Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pacific Rim and Six Favourite Giant Mecha / Robot Anime

Director Guillermo del Toro has said that his upcoming movie sci-fi monster movie Pacific Rim was inspired by kaiju movies, but is an original work to bring something fresh to the genre.  It turns out he is a kaiju monster movie fan and I believe he said that The War of the Gargantuas was one of his favourites in one of the interviews.  Right now, a viral marketing campaign is running for the July 2013 release of Pacific Rim and all kinds of interesting news and images are being leaked to tantalize us.  Guillermo has done Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth in the past - all movies that I liked - so I am counting down the days till this new movie arrives.  I don't see many movies in the theatre any more, but I'll make the effort for this one.

The trailers released to date show some really interesting footage.  I kind of like the fact that they have these giant robots run by two pilots each.  The pilots must work in a coordinated fashion to control the left and right sides via a high-tech VR and full body, feedback, control system.  You don't just sit in a control chair as you have to walk and move the robot with your body motions like you are wearing it.  I use a similar concept for my HARM mechas in my stories that I am writing for Exocrisis Blue.  From the first trailer it looked like the robots were remote controlled something I don't like as there could be jamming / datalink loss, so my pilots are in my mechas, but it turns out in the Wondercon Trailer that the pilots are in the head of the mecha.  The trailer shows the pilots setting up in the head, which then is lowered into place on top of the mech, just like in many super robot anime!  The Pacific Rim Jaeger mechas are a giant 25 stories in height and so are the monsters they fight.  They made six different mechas for the movie and ten different monsters too.  It will be interesting to see how they duke it out with weapons or hand to hand combat with giant rocket assisted punches and whatever else they devise.  The monsters look very nasty too.

I watched a few of the interviews below and found all sorts of interesting facts.
  • They didn't re-watch mecha or monster movies when they were coming up with ideas for Pacific Rim as they wanted it to be fresh.
  • A recent interview revealed that the Jaegers were beating the invading kaiju when the invaders up the ante and turn the tables on them.  That is why Earth is on the ropes.
  • However, they were all fans of the genres, so they knew them, and included classic tropes and ideas to keep everyone happy.
  • Ellen McLain, the lady voicing the AI in the trailer is the same voice as GlaDOS from the video game Portal.  Guillermo is a big Portal Fan.
  • The show shows scenes of cleanup of the mess that the monster leave behind, including biohazardous monster remains / blood / goo?  Few movies show the cleanup of the dead, although Evangelion did some of this.
  • They really thought about the physics of the robots to show their size and their effects on the environment around them.
  • They have released blueprints of the various robots or Jaegers (German for hunter).  As a side note there is an interesting little memoir called Panzer Jaeger about a German soldier's time on the Eastern Front in WWII.
  • New posters are emerging for the various Jaegers right now that demonstrate how big they are.  All of this is very exciting and I really like the poster for the Japanese robot, Coyote Tango, that shows some big shoulder mounted weaponry (like in Gundam). The American Robot, Gipsy Danger, looks like a cool fighter and is show giving and taking a beating in the trailer.  The Russian robot is just big and menacing.  All of them look like really good mecha designs.
  • I like the idea of an international cast in the movie too since he is representing a global fight against the invading monsters and not just a national effort.  The six robots also represent the fighting power of different nations including the Soviet Union, China, Japan, and the United States.
  • San Francisco and Hong Kong are on the monster hit list for sure.  In fact, they built two blocks of Hong Kong then destroyed it all.
The synopsis of the movie's plot from Wikipedia is listed below and it sounds pretty good right now.
"Giant monsters identified as "Kaiju" arise from a crevice in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a war which takes millions of lives and quickly consumes humanity's resources. To combat this new threat, a special type of weapon is designed: massive robots, known as Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. As time passes, even the powerful Jaegers prove almost defenseless in the face of a relentless enemy. On its last stand and on the verge of defeat, the remaining defending forces of mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes—a former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi)—who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the early trials of the mechanical titans. Together, they must stand as the human race’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse."

While I am on the topic of Pacific Rim and giant robots I thought I would list six giant robot anime + Mechagodzilla as other source material about giant mechas who fight giant monsters.  The list isn't supposed to be exhaustive and if I've left off your favourite series it just means I needed to pick six anime that were  representative.  I also considered Gurren Lagaan, Argentosoma, Godannar, GoGaiGar, Giant Robo, Gravion, and Heroic Age amongst others.  My final list of anime with giant, over the top, mecha are:
  1. Mazinger Z / Great Mazinger / Mazinkaiser / Getter Robo
  2. Gunbuster
  3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
  4. Rahxephon
  5. Fafner
  6. Aquarion
Pacific Rim Information Links
To start off the inspirational list of giant mecha that fight monsters anime is a non-anime.  Mechagodzilla is the human or alien developed weapon to counter the ultimate kaiju - Godzilla.  Mechagodzilla has gone through a few incarnations, but I'd say the latest movie version of it in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. were my favourite versions.  Godzilla starts the list as Big Green has been with me since childhood and those wonderful, but now defunct, double-feature matinees on the weekend with popcorn and pop.

Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger, Mazinkaiser
Mazinger is the oldest anime on this list with a big heroic mecha fighting giant monsters.  It probably defined what a super robot anime was for a very long time.  Every week the robot would have to destroy one of Dr. Hell's minion beasts / machines. I watched this way back in the 1970s and it definitely inspired a ten year old.  One of my favourite super mechas with the rocket fist and heat beam.  These shows were full of action, heroic men and their heroic robots battling evil.  A classic, genre spawning series by Go Nagai that has had many later incarnations under the Mazinkaiser name.  These super robot shows are classics that always remind me of the line from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and about "...when men were men, women were women, and battlecruisers ruled the universe..."  These shows are also tongue in cheek, being a combination of humour with crazy fun.  The Youtube videos below show some nicely made fan CG.

Getter Robo
Getter Robo is a slightly later contemporary to Mazinger with the original having a good long run too at 52 episodes.  Getter Robo created the concept of the combining robot, where separate vehicles joined together in in different combinations to create a particular configuration of a super robot.  In Getter, the three heroic teenaged pilots defeat the Dinosaur Empire and their giant bio-mechanical machines bent on eliminating the pesky humans that are everywhere.  There was even a cross-over between Mazinger and Getter that I have never seen.  Getter Robo went on to spawn several more animated series and has a die hard fan following.  All other anime with combining mecha (including Gurren Lagann from what I read) have this show to thank.

Gunbuster is an inspirational anime that changed the giant robot genre.  Gainax, the studio who made it, went on to create Neon Genesis Evangelion - probably the giant robot anime that the others are compared against.  In Gunbuster, the Earth is threatened by giant space monsters and the Gunbuster is developed to defeat them.  Elite pilots are trained and they must combine their ships to create the ultimate mecha - the Gunbuster.  Over a decade later, Gurren Lagann, was produced by Gainax in the tradition of the great super robot anime that preceded it with some nice new original twists.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
Evangelion is probably the classic giant mecha anime that has shaped the direction of this type of mecha anime for over a decade.  Fortunately I like it so this fact doesn't bother me too much, even if the teen pilots have way too much angst or other psychological issues.  Having too much drama in your stories is the "in thing" these days anyhow.  Only Gundam had this much influence on the real robot anime genre.  In this series, giant biomechanical mechas called Evangelions are developed to fight the invading Angels who have ravaged the Earth.  The series has giant bases, big robots that are sleek looking, and cool looking monsters.  Conventional weapons are useless against the Angels who have the AT Field, something that only Evangelions can counter.

Rahxephon was a giant robot anime that I thought was pretty cool.  The mecha designs were original and characters were more normal than in some shows.  In this show, you find out that an ancient race called the Mu are sharing the Earth with us and they wish to reshape the world, disposing of humanity in the process.  They prepare for this by sealing off the greater Tokyo area in a massive spherical barrier called Tokyo Jupiter.  On the other side of the barrier, the UN is preparing to take the war to them.  The Rahxephon mecha itself was an interesting design that was both retro and modern and the opposing bio-mechs came in all shapes.  Still one of my favourite super robot anime.

Fafner In The Azure is slightly later contemporary to Rahxephon.  This show is harder to get into, but the mecha and weaponry is definitely one up on Rahxephon. The story for this show has humanity fighting against the alien invaders called the Festum.  The Festum are giant, glowy humanoid like monsters that basically assimilate you and only the advanced weaponry deployed by the Fafner units can stop them.  I like the concept of a moving island base in this anime - one that looks like a typical Japanese island with town in fact.  Again, a typical trope in this show requires school kids to drive these big Fafner units, something that I am glad Pacific Rim is not doing (although I kind of use this trope for my Exocrisis Blue series in a good way).  Fafner had a pretty good story overall and a big battle at the end of the series so it went out with a bang.

