I went to Tokyo! After years of importing and licensing games from half a world a way, I was able to visit in person. I’ll talk about my time at Tokyo Game Market itself tomorrow, but today I’m going to ramble for a while about all of the other parts of the trip.
I chose to fly into Haneda airport, as it was closer to the city, and I could easily take a train to my hotel. I say “train” here, but I want to call out that I’m not being specific enough. There’ll be a lot to discuss about when language went well and when it didn’t, but the one which didn’t stop surprising me was my casual and insufficiently specific use of the word “train”.
The train system in Tokyo is extensive and convenient and delightful and addicting. But locally, I think, more of a distinction is made between when you’re on the subway versus the monorail versus a train. To me, a person who lives in a much smaller and less dense city with limited public transit or regional rail access, they are all “trains”.
I expected this trip would be an ideal use for the app Citymapper, a Google Maps’ type competitor which does a stellar job of integrating different public transit options, but Tokyo seemed to be on some sort of premium plan, and all of my prep pointed me to Google Maps -and that turned out to be correct. There was one small hiccup in getting to my hotel, when I accidentally got on an express train and missed my transfer, but the clarity of subway signage and app information made it seamless afterwards.
Each subway stop tends to have a letter or two and a number, encircled by a color. It took me just a bit to figure out the best way to determine which direction to get on the train – but it was there in Maps’ all along: it shows you the platform number. For the over-planner, it also has information on ideal cars to board for future exits and transfers, as well as station exits for walking to your eventual destination.
An example of the kind of signage which was on every car – showing which car you’re on, where you’re headed, where doors will open, and the exit infrastructure at the next stop and which one to use for which exit.
These digital signs in the train cards would rotate, and here’s an example of one which caused a moment of panic a few times. As I said, train stations are numbered. I got on this train thinking I was headed to G-13, but couldn’t figure out why it was going to stop 1 and then 3, 5, 7…but that row is how many minutes until the stop listed below it.
My hotel was in the bay, and a 500m walk to the entrance of Tokyo Big Sight, where Game Market is traditionally held, but it wasn’t the most convenient location for general Tokyo adventures. The city keeps…unexpected hours. Many things, such as coffee shops, may not open until 10 or 11 AM, and the trains stop around midnight. So staying in the bay meant that if I was going to rely on the trains, my curfew was going to be a bit earlier than I might otherwise make it. (Though walking back from Big Sight would be a huge help on Saturday and Sunday – both days I also went back part way through the day to drop things off and take a quick rest.) My hotel choice meant an extra transfer and extra time. There wasn’t much walkable from the hotel other than the train station, a handful of convenience stores (“conbini”), and Big Sight, but those first two seemed to be walkable from any location in Tokyo. I’m in the midst of planning where I’ll stay in May, and optimizing hotel location as it comes to accessibility to different train lines is the current puzzle.
There won’t be too many pictures of my room itself, a fairly routine affair. When booking rooms at Tokyo hotels, you seem to have some options around the square footage of the room you want, not just the western hotel menu: 2 Queens, 1 King, or a Suite? The bathtub was in a sub-room off of the toilet area – there wasn’t a shower per se, and, well, here’s a photo of my height compared to the height of the door into the bathtub room (including a Monikers card from a tall friend who also had some height issues on a trip to Japan!) There are similar photos of my height and subway car doors.
My luggage returned full -more on that tomorrow- but it also made the trip there pretty stuffed; an immediate step once I arrived was to unpack. Something I left out of my preparation post was the discussion of the omiyage I would be taking. The gift and souvenir culture of Japan is focused on prepackaged food, native to your area. There… isn’t much which fits that criteria for where I’m from, but after discussing with a few friends, I was steered towards anything from Trader Joe’s -and I would be able to get bags which at least had the location on them, even if the food wouldn’t be too local. You can see a few other items mixed in below, but all this (including the green bag), I brought over in my checked bag, and wouldn’t be making the return trip. I brought bags for everyone I felt like I owed for their help and friendship over the years and those I’d helped sign games from – announced and unannounced.
The person who got that brown bag with the polka dots, without knowing I already had it, also gave me the Trader Joe’s tip on Saturday morning!
