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Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XVI: Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object [II]
Oct 27th, 2009 by Dan

When you’re on a 2.5 week trip, it hardly seems like it’s ever going to end, but it was my last day in Tokyo and it felt pretty surreal. It would be my last chance to tie up all my loose ends, so I headed out to get my final souvenirs and replace that stupid sake cup that I broke.

The plan was to go over to the Square Enix store to grab a CD for Min, the Tokyo Seibu Loft to try and replace the sake cup, somewhere to find another bag because my suitcase was now too full to travel, the Tokyo Dome to get Fighters jerseys for Eric, and maybe a CD shop to look for a live Persona music DVD/CD.

It would be a busy Thursday as I worked to get everything done and have enough time to see the sumo tournament I had tickets to and catch the ballgame that night. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it involves a lot of train switching and walking and nothing really opens until 1000 or 1100.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

They text just as much as we do out in Japan, if not more.

To make a long story short, my day was met mostly with adversity. 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 of time too. The only real highlights were being able to get Eric and Danielle’s jerseys, the Persona DVD/CD (and a few other soundtracks), and my final CoCo curry lunch of the trip. All the running around the city got me back to the hotel with barely enough time to get to sumo (only an hour and a half left of matches that day) and a guarantee that I’d be late to the stadium in Chiba.

Frustrated, I finally reached the station by the sumo venue. How did I know it was the right one?, I hear you ask.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Lucky guess, I suppose.

Sumo has a religious context to it too, a first for any sporting event I’ve ever seen. Because of that and probably the national germophobia, I was required to purify my hands at the gate after entering with hand sanitizer. It was strange, but I also got a sweet sumo fan out of it, so I couldn’t really complain.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

Exhibit A: Sweet sumo fan.

A nice usher lady took me to my seat in the arena and I saw some great bouts. There’s a lot of starting and stopping in sumo that I really didn’t understand, so each match takes a really long time. Rather than explain it, I took a video of the match:

There are so many videos because of the limit in how long an upload can be on Flickr.

Once I’d had my fill of watching the most awesome wrestling style on the planet, I decided to head on over to Chiba Marine Stadium. Before I got too far, I noticed barricades being set up for spectators to wait and watch the departing sumo wrestlers. A steady stream of those already done with the day’s matches flowed out of the stadium and excited fans waited for a chance to take a picture.

Leaving the arena for the night.

Leaving the arena for the night.

One older lady walked right up to a sumo wrestler, but he brushed her off. As I was walking toward the station I noticed a much younger, very good-looking lady stop to talk to the same sumo and he gladly stopped to chat with her. It’s comforting to know that sumo wrestlers are men just the same.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

They may have the mass of three men, but they still have the brain of one.

By the time my train and taxi made it to Chiba Marine Stadium, it was already dark out and the game was just getting started. I bought my jersey, but not before almost going insane listening to the Marines fight song on endless loop, and made my way to the seats.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

Your usual fake grass outdoor ballpark. At least the dirt is real here.

The Marines are one of the few Japanese teams managed by an American, Bobby Valentine, in this case, and, contrary to what you might think, the fans of the team totally love Valentine. Despite the fan adoration, the team did not renew his contract in Chiba, so it was his last year managing the team. Fan response was vehemently against letting Valentine go, so much so that the cheer section carries a large Bobby Valentine flag with them to every game. Still, the team is looking to go in other directions, so they’ve even ignored the fan petitions and pleas to keep Valentine. With his dismissal, the lone, remaining American manager is Marty Brown, who was fired from the Carp this season, but will go on to manage the Eagles next year.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

An early shot of the scoreboard.

Since Ken was there and, if you recall, he loves the Lions, I was actively rooting for the Marines, even though we were seated within the Lions section. I was lucky this game, because it was one of the few where the home team prevailed, with the Marines eventually winning 6-3, bucking the home team loss trend of the trip once again.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode Good Grief in Arrested Development.

The last out for the Lions walks dejectedly off of the field. Reminds me of the episode "Good Grief" in Arrested Development.

Chiba Marine Stadium was nothing really to write home about. The decoration was mostly spartan and kind of reminded me of late 80s stadiums in the States. Most of the atmosphere comes from the ōendan. If you remember from that Buffaloes game, those guys go nuts all game long, waving their flag and jumping up and down to their fight song. They really get into it and make it lots of fun.

