Monday, July 28, 2014

Akihabara Attractions Hotspots Guide

Akihabara was famous as "Electric Town," a place to buy all types of electronics components, appliances, and electronic devices.  These days it is more famous as the heart of anime and maid cafe culture.  The small electronics stores are all closing or moving off the main strip and anime related stores and big chains like Yodobashi Camera have moved in.

Just earlier in 2014, The Akihabara Radio Store, one of the pioneering electronics malls for the area closed permanently after being open 64 years (since 1949).  Right near the Gamers, I wandered through this maze of small shops full of electronics, obscure devices, and individual electronics components a few times before it closed.
View from outside JR Akihabara Station Electric Town Exit (the classic view with Radio Kaikan on the left, and Gamers on the right.)
These days, most tourists hit Akihabara for the otaku atmosphere and shopping.  The district is like any other Tokyo district near a train station - busy and full of people.  Most of the anime related shops are clustered on the west side of the Akihabara Train Station (easily reached on theYamanote Line).  I'm only going to talk about a few of the hotspots for anime related shopping or events in this post.  Plenty of guides have covered maid cafes along with buying doujinshi and computer games in the area before, so I'm not going to repeat the coverage.
Game buying guide at Kotaku.
Seeking arcades article at Eurogamer.


New Akihabara Radio Kaikan
The new Radio Kaikan building had its grand opening on July 20th, 2014.  The classic building was the heart of Akihabara anime shopping, but it was torn down for a number of reasons, including the fact it wasn't a modern structure built to take earthquakes.  This new 10 floor building in the same place has new tenants and some of the old tenants have now moved  back in.  It looks like a pretty nice place, but the almost flea market-like atmosphere of the old place probably isn't going to be there as it looks more upscale now.
Old Radio Kaikan at night.

Some of the tenants include K-Books, Yellow Submarine, Volks, Kaiyodo Hobby Lobby, and  much more.  There are even more event spaces and a few pubs and a convenience store in the building now.

Akihabara Radio Kaikan
Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 1-15-16. 

Akiba Culture Zone
This building is another major hub, with six floors of anime related shopping, that is relatively new.  It started out with a bang, but the composition of stores has changed over time.  There are some big consignment goods stores here where you can buy items out of display boxes that people have rented.  Of note, there is the Good Smile x Animate cafe on the 5th floor.  You can browse the latest Goodsmile anime figures and order food.  Sometimes there are special exhibits or events going on here.
Corner of Akiba Culture Zone
Consignment sales of anime goods.
Akiba Culture Zone
Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 1-chome, 7-6 

Some Other Shops
  • Gamers - right outside the west "Electric Town" exit from Akihabara Station across from the Radio Kaikan.  Anime, manga, character goods and more.
  • Kotobukiya Store - just south of Akiba Zone on a back street, more character goods and toys.
  • Animate - on Chuo Dori, a big store to stop in for all your anime needs.  This and Gamers are the two big chain stores operating in the area.
  • Robot Kingdom - real robots!
  • Toranoana - main store is here for manga and doujin (self-published manga).
  • Mandarake - for all your used collectible shopping needs.  Eight floors of second hand treasure.
  • Don Quixote - on Chuo Dori, north of the Animate on the same side of the street.  Great for cosplay shopping and the AKB48 Stage.
  • Yodobashi Camera - on the east side of the rail tracks - separate from all the other stuff.  This is a big electronics store, but it has an entire floor for gashapon machines, model kits, and toys.  Do check it out and they have hundreds of gashapon machines.

Themed cafes 
These are not maid cafes like @Home, Mai Dreaming, or Cure Maid Cafe.  These cafes run with a particular concept and often have special promotional events going on.  The maid cafes also do similar things on occasion.
Places of Interest
  • Tokyo Anime Center.  The gift shop is located on the second floor of the Crossfield UDX building just north of the west side of the Akihabara train station.  The display / exhibit space is on the 4th floor of the building.  You never know if something good is on when you visit.  There are 3 floors of restaurants and a food court in the building too!
  • Artisans in Akihabara
  • Instant Noodle Bar
  • Canned Oden Machines (Japanese stew).  Right across the street from Akiba Zone to the north. Examine the machines around the corner.  Used to be a big thing to have a hot can of stew while waiting in line in the cooler months.
Visual directions to canned oden machines in Akihabara
  • Gashapon Hall, Cospa, Cure Maid Cafe.  When it is open, you'll see hundreds of gashapon machines inside the cramped space at street level.  Look for it on the map above and the maid cafe and Cospa store above it. The video below was shot there.

