Tokyo 2010 Pt. II

Tokyo Part II: Asakusa, Akihabara, New Year’s Eve and Going Home

Asakusa

Next morning was more croissants and OJ and off to Tokyo Station and the Yamanote line to Ueno. After transferring to the Ginza line, we got off at Asakusa, site of one of the most famous shrines in the Tokyo area (it actually survived WWII and dates back to the 1600s). My wife had chosen this excursion, she had finally started to read the Tokyo guidebook I brought and I was glad she had taken over responsibility for part of the trip. The original plan was for this to be Akihabara day but I wanted to see Tokyo more than shop for more Gunpla. This is one of the reasons we had gone to Yodobashi the night before, to free up part of the day for another excursion into Tokyo.

You get out of the Asakusa station on the banks of the Sumida River. The river is lined with cherry trees (Sakura) but they’re bare at this time of year so you look right past them and the first thing that catches your eye is the Tokyo Sky Tree tower. Even though it is still under construction and closed there’s a whole complex on the other side of the river and I wanted to get across the river anyway just to stop on the bridge and take pictures so we headed that way first. We didn’t walk all the way to the tower because it isn’t finished yet, but it’s really impressive. We got to a plaza and took some pictures and saw an interesting statue. There was a map there of the local area and I was tempted to trek over to the sumo stadium, but without a scale on the map I didn’t know how far it would be. We crossed back on the other side of the bridge to check out the shrine.

The Sumida River:
 The Sumida River

The Sky Tree Tower and Some Nearby Buildings:
 The Sky Tree Tower

The Asakusa shrine has a totally different feel than the Meiji shrine at Harajuku. The shrine itself is more impressive but the area around it is a total tourist trap. If you’ve ever been to Olvera Street in Los Angeles, it’s just like that, but Japanese-themed instead of Mexican. My wife made this observation and it stuck. There’s a bright red Torii (gate) out front, and then there is a street to walk down to the shrine itself and it is lined on both sides with small stalls hawking food and souvenirs. My favorite was the flying Ultraman, which has a little propeller on his feet and flies in circles on a string hung from the ceiling.

We tried Ningyo-yaki, a snack that has (I think) a sweet bean paste in the middle like the desert buns you’d get at a Chinese restaurant but with a more pancake-like exterior that is cooked inside a folding iron kind of like a waffle. I thought they were pretty good (better to me than the slightly rubbery white Chinese version) but my wife didn’t like them so much.

We checked out the shrine itself. It’s less chaotic once you get to the actual shrine, although there is a small amusement park nearby and the noises from the rides and screaming people does kind of detract from the sacredness of the place. This shrine is more brightly painted and ornate than the Meiji shrine and there are some interesting statues around it but that’s marred by the fact that some of the statues and eves are screened off behind chicken wire. Looking back at the pictures, it does seem more impressive.

The Asakusa Torii:
Asakusa Torii

“Olvera Street” Inside the Torii:
Inside the Torii

The Main Shrine:
The Main Shrine

One of Several Statues:
Statue

The 5-Level Pagoda:
Pagoda

One of the several Mini-Shrines in the Area:
Mini-Shrine

A Secondary Shrine:
Secondary Shrine

Our Real Japanese Lunch

For lunch we went to a tempura place right next to the Torii. My wife had read about it in the guidebook and here was our chance (or more her chance) to finally eat real Japanese food. One of my wife’s favorite restaurants back home is a Japanese place called Tokyo Lobby and she was excited to try the real thing in Japan.

The restaurant we went to in Asakusa was more of a real Japanese place in the sense that you go upstairs and take off your shoes at the entrance to the wood-decorated dining room with wood and paper sliding doors. We didn’t have to sit on the floor, but there weren’t regular tables either. The tables were about 18 inches off the ground and the chair about 12. I sat like a frog with my knees spread and one of them hanging out from the table. We got an English menu, which was still kind of vague (they’d tell you the name of the plate but not any detail what was on it). My wife got vegetable tempura that came with Miso soup. I got warm soba noodles.

