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Sega Joypolis

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It was our last day in Tokyo. Although we weren’t leaving until the early evening, we had finished packing by 10am and found ourselves with time to kill. Should we go see one last museum? Take a leisurely farewell stroll through our favorite neighborhood? Or… should we scarf down a final fix of ramen and spend our last couple hours in Tokyo playing video games? Sega Joypolis, here we come!

Joypolis Tokyo

Honestly, I’m amazed that we held off on visiting Joypolis for so long. From the moment we saw this arcade/theme park in the Decks Mall on Odaiba Island, I’d been obsessed. Video games, thrill rides, electronics, haunted houses, music, wonderful Japanese weirdness… Joypolis didn’t just press all our buttons, it mashed on them like a frustrated noob playing Tekken. “Patience,” we told ourselves. “If we survive 91 days in Tokyo, Joypolis will be our reward.”

It was as fun as we had hoped. The place is out of control, with some of the craziest arcade games I’ve ever seen. The first one we tried was Halfpipe Tokyo, a snowboarding simulator that’s equal parts roller coaster and rhythm game. You’re strapped in with your partner and then sent screaming from side to side, twisting in the air as you crest the halfpipe. You’re supposed to tilt your board when you’re in the middle of the ramp, and you score points for how accurately you do so. It’s hard! Four teams race at the same time, and Jürgen and I finished third.

Our performance didn’t improve in the next game, Veil of Dark, a zombie-shooting roller coaster. You’re strapped into a car, given a laser gun, and then progress slowly through a tunnel. Screens pop up in front of you, and you have to shoot monsters. After the final battle, the screen lifts and the car is propelled with unbelievable force into a roller-coaster that zips around the compact quarters of Joypolis. At the end, you get your scores: I finished last, and Jürgen second-to-last.

Joypolis Tokyo

These are the two biggest attractions at Joypolis, but there are many, many others. We played a bobsled game in which you’re rotated 360° (we actually won this one). There are car simulators, rides in which you seem to soar through the air, track-and-field competitions, a “fantasy forest” which tells your future (I’m apparently due for some good lovin’), quiz games, and a number of horror-themed attractions.

Jürgen has a serious aversion to anything resembling a haunted house, so I had to venture into Sadako 3D alone. I was asked to play the role of an photojournalist, investigating grisly crime scenes and taking pictures of the horrific things I saw. As I walked down a long hallway, looking for bloody clues, the lights started flickering and I heard a noise like shuffling behind me. My stomach sinking, I turned around. At the other end of the hall was a long-haired freak lady, straight out of The Ring. Then the lights went totally out, and I heard her approaching… when the lights came back on, she was right in front of me, dead eyes peering from behind her hair, hands reaching toward my neck. Screaming, I ran away.

Joypolis is great fun, and offers more than enough to fill an entire day. We had to leave before even getting to play with half the stuff, and I would have loved a second go at Halfpipe Tokyo or Veil of Dark. As you might expect, the place isn’t cheap; after paying an entrance fee, you have to pay individually for each ride. This adds up quickly, so it’s usually smarter to pony up for the flat-rate “passport,” allowing you to ride anything you want as often as you want. We had made up the cost of the passport within two hours.

This wasn’t the most profound or traditional way to spend our final hours in Tokyo, but we had an absolute blast in Joypolis. And so I suppose it was appropriate: if one sentiment defined our three months in this city, it was “crazy fun.” And as far as crazy fun goes, Joypolis is hard to top.

Location on our Map
Sega Joypolis – Website

Sonic the Hedgehog Speed Energy Drink

Joypolis Tokyo
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July 14, 2014 at 6:32 am Comments (0)

Why Is Tokyo So Cute?

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The Cute is everywhere in Tokyo, and you’re not going to escape it. You shouldn’t even try. This is a city with fluffy animals on every corner. Where buses prowl the streets disguised as pandas. Where every corporation and even the police force have their own charming mascot. The Cute cannot be avoided, so you might as well embrace it.

Cute Tokyo

Cuteness is so pervasive in Japanese society that there’s even a term for it: Kawaii. Kawaii encompasses everything from mascots, to girls talking in exaggeratedly-affected voices, to boys shaving their legs, to cosplay fashion and cutesy stickers and Pikachu and making hearts with your hands and countless other obnoxiously darling mannerisms.

