Thursday, 26 February 2015

東京 | Tokyo (1) - PKMN, Kyary, & Shibuya

Our first proper day in Tokyo! Looking back on it to write this, I didn't realise just how much we managed to cram into one day. In my mind I'd definitely spread these out over two different days, haha. So I'll apologise now for the sheer volume of this post, I'm too lazy to split it into two! >.<

First stop was some form of breakfast, and considering Ann-Marie and I were up and ready earlier than expected, and we had to wait for Tom to turn up (he was staying in a capsule hotel for the first few days) we headed out and bought some strange-looking things from the nearby 7-11.

In Korea, buying food isn't too much of an adventure anymore, because I can at least read the label and guess at what it might taste like. I can determine if I should expect vegetables, chicken, beef, fish, or anything else. But I can't read Japanese. Sure, I'd saved a hiragana and katakana chart to my phone, but when you're hungry and just want to grab something, spending 20 minutes poring over small charts searching for each individual character then hoping it's a word you know isn't the most appealing option.

So, up for an exciting food morning, we grabbed the most unusual and mysterious things we could find, including a radioactively-pink croissant and a few random onigiri. The onigiri were great, as you'd hope, and after a little effort, and mostly thanks to Ann-Marie's studies, we managed to read the description on the croissant. Apparently it was a "strawberry croissant". It was certainly interesting...and very sweet.

We waited by the station for Tom to turn up and then headed further into Ikebukuro to visit the Sunshine 60 building. I'm not going to lie, the main motivation for our visit was this:

The world's largest Pokemon Center. No I'm not "too old for that stuff". :p
It was absolutely PACKED. There was a queue to get in that doubled in on itself twice, and there was barely room to breathe once you got in (hence the lack of photos). From the abundance of people of all ages lurking around every free space outside and even trying to play whilst INSIDE the mass of bodies, it was safe to say there was an event on.

Thankfully I'd recently started Pokemon X and always bring my DS to Japan (mmm those sweet, sweet street passes!) and bagged myself a shiny Charizard and a special Pikachu.

Shrieking sweet nothings into the past at our 8-year-old selves, we all shuffled around grabbing various figurines and plush toys. It was quite funny to see a group of 23-year-olds suffering from intense internal debate over things like:
"Should I get this Torchic? But I love Squirtle..."
"I could buy this Fletchling plush...but it's the same price as these little figs of Meowth, Pikachu, AND Lucario..."
"Do I really need a Pikachu pencil case and 3 different kinds of Pokemon-adorned notebooks? And this hat? And keychain? And lunchbox set? And driving gloves? Who am I kidding, of course I do."

In the end I came away with my Fletchling, a little Absol, and my obligatory Pokemon Center coin.

The Sunshine 60 building is also famous for its observatory deck. Towering high above most of the rest of Tokyo, at 60 storeys it was the tallest in Japan up until 1991 (and was the tallest in Asia for a while, until Seoul went and outdid them by 3 storeys).

After buying your admission ticket to the top floor, you enter a lift. Rather terrifyingly, the lights turn off as you start whizzing up, but they're soon replaced with a cute array of glow-in-the-dark stars that I think were activated by a blacklight.

Top speed of 600m per MINUTE. Horrifying. I'm glad it doesn't have windows.
The weather was incredible and gave us really gorgeous views of Tokyo. It really lives up to its title of "metropolitan prefecture", with the unmistakable hi-rise skyline stretching literally as far as the eye could see in every direction. It's a little overwhelming, actually.

The bright windows and darker interior allowed for some really cool silhouetted photos, which I'm a bit obsessed with at the moment.

After looping round to our heart's desire, we decided to move on for lunch, which we ended up having in the Sunshine 60 food court at an Indian restaurant. The man was definitely from the right part of the world, and he assured us it was authentically Indian curry, but it had been changed to suit the Japanese palate for sure. It tasted very much like a Japanese curry. I'm not complaining though, because it was incredible, and there was a LOT.

obligatory photos of my friends looking disgruntled as I stop them from eating in order to take photos.

After that, we hopped onto the subway and sped towards our next mission for the day: The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu museum. It was in the trendy Roppongi Hills area, at the umu hall attached to the TV Asahi building.

For anyone unaware, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the most adorable, colourful and eccentric pop star in existence, haha. You may have seen the video for her song Pon Pon Pon, which was doing the "wtf?" rounds on the internet a little while ago.

Lady Gaga eat your heart out ;p (I enjoy both, no harsh, bro)

Anyway, Nick, Ann-Marie and I were excited to visit this little exhibit of all the outfits and props that featured in her music videos and maybe her stage shows. Even the bright and cutesy exterior, complete with TV screen playing her videos on loop and a staff member dancing along to usher us in, couldn't really have prepared me for the adorable visual assault that was about to happen.

