Posts Tagged ‘otaku’

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara

Posted 22 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Books, Entertainment, Gaming, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Travel


Having lived in Tokyo for over five years I should really know all there is to know about the place. But I don’t, and the place I probably know the least about is Akihabara. This once shabby district, which is five minutes from Tokyo station, has a global reputation for being the ultimate otaku paradise. While on the campaign trail former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso, a self-confessed manga geek, famously said ‘Tadaima!’ (‘I’m home!’) upon arriving in the area.

Akiba, as it’s also known, has become something of a tourist hotspot in recent years. A number of travel agents now offer guided tours that take in the delights of maid cafes, anime stores, used computer game markets and monster tentacle porn tryouts (probably). If, however, the thought of a tour bus full of other people (bleurgh!) is too much for you, White Rabbit Press’s Tokyo Realtime series might be right up your street.

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara consists of a CD, a map and a glossy little photo booklet. The CD contains an audio tour of Akihabara. To start the tour, find your way to the starting point on the map, hit “play” on your iPod/iPhone/iWhatever and away you go.

Bonus points are awarded for the map: it’s plastic, so you don’t have to worry about it disintegrating into a soggy mess on rainy days.

The audio tour includes interviews with well-known otaku, such as Danny Choo (also known as the Tokyo Stormtrooper) and Morikawa Kaichiro. Morikawa, an expert on Akihabara, is a professor at Meiji University and the author of several books, including “Learning from Akihabara”.

At the time of writing I have yet to properly put the guide through its paces, but as I’ve got some time off work next week I might cast my inhibitions aside, don my tourist hat, string a camera round my neck and get stuck in.

You can buy Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara here. Tokyo Realtime: Kabukicho is also available, though unfortunately it doesn’t contain any interviews with Nigerian bouncers, Russian hostesses or love-hotel owners. It does, however, have an interview with a rope-bondage artist.

Tokyo Realtime: Behind the scenes audio tours

The Collective Noun Challenge – Japan Edition

Posted 15 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Tokyo

English has a fantastic array of collective nouns. Here are some of my favourites:

  • a shrewdness of apes
  • a paddling of ducks
  • a superfluity of nuns
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a murmuration of starlings
  • an observance of hermits
  • a labour of moles
  • a kindle of kittens
  • a business of ferrets
  • a piteousness of doves
  • a richesse or martens

Great, aren’t they? They’re much better than a group of this or a bunch of that. It’s a shame that nobody bothers to invent new ones these days. So, here’s a little challenge for you:

Can you think of interesting collective nouns for the following Japanese words?

  • otaku
  • salarymen
  • OLs (Office Ladies)
  • tarento

Tokyo Nightlife: The Golden Gai

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Tokyo, Travel

Western television reports about Tokyo tend to focus on the ultra-modern. There will, almost without exception, be shots of Shibuya’s Hachiko crossing (above), kids dressed in epileptic-fit inducing outfits and random commuter trains zipping past a neon background. A few finishing touches are applied (the occasional fancy edit and pumping electronic backing track – preferably by Orbital) and Bob’s your uncle, Toe-key-oh!

Of course, there’s more to Tokyo than techno-wallabies, Akihabara uber-nerds, passive-aggressive identikit salarymen and whale-smoking, dolphin-slapping karaoke hostess bars. Before the Americans bombed the living daylights out of it Tokyo was an intriguing mix of ramshackle streets and wooden buildings; buildings that even then struggled to hold out against the changes that modernisation brought to the country. After the war, a few Soweto-like areas that weren’t burned to cinders became hotspots for black market trading and lady-related sauciness. Shinjuku’s ‘Golden Gai’ was one of them.

Despite the whippet-like pace of change in other entertainment districts the Golden Gai has managed to retain a sense of its old-world charm. The area is home to some 150 bars stacked on and around each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion, linked together by a grid of tiny footpaths and claustrophobic alleyways. In the 1970s it became a popular hangout for artists, writers, musicians and let’s-have-a-revolution-oh-feck-it-I’ll-kill-myself intellectual Yukio Mishima. These days you’ll find it populated by an eclectic mix of old regulars, twenty- and thirty-something white-collar workers and random tourists who read about it in a Lonely Planet travel guide.

Finding a decent bar in the Golden Gai is like a game of Russian roulette, only without the spattering of brains on the wall (Tip: do it on the beach and let the crabs clean up). A lot of places are filled with regulars who like to keep things… well…regular. For this reason you’ll find that most bars charge a fee – typically around JPY1000 – just for the exalted privilege of entering. It’s the kind of twattish bag-of-wank practice that makes bar-hopping a bit of a non-starter, but if you’re feeling flush and fancy something different then forget about the price and get stuck in. After all, you only live once… apart from my mate Cecil: he’s on his fourth life. The government know about it, but it’s all kept very hush-hush.

If you really do need to reign in the expenses then it’s Imperative (yep, with a capital “I”) that you apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:

  1. Stick your head through a promising-looking door.
  2. Ask the barman/barmaid how much it’ll cost you to drink there.
  3. Scan the bar and weigh up the clientele. Do they look like the kind of people you want to drink with? (Remember: these bars are the size of a garden shed, and conversation is INEVITABLE.) Is there the possibility of something interesting happening? Kabuki theatre performed by a cete of impeccably-groomed badgers, for example?
  4. Apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
    Cost ≤ Entertainment Value = Enter the bar (c≤ev=e)
    Cost > Entertainment Value = Leg it (c>ev=l)
  5. If you’re with your mates you’ll have to pool your calculations and put it to a vote. (Adopt first-past-the-post voting methods: don’t try to seek consensus on the issue, otherwise you’ll end up walking around for hours on end.)

Finding the Golden Gai is as easy as slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing your head open. Come out of Shinjuku station’s Kabukicho Exit and walk straight down (and I mean down as in the street that slopes slightly downwards) until you get to Yasukuni Dori. You’ll know you’re on Yasukuni Dori when you see this:


View Untitled in a larger map

Head up Yasukuni Dori for about five minutes. Both sides of the street are packed with shops and restaurants. After a few minutes you’ll spot a Mr Donuts (a cafe, not an actual man that looks like a doughnut) on the left-hand side. To the right of Mr Donuts is a small footpath shrouded by trees and the homeless. This, laydees and gentlemice, is the gateway to the Golden Gai. Only the penitent man will pass, so don’t forget to kneel when you hear the buzzing of circular saws coming out of the walls. Here it is on a map:


View Golden Gai, Shinjuku in a larger map

The best time to visit the Golden Gai is Friday or Saturday nights, preferably after 10pm, and after you’ve already had a few drinkypoos. If you’re thinking about getting a late-night train back to your home/hotel, forget it: accept the fact that you’ll be out until 5am (when the first trains start running) or paying for a taxi and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.