The best food omiyage I received was this “butter butler” cookie. Outstanding! 😋
The first night I met with a friend from college who was from Tokyo and whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. We met outside of Shinjuku station, known as the world’s busiest train station, and there was a bit of immediate shock. I had only been in the country a few hours, and currently my expectations of the crowd, the pace, and what is a train station was being formed by the relatively sparse and spartan stations in the bay by my hotel. Shinjuku was…not that! I haven’t (yet) spent enough time in the busy stations to really add much color, but so many of them were like malls or department stores. I just wanted to stop and explore, but this wasn’t the trip for that.
Together, we got on a different train, and rode a few stops to the neighborhood of the sushi restaurant she had picked out for us. I don’t know its name and couldn’t tell you how to get back there. We exited the station, walked down the block, turned down an alley, then another, then another, and there it was. I say “alley”, but that may not be the right word either. I’m going to drop a link here to the 99% Invisible podcast episode about “First Errand”, which is in turn about Netflix’s show My First Errand; it talks about how Japanese neighborhoods are organized and the emphasis put on walking over driving. It’s the key to understanding the streets which seemed like narrow alleys.
The restaurant was superb! It was one of those 6 seat sushi bar type establishments. It would share a few attributes with many of the meals I would eat – I couldn’t have navigated the meal without a bilingual guide, my diet was almost exclusively fish and caffeine, the default tea order was oolong, surprise at my relatively deft use of chopsticks, and passing food down to see what the American will eat. It had a few unique aspects too, as while we sat at the bar, we were often having conversation with the whole restaurant and not exclusively our party – so a bit more explaining about what brought me to Tokyo was in order (compared to private group dinners with industry friends).
What I didn’t encounter, the whole trip, was so much of what the Japanese travel guides I read had prepared me for – such as etiquette tips about pouring and refilling others’ water glasses with the table water, but not your own, or that there would be plastic reproductions of the food on the menu out front, or a concern about there not being napkins. I never saw water – and refills were also not a given as they generally are when I dine out at home. The plastic food I did see, but only in the most touristy sections. The napkin piece turned out to be moot, as every restaurant brought hot towels and you kept them throughout the meal – it was a much superior napkin!
I didn’t take a photo of everything we ate, but there are some photos below. (It wouldn’t really hit me until a sushi meal in Dallas the next month, but this was my first introduction to sushi with a small dollop of garnish on the top and I am here for it!) The dish in the lower right was something the chef improvised after we tried to order a dish he was out of – and would be one of the greatest things I ate while there.
My priority the next mornings was to visit Akihabara. I’ve been exploring the used treasures of Suruga-ya from abroad for years, but Yellow Submarine’s online listing of used titles is somewhat limited. What would the experience of exploring these shops be like in person?
Just as with coffee shops, they wouldn’t open until much later in the morning, so I spent some time just walking and exploring. (This isn’t the best place in the narrative to get into it, but “walking and exploring” is sort of slang for “go into the nearest conbini and see what kind of snacks there are.”)
What I did find open was arcades. Ah, how much fun! Full immersive Denshade Go!! machines, some wildly creative rhythm games, and change machines! Haha, my ATM plan didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to, but it was easy to take your 10,000 yen bill to the change machine, read the sign which said it would give me nine 1,000 bills, a 500 yen coin and five 100 yen coins. Perfect! And while I needed the 100 yen coins for a friend’s souvenirs and I coveted the 1,000 bills for providing exact change at Game Market… well, it couldn’t hurt to blow a few of the 100 yens coins on playing some video games right?
It. Did. Not. I put a coin in the Taiko no Tatsujin machine (the drumming one you see below) and I was hooked. I couldn’t read the menus or understand what it was saying, but I was able to hit buttons until I got to play something. In contrast to the arcade games I remember from my youth – where you never had enough coins for how long you wanted to play, and each coin ran out much earlier than seemed reasonable….well, Taiko no Tatsujin outlasted me! I played through 3 songs or so and it was ready to give me more, but I was moving on. www
The building there on the right is one of the arcades I visited. It was nine stories tall! The individual floors were fairly small, and the elevator quite slow, but going up the side – what you may think is the fire escape (and it probably was) – served as the outdoor stairs to go between floors.