A Real Japanese Restaurant (or at least the most real one we went to):
Japanese Restaurant

My wife liked the tempura fine but said the Miso was better at Tokyo Lobby in the US. I laughed at that. She ate all of the vegetables they gave her, even though she didn’t recognize some of them. She also got the shrimp that came on top of my Soba noodles since shrimp is one of the few kinds of seafood she likes. I slurped up my soba noodles and after some experimenting went with the technique we saw the guy use at the restaurant near our hotel, four quick sips. Of course I wasn’t as good as it as he was. It’s fun to get to slurp up noodles. I guess you can do it at home if you go to an authentic place that serves noodles with chopsticks but I’d feel a lot more stupid doing it in the US for some reason.

After a while the mild fishiness of the broth the Soba noodles were served in started tasting stronger as my hunger waned and I lost my appetite for it after eating about ¾ of the noodles. I should have eaten more or grabbed a coke from a vending machine or something because our next stop was round two in Akihabara.

Akihabara

We went back to the Akihabara station since I wanted to get the real Akihabara experience (Yodobashi Akiba is an awesome store, but it’s just a big store, it’s not a neighborhood). This time we exited the station through the Akihabara Electronic City exits. This lets you out in front of a multi-story SEGA arcade and the whole building is bright red and you think it will be a good landmark, but it turns out that there are five or six of these bright red multi-story SEGA arcades in the several blocks of stores at the heart of Akihabara.

One of Several SEGA Arcades in Akihabara:
SEGA Arcade

We wandered Akihabara for the next several hours. I had some information about where I might find the Kotobukiya store but there’s conflicting information out there about where it is. One person even told me it was closed. I never did find it but I saw about a half dozen people with Kotobukia bags so it must be there somewhere. We didn’t get through all or maybe even most of the stores so we probably just never walked by it.

I gotta say, by now it was day eight our nine day trip and I was exhausted. My brain was pretty fried and I felt bad for dragging my wife through yet another gunpla-centered excursion. For her the highlight of Akihabara was probably our stop for crepes, which were tasty. So even though there was a lot to see I was kind of trying to go quickly through it all which isn’t really the way to enjoy Akihabara.

We went into a lot of stores but left them pretty quickly when it was seemed that all they had was manga or electronics or only toys and not kits. It’s hard to say from the ground floor of any particular building since almost all the signage there is in Kanji (with the exception of things like “PC” and “CD”) and each small floor of a building is its own independent shop. But for the most part the buildings do go by theme so if the first floor has toys or gunpla then it’s probably worth trying all 6 or 7 floors.

I have to pause for a random thought; Word’s spell-checker automatically corrects “gunpla” and turns it into “gunplay”. This makes for some funny sentences, like, “I went into the store, but when I saw there was no gunplay there, I left.” Or how about, “After a few hours in Akihabara, I was disappointed that I hadn’t found very much gunplay.”

Anyway… After a few hours in Akihabara, I was disappointed that I hadn’t found very much gunpla. Actually, it wasn’t that bad since I had done the bulk of my shopping already (or at least spent the bulk of my money) at Yodobashi and this day’s visit to Akihabara was about 50% for shopping and 50% for Otaku tourism.

Akihabara:
Akihabara

Big Gundam Sign (for Gundam Musou 3 game) in Akihabara:
Gundam Sign

If you are also interested in actual electronics, or manga, video games and toys or you’re going for a maid café or for some hentai, there’s a lot to see in Akihabara but I’m pretty focused on kits so after walking a couple blocks of Akihabara and soaking up the craziness of it all I was pretty much just looking for kits and hobby supplies and just walking past a lot of stuff. I’d estimate only about one in every eight or ten buildings actually has model kits. In terms of percentage of gunpla it’s like going to Frank & Son’s, but a lot better once you do find a store with the stuff you want.

***Begin Section 3 of Gundam-Only Interest***
(If you don’t know what Gundam is, you can probably skip the next several paragraphs)

I did get a few good things on this trip, though. I found another place with Gundam Colors paint and got some MS purple which would be good for a Dom or Black Tri Stars Zaku and another color that would be hard to mix. I also found the Bandai reissue of the variable 1/100 Super VF-1S kit, which I had been looking for at a good price for years. I had one of these back when they did the 15-th anniversary reissues and sold it on eBay and I’ve regretted it. I’ve since realized that I enjoy just having some kits as museum pieces even if I don’t ever plan to build them.

