways, today we decided to check out some of Japan's popular shopping districts.

Our day started with us grabbing a quick bite at the local McDonalds. We both had a potato and bacon pie, which was interesting to say the least. It looked like a typical McDonalds apple pie on the outside, but was filled with creamed potato and chunks of bacon. On the whole, not bad, but not exactly worth salivating over. I suppose you can't expect too much for 120 yen.

First on our list of shopping locations was the humorously named "Takeshita" (Tak-Eh-Shit-Ah) street in the Harajuku district. This street is popular with the young adult demographic of Japan and it was certainly an experience.

Firstly, the street was jam packed. You had to walk with the flow, and any deviation from your current track could lead to a rather severe trampling, or at the very least, having approximately over nine thousand people bump into you, and all you have to offer is your pathetic english apologies to the people who can't understand you. Thankfully though, Emma suggested an excellent system as to how to survive this: If you're going slow, make sure that you're in contact with a wall at all times. That way, you're definitely out of the way more, and you can travel at a more leisurely pace.

The range of shops on offer were mainly clothing stores, with the occasional souvenir/random stuff store. Also, there was a lot of dessert stalls, which sold crepes filled with ice cream and other delicious looking fillings. Unfortunately, as it was just after breakfast, I didn't try one, although the lengthy queues leading back from them showed that they were popular, regardless of what time of day it is.

Emma looked through several of the clothing stores in Takeshita street. Unfortunately, she nearly always ran into the same two problems: the clothes were far too small for her and/or were a cream tone that matched the exact colour of her skin. Both were obviously problems that couldn't be helped, as the Japanese seem to be on the whole significantly shorter, and the cream colour of the clothes compliments their slightly different skin tone much better than it does Emma's. She did strike jackpot at a souvenir store, buying many a crazy Japanese-themed odds and ends, including a stanley knife shaped like a fish.

I took a break from the madness of Takeshita street by taking a detour into a 7-Eleve- Wait, SEVEN AND I-NET HOLDINGS. Yes, that's right, the 7-Elevens in Japan are called Seven and I-Net Holdings - talk about a mouthful!

Inside, I found quite an interesting mix of convenience foods. Including sandwiches with fruit in them! Upon seeing these, I freaked out a little bit, as such a simple idea had ***never*** even thought of crossing my mind! I suppose it makes sense when you think of strawberry jam and what have you, but I truly found this discovery eye opening!

I ended up purchasing some creme-caramel flavoured Kit Kats and a Croissant filled with the cream you get in jam and cream donuts. On the whole, both items were very tasty, and definitely agreed with my western palette.

We then went for a stroll through a foodcourt on the top level of one of the buildings along Takeshita street. It was a strange experience... Lots of shops all selling fast food that I had never seen before. Also, we got a lot more stares in there than usual, as it clearly was not a western-oriented food court. Thankfully most of the stares were accompanied with smiles, which was nice, as we didn't feel shunned - just slightly out of place.

We then headed back to Shinjuku to our hotel for a quick recharge. After our brief intermission, we were off to the Hamamatsucho district to visit the world-famous Pokemon centre store.

Unfortunately, after the 30 minute train ride, we discovered that it was closed for rennovations until March 31st. We're leaving Tokyo on March 30th. Rage. Thankfully though, a quick google whilst I write this has confirmed that there is one in Osaka as well, which is apparently the world's largest. Hopefully I'll get a second chance to satiate my need for random Pokemon merchandise.

Thankfully, our trip to Hamamatsucho wasn't wasted, as across the road from the Pokemon Centre was a simply divine public park. Admission was Y150 and was worth every single yen. Inside, there were rolling hills, a massive koi-carp filled lake and plenty of cherryblossom trees, just days away from blooming. I could only imagine what the park would look like in a week's time, but we'll get our opportunities for cherryblossom viewing further along in the trip. The upside to the cherryblossoms not being in bloom is that the park was virtually deserted. This was fantastic, as it gave the park a feeling of serene beauty in an otherwise hectic city.