Let’s talk about this machine for a minute. This is maimai, a 10 year old rhythm game which entranced me. In addition to the buttons you see this person hitting, there are touch screen elements. It was addictive to watch skilled people play. The machines come in pairs and it was more hypnotizing to watch them do it in pairs. Later, I had a chance to try it as a duet and it reached yet another level!
One odd note here – and the real reason I included this video – is to talk about mechanical buttons in Japan. It was a subtle thing, but all machines I interacted with and buttons I pushed (ATMs, maimai games, etc.) seemed to have buttons with that reassuring click when you press them.
After some karaage snacks and bottled hot coffee, I found my way to Suruga-ya and Yellow Submarine. Both were outstanding and also sort of what I expected? A local game store in Japan isn’t that different from a local game store in Cincinnati. Yes, the specific titles were different, but largely it was what I would’ve expected.
I do want to call out two things about Yellow Submarine. On the left below, it appeared to have a few endcaps of consignment games – for the smallest of doujin publishers, and on the right, the small box used bins. While the titles at Suruga-ya were all familiar to me, there were several titles I bought at Yellow Submarine which I hadn’t seen before – and others I took photos of to explore further. The long tail selection of titles at the Yellow Submarine location was impressive.
Here’s a Suruga-ya not to go to! Well, at least not if you’re looking for board games. Another thing I thought I was prepared for, but wasn’t… as I explored Akihabara that morning I found 3 or 4 different Suruga-ya locations – with each floor of each location specializing in a different type of merchandise.
This is the right one! Not the first floor, that’s where they buy things (and you can’t sell without a local ID), but the second floor there is the board game floor!
Japan is a cash-heavy society. Transactions seem to take place with either cash or your train (IC) card, but uncommonly credit card. (Vending machines, convenience stores, etc. will all take your train card – which you can only load with cash!) For my trip, I had a coin-sink – that friend which needed 100 yen coins for an arcade machine. But when every piece of currency $5 or less is a coin, what is a local to do with all of their coins?
I’m including this here in the Akihabara section, but it was pervasive (you can spot another bank of these at a train station further down), and I imagine the arcades are another good coin sink to the economy. Anyway, gachapon is this type of collectible-plastic-toy vending machine – typically costing 300 to 400 yen, and notably something you can’t pay with an IC card for. There are generally tubs you can leave the plastic capsule in to be recycled. The Haba one here is outside a Sugorokuya location and the birds are outdoors at the conbini by the train station stop for my hotel. I saw three notable lines on the Saturday of Game Market and one of them was for the Cat in the Box gachapon.
Afterwards I walked a bit to hit up a shop on the outskirts of Akihabara which I’d long wanted to visit, the Usono Tobacco shop – which is not a tobacco shop at all – but rather a playing card store set up to sell packs of playing cards as if they were cigarettes. (Bonus, you get a shot of some of the cute tiny cars which were everywhere and always made me smile!) I didn’t end up buying anything, but they had some of my favorite decks, like Odd Bods, and an open pack of each, so I got to feel the Fournier’s – which I would’ve bought, but I didn’t like the color they had in stock.
A friend had recommended a local okonomiyaki restaurant to me in this neighborhood (and there’s one more food stop in the area influencing this foray), so I stopped by there. It didn’t allow photography inside, so you can have this shot of me outside of it.
(One aside about this neighborhood. This was the only part of the trip I had phone reception trouble. I did not get a local SIM card or a portable wifi device as most guides suggested; rather, I relied on my usual cell provider, Google Fi, to provide local coverage and it worked excellently.)
This was a traditional no-shoes, sit-on-tatami-mats restaurant, where you cooked your own savory pancake. I tried to conduct the whole experience in Japanese, but didn’t get too far. Most obviously, the host realized the odds of my speaking Japanese was slim, so as soon as I walked in, she was talking to me in English. When she came to take my order, I tried to place it in Japanese – and did! Often on my trip my interactions would get this far – I think through and practice what I need to say and am able to form the sentence and say it. But they fall apart at the next step – if there are any follow up questions, I’m never prepared to hear or respond to them. So here, I ordered some tea, and she was going to ask if I wanted hot or cold, and I tried to respond in Japanese again – and while she understood what I meant, I later realized I made another mistake here – I used a word for the wrong type of cold! I said cold as in the weather outside, not cold as in I would like drink over ice.