The nationwide obsession with cute can be infantilizing (the police mascot Pipo-kun seems especially frivolous, and there’s nothing more irritating than a 25-year-old woman blathering on like a toddler) but on the whole, we like kawaii. Cute things make people happy, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to maximize that.

-Cute Toys From Japan And The USA

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July 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm Comments (6)

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

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The most popular spa in Tokyo is found on Odaiba Island. The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari isn’t cheap, but it offers more than just hot baths. While inside, you can dine at a variety of restaurants, sleep in a capsule hotel, watch TV, or enjoy the festive atmosphere in a hall designed to evoke Old Edo.

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

After paying at the front desk, we were asked to pick out a yukata: a traditional robe which we’d be wearing throughout our stay in the spa. But for the first hour, our yukatas were to be left folded inside the locker… along with the rest of our clothing. It was time to get naked. The bathing rooms of Japanese spas are sex-segregated, no-clothing zones.

Luckily, we had been acclimated to the Wonderful World of Male Asian Nudity during our time in Korea, which has a similar spa culture. At our first such experience in Busan, I had been shy, but after visiting a few spas, I eventually became accustomed to it. And today, I have no problem running around naked in front of total strangers. (See, Mom? See how travel has helped me grow?)

So where were we? Oh yes, naked in the bathing room. In Japan, it’s important to be exquisitely clean before entering communal pools, so we sat down on stools in the shower stalls, and scrubbed ourselves thoroughly with soap and water. And now we could enter the hall. There were a couple tubs of piping hot water, one that was extremely cold, an inferno-like sauna which I could tolerate for only a couple minutes, and an outdoor pool of pleasantly warm water.

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

After our bodies felt sufficiently relaxed, we donned our yukatas and returned to the main hall of the spa, where a traditional neighborhood has been re-constructed around an artificial stream. We took a tea break in the tatami room, and then went into a outside garden for the foot baths. Gingerly, we stepped into a pond whose floor consisted of rocks of varying sizes, designed to massage your feet as you walk through. This was painful, but after emerging, my feet really did feel like new.

Unfortunately, the foot-torture was just beginning. The Ooedo Onsen also has (at additional cost) a tank full of Garra rufa fish, a kind of small Turkish carp that loves to eat dead skin. We paid for fifteen minutes, and sat down at the tank. As soon as I submerged my feet, they were covered in fish. It felt weird as they nibbled away my detritus, like mild electric shocks. Jürgen loved it, but this was not for me, and I had to quit before our time had expired.

We finished our day with a long nap in the “relaxation room,” where at least a hundred cushiony black recliners were lined up, each with a personal television. I flipped around for a couple minutes, but soon fell into a deep sleep. After waking, we took our leave of the Ooedo Onsen, totally refreshed, with cleaned bodies, relaxed muscles, nibbled feet and lightened wallets. Though a few hours had been enough for us, you’re allowed to stay for the whole day, and I imagine most visitors do.

Weird Japanese Health And Beauty Products

Location on our Map

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
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July 8, 2014 at 6:09 am Comment (1)

The Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa

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The best known of Tokyo’s Shinto festivals is surely the Sanja Matsuri, based in and around the Sensō-ji Temple. For three days in late May, the streets of Asakusa transform into a wildly drunken party zone. We braved the throngs on Sunday, which is the festival’s main day.

Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa

The Sanja Matsuri is among the most joyfully wanton religious parties we’ve ever seen. People don’t come to solemnly observe scripture, but to go nuts in celebration of their culture. The action centers around the Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, and its three movable shrines. On Sunday morning, these shrines are brought out of the temple, and groups representing various neighborhoods fight (sometimes violently) for the honor of carrying them.

We arrived in Asakusa shortly after lunch, by which time the streets were already packed with revelers, a good percentage of whom were completely wasted. And we immediately took note of the outfit for men: a short robe over white cloth diapers. To walk around like that, a certain level of inebriation surely helps.

The Sanja Matsuri is meant to honor the three founders of the temple: the fisher brothers who discovered the icon of the Bodhisttava Kannon in the river, and the lord who enshrined it, thus establishing Sensō-ji in 628. But for all practical purposes, it’s just an excuse to have a good time. The crowds around the temple ebb and flow with the appearance of a shrine… whether it’s one of the main three, or one of the many smaller shrines also making the rounds.