Visual directions to the Gashapon Hall going down Chuo Dori.  Check the map above too for the location.
  • Themed Coin Lockers.  These were made pretty famous when they had the Evangelion wrapping.  The wraps have changed since then, but you never know if something nice pops up again.
Location of the coin lockers that had the Evangelion picture wraps.
More Tokyo Highlights
More Japanese Pop Culture

Japanese Souvenirs For An Otaku Or Others 
Anime and Games Set In Akihabara 
Kanda Myojin, the Love Live shrine in Akihabara
Where to Find Giant Robot Statues in Japan
Tokyo's Theme Cafes
Artnia The New Square Enix Cafe and Store

Gundam Cafe and AKB48 Cafe in Akihabara
Gundam Front Mini-Theme Park in Odaiba (with another Gundam Cafe)
Shonen Jump Theme Park (J-World) with Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball, and more
The First Evangelion Store in Harajuku

Pokemon Store in Hamamatsucho
Giant Robot Toys - Macross, Godzilla, Gundam
Gundam Video Games in the Arcade and Home (Gundam Pods)
Evangelion's Rei and Asuka Figures Homage
Nifty Japanese Cat and Train Coin Banks
Canned Bread and Other Nifty Japanese Souvenirs
UFO Catchers and How to Win at Them  
Gashapon / Gachapon Capsule Toys in Japan

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Shopping and Dining at Tokyo Station, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof

2014 was a big year for the iconic Tokyo Station, as it completed a 5 year renovation project to restore the original red brick station building for its 100th birthday.  Not only has it been restored, it has been earthquake proofed and it lights up at night now too!  During WWII the third floor of the station and the domes to the north and south of the building were destroyed. The building was repaired afterwards without the domes or the third floor.  The station has survived the great Kanto Quake, had a prime minister assassinated within, and been repaired after war.
Tokyo Station Brick Building (photo via Creative Commons license from T.Kiya)

Today, Tokyo station has obviously been expanded too, as it now has platforms for many Shinkansen bullet trains, underground metro lines. Many mile zeros for the rail lines crisscrossing Japan start at this station and you might even see a zero marker on the track.  It is the busiest train station in Japan for rail traffic, with over 3000 trains a day passing through, but it is not as busy as Shinjuku Station as only a quarter of a million people pass through each day.  With all these people passing through the station, it is also a major shopping hub and place to pick up souvenirs.

Amazing Tokyo Station Hikari Vision Projection Mapping Birthday Celebration

Tokyo Station is the center of attention here for the redevelopment, but the redevelopment of didn't stop there.  On the west side, is Marunouchi, one of the main business districts for Tokyo, and on the east side are additional business areas.  Both sides have seen a revitalization.  The Kitte Marunouchi building (the old Japan Post building) was redeveloped into a fancy mall with some very interesting shops and a great looking atrium and rooftop.  On the east side (Yaesu exit), Tokyo First Avenue is now a great shopping hub and the GranRoof was put in to modernize and link the GrandTokyo north and south towers.  A place like Tokyo Station or the Tokyo Skytree Solomachi malls are like little commercial microcosms of Tokyo that you can easily spend a day in.  If you had one of these at home you'd have a nice little piece of Japan.

Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a maze and many of the shops are actually inside the paid transit area for the trains (even if just for the Yamanote Line).  The food shopping and dining here is pretty intense too.  Ekibenya, one of the best ekiben shops for the train bentos is here.   The main concourse runs east-west below the platforms and it is easy to get lost.  You'll have to look at a map and then look again --- I know I had to.
Bullet trains and you can see the GranRoof sail behind them (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Shinkansen lines are on the Yaesu or east side of the station for a couple of the rail lines (each has different models of bullet trains), along with the big Daimaru department store.

Wall of Ekiben at Ekiben Matsuri
Tokyo Station's big shopping and dining area is called Gransta and it is divided into North Court and South Court.  Central Street Shops is another major shopping area with Japan themed and travel shops, and Keiyo Street for some classy personal shopping are also focuses inside the station.