Finally, I get to Aquarion, one of the latest anime in this genre with high production values.  It is an interesting anime with various super mechas (with different combat capabilities) merged out of different combinations of smaller mecha units called Vectors.  Merging to create a form of the Aquarion super mecha requires the pilots (known as elements) to merge their spirits / souls in a difficult process.  The Aquarion is one of the only weapons that is highly effective against the Cherubim Soldiers of the Shadow Angels who are invading the Earth.  There is plenty of mystical stuff in this show with a complicated back story about the current events continuing an epic, mythological battle that occurred 12 000 years ago.  People are being harvested to power the Shadow Angels and they need to be stopped.  I have mixed feelings about this show - especially the protagonist - but the mecha designs were cool.

THE END.  This was supposed to be a short post and it turned into a kaiju on me!  Hope you liked it.

Other Six Favourite Anime Posts

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tokyo 2013 Trip Highlights: Day 7 Part 2 - Artnia (the Square Enix Cafe), Tokyu Hands, and the Ikebukuro Animate Store

After looking at all of the modern art and media at the Mori Museum and National Art Center our party split in two (always a bad idea in horror movies, but fortunately we aren't living in a Resident Evil type of world).
Previous post is linked here.

We all took the Oedo Line subway from Tokyo Midtown together.  I continued onto Tochomae Station (E28 on the subway map), while the others left before me at Yoyogi Station to transfer to the Yamanote Line to head to Ikebukuro.  I actually left the train at the wrong stop - Shinjuku Station (need to read the maps better), but got back onto the next train to continue onto Tochomai as the Oedo line completes a loop at this station and northeast bound trains start here.  You basically can swap from the southern leg train to the a northern leg train here.

From Tochomae (Station E28) or from Shinjuku (Oedo Station E01) you ride the train just one or two stops to get off the train at Higashi-shinjuku.  There are signs directing you to Shinjuku Eastside.  Follow the signs and exit.  You will appear in a cool Tatooine-like open court area that you must cross to reach Tokyo Eastside.  Pass through the Eastside building and out to the front of the building.  Here you will find Artnia, the Square Enix Cafe and Shop.  I previously blogged about Artnia here.  I tried to visit previously on a Thursday to find out they are closed Thursday so I visited again today to check the cafe and shop out for myself.
Artnia Cafe from the outside.  (If your hotel isn't near a real supermarket (not the department store food floors) do check out the Maruetsu supermarket right across the street for more reasonably price fruit and other food items such as instant ramen or candies you might not find otherwise.  Better selection than a konbini too.
Like many of the character themed shops, it wasn't quite as large as I imagined, but it is worth a visit if you are a real Square Enix, Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest fan.  They do have exclusive merchandise, jewelry and clothing here, but many of the other items can be found at Animate, Gamers, Yodobashi, etc.  If you are in need of refreshment the cafe seemed pretty inviting and all the tables were full when I was there on a late Saturday afternoon.  I'm glad I went and saw it, but I couldn't find a Chocobo that I wanted (I was fated to find a Chocobo though - read on to find out).  The jewelry and figure showroom at the back of the cafe is pretty nicely done with a great display of blood red mana crystals as a centerpiece.

Cactuars and Slimes anyone?  Very nice shop space, but not huge.  Cafe is right behind the slime shelving on the right.
Jewelry and Product Showroom.
After browsing through the store I headed back to the train station.  This time I took a train on the Futukoshin Line up to Ikebukuro - easy transportation back to my home base area three stops later.  From Ikebukuro Station (which is a huge underground concourse area to encompass all of these train lines) I had a long walk out to the Central Exit East to get to Tokyu Hands / Sunshine City.

Sunshine 60 Dori
This is a very busy pedestrian route through an entertainment area full of large arcades, bars, restaurants, and shops.  Exiting the station you head east towards Sunshine City down the main street  there then head NE down Sunshine 60 Dori which the Tokyu Hands is on.  In the evening it is pedestrians only it seems.  There are plenty of good food smells and such in the air to entice you to eat.
The route from Ikebukuro Station to Sunshine City is highlighted in Yellow.
I previously blogged about the Ikebukuro and the Animate Flagship Store here too (map included).