The festival is fun, but overwhelming. We followed the crowds, watching sweaty, shrine-carrying groups of guys and girls fight their way down the street. Even kids got in on the act, hoisting their own miniature shrines. We walked toward the temple and saw geishas playing musical instruments, as well as a group of people wearing traditional wooden masks. And after a couple hours, we’d had enough. This is largely a locals-only event, where the celebrating is done by groups of neighbors and friends, and we were neither Japanese nor drunk enough to get into the spirit. It’s an amazing experience, though, and if you happen to be in Tokyo on the third weekend in May, one that shouldn’t be missed.

Location on our Map

Strange Japanese DIY Candy

Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
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July 7, 2014 at 6:59 am Comments (0)

The Summer Sumo Tournament

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We were lucky enough to be in Tokyo during the Summer Sumo Tournament, the Natsu Basho, and bought tickets as soon as they became available. Sumo is one of Japan’s most famous cultural products, and we were determined not to miss out.

Sumo Summer Tournament 2014 Tokyo

Six tournaments are held annually in Japan, and three of them take place in Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall, the Ryogoku Kokugikan. These tournaments last for fifteen days, run from the early morning to the evening, and involve hundreds of wrestlers in six divisions. Each day gets started with the lower-division bouts, and the crowd grows in size and excitement until the biggest stars appear at around 6pm.

In sumo, the highest rank a wrestler can achieve is yokozuna, followed by ozeki, sekiwake and maegashira. These four ranks make up the top division, the Makuuchi. The rankings are decided upon by a panel of experts, and the number of wrestlers in each class is fixed (44 in the Makuuchi Division, 28 in the Juryo Division, etc), but the number of yokozuna is variable. Once a wrestler has been named a yokozuna, it’s a title he carries for life, so on any given year, there might be zero, one, two or more. We had the chance to see three yokozuna, which is rare.

We showed up early, wanting to take full advantage of our tickets, but most spectators don’t roll into the Ryogoku Kokugikan until around 2pm, when the bouts of the Juryo and Makuuchi Divisions are scheduled to begin. These are the “pro” divisions, with the wrestlers whom the fans know by name and face: those who feature in the programs, and on collectible trading cards. They’re mostly Japanese or Mongolian, but a few come from other countries as well, such as Georgian behemoth Gagamaru, Osunaarashi from Egypt, and the Czech Republic’s small and muscular Takanoyama, who more resembles an MMA fighter than a sumo wrestler.

Sumo Summer Tournament 2014 Tokyo

I doubt there’s a spectator sport in the world in which pomp and ceremony outweigh the action by such a degree, as in sumo. For every ten seconds of wrestling, there are ten minutes of preparation: entering the ring, slapping the belly, lifting the leg, chalking the palms, and usually at least three false starts. But when a match finally does get underway, it’s usually thrilling. Contests are decided quickly, after a few seconds of these huge guys tossing each other around, balancing on the edge of the ring, and slamming into one another with unbelievable power and dexterity.

Our day at the stadium began slowly, with only a few spectators on hand for the lower-division bouts, but the attendance swelled steadily. By the time the Makuuchi wrestlers entered for their elaborate ring-entering ceremony, the atmosphere had reached a fever pitch. A group of school age girls behind us squealed in delight when a young wrestler named Endo made his entrance, and the sweet old ladies next to us roared their approval as Hakuho won his match. These guys are superstars in Japan, and a wrestler who’s achieved a high rank can live quite comfortably off endorsements and sponsorships.

If you happen to be in Tokyo during one of the tournaments hosted in the Ryokgoku Kokugikan, you should make every effort to attend. Getting tickets is tricky for non-Japanese speakers, but agencies such as BuySumoTickets.com (which we used) can assist. It’s not cheap, but this is all-day entertainment and well worth the price. I figured that we’d eventually get bored, but we were riveted by every match, and stayed glued to our seats throughout the afternoon. Sumo is one of the most unique and exciting sporting events I’ve ever attended. If I lived full-time in Japan, it’s something I could totally get into.

Location of the Ryogoku Kokugikan on our Map
Japanese Grand Sumo – Official Website

Sumo Morning Practice

Sumo Summer Tournament 2014 Tokyo
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Sumo Summer Tournament 2014 Tokyo
Sumo Summer Tournament 2014 Tokyo
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July 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm Comments (6)

Akihabara

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The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world’s first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn’t like Akihabara all that much.

