Sunday, April 28, 2019

An Anime Otaku Itinerary For Tokyo

If you're an anime fan, then a visit to Tokyo is not just a visit to Japan, but a bit of a pilgrimage to the heart of Anime Culture or a visit to the dreamlands of your imagination.  Anime or Japanese animation is a distinct art form that often showcases Japanese culture, locations around Japan (with a fair bit of Tokyo), and builds on Japanese history and myth.

Some of this animation becomes popular enough begin crossing over from the 2D to the 3D real world.  The most accessible and visible artifacts are signage, advertising, and posters featuring anime characters found throughout public spaces.  Then there are stores full of all kinds of anime character goods, toys, videos, magazines, books, manga (Japanese comics), and soundtrack CDs.  It's on par with the immersion you get at a giant Disney Store for their characters on a city-wide scale.  In Akihabara, you get an entire city neighbourhood devoted to anime stores, maid cafes, video arcades, and electronics.  There are also events with the voice actors, art exhibits, toy exhibits, fan and anime industry conventions, giant robot statues, life-size character figures, and cafes featuring various anime-themed food.

The first time an anime fan steps off the plane in Japan, they begin an odyssey in which everything they saw as animated frames begins to relate to real-life locations and experiences.  This journey usually brings a smile as they try food they saw in the anime, ride the crowded and efficient train system, wait at a train crossing with its distinctive warning bells, see real world locations that were replicated in animation, or visit their first konbini (Japanese convenience store).  It's just a lot of fun to visit Japan for the first time for real, but for the second time in their mind, as they have already had so much exposure to it from animation.

This article is an example itinerary for an otaku visit, but there is lots in it for any visitor as there is a great deal of crossover if you're interested in contemporary culture, shrines, or history.  You can also check out  my post:

 Day 0
  • After arrival, you usually have a half day at best if you are coming from North America.
  • Once you exit the aircraft, you will have to get through customs and immigration and claim your luggage (about an hour in total usually).
  • Get a PASMO or SUICA Card for local train travel or purchase Narita Express tickets if you are taking this train.
  • Take the train in from Narita or Haneda Airport.  Narita Express usually from Narita to Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Shinagawa.  If you are taking the Narita Express, it takes an hour to Tokyo Station, despite the name, so stop at your first Japanese convenience store at the airport or use your first Japanese vending machine.  You could also do the Skyliner to Nippori Station from Narita and transfer trains to the Yamanote Line unless you are staying near the Skytree.  If coming in from Haneda, your transit is shorter and you can take a local Tokyo Monorail train.  No food or drinks on the local trains.
  • You will likely have luggage and be a little tired, but probably will be pretty excited too.
  • Check into your accommodation.
  • Go out and get some dinner.  Ramen makes a great first meal of comfort food.  If you are in a trendy area like Shibuya or Shinjuku you can walk around and check out the evening crowds, shop, or have a drink.
  • Crash after staying up a bit and set your alarm to get up early the next morning to start getting over jetlag.
Day 1
Sensoji Thunder Gate

Day 2
  • Tokyo Skytree is a good one to visit early in the morning as they open before 8 AM.  This beats the crowds that will show up later.  However, seeing Tokyo transition from evening to night from the super tall tower is amazing too.
  • The Tokyo Solomachi Mall around the base of the tower has some great shopping.
    • Visit the 8th floor Chiba Institute of Technology Robot Museum to see a life-size Macross Valkyrie in Gerwalk mode.
    • Pokemon Center.  There is a nice sized Pokemon Center here  for your Pokemon needs.  It even features a giant statue of Rayquaza.
    • NHK TV Character Store.  All kinds of character goods in a big store.  I always find something interesting here.
    • Jump Store for Shonen Jump character goods like Naruto, Bleach, Dragonball, My Hero Academia, Fairy Tail, Black Clover, etc.
    • Donguri Kyowakoku Store for Studio Ghibli character goods.  There is a big Totoro in the window display.
    • Hello Kitty Store for all kinds of cuteness.
    • The main floor also has a mall with local goods and there is a great food court here.  One of the coolest things about eating at the food court is that you are served on real dishes and you need to return them to the shop you bought the meal from.  You can get ramen, curry, tempura, and more here.
  • In the afternoon you can visit nearby Asakusa where Sensoji Temple, Kitchen Street, and Nakamise Dori shopping street are.
    • Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo and the major attraction in the Asakusa area for itself and the Nakamise shopping street that leads up to it.  The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate is a very popular photospot.  On the opposite side of the street is a very good tourist information center with an observation deck up top.
    • The shrine is large and the area around the shrine is full of small shops and restaurants.  You can see an older style district here and even take a rickshaw tour or walk along the Sumida River.
    • If you're into cooking and need Japanese cooking implements, visit the relatively close Kitchen Street or Kappabashi Street.
  •  In the late afternoon or early evening go out for dinner or see another part of Tokyo when the city lights are on.
Giant Gundam

