I have returned from Japan! A lot has happened since my last post — my apologies for the relative infrequency of updates, but I have been incapacitated by jet lag until now. At least I hope until now… This post will come close to wrapping up my final week in Japan with more gaming discussion as I did make my way to Tokyo Game Show (which was insane — more on that later).
Sadly the two sets of batteries I brought for my digital camera died and I didn’t bring the charger because, well, I am an idiot. Therefore the photos accompanying the following accounts will be a mix of iPhone photos and those from my camera before it died. My most sincere apologies!
Right, so let’s get right into it. Here is one picture I sadly forgot to include in my first post, but when wandering the streets of Kyoto I saw a shop whose speciality was the WORLD’S LARGEST GAME. That’s right: kujira or whale. Here is a picture I took of a chart depicting how to breakdown one of these beasts:
I decided not to partake of whale while in Japan. I suppose I won’t have the chance anywhere else on earth (aside from an Inuit settlement in middle-of-nowhere Alaska), but considering the politics of whaling (not to mention record mercury levels, yowza) I thought it would be better to let this opportunity go. In addition to raw slices of whale meat I also saw whale bacon. Yea, whale bacon — you have a good long think about that. Is there a food more fit for royalty? Surely not.
Whale sashimi for $10
Most nights ended watching Japanese television and drinking Japanese beer. I imagine that is how most people in Japan spend their nights. It’s a great feeling to be heading home with a herd of public transportation commuters and just stop at a convenience store to pick up a couple beers. Japanese television is notorious for being utterly bizarre, and on some level that is true. However for the most part it is intensely educational. I did learn about how velcro works on a microscopic level, that fall is train station bento season, and all about daily life in Mongolia. Did you know falconry is still a lucrative occupation over there? I also saw a man hold his face at the end of a ramp and take a rice cooker to the dome.
Here is a pic I managed to grab from a program explaining especially ridiculous english phrases:
Sure, it is absolutely ludicrous, but it is still teaching a foreign language. In addition to English, there were programs on learning Spanish, French, and even Arabic. Each program also include details about culture which is integral to getting by in a foreign country.
Let’s get back to food — namely foods unbarred to me by geopolitics which I did in fact consume. Even though I had some delicious ramen in Kyoto, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to see what the Kanto region had to offer for this famous street food. A little Googling around brought me to Ramen Jiro, a small chain whose reputation had me as hungry as I was intimidated.
One of the first English resources I found on Ramen Jiro was an extensive tutorial of etiquette complete with information from how to order to how to not throw up everywhere. This particular ramen, you see, is quite rich. And it seems many patrons believe the chef looks down on those who cannot finish the entire bowl. Forcing down fatty foods in large quantities is a recipe for a vomitarium. Still, the rumors of the quality of this ramen were too enticing to pass up, even from fear of upchucking. This Japanese YouTube clip should give you a further idea of what kind of operation this is:
So we arrived early in the morning, bent on eating one of the least healthy meals one can find in Japan. There was already a line of Japanese dudes making the same pilgrimage I was. Some were on their lunch break, some were college students on vacation, and some were elderly gentlemen doing morning calisthenics. All around the tiny building hung the aroma of garlic.
Ramen Jiro’s steaming caldron of miscellaneous pork bits and garlic
We were finally seated in front of a counter slick with ages of spilled fat never fully washed away. I couldn’t help buy gaze at the cauldron of pork and garlic bubbling next to the gruff ramen chef. Occasionally he gave it a stir with a paddle (that could easily be used as an oar) or threw in an ambiguous cut of pork — health codes be damned! It was very quiet, for the only people free to speak were the three staff members. Finally a huge bowl was placed in front of me. It was time to finish what I had started — no turning back, you shall not pass, etc.
It tasted better than it looks
The taste was good — rich, just the right amount of salt. Oh, and the garlic. So much garlic. I noticed by poking my chopstick through the soup that there was a layer of fat settled on the surface about .5 cm thick. The noodles were thicker and chewier than I had had in any other ramen, but they tasted fresh. I tried to eat at a decent pace, but as a westerner I have yet to master the slurping method deftly utilized by locals. After working my way through what I would like to think was half the bowl, my stomach looked up at my brain, then back to its contents, then up at my brain again and said “Whoa whoa whoa. What is going on up there.” With my nerves as high as they were, I decided not to chance regurgitation. With my most genuine look of shame, I placed my noodles on the counter above me, quietly uttered my compliments to the chef, and emerged into the not-so-fresh air of the streets. Mission accomplished.