Akihabara Tokyo

Akihabara was Tokyo’s original “Electronics Town,” where, in the post-war years, people could buy the newest household gadgets. It was also the first area in the city to embrace computing and so it became known as a place with a futuristic outlook. The young, geeky gamers of Tokyo congregated in Akihabara’s bars and cafes, and it developed into a natural center of otaku culture.

Otaku is a tricky term, which I’m not sure I fully understand. Basically, it’s the Japanese version of “ultra-geek,” referring to people who are maniacally obsessed with things like manga or cosplay. Like “geek,” otaku is a traditionally negative term which has come to be embraced by its community. Today, a large percentage of Japanese self-identify as otaku.

Whatever it is, we saw otaku culture at its strongest in Akihabara. We walked through the arcades where guys were playing insane games involving digitally-imprinted playing cards. We squeezed into stores to look at ridiculously expensive anime figurines, and marveled over the people actually buying them. We explored comic shops which spanned seven floors. We ambled down the streets, dazed, politely shaking our heads to every maid that tried to win our attention. Far quicker than than we had anticipated, we’d had enough: Akihabara is not for us.

I don’t know what went wrong! I consider myself rather geeky… I enjoy the occasional role-playing game, and could list off a dozen members of the Green Lantern Corps without blinking. But I’ve always kept my geekiest impulses under control, afraid what might happen should the flood gates open. In Akihabara, confronted with truly unrestrained geekery, I had solid proof that moderation is the best policy.

Akihabara Tokyo

There’s something cute about a maid cafe. There’s nothing cute about dozens of maid cafes. And there’s something downright creepy about hundreds of young girls dressed in suggestive costumes standing around on street corners. Same with the collectible card stores… who doesn’t like card games? They’re fun. But try visiting one of these shops where literally hundreds of various Magic-type card-battle games are sold. Where people will spend a fortune on a single rare card. There’s little joy to be found here, just obsession. After Akihabara, I wanted to grab a fishing pole and go sit on a lake. I wanted to spit in the dirt, and rub mud on my face.

Still, it’s a crazy area and maybe on a different day we would have enjoyed it. At any rate, Akihabara is worth seeing, and if you’re in the market for cheap electronics (or comics or games or maids), it’s probably the best place to go in Tokyo.

Location of Akihabara Station on our Map

Buy Crazy Stuff From Japan Here

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June 22, 2014 at 3:49 pm Comments (0)

Folding Paper at the Origami Kaikan

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Almost everyone knows a little about origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. But for a deeper understanding, we visited Tokyo’s Origami Kaikan (Origami Center) in Bunkyo, where we had the opportunity to learn at the feet of an ancient sensei.

Origami Kaikan

In its most pure form, origami is the art of folding a square sheet of paper. Swans, frogs and balloons are among the most well-known shapes, but there are artists who can fashion simple paper in unimaginable ways, using nothing but folds. Many architects study origami and incorporate its techniques into their designs, and it’s a popular diversion among mathematicians, who are capable of creating intricate models.

Origami has always appealed to me, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Tokyo that I allowed myself to delve into the art form. I bought a few books and stacks of paper, and created a bunch of animals and modular geometric shapes. There’s something entrancing and meditative about the process, and I suspect that I’ve found the hobby which will distract me in my old age.

Old age was certainly on my mind during our visit to the Origami Kaikan. While browsing books on the third floor of this multi-story center, we were invited to sit down at a table with a man who was over 100 years old. He was whipping out origami shapes with frightening speed, and we tried our best to copy his instruction. He spoke not a word throughout the session, though he did frequently grunt with impatience when we couldn’t keep up.

Origami Kaikan

The lesson was in creating pencils, and we learned as swiftly as possible. Our first couple pencils were clumsily-done, but fortunately the learning curve wasn’t steep; this was a simple shape, with only a few folds required, and soon we were spitting out pencils like a factory. Master’s grunts gradually softened until they almost sounded like grunts of approval.

Origami Kaikan is listed as a Cultural Treasure of the Bunkyo Ward. It’s been in existence since 1858, when it was established as a paper-making center. Paper is still produced here today, and visitors are welcomed into the studio on the fourth floor, although it was closed during our trip. The Kaikan also puts on frequent origami workshops for specific models. These sessions are mostly in Japanese, but since you’re just watching someone fold paper, that’s not a deal-breaker.

