industrial robots
Cranking out widgets in search of meaning...

Tokyo 2002


Travelling to Tokyo for the first time was amazing. It was also "Round 1" of "The Geek 'n' Freeek Half-World Tour" with my friend D. Main Attraction: Tokyo Game Show 2002.

Japanese flag from street fighter with round 1 texttokyo game show 2002 illustration showing a crowd moving toward a giant game controller held up by two robots

Day 0

The flight was a totally exhausting 24 hr total trip. Our plane from Toronto was delayed by an hour and a half, so we made our connection by mere minutes. We didn't have much trouble figuring out how to get the commuter express train to the inn, and were pretty wired so after we checked in. We walked around a bit and found this great cafe with really good chocolate croissants... Then we crashed.

a middle aged white man wearing a cap and headphonesa small building entrance with a tree.  a small sign reads ryokan katsutarothe exterior of a small cafe with flags outside that read coffee in english

Day 1

I finally got the laptop working on the LAN here at the inn (the cable to our room is bad - heh). I got up this morning at about 7:30 and had a well needed shower before trying to figure out the calling card machine and telephone. Once it was determined that the cards were sold out, the woman here called someone to come and fill up the machine. While I waited I headed across the street to the corner store and grabbed a "Lemon Squash" drink and hung around outside watching Japanese kids head off to school.

a pale green building with large red japanese letters above the doora black soda can with a yellow circle and japanese text

Around the time I finished my drink, the card guy arrived and then showed me how to place a call, so I phoned home, which I had been wanting to do since we got to LA to get our connecting flight. We went back to St. Marc Cafe for another croissant for breakfast (this time right from the oven) and then we headed to the subway - me going to Tokyo Game Show and D deciding to look around the central Tokyo area. The subway is actually pretty easy to use, and there is english posted on most of the maps in cars and on the platforms as well, so I only had 1 minor confusion when I almost ended up going to Tokyo Disneyland. Tokyo Game Show is at the Makuhari Messe Convention Centre, which is actually in a different city I think. It was almost an hour to get there on the subway and we seemed to go out of Tokyo proper.

a sparse crowd walks toward a large buildinga wide shot of the convention booths with several balloons with logos on them

Day 2

Today we went to this great 7-story toy store (Yamashiroya) here in Ueno near the subway station. Then we went back to the inn to dump off the stuff and headed out for the afternoon. I went and checked out the JAMMA show for a few hours and it was interesting, but quite small and it was dominated by gambling and prize machines (like crane games where you try to grab a stuffed animal) and the trendy toy series "The Dog" was everywhere. The definite highlight was a game called "Dolphin Blue", it's sort of like Metal Slug except your character rides a dolphin instead of hopping in a tank. In order to get there, an Austrian man staying here had suggested I try taking the monorail to get there, as it gives you a good view and you cross Rainbow Bridge.

a tall shiny building with Yamashiroya in english as a signpeople on a walkway to a building with inverted triangular structurespeople crowd around a dogstation deluxe cabineta japanese man plays dolphin blue

After the show I rode in the front car of the monorail and it was even better than the trip out. There's some really diverse, modern architecture out that way - I guess the Austrian guy was into it because he is here to study the architecture for his thesis. I had to transfer lines at Shimbashi station, so I got out and walked around a bit, catching a glimpse of the nearby Ginza district as well.

monorail view going up a hill near a ferris wheelan illuminated sign for suntory boss coffee at dusk

We met up back at the inn, and cleaned up a bit before going out with D's friend to "Ten", which means heaven, a teppanyaki place near Shibuya that was very good and quite pricey, but I actually ate Uni, among several unknown dishes, and that was very cool. After dinner, we headed to Shinjuku to check out the gay village. There's an area of bars and a couple of porn magazine shops, and it's strictly commercial so it doesn't have the community feel that Toronto's does, but people were being quite open and it was only slightly uncomfortable because most of what was there isn't any of our "scene" at all and there were lots of rice and label queens throwing attitude. I was surprised to see a few rainbow flags and logos and had to eat a bit of crow because of that fact. We basically walked around the area and checked things out. We also walked quite a bit out of the village, and hung out for a while before heading home in a subway car way overcrowded with drunk college-aged kids. It was the only time I've been concerned with getting pick-pocketed so far, but we made it home merely tired.