On Sunshine 60 Dori
Tokyu Hands near Sunshine City  (there is also a big Toys R Us in Sunshine City)
I caught up with everyone at the Tokyu Hands (which is an awesome craft / stationary supplies / cool goods store with an extensive selection of anime / manga merchandise at this store on the second floor).  Tokyu Hands is a good place to go to find nice pens, Frixion erasible pens, stickers, cool scissors, and other lifestyle type special items.  On the top floor is the Nekobukuro cat playground.  It is not a cat cafe as there is no food or drink.  Here, there are some 20 well cared for cats that hordes of people will pay money to watch, play with, or pet.  It was really busy when we were visiting to get our fill of Japanese cats.  There is of course the customary gift shop with large amounts of cat souvenirs and cat toys.
Nekobukuro - the cats have public areas to interact and private areas to get away from it all.
Cat! Observing human visitors from high up.
It was starting to come up to 5 PM now and dinner time was fast approaching.  Our previous experiences this trip indicated that there is always a wait and sometimes it is a brutally long wait.  So if you can eat earlier, then do so, to miss the line.  Mall areas are also quite busy (but you are there so go with the flow instead of marching off to find some place and possibly being miserable if you can't find a good place to eat).  If there is one piece of advice I would give for dining in Tokyo, it is eat pretty much anywhere you want as the food is generally pretty good.  If you are on a budget, beef bowl or cheaper food chains are available, so you don't have to eat from the konbini.  Also, many malls have not only restaurant floors, but food courts where you can eat for a reasonable price (say under 1000 yen or $10 per person) with a nice variety of Japanese food.

For dinner we wanted sushi and went over to Sunshine City.  Sunshine City is one of the older big malls in Tokyo and there were many American brand stores here along with mostly Japanese shops.  On the restaurant floor we found a sushi restaurant that had good sushi.  Only one group was ahead of us in line and we were inside in 10 minutes.  There were conveyer belt sushi places back out in the entertainment district, but we would have to backtrack to find them and risk the possibly longer lineups to boot.  Another important safety tip for Tokyo - if you're not exactly sure where the shop / restaurant is - then be prepared to not find it or find it after a long search as places are hard to locate in Tokyo.
The sushi restaurant
Sushi Set that came with a warm dashi custard in a little bowl to start.
Chirashizushi  bowl.

The waitress at the restaurant was great and the food was really good.  It was fresh fish, happy sushi chefs, and everyone had a great meal.  Fortified we then went back to the entertainment district to head to the Animate Flagship Store.  I also stopped by the old Animate Store on Otome Road and it is mainly for cosplay goods now with exhibit spaces on the upper floors.
Old Animate Store seen from Sunshine City.
The Animate Flagship Store was awesome!  All shiny and new with seven large floors of anime and manga goodness.  Even the first floor with the new magazines and such had a great selection of souvenir items such as Ultraman mini-cup noodle, Evangelion UCC coffee six packs, and plenty of other themed cookies and such.  Here I found another art book, the Encyclopedia of Dragon Quest monsters, and a really nice Chocobo stuffy with a spell book.  They had a great selection of merchandise on all the floors and there were tons of female shoppers, something I hadn't noticed as much in Akihabara.  We must have spent an over an hour in there, with everyone finding stuff they wanted to buy.
New Animate Store
We made another stop at the Tokyu Hands to buy a few more things then also briefly visited the Gamers in the area (which is right next to a Love Hotel and a 7-11).  We did load up on snacks that night to help keep us nourished as we had to pack everything up to be ready for our flight the next day.  This was our last full day in Tokyo with just a few hours the next morning to look around some more in the area.  On the way back I noticed that a theatre was still showing Evangelion Q and that a pachinko place had these great large scale Evangelion figures in the lobby too.
Evangelion Slots Billboard.
Evangelion Figures!
The next day we checked our luggage with the hotel porter and had one more great breakfast of delicious pastries at the Anderson Bakery.  We just checked out the department stores over at the station like the Seibu and Tobu before collecting our luggage from the hotel.  Leaving in the middle of the day on a Sunday made the ride on the Yamanote Line pretty easy with bags.  The only mix up that happened was that we went all the way to Ueno Station instead of Nippori.  If you are taking the Keisai Skyliner back to Narita Airport - transfer at Nippori as it is WAY EASIER as everything is in the same station.  At Ueno you have to leave the JR Station then walk a block and half to another train station!
The last breakfast in Tokyo.  Pizza bread, flaky croissants, and great little apple turnovers with half of a very tender apple baked in.
Cute little firetrucks zipping around the area with sirens on and the driver shouting into a microphone constantly.  That has got to be a kid's dream job with mike!
The Tokyu Hands had these very cute mini toaster ovens.  I'll have to see if these are carried back in Canada.
 Anyhow, at Narita Airport, there are some great shops there too.  And a McDonalds where I finally had an Idaho Burger.  I also picked up a Newtype and a Hobby Japan magazine to burn off some extra yen.  I certainly wished that I had a few more days as I was boarding the plane.  My second trip to Tokyo was over, but it was a really fun time.  Tokyo is still my favourite city to visit for all of the pop culture, cool architecture, and just have a great time touring and eating.  You can blitz it like we did in the last week, but you're still only scratching the surface!
Idaho Burger with bacon and hashbrown at Narita!
Some of the souvenir haul from Japan.

