For otaku in Tokyo, Akihabara and Nakano Broadway are the primary satisfying destinations and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Ikebukuro’s Otome Road is increasing in prominence and awareness, but the Otome Road otaku district at present remains small – a mere two blocks – and near exclusively devoted to female consumers and collectors. The hidden gem of Tokyo’s anime otaku destinations is the relatively little known Tokyo Character Street, which is actually not literally a street at all. A basement section at the north Yaesu exit of the Tokyo railway station houses a strip of roughly 20 consecutive gift shops collectively known as “Tokyo Character Street.”
Before heading to Tokyo Station, Jon & I stopped at Tokyo Green Cafe, a second-floor Thai restaurant located between his apartment and the Yotsuya train station. We both ordered the day’s 850 yen lunch special: a soft-boiled egg atop minced, lightly spiced, fried, crumbled pork served over white rice with a side salad.
Since the day was overcast and hooded in a foggy rain, we decided that going out to stay indoors would be a good idea. So we took the Chuo Rapid line to Tokyo Station, from there heading for the north exit then following katakana signs that lead us to the basement floor.
The stairwell that Jon & I took deposited us in the middle of “Tokyo Character street,” a row of adjacent stores at least as long as Otome Road, if not longer, including stores devoted to Snoopy, Miffy, and Rirakkuma, along with gift shops for Tokyo’s major television networks, and an Ultraman World M78 store, a Pokemon Store, a Tamagotchi store, a Ghibli store, and shops devoted to Pretty Cure, Aikatsu, and Shounen Jump.
The stairs were opposite the Fuji TV store, so we browsed that shop first. I was immediately amazed by the variety of exclusive One Piece, Sazae-san, and Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro merchandise available, including cookies, bottled waters and juices, and character goods. I purchased a 500 yen fully embroidered Chibi Maruko-chan handkerchief (technically I think it’s a baby wipe).
The next-door TV Tokyo store was filled with Yokai Watch, Aikatsu, and Naruto goods, along with a substantial selection of Neko-sensei items from Natsume Yujin-cho. Of course, the stores also promoted goods from their popular live-action programs that I wasn’t familiar with.
The TBS store had large selections of Haikyuu and K-On goods. One shelf held a variety of Shingeki no Kyojin gachapon boxed toys, but, to little surprise, I also noticed a display with a conspicuous “sold out” notice. I was disappointed to see that the manju cookies in the Shingeki no Kyojin boxes weren’t shaped like little people; they were just standard round balls.
I wasn’t actually aware, in advance, that Tokyo is actually home to several Ultraman stores. So I was surprised and thrilled to come across an Ultraman World M78 store. The entire shop is exclusively Ultraman goods of every conceivable variety. I did notice, however, that at 500 yen each the vinyl Ultraman figures are actually cheaper at other big department stores.
Although the Aikatsu television series hasn’t yet even hit 100 episodes, it did have its own “Aikatsu Style” store to the left of the Tamagotchi store, which is to the left of the Pokemon store.
The Moomin and Docomodake stores were either in the process of being renovated or moving in.
Walking back down to the other end of Tokyo Character Street, since we’d started in the middle, Jon & I approached the Donburi Garden store, a large Ghibli store that stocks merchandise based on Ghibli films as well as films that Ghibli promotes or distributes. The selection of embroidered handkerchiefs was impressive.
Keychains and mini vinyl figures of Ghibli characters were cheap and plentiful.
The new Sheeta pendant from Laputa that illuminates from within was 1,900 yen.
The Spirited Away tea cup was gorgeous.
The remaining two shops were devoted to Pretty Cure and Shounen Jump. The small, tightly packed Precure shop is nearly exclusively devoted to Happiness Charge Precure merchandise, the series currently on air. Cure Black is my favorite Precure, followed by Cure Marine, but as I mentioned to Jon, “The original series is now older than the average Pretty Cure viewer.”
The Jump Shop devoted to Shueisha’s Shuukan Shounen Jump Magazine was twice the size of the Precure store and had an amazing array of unique collectables including cans of Mitsuya Cider with all four One Piece designs, glass bottles of Franky Strong Soda (a fun One Piece reference), bottles of water shaped like Tony Tony Chopper and Son Goku, a large selection of Haikyuu merchandise including replica jerseys, plastic Gomu Gomu Fruit and Senzu beans filled with candy, Isobe Isobee Monogatari and Gintama goods, and even a selection of Ansatsu Kyoshitsu collectables.