Yet another shot of the field

Yet another shot of the field

Another game marked off, we now had only one left and only one more full day. Since we had to catch a very early shinkansen, I had yet another boring night as I packed up what I could and turned in for the night. To Tohoku and Sendai tomorrow!

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part III: Play Ball! [II]
Sep 6th, 2009 by Dan

Jet lag is always a bit difficult to overcome, but when you’ve flown to the other side of the world, the body really doesn’t know what to do with itself. So it came to pass that I wrote the whole second half of Part II of this travelogue at 0600 after a half hour of tossing and turning, despite being on almost no sleep. This third part comes straight from my exhausted fingers to you, starting before the first Giants game and continuing after getting back to the hotel.

Our bright morning begins at 0830 for a quick pre-trip briefing. Dave and I quickly learn that we are most definitely the youngest members of the group. There are maybe four or five people on the tour younger than 30 and certainly none in their early twenties like us. Bob thankfully runs a rather loose ship, allowing us to mostly do what we want throughout the day instead of being forced to do one thing at all times. We meet up for trains and ballgames and that’s about it. Once the main tour departs, I won’t even have that, since Bob and Mayumi plan to head off on their own.

Mayumi offered to head to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and Dave and I decided to go along. Our hotel is near private railway lines and the Tokyo Metro, so we hopped aboard, allowing me to experience the metro firsthand. It most resembles the DC Metro, since it requires you to pay a fare based on how far you travel, which is rather unfortunate, but the trains arrive almost 800 times faster and more regularly, so the comparison clearly only goes so far.

Sensō-ji’s main features are the iconic giant lanterns that adorn the center of each of the gates of the temple. In between the two gates, the area is packed to the gills with vendors and stalls selling food, typical Japanese souvenirs, toys, clothes, and video games. The temple itself is a rather loose compound with shops flanking it on all sides along with a Shinto shrine. Dave and I explored the area a bit, but decided not to get souvenirs right away since it was still early in the trip. The temple was also fully populated with hordes of schoolchildren, all in uniform visiting the shrine on class trips. Even very small children were on trips to the temple, carried by hilarious carts like children on hand-pushed buses. Apparently they do this in other big cities in America, but I’d never seen it before so Dave and I quickly took to accusing the cart pushers of kidnapping all the kids in the carts.

The outer gate has a huge lantern

The outer gate has a huge lantern

After our temple visit, we had free time until the game, so Dave and I decided to go eat lunch and hit up Akihabara again. Since CoCo Curry is on the way to Akihabara and it’s so good, Dave and I had yet another lunch there that I thoroughly enjoyed. Since we were visiting in the daytime, Akihabara looked a lot more like it should complete with alleys bursting with electronic components. In the distance I spotted Pac-Man ghosts chasing an 8-bit Mario and assumed that it had to be some sort of retro-game store. Since I was looking for a copy of Mother 3 to validate a translated ROM, Dave and I headed toward it to check it out.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

Once we got closer, it became immediately obvious that we were standing at the door of a Super Potato, Japan’s most famous video game collectors store. The interior is divided up loosely chronologically, with early systems like the Famicom, MSX, and PC Engine situated on the first floor of the shop, Super Famicom and Mega Drive on the second floor of the shop, and Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, GB and GBA at the top of the games sections (game soundtracks also lived on this floor). The topmost floor was a retro-game arcade that had some seriously old arcade cabinets and some seriously awesome decorations and all of the floors had collectibles and toys from famous franchises.

BIG BOSS!

BIG BOSS!

My hunt for Mother 3 did not go so well at first, mostly because it seemed that there were no used copies sitting around the shelves. I walked up to the counter on that floor, said “Mother 3” in the most inquisitive way possible, and just looked confused. At first I didn’t think they understood what I meant, but they helped me look a bit and didn’t find it. Before I could get too dejected, the other guy behind the counter pulled out a new cartridge in the Japanese-style GBA box. My wallet was lightened by about ¥3600, but I was now the owner of a brand new Mother 3 cart. Mission Complete! S-Rank!