View the Tokyo Travelogues Master Page here.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tokyo 2013 Trip Highlights: Day 7 Part 1 - Modern Art Day, Japan Media Arts Festival, Roppongi Hills, Mori Museum, National Art Center 
Well, it has been a whirlwind tour of Tokyo this last week.  Today is our last full day in Tokyo and it was time for some modern art and architecture.  Today wasn't fast paced, but we managed to make it last until the shops started to close that night.  This post will be in two parts as there is a fair bit of material.
Mori Tower, Roppongi Hills, from the north.
The Big Spider near the front entrance to the Mori Tower
More spider.  It is a popular meeting spot.
Breakfast started at a Starbucks in the lower levels of the Mori Tower of all things this morning (they don't carry breakfast items like they do in North America, but is there a nice selection of cakes).  We couldn't find a particularly good place for a sit down breakfast on the way to Roppongi Hills (part of the mall there was being renovated too).  The first place we tried was the Anderson Bakery in Ikebukuro Station but it was packed when we got there and we gambled wrong that we would easily find something on the way to Roppongi.  Eating outside was also out of the question as it was cold and windy.  Still, after some coffee and cake we were ready to head up the famous Mori Tower for the view from the City View level and visit the Mori Museum.  I really like the Roppongi Hills megaplex for its futuristic design and looked forward to seeing it again.  I previously blogged about Roppongi Hills here.

Skytree from Mori Tower
Tokyo Tower from Mori Tower City View.
Tokyo Tower closeup.
Years before I visited the City View which is on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower along with the Mori Art Museum is also on this floor.  The views of the city from this level are always really good, but the art exhibits that were on both times I was here were outstanding.  I saw Ai WeiWei's exhibit last time with many monumental sculptures and this time it was the art of Aida Makoto.

Aida's exhibit was titled "Monument For Nothing" and covered a broad spectrum of his work.  His distinctive style embodies war themes, the use of pretty young girls and even businessmen in strange compositions that are surreal critiques of society.  His painting style is wonderful and many of the images were both fantastic and disturbing.  For example he likes to use pretty young girls to make statements and had a massive painting that envisioned a first person shooter where the girls were hit and exploded into flowery shards and such.   Another had mountains made out of dead businessmen that went off into the distance - the cost of building modern society and conformity.  He was also working on a massive cardboard sculpture there too and it would look pretty impressive when it is done.  It was a fun couple of hours there with plenty of visual stimulation and I can understand why some of his work is controversial after seeing it.
Onigiri Man, his version of the thinker. Achieving zen while performing an essential biological function.
After the museum we explored around Roppongi Hills for a bit and visited another interesting anime exhibit about Doreamon at the HQ for Asahi TV there.  Inside was a Doreamon Cafe and some Kamen Rider costumes on display.  All of this was to celebrate 55 years of Asahi TV and it seems like everywhere you turn there is a bit of anime or manga.
TV Asahi 55 Years - of course there is a gift shop!
Doraemon Secret Gadget Cafe and his magic door.
Kamen Rider Costumes
After exploring around the building I thought we were heading north towards the National Art Centre, but I was actually turned around and heading south.  I was a little disoriented after wandering in and out of these big buildings.  Still we wandered just a short distance out of our way over an overpass and found a wonderful little bakery cafe that had these really tasty looking breads and other baked goods.
The Cafe / Bakery
Baked Goods
Yummy Buns and Bread.
They were actually full inside (something very typical on this trip actually) and we decided to sit outside where we could just eat immediately.  We grabbed a few drinks, picked some baked goods (which they heated up for us!) and sat down under a heat lamp outside.  The food was really good and after a break we continued on to see this really cool robot themed playground just south of Roppongi Hills.
Roppongi Robot
The playground is very colourful, but the Robot Totem Pole there is the coolest thing.  The playground is built on a hillside and there are a pile of slides and one really long slide made out of rollers (you roll down the hill like a package at a mail processing plant).  This was when I realized we were really heading in the wrong direction and we backtracked to Roppongi Dori, the big road, that runs on the north side of Roppongi Hills.  Roppongi Dori is hard to miss as the humungous Metropolitan Expressway No. 3 Shibuya Route runs overhead along the road.