First Avenue Tokyo Station on the Yaesu side is an additional great shopping area for food items (from traditional to modern day snacks from Glico or Calbee), anime goods (Hello Kitty, Ultraman, Precure, Ghibli, etc), delicious ramen on Ramen Street, and there is much more.  Not to be missed if you have time.

Kitte Marunouchi Building
This building is just east (literally across the big wide street on a corner) from the restored red brick station building.  Kitte means postage stamp in Japanese.  Japan Post runs this department store as it is located at the site of their old Central Post Office building.

Kitte Building (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
The exterior looks like the old building, but the interior is now a big wide atrium with a great little rooftop garden where you can view the trains coming and going across the street.  Shops line the sides of the beautiful atrium and a 38 story glass and steel office tower, the JP Tower, is now the core of the building.  Again, many interesting shops and restaurants here (as usual on the upper floors), and there is a tourist information kiosk on the main floor.  One interesting shop in the basement shops, Amano Freeze Dried Foods, sells high quality freeze dried soups and mix and match ingredients.

GranRoof links the north and south towers of the GrandTokyo towers together.  It put a beautiful sail-like canopy over the long connective strip and is multiple stories high with many shop levels.  It brings an open and lively pedestrian zone to the old area that also adds many dining options.  I've never visited but I'll easily take a walk through this nice looking urban spot.

More Tokyo Highlights
Shopping and Dining at Tokyo Station, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof
Tokyo's Ramen Streets at Tokyo Station, Aqua City, and Shinagawa Station
Ekiben Matsuri (Train Bento Festival Store) at Tokyo Station
Sweets Land, Character Street, and Ramen Street at Tokyo Station

Friday, July 18, 2014

Toranomon Hills Tower Opens

Toranomon Hills (photo via Creative Commons License for 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia)
Toranomon Hills is the latest big building development project by the Mori development company that opened on June 11, 2014.  Toranomon Hills will be the tallest skyscraper in Tokyo with a height of 256 metres (taller than Tokyo Midtown), but isn't a large as Roppongi Hills megaplex which was also built by the same company.  The building and the Andaz hotel at the top look pretty gorgeous.  The building takes its name from the Toranomon district that it is in, and "tora" means tiger, while "nomon" means gate.  The neigbourhood used to be at the long demolished south gate to Edo Castle.  Right now, the neigbourhood is sandwiched between the Imperial Palace to the north and the Tokyo Tower to the south.  Great views of both places from the building.

Toranomon Hills is part of a series of redevelopment project in the heart of Tokyo and the building sits at one end of a new road that connects Toranomon to the Shimbashi district to the east.  This road will be extended two more kilometres northwest for the 2020 Olympics.  The building towers about the low to mid-rise buildings around it  and it is a boost for the area which was hit by the economic turmoil of the 1990s.  The closest train station on the Yamanote Line to the building is  Shinbashi to the east, and the nearest metro station on the Ginza Line is Toranomon to the north.

The building is 52 stories high with fantastic views all around.  Hyatt has opened the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills on the 47-52 floors of the tower.  Andaz is a boutique type hotel  with 164 rooms which offers a locally inspired theme to make have you leave feeling like a local.  The 51st floor has the main dining restaurant, the Andaz Tavern with great city views, and the 52nd floor has the Rooftop Bar which is designed with Japanese Teahouses in mind.  Much of the rest of the building is occupied by business and residential.  There is some shopping on the lower levels, but it is not a major mall.

The building also has an interesting mascot that looks much like the beloved Doreamon, but is a white tiger named Toranomon.  Nice touch with the cute character mascot from Fujiko F. Fujio.  Doraemon is also the official ambassador for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


1 Chome-23 Toranomon
Minato, Tokyo

Lots of great pics here.
Toranomon Official Site with Guides.

