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Living in Shinjuku June 1, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Living in Shinjuku” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qa

In September of 2005, I arrived in Tokyo for the second time in my life and for the first time, I would live in Japan.  For the next five and a half years, I would live in a tiny apartment in Shinjuku.  Technically, I lived in Shibuya, but in reality, I lived closer to Shinjuku and I would later realize that it was impossible for me to explain where I lived if I said Shibuya.  Shinjuku was the best word to use and explained my location perfectly.

As I said, my apartment was a tiny 23 square metre apartment.  My bedroom itself was a paltry 10 square meters or 107 square feet.  Yes, it’s tiny. It cost me about ¥100,000 a month and I lived on a busy major arterial road.  Did I mention that I also lived with my girlfriend?  It was a cramped place that really wasn’t suitable for two people.  It was barely enough space for one, but it was home.  The apartment wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be just now.  While it was tiny, and it was expensive, the price of the apartment was mainly due to the location.  I was fortunate to live only 30 minutes away from Shinjuku, and that’s on foot.  I could easily find a great restaurant and getting out of town was easy.  Every weekend, I would walk into Shinjuku and enjoy the various shops.  It was busy, but not terribly so.  Over the five years, I got to know Shinjuku very intimately.  I know every corner and every path around the station.  Shinjuku Station is one of the most complex stations in the world, but for me, it is a simple place that takes but a second to get around.   If things did get too noisy, it wasn’t too hard for me to find a small quiet oasis just a month away.

The cost of living is not as high as you would expect.  Everyone says that living in Tokyo is very expensive.   For the first while, I would have said that’s true, but if you are smart and know where to go, you can live relatively cheaply.  The other advantage for me was that I lived in a tiny apartment.  It may be tiny, but the cost for utilities was equally tiny.  I was also very fortunate in that the quality of restaurants were very high.  You generally get what you pay for.  If I wanted to splurge and eat something nice, I could easily go to Shinjuku, or somewhere in my area to find something wonderful and romantic.  If I needed something dirt cheap, that was also available.  There were also a few grocery stores where you can get food at a very reasonable price.  Surprisingly, for such a central location, there were lots of options, but only a few that were worth a visit.  Thankfully, I lived outside the Yamanote line, which meant I had more choices.  Those who live within the Yamanote line are saddled with a cost of living that’s MUCH higher.  I was also fortunate that my favourite grocery store wasn’t such a major chain.  Major chains in Japan tend to have somewhat higher prices for some strange reason.  If you ever do decide to live in Japan, walking around the neighbourhood for at least a radius of 2km is necessary to find all of the cheapest places you need.

The biggest problem for me and my apartment was the noise.  My balcony was adjacent to a major street. There were cars on the street at all hours of the day.  Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and even gas vans would blast be my apartment at all hours with sirens blaring.  In Tokyo, the gas company has the same status at times as an emergency vehicle.  I believe this is mostly to prevent major explosions from a pipeline, especially with buildings packed so closely together.   In the beginning, it was very cool to be able to hear all of the strange sirens of Japanese emergency vehicles, but after a year, it did get annoying.  By far, the most annoying sounds were the loud scooters, bosozoku bikes, and decotora.  Bosozoku are a type of teenage motorcycle gang, which is like recruitment to the Yakuza, but that’s not always the case.  They have very distinct bikes with no mufflers.  Their trademark is to ride around and make as much noise as possible.  While coasting to a stop, they will rev their engines as loud as possible, even though it does nothing but hurt the engine.  The decotora are trucks that have paintings on the side and hundreds of flashing lights.  Think epilepsy inducing strobes.  These trucks are usually okay, but at times, they add noise makers that “pop” as they use the engine brake.  It was the loudest engine noise you could ever think of.  I did get used to the noise, but it didn’t help me to get a good night sleep either.

While the street was a pain due to the noise, it was also a blessing.  I had one of the best views of Shinjuku.  I could look out everyday and see the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings.  Each night, the buildings would be lit up and the colours would change every so often.  It would sometimes change due to a specific event, such as women’s day or earth day.  It was very nice.  I would also be able to see the changing skyline as new buildings would be built.  During a few storms, I had the privilege to see lightning and rain falling down as if God was angry at the world.  It was an amazing site, and living somewhat high above the street gave me a great view of things.  I even had a view of a major highway construction project that has lasted well over my 5 years at this apartment.  When I moved in, they were in the process of building an underground highway.  When I left, they completed the highway, but they were still doing the arduous process of fixing the roadway itself.   They were placing all of the overhead wires underground and beautifying the entire street.  Alas, I believe it would take another 2 to 5 years to complete everything.  I guess I may never see the final product.

