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.
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.
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!
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.
Seriously…why can I buy cooler Domo-kun merchandise on the American Amazon.com page than in the NHK’s very own gift shop?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some of the food in the ballpark was like that and some was your typical ballpark fare, hotdogs, the occasional hamburger, and bento boxes.
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.
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.
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?
At about this point on the tour, I realized that my schedule had me seeing the Swallows four times on this tour!
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.
The most important reason. They were playing my beloved Hiroshima Carp that day.
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.
After I got back to the hotel room, I grabbed Dave and we went out for karaoke again.
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.