More Tokyo Highlights Posts

Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Observation Decks to View Tokyo From

You've been all over Tokyo at street level.  You've been under the city in the depths of the subway.  Now is the time to claim the high ground and get the bird's eye view of the city.  There are usual suspects to get a great view from such as the Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Skytree, the observation deck at Sunshine 60, and the Mori Tower in Roppongi.  All of these observation decks charge a small to a more hefty fee view for their views, but there are also places to view the city that are free.  Now having said that, I do have to say that it was worth the price for me to get the views from the Skytree and also the Mori Tower.  Plan according to your budget.  I blogged about the Skytree here, and the Mori Tower here.
View from Mori Tower
Some of the free observation decks are at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, the Bunkyo Civic Center, and Tower Hall Funabori.  There are also many lounges / restaurants offering great views from tall buildings as the restaurant floors are sometimes placed really high up in the buildings. You can get great views from the restaurant floors at the Caretta Shiodome Tower (46 and 47th floors), and the Ebisu Garden Place Tower (38 and 39th floors).  One of the neatest buildings, the Shinjuku NS Building, also in west Shinjuku, has a restaurants on the 29th floor and a way cool atrium with a skywalk inside the building.

 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck
This is the most popular of the free observations decks and it is the most accessible as most visitors end up in Shinjuku at some point.  Head west from Shinjuku Station into the business area.  On the way to this building you can enjoy some wonderful public sculptures and the many skyscrapers in the area.
Metropolitan Building

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is an incredibly large building too that is well worth viewing, I also hear there is a good cafeteria here for bargain eats that is open to the public.  There is an excellent tourist information center in the building too!  There is one observation deck in each of the two towers on the 45th floor and they offer some great views.  The view from Tower 1 is slightly better.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Deck
This observation deck is more off the beaten track. It isn't the tallest of observation decks but there are not that many tall buildings nearby to obstruct your view so you can see toward Shinjuku, the Metropolitan Government Building and even Mount Fuji in one photo frame.  The building is unique too with the observation deck looking like a saucer embedded in a building on the 25th floor.  Nearby is the Tokyo Dome and one of the prettiest Japanese Gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen (fall is pretty).  The nearest train station to here is the Korakuen station on the Marunouchi and Nanboku lines.

Bunkyo-ku, Kasuga 1-16-21, Bunkyo Civic Center Bldg 25F.

Tower Hall Funabori
Definitely not on the beaten track, this small observation deck is in a tower that is only 115 meters tall, but that is still about 28 stories. You can see the Skytree to the north and Tokyo Disney to the south. It is near Funafori Station, on the north side, and it is on the Toei Shinjuku Line.

Tower Hall Funabori 4-1-1 Funabori Edogawa, Tokyo 134-0091 Japan

More Tokyo Highlights Posts, Shibuya Crossing, Skytree Information, etc.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Popular Japanese Fast Food Chains To Try On A Tokyo Visit

Plenty has been written about restaurants you must try when you are in Tokyo.  Michelin stars are great, but sometimes you just want to eat.  So what are some of the chain restaurants that Japanese people frequent?  Here are six fast food chains (often the food is cooked while you wait) that you could try and they are great if you are on a budget.  You can often find outlets near train stations so you don't even have to look far, but you won't always find them on every street corner.  Some of these food chains have even expanded overseas in other Asian countries and you'll even find them in America now.

Teriyaki chicken burger
MOS Burger
This is an awesome burger chain that is famous for their buns made out of compressed disks of rice.  They often grill your food up fresh and I also like their teriyaki chicken burger!  Lotteria and Freshness Burger are other burger chain you could also try.

Yoshinoya / Sukiya / Matsuya
Great for beef bowl or gyudon.  This is a bowl of rice covered in tender simmered beef, onions, and a tasty sauce.  These restaurants have expanded their offerings so it isn't just beef bowl anymore.  Beef bowl is a very cheap meal and a meal set is often a great way to go.  Everyone also has a chain they like more than the others.
Extra large beef bowl at Sukiya with miso soup.

Great for tendon (tempura with rice).  Also very affordable and they have some great tempura for the price you pay.  They often have some seasonal specials and it always looks so tasty.

This is more of a full restaurant, but you can get a meal at a very reasonable price and it is more like traditional Japanese cooking.  There is plenty of variety to choose from.

Great soba noodle chain, but again, more than just soba noodles.  Plenty of variety on offer.

Coco Curry
This is a popular curry shop chain. with a hard to miss sign.  It wouldn't be a visit to Japan without having one of the nation's favourite dishes.  It is Japanese style curry with rice.  There are many curry outlets and they are all pretty tasty.