Location of the Origami Kaikan on our Map

List Of Origami Books

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June 22, 2014 at 2:16 pm Comments (3)

A Sumo Training Session

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We quietly filed into the stable and after bowing to the sensei, sat cross-legged on the ground. For the next couple hours, we were to remain as still as possible, while the sumo wrestlers of the Kitanoumi Beya Stable conducted their morning training session. Trust me, I wasn’t going to move a muscle. I wanted to avoid the attention of these behemoths by any means necessary.

Sumo Morning Practice

The summer sumo tournament was set to begin in a couple weeks, and our landlord had offered to take us to one of the morning training sessions in a nearby stable. It’s an exciting experience, but not something which tourists should try on their own. Sumo is a serious business in Japan, and the few stables which allow outsiders to watch a session do so grudgingly. Unless you have a Japanese friend who knows what they’re doing, the only way you’ll get in is with an organized tour.

After sitting down, we watched as fifteen tremendous athletes went through their morning routine. I use the word “tremendous” purposefully. These guys are of tremendous size, tremendous agility, presence and skill. I had never seen a sumo match before, but this morning we saw at least fifty sparring sessions. No ceremony, no messing around, just two giants slamming into each other, over and over.

After about an hour of watching from the sidelines, I started to pick up some things. Mass is an advantage, for sure, but the larger guy doesn’t always win. Most matches are quick, and smart wrestlers can end their bouts before their opponents even know what happened. Balance is equally important to strength, and speed is most crucial of all.

To amuse myself while watching in silence, I gave each of the wrestlers a nickname and graded them on their performance in the sparring sessions. There was the Prodigy, the Veteran, Thinker, Cannonball, Shifty, Newbie, Cream Puff, the Natural, Beauty, Sleepy and Workhorse. Prodigy was talented, while Shifty was small but clever, and usually emerged the victor. His matches with the Thinker were excellent, but he stood no chance against Cream Puff. Cannonball was great fun to watch, as round and explosive as his namesake, and the Natural looked exactly like how you’d imagine a “sumo wrestler” to look.

The training session was intense. Besides the sparring, they were forced to do exercises which would tire even a normal-sized athlete, and by the time it was all over, I felt exhausted myself. But mostly, I was hungry. I don’t know if it was watching such big guys for so long, but both Jürgen and I felt justified in marching across the street to Denny’s (yes, that Denny’s), and digging into a sumo-sized breakfast.

Read All About Sumo Wrestling

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June 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm Comments (2)

The Robot Restaurant

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It’s hard to imagine an experience more perfectly suited to Tokyo, and one less likely to exist anywhere else, than Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant. With a stage show that stretches the definition of terms like “elaborate” and “bizarre,” the restaurant has quickly become one of the city’s most popular venues.

Robot Restaurant Tokyo

We were dazzled by the Robot Restaurant from the moment we spotted it. The entire facade was illuminated in blinding LED lights, and towering lady robots with giant bouncing breasts were roving about the foyer. A band inspired by Daft Punk was rocking out behind the robots, and everything was flashing and loud and over-the-top. Sensory overload? Definitely. And we hadn’t even picked up our tickets yet. I suspected that the performance was going to be more like sensory assault.

The Robot Restaurant

Having arrived well in advance of the evening show, we passed the extra time in the restaurant’s upstairs lounge. You’ll want to do the same, because the lounge is unbelievable. It’s as though the world’s most outrageous interior designers were given crayons, glue sticks, glitter and mescalin, and told to go crazy. Everything is mirrored and shining. On every table, there’s a robot dinosaur. On the stage, a lady-band clad in metallic bikinis and angel wings is playing soft lounge music. The drinks are cheap and the vibe couldn’t be better. You and the people around you are in a place unlike anywhere any of you have ever been, and you’re all excited and giddy and talkative. It’s a bonding experience.

Now, however, it’s showtime. You and your new friends head into the underground theater, take your seats, and await the spectacle. Soon, the lights go out, the speakers switch on, and giant vehicles appear on either side of the narrow stage, ridden by ladies dressed as Amazonian war princesses from the year 3000. They’re pounding on drums, rotating around the stage, screaming and dancing to the music, and you’re just… confused. What the hell is happening? It’s hilarious, pointless, impressive and overwhelming in equal measure.