View Shibuya Shinjuku Harajuku in a larger map

Walking a little ways west down Roppongi Dori from Roppongi Hills takes you a big intersection.  Here you can find an underpass to take you across to the north side and then make your way to the National Art Center.
National Art Center
National Art Center - the disc out front is an giant umbrella rack area.
Awesome interior space with all that wavy glass facade!  Nice place for a cafe.
Last time I was in Tokyo I never made it to the Center and ended spending more time at Tokyo Midtown that is also in the area.  This time I skipped Tokyo Midtown and really enjoyed all of the exhibits (mostly free) at the National Art Center.  Best of all I caught part of the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival  that was showing the winners in their various media categories and more.  There were exhibitions in computer graphics, games, animation, and entertainment categories.  The entire center was pretty busy and there were also these fantastic university art student exhibits going on in the second floor that were also amazing.  I didn't see much Godzilla on this trip until I met him at the Art Center.  The art exhibits I saw here remind you there is a large body of alternate and mainstream art that is part of modern Japanese culture of which anime and manga are just a sub-element (but an important one).  These talented university students produced some great art that I was very glad to have seen.
Art Student Exhibit
Art Student Exhibit
Medieval Anime Style Paintings!  Awesome.
Seven foot tall Godzilla!
After the student art exhibits we popped into the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival.  This is a long running festival that travels to different countries too and emphasizes the best of Japanese media and art of course. We didn't even realize it was on until we were in Tokyo and I'm glad I managed to catch it.
Part of the Gunslinger Girl Manga Exhibit.
Some of the highlights we saw are presented below in the form of media clips I found on Youtube. 

The Grand Prize winner for Animated short film was Combustible.  The animation looked like it was coming out of an Edo period scroll and was both action packed and beautiful.  The film is about one of the great fires that occured in the metropolis of Edo.  The film was directed by Otomo Katsuhiro who also directed Akira, Memories, and Steamboy.

There were also video presentations relating to Perfume's global debut media campaign that involved Hatsune Miku.  The Perfume "Global Site Project" won the Entertainment Division Grand Prize and announced the global debut of the techno-pop group Perfume. Over 500 web projects, choreography, and animations were done with collaborators. 

Finally, there was this really cool, but really strange Pendulum Choir that sang different notes as they were swung about. Pendulum Choir was a European act that won the Grand Prize for Music Performance in the
Art Division. The choir stands on tilting platforms made of hydraulic jacks and  make all kinds of sound based on a choreographed computer sequence.

There were many other exhibits too including one on the giant robot Kuratas and some manga grand prize winners too.
Kuratas Exhibit.  The real robot wasn't there though. So sad....
After all this art our party split in two.  I was going to visit Artnia and then return to Ikebukuro to meet them at the Nekorobi cat playground int the Tokyu Hands there.  We would then see Sunshine City and the Animate flagship store afterwards.

View Day Seven Part 2 of the travelogue here.
View the Tokyo Travelogues Master Page here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tokyo 2013 Trip Highlights: Day 6 - Nissin Cup Noodle Museum, Yokohama Ramen Museum, Ekibenya, Tokyo Character Street, Pokemon Store

Today is RAMEN DAY!  We're heading down south to Yokohama for a fun filled day of ramen education and dining.  I plotted a path that doesn't do any backtracking and you even get to ride a bullet train for 12 minutes to get back to Tokyo.  This is just my itinerary to see both of the ramen museums with the train routes to get to them from Tokyo and to return.  I have tried to include accurate (if general) directions, but do recheck route information and locations with Google maps before you set out.  We started early in the morning so we could do the Nissin Museum first, then go and have lunch at the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum later.  I previously blogged about both of these museums here.
Yokohama Landmark Tower.  Viewing deck here too along with a mall if you want to visit.  When you get off the train at Sakuragicho Station, look for this tower to orient yourself.  You will walk by it and the tall ship on the causeway to get o the Nissin Cup Noodle Museum.
Yokohama Station is within 45 minutes of Tokyo Station by Train and 15 minutes by bullet train.  The itinerary today starts from Ikebukuro Station, where our hotel is.  We took the Marunouchi Line subway to Tokyo Station.

From Tokyo Station, we take the train down to Yokohama on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line toward Isogo.  This is a milk run kind of train and it will take you 40 minutes to get to Yokohama Station.  At Yokohama Station - stay on board this train - it becomes to the JR Negishi Line and continues one stop to Sakuragicho Station.  You exit at this station, go out the east exit to the bay.  Follow the crowd out across a big plaza to cross the street to reach the shore.  There will be a pedestrian causeway that takes you over to the Yokohama World Porters Mall.  Walk through or around the west side of the mall to go behind it and reach the Nissin Cup Noodle Museum which is on the opposite corner from the Cosmoworld Theme Park here (has a big ferris wheel).