Here are a few photos from another curry shop, Homemade Curry Time, I tried in Shinagawa Station.  It was good there!  Again, you need to order from a vending machine, but there were pictures.

More Tokyo Highlights Posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tokyo's Ramen Streets at Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station, and Aqua City

There are three big concentrations of ramen restaurants in Tokyo, but that isn't to say that you couldn't find several shops within a hundred feet of each other on the street or at a train station!  These clusters of ramen shops have six to seven restaurants all set up together as a ramen destination.  They often feature famous ramen shop chains from all over Japan too.  This is not to be mistaken with the Shin Yokohama Ramen museum and its restaurants either (I blogged about them here and did a travelogue here.)
The most famous of the these three clusters of shops is the Ramen Street at First Avenue, Tokyo Station.  The other two are the fifth floor at Aqua City mall, and on the west side of Shinagawa Station. There are many good ramen shops in Tokyo, so unless you're really into trying all the ramen spots, you might just eat where you are, as crossing town to get a meal while you are on vacation is not always the best use of your time.  Of course, if you're in the neighbourhood, go for it!

Shinatatsu Ramen Street Entrance
Ramen ticket ordering machine.  Top left button is often a good choice at the machines or ask for help!

Shinagawa Station Shinatatsu Ramen StreetI have a fond place in my heart for this place as it was where I had my first bowl of authentic shoyu ramen and it was the first place I ate in Japan.  I came here early one evening after I dumped my stuff off at my hotel, the Shinagawa Prince across the street, and one of Kibi's staff helped me with the ramen vending machine!  The bowl of noodles was great and it was a good introduction to Japan.  To get here you exit out the west side Takanawa exit, then, at street level, follow the side of the station building south along the road about 1.5 blocks and you'll see it on your left.

Seven shops here:
  • Nantsuttei (Kumamoto style ramen - has black garlic oil)
  • Nakamoto (Spicy Monoglian style ramen)
  • Setagaya (Tonkotsu / Shoyu blend ramen)
  • Kibi (Shoyu ramen)
  • Saijo (Shio ramen)
  • Tetsu (Tsukemen ramen)
  • Keisuke (Black miso ramen)
Shoyu Ramen, exrtra chasu

Tokyo Station, First Avenue, Tokyo Ramen Street
This is a busy place.  First Avenue is now a major stop for eating, picking up souvenirs that include food items, and other shopping.  Everything is in the First Avenue basement level that connects to the Tokyo Train Station on the east side out of the Yaesu Exit. Character Street (for anime / manga goods) and some other food type souvenir shops (for candy / kit kats) are also in the long north - south mall.  Ramen Honda, Ikaruga along with Rokurinsha seem to be popular, but all of the shops here are popular.

I blogged about character street, okashi land, ramen street here before.
This lady blogger, Ellena Guan, covers the ramen shops here very nicely.
If you're wondering what are all the kinds of ramen, check out Serious Eats here.
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan 
Tokyo Station Ichibangai Basement Floor, B1F Yaesu South Exit

Eight shops here:
  • Ramen Honda (麺処ほん田) Shoyu with fish / chicken based broth.  Yum.
  • Menya Shichisai (麺や 七彩/TOKYO味噌らーめん 江戸甘)  Kitakata style ramen.
  • Kizo (仙台牛タンねぎ塩ラーメン 㐂蔵)  Beef stock shio ramen.
  • Hirugao (塩専門 ひるがお)
  • Ikaruga (東京駅斑鳩)  Tonkotsu style Tokyo ramen.
  • Rokurinsha Tokyo (六厘舎)  Famous for their Tsukemen.
  • とんこつらーめん 俺式 純
  • 東京タンメン トナリ

Aqua City Ramen Festival in Odaiba
I've never eaten here, but it has been here for 10 years now in the Aqua City Mall.  Plenty of people have eaten here and I think I would try the Hokkaido style miso ramen with corn and butter?  The atmosphere of this place is very carnival-like and the next time I'm in Odaiba, to see the giant Gundam, I'd probably go out of my way to try it along with the Takoyaki Museum in the Decks Mall next door.

