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Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VIII: Tokyo Drift [II]
October 5th, 2009 by Dan

The famous and super-busy scramble crosswalk at Shibuya.

The famous and super-busy scramble crosswalk at Shibuya.

Here we are on the last (full) day of the Main Tour. It would be the last day that Dave and I were together in Japan, so we decided to hit up all our Tokyo loose ends. That mostly meant wandering around getting the last of our souvenirs and checking out some of the famous districts within Tokyo.

Our first mission of the day was to head to the NHK building, home of Domo-kun. Other tourgoers told us that the building was in Shibuya, so we hopped aboard the subway and arrived at Shibuya Station, only the fourth-busiest station in Japan with 2.4 million passengers a day, and made our way outside to witness something we hadn’t seen before: a crowded Tokyo. At each end of the scramble crosswalk you can see above, there was a full compliment of tourists and businessmen going about their business throughout Shibuya. Finally, I thought, I’ll have some pictures to prove that Tokyo isn’t the ghost town that Eric thinks it is.

These horns are pretty famous. Ive seen them in videogames.

These horns are pretty famous. I've seen them in videogames.

The NHK building wasn’t as close as we were led to believe, but as we wandered around we ran into some cool storefronts, like the one below.

The second most elaborate entrance to a Disney Store that Ive ever seen.

The second most elaborate entrance to a Disney Store that I've ever seen.

After a long walk, we finally saw the NHK building in the distance. Our morning’s journey would finally come to a close and we’d experience the awesomeness that is Domo-kun!

I dont know what the other NHK mascots name is, but Domo is the only important one.

I don't know what the other NHK mascot's name is, but Domo is the only important one.

It turns out that Domo-kun and the NHK gift shop cater almost exclusively to small children in Japan. All that walking and our hilarious attempts to try and bridge the language barrier to get to what we were seeking was for naught. I still love Domo, but this was a seriously disappointing start to the morning.

What Dan doesnt know is that the smile on his face will be wiped off immediately after entering the gift shop and finding no cool Domo-kun merch.

What Dan doesn't know is that the smile on his face will be wiped off immediately after entering the gift shop and finding no cool Domo-kun merch.

Seriously…why can I buy cooler Domo-kun merchandise on the American Amazon.com page than in the NHK’s very own gift shop?

They lure you in with the giant Domo, but its ultimately a disappointment to anyone over seven-years-old.

They lure you in with the giant Domo, but it's ultimately a disappointment to anyone over seven-years-old.

From the NHK building’s remote location in Shibuya, Dave and I wandered in search of a rail line to get back to the hotel and look up the location of our next hopeful spot, the Square Enix store. We wandered for another half hour or so and even came across a large contingent of teenage girls dressed like goth rockers queuing up outside a concert hall.

The concert hall in question. [Not pictured: hundreds of goth rocker teenage girls]

The concert hall in question. (Not pictured: hundreds of goth rocker teenage girls)

At some point we came across the shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Meiji Jingu. The shine was in a huge park, so David and I gave up on getting to the shrine (we had things to do!) and hightailed it to the nearest Metro station, which turned out to be Harajuku.

The most extreme fashion we saw at Harajuku. I assume it gets better on Sundays when school and work are out.

The most extreme fashion we saw at Harajuku. I assume it gets better on Sundays when school and work are out.

Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday afternoon, so the people who might have been here dressed up in bizarre fashions were all in class or working or just plain not here. That didn’t stop us from wandering around a bit and spotting the essential commandments of Harajuku.

I dont want to know what smorking is, but touting sounds even scarier.

I don't want to know what smorking is, but touting sounds even scarier since its picture does not match its definition in the slightest.

At this point we realized we had no idea where the Square Enix store was (turns out we were looking in the wrong part of Tokyo), so we decided to pop back to the room to do some research and then head back out again. Back to Shibuya we went!

Above Davids head is the famous Shibuya 109 (BONUS: It looks like a taxi cab is about to drive into Daves ear).

Above David's head is the famous Shibuya 109 (BONUS: It looks like a taxi cab is about to drive into Dave's ear).

When we got back to Shibuya station we finally spotted a landmark we were desperately searching for, the statue of Hachikō. If you don’t know the story, Hachikō was the dog of a professor who took the train from Shibuya every day. Hachikō saw his master off every morning from his front door and met him at the station every evening when he got back from the University. One day, his master suffered a stroke and died at the university, but poor Hachikō could not know such things, for he was a dog. He went back to his master’s house repeatedly after being given away, but eventually realized that the professor was never coming back home. After that, Hachikō returned every evening at the appointed time to Shibuya station to search for his master for ten straight years until he died. He became a hero and a symbol of loyalty and affection for the Japanese and a statue was erected of him at the station where he awaited his master throughout the years.

Dave posing with the cutest, most loyal dog in Japan.

Dave posing with the cutest, most loyal dog in Japan.