Walk across this causeway to the World Porters
Front entrance to the Cup Noodles Museum
Massive Shock and Awe Entrance Atrium.
Admission tickets to the museum were easily obtained at the front desk.  If you can reserve ahead you can even get to make your own chicken ramen noodles - but I'm not sure if it is only for small groups and school groups.  We only wanted to see the museum and make our own instant cup noodle so it was fine to miss it.  Once you get your ticket you go up the big stairs and enter a show room that has every instant noodle product that Nissin has made (up to a year ago).  It is an impressive room of noodles and I recognized many different types of instant ramen that I had eaten before - wohoo!
The room of instant noodle history.  On the left wall you start with just the original instant chicken ramen that Nissin invented and then more and more products emerge over time as you walk clockwise around the room.  You can see why ramen is now a billion dollar international business.
Some different types of cup noodle and bowl noodle.
These were the super deluxe Goota brand noodles. I managed to find one three years ago and it was a tasty shoyu ramen with both the bamboo shoots and a slice of pork.
Wall of Ramen
Some other types of ramen.  I really like the shoyu noodles to the bottom right of the cute chicken stuffy.
Gundam Cup Noodle.  Again, I managed to snag one of these a few years back.  It came with the smallest scale model kits Bandai had released of a Gundam or a Zaku.
Momofuku Andou's little shack where he invented the original instant ramen and went on to found Nissin.
Museum exhibit on the components of a cup noodle.
Theatre where you can see a cute historical film about the invention of instant ramen and cup noodle later.  Make sure you ask for the English language headset.
Never Give Up!  The museum is an excellent example of using your corporate brand to its best advantage.  Many Japanese and foreign tourists visit.  It also has a very inspirational message about invention and to keep trying even if you fail.
After the movie and the museum tour, we went to make our own instant cup noodles on the third floor at our designated time (it is on the museum ticket).  The third floor of the museum is a big space set aside to allow hundreds of visitors at a time to make their own cup noodles and it also has a class room area to make your own fresh ramen if you managed to pre-register for that.

You get in a line to buy empty cups for your noodle for 300 yen each (a cheap souvenir and each person can make up to 3).  After you get the cups, you sterilize your hands with alcohol then go to a big common work area to decorate your cups with felt pens - make your own SUPER RAMEN and name it!  Then it is off to another line to have them make your cup of noodle.  When you get the front you hand them your cup, turn a crank to load the blocks of ramen in, choose your flavouring and toppings, they then seal the cup and shrink wrap it.  Finally you insert it into this way cool plastic bag that inflates to protect your cup noodle for the trip home. Making your cup noodle was a ton of fun and everyone there seemed to be having a good time.
Ramen Blocks
Turn the crank to load your ramen into the cup.
Pick your flavour like curry, seafood, or soy sauce.  Then pick your toppings from naruto, shrimp, pork, egg, green onion, crab, corn, green beans, and more.
The filled cups.
Sealing the cups.
Sealed cups.
Shrink wrapping your noodles.
Heating the plastic wrap to complete the shrink wrapping.
Place your cup noodle into your air bag and inflate it.  The airbag itself is pretty cool.  You can then carry your noodles around as a fashion statement.  They also have straws there that you can take to deflate the nifty airbag.
After making our cup noodle we went back to see the museum some more and also checked out the fourth floor which has a big southeast asia themed noodle dining park / cafeteria.  Very nicely setup museum where you get to eat the exhibit.  The gift shop is pretty nice too, but don't expect to find Nissin noodle products.  They sell some souvenir packs, but their interesting noodles you'll have to find at a supermarket. NOTE: I believe they might sell some of their limited edition noodles here now, but I haven't confirmed it.

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After touring through the Nissin Cup Noodle Museum we were off to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, a wonderful place that is a place that has some displays about ramen history, but is amazing for the ramen shops it brings in from around Japan all set in a massive 50s era Showa Japan life-size diorama.  To get there we backtrack to Sakuragicho Station then board the Blue Line Metro towards Azamino to get to Shinyokohama Station.  At this station, you can get to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum fairly easily by following their instructions at their website (they also had a discount admission coupon there to last time I checked.).