There are 7 shops here:
  • Naniwa's bite dumplings
  • Asahikawa, Hokkaido (札幌みそラーメン  みそラーメンのよし乃)
  • Katsuura Tantanmen (勝浦タンタンメン  勝浦ビーチスタイル)
  • Kyoto Chinese noodles (京都中華そば  京都中華そば 天天有)
  • Ramen Makoto-ya (ラーメン店  ラーメンまこと屋  アクアシティお台場店)
  • Hakata ramen (博多ラーメン らーめん二男坊)
  • (まぜラーメン・おつまみ  博多鉄板屋台・元祖まぜラーメンの店)
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Delicious Tokyo Ramen at Ippudo, Ichiran, Chiyogami, Kamukura, and Soranoiro Nippon
Shopping and Dining at Tokyo Station, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof
Tokyo's Ramen Streets at Tokyo Station, Aqua City, and Shinagawa Station
Ekiben Matsuri (Train Bento Festival Store) at Tokyo Station
Sweets Land, Character Street, and Ramen Street at Tokyo Station

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Neo Ace Novel Kickoff Sale

Hello!  A quick introduction is probably in order.  I'm Peter Lok, a science fiction writer based out of Canada.  I have been working on my Exocrisis Blue universe while I also maintain an author's blog and a Japanese pop culture blog.  Exocrisis Blue is an alternate future where the Earth has been invaded by the Blue Newts who were fleeing a dying homeworld.  During the Alien War, humanity finally turned the direction of the war against the Newts by developing the giant HARM robots based off of captured alien tech.  The war changed the geopolitical order on Earth, ending in an uneasy peace where the Newts consolidated their tropical and subtropical holdings.  For more information on the world of Exocrisis Blue and the HARMs, please check this link to my author's blog.

For the last year I have been writing and revising my novel Neo Ace.  It was just published as an Amazon ebook in the UK, USA, and Canada in June 2014.  This novel is about the story of Jake and Mayumi, two cadets at the Neo Ace Academy, who are going to be involved in events that will shape the future for both human and Newt.  This story is military SF, but with a good touch of anime inspired mecha tropes (since mechs are Japanese inspired anyhow).  While the protagonists are teens, a rich cast of adult characters drives the story along, the way things should happen in real life.  This story should appeal to all types of science fiction readers and anime viewers.  Neo Ace is a self-contained story arc, but the full Neo Ace story concludes in Neo Destiny.  Neo Destiny promises more world building, political machinations, character development, and epic battles involving mechs and conventional forces in high tech battlefields across the Earth.

Promotional Period
Neo Ace is available for approximately $2 US, half of the regular price (Amazon does some kind of adjustment), until the beginning of August.  Please consider buying a copy and providing some positive reviews, even if brief, on Amazon, as word of mouth is the only way an independent author can get ahead.

I have previously written a short story, HARM, and a novella, Raid on Kahamba, that are independent prequels set in the same universe.  Both HARM and Raid will be free for a limited time to promote Neo Ace.  Give them a read to see if you would like Neo Ace!

Limited Time Free Story Giveaway
  • HARM is available for free from July 4 to 8, 2014.
  • Raid is available for free from July 11 to 13, 2014.

Please click through to my publications page for the direct links to the various Amazon bookstores.
Check the price to see if it is still free before clicking the buy button!

Link to My Science Fiction Publications Page.

Thanks for your time in advance.

Neo Ace Action Excerpt
The platoon’s six HARM units were rapidly advancing in a skirmish line a quarter of a kilometre wide through a pine forested valley floor.  Trees and branches were effortlessly brushed aside or smashed by the rapid walking pace of the robots.  Every so often a laser shot from the spider-mechs would flash by, but it was mostly the HARM units sniping at the retreating enemy.

Jake was the acting platoon leader, positioned in mid-line in HARM #3.  In his cockpit, he studied the tactical display on the console in front of him.  They had engaged the advancing spider-mechs from concealment in the hilly woodland terrain, their HARM unit active camouflage systems blending them with the surrounding woods.  Their first volleys of fire had brought down four of the nine mechs.  They had then started pursuing the retreating alien Newts.  His shot meant that five were now down.  Return fire from the enemy had been ragged, but HARM #5, piloted by his friend Bing, had taken some torso damage and wasn't aiming as well.

"We have orders to hold this position, not pursue," Mayumi reminded Jake from  HARM #1.  "We have already stopped the breakthrough."