I also found the 1/72 variable VF-1S kit and at a really good price of around 1200 yen (these kits were about 2000 at Yodobashi, and they only had the VF-1A and VF-1D) but passed on it since I wasn’t sure how much space I had left. I got one other thing I’d been looking for forever and that was 1mm metal tubing. This is by far the most popular size and it’s hard to find anywhere, even online. All they had was copper, I’d have preferred aluminum or brass, but it’ll work.

One of the small shops I went into actually had the 1/144 scale ANA Gundam kit, but it was about 6000 yen and I passed, knowing I could make my own with about $5 worth of decals. They also had the B-Club 1/144 Full Armor Gundam conversion kit that’s meant to be used with the FG Gundam kit. Considering what a letdown the MG FAG was I pondered it but passed. The last thing I almost got was that Frame Arms kit I was looking at in one of the smaller shops for 2180 yen. That was a much better deal, but for no other reason than shopping fatigue I passed.

The stores that had good stuff were:

Aso Bit City, between the Akihabara Station and Chuo-dori, the main street in Akihabara:
Aso Bit City

This store with a Mazinger outside, on Chuo-dori:
SEGA Arcade

Another Gunpla, also on Chuo-dori:
SEGA Arcade

And I forgot a picture but as you get to the end of the shops on Chuo-dori, there’s a larger building on the left called “Tam Tam” with a couple decent-sized floors of kits and hobby goods. Their focus is a bit more on “normal” non-Gundam models but still worth checking out if you’re in the area.

The final haul from the trip included…

From Hong Kong:
HG 1/144 Gundam 30th Gundam EXPO Clear Version, bought at the Expo
SD Gundam NT-1 and GP01 Combo Pack, won at the Bandai Christmas Party
Bought at IT Hobby:
Ako Efreet resin conversion kit
Ako GM Spartan and Zaku plastic conversion kits
Ako flat and circle chisels, and metal transfers

From Japan:
RG 1/144 Gundam, bought at Shizuoka
HG 1/144 30th Gundam Shizuoka Version, bought at Shizuoka
Bought at Yodobashi Akiba:

  • MG Zeong
  • MG GM Quel x 2
  • HGUC Ex-S Gundam
  • HGUC TR-5 Hrairoo
  • HGUC GP02 Gundam
  • HGUC Zaku I Sniper
  • HGUC GM Cold Districts Type
  • Bandai 1/72 Zentraedi Regult Pod reissue
  • Bandai 1/8000 SDF-1 reissue
  • Hasegawa 1/48 VF-1S Valkyrie
  • 4 packs of Yellow Submarine ball joints
  • 4 sets of Gundam Decals
  • Char’s colors in Mr. Color paint
  • Wave Mobile Staff (1/100)
  • Bevel-tipped chisel

Bought at Aso Bit City and one other Akihabara store:

  • Bandai 1/100 VF-1S Variable reissue
  • MS Purple in Mr. Color paint
  • 1mm tube
  • Kotobukiya drill weapon
  • Wave Mobile Staff (1/144)

Newly-filled shelves:
Kits at Home 1

Now I really, really don’t need any more kits:
Kits at Home 2

Things I really should have bought but didn’t:
HGUC Hazel Advanced (for measurement and reference) only 880 yen (now I’ll probably pay $20-$25 for one)
1/60 Bandai Injection Machine kit (actually found one later at Frank & Son’s)
T-Shirt at Shizuoka (http://www.cartoon.co.th/Image/News/4931_p3_L.jpg )
Kotobukiya SA-16 Stylet (Frame Arms) (only 2180 yen)
LM HG Evangelion 01 (only 1780 yen, and bought the decals for it, duh)
More metal option parts!

***End Section 3 of Gundam-Only Interest***

I threw in the towel about 4pm and we headed back to the Akihabara Station. It was a bit hard to reorient myself after being in and out of so many stores and having a big red SEGA arcade every block didn’t help. Once we got to the station, there was Yodobashi looming over me again. I got one last gleam in my eye and while my wife waited I ran up and got the MG Zeong. It was early enough I figured I could clip the necessary parts off the runners and get it in the suitcase sans box, and that’s what I did. MG-sized Titans Test Team is go!