One of the toughest things to get used to was the lack of greenery.  While the area was super convenient, it was also lacking trees and shrubs.  There were several parks in the area, but none of them were within a short walk.  The definition of a park is very different in Tokyo.  A park can be nothing but gravel paved into a square which is only good enough for a game of catch or other simple small area sports.  There were no chances to play touch football or even futsal.  It took a couple years before I was used to this.  It was also impossible to get out of town easily by car or on foot.  The west side of Tokyo is a large metropolis.  The north and west sides are much easier to get into the countryside.  This was part of the reason I sold my motorcycle last year.  The only consolation prize was that it was extremely easy for me to hop onto a major train line, or even get to the Shinkansen to get out of town, but that usually left me in a similar looking area, a major city.

All in all, living in Shinjuku is great.  I loved it and I will definitely miss it.  I wish I could continue living there, forever, but the cost and size was too much.  I found a great place on the other side of town, and now I get to start over again.  I’ll be learning more and more about the east side.  Over the next year or so, expect more information about eastern Tokyo.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Ueno – Ameyokocho) May 25, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Ameyokocho)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mZ

Ameyokocho, or Ameyoko for short is a major shopping area of Ueno.  It’s literally translated as “Candy Alley” or “American Alley” depending on how you read it.  “Ame” is short for sweet or America and “Cho” can be translated as town, or alley.  This area was famous as a black market area for American products after WWII.  However, this area has changed significantly since then.  Today, this area is more popular for its small shops and cheap prices.  Ameyoko is located south of Ueno Station.  Immediately, you will be faced with a wall of buildings with the train tracks running right through them.  Next to the highway is a large department store, Marui, and next to that is a somewhat large toy shop, Yamashiroya.  Marui is a typical department store, and Yamashiroya is one of the best toy shops outside of Akihabara.  It’s also difficult to navigate as the floors are packed with good from floor to ceiling.  On the west side of the tracks, you will see Yodobashi Camera.  While this is a famous electronics goods shop, it’s not as good as their Akihabara branch.  This branch should only be visited if you have nothing better to do.

In the area just inside Ameyoko, you’ll find several small restaurants selling various typical Japanese foods.  You can buy everything from yakitori to sushi.  A good tip is to head south for about one block.  From here, you can see a few cheap sushi shops under the train tracks.  If you are on the west side of the tracks, next to Yodobashi Camera, you will be in the fresh market area.  Here, they will offer a variety of seafood, konbu, and other items needed to make a delicious dinner.  Do note that they are open at different times of the day, probably the afternoon.  If you see them, you will see, or rather hear, the fishermen selling their wares for a very cheap and reasonable price.  The only problem is that they tend to sell in larger quantities making it difficult to purchase seafood for just one or two people.  In the same area, they have a famous chocolate shop where everything is just 1000 Yen.  Basically, you can just walk up and they’ll throw a lot of chocolate into an average sized grocery bag, and it all costs only 1000 yen.  You never really know how much, or what you will get, but that’s part of the adventure.  Located somewhere under the tracks, you’ll be able to see a man selling “Ueno Okonomiyaki” and possibly another man selling mochi.  These two stands are great for trying Japanese junk food.  It’s not too expensive, but not cheap either.  Closer to the south end of Ameyoko, on the east side, there is a supermarket called Nikki.  This is one of the most famous shops in the area.  The shop itself is large, by Ameyoko standards, and they sell a variety of foods.  It’s not a traditional Japanese supermarket.  You can find various name brand snacks, along with western snacks.  If you are craving western chocolate bars, you can usually find the most famous ones here.  Don’t expect to find “Oh Henry!” or “Reese’s Pieces” around here though; just the standard Hershey’s Kisses.  The good thing is that you can get Japanese snacks such as sembe or dried seafood for a decent price.

Food is not the only famous thing to shop for in Ameyoko.  There are several shops selling everything you can imagine.  Walking under the train tracks will allow you to see a market that is more akin to a Chinese style market.  The shops are very small, and they sell things such as leather jackets/bags, jewelry, make-up, and perfume.  At the end of Ameyoko, in the south, they have all of the perfume and make-up shops.  Towards the north end, you will see more clothing shops.  Scattered throughout the entire area, mostly on the west side of the tracks, you will see similar shops.  Some of the biggest things you can buy are shoes.  There several shoe shops with a large variety.  After walking around for a bit, you will start to notice that most of the shops sell similar items, with the only difference being colours.  While Harajuku may have the most variety, Ueno still has a good selection, and it’s usually at a cheaper price.  If higher end goods are what you are looking for, be sure to head to Matsuzakaya, which is just south of Ameyoko.  It’s your typical high end department store.  If you don’t want to go to Ginza, this is probably the best place to go, if you are in Ueno.

