Tokyo in Snapshots: Akihabara Electric Town and Gundam Cafe!

Akihabara is everything you think that it is— and more! Yes, it’s full of manga and anime. Yes, it’s a real kingdom of electronic devices and games. Yes, AKB48 are the goddesses here (well, not only here, but this is where they started from, so I guess it’s a ‘special’ place for the fans). And finally yes, it is full of otaku,  maid cafes and barely dressed anime characters on every corner.

Akihabara was the first place I visited when I came to Japan. The sky was grey and I was terribly sleepy because of jet lag. I ate my first tsukemen which cost me about 800 yen and at that time I thought “I’m gonna go bankrupt here!”…What else? Oh, I remember! I was looking for a wi-fi spot just so that I could check-in at Akihabara on Facebook (“Everybody has to know I’m in AKB YASSSSSS!”). Ironically, it wasn’t easy to find such a spot though! You would think, Akihabara = internet everywhere, but well, not really. In any case, I went back to Akihabara many times after that. I taught English at a cafe, I visited my beloved Donki (AKB’s Donki was the only one I knew at that time), I left a substantial amount of money at Yodobashi Camera. Oh and how could I forget the most delicious ramen I have ever had? It’s in AKB too! I’ll be sure to show you that place because the ramen there is insanely delicious.

Since I moved a bit further away from the Ueno/Akihabara area, I haven’t had as many chances to visit the Otaku Town. This time I went back to find some interesting things I could show you and Akihabara didn’t disappoint me. It never does!

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Akihabara 秋葉原

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If you choose the Electric Town Exit, you’ll be greeted by video game arcades, ubiquitous photos of AKB48 and anime characters. All this cuteness can make you dizzy, but the atmosphere is none the less absolutely unique.

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I need to admit that I am not a big fan of manga or anime. Of course I have watched classics like Ghost in the ShellBarefoot Gen and most of the Ghibli animations, but somehow… I don’t know, I just never really got into it that much. I still enjoy walking the streets of AKB though. Japanese people say it’s too weird, too expensive and too overrated. It’s like a younger clumsy brother of Nakano Broadway, which is a real deal for hardcore anime lovers  (read more about Nakano Broadway → here←).

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Boobs, short skirts and zettai ryouki

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Comic book stores, Japanese idol CD stores, and yes, of course, countless maid cafes. No, I have never been to one. High school students wearing maid costumes, speaking in an unnaturally high-pitched voice, infantilizing themselves to serve as some sort of fetishy entertainment for anime loving guys? No, thanks, maybe…umm…someday.

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You may think that the Donki at AKB should have even more weird unusual stuff than other Donkis… It does have lots of anime stuff, anime slippers, anime wine bottles, anime whatever you want, AKB48 merchandise, pillow girlfriends and other items you could find in a “How To Become Otaku for Dummies — Starter Kit”, if such a thing existed.

Wait, it’s Japan. It probably does.

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Gachapon machines on the street! They were a hit in Poland when I was a kid. I still remember 10-year old me buying those gross rubber hands in gachapons we had in Poland. They looked like giant snots and you could stick them to walls which made it more fun.  How could I know that about 13 years later I would find myself buying half-naked anime figurines from machines on the streets of Akihabara?

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And what do we have over here…..?

….GUNDAM CAFE Akihabara!

11 Kanda Hanaokacho
Chiyoda, Tokyo
(or just take the Showa Dori exit, it’s on the right, next to the AKB48 cafe!)

 

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The cafe has a really nice atmosphere going on! The mechanical mascot Haro and some mini pink Gundam robots. It feels like a spaceship and you can watch some Gundam episodes on a large screen TV. Actually, some people seemed to have come there only for the TV. Maybe this is the reason why there’s a time limit in the cafe? Apparently, you can’t stay there longer than 2 hours. Enough to watch a few episodes though!

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Fancy drink bar with Gundam characters and the mobile suit itself!

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THE MENU

Everything looked yummy! Curry and taco-rice-ish dishes at reasonable prices? Fried rice with chicken wings shaped like a Gundam spaceship?  MS-06 Zaku II and ACGUY curry rice? Gundam SEED hashed beef rice? Sounds awesome! I decided to get Kira no hayashi raisu = Kira hashed beef.

This is how they described the dish:

ガンダムSEEDの主人公、キラ・ヤマトをイメージした、力強い味わいのハヤシライスです。 トリィを表した温泉卵とチーズがキラの優しさのようなまろやかな味に仕上げます。 しっかり食べたいあなたに。

“Strong-flavoured hashed beef rice with the main character of Gundam SEED – Kira Yamato. A soft-boiled egg and cheese representing Torii (a lime green bird-robot) give off a flavour so mellow, like Kira’s personality” — if that doesn’t sound mouth-watering, I don’t know what does.

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…and apparently this is what Kira’s personality looks like. In the world of Photoshop I guess I shouldn’t be really surprised seeing that the reality is a bit different from the photograph, but well…I still can’t say it was half as good as I had imagined it. It was decent. But Japanese soft-boiled eggs are to die for so I’ll be generous this time and give them 6 out of 10.

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The coffee was surprisingly good though! If you’re not a fan of curry, grab a latte! And just look at that adorable chibi Gundam Tencho (=Manager Gundam) ♥

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I guess that the main hero at Gundam Cafe is Gundam of course, the food is only an addition. Well, if that works for them and brings them clients, why should I complain? I had a decent lunch and a good coffee and I didn’t break the bank! If you’re a fan of Gundam — I’m sure you’ll go there. If  not — well, if you happen to be in AKB and crave some curry, why not stop by the Gundam Cafe?