"I think Mayumi's right," Toshi added from HARM #6.  "My father says Newt units don't break very easily – they are not cowards.  This could be a trap to draw us out. "

"I know your dad is a mecha pilot in the Japanese Defence Forces,” Jake responded.  “I really think we have them on the run.  They’ll never break through to Central City if we take these guys out.  We have the initiative and should take it."

Jake looked at the tactical display again.  He projected the map for everyone to see and used his finger to point out a position.  "We won't move that far out of position if we can take them out before they exit the valley between these two hills. Geraldo, Mayumi, take the left flanking hill.  Bing and Toshi, take the right hill.  Mary and I will pursue and keep the pressure on.  You guys run for those hills and take them out from above."

"Jake’s plan sounds good to me," Geraldo spoke out in Hispanic accented English.  "We should take advantage of the situation."

"I'm in," Mary added.  She preferred a standup fight over waiting any day.  "Eliminated Newts won't be back."

After a bit of hesitation, Bing, assented too.

Mayumi agreed when it was obvious that everyone was in.  "Okay," she quietly added.

"I don't think we should be doing this," Toshi finally agreed, "but let us try it."

"Thanks, Toshi.  All units, move out," Jake ordered.  They were going to win this one in a big way.

Mayumi and Geraldo in HARMs #1 and #2 swept forward to the left and began running for the top of their hill.  On the right, Bing and Toshi in HARMs #5 and #6 began running for the other hill.  In the center, Jake and Mary in HARMs #3 and #4 widened the distance between them and increased their pace to a jog to begin closing in on the retreating mechs. 

Over the next several minutes the pursuing HARMs began to gradually overtake the retreating enemy, reducing the distance between them less than a kilometre.  Exchanged shots were few between the two sides as visual contact was poor between them.  Even though they were eight metres high at the top of their main weapon blister, the spider-mechs were almost impossible to see in the trees as they were short enough to disappear into them.   The taller 12 metre height of the Fenrir HARM units put them at tree top height much of the time,  but it did not make much of a difference in the fight.

There was a small explosion in the air near the spider-mechs.  "Damn, that was my last RPV," Mary commented.  "At least they know we're still here."  Recon drones were invaluable, but did not last long on the modern battlefield against point defence laser systems.  She just wished they had full equipment load outs for their units.  This fight would have been over long ago if they had Helldart missiles and a couple of Typhoon missile pack equipped HARMs.

The distance between the two pursuing HARM units and the four retreating enemy mechs had closed to 800 metres, and the enemy mechs had moved between the two hills.  Jake's HARM had moved closer to the base of the left hill while Mary had closed in on the right hill.  During the chase they had split themselves to snipe at the enemy from two different angles.

"You guys in position?"  Jake inquired.  From his tactical display he could see the locations of all of the HARM units, but not their status.  It looked like both sets of flankers had crested their hills.

"Almost there," Toshi responded, "I'm looking for a firing position."

"Same here," Geraldo added in.

"Shit!"  Bing suddenly yelled out.  Blue enemy markers appeared on the tactical display along the far downslope of each of the flanking hills.  "Enemy  contacts just crested the hill.  I'm engaging."

"It's a trap!"  Mayumi called out.  "Enemy Hunter class mechs!  Engaging!  Coilgun to full power."

Events had suddenly turned on them.  Jake couldn't believe his tactical display.  Each of his flanking pairs was suddenly outmatched by a squad of three Newt Hunters.  Unlike the spider  mechs, the Hunter mechs were advanced anthropomorphic mechs with a Newt body form, the enemy equivalent of their Fenrir mechs.   Each Hunter had three pairs of  limbs, with the rear two pairs for movement and the front pair for manipulation.  They resembled giant armoured lizards carrying laser cannon with their two front limbs.

"Fall back!"  Jake called out.  They were in a bad situation.

"Popping smoke,"  Bing responded, "but they're too close.  I don't think  we can disengage."