With their instructions, take Exit 8 from the station to get there.  From the actual exit, it takes no more than 5 or 6 minutes on foot to get to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum.  Google map if you are still unsure.
Front of the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum.
I had visited this museum / ramen foodie mecca a few years before and it was just as fun to visit this time.  The place is setup to invoke a real sense of nostalgia for the Showa era boom days. There is a detailed 1950s decorated street that circles the central food court where most of the ramen shops are.  It is a fun walk with sound effects and even a vintage candy shop to visit.
The central food court with a fairground atmosphere.  The ramen shops are located all around it and you order and pay for your ramen from ticket machines.  Take the tickets inside to claim your ramen feast.
Kaiju or Monster Movie Billboard.
Shoyu Ramen with two eggs. Yum.
The tastiest shoyo ramen with a raw egg cooking in it that I have ever had.  The soup was so good and so hot, but I kept slurping it up.  This ramen was served in a scalding hot clay pot.
Advertising for the tastiest ramen soup I have ever had.
Traditional Japanese Candy - some of it hasn't changed in ages.
Part of the 1950s street.
The gift shop this time seemed to have shrunk and the ramen making exhibits were reduced in size too. Hopefully they are just reorganizing and it isn't indicative of something else.  The place was fairly busy and even came with some drunk salarymen this time for extra authenticity (they were still very well behaved).

Afterwards we took the bullet train back to Tokyo from Shinyokohama Station.  It saves you a whole bunch of time on the return trip but costs 3X as much (worth it for me).  If you want to buy Shinkansen tickets go and ask for help at the ticket office there as I wasn't sure how to buy the tickets myself.  All I know is that you need to buy a regular ticket, then a Shinkansen extra ticket to either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station where you can transfer to other local Tokyo trains.  KEEP YOUR TICKETS - BOTH OF THEM.  You need them to exit at the other end.  On this end, you will feed both tickets through the turnstile machines, then you reverse it at the other end to get off the Shinkansen platform and then to exit the paid fare area afterwards.

The ride back to Tokyo Station was 12 or 14 minutes - I can't remember.  It was barely enough time to eat a snack on the train.  I love these bullet trains as they run so smoothly at high speed.  It really is like being on a airliner, but with more leg room!  They even have the fold down tray tables and such.  I could have sworn that there was a train speed counter the last time I rode, but there wasn't one this time.

Inside the bullet train or Shinkansen.
Bullet train front car.
Nose of the bullet train. N700 series train I think.
Tokyo Station
At Tokyo Station I was looking for two things.  I wanted to see Tokyo Station Character Street and check out Ekibenya (the train bento festival shop). Tokyo Station is a bit of a maze to navigate even with a map - which I had.  I had marked the location of Ekibenya on it and it was still a little hard to find.  The shop was not nearly as big as I thought, but boy did they ever stock an amazing assortment of ekiben (train bento) for your long distance train rides.  These ekiben represent all of these regional specialities from around Japan.
 I had to try one and bought and interesting one with an assortment of items from pickles to rice to pork.  The shop was also amazingly busy with a huge mass of people buying food inside.  I previously blogged about Ekibenya here.
Wall display of ekiben boxes available.  Pick your favourite.
They have all of these fridges with many varieties of bento.  So many to choose from!
Also a very nice assortment of beer and other beverages to go.
After Ekibenya we went to Tokyo Character Street which is in the east side basement of Tokyo Station.  There is a very nice variety of character goods shops here.  There is an Ultraman 88 store, a Sanrio Store, a Pretty Cure Store, a couple of Television Character Goods Shops, etc.  The mall at the Skytree also has a number of these stores too.  If you have time, worth a visit, but if you are visiting a big Animate, or Akihabara, etc., then you could pass on this.  It was a fun visit, but I'm not sure I'd make this a destination unless I was in the area again.  I previously blogged about Character Street and Ramen Street at this post about Tokyo First Avenue here.
Character Street.
Sanrio Display with Rement Box Sets
More Ultraman than you can count.
Ultraman Store
We also did a quick stop at the Pokemon Centre Shop down at Hamamatsucho, but it was a quick stop.  The shop hasn't changed a lot and there is still a pile of Pokemon stuff here.  However, it seems like they are stocking a little less clothing and jewelry this time.  I blogged about the Pokemon store previously here.  The only thing I'll say this time was that there was a couple of 20 year old guys from an English speaking country who were complaining about the staff singing happy birthday to a Japanese boy when I was there.  Get a grip on reality.  You are in a kids store - it actually isn't for you - the grown adult who should understand.  I got a Moo-moo Milk keychain and I like the store just the way it is! NOTE: The Pokemon Store at this location has closed and reopened in Ikebukuro.

Pokemon Store
Pokemon Store Stuffies
Late night Ekiben
That night we went for yakitori and then went back to the hotel as one of us was coming down with a cold and needed the rest.  I had a late night ekiben snack at the hotel and it was yummy!

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