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I can’t forget to mention that we also found a pretty sweet capsule machine that sold keychains that made noises from the Mario series. I got a coin keychain for ¥200. Dave became less enthused by my antics by the end of the day, but that coin sound is just spot on and super fun. BONUS FACT: I believe they use one of these during the 4-Minute Warning section of Listen Up! on 1up.com.

Our quest for games satisfied, we decided to go into a music store next. My goal was to find the one Sambomaster CD I couldn’t import into the states. Unfortunately, the Japanese system of organization eluded me. We thought that maybe they adopted a Roman ordering based on sounds because we seemed to see bands with English names clustered around each other if they had the same letters, but our theory was quickly dashed and we were left wandering the store confused. My next idea was to walk up to a sales clerk, show her the entry for Sambomaster on my iPod (it’s written in kanji or katakana, I don’t know which), and pray that she could lead us to it. It turned out that the Sambomaster section was literally right behind us on the shelf and they also had the album I was looking for. Another successful mission.

Dave and I decided to try to head into a Sofmap again and climbed our way to the top floor to check out some video games. The selection was pretty enormous, complete with Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS games. Some of the DS games had way cooler boxart than the ones we’re used to. The worst part about the music store was seeing the games I most want to come out in the states, the Powapuro series, sitting in the store mocking me. Both the NPB edition and MLB Power Pros 2009 were sitting right there. I will be investigating ways to play Japanese games at home while I’m out here, since I know I can manage to play a Japanese baseball game with no knowledge of the language.

Please come to the states!

Please come to the states!

Our walk back to the hotel passed by a Shinto shrine, which housed a much smaller, single shop just outside. At this shrine I did not drink any water, but I did wash my hands and I took a picture of the board with all the ema. On our way out we noticed a tanuki statue. Not sure if you readers are aware, but tanuki in folklore have famously large testicles in Japan. It’s insane.

Hes got large...tracts of land?

He's got large...tracts of land?

We got back to the hotel room and noticed that the “Do not clean” sign we put up was gone and the room was clean. I wonder why we even bothered…

It was in and out time for our first baseball game. The matchup was the Yomiuri Giants vs. the Yakult Swallows in the Tokyo Dome. The Dome itself is located in a giant entertainment complex in Tokyo with an amusement park and a mall right across the street. Bob took us to the top of a nearby building to get a good view of the surroundings and then set us loose until game time. We had about an hour to kill and Dave and I noticed that there was a roller coaster that spiraled through and around the buildings that composed the amusement park. We decided to investigate, along with our new travel buddy Susan.

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

When we got to the coaster, heretofore known as Thunder Dolphin, we saw that it cost ¥1000 (~$10) to ride, but we weren’t going to let that discourage us. Susan opted not to ride, but we barreled up the steps, hoped we bought admission (the machine was in Japanese), and queued up. The coaster had lockers on the other side for passengers to pack their belongings in, so we headed over and emptied out and got on the coaster. If you check Dave’s pictures, you know by now that this coaster was built with extreme in mind. The first drop is at a 72° angle, for heaven’s sake, and everything is very tight and compressed since it’s in the city. It’s an intense roller coaster that was tons of fun! I just wish we could have gone on it again for free.

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

The coaster put us at just the right time to enter the Dome, which, unlike other ballparks in the states, had restaurants and shops on the outside. We queued at our gate, got to the rotating glass doors, and awaited the attendant-allowed opportunity to walk through the doors. Turns out, they keep the dome tightly sealed, because our ears all popped upon entering the dome, which is also kept at a Tokyo-warm 77-80°F, but there we were, within the Tokyo Dome, home of the most famous baseball team in Japan.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

It’s said that the Giants are rather like the Yankees of Japan and I can kind of see that. The ballpark has a stateliness to it and their team has a low-frills, dignified approach that does away with too much craziness. Their mascots, for some odd reason, are rabbits from space, but we’ll let that slide. Even before the game, a steady stream of concession stand girls were wandering all the aisles, offering coke to the fans. Once the game started, they were joined by the famous beer girls. I once confused the tanks they carried on their backs for hot water for noodles, but the reality is that they’re tasked with roaming their sections all game with a heavy tank of beer strapped to their backs. As they empty out, they head back to their HQ and refill the tanks to go at it again. It’s impressive, considering the size of these girls.

