I’m not widely travelled. If you want to know a decent fish and chip shop in the middle of Wales, I’m your man. But my first-hand experience of the world through travel is limited, outside of a school trip to Paris in my teens, which was marred somewhat by my losing my wallet, limiting what I was able to afford and do, and being kept awake at night by room-mates in the bunk bed next to mine who were wanking and sharing wanking advice with each other. Grim. So travelling outside of UK was something I’d never really done.
Anyway, Japan had always been a destination I wanted to visit. There are way, waaay too many things originating from Japan that mean a lot to me- Nintendo, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Godzilla, Dragon Quest, Pokémon… just loads of media franchises that impacted my life and continue to mean a lot to me.
Pre-pandemic, my girlfriend and I started to plan a trip to Japan. Unfortunately, days before we were due to fly, the world went into lockdown, and our three-week trip was cancelled. Japan closed their borders, and it seemed like a trip was never going to happen. However, in March 2023 after a fifteen hour flight, we found ourselves landing in Haneda, Tokyo!
Unfortunately this trip was not for as long as the previously planned three weeks, due to pandemics and wars inflating the cost of everything, including the price of flights and accommodation.
Anyway, it’s the end of my first day in Tokyo, so here are some thoughts and experiences of my first day!
Everyone is so polite here. In Heathrow airport, we were made to feel like an inconvenience at best and a criminal at worst. Staff were abrupt and unfriendly, making you feel like you were impuding on their precious time. After disembarking the plane in Japan, three people said thank you to me with seconds (I assume for disembarking) and then another man apologised to us that the walk from the plane to the check-in area was so far. Procedures for going through security were definitely far from what I was used to, requiring scans of my fingerprints and photos of my face taken. After all that was done, we left Arrivals and went into the main part of Haneda Airport, picked up a wi-fi device we’d pre-booked, and bought a couple of Hello Kitty themed Suka cards, which were pre-paid cards used to buy drinks in station vending machines, as well train tickets.
We both had our first taste of Japanese vending machines and I had a yoghurt flavour drink, although it wasn’t as thick as yoghurt drinks like Yop here in the UK.
Just off the airport was a monorail station which we needed to use to reach a station to take us to Akihabara. We were staying at Kanda, a little area about ten minutes walk from the famous Akihibara. Perhaps owing to jetlag and our inability to accurately read Japanese text, we were soon bickering over which station we had to disembark at, and when we did get off the monorail, we ended up waiting at the wrong platform.
If we weren’t hot, sweaty, loaded down with luggage and hungry, we probably would have taken these errors on our part in better stride. We ended up getting a train to Kanda, the area we were staying.
Wandering through Kanda streets really reminded me of wandering through the streets of Dobuita in the Sega Shenmue game. Despite the familiarity, it still felt totally alien to me. I’d never seen such clean streets in my life. Even builders/tradesmen (or workies as they’re known in Scotland) we passed were impeccably dressed. In UK, most workmen don’t have a uniform, perhaps aside from a fluorescent vest or coat with a company logo on. But usually their hoodies and work trousers are caked in weeks-worth of plaster and grime. Whereas in Japan they all look like they put fresh workwear on daily.
Our hotel was small but comfortable (although supposedly offering bigger rooms than many other hotels in the area). It featured a room to do laundry, which also has vending machines stocked with various cans of Japanese beverages, including beers and scotch whisky mixed with soda. Alcohol available to purchase is certainly one way to make the tedious task of washing laundry more tolerable.
After showering and changing into sweat-free clothing, we set off to explore Akihabara. On the way we found a Family Mart, which was our first encounter with a Japanese convenience store. Unlike in the UK, Japanese convenience stores nearly all feature an area to sit or a table area to eat off. Eating in the street whilst walking is rarely done. I’m unsure if that’s due to the Japanese desire to keep streets free from litter, or just because they believe food should be savoured as opposed to crammed in whilst on-the-go. Nevertheless, we ended up trying some Japanese sandwiches in the store.
I’d heard about how weirdly legendary that Japanese egg sandwiches were. However I’m able to confirm they’re all amazing, at least when compared to sandwiches sold in Spar or Tesco in the UK. They’re also very affordable with the “shrimp cutlet” sandwich costing about £2.49 which seemed a bargain for something so tasty. Post-sandwich, we carried on walking into Akihabara.
It was odd approaching Akihabara, being a place I’d seen numerous times in YouTube videos. Perhaps not on the same scale as New York’s Times Square or the huge crosswalk at Shinjuku (which I think I’ll see tomorrow or the day after) but it was still iconic enough that it felt strange to walk it.
There were only a handful of places I wanted to specifically visit in Akihibara, specifically Mandarake- a chain second-hand store specialising in everything from manga, to adult dvds, soft vinyl monsters, magical girl (Sailor Moon) and more. The other place was Golden Age Toys, a small independently owned toy shop.
I didn’t take any photos of either stores, but Mandarake had about nine floors, accessible from either metal steps on the outside of the building or an elevator inside. By the time we’d climbed up to the seventh floor, we were nearly collapsing, partly due to being tired from changing time zones, and partly because we are unfit and in our thirties.
On the whole I was disappointed with Mandarake in Akihibara. There wasn’t much of anything in there I was after, with the exception of a couple of GBA cartidges, remakes of old famicom titles (in the West we had GBA releases of NES games) some of these 8-bit re-releases were exclusive to Japan but I couldn’t remember which games were Japan exclusive, so I ended up with a handful that weren’t overly expensive.
One of the first shops we encountered in Akihibara seemed to sell video games, so we wondered in. The thing about Japan is it’s fairly conservative in many ways, and in others it’s really not. So this shop we were in, there was a stack of old and cheap Famicom titles I was flipping through. Then you turn a corner, and it’s all anime tits and dirty manga books, rubber vaginas and all sorts. Thematically it feels very mixed. Or maybe not, perhaps in Japan, the type that is a retro game enthusiast may well be the type who alsp needs dirty manga and rubber minges.
I did end up buying a few cheap Famicom Games but neglected to purchase any sex toys . The guy at the counter, using Google Translate told me he couldn’t guarantee any of the games would work as they were untested, but for what would be mere pence in UK currency it seemed worth the chance.
We also hit some of the arcades of Akihabara. Jade won a plush rabbit on a claw machine which she loved.
Finally I found Golden Age Toys, and found a glass cabinet filled with Kaiju toys from Godzilla and Ultraman, and after some issues working out the money, I came away with a couple of awesome Bullmark reproduction Ultraman monsters.
So after a long day of hauling ass around Akihibara we headed back to our hotel after picking up some new and exciting snacks from a 7/11 convenience store.
So that was the first day! We had a rough night sleeping as it was so bloody hot compared to Scotland but not enough to diminish any excitement for the second day!
Also discovered the toilet cleans your ass for you after you’ve finished, using a jet of warm water. I initially hated it, but got used to it quickly. Anyhow, I’ll commence with the rest of the week when I get chance!