Day 3
Shibuya Crossing
Day 4
Nakano Broadway

Day 5
  • This is a bit of a field trip day to see some famous anime sights and to see the other place to shop for anime goods.  There are also other anime museums in the area, but they are more work to get to and you may find your time better spent elsewhere.
  • The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka is a must visit if you have never been there.  There are exhibits about the process of animation, a cool building with Ghibli characters, giant catbuses you can enter, and a short film you will have never seen before.
  • Nakano Broadway Mall has that old school Akihabara feel with lots of shops crammed into a small space.  There is plenty to shop and look at here.  It is an easy visit on the way to or fromd the Ghibli Museum if you are coming from Shinjuku.
SEIBU Ikebukuro
Day 6
  • Ikebukuro is famous area in anime circles due to the show Durarara!  You can find most of the areas in the show east of the station like the Russia Sushi location, Higashi Ikebukuro Central Park, the owl statue, the musical note statue and where the main characters first meet.  The area is a big hub and full of entertainment and shopping.  The penguins at the aquarium at Sunshine City were shown in the anime Penguindrum.  It is a bit of the way out though, so it is judgement call to visit if you have already seen a bunch of anime stuff already.  Otome Road is out here too though.
Yokohama Ramen Museum
More Information
My ebook, Tokyo Intro, builds on the concepts in this article to provide even more background.  If you like this article, please consider purchasing a copy of this book as it presents more information for a visit.

Introductory guide ebook for the price of a latte at Amazon.

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Maruchan Menzukuri Dan Dan Bowl Noodles

Maruchan puts out some pretty nice instant noodles.  This Menzukuri Dan Dan bowl noodle is in a flavour category I quite like as it is savoury, full of flavour, and has some heat to it.  Dan Dan noodles are a Chinese style flavouring (Sichuan cuisine) with Japanese characteristics in this case.  It uses a chili bean sauce which is both spicy and salty.  Doubanjiang pepper, chili oil, sesame add intense flavour to a miso soup base.
3/4 view of the nicely decorated bowl of noodles.  This type of bowl is not as wide as the broad bowls like in UFO noodles, but is much deeper.
Lid of the bowl.  You can see the noodles are nicely displayed front and center and you can see the chili oil on the noodles and on the surface of the soup behind it.  Quite an attractive layout with the use of yellowish gold and nice bright reds.  Makes you think your about to have some spicy and tasty food.
Nutritional information and manufacturers information.
Cooking directions and allergin information.
Closeup of the side of the cup with the name and the lid.
The noodle block inside.  You can tell it isn't a fried noodle, but a dried one.  The noodles are of a slightly thicker gauge than regular noodles.
There are plenty of ingredients sachets in this bowl of instant noodles.  It comes with a dry soup mix, a dehydrated veggies and ground pork packet, and a fairly large chili / miso paste sachet.
Closeup of the dried ingredients such as green onions, ground meat.
All of the satchets added on top of the noodles prior to adding boiling water.  You can see sesame seeds and such too.
The rehydrated noodles and soup after closing the lid for 3 minutes.
This is a Dan Dan style instant ramen soup that did not disappoint the taste buds.  The soup had a nice chili / miso aroma to it and had a nice dark tannish red colour to highlight that was quite appealing.  There was a bit of body to the soup itself thanks to the miso paste.  The flavour of the soup was a miso / chili taste that had depth to it that wasn't just heat.  The dry ingredients got lost in the soup and were really more there as a little bit of garnish.  The noodles had a nice texture and were quite enjoyable with the soup.  This soup is a winner and I'd have it again.
Closeup of the noodles.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Little Experiences in Tokyo - #3 Shinjuku Weekend Morning