I’ve seen a lot of photos over the years of folks lined up to get into Big Sight for Spring and Autumn Game Markets, and I was expecting colder weather than I got. The locals around me generally had coats on and did seem to think it was a bit chilly, but I might have worn shorts if I’d brought them! Yes, ice in my tea. Yes, trips mid-Game Market back to my hotel to cool down. And yes, an ice cream stop!
Here I am at Suzukien Asakusa, a short walk from lunch. (These short walks are starting to add up – Akihabara to Usono to lunch to ice cream – we’re up to 2.5 miles) In the front row of the ice cream counter there are 7 different levels of matcha you can order and the back row is further tea flavors – such as the genmaicha I have in the bottom of my cone.
It was great! A bit crowded, and one of the times when you started to feel a sense of where you might want to avoid when tourism picks up more. I had a visa for this trip, and while tourism was not allowed when I booked it, by the time the trip was upon me, tourism had re-opened and there was a sense of foreshadowing. For other places, such as Shinjuku Station, I’m probably not ready for what those crowds will look like in May.
That evening I would head to the Nakano area for dinner and games with a few friends, but on a recommendation from Leon, stopped by Nakano Broadway first, a sort of shopping mall which is not dissimilar from the otaku oriented scene of Akihabara, with stores specializing in vintage and current items from geek culture. Just as many stores open later than I would expect, they close earlier too, so most of the Broadway shops were closing up as I arrived. I will note the Mandrake store below for it’s board game selection. It was a crowded store, stacked floor to above the ceiling, and with aisles so narrow I had trouble fitting down them!
I walked nearby for dinner at a tempura restaurant we had agreed upon in advance – another piece worth touching on – it’s tricky to meet up with people! I saw both local and tourists frequently checking their phone for directions and orienteering. It is a dense, vertical city, with a unique address system. I’m a “5 minutes early is on time” and “on time is late” kind of person, which worked out well! I initially went to the wrong place for dinner, but it was in the neighborhood, a few alley turns away. (A later meetup would take quite some time – despite coordinating that we would meet in front of a certain department store by a certain numbered station exit -we just couldn’t find each other!)
The tempura was great. I was dining with 4 friends and sort of let them choose what we ate. There was a menu on the table, but as with many of the restaurants I ate at, the menu is mostly hanging up around the room in large print wooden placards. There was a humorous moment when I asked if something was on the menu, and everyone looked around the room at different places on the walls to see if it was there.
One person was discussing the…fragrant ginkgo blossoms which many of us are accustomed to during certain times of the year. (The world only has one extant species in the ginkgoales plant order – so when you discuss ginkgo trees, it’s all the same plant.) The conversation took an unexpected turn towards eating the fruit/nuts of the ginkgo tree, so at first I thought something was being lost in translation. Sure, maybe there’s a manga where that happens. Or maybe this is a joke we’re playing on the American about local traditions. I largely dismissed it – until the bowl of brown nuts, in the bottom center above, arrived on the table: roasted ginkgo nuts! Once shelled and peeled, you ate the grape looking item in the lower right above. It was…odd. I had a few, of them, but am not really sure how to describe the taste or the texture. The flavor was somewhat absent, and the texture something of a soft nut. It would be the oddest thing I ate on my trip. (With ‘macaroni and mayonnaise’ taking the prize for the most unpleasant thing I ate.)
After dinner, we went to Flow Chart, a board game bar in the neighborhood.
Flow Chart was glorious. It is quite small – with a bar and maybe two tables. It is down a series of alleys, and into a basement. But the selection of games was outstanding. Um Reifenbreite, Strike, and two copies of Fische Fluppen Frikadellen. Marble Bobsleigh and Notre Dame. Encyclopaedist and Kyaraokoshi. Connect 37 and 4.5 Tatami Mat Galaxy. But also a copy of every Taiki Shinzawa game – including rarities like Poor Potter. My taste in games and the Flow Chart library almost entirely overlap.
I had a chance to play one game which had just come out and one which would be released on Saturday at Game Market. Both of which were excellent, but more on those at a later date. It was a magical evening – and one cut too short by the ride I would need to take back to my hotel.
Board games may be my current passion, but there was a time when that was ceramics -which is how I found myself in Taito City one morning, headed down this street – whose large chef roof ornament and tea cup balconies let you know you’re entering the prime shopping area for kitchen and restaurant supply.