Getting ready to pour us some bieru

Getting ready to pour us some "bieru"

Also immediately obvious were the ōendan (cheer) squads that sit in the outfield bleachers representing both teams. I learned from other members of the tour that admission into those sections is strictly limited by membership in the fan club. To gain membership, you must be willing to travel with the team on a set number of games, know every fight song, know every player-related cheer, and be spirited. They are intense. They started cheering before the game and they continued to cheer with the same intensity to the bitter end (which Dave and I missed…more on that soon).

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The ballgame began and after a half-inning of awe at how the Swallows cheer section was going nuts, the Giants were set to come up. We quickly learned that the aura of “bad-assery” that most ballplayers in the states cultivate doesn’t seem to be as necessary out here in Japan, especially since some of the players were coming up to bat to bubbly J-Pop or slow, Japanese ballads. It was bizarre, especially when a foreign, Hispanic player came up to bat and it was not salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.

The game itself is played with small ball in mind a lot more than in the states. We still saw a home run that night, but most of the players were shooting for base hits. Baltimore chops were a common sight to ensure safe baserunner advancement and they bunted freely. Very rarely did they swing for the fences and if they did, it was probably an American player doing it.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

In the 7th inning I learned that there is no stretch out here, just a communal rendition of the Giants fight song along with dancing mascots. The balloon thing was strangely absent, so I have no footage of that either.

It being the first full day out in Tokyo, Dave and I didn’t do so well at staying up through the game. By the 8th inning, we found ourselves sleeping through most of the at-bats and the cheers. Only the roar of the crowd at a great play would rouse us, only to return us unconscious. With the Giants down 3-1 in the top of the 9th, we went back to the hotel to sleep, but it turns out that we made a mistake there. The Giants caught up that inning and tied up the game. Two hours later, the game ended in a tie in the 12th and both teams were pooped. By the way, Japan baseball ends after 12 innings, no matter what. They allow ties.

So that was our first day of baseball. We are headed for Kyoto next and we will use the bullet train to get there and to the Orix Buffaloes game in Kobe. I’ve got to pass out now, I’m dying of exhaustion.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part II: Journey to the East [II]
Sep 3rd, 2009 by Dan

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

I begin this entry sitting at the gate for my ANA flight…1 (No joke, my flight number is NH0001), listening to Japanese ska to get into the mood as I await my 1220 flight out of America. As per usual, I got here a good three hours before my flight even was ready to think about starting to take off thanks to something I like to call hyper-punctuality, but I’m sure most would call insanity. In fact, I was so early this morning when I arrived at 0900 that ANA hadn’t even opened up their check-in terminal (don’t worry, I’m sure to repeat this detail later)

To be totally fair, my early arrival was due to a change in plans, for the better. I originally intended to take the Metro into Dulles after parking my car at the lovely Duffy house, but The Legendary John Duffy, as he is known in these parts, volunteered to haul my annoying self and my bags over to the airport after he got his hands on some coffee. After about 40 or so minutes of always riveting conversation with TLJD I found myself once again at Dulles, an airport I mistakenly thought I’d never been to before.

The best way to describe Dulles is slightly confused. At some point, big, modern airports realized that people were getting confused with where to go, since they had multiple buildings housing different terminals. They began to label their terminals numerically or by color. Not wanting to be left in the dust, Dulles seems to have enthusiastically took up this practice for a single terminal. No joke, the one terminal is as long as the terminal devoted solely to Southwest at BWI, but they felt the need to divide it into not just two zones, but four.

So I arrived at zone 3, profusely thanked TLJD for the ride, and boldly stepped up to the ANA terminal…to find that it doesn’t even open until 0920. Before you all laugh at my insanity, consider that there were two families who had arrived before me and another passenger showed up at around 0915. If that doesn’t convince you of my sanity, I don’t know what will.

Seriously dude, dont you have anything better to do with your time?