When we got back to Tokyo Station we went downstairs to the mall (even the train stations have malls in Tokyo) and checked out the souvenir shops there. We bought my daughter and niece a couple more Hello Kitty souvenirs and paid for half of it with the balance on my Suica card since our trip was about over and I didn’t want to waste the 900 or so yen I still had on it.

After shopping, we headed back to the hotel. I stopped at the Family Mart on the way and got some tape so I could take the sprues out of their bags, clip the kit parts off the sprues, and tape the parts inside the bags. I forgot to even take a picture of the final stack of kits I had bought before I cracked a Sapporo and started “processing” some kits. I started with the Zeong because there was absolutely no way that big box was going to fit. I clipped off the parts for the arms, the rear skirt and the head (might do a final shot dio some day, you never know) as well as all the thrusters. I put the rest into one of the large Yodobashi bags. I was amazed how little space just the parts take up when you throw them in a bag.

Processing the Zeong for Travel:
Clipping Kits 1

Next I clipped off the parts for a complete GM Quel. I was pretty comfortable cutting all of these parts away from their identifying sprue numbers since this kit is about 85% the same as the GM Custom I just finished and I could probably put it together from memory. Next I did the HGUC Ex-S since I’ve also built the HGUC S Gundam so it was pretty familiar. I left most of the parts for the legs in Japan since I’ll be combining it with a complete snapped Ex-S I already have and making an Ex-S Bst Hummingbird out of it.

Happy Place Again:
Clipping Kits 2

While I was clipping the kits my wife was thankfully entertained by a crazy Japanese game show. Five poor bastards were dressed up as spies and sent through a series of ridiculous predicaments for spy training. They weren’t supposed to laugh at anything but when they did, instead of just losing points, men in masks would come in with rubber batons and beat their asses. Hard. The “spies” were molested by cross-dressers. Fake gunmen stormed their bus and they set off an explosion by the side of the road to make it look like they’d fired their bazooka by accident. They were sent into an office and told to open every drawer and every one had some crazy-ass surprise in it. One just had a rock and one of the guys scratched his head because it was just a rock, but then he picked it up and it was hot. When he jumped and yelled, “It’s hot!” in Japanese (you didn’t need a translation for that) they all laughed and took a hit. Who the hell would think to put a hot rock in a drawer?

The Yakitori-Ya

We headed out for dinner about 8pm. It was getting a little late (this is New Year’s Eve by the way) and I was close to getting a blister on my sprue-clipping thumb. We had seen a lot of places to eat inside of Tokyo Station and headed there to find something but the whole place was shut down, except for the actual trains. According to Google, there was a McDonald’s in the building next door, but that enire building was closed, too. I couldn’t believe this place, the heart of Tokyo, was all closed down. I thought we might have to eat out of vending machines but we started to wander the side streets and after an ever-more-desperate 20 minutes of wandering I saw a bar with a red lantern outside. I had read about these places in my Tokyo Guidebook. They’re called Yakitori-Ya. They’re bars that specialize in Yakitori (meat-on-a-stick, traditionally chicken) and beer, sake and whiskey. From what I read these are after-work hang-outs.

We go in and have what may have been our best meal in Tokyo. I asked what kind of beer they have and they have Asahi. Just Asahi. I was kind of surprised, but I get an Asahi and to my surprise my wife gets one, too (probably because they don’t have sodas, she never gets beer). In a stroke of much-needed luck the bartender/chef spoke English quite well. He saved me from almost ordering pork liver. I tried to order Yakitori, but he said that they didn’t have actual Yakitori but that they had some pork that was like Yakitori and some chicken patties that were like chicken sausage. We ordered two of each and I got some fried potato wedges as well. I was a little scared of what was in the chicken patties, especially since chickens don’t have lips, but what the hell.

The Asahis come, both with a fantastic head. I was thinking that the guy is really good when my wife notices the pouring machine. Seriously! They have a machine that takes a glass, tips it at about a 30-degree angle, dispenses Asahi and then SHOOTS A HEAD OF FOAM ON TOP OF IT!!! No wonder they only have Asahi! Damn, the Japanese love their technology!