Quick research in the room showed us that we never found the Square Enix store because it was in Shinjuku, not Shibuya. We quickly set out again now that our maps were recalibrated. Since we only had time for that stop and little else before we had to be at the ballpark, this would be our last stop for the day. Lucky for us, it wasn’t that hard to find the Squeenix store, although we did manage to end up on the wrong side of the road and had to walk quite a ways before we found a crosswalk.

A picture of Lightening from the upcoming FF XIII. I thnk Daves in the picture too.

A picture of Lightening from the upcoming FF XIII. I thnk Dave's in the picture too.

The Square Enix store sits in a nondescript part of Shinjuku. There are no other stores immediately surrounding it, it has a fairly bland facade (the picture of Lightening and the logo above the shop are the only really standout things aside from the merch in the windows), and it is closed on Thursdays (a fact I would later regret not remembering), but the interior store is definitely cool, if not too small. Since Squeenix’s biggest recent release was Dragon Quest IX, a full half of the store was dedicated to DQ merchandise ranging from slime t-shirts and hats to figurines of iconic DQ monsters (including slimes) and Dragon Quest-themed DS accessories. Also available were plush figures from DQ and Final Fantasy, various Kingdom Hearts and Snoopy (random, I know) related merchandise, KH clothing, and even a section containing soundtracks from their various game franchises. It’s the back room that features the most iconic piece of art within the store.

I dont even want to think about all the uncontrollable fangirls who have licked the floor above Sephiroths face.

I don't even want to think about all the uncontrollable fangirls who have licked the floor above Sephiroth's face.

A just-under-life-size Sephiroth lies encased within the “lifestream” in the back room that contains various pieces of overpriced Square Enix action figures and themed jewelry. Ever wanted a key chain in the shape of a keyblade? It’s here for ¥2000. A replica of the same pendant Squall wears throughout Final Fantasy VIII? Yours for a much less reasonable ¥19000. You can even buy ridiculously overpriced “materia” (read: marble on a chain) for ¥12000.

Beyond this point there be baseball talk.

Beyond this point there be baseball talk.

Our mission accomplished, Dave and walked to the further (and free with our rail pass) JR station about 15 minutes away to head over to Meiji Jingu Stadium, home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. As Tokyo’s “second team,” the Swallows get about as much respect in Tokyo as the Mets do in New York City. While the Giants play in a nice dome in the heart of Tokyo that even has an amusement park associated with it, the Swallows play in a smaller, open-air ballpark owned by the Meiji Shrine.

One of the gates to Meiji Jingu Stadium

One of the gates to Meiji Jingu Stadium. I forgot to mention in the article, but Dave went to the hotel to work on some homework at about this time.

The hallways within the stadium are narrow and dingy, but the food options are pretty neat. Dave and I ate at a curry place earlier in the day that featured a novel way to order your food. Instead of placing the order with a waitress and having her relay it to the chef, patrons simply select their meal based on text and a picture on what looks like a soda machine, put the money in, and give the ticket that comes out to the chef.

Put money in and tickets for curry come out!

Put money in and tickets for curry come out!

Some of the food in the ballpark was like that and some was your typical ballpark fare, hotdogs, the occasional hamburger, and bento boxes.

I didnt think about it before, but this box of katsu was served at room temperature, which I dont find ideal for eating fried pork.

I didn't think about it before, but this box of katsu was served at room temperature, which I don't find ideal for eating fried pork.

It took me until this ballpark to realize it, but it’s a very Japanese feature in most ballparks, even non-domes, to only have real dirt in the area immediately surrounding the bases and on the mound. The base paths and the rest of the infield is all artificial turf. Even more bizarre is that even outdoor stadiums like Meiji Jingu have artificial turf in their outfield too instead of real grass. It blows my mind, considering how much baseball players absolutely hate playing on artificial turf, that they’d do something so ridiculous in an outdoor ballpark.

Its hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the dirt around second base is differently colored than the artificial turf made to look like dirt surrounding it. The grass is fake too.

It's hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the dirt around second base is differently colored than the artificial turf made to look like dirt surrounding it. The grass is fake too.

Other than my gripes about the field, Meiji Jingu Stadium is a decent ballpark with a pretty fervent fanbase. The Swallows have a unique tradition of raising umbrellas during their 7th inning stretch and whenever the team scores a run. Hearsay from the tour tells me that it’s a subtle jab at the Giants as a way of saying, “We don’t need a dome, we’ve got umbrellas.” If that’s true, it’s a little weak, but I might be saying that because I developed a strong anti-Swallows sentiment at this game.

Its not a bad ballpark at all once you get over the fake dirt.

It's not a bad ballpark at all once you get over the fake dirt.

My dislike for the Swallows stems from a few arbitrary reasons, but, really, since I’m not from Japan, my feelings about these teams can only come from arbitrary decisions made right on the spot. How else can you explain me becoming a Hiroshima Carp fan?

Reason #1:

At about this point on the tour, I realized that my schedule had me seeing the Swallows four times on this tour!

Domo-kun shares my feeling about the Swallows.

Domo-kun shares my feeling about the Swallows.

Reason #2:

One of the tourgoers, Ken, loves the Swallows (and the Lions). For some (evil) reason, this made me want to root against them. It’s thanks to him that I realized that the Swallows played on fake dirt and grass too.