While Shinjuku buzzes with people and energy at night, the weekend mornings are a different story.  It can be quite quiet and peaceful when the restaurants and shops are not open.  Shopping doesn't open until 11 AM for most most malls.  In the mornings there are not many people out and about in the neighbourhood or even in the local parks.  In the commercial areas you can see delivery trucks bringing their daily load of food to the depachika and the sanitation department hard at work to tidy up.  It is kind of nice to walk around the city when it is cooler and not so busy.
Empty park.
Even the konbini was pretty empty in the morning.
A restaurant in the morning.
Restaurant and entertainment area.  You can see all of the empty beer and liquor crates out front.
Entertainment area.
Some restaurants.
Vending machine in a small parking lot.
These busy restaurant and bar areas are near the train station, but south of Yasakuni Dori, away from Kabukicho.  The streets are narrow and the buildings not quite as big.  Kind of more inviting in some ways.
A restaurant.
These morning sets for breakfast are pretty good deals and you get a place to sit down and eat.
At first glance it looked like the signs are about a cat coming to visit for food, but it is really a cute sign with cats indicating they have takeout - meow.  I thought they even had a little step built for the cats, but nope - it is maybe for kids or just a stack of trays.
Animate Shinjuku store for anime goods and anime events.
Construction site with some heavy duty steel beams.  Built to earthquake resistant code I sure.
One Piece Chopper character safety barriers! Only in Japan.
Shinjuku West Side.  Not that busy in the mid-morning now.
Bakery for breakfast!
Mont Blancs!
Nice croissants.
Evangelion Pachinko.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Little Experiences in Tokyo - #2 Around Shinjuku

Shinjuku is a really busy place both day and night.  The Netflix show, Midnight Diner, is set in the area.  Near Shinjuku Station and Kabukicho are the really busy areas.  Dense signage and restaurant / bar displays are everywhere.  As you move away from these areas you'll actually find residential areas outside the core business / shopping zone.  You need to visit an area like this at night to see how it lights up even if you don't want to drink, see the robot restaurant, or anything like that.
Main LABI store.  Lots of electronics, toys, and everything else.
The giant Godzilla head that is worth a visit up close to get the 1-1 scale feel of you being small.
Along the main street of Yasakuni Dori is where most amazing lights and crowds are in the evening.  The giant Godzilla head and the Bandai VR Arcade are in the Kabukicho area.  You could spend awhile here just taking photos and watching people go by.
Yasakuni Dori at night.  There are many shifting displays of lights too.
Bikes on Yasakuni Dori.
It is Spiderman in Shinjuku!
Really cool looking vending machines showing gods and ukiyo-e art while advertising an Okonomiyaki restaurant.
The Yamanote Line - still my favourite train line there, even if the subway is faster to get around much of the time.
Yasakuni Dori and more bikes.  Plenty of people ride bike here to get around.
I love the frontage on this Kumamoto style ramen shop.
I had a hotel in the area once that was about a 10 to 12 minute walk east of Shinjuku Station on Yasakuni Dori.  It was quite neat to walk away from the crowds even though the street itself is fairly busy with people as there are many shops, restaurants, and konbini along the street.

The Godzilla Store in Shinjuku is worth a visit if you like Big G.
Tezuka diorama.
A nice Tonkatsu lunch.  Sooo good.
Seria. Another of the big dollar store chains with more focus on crafting and being artsy in their products.  Different than Daiso.  It is in the Marui OIOI Annex with the Godzilla Store.
The restaurants and bars go from the basement and up the buildings on various floors.  They sometimes are not very big establishments in narrow buildings.
Yasakuni Dori at night.
Two pretty good anime movies in the theatres.  Your Name and A Silent Voice.  Both on DVD now in the west.

Giant Godzilla Head Up Close and Godzilla Store Shinjuku

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