Jake didn't hesitate in his response.  "We're coming to back you up"

Kantai Collection, Tank, and Zipang Blind Box Ship Models

Kantai Collection is a very popular online game where you have WWII vintage ships battle the Abyssal Fleet.  I've never played the game, but the anthropomorphized character designs - like mecha musume - appeal to me.  Cute with big battlewagons and carriers.  This game has spawned a big entertainment franchise for collectors goods, manga, more games, and even an anime.  Kantai Collection isn't without controversy though, as it seems to play down the negative aspects of WWII Japanese involvement and glosses over the military hardware with moe.  This isn't a problem by itself, but most media / anime / manga in Japan that touch on the subject does this, creating a bit of a moral vacuum that hasn't been resolved to this day.  I can still enjoy the art, but these issues could be fixed if Japan actually acknowledges what was done in the past.

It isn't just a online or card game anymore either, an anime version of it is being produced.

Kan Colle Models.  They come packed in a case of 10, and you won't know which model you'll get until you open the box.  The models come mostly finished, with very nice paint jobs, and you have to do a little assembly.  Each of these models came with the character card for that ship that displays the moe image, an information sheet, and a piece of gum.
External Links
Today, I'm going to show you some small 1/144 scale models or even smaller that come in blind box packaging.  I'm always impressed with the amount of detail that goes into these little models.  I'm going to show a few ship models from the anime series Zipang and Kantai Collection.  These models do require a bit of assembly, but are great for display!  Later, there is also a tiny bit of coverage about the World Tank Museum kits.

Front and back of each individual box showing the various ships.
Zipang blind boxes.  Zipang was a pretty good show that talked about all sides of the conflict in WWII as it is about a modern JSDF destroyer time travelling back to WWII.  You can see a few of the models here, including the Zipang destroyer itself.  I blogged about Zipang previously here.
Trying your luck is way more popular in Japan when buying gashapon, playing UFO Catchers, or even picking blind boxes.  A blind box is basically a small sealed box with an unknown prize inside.  Sometimes you can tell, but often it is a mystery as there is no way to distinguish the contents from one box to another.  These blind boxes usually come packaged in a larger case that stores 8 to 12 of them for retail display.  Often if you buy a full case, you should have a complete set.  It is never guaranteed you'll get a set, but getting a case often does work.

World Tank Museum blind box.  Looks very similar to the Kantai Colle boxes with each tank coming with an information sheet and a piece of gum.  Some limited assembly needed for like antennas or machineguns.  Nicely detailed and tiny.   They had modern and WWII tank collections.  I've shown an M1 and a Leapard 2 here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nissin Brazilian Cup Noodle and the World Cup

Nissin created some instant noodle products to coincide with the World Cup.  While you don't get a souvenir soccer ball or anything like that you do get some tasty noodle flavours that incorporate Brazilian BBQ (churrasco) for spicy and savory flavours.  I managed to get my hand on the Brazilian Cup Noodle and the Brazilian Chicken Ramen flavours to try.  The descriptions for the particular limited noodles sounded yummy.

Nissin's Brazilian Soccer Samurai commercial for the World Cup.

Brazilian Chicken Cup Noodle
After I added hot water and waited the three minutes, the soup was very satisfying and spicy, but not too spicy, and the chicken chunks had a nice poultry flavour to them.  The Brazilian Cup Noodle has a chicken stock base with chunks of dehydrated grilled chicken.  The powder soup base has a deep red colour like you would find in BBQ potato chips.  There is supposed to be oregano, black pepper, basil, and paprika in the soup stock.  Other ingredients include dehydrated egg, cabbage, and red pepper.

Nice bold colours used on the cup.
Looking inside reveals many ingredients including a reddish spice / seasoning for the soup.
Side view.
3 minutes later, some spicy goodness.

Brazilian Chicken Ramen Bowl
The flavour of this instant ramen is derived from Nissin's famous Chicken Ramen flavour.  The ramen came with a packet of seasoning and a packet of dehydrated meat/veggies to add to the base ramen which is pre-infused with the chicken ramen flavour.  After adding the ingredients and adding hot water, the aroma of chicken ramen was clearly detectable, but there was a strong hint of pepper.  I think this was slightly zippier than the cup noodle version, with a different flavour profile, and lots of pepper.  Still, very tasty though.  The dehydrated ingredients seemed to include chicken, red pepper, egg, and cabbage again.
Chicken Ramen logo with Brazil added.
Noodles and ingredient packs.
Ingredients added, now add hot water, and cover.
Yummy ramen ready in a few minutes.

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