Ameyoko is a great place to visit.  The atmosphere alone is worth the trip.  You can experience a typical Asian street market, without worrying about buying something of poor quality.  Japan prides itself on quality, and this area is no exception.  Do beware that sometimes you can get poor quality goods, but most of the shops are legitimate now.  You generally don’t have to worry too much.  It’s also a great way to spend a morning, or afternoon.  It’s very close to Akihabara, which is about 10 minutes from the southern point of Akihabara.  The walk itself isn’t very interesting, but you can always save a few bucks.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ueno Park.

Ueno Infomration:

Ameyoko – Official Site (English):  http://www.ameyoko.net/e/
Ameyoko – Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.ameyoko.net/
Japan Guide (Ameyoko):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3012.html
Ameyoko (Photo Blog post by Danny Choo):  http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/1514/Ameyoko.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town) May 11, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mT

Ueno is one of the biggest hubs in the east side of Tokyo.  It is known as a transportation hub, home of various museums, Ueno Park, and Ameyokocho.  I have mentioned in previous posts that Tokyo’s major centres are all very similar to each other.  There is very little variance aside from the size.  Ueno is not an exception, but it is still unique in its own right.  The area doesn’t have the same feel as Shinjuku or Ikebukuro.  It is smaller than Shibuya, yet retains the character of a major centre.  The cherry blossom season is probably the best time to visit Ueno, but a visit at any other time is also recommended.

Looking north-east from Ueno station will take you to a fairly unknown area.  It was Bike Town.  Bike Town was an area along the highway, north of the station.  It was hard to find at first, but once you were there, you were greeted with a bike nut’s dream.  The area was dominated by a company called “Corin”.  This company ran several shops that dominated the entire area.  Each shop was slightly different.  One would specialize in Harley Davidson parts, another in old two-stroke racer parts.  Some had scooter parts, but most sold clothes that looked similar to each other.  All of the clothes they sold were either small brands, or their own personal brand.  The quality was good, and everything was fairly unique.  Unfortunately, as of 2008, reported by a blog post, the company has gone out of business.  This is not very surprising.  The entire area never looked like it could support that many shops selling the same items.  It would appear that they were the victims of trying to do too much in such a small area.  In the past, this area was very busy with people selling parts, but in today’s age, it’s not easy as most people can buy parts online.  Tokyo city itself is not a good place to have a full sized motorcycle, as Corin tended to specialize in.  The area has been transformed from being the bike mecca of Tokyo, to nearly being a ghost town.

While the major retailer of the area, Corin, has left, there are still various companies still doing business.  Along the main street, under the highway, there are still several shops that have survived the changing times.  There are a few bike shops selling new and used motorcycles, and there is the Honda Parts shop.  While the Honda Parts shop has “Honda” in its name, and a Honda logo, they are not exclusive to Honda.  They do sell a variety of parts that will fit with most bikes.    There is also “UPC Ride On”, which is mainly an Arai helmet seller, but they do have other gear for sale.  This shop is a personal favourite of mine, and they have various events with a few famous Japanese riders visiting the shop, or signing helmets for them to sell/display.  As with Corin, some of these shops have more than one branch along the main street.  Be sure to check each one as they don’t always carry the same parts, let alone the same goods.  Unfortunately, like Corin, they are starting to carry the same things in each branch, which could be a sign that things are getting worse.

If you are interested in buying a motorcycle, do not try to buy one in this area.  It might seem like a good area as it is called “Bike Town” for a reason.  Unfortunately, it’s mostly a parts and gear town.  For those looking to buy a motorcycle, you are better off visiting one of the major dealers.  The small dealers here do have nice motorcycles, but I myself find it a little scary to buy from them.  They don’t always seem friendly, and you may get a lemon.  I have seen nice bikes in a couple of shops, but one of the shops had nothing but very old bikes just collecting dust.  Besides the seedy bike sellers, if who love motorcycles, this area is still worth a quick visit.  You can still get cheaper helmets and gear from the remaining shops.  Unfortunately, due to the ease of online shopping, I wouldn’t be surprised if many more of these shops closed down.  You can easily buy the same parts for the same, if not cheaper price online.  I would recommend visiting this area soon as I assume that more of the shops might go out of business in the next few years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large department store buy several of the buildings and build a new department store in the area.  Do beware that buying a motorcycle from a small shop in this area can be dangerous.  You are better off going to a big shop that’s outside the city than one of the seedy small ones here.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Ueno Park and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

UPC Ride On (Japanese Only):  http://www.upc.ne.jp/
Corin Information (Blog):  http://www.persimmonous.jp/?p=377
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric) April 27, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nb

Akihabara is an area that is being transformed from a small centre with hundreds of small or tiny shops into a place that has tall buildings with large corporations controlling the area.  While it is true that things are changing, you can still see some of the craziness and the strangeness of this area if you know where to look.