As we’ve covered, not too much is open before 10 or 11 AM, so once again, many things were not open. (In case you were worried, I have a prime bakery picked out which opens at 7 AM for my trip in May.) But I passed endless blocks of shops I could have spent the day in. The shop I was deadset on making it to, Komatsuya, was open (this trip wasn’t without some planning!) You can see it on the lower left there below.
As with a few other shops I stopped by, there was usually a staff member who spoke English, and several signs to tell the foreign shopper that they could wrap items and ship internationally – which perhaps I should have taken them up on. You can see on the lower right the ceramic items I came home with. The “Cat in the Box” mug was something I reserved and picked up at Game Market, but the other two were from the Kappabashi area. The one on the left from a different store, but the one in the middle is from Komatsuya and is a true delight.
What you can’t see in detail in the Komatsuya photo is a singular shelf on the back left wall, behind where the person is sitting at their desk. Almost everything I wanted to buy from the shop was on that shelf – and not for sale! He explained to me that this shelf was templates and samples for restaurants to order custom tea cups, and you could see restaurant names and telephone numbers on some of them. He did sell me the, well…blank, lightly-celadon’ed one in the center below and it’s astonishing each time I drink from it. The feel in my hand, the bulbous lip…it’s perfect.
I was…an Awkward American for much of my time in Taito City. I was planning for the day, as my hotel wouldn’t be convenient enough for a mid-day stop, so I had a large bag with me which had my omiyage for an event that afternoon, a Japon Brand party where designers would be showing off their releases for the next day (and some still under development) to domestic and foreign publishers. It would be my first chance to meet some designer(s) I’d helped sign contracts with, others with whom I’ve had a virtual relationship for many years but not met in person, and a time to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, like Smoox.
But my large bag and shops like Komatsuya were not a good match! So many of the shops in Tokyo had aisles which were a tight fit without my bag, and certainly not an enjoyable browse with it. Sometime during my forays at the first store I went in it finally occurred to me to simply ask if I could leave my bag somewhere. I had just remembered that property crime in Tokyo is negligible, and I should be fine simply setting my bag down somewhere out of the way and going about my shopping – and I was!
Here’s another shot from that neighborhood of a row of un-secured bicycles. There is more regulation around bicycles in Tokyo than at home – closer to cars, where things need to be registered and insured. The trip was a study in contrasts – gone was the noise and individual freedom centered society of home; this was a culture centered around collective good and harmonious relationships with others. Several times I saw someone drop something and crowds would scramble to help pick up whatever it was and return it to its owner.
Somewhat still on the topic of transportation, tactile pavement was pervasive. It was at the train stations, on the major streets and the minor streets. Outdoors and indoors.
Ground navigation tools were also there visually. On the left and right below are different train platform markings for stations where more than one train (such as express and local) were using the same platform. This was very helpful!
More….interesting(?) ground markings? The footprints on the ground in this elevator, politely requesting you face the corner! www
This elevator was the first place I tried to attend the Japon Brand party event on Friday afternoon. I was headed to a co-working space where I thought the event was scheduled – but I had the wrong location. Back down the elevator, back to the train, and a short ride later…and I still couldn’t find it! Haha, right block, wrong building. Then right building, wrong entrance.
But I found it. :)
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s sort of what I described above. Different designers bring the games which will be released the next day at Game Market, such as “Line Up Cambria” and “OPEN” shown below, as well as prototypes not yet released. They play them with each other, domestic publishers, and foreign publishers. In one area they live streamed designers providing overviews to YouTube.
Learning games wasn’t always the easiest – given the language barrier – but there were often enough helpers around. Moreover, games formed a sort of mutual language we all understood; many times games could be demonstrated physically in a way which communicated their rules.
Afterwards, I went with a few friends to what is likely the most touristy meal I had, dinner at Zauo, a restaurant where you have to catch your own fish! There were a number of fish to choose from – and possibly a different type of pole – and when you caught one, you brought it to the staff who weighed it, asked how you wanted it prepared, and took it to the chef. I caught, err… “caught” three fish I think, but all wriggled free before I could contain them, so I helped eat the fish my more talented friends caught.