Our next stop was Akihibara Electric Town. Those of you who have travelled to Tokyo in the past will know that this name is synonymous with what Tokyo is famous for - crazy electronics, blazing neon signs and crowds of thousands of people. It certainly did live up to it's name. Unfortunately though, due to the earthquake, most of the neon signs were switched off to conserve electricity, but that didn't lessen the impact to a first time traveller in the slightest.

Inside of one of the many buildings that lined the street, the range of technology and other geeky paraphernalia was astounding. I saw shops full of cables, individual electronic parts (down to the capacitor level), PDA's, Laptops, Phones, iPods, Gaming Systems, TV's and other fantastic devices. I even saw a massive 40 inch 3D TV that didn't need glasses! Now that was impressive!

Heading up a level in the building, and the merchandise on offer switched from electronic devices to thousands of figurines (mostly of large-breasted anime women), collectable busts and other popular culture merchandise. In one of these stores, Emma and I stumbled upon the Studio Ghibli section. Seeing as we were unable to go to the museum, we splurged and bought several different souvenirs. I got a Totoro keychain, a plushie Totoro and a ceramic statue of Totoro. Did I mention I liked Totoro?

We then went and explored the upper levels of this building. There appeared to be a disturbing trend as the floor number increased - the higher level the store was on, the more depraved the items stocked were. The floor above our figurine shop was filled with trading cards and other geeky items, ranging from pokemon merchandise all the way through to once again, pictures of large breasted anime women. The next level was filled with creepy "dress up" anime dolls. The next level had an entire store devoted to the creepy "pillow girlfriend" thing that some Japanese men had going on. Not just a section of a store, AN ENTIRE STORE. And a lot of these pillow girlfriends were once again pictures of large breasted anime women.

What I found quite interesting was that all of these floors, regardless of perceived levels of depravity, were full of customers! So even if these things appeared quite disturbing to a foreigner, obviously it is quite a socially acceptable pastime. Well, at least in the confines of Akihabara. If it makes their customers happy, good for them! At least nobody is getting hurt in the process.

From what I glimpsed of the top level, it appeared to be a comic store. But, given the increasingly worrying trend we had observed, we decided to pass on looking inside.

After a quick browse through a games store, where I saw an unopened copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for ~$15, Emma and I headed off to dinner and our last destination for the night.

It is a place spoken in legends among travellers who have visited there - it's food is almost as good as the movie it is based off of. Yes, I speak of the legendary Bubba Gump's Shrimp.

Ok, to be honest, while the food was great, the long journey *to* the restaurant put a severe downer on it, as by the time we got there, we were starving. Still, the food was very tasty, and like in San Francisco, I had the firewall of shrimp - the dish with like four different types of shrimp on it. Delicious as always. We also had a delightful waitress who cottoned on pretty quickly that we didn't speak much Japanese. She instantly switched to fluent English, and was a great waitress throughout our meal.

At the end of our meal, I asked her, feeling somewhat embarassed, "How do you say 'excuse me' to somebody if you need to move past them in a crowd?". She replied with a smile, "Ohh, you just say 'suimasen'. It means halfway between 'sorry' and 'excuse me'. Here, I'll write it down for you!" Our waitress was really awesome!

We then caught the crazy-efficient Japanese railway system back to our hotel. I've noticed that their trains are absolutely spotless! Not a single scratch of grafitti to be seen anywhere. Not a mark on the floor, not a fingerprint on the windows. Very impressive stuff. They also seem to play strange sounds at train stations, such as bird calls and synthesized music-box sounding chime tunes when the doors are about to close. Obviously a very different way to do things, but it certainly gives their stations a unique ambience.

Speaking of music box tunes, when we got back to the hotel, we looked at our swag of Studio Ghibli loot that we bought from one of the shops in Akihabara. It turns out that my ceramic Totoro statue is also A MUSIC BOX! Appropriately, when cranked, it plays the Totoro theme. Thusly, this object is ranked as the fourth most awesome thing in the world, behind monkeys, jetpacks, and monkeys wearing jetpacks.

Tomorrow: Not entirely sure, but probably more exploration of Tokyo!

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