For those wanting to see anime, anime figures, manga, and toys, heading to the northern area, near Suehirocho Station is your best bet.  There are several shops in the area that sell these goods.  There are also several located throughout the Akihabara area.  The most famous style of shop is the “glass” shop.  This shop can range in size.  It can be as small as a single room, to one occupying an entire building.  When you enter the shop, you will be met with various glass boxes.  Inside each box, there are various figures on display.  You can buy anything that is located within theses boxes, unless they are for display only.  The key is to find out which box the stuff you want is in, and ask one of the staff to help you.  The interesting part of this is that while you might think of this as a stand alone shop, it isn’t.  Each glass box is usually a different shop.  Many people will rent out one of the boxes to either display their goods, or to sell their goods.  It can range from internet companies needing a physical location for some of their items, to regular people wanting to make a few bucks with the stuff they have collected over the years.  It is a very different concept to the traditional shop that is common in almost every other area of the world.

Another thing to look for in Akihabara is the vending machines.  Due to the nature of the area, vending machines are very prevalent.  In every corner, on every street, you will be able to find a vending machine.  While this is also true of most areas of Tokyo, it is special in Akihabara.  They specialize in unique vending machines.  The standard machines that sell drinks of all types are, of course, common, but they also have machines that sell food.  You can buy hot noodles in a can.  These can be very popular, and it even comes with its own plastic fork.  You could also purchase Oden, which is various vegetables in a broth.  I would liken it to a stew, but it’s very different in taste.  Oden is typically found in convenience stores, but there are restaurants that specialize in it as well.  Meat is not typically found, aside from sausages.  While less common, spaghetti can be found, and it is very possible to find anime drinks.  These tend to be your average drink, but with an anime character on the cover.  Do be aware that prices can be jacked up, depending on where you are and what you buy.

Maids are an Akihabara specialty.  When you exit the station on the east side, and all along Chuo-dori, you are more than likely to run into several maids, especially on the weekend.  If you venture to the east side of Chuo-dori, you will find a lot of different maids looking to take you to their shop.  This is a relatively recent trend that has changed since I first visited.  When I first came, maid cafes were starting to become very popular.  You would see various Japanese women, sometimes European as well, dressed in a French style maid outfit.  They would almost cry to get you into their café.  It was all part of their act.  Today, you can find the strangest fetishes regarding maids.  The typical maid café charges a sitting fee on top of a mandatory drink.  One drink is usually good for about 1 hour.  This may change depending on the café.  You are then treated to a dose of acting from all of the maids in the café.  They tend to talk to you as if you are their master, at all times.  They act very cutesy and they play games with you.  Sometimes, there is a stage where they will play games with the entire café.  If you want to have a picture with one of the maids, or play a private game at your table, you will have to pay extra.  You can even buy one of the maid outfits if you really wanted to.  The man target for this is the men, not the women.  Today, they have added a plethora of different theme cafes.  This can range from a maid café where men dress as maids, but it’s relatively the same thing.  You can also see cafes where the girls are dressed more like a school girl, or even a moody school girl that will treat you like dirt, but cry and apologize when you leave.  I have seen various maid style cafes on TV, but I have never personally been to one.  I have seen their prices and can’t imagine entering one based on the prices.  If you really want to check it out, go ahead, but be sure you know how much it costs.  It could be as much as 4000 Yen for just one hour.  The safest place to visit a maid café might be on top of Don Quijote.

When I first came to Japan, Akihabara was only half as busy, but twice as strange.  In the last few years, the Mayor of Taito-ku, the name of the district Akihabara lies in, decided to clamp down on the strange people.  Several new buildings have popped up to act as an IT hub for Tokyo, and the police have done everything in their power to stop any performance that is done on the street.  While there is a good reason for this, they have decided that Akihabara’s original character of craziness has to go, and that it’s better to be a boring town like every other district of Tokyo.  On the weekends, you might be able to see a couple of “crazy” performers.  They tend to be men, and they tend to dress up as female anime characters.  Nowadays, they probably just walk around.  If they stop, the police will probably talk to them.  If they play loud music, the police will move them along.  If they dance to the music, the police will arrest them.  While this may seem strange and a little heavy handed, there is a main reason to this.  In the last couple years, some girls began to dress as maids, or other characters with a very short skirt; stand on a railing, and let people take pictures of them.  In essence, they let dirty men take photos up their skirts.  Thankfully, this has pretty much stopped, but the days when a tourist could walk along Chuo-dori, see someone dancing, take pictures, and say Tokyo is strange is long gone.  If you came to Akihabara looking for cheap electronics and hundreds of little shops, you will be disappointed.  If you came looking for a cool subculture, you will find something, but probably not exactly what you were looking for.  Either way, I still recommend visiting Akihabara.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Civilized and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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