Monday morning I woke at 8am, eager to tackle Tokyo but undecided on approach. The first adventure of the morning that faced me was navigating Jon’s apartment’s toiletries. Unlike a Western household or even the typical Western-style hotels that dot Tokyo, Jon’s Japanese apartment housed a narrow room with a bidet toilet, and nothing else, and a separate room with a small sink beside a fiberglass box that served as bathtub and shower. Adjusting the faucet on the sink in one direction began a flow of water into the sink. Adjustment in the opposite direction began water flow to the hand shower.
After cleaning myself up for the morning, I informed Jon that I was curious about Ikebukuro’s “Otome Road” otaku shopping district for two reasons. Despite numerous previous trips to Tokyo including even a week-long residence in Ikebukuro, I’d never managed to find “Otome Road” before. Furthermore, I’d recently read word that the offerings of the area had expanded to include all varieties of doujinshi, not just female-audience-oriented works. So Jon offered to guide me to Otome Road.
We first stopped at a convenience store where Jon used the ATM. I snapped a photo of the convenience store’s glass door that was adorned with a promotional sticker for “When Marnie Was There,” Studio Ghibli’s new feature that premieres next month. I noticed that the store offered a selection of Totoro and Pretty Cure plastic fans for 360 yen each.
At the Yotsuya train station, we first purchased a Suika card for me, a JL railways reloadable pass that would allow me to ride trains without having purchase individual paper tickets each time I wanted to travel from one district to another. The Chuo line reported a possible 20 minute delay due to “passenger injury,” a common euphemism for someone having jumped in front of a train to commit suicide. I hoped that the omen wasn’t a harbinger for my vacation.
We headed to Ikebukuro. I was pleasantly surprised to see the station filled with large posters advertising a current Tiger & Bunny art exhibit at the Sunshine 60 mall, along with one-sheets for the current St. Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary feature film. We exited the station by following the “Sunshine” exit signs.
Almost immediately, despite assistance from Jon’s cell phone GPS, we found ourselves lost amidst the tightly packed streets of Ikebukuro. Jon suggested that rather than walking past the Sunshine 60 building, we go back and enter it. Upon doing so, we looked up through the skylight and saw the familiar blue and white “Animate” store logo atop a building across the street. At the top of the escalator, I had to stop for a photo with a massive Ultraman statue commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Tsuburaya-created hero. Then we crossed the street, spotting a two-block row of Animate, Lashinbang, Mandarake, and several K-Books stores.
We first walked to the furthest K-Books, to find that it’s sign reported that it specialized in “girls” doujinshi. Sadly, we also noticed that the Mandarake store in the basement beneath the K-Books wasn’t open. Jon guessed that the shop might be closed for the day. We strolled back to the next K-Books and wandered in. The one-floor shop specialized in books and paper goods, and nearly everything in the store was related to the Fate series, Free, Yowamushi Pedal, Gintama, Kuroko no Basuke, Hetalia, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures. In other words, the store skewed heavily toward female otaku tastes. The next-door Lashinbang store was a more conventional anime shop with games and home video on the first floor. The second floor contained rare trading cards, figures, and a small selection of adult doujinshi. I was amazed to spot a used, boxed Konata Izumi as race girl figure priced at only 500 yen. I spied a palm-sized figure of Accel World’s Chiyuri Kurashima dressed in her cat attire that I couldn’t resist purchasing for 640 yen. We skipped the K-Books store specializing in home video and CDs and explored the first floor of the four-story Animate store that entirely specialized in cosplay material.
We proceeded back through the Sunshine 60 building and two blocks up the road to a towering building with a Book-Off store on its second and third floors. The bottom floor was a pachinko parlor. I could see near life-sized statues of Ayanami Rei and Kaowru in plugsuits through the window. Jon mused wistfully that the giant banner for “Macross Frontier 2” referred only to a pachinko game rather than a new anime. While exploring the Book-Off used books, CDs, and video games shop we found items like a copy of the Playstation Macross Digital Mission VF-X and Street Fighter Zero games priced at a mere 105 yen each.
When we left the store, Jon needed to depart for an appointment. On our walk back toward the train station, we noticed a sign signifying a Tora no Ana store on the sixth floor of a building, so Jon & I separated there. The Tora no Ana store turned out to be similar to the first K-Books of the day – heavily skewed toward fujoshi tastes.
Beginning to feel peckish, I wandered a bit in search of someplace that looked inviting and accessible to eat lunch. I decided that I wanted to try to avoid the familiar Yoshinoya gyudon in favor of something slightly more culturally challenging, but every small restaurant I passed seemed packed. Since Jon & I had discussed meeting in Shinjuku, I decided to head there to find food. From the Shinjuku station, I exited at the West exit that I was familiar with and wandered into the small shopping district that I’d visited numerous times before during past trips. I noticed at Tokyo Chikara Meshi that didn’t appear to be jam-packed, so I entered and successfully managed to navigate the touch-screen computer to find the chicken curry meal that I desired. After depositing enough money, I selected the medium size serving and placed my paper ticket on the counter as I took a seat. A server took my paper slip, and a few moments later placed a startlingly large plate of white rice, curry, and steamed chicken slices before me. I’m used to serving portions in Japan being significantly smaller than US sizes. But I thought to myself, “If this is the medium size, I’m glad I didn’t opt for the large size, which much feed an entire family.”