One cultural dining piece to cover here is something I’m still mastering: how to say you’re full. I know _how_ to say I am full, but not quite _when_ in the course of a meal. Heck, at many of these meals I wasn’t sure when there was still food which had been ordered and simply not arrived. This was a trip of more shared plate meals than I’m accustomed – and I enjoyed that. But I got the sense a few times that unless I said I was full, we’d eat until the kitchen ran out of food! (We did run one izakaya out of oolong. wwww) I’m noting this “full” piece here, as while the people I was dining with all spoke English, sometimes the staff assisting with our fishing forays did not. One friend was trying to communicate that perhaps the fish were not biting because they were full, but the message was getting lost –until I realized I could say the fish were full just as I’d been practicing saying I was full.
The next day was Game Market, and, well, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s post to hear how that went. Sunday was Game Market too; see also, tomorrow’s post. Saturday and Sunday evenings were dinner with friends, again both new and old, but I’m not going to say much about them.
It was an interesting trip in that regard. I knew that as a culture Japan values their privacy in a way that is foreign to me – so many of the friends I would meet, I did not (and do not) know their real names and had never seen a photo of them. It’s also a culture of not standing out – something I felt came across in the city’s paucity of a recognizable skyline (save for Skytree). You could feel it in how quiet the neighborhoods were as you walked from the tobacco shop to the ice cream shop (save for a nationalist caravan).
One thing did jump out at me about Sunday dinner (aside from my shoes not fitting in the locker by the entrance) -a friend’s interjection when someone asked what I did for a living. The friend noted that I didn’t have to answer such a question – and it hadn’t occurred to me until then that I also didn’t know what most of them do for a living, as this is also seen as private information. I come from a culture where that’s among the first things you’d ask someone upon meeting them.
Anyway, it was a marvelous time, and as I went through the gates at the train station that night and said bye to some of my new friends, I broke down crying, not for the first time that weekend, at how happy and welcomed and full my heart was.
But now it was time to leave.
I checked out of my hotel Monday, but had specifically scheduled a flight later in the day so that I wouldn’t be rushed this morning. The plan was to meet up with some friends for a ramen lunch, head to a game cafe for some play, and then the airport.
This is a travel blog, so you know you’re going to get some #OpionionatedLogistics and this time it is about luggage storage. The larger Tokyo train stations have extensive banks of storage lockers, which take cash or your IC card (and with an IC card you won’t need to remember a certain code to get things back out).
But which station to use? The Shinagawa station was central (enough) to both my trip from my hotel to lunch and the future trip from lunch to the airport, so I went with that one, and took this photo in case I had trouble finding which lockers I had used! The two in the lower left by the entrance to the Blue 9 platform.
What a station! Here are a few of the things you could eat at this station, a seeming department store sized food court. Look at the little panda within a panda! When I look at the prices on those salmon meals, my mind races back to my DuoLingo lessons about getting bentos for lunch from the train station. Suddenly, in context, everything is making sense! (I’m grateful for how many times that small green owl had me practice saying “this is a souvenir from America”.)
While we’re on this #OpinionatedEaters break, it seems like a good time to review the convenience store (“conbini”) food I’ve eaten. All of my research told me how wonderful the conbini food options would be, but I still wasn’t prepared. This broccoli? Available fresh most hours of the day. Cannele ice cream bar? The ice cream “novelties” were available in so many fun flavors! (Also, canneles were much more common than at home.) They weren’t all winners – that banana lassi I couldn’t finish, same with the cheesy pistachio puffs. But the karaage (fried chicken) was more glorious than I could have expected every time.
I think what really made the conbini experience stand out was the hours. As I walked here and there, with no open coffee or tea shop in sight for hours, or maybe already closed, a conbini seemed to appear every other block and always be open – and ready to take any form of payment. Heck, when I needed a bandaid? Conbini. Copy machine? Stationary? Uno? Conbini!
Hot beverages? They have that too. Some of those metal cans you see were hot coffee! Usually one of the cases at the conbini, which you would expect to contain refrigerated drinks, was warmed drinks. This was also something to watch out for at vending machines – a drink may have more than one (mechanical) button, but some were a cold bottle and some a warm.