On the other hand, the meat was cooked with a wonderfully low-tech approach. Right behind the bar is a small, shallow, long fire pit with actual wood burning inside of it. On top are two loose rails on which the cook/bartender rests the ends of the skewers while he cooks the meat. He actually readjusts the rails so that they aren’t quite parallel and arranges the meat on it by width so that the meat isn’t on the rails, but the skewers don’t fall in. As hungry as we are (me especially after getting by on a partial bowl of noodles and a crepe) that cooking meat looks GOOD!

The fries come first and they are salty and served with ketchup and fantastic with the beer. Then we get the meat sticks. The pork is also full of seasoning and quite good. The chicken is dipped in teriyaki sauce and really good. We eat it and order another round of everything. They were doing last call for food at that time and after we order he starts cooking up all the other orders and we see all kinds of meat go on that little grill, including what had to be some regular chicken. The bartender had said they had chicken skin, which I didn’t order because… well it’s just skin. I think this was just a translation error, and that he meant meat.

With a couple beers in me and a stomach full of grilled meat and potatoes I leave really happy. My wife really liked the place, too and we both wish we had found it sooner in our trip, instead of on the last night. It’s a short walk back to the hotel since we had been wandering back in that general direction when we found the bar.

Packing Up

Sadly, even though it was New Year’s Eve and we had talked about maybe going out that night to Rappongi or somewhere to check out the celebration, we’re beat. Neither of us are big party animals, and as I think I’ve said once or twice in the last couple pages, it’s near the end of a long trip, we’ve been getting by on a minimum of sleep, and we’re done. I clipped one more small kit and we started some initial packing. I put all the clothes in a large tote bag I had folded up in out luggage and use our largest suitcase and another carry-on sized bag and start arranging the kits inside of them. The large bag is for kits that are just to build and I don’t care much if the boxes get bent. This bag will be checked on the flight. The smaller carryon will be carried on and is for the more collectible kits, like the event-only kits and the Macross reissues.

Luggage 1:
Luggage 1

My wife drifts off to sleep and I stay up and clip another kit since all the parts I have clipped don’t fit into any of the boxes that are empty. I clip the HGUC Zaku I Sniper and fill the box with the parts for the Ex-S and the Zaku, as well as some option parts. The rest of the clipped parts (most of two MG Quels and a Zeong) fit in the box for the HGUC Ex-S!

I put a few more option parts in the Hasegawa VF-1S kit since that box is only about 2/3 full to begin with, as well as the metal parts and Ako tools in the Efreet Custom, since those got me stopped in Hong Kong (on the X-Ray machine they look like darts or small bullets). I put the paint in my wife’s makeup case just to be safe. Lacquer thinner smells like nail polish remover so if anybody smelled the paint they’d hopefully see the makeup case and assume it was just nail polish. Nobody probably cares about a few ounces of paint anyway. I had been tempted to buy some Mr. Color leveling thinner since it was CHEAP in both Hong Kong and Tokyo (about $8 for the large 400 mL bottle) but didn’t want to bring something that conspicuous over. There have been enough terrorist plots lately, I didn’t want our plane to be stopped and boarded by the JSDF on the runway.

Near the end of packing it got to be midnight. I looked outside but there were no signs of life around Tokyo Station. I opened the window to see if I could hear anything (another novelty, I haven’t been in a hotel where you could open the window since I was pretty young), but the only thing I got was a blast of COLD air. Wherever the party was in Tokyo that night it wasn’t anywhere near us. Satisfied all my booty was going to fit (and with room for at least one more kit, three more if I had wanted to stay up and clip them… DAMN!) I went to sleep.

Luggage 2 (Room for more!):
Luggage 2

Leaving Tokyo

The next morning we got up, got cleaned up and had our croissants and OJ. We loaded ourselves up like a couple of Mexican burros and headed for the Bus stop to get the Limo Bus back to the airport. Walking to Tokyo Station, we notice just about everything is closed. When Tokyo shuts down for a holiday it really shuts down. When we got to the station my wife ran in and returned her Suica card and got the 1000 yen left on it back, minus a small processing fee. We kept my empty Suica card as a souvenir.

We got on the bus and took the ride to Narita airport. It was a nice ride in the middle of the day and we got another look at life outside of the Tokyo skyscrapers. Once we got out of the most crowded places, we saw an IKEA and a couple of large Home Depot style home improvement centers. I also saw a building with the Futaba logo. Futaba makes radio controls for RC planes and cars. We passed Tokyo Disneyland and recognized Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain. I didn’t see the Matterhorn, but there was a large mountain that I guess was Splash Mountain. The hotel in front of Disneyland is HUGE, something more like a Las Vegas Hotel.