Jon purchased the tankouban of Akira Toriyama’s latest manga, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, which also contains a bonus Dragon Ball side story.
Since the time was only 2:30, I didn’t want to end my day yet, but with the weather so gloomy, I didn’t know what else to do. Jon suggested ice cream, so we patronized a soft-serve counter that he recommended located within one of the station’s shopping plazas. A considerate Japanese couple shifted themselves to allow us seating in the common area. I had a vanilla waffle cone with chocolate syrup while Jon ate a cup of vanilla topped with mango.
We sat next to a small bakery counter that produced the most adorable manju cakes in the shape of animals. I tried to call them “Chotto Kawaii,” to the saleslady but got my accent wrong. She smiled and corrected me. I meant “Kawaii” (cute) not “Kowaii” (scary).
On Jon’s suggestion, we searched the liquor shop in the station, searching for lime juice that Jon would use to mix his drinks. I noticed Tokyo Station beer and wine.
I also noticed Kumamon Cup sake and lamented that there’s no anime-affiliated beer.
We took the train back to Yotsuya then, instead of proceeding west toward Jon’s apartment, we turned the opposite direction and headed toward the Kojimachi business neighborhood. After several minutes’ walk, we reached the sizeable Yamaya liquor store. I was impressed and amazed by the store’s selection of canned mixed drinks. Reportedly canned mixed drinks are on course to outsell beer in Japan due to a combination of lower pricing due to differences in taxation, and caloric concerns on the part of young Japanese drinkers.
Single serve size bottles of Lindemans’ Kriek Belgian lambic beer were only 300 yen per bottle, so I purchased three for myself. I’m really not much of an alcohol drinker, so when I do choose to imbibe, I prefer sweet, fruity beer. Jon found the 980 yen bottle of lime juice he desired along with two bottles of liquor. At the store I also discovered that Suntory produces a zero calorie version of its C.C. Lemon soda.
On the way back to the apartment, I purchased a bottle of C.C. Grape from a vending machine. The taste is like a very light sparkling grape juice. It has an underlying tart flavor of rich purple grapes but thankfully lacks much of the heavy, lingering, syrupy taste and texture of most grape sodas. I still prefer the lemon variety.
Shortly past 7pm, Jon & I took the subway trains to Kagurazaka station where we met Jon’s co-worker and fellow ex-pat Becky, who had organized an Independence Day dinner party at the Martiniburger restaurant in Nakazatocho. Ultimately our party of 13, that included British, Australian, French, Japanese, and American nationalities claimed most of the small but classy gourmet burger joint. Naturally, with the restaurant’s name being what it was, I ordered a mushroom & swiss burger and my first Absolute martini on the rocks, which I’m pretty certain was actually just served as a glass of straight vodka on ice. Finished the meal with a slice of cheesecake.
Quiet stories were passed around that when the restaurant first opened, burgers were naturally served with the top bun and veggies on the side, along with a knife and fork, but Japanese patrons frequently got confused trying to figure out how to place the pickle, tomato slice, lettuce, and bun on the burger with the knife & fork. So the restaurant then stopped providing knives, to goad Japanese patrons into using their hands to eat hamburgers the way hamburgers are meant to be eaten.
Jon & I giggled to ourselves when a pair of Japanese ladies came into the restaurant, ordered burgers, then were appalled by how large the burgers were. The dismayed ladies complained to each other that they couldn’t possibly be so uncouth as to open their mouths wide enough in public to consume the sizeable hamburgers, so they requested knives so that they could cut up their hamburgers into small, bite-sized pieces to consume delicately.
Elliot, the restaurant’s New Yorker owner, seemed rather short tempered at first but was probably just overwhelmed by the unannounced appearance of such a large party of diners. He came across very friendly and personable to me as I paid our check. Since my drink hadn’t gotten written down on any of the waiter tickets, Elliot didn’t charge me for it. Jon & my burgers, two slices of cheesecake, and Jon’s tall beer, chocolate martini, and cranberry cocktail totaled just shy of $70. Pricey, but we knew beforehand that we were visiting an upscale restaurant.
At 10:30pm, as Jon & I stood on the platform awaiting the train to take us home, a literally staggering drunk Japanese businessman stumbled up next to us. Jon & I were both certain that he was about to retch, fall over, or both. Miraculously, he somehow managed to lean forward and allow his body weight momentum to guide him onto the crowded train (still crowded even at 10:30pm!) On the way home I noticed that the teen boy standing beside me in the train was watching Mononoke Hime subtitled in Japanese on his flip-phone.