These player intro slides were the only awesome thing about the Swallows.

These player intro slides were the only awesome thing about the Swallows.

Reason #3:

The most important reason. They were playing my beloved Hiroshima Carp that day.

My favorite NPB player, Akihiro Higashide, hit his 1000th hit against the Carp the same night I was there! This is him accepting a bouquet in honor of the achievement.

My favorite NPB player, Akihiro Higashide, hit his 1000th hit against the Carp the same night I was there! This is him accepting a bouquet in honor of the achievement.

The game turned out better than I could have hoped. Hiroshima creamed the Swallows, winning 9-0 and netting Akihiro Higashide’s 1000th hit just for us. It was a pretty special moment in a great game that I had a good time at.

The always cool Bob Bavasi striking a pose above the dry-eyed Leon.

The always cool Bob Bavasi striking a pose above the dry-eyed Leon.

After I got back to the hotel room, I grabbed Dave and we went out for karaoke again.

Dave making what Im sure he thinks is a cool face for the picture.

Dave making what I'm sure he thinks is a cool face for the picture.

I’d say the highlight of the night was the performance of “Love Shack” by the B-52s.

After a hard night of partying, it was finally time to hit the sack and say goodbye to Dave and most of the tour.

Domo-kun had a little too much to drink.

Domo-kun had a little too much to drink.


9 Responses  
  • Min writes:
    October 5th, 200914:08at

    I just finished playing The World Ends With You, which is set in Shibuya. So your picture of the scramble, the 109, and the Hachiko statue all look eerily familiar. I’ve gotta give props to the game artists for really bringing out the resemblance.

    • Dan writes:
      October 5th, 200914:15at

      It’s the same with SMT: Devil Survivor, except that they avoid some of the names for copyright reasons, I guess. It’s the Shibuya 901 in the game.

      • Min writes:
        October 5th, 200916:07at

        Ah yeah, it was 104 in TWEWY.

  • Eric Mesa writes:
    October 6th, 20099:26at

    Danielle’s mom was incredulous about the Japanese sign. In the backwoods of Vietnam she would understand such misspelling of English, but she considered Tokyo to be above that.

    What I am about to say is horribly stereotypical, but I wonder if the Swallows have AstroTurf out of some Japanese need to be fair. If many other teams have domes, and therefore AstroTurf, they would be at a [perceived?] disadvantage playing in the Swallows field. Even if it’s just based on the fact that the ground would feel weird. So, to be fair and nice, everyone has AstroTurf.

    -astroturf

    • Dan writes:
      October 6th, 20099:45at

      There’s still tons of Engrish and misspelling throughout Tokyo. They do their best, I’m sure, but I can also see them saying, much like we would, “They should learn Japanese,” and I think that’s totally fair.

      I don’t think it’s that stereotypical, it’s just an observation and the Japanese do tend to value both equity and, to a certain extent, non-conformity in some ways. All Japanese students switch uniforms from fall to winter on the same day, it’s just how it’s done, no matter what the temperature is. To extend that to baseball wouldn’t be that much of a stretch, except that baseball itself takes pride in having unique stadiums and traditions. None of the uniforms that they players wear have the same styles, none of the ballparks have the same dimensions, some ballparks have an infield that’s all dirt, some have an infield that’s only dirt around the bases.

      I think that the basis of this AstroTurf trend in Japan have to do with a combination of embracing artificial technology (“Why grow and maintain grass when we can just put turf in?), old fields that don’t have adequate drainage systems, and, in some cases, mistakes made when the stadium was constructed. Meiji Jingu has been around since 1926. I don’t know when they put the turf in, but we made similar mistakes tons of times. The transition away from AstroTurf didn’t really start in America until the 80s and 90s.

      • Eric Mesa writes:
        October 6th, 20099:51at

        Your comment (AstroTurf-wise) leaves me thinking that perhaps it’s a water issue? Japan has always been conscious of the fact that it’s a small island. Part of the reason they hesitated so long to attack us in WWII was because they knew they’d lose a reliable source of fuel. Maybe they have an island(s)-wide water shortage. Unlike us in the US who choose to have lawns in the middle of the fcking desert (I’m looking at you Nevada, Arizona, etc) perhaps they choose to save potable water for drinking.

        • Dan writes:
          October 6th, 200910:01at

          Word on the street is that it rains a lot in Tokyo. So much so that a domed stadium is a “necessity.”

  • I Bring Nothing to the Table » Blog Archive » Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVI: Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object [II] writes:
    October 27th, 20090:07at

    […] The first two or three stores I went to didn’t have travel bags. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Square Enix store was closed because it was Thursday, so the long trip out there was a waste […]

  • I Bring Nothing to the Table » Blog Archive » Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part I: Preface [International Incident] writes:
    May 6th, 201115:48at

    […] and the (Hiroshima) Toyo Carp Part VI – Baseball Off-Day Part VII – i believe lions Part VIII – Tokyo Drift Part IX – It’s a Small World Part X – Boredom on the Orient Express Part XI […]


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