A View From the Bus of Tokyo:
 Bus View

Disneyland Tokyo:
 Disneyland Tokyo

We got to Narita and checked our bags, which was left us traveling a lot lighter. We still had a laptop, a backpack, a light carry-on bag of kits and my GP01 Hangar, which I had put into a small overnight duffel bag I had brought, but it was a lot better than wheeling around two more suitcases and the large duffel bag full of clothes (no wheels on that one), which we checked.

We were through with check-in before noon and our flight didn’t board until 4pm so we went to the food court and looked for lunch. The selection inside the airport was much more international and we settled on a place that had some teriyaki for my wife and a club sandwich for me. I was done with Asian food (never my favorite to begin with) for at least a week or two. I opened up my sandwich and said, “Look, I can identify every ingredient in my lunch!” We paid for lunch with the last of our yen, aside from some one and five yen coins.

After lunch we walked through the shops in the airport. I got a free sample of sake from a woman in a kimono outside a store. It was good but when the guy next to her trying to sell it said it contained gold leaf if figured I wouldn’t be buying any. My wife remembered that she still needed to get souvenirs for a couple of her friends, so we spent even a little more money in Tokyo. After that, there was nothing to do but go to the gate and wait for our flight. I settled in and fired up my laptop and began writing my report on Hong Kong. My wife got bored and walked around to some more shops.

Then it was time to board the plane. We took a United 777 back to LAX. We left around 5pm the evening of New Year’s Day in Tokyo. The sun set just after we took off. There was a tour group of about 50 Japanese elementary school age kids onboard. The kids were moving around a lot, always with papers in their hands like they had homework to do on the flight that required them to walk around. There was a lot of dinging of the stewardess call button, and near the end of the flight the stewardess went to one particular group of kids and told them “I have been here TEN TIMES. There are 300 people on this flight and only 12 stewardesses. STOP PRESSING THAT BUTTON I’m not coming back anymore.” I didn’t blame her at all. But other than the dinging and one kid cutting in line at the bathroom, the kids were pretty well-behaved. I think the same number of American kids might have made more problems, or at least more noise.

Even with all of those kids, this flight was still much better than the flight to Hong Kong with the groaning, gagging, mentally handicapped guy. I watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (it was good) and ate the dinner, which was something made with chicken and rice. By then the kids were starting to settle down and after waiting for the five kids in line in front of me, I used the bathroom and settled in for a nap. I was glad that I slept through most of the next five hours or so, about half the flight.

I woke up and watched some show on my little screen about green technology and ate most of the breakfast, which was a spinach and cheese omelet. I popped open the shade and we were flying over the middle of California and pretty soon we were descending. We landed at about 10 am on New Year’s Day in California. We had taken off late thanks to a family of American idiots who got separated in the airport in Tokyo. We heard them bickering about it as we followed them through LAX and seeing them in action all bossing each other around and all wanting to go their own way it’s no wonder they got screwed up in Tokyo.

So after the airports in Hong Kong and Tokyo, LAX was a dingy, crappy place to come home to. The conveyor to the baggage carousel broke so after watching the same luggage go by three times they announced that they were moving us down one and after another delay there our luggage finally came around. Yep, back in America.

The next couple days were a little depressing since I was coming off of vacation and off the holidays at the same time. There were lights to take down and the tree needed to be un-decorated. Jetlag had my sleep all screwed up and I called in sick the first Monday after the trip. There wouldn’t have been any work on a Monday after a holiday anyway so it didn’t seem worth waking up at 4:40 am to go in and do nothing all day.

I eventually got unpacked and put all my new kits up on the shelves and got my ass back to work. Vacation can’t last forever. Hopefully I’ll be posting soon with some progress on my latest model. It’s been almost two months since I worked on something new.

To see all of the general pictures from the trip to Tokyo, follow this link:

Tokyo 2010

To see all of the pictures of the 1:1 Real Gundam and the Shizuoka Model Museum, follow this link:

Shizuoka 2010

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