For all the shopping we did yesterday, we came away with very little cool loot. Ok we scored several sushi candy making kits but no clothes, and we have to come back from Japan with clothes, right? I mean, no, the girls aren’t going to be wearing lolita-style big bows and mary janes to school any time soon. But love it or hate it, Tokyo is one of the worlds most fashionable cities, and it’s always fun to say “I got that in Tokyo” even if it’s just something simple.
It is an absolutely gorgeous day already at 8am. The Monday morning commute is well underway. Sidewalks are filled with japanese businessmen in grey suits – all of them wear grey two button suits. Most are tailored pretty well actually. It’s quite a change from yesterdays Harajuku sunday stroll.
The sun and air quicken our step, and the same stroll down to Shibuya crossing that took an hour when we had just arrived takes half the time today. There are a few stores we would stop in, but nothing is open yet.
Shubuya crossing is Tokyo’s Time Square, without the seedy past and revitalization. It’s a famous intersection and address, but not really that exciting or beautiful in and of itself. The street lights are timed though, so that everyone crosses at once from each direction, which creates a mesmerizing rhythm. It’s best observed from the Starbucks coffee across from Shibuya train station, where we get drinks. (Worst. Scone. Evar.)
The Starbucks fronts a record and DVD store. Later today we would see a Tower Records! It’s huge too. I can’t believe how much retail space they devote to DVDs and CDs still.
Shibuya station is also the home of the Hachiko statue, a tribute to the loyalty of the Akita. The owner died but Hatchiko continued to wait for him at the train station each day, and was adopted by the merchants and community. He eventually became a national symbol of loyalty to the Emperor.
Hatchiko popularity generated a great deal of attention on the Japanese Akita breed. At the time of his death, there were found only 30 purebreds left in Japan, of which Hatchiko was one. All our dogs have been Akita’s and our current one, Monty, is most probably purebred Japanese. He is, as anyone will tell you, an amazing dog.
There is a cool clothing store we want to see called ‘Fake Tokyo’ but it doesn’t open for an hour, so the girls and I waste an hour in Forever 21. It turns out to be a gold mine for both kids – full of the kind of stuff they want to wear. Both kids get overalls – not denim though – flower prints. It’s always fun to say “I got that in Tokyo” even if it’s from Forever 21.
We’re getting the hang of the food thing finally. The trick is to use one of the chain ramen places. They have picture menus and vegetarian options. Emma still struggles to eat japanese food in general, so she tends to eat before or after us at cafe’s that serve cheese sandwiches. I also encourage ice cream eating on the road since it helps both kids get some protein and calories.
The ‘Fake Tokyo’ store has some truly outrageous stuff, but nothing we would ever buy. North of Shibuya is Harajuku, and we wander up there but stay on Cat St. which is more upscale than Takeshita Dori.
It turns out out to be a gold mine. I buy several items a men’s clothing shops, including a tan knit hoodie that’s pretty awesome, for $120. Not bad. And I get a trio of quintessentially japanese designer ‘surgical’ facemasks. It’s been common for a decade for japanese to wear surgical masks. There are all sorts of health reasons from hay fever to swine flu, and in a country where calling in sick is strongly discouraged, one tries to avoid getting sick any way one can. And if you do show up with a cold, it’s courteous to cover your mouth.
But, more recently, function has turned into form. Japanese kids are wearing these more often now as accessories. There are multitude of theories, most of them center around the desire to be anonymous, hide feelings or not have to get perfectly dolled up every time one goes out. And that has given rise to fashion ‘surgical’ masks. Awesome.
Next up in the Japanese pop culture tour is ultra fancy artisanal sugar candies. This store sells hard candy, each piece hand cut, in unusual flavors for big sums of money. It’s kind of a show watching them make the stuff, which takes quite a long time for a little piece of hard sugar.
After a break at the apartment, we take the train to Akihabara, or ‘Electric Town’. It’s the retail tech center of Japan with it’s largest department technology store Yodobashi, and hundreds of smaller gizmo and appliance selling shops. There are still vestiges of the electronics black market that existed here under the train tracks after world war two, in the shadow of the US occupation. Everything is legal now, of course, but there are buckets of knobs and transistors for the analog enthusiast.
But most things are digital, and in addition to being a consumer technology Mecca, Akihabara is the Otaku homeland. Otaku are Japanese ‘geeks’, typically boys, who are deeply into video games, manga, anime and collectables of all types.
Our first destination is a retro video game shop, that has classic games on the top floor, and dozens of used and old video games from the 90’s. You can buy a reconditioned playstation one here. The video game parlor on the top floor doesn’t have US retro games like I hoped, and is filled with second hand smoke, so we make a beeline for the exit. The other floors are fascinating.
Next up is the Mandarake collectables store, which has used collectable toys, figurines, books and anything you could possibly imagine across 7 floors. Each thing is packed tightly in a case, roughly sorted by genre and line. Hundreds of Transformers, Star Wars ( and zero Star Trek, it’s just not popular here.) and various japanese dolls. It’s a hilarious and fascinating stroll through Otaku culture.
There is a mysterious floor for hantai and anime porn, which I skip being in the company of two innocent girls. Given that this kind of stuff (see picture) was in the ‘regular’ areas I was probably better off not knowing. ewww. The doll area is also creepy.
In good Creekmore fashion, we get kicked out of an arcade. We went up the escalator of a big arcade, myself in the lead, and a security person grabs Emma and Lily before I could get off. They actually put them on the street outside, and it took me a few minutes to get back to them. I still don’t know what was so bad – maybe there was pachinko gambling or something. Mostly I saw claw games.
We get some french fries at McDonalds and laugh about how Lily always gets taken by security. Japan is a hoot.