Day 3

After last night, I vowed I would sleep in as late as I could today. I ended up waking at 6am and then going back to sleep at 7 for another 3 hours or so. I felt a lot more relaxed today and we checked out the market here in Ueno and the 7-floor "AB AB" store (including an HMV on 7) before going out to Ginza today.

people gathered at the sign for ameyayokochoitems for sale on tables in front of Ab Ab

Ginza's basically the "golden mile" of shopping here, but there was one cool toy store at the end of the last block that was pretty great. We also ended up seeing a protest march against "The War on Terrorâ„¢", which was cool to see.

many tall thin buildings line a busy streetone large building dominates a city blockpeople march with big red flags with white japanese characterspolice officers escort the line of protesters

We headed almost to the end of the Ginza subway line to an area with small designer shops, similar to Queen Street in Toronto. Great T-Shirts and some scale models of designer chairs etc. Very cool except for the bad western pop music some stores were playing. It's weird some of the western things that are here, especially music and fast food. Our subway car on the way home was plastered inside with the same Gap campaign running in North America right now.

a store with painted text on the window reading dynamo village loves hannaan upscale street with a large traditional stone lantern and a subway sandwich shop

It started to rain, so instead of hitting Yoyogi Park, we looked around a little bit near the station and headed back to the Inn to relax. On the walk home I finally broke down and tried a McTeriyaki burger, which seems to be made from a giant breakfast sausage patty with teriyaki sauce, a weird mayo and wilted lettuce which were mostly jettisoned before consumption. It was better than I thought it would be, but I won't be grabbing another one. The good part is that they had "Qoo" as one of the drink options, and I'd been meaning to try it - It ended up being a non-carb muscat (green grape flavour I love) drink! I'll have to find some in a store and start guzzling before we leave. We came back, I read the english version of the Japan Times before calling home and then sitting down with a yummy melon soda and typing this out.

the outside of ueno stationa myriad of buildings, one with an irem logo

Day 4

Ijust had some tea and posted some game geek info about Tokyo Game Show and JAMMA Show. We spent most of the day in Akihabara (the electronics district) today and I managed to find almost everything I was looking for. The main road was also blocked to traffic for several blocks, I'm not sure if this was normal, or because it was a bank holiday for Autumn Equinox.

the laox game store sign has game spelled out in coloured block letterstall buildings with japanese text on them as well as some englisha corner houses a club sega arcade

It's a pretty impressive array of shops, and I was surprised that some companies have several huge locations. Many of the stores I visited have a low square footage, but continue for 6 or seven floors. Luckily, most of them had elevators. I found a store I was looking for, but sadly, they didn't have the stuffed toys I've been looking for. I saw some cool gadgets though that I hope make it to North America sometime soon. I also was very tempted to buy an Aibo robot dog.

a store with a neon sign showing a robot flying near a rainbowvarious building signs lit at duska building with lit escalators visible from the streeta store display of various robot dog models

Day 5

Today started with doing a few last minute things in the market and getting some pictures of the area in the morning. After meeting back up at the Inn, and determining how raunchy the local cigarettes are, we set out to take a look at a couple of the shrines in the area.

glass windowed buildings on a busy streeta beige building with a mcdonald's restaurant on the first three floorsa caucasian man gimaces as he holds up a pack of cigarettes called hopea stone torii gate at the entrance to a shrine

We also stumbled onto the restaurant supply store area and found some shops that sell fake food samples, lots of Pachinko parlours (although they're generally too noisy to even get all the way in the doorway), and a giant Ultraman statue???

a display of fake bowls of food and individual itemsa building called uchu-centera clean shaven white man stands in front of an ultraman statuea bearded white man stands in front of an ultraman statue

After having a bit of a crash, we went out for dinner to this 8th floor Italian restaurant that had a wood beam and plaster finish that I almost hit my head on and had me feeling once again like Gandalf in Bilbo's house. D checked out the wacky toilet/bidet combo in the bathroom and we had brought along a guy from Calgary who was staying at the Inn, as it was the last day for all of us here. D took some great pix of the view too.

a street at night from above with illuminated buildingsthe other side of the same street with more illuminated buildings

Day 6

I actually managed to take some more pictures on this last day since the flight wasn't until 4 pm. We checked out Ueno Park and then Michael from Calgary and I went to a local shrine while D went last-minute toy hunting in the market.

a park walkway toward a shrinea tall building is visible behind treesa swan paddleboat in the pond with trees and buildings in the backgroundlarge lotus leaves at the edge of the pond
trees provide a canopy above a path lined with stone lanternsthe vermillion building of a shrinea white man stands near a stone torii gate that leads to some wooden vermillion ones on shrine groundsa bearded white man stands outside a small building obscured by trees

The place we stayed at (Ryokan Katsutaro) was pretty good but we did travel on the cheap so we could have done a bit better.

a futon near a paper screen doora low table with various items on ita framed illustration off the inn next to an autograph from Pete Seeger from August 1, 1986a promotional poster for ryokan katsutaro