Day 1: Porn to Porn, Dust to Dust.

15Sep13

I started the day by checking out the TV in my room. The power symbol seems to be universal, and I thought I clicked “channel up” as well. Looking back now, I can clearly see the kanji for “paid” before “channel up”. It really was nice of them to let me preview the paid channels for a minute or two. That gave just enough time for the screaming Asian girl, who didn’t seem to be enjoying having a flesh-colored mosaic thrust into her, to wake up my neighbors before I could find the volume button.

An auspicious start to the trip!

My hotel is a five minute walk away from Shinjuku station. Shinjuku station is the size of Madison Square Garden and has a GDP equal to the state of Delaware*. You can get anywhere in Japan directly from Shinjuku station.

* I made that up. It could easily be true though.

There’s a park near the station called Shinjuku Gyoen. I checked it out to kill time before my noon meeting with my contact/guide/savior, Jess. At the center, there was a fantastically manicured lawn and you couldn’t see any of the buildings, and I guess that’s all you really need from a park in the city.

The star of the show was the kakigoori, or shaved ice. I ordered some in the park from a nice old lady. Rose flavor. This treat could solve international conflict. The dessert tasted like Aphrodite’s breast milk.  It made me want to be a better person.

I waited for Jess in the depths of the busiest station in the world for too long before realizing I should connect my phone to the station’s free Wi-Fi and read her email about how she was waiting _outside_ the sweatbox pressure cooker that I’d been standing in for the last hour. Smart.

She got me a gift, which did nothing but make me feel like an idiot for forgetting that whole eastern culture thing like a true American.

Jess is an interesting phenomenon. She’s an English teacher  from Delaware who loves living in Tokyo, a fan of anime and Pokemon and alcohol, but with a very quick wit and a sort of snarky attitude toward the Japanese culture. I once mention that I thought the androgyny thing was kind of a joke. She laughs. Hard.

The entire time we are together, she is telling stories. This friend misunderstood this, this friend was drunk and did this, my students said this. Almost every one gets honest laughter out of me and I now wish I had a record of them.

Jess also made no excuses about loving some sweets. She suggested that we visit a restaurant called Sweets Paradise in Shibuya for lunch. As if the ignorant tourist lost in the world’s largest city would somehow reject honest advice in his native language.

Okay here’s the setup. You pay 1500 yen (15 dollars) and get two hours of time at a buffet which serves really shitty Italian noodles, soggy garlic bread and soup (the main ingredient in each of which seemed to be olive oil), and then you can eat as much mediocre cake, ice cream and other assorted confections as you can handle.

For me, it was around one slice of strawberry shortcake and some pudding. For Jess it was literally two plates full of cake and a bowl of ice cream. I did eat my fill of oil though. Still, I can’t help but think it wasn’t worth, especially when food in this country is so ridiculously cheap. Just for food, I could live on 500 yen a day, easy.

We browse the all-to-tiny variety stores in Shibuya, take a picture with Hachiko and move on to Akihabara.

Everything you read about Akiba is true. Everything. You want to buy a multimeter? You want to buy a Virtual Boy? You want to buy hentai? Consider where in the world you would find a whole in the ground filled with men smoking and playing Street Fighter against each other for hours and hours on end. I walked blind into that one.

I feel like I’m about to use the word “buy” a bit to much in describing Akiba Electric Town. So I’ll just use it once. I’ma buy all the things. Figurines, card sleeves, sweat rags, phone dongles, cards, literally everything otaku exists in Akiba. I’ll give you more on that when I return Monday and Tuesday.

Big props to Jess for mentoring me through the district. I feel confident that some parallel universe exists wherein I, bereft of Jess’ soft guidance, blow fifty dollars and five hours playing the Madoka Magica crane game. She also had an astounding amount of advice for anyone who wanted to teach English overseas, and offered to operate as my very own private Japanese shipping service once I leave. So it was well worth it when I bought her a rare Donganropa keychain that she was missing from her collection.

For dinner, we sought out Kaitenzushi, or conveyor-belt sushi. I think you can piece together how it works, but I made sure to break a taboo and film the restaurant. At 105 yen a plate, it’s surprisingly affordable. In fact, no food in this country costs anything at all. I had 5 plates and felt full, Jess packed away 11 in approximately as many minutes, so I didn’t offer to pay for her meal. Sorry, Eastern politesse.

She went back to prepare lesson plans, I went back to pass out from exhaustion.

Thought of the Day:

Okay, there’s the weird thing Japanese stores do. First, they make the aisles way to small. This helps you bump into things and knock them to the floor so a small Japanese man can come over and apologize at you. Secondly, they only put on display a frustratingly few options. Like at the Ghibli store, there were three puzzles on a shelf. I know that there were at least twenty different puzzle designs they had in stock. But three were on the shelf.

It’s really an interesting insight into the culture that kind of rationalizes the attitude of a Nintendo-like company. Why do they keep bringing out features and gimmicks, and then convincing the customer that what they want is the same thing as what Nintendo just trotted out. Shouldn’t they instead find out what the customer wants and provide that? Nope! Because that’s exactly how you shop in Japan. It _sucks_.

There’s a reason the milk is in the back of the supermarket. A lot of thought and research goes into designing a store. These people do not give a shit about that. The Japanese seem to like to offer you five semi-random things in as small a space as possible and expect you to be satisfied instead of asking if it comes in your favorite color. Listen, I want this oppai mousepad, but I want the Haruhi one. There should be a huge bin of oppai mousepads that I can search through! Arrrgh! I guess it comes down to floorspace.

The single most organized thing I’ve seen so far has been the porn, as expected. Alphabetized by actress/character/series, it’s a breeze to navigate. Oh, Japan.

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One Response to “Day 1: Porn to Porn, Dust to Dust.”

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