After eating, I noticed a Yellow Submarine store across the street. The basement floor was entirely rare Yu-Gi-Oh cards, sports cards, and Warhammer 40K goods. Since the store’s other three floors were similar hobby goods, I simply departed. By coincidence, I happened to spot a sign for a Comic Zin store on the fifth floor of a building, so I entered the building and took the elevator up. The experience reminded me of the odd irony that Tokyo stores take care to be well-lit and clean, but elevators in skyrise buildings that house different stores on each floor tend to nearly also be dirty and worn from use, looking like small freight elevators instead of elevators designed for customer use.
The small but extensively packed Comic Zin store struck me with a unique aspect of Japanese culture. Down one of the narrow store aisles, to my right were mountains of all-ages military-themed doujinshi while, a mere three feet to my left was an entire lengthy shelf of graphic pornographic doujinshi. The shop appeared to only stock new release doujinshi, adult manga, and magazines, so I left without purchasing anything.
I then noticed a branch of the Yadobashi Camera chain that specialized only in geeky stuff. The first three floors of the building were devoted exclusively to video games. I took the elevator up to the fifth floor, which turned out to be nothing but gachapon machines. Then I went down to the fourth floor which was mostly devoted to girls toys, including a massive selection of Pretty Cure toys. I spotted rows of Ultraman figures for 360 yen each but, to my surprise, no Godzilla toys.
I left, expecting to use my iPhone with the portable wifi hotspot Jon loaned to me to check for his e-mail. But the phone just refused to connect to the internet. So I wandered into Shinjuku station – a train station as large as a small American town – in search of a pay phone. Upon finding one, I called Jon, who told me to meet him at the lion statue outside the station’s East exit. The instructions sounded simple.
Unfortunately, I spent the next 45 minutes wandering around within Shinjuku Station in search of the darn East Exit. I seemed to find practically every other exit until, standing at the South exit I finally realized that I ought to be able to enter into the station’s train terminal and exit again without being charged since I entered and left via the same station. So I entered through the pay gates, found the Yamanote line platform, and followed the signs to the “East Exit,” managing to find Jon just before he got frustrated and returned home.
Jon directed me to another Book-Off store, this one encompassing floors 5 to 7 of a high-rise, then to the Tsutaya video rental store across the street. I found myself simultaneous elated and disappointed that on the store’s entire 7th floor, completely devoted to rental anime DVDs and left-over VHS tapes, I couldn’t find any titles that I hadn’t watched at least one episode of sometime in the past.
Jon & I then decided to return home, reaching his apartment roughly 7 hours after we’d left in the morning. After relaxing for 90 minutes, we walked down the block to a small, local restaurant that Jon recommended where I ordered a “Nokodon (dai)” meal – a large size bowl of spiced white rice with five thick strips of seasoned pork and a soft-boiled egg for 890 yen. After dinner we took the subway to reach the Shinjuku Wald 9 theater, a cinema that took up the 9th through 13th floors of a high-rise. On the ground floor, we used an automated machine to purchase two 1800 yen tickets for the St. Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary CG anime film and reserve our seats. Then we took the elevator up to the 9th floor where we then had to use the escalator to reach the 11th floor theater.
We entered the theater as the trailers were rolling. I was pleased to see the full trailer for Studio Ghibli’s upcoming Omoide no Marnie feature. Unfortunately, I’ll return home two weeks before it premieres. I was also surprised to see that director Gareth Evan’s Godzilla feature, which I watched at home over a month ago, wouldn’t reach Japanese theaters for another several weeks. I enjoyed the action-heavy film despite only understanding a smattering of the dialogue. As the credits began to roll, three or four people exited, but, in Japanese tradition, the majority of the audience silently sat through the credits. At least the film rewarded diligent viewers with a brief post-credits sequence.
After the film, Jon & I returned to the 9th floor lobby’s gift shop area. Even though I was tempted by a 300 yen can of St. Seiya strawberry juice, in my past experience, getting these metal cans of juice home without dents is very difficult. I approached the cashier and purchased a 1,000 yen program booklet for the movie, only afterward noticing that I’d probably entered the line from the opposite end and cut off a trio of Japanese teen girls patiently waiting to purchase goods.
Jon & I then returned to his apartment, first making a brief detour to a small, by American standards, large by Tokyo standards, supermarket to allow me to purchase some liter bottles of C.C. Lemon, Coke, and water.