My friend and I all travelled to the Asian megalopolis on the 29th of December without a whole lot planned. We knew a couple of things we wanted to do, but that was about the extent of it. If you’ve never ridden the Shinkansen (新幹線), it is one of those things you should put on your “bucket list” (or whatever you want to call it). It’s like riding in a plane, but not. You can travel about half the length of the country in about three hours and the ride is as comfortable as if you were cruising at 35,000 feet. There are restrooms on board and service carts if you’re feeling thirsty or want to grab a snack. It’s well worth the extra charge to reserve a seat on the GREEN CAR when you’re getting your tickets. It gives you a bit more leg room and free drinks.
After getting to Tokyo, we all wanted to get our own things done. Mason wanted to go to Comiket (the annual Japanese Comic Market), Fielding wanted to go to the massive camera shops in the city (how about an 8-floor building dedicated to nothing but camera paraphernalia?), and I wanted to check out some shrines. We all decided to tag along in sequence.
Without having done any research, I would venture to guess Comic Market (colloquially COMI-KET) is the largest comic/anime/manga convention in Asia. I’ve never been to COMICON in the States, but this was pretty big. There were two huge halls, each with two or three floors. There were indie-manga artists, promotional posters, books, DVD-sets, handouts, and, most of all, people. There were more people in one concentrated place than I’ve seen in a long time. Weaving your way in and out of the crowds took some strategy, as you had to follow the flow of foot traffic in the direction it was going, and some forcefulness. These fans did not care who was in their way – they just wanted to get to the bottom floor where (oh, I forgot to mention), their favorite artist would be signing autographs. Comiket is three days long and different known (and unknown) indie artists set up a booth there on different days. Fans see the schedule and plan to attend only on the days their artist is available.
It’s sheer madness. There are lines, and people everywhere. But, my favorite part of the day, was the COSPLAYers. COSPLAY is a condensed version of COStume PLAY. Not only do fans want to get autographs by their favorite artists, but they want to be the characters from their favorite series. Once we were outside in the official COSPLAY area, there were no more rules. There was a huge crowd of people taking pictures of their favorite costumes and made-up characters. They were everywhere.
We hung out and took pictures for a bit before we went back to Tokyo and enjoyed where we were staying, which was a capsule hotel!
Capsule hotels, as I understand it, came about to facilitate the influx of business men who travel far away from their home all over the country. They hotels are inexpensive, contain all the basic amenities, and are filled with capsules – small cellular units in which you can sit up or lie down – that’s it. Now, they’re popular because they’re cheaper than paying hundreds of dollars for a regular hotel in the big city and they’re right in the middle of the metropolitan area, so you don’t have to travel very far to look around.
The cells are pretty simple on the inside. They’ve got a television, a mirror, and a light. The rest of what you need (bathroom, shower/sauna, relaxation room, etc) are all on different floors. In Japan, it’s not so much a shower you’re getting than it is a small public bath, or ofuro.
New Year’s Eve itself was a blast. We all got together and bummed around town just to see what was out there and we started looking for a place to eat. Mason remembered this place he referred to as the Silent Hill Bar. The rumors were of a restaurant that served weird creepy food and whose staff would come around and scare you every hour. When we found the place, the atmosphere fit the bill, dark walls, no windows, steam coming from creaks in the wall, the sounds of chains rattling. The food was funky as well, capsules with alcohol, drinks with dry ice, and haunting names for dishes. But, we just didn’t think the scaring was going to happen. And right when we left, it did. All the lights went out, a deep scary voice drifted though the speakers and ghouls with glowing masks and ghostly outfits (under black light) rattled the chain door to our room, and reached through holes in the wall to grab us. Quite the experience! The place was called The Lock-up, and it’s a definite recommendation of mine.
As the clock drifted toward midnight, we made our way to Meiji Shrine, along with what seemed half of Tokyo. After getting off at Harajuku station, it would usually take only minutes to walk the several-hundred-yard journey to the shrine. Not on New Year’s. It’s the most popular shrine in Tokyo for the end-of-year holiday. It’s where you go to pray for health, happiness, passing of a test, traffic safety, and a good year. It’s where it takes you 15 minutes to walk 30 feet, and it was biting cold. Many dropped out because of the temperature or aching backs and feet from standing so long. I felt all the same, but had to hang on. Two and a half hours later (total distance about 300 yards) I was there. When I made it, it was a nice relief to finally be able to walk again. I made my prayers for the new year, ate some traditional azuki bean soup and mochi, and walked back to my cell.
The next two days in Tokyo were filled with more whimsical goings-on including Fielding’s towering camera store, and a five-hour journey (round trip) to the shrine of the last shogun of Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu. We took some great photos, ate some tasty festival food, and made our way back.
We came back Monday night (January 2nd, 2012), again on the GREEN CAR. What a ride. Yet, we know we didn’t even make a scratch in the surface of what there is to do in Tokyo. TONS! If you’ve wanted to come to Japan, but never made the deal, it’s time, because New Year’s Eve 2012 is going to be nutty.