And that’s just Act One! By the end of the show, which stretches out across seven or eight acts, you’ll have perhaps seen boxing robots. Women riding huge mechanical cows. An alien-eating shark robot. Huge motorcycles and airplanes with pole-dancing lady passengers. A tank, I think. There was definitely a freedom-fighting panda. The shows change frequently, so you might see other things entirely, things which no sane human would ever be able to predict.

We had fun from the moment we entered the Robot Restaurant, and I’m not sure my brain has yet been able to process everything we saw. Almost as much as the show, we enjoyed watching the spectators sitting across from us. Without exception, they had their eyes wide open and huge smiles plastered across their faces. I’m sure it’s how we looked, too.

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Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
Robot Restaurant Tokyo
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June 13, 2014 at 9:38 am Comments (5)

Pachinko: Lost Your Money, Losing Your Mind

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You’ve been to a casino, right? The ringing sounds, the stale stench of tobacco, the confusion, the sad people so desperate to be happy? All that is familiar. But a pachinko hall takes the wholesome goodness of a casino and condenses it down to its most vile. It exaggerates the sensory overload beyond belief. ¡¡MAXIMIZES THE SOUND!! Multiplies the confusion. Doubles down on the hopelessness. And achieves the impossible, by creating a place of gambling in which I have absolutely no interest.

Well, “absolutely no interest” might be an exaggeration, because every time I walked by a ringing, dinging pachinko hall, my heart jumped; not into my throat, perhaps, but certainly esophagus-level. I’d try and peer inside through windows intentionally obscured by advertisements and opaque glass. I wasn’t tempted (no!) but if I could just get a glimpse of one of the machines, I’d be happy. Just a look, I swear. Ah look, the door is sliding open. It’s a sign! Once more into the pachinko parlor, we go.

Pachinko is the national addiction of Japan, and the number of pachinko halls in Tokyo is unbelievable. They’re everywhere. And they’re huge! Often multi-floor. Often entire buildings. On top of that, they’re usually crowded, whether it’s two in the afternoon or nine at night. Tokyo needs its pachinko, and it needs it now.

But what is pachinko? Here’s my best description, having played once and then swearing it off forever. And then having played again, because I had done some research and “figured it out.” Pachinko is a hybrid between pinball and slots. You launch tiny silver balls to the top of the board, which then bounce down an array of needles, hopefully into the correct hole. Plinko from the Price Is Right derives from it.

So far so good, but this isn’t Plinko. With a dial, you’re given control over the direction in which the balls are launched. And they launch rapidly; you don’t have control over that. At any one time, you might have a dozen silver balls plinking their way down the board. It’s impossible to keep track of, and the best you can hope for is to find a position that occasionally results in success. Unless you’re the type to easily give up, you’ll find a sweet spot and soon, a reasonable percentage of your silver balls will land.

You land a ball, you win, right? Not so fast, buddy. Now starts Round Two. Every time a ball hits the Win Hole (a horrible euphemism I may come to regret), three numbers appear on the screen in front of you and start a-spinnin’. Slots time! If all three digits match, then you win.

Or do you? I wish this was all there was to pachinko. If so, I might be able to enjoy it. But every machine has different rules. Some have trigger buttons you have to press at the right moment. Some have complicated stories which play out on the screen. Sometimes, a bar or a magic wand or a monster will appear before you, and you’re supposed to do something. Sometimes everything will start flashing red. I’m sure it all has an explanation, but since everything is being shouted at you in Japanese, there’s no way to know.

Our pachinko experiences went like this: ¥1000 into the machine. Loads of fun while the balls are launching. A ball hits! Anime faeries are dancing! The guy next to me coughs a lungful of cigarette tar into my face. I hit a 6-6-5, oh so close. Another chance… 2-4-8. Not so close. Was I supposed to hit that flashing button? Too late, my balls are out. ¥1000 down the drain after five minutes.

I stand up and stomp out of the hall. Ten seconds later, Jürgen joins me on the sidewalk, equally a loser, equally indignant. We march off into the evening, and swear off pachinko forever. Or at least until the next night.

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June 5, 2014 at 7:53 am Comments (3)

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Sega Joypolis It was our last day in Tokyo. Although we weren't leaving until the early evening, we had finished packing by 10am and found ourselves with time to kill. Should we go see one last museum? Take a leisurely farewell stroll through our favorite neighborhood? Or... should we scarf down a final fix of ramen and spend our last couple hours in Tokyo playing video games? Sega Joypolis, here we come!
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