Whatever they say about AKB — no one can deny that it grew to be one of the symbolic towns of Tokyo.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my thoughts !

***

Oh Akihabara….

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Tokyo in snapshots: Shinjuku 新宿

 Recently I have noticed that what was exciting / new / weird / funny for me when I first came to Japan, has now become really quite normal and, come to think of it, I don’t even pay attention to most of those things anymore. For example, I was kind of surprised to see that all Japanese cars are kind of square and small and like 80% of vehicles are white…except for taxis. There’s one special type of car used for taxis in Japan (it’s a Toyota Crown Comfort if you’re interested). And you know what else? All of the cars are so clean and shiny, people here really care about their cars. That was one of the things that struck  me as so different than Europe. Another one is shouting store assistants. Seriously, at first it made me really stressed out, I didn’t really want to go shopping in Shinjuku or Shibuya, where store assistants  shout so loud I didn’t know how it could be considered a good way to bring in more customers? But apparently, Japanese people have a high noise tolerance – if you ever passed a pachinko parlor, you’ll know.

Right now, thinking about what was new to me when I first came to Japan gave me this feeling of pure nostalgia… so I thought I’d take some snapshots and just show you around Tokyo.

SHINJUKU 

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Shinjuku Station is the busiest station in the world. According to Guinness World Records  “An average of 3.64 million passengers per day pass through the station, which has over 200 exits (←I didn’t know that) and serves the city’s western suburbs via a range of intercity, commuter rail and metro services” (see here).

I can’t even begin to count how many times I got lost there. It gets a bit easier with time, but I think that even Japanese people have problems. You can always ask a station officer about the way but… chances they speak English? Near zero. So I hope you speak Japanese!

Also, I’m sure you’ll notice it the second you step into the station, Japanese people walk real slow. You’d think that people here are super busy so they’d try their best to commute quickly, right? They do speed up to jump in trains at the last minute, literally as the doors are closing, but basically it’s not easy to be a fast walker here. I wouldn’t consider myself a really fast walker but I  still walk faster than most other people on the street.

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 Shinjuku South Exit

You can often see some people performing there. One Canadian guitar player I used to share a guest house with told me once that it’s actually illegal to perform there and that he knows station officers’ schedule so he can avoid the times when they’re there. Apparently the lady in this picture knew their schedule too, and she even managed to gather a small crowd of salarymen to admire her crooning.

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Most of the stations in Tokyo have pachinko parlors, karaoke booths and video game arcades in their neighbourhood and Shinjuku isn’t any different. Thinking about it now, I actually remember I ate my first bite of okonomiyaki somewhere around this area.

wwwww

 

Shinjuku East Exit

The first thing you currently see when you get out of the station, using this exit, will be a giant Kimura Takuya’s face staring down at you.  I didn’t capture it this time, but if you google “Alta Shinjuku”, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Other things you’ll see here are game arcades again, some DVD and purikura booths, dirt cheap izakayas…and lots of lingerie and shoe shops. Why?

One word: KABUKICHO.

…and what do shoes and Kabukicho have in common? Well, I’d say you can find a rather wide selection of super high heels here, that’s the connection. You’ll see some more of Kabukicho a few photographs later, so hang tight.

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Shinjuku can also look very elegant, at least I find this street very cool looking. Unless there’s a car with a dozen of half-naked ladies casually passing by…

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Here it is! Kabukicho – the red light district of Tokyo. Some Japanese people told me that a few years back, Kabukicho was considered a no-go, a yakuza town where they’d rip you off, steal everything and most likely kick your teeth down your throat as an added bonus. I have only passed through Kabukicho, I have no intention of hanging out in that area to be honest. Knowing what’s going on behind the doors of numerous dingy clubs there, makes me avoid it like the plague.

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What do we have in here…”Talent in pub Super Angel” whatever that means, video DVD booths which might look innocent, but trust me, they are not. There was this one time I needed to kill some time and thought I could use one of those DVD booths and just stay there for a while (it wasn’t in Kabukicho though, it was in Ueno) but what I saw there was far from what I imagined was an innocent place where one can watch some DVDs. You should expect one type of movies, for one type of clients (or is it my bad luck that I always find creepy places?)

Countless girls’ bars, kyabakura clubs, sekukyaba clubs, love hotels…

a little dictionary for you to take a gander at:

hostess club: well groomed women pretending that drunk businessmen are the most attractive men in the world, laughing at all their lame jokes, pouring their whisky, lighting their cigarettes

host club: same as above, but switch genders

girls bar: a typical bar where you can drink some whiskey or any other spirit, with one difference – all staff is young, attractive females

kyabakura club: like a hostess club but girls wear sexy clothes, the “look but don’t touch” rule applies

sekukyaba club: like kyabakura clubs but the “look but don’t touch” rule doesn’t apply, one can buy a certain ‘service’ here, not a ‘full service’ though

love hotel: no need to explain that, I guess. Suffice to say, you need to bring your own play partner

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And host clubs… There are lots of these boys on the streets of Kabukicho, desperately looking for clients. Some of them are rather far away from what one would have called worth spending over 10,000 yen on.

No…just no.

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And if you’re just looking for some cheap izakayas and cheap food, it’s an okay place to go. I can’t really recommend it since I have never really spent much time there, but I guess it is much safer than it was, say, 15 years ago (according to my Japanese friends). So yeah, why not check out Kabukicho?

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When someone asks me about Shinjuku, a few brief pictures always come to mind. Skyscrapers, fashionable people, Kabukicho and cute narrow streets with those ubiquitous taxis, karaoke booths, pachinko parlors … everything you’ve ever heard about Tokyo, you can easily find it gathered in this one district.

 

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 Thanks for stopping by! ♥

 

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