Well, actually, this was the first terrifying thing we saw.
After one of the staff members' cute explanation of how to enjoy the interactive displays (you give an electronic lollipop to Pamyurin, a sort of mutant rabbit, and things happen) we were pushed through a curtain into something that I imagine would be the result of a scientific experiment involving Tim Burton, Lady Gaga, a large pile of sweets and maybe some Chemical X.

Almost all of the outfits rotate on little podiums so you can see them from all angles and really appreciate the creativity involved in making them. Kyary's back catalogue was being pumped in via hidden speakers and generally it was both adorable and exhausting to look at. There's a lot of energy in everything KPP seems to do. Maybe I'm just lazy.

The interactive exhibits usually just activated some animatronics or turned on some lights in a hidden display, which was cute and fun, but the novelty wore off after a while and I was happier just appreciating the displays.

There were a few 'windows' dotted around where you stick your head in to see yourself "wearing" the costume via a mirror, and a conveniently hidden second window to poke your camera into. Very fun!

The other great thing about the exhibition is that, because they're all the actual clothes Kyary wore, you get an idea of just how tiny she actually is. She's minuscule. It's adorable.

A lovely lady offered to take a photo of us on my polaroid, but I haven't scanned it so here's an excellent of  mine and Hobbit's bromodachi life.
"pretend you like each other" "uh"
While we waited to be reunited with the rest of our party, we explored the area around TV Asahi, which has a lot of cute lights and a pond full of SPACE FISH. Well. Descendants of space fish. Well. Fish that were born in space from Earth fish. So technically they're just Earth fish. But they have relatives that lived in space and THAT'S COOL, OKAY.

Most dramatic game of D&D ever.

Tokyo Tower! #foreshadowing
Once we were reunited, we had a wander and found a little shrine, which was exciting, and we got a paper fortune. After realising it would be in Japanese and we'd have no way of knowing if it was a good or bad fortune, we tied it to a nearby tree anyway, as it already had several other fortunes attached to it.

After that, someone (me) had the bright idea of WALKING to Shibuya. Sure, it's only about a 40 minute walk, but imagine how much less time and effort it would take to get the subway?

Anyway it was a really lovely walk and simple enough, and finally we emerged victorious in Shibuya. Now me, being a huge nerd and unashamed Japanophile got very excited for this next bit.

The Shibuya Crossing.
All 5 strands of it. The busiest intersection in the world. A weirdly iconic Tokyo landmark. All the lights and sounds I'd always dreamed of. THE SHIBUYA 109. (The World Ended With Me ;p)

I'm crossing the road in Shibuya! At the Shibuya Crossing! I'M SO STOKED.
Sadly, we were too hungry to get into one of the higher up buildings to take some photos of the crossing from above, but I did see the window of the Starbucks that overlooks it. There's a bar that runs along the entirety of it, and every seat is filled, and in front of each person is a camera. So funny.

Basically, I'll have to just come back to Tokyo to take a photo some day. Oh no, what a shame(!)

We ended up heading to one of the restaurants I'd tentatively added to my 'hit list', Uobei.

An interesting take on the usual conveyor belt sushi restaurant.
There was a long queue, so I assume this place is actually really popular with locals and tourists alike. I'm not surprised, considering the dirt-cheap prices, nice taste, and efficient service.

Ordering is simple, and even without the English option I think this place would be very suitable for people that don't speak Japanese. We were split into two groups (girls vs boys) because it was busy, but each person is given a numbered seat at a bar, and their own touchscreen module hanging just above eye level.

The food options and sections are clearly labelled, but even without that the pictures are clear and easy to understand. Then, you just choose up to 3 dishes you want, and click go.

Running along the bar are two little monorails that disappear into a little hole in the distance that I like to assume is full of cute little sushi-making robots or a sort of Star Trek-eque materialiser. In actual fact I think it's more likely a kitchen full of humans.

After a few minutes, or even seconds, there's a whizzing noise, and a little tray of food speeds towards you on one of the rails, and stops neatly in front of you. Simple again. Take the plate from the tray, press one of 3 yellow buttons now flashing pleasantly at you, and the tray whizzes off again ready for its next job.

It's very cute, and very...Japanese? Not to generalise too much, but it's a great example of the sort of fast, efficient quality that we've come to expect of Japan in the West.

We ordered a lot of sushi.

Of course we had to try the "hamburger sushi", 2 cooked and chilled patties with a dollop of cheese and burger sauce. Hmm.
Uobei also serves a lot of side dishes and drinks, Western and Japanese style. What with it being Ann-Marie's birthday, the two of us decided to "splash out" and buy some sake. Although at something like ¥400 (about £2) each, I wouldn't really call it that when you can pay upwards of £10-15 at home for a bottle that could only be a little bigger and not as tasty.