Seriously dude, don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I will continue to be undeterred by the fact that I’ve written hundreds of words covering the mundane and I have yet to even leave American soil (Hey, I’m *really* early for my flight and I’ve gotta do /something/, cut me some slack!) and continue to regale you all with stories about how my carry-on bag was too heavy by five kilograms. Now, as a man of science, I almost exclusively prefer the metric system for any and all calculations. That being said, I have absolutely zero concept of what a kilogram is. Faced with the threat of having to check my bag, I decided to try and pull out my toiletries and pray that they weighed five kilos. It brought me down to 21.5 kilos, which was good enough for my Japanese travel agent (what’s the job title for those people?) and good enough for me, especially because I was secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to just move my toiletries right back into my carry-on once I was safely seated in the terminal.

Security, miles of walking along people movers to get to the midfield terminal, and here I am. Country music begins to play over my headphones and I rather like the reverse framing going on here. More to come when something actually happens…

I return to this travelogue at 1927 local time on 3 September. In about three minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours thanks to the difficulty that I have sleeping on planes. A lot has happened since I was sitting bored in the terminal, so we continue from there.

The staff at ANA seems to be rather small, because when the plane arrives and boarding is being handled, I begin to see all the folks from the ticket counter that I saw in the morning show up and help with boarding. My flight is also eerily empty for some reason. I have an entire row, nine seats, to myself and this is the case for most of the people on the plane, but I guess since I’m on a rather long flight I can deal with the stress of having so much space it’s ridiculous. I can only pray for such a windfall on the way home.

A small moment of panic sets in rather early as I try to discreetly snap a shot of one of the better looking flight attendants for Eric and one of them tells me that I need to put my camera and phone away, there are no electronics. Figuring that she meant while on the runway, I put them away and quickly began searching through the documentation to see what I could find about whether or not I’d be able to use my electronics on this long, 14-hour flight.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

Since I was flying on a Japanese carrier, I thought I’d point out some of the differences between it and the American one. The seats are a bit closer feeling, to me, all of the information is primarily given in Japanese, then in sometimes difficult-to-understand English, the food is distinctly eastern in style, and the magazines have a small bilingual section if you open them western-style and a large Japanese section if you read it right-to-left. Most everything else is pretty much par for the course, American carrier or not, for an international flight. The warnings and safety measures are in Japanese first and the pictures are of Japanese folk instead of drawings, but all the information appears to be the same.

The other constant among international flights is the food. I was nearly drowning in food as they brought meal after meal after snack, despite undergoing no effort to work up an appetite. The food was all of pretty good quality, for airplane food, and garnered no complaints from me.

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

That’s about all there is to say about international flights. They are disappointingly mundane, even when on a Japanese carrier. I’ll leave the topic with some video (sadly without the original audio) of a game show that I was watching on the in-flight entertainment television. The point here was to name the countries of Europe while pounding on beat to a song. You’ll see very quickly what a wrong answer leads to. There’s also one guy there who they liked to pick on for some random reason.

Trust me, it’s even funnier with the sound.

Arrival and customs are not all that special, so I’ll refrain from mentioning them, but I was surprised at how far out of Tokyo the airport seems to be. There are trains leading into the city itself, but they all seem to take quite some time to get to the heart of the city. My plane arrived about an hour early, which is always awesome, unless you’ve been asked by your brother to wait in the airport for him before heading to the hotel. The time I had to myself allowed me to take a look around Narita International Airport and get a feel for what a Japanese airport was yet again. One thing worth noting for people landing in September is that they seem to keep the a/c at a rather toasty 80°F, which is totally understandable, I guess, but feels a bit toasty to those of us used to a lot more climate control. Another thing worth noting is that the fear of communicable disease has yet to clear Japan, especially after the very recent H1N1 troubles that they were having. Notices about sanitation are posted throughout the airport and there are many, staff and patrons alike, wearing masks to shield their face from germs.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

There was also a rather funny graphic on one of the video screens showing how bird flu, I think, started to spread. There was a silhouette of a chicken and what looked like a duck that eventually turned red with “disease” of some sort. From their reddened bodies emanated more evil germs and arrows that infected a standing silhouette man and caused him to drop to all fours and turn red. The man eventually began to shoot out red circles of death to other groups of silhouette men. It was riveting stuff, but I didn’t manage to capture any of it on video before Dave got there.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

Dave finally landed and Bob lead us down to get our passports checked for the rail passes that we were to make use of throughout the country. We got our tickets and made our way onto the platform where the train was and Dave began enthusiastically getting onto the train only to have the doors begin to close behind him. After a valiant effort to hold the doors open, he was trapped on the train while we looked on from the outside. Except, if he had read the sign that we only saw after he was trapped, he would know that they were just cleaning the train.