After filling our stomachs with a dense ball of garlic and noodles, we made our way towards a destination impossible to ignore when near Tokyo: Tokyo Tower. The red and white structure modestly disappeared into a thick fog hanging above the city:
Once you arrive at the base, there are a multitude of shops obviously geared towards tourists, both foreign and domestic. Then there is an elevator where you can purchase a ticket to the halfway point. I believe that is at about 150 meters. We were warned that due to the weather, visibility wasn’t so great. Supposedly you can see mount Fuji on a clear day. There was a “look down window” on that level, which provides an opportunity to well, look straight down. You can even walk on it which had a number of people kinda spooked:
I also bought a glass of iced milk for the exorbitant price of 350 yen as my stomach was still angry with me for my earlier transgressions. Milk at 150 meters: obvious action film title?:
From this point you can pay a little more to ride another elevator to the pinnacle. Well now, I didn’t come 6,000 miles and 150 meters to be a cheapskate. We, of course, purchased tickets to the top. The 250 meter mark:
OK, after all that talk of vomiting and overpriced milk I am sure attention spans are running thin. I feel for ya man, there are a lot of distractions on the internet more worthy of your time. In an attempt to help you stay focused here are some fun images with considerably less backstory, phew:
Hatsune Miku Itasha
Dragon Quest themed “bar” in Roppongi
I suppose now I should discuss Tokyo Game Show. Let me tell you the terrible mistake I made by going to Tokyo Game Show: I didn’t get a press pass. I probably could have done this fairly easily, but I didn’t. A press pass allows only those in the industry to attend the event for the first two days, so we are talking a small percentage of the population. After that the event is open to all for a small fee.
Open to all.
I don’t remember where I saw it, but I know I read that about 20,000 people attended during those final two days, and it fucking felt like it. I have never, in all my apparently sheltered existence, been in a building with so damn many human bodies.
Every game had at least an hour wait and between the growing claustrophobia and heat, I couldn’t convince myself any game there was worth the stress. Still I couldn’t very well leave Tokyo Game Show empty handed, right? It turns out they also sell some pretty cool merchandise, so I decided to spend some money and run for it. Here are the spoils (not including a mild sunburn from waiting in line outside for a half hour):
Actually, most of that was purchased by Sarah. My only purchase was the Catherine themed shirt which actually fits me kinda funny. I dunno what it is about Japanese shirts, but the neck-holes are always so small on my trunk-like american neck. Here are the rest of the shots worth seeing from Tokyo Game Show including merch and games I walked by while fanning myself and mentally screaming “oh God, please let me out of here.”
So yes, Tokyo Game Show was a trying experience. It had me questioning how much I was willing to suffer for the video games I love. Seeing people in line to play Monster Hunter 3G knowing full well they would be waiting for a good two hours was beyond me. If and when I ever return to this event, you better believe I will be armed with a press pass.
Right, so lets get back to non-failures. That means more food!
One night, we made the mistake of perusing Akihabara until nearly everything was closed. That left us to search around our hotel for a dive to find some dinner. Now our hotel was in a rather shady area of Uguisudani in Tokyo. There were a ton of hotels, most of which offered a “rest” option in addition to a full night. I’m not quite sure if this is for drunken businessmen looking to pass out somewhere or for, well… you know. Let’s just leave it at there were better places in Tokyo to see.
As we were stumbling back to our hotel a salaryman popped out of one of the eateries along the way and immediately noticed two foreigners looking around aimlessly.
“This place is cheap!” He said excitedly in Japanese. “Cheap and good.”
It’s rare that a Japanese person goes out of their way to talk to a stranger — let alone a foreigner. Honestly, this was one of the few incidents of this nature in our two weeks. Given the stereotype of drunken businessmen, however, we both assumed he was sloshed and kept right on going.
“It’s true!” He repeated. “I’m a salary man so I would know.” We turned around and started to think this guy may be genuinely trying to help out. Considering how difficult and fatiguing it can be to pick places to eat over the course of a week, we turned around.
“What kind of food is it?” I asked.
“Um well… what are you looking for?” The rest is kind of a blur, but after explaining I was looking for donburi we eventually ended up at a completely different eatery, the interior thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of cooking. We took a seat at the kind of seats where you sit on the floor — the name escapes me at the moment. On either side of us were small groups of businessmen sleepily hunkered over their tables litered with empty beer bottles. They chatted and smoked in the most casual manor. It was an experience to say the least.
The food was… nothing special, but just knowing I was in an authentic salaryman dive made it worth it. Later it turned out that the cigarette smoke got to me more than I thought: my eyes were red and swollen before going to bed. It was my badge or courage… or something.
This may be a good point to wrap up this gargantuan post. Expect one final installment on my adventures in Japan covering the remainder of my trip. I was happy to have seen that some long time readers were interested in my goings-on abroad, so I thank you all for your open-mindedness. I really wanted a good opportunity to remember this trip and can think of no better place to record it than here on Kotowari. Rest assured normal gaming coverage will pick up again now that I have returned home.