When I say everything here is dirt-cheap, I mean it's super cheap. Nothing on the menu that I could find was more than ¥500 (about £3), and almost all of the sushi was ¥150 or less (about 80p) for 2-6 pieces. You'd pay at least twice that at home for 2-4 and it wouldn't taste as nice!

Because of the low, low price, it allowed for some more adventurous sushi sampling that we might have been more inclined to avoid at a more expensive place here or at home. The painful price of not having a clue what you're eating! It was so addictive that we ended up setting a budget of about ¥2000, which still got us plates and plates of great sushi, as well as a few alcoholic drinks! Not to mention the free green tea that you can brew yourself. Very filling for very little money!

We kept ordering things where we had no idea what it would taste like. This *was* a video of  my reaction to a particularly unsavoury-looking piece of maki. Thanks, Google.
We eventually hit our respective budget limits (thankfully saving me from the dilemma of "do I get a slice of cake or fries? The answer is neither.") and paid up, again very simply. You press a few buttons that send a message to the cashier saying your booth is finished, take your little "receipt" ledger to them and pay. The only other time I had to interact with staff was when they delivered drinks, and then my only concern was to not thank them in Korean out of habit. Minimal human interaction! \o/

After paying, we decided to call it a day and went our separate ways one more time (actually, we might have visited a few more arcades and shops first.)

It was at this point, halfway through buying our tickets home, that I remembered that Shibuya is where the statue of Hachiko is, and I'd be damned if I was going to miss a photo op with this adorable pup. Thankfully, he's a popular attraction and Japan is adorable, so there were pawprint stickers all over the floor leading up to the exit right opposite the famous meeting place.

Considering we were all tired and a bit bedraggled, I didn't force anyone into my original intention of a cheesy friend group Polaroid to avow our undying dedication to each other in photo format. But I did take a photo of Ann-Marie looking happysad in front of him because of the bittersweet story.

Back in Ikebukuro, we didn't have to worry about transport or being late to the ryokan (the doors aren't locked until around 2am) so we sent out Ann-Marie's birthday with a bang at a karaoke house.

It was a bit confusing and awkward at first, but then we got everything sorted and were bundled into a little room with one wall that was mostly window, giving a really nice view out over the busy Ikebukuro station area. I'd chosen Karaoke Kan because I'd heard they give you unlimited drinks for your time, but wasn't sure if this was true. We definitely got given a free pitcher of some sort of alcoholic drink, but weren't sure if any further orders would incur an extra charge. And weren't sure how to ask. But the price was pretty low, so we assumed the extra charge would happen.

Anyway, after fumbling around poking at the very next-gen karaoke console (no bible of song numbers or Magic Mic here! All on a WiiU-esque handheld touchpad!) located underneath the TV, a man appeared with our drink and glasses, and explained to us (in mostly hand gestures and noises) how to use it. Turns out you pick it up and it comes out of standby mode. Then you, surprise surprise, touch the touchscreen and select "English". Occam's Razor much.

We belted out a few classics, Ann-Marie and I discovered we had a shared guilty love of Taylor Swift's Blank Space after I jokingly added it to the list, and failed to sing it in any way resembling the song. After deciding we weren't nearly drunk enough to be making the most of our one hour, we took a few exaggerated photos (see above) and tried to pick up the vibe of the people in the rooms around us (that had taken great joy in drunkenly trying to practice their English on us during the cramped elevator ride. They were very excited to learn we were from England and even more so when we said a word or two in Japanese).

To my horror, we received a phone call on the phone you use to order more drinks. Uh.
I wonder if they speak Korean.
Anyway, considering I don't know how to say that in Japanese and he didn't know English, I told him I wasn't very good at Japanese. Kindly, he slowly explained (I think) that our time was almost up and did we want another drink? Yes, I said, panicking. What did we want, he asked? I picked something at random off the menu we'd been given and he went away.

I feel like everyone else was a little confused that, through the party lighting and loud karaoke, all my friends had seen was me furiously talking in Japanese after insisting I didn't know any.
I don't know how I managed it. Maybe it was the sake. Maybe I just imagined it.

Either way, the man appeared at the little door with another flagon of drink, which we obligingly took, and there was no extra charge, so now I'm a little disappointed.

We left our spoils from the Kyary museum under the table and rushed back. Thankfully, this is Nice Japan and someone had handed it back to the reception, at which point we bonded a little after one of the staff started singing one of her songs to us and we joined in. Yay music!

If you've made it this far through this post, either you're a family member or a really good friend, so thank you for sticking with me. I promise you the rest of the days weren't this burnout packed, and consequent posts will be shorter!

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