Dont get on or youll be trapped Dave!

Don't get on or you'll be trapped Dave!

After he was asked to get off the train, they began cleaning and the train seats actually turned around. They’re on a mechanism that turns them, I guess so that you’re facing the direction the train is headed so you don’t get that disoriented. And so began the ~1 hour long train ride into Tokyo.

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

It randomly featured a windmill.

Am I in The Netherlands?

Am I in The Netherlands?

Our hotel in Tokyo is pretty nice, it’s got two singles that are surprisingly long so I’m not hanging off the edge. We dropped off our stuff, sent word that we were alive and well, and headed right back out into Tokyo to do some first night exploring and grab a bite to eat. Dave spotted a CoCo Curry on the way over from the train station, so that was our ultimate goal for dinner. At first we headed across a nearby bridge through a Dental University and wound up in a slightly urban area surprisingly filled with tons of instrument stores. There typical classical instrument shops intermixed with way more awesome guitar shops, one of which featured the most Japanese bad ass, hardcore, punk rock guitar I’ve ever seen.

Youve never rocked until youve rocked with Hello Kitty!

You've never rocked until you've rocked with Hello Kitty!

There was also the most awesomely named shop ever, at least for a fan of Metal Gear Solid like me.

This is Big Boss. Im done here.

This is Big Boss. I'm done here.

Dave’s impeccable sense of direction did finally get us to CoCo Curry House without too much stress at all. If you’ve known me for a while, chances are you’ve heard that I have something of an obsession with Japanese curry. Getting back to CoCo curry was definitely high on my list of priorities, but it was thanks to Dave’s sharp eyes that I even knew that there was one nearby.

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

I’ve seen CoCo Curry compared to Burger King in other places, mainly because you can “Have it your way” there, but they really put Burger King to shame with how completely customizable they are. Their (thankfully) English menu offers directions on how to order. First, select a curry base, then how many grams of rice you want, how spicy, and finally, toppings.

The procedure is simple, really, so long as its in English

The procedure is simple, really, so long as it's in English

I went with the staple curry dish, tonkatsu curry (breaded pork cutlets), while Dave opted for the more interesting crab croquette curry. It was delicious.

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

It did not last long on my plate.

Not a grain of rice left.

Not a grain of rice left.

The urge to explore continued after dinner, so Dave and I decided to walk around the town and see what we could find. Not far from the curry, we began seeing girls dressed in maid outfits, no doubt advertising a maid café of some sort. Dave decided not to take a flyer, but I couldn’t resist.

Maids!

Maids!

We saw a tall Sofmap building and I remembered that they tend to sell new games. I dragged Dave along and we coincidentally ended up in an elevator with one of the maid café girls. Shenanigans promptly ensued.

Neither Dave nor I really knew where we were going in this building nor what floor we were headed to and I was unsure whether or not Japan did that ground floor thing, so I pushed 1. The maid girl laughed at us and asked if that’s really where we were going, since that’s the ground floor (I think, I speak no Japanese). The elevator soon made its way up to the top floor of the building and it opened to the maid café advertised, much to our surprise. The place was bright pink and filled with people and maids, but Dave and I very quickly decided it was not the place for us. We tried going to the third floor instead, but we were greeted with a corrugated steel door. The maids in the tiny elevator had a great laugh at our expense. We exited the elevator and asked to take a picture of one of the maids who was now quarter-carding, but she politely told us no.

There’s not much else adventure that went on that night. We made our way to an anime store filled to the brim with goods. They had no picture signs up that I didn’t notice until after I’d snapped two shots.

Tons of manga

Tons of manga

We also found an arcade and wandered around the first two floors a bit.

One of the famous Japanese arcades

One of the famous Japanese arcades

That’s all for the first night, off to explore more of Tokyo!

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part I: Preface [International Incident]
Sep 2nd, 2009 by Dan

It won’t be the first time I arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun and it probably won’t be the last, but at least it’s all for fun this time. My last journey into Japan took me to Okinawa, an island paradise where I found myself snorkeling and enjoying the beauty of the landscape whenever I was off the clock, but this time I’ll be diving headfirst into three of the four main islands: Honshū, Kyūshū, and Hokkaidō to get a real glimpse of Japan more separate from the US-heavy Okinawa.

Speaking of US-influence, as I write this I’m chowing down on some “Asian” food from the cafeteria and I think this is the perfect way to start my trip. If there’s one thing that America is known for, it’s embracing and adapting the differences of other cultures into the American identity (your mileage may vary, depending on what part of the USA you live in). It’s a side effect of the vastly different ethnic composition of our population slowly integrating into society, etc., etc., but this isn’t an American sociology lesson, so you get my point.

Now, if there’s one thing that Japan is known for, it’s embracing and adapting the things that America does and doing it better. There’s a reason why so much fear existed in the 80’s with respect to the rising industrial power of Japan. Everything about the country just seems like a more intense, slightly odd version of America to the outside. Employees work longer hours, students study harder, the fashion is crazier, and the obsessive obsess harder than anyone here in the states seems to. Watch any half hour of Japanese media, and you’re bound to hear someone yell Ganbare!” enthusiastically to someone who is working hard. It means something like “keep going,” “hang in there,” or “fight” and it exemplifies to me how much the Japanese value doing one’s best and making the most of what they’ve got. I don’t think the Japanese are trying to out-America America; I think they are instead trying to infuse the Yamato spirit into everything they do, no matter where it comes from so that at the end of the day, when they come home exhausted and feel like they can’t go on anymore, someone will tell them to ganbare.

My trip to Japan is, ostensibly, to watch baseball, the Great American Pastime (TM), but I’m more interested in what turned baseball into yakyū. My father once read that if you were to tell a Japanese child that there were McDonald’s restaurants in America, that child would say something like “Wow, they’ve got those there too?” The point being that it is such an ingrained part of their culture that it doesn’t compute that something so Japanese could actually be foreign. I expect seeing baseball in Japan will evoke a similar reaction in me as I marvel at how the game can be so different and exactly the same while retaining a distinctly Yamato flair. Surely no adult Japanese person would think that the game originated on the island, but will they think that they’ve perhaps mastered the purest, best way to play the game?

Really though, that’s enough of all the serious talk, I’m not writing a paper here and I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to death already. Here are some questions (in no particular order) that I hope to get answers to on this trip out to the far east:

1. What do they do during the 7th inning stretch out here?
2. What kinds of crazy foods do they serve at the concession stands?
3. Just how rowdy do the fans get during games?
4. How different is it to fly internationally on a Japanese carrier compared to a domestic carrier?
5. Do cities outside Tokyo get crazy during game releases? At least one major game franchise (Pokémon) will have an iteration released while I’m out, but I won’t be in Tokyo when it comes out.
6. How rock and roll do the Japanese get? If I can, I’m going to try and make it into a show somewhere.
7. Is the fashion at Harajuku as crazy as everyone says it is?
8. Sumo. Great sport or greatest sport?
9. Is Akihabara still the mecca of electronics that it once was?
10. How much cool stuff can I find in a used game store?
11. Is Coco Curry House Ichinbanya still amazing?
12. How long can Dave and I sing in a karaoke box before we’re kicked out to salvage what’s left of the clientele’s hearing?
13. Do I have the nerve to go to a public bath?
14. Is the Japanese train system as punctual and efficient as advertised?
15. What’s the strangest item I can find in a vending machine?
16. Are Japanese arcades really dying?

I’m sure I’ll think of more along the way, but I think this is a good start for now. To those of you out there working hard while I embark upon my expedition into Japanese culture, I have but one word: GANBARE!

EDIT: Now that this travel feature is complete, I thought I’d add a table of contents to help you navigate around.

Part I – Preface
Part II – Journey to the East
Part III – Play Ball!
Part IV – In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto
Part V – Temples, Taxis, 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 – “That’s my wife. You no touch.”
Part XII – The Curse of the Colonel
Part XIII – Beware the Ninth Ward
Part XIV – The One Where We Miss Darvish
Part XV – Someone’s Got To Be The Worst
Part XVI – Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object
Part XVII – In Which Our Hero Casually Greets Professional Players
Part XVIII – Homeward Bound
Part XIX – Epilogue
Bonus: Jersey Special

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