And a note about why I have that picture of all of my conbini food (and my O’Hare airport snack) – there are limited public trash or recycling cans in Japan. There are typically cans inside the conbini (DuoLingo also coming through with phrases about eating your food at the conbini or getting it to go – I couldn’t have foreseen what eating _in_ the conbini would be like!) So I always had a bag with me, and kept my trash because that was the only option. I had prescouted that there were trash and recycling cans outside by my hotel, #OpinionatedLogistics, so I just kept them all until the end and took them down right after that photo.
While we’re still on an #OpinionatedEaters interlude, I want to talk about this hot dog. I’m not sure this photo does the proper job of showing you what is happening with the proportions of this hot dog – but that’s not quite the point. (This is also not the last time we’re going to talk about culture-specific hot dog things.)
But it looked familiar from the context of a Japanese game, ウリニゲセブン (“Sell Out Seven)” – a game were you are putting small pieces of wire in large chunks of clay, but thematically are miserly conbini owners trying to maximize profit and also display the most enticing hot dogs! I’ve included a photo below from the publisher/designer’s Twitter account. This type of discovery was a continual joy of the trip – making cultural connections between the Japan I had experienced from abroad and the one I was experiencing locally. When I saw my friend holding that hot dog Sunday morning, I thought “Wait! I know that hot dog!” wwwww
I did it: Before that luggage storage stop, I found a restaurant where I could have breakfast around 7 AM. One thing which is close to my hotel? The Toyosu Fish Market. For the sake of the locals involved in commerce at the market and the tourism which that attracts, a bevy of shops are open early at the fish market. Monday for breakfast I ordered the tuna sampler below and it was brilliant and exactly what I wanted.
It was also a solo dining experience where I got to practice my Japanese – and it went great! The only slight hiccup on my end was forgetting that I would need to ask for the check, and I hadn’t practiced that. I probably could have tried in English, but was able to research it on my phone and execute it in Japanese.
At this point in my trip, my change pile looks like this. Plenty of 100 yen coins saved up! I had made it to my lunch stop a bit early and had some time to kill – and found a vintage arcade in the same neighborhood!
It’s called Mikado, and apparently is so well known that when another friend asked what I was up to and I said I was at a vintage arcade, they knew the one without even knowing what part of town I was in. (Oh, and I was not in the right place after all – this was another instance of the difficulty of meeting up with people in Tokyo! I was one train stop off of our intended meeting location.)
This time I accidentally set my bag down, and when I realized much later that I was missing it, I, of course, found it right where I left it. I also blew too many 100 yen coins on that pirate barrel stabbing game and am still not sure what I was supposed to be doing!
I met up with Taylor and two local friends for a Jiro style ramen restaurant, but not a Jiro-branded shop. What an adventure! In general, I should have headed the article and probably gone somewhere else, but, well, we didn’t. Haha. You won’t get a photo of the ramen, as I couldn’t practically take a photo which properly captured the portion size or flavor – not to mention I was eating with a friend who had just designed a game about the psychological dangers of posting photos of your food on Instagram!
Ramen ordering at specific shops is…different than other types of restaurants. Near the entrance there is typically a vending machine, without photos, where you push the (mechanical) buttons corresponding to ingredients you want, put in some cash, and the machine spits out a ticket for _each_ inclusion you selected. That is, there’s no computer sending your order to the kitchen – and it isn’t even printed on a single ticket. Rather, you take a stack of tiny slips of papers to the bar and place it in a tray. What did I order? Unknown! One of my friends pushed a few more buttons than I had intended wwww
We sat at the bar, and the restaurant had a policy I hadn’t encountered before – when you finished your meal, you had to go wait outside! Taylor and I were…not going to finish ours. After we waved our white flags and joined our friends outside, another friend had come to join us and would take my place for games that afternoon, as it was time for me to depart for the airport.
In the first post I wrote about importing Japanese games several years ago, it started with a tweet from this account which tweets unusual things in hot dog buns.
Heck, look at this new one from the last few days:
I didn’t understand it then, and don’t think I do now either, but there were a few moments on the trip where I got closer! Another piece of the cultural puzzle coming into focus. This was a _thing_! You could get noodles on buns or some of the other items that account features. It was at the conbini, or even the airport vending machine as a way to draw down your IC card at the gate and get one last taste of Tokyo.
That’s it! So long from this trip.
I will leave you with one more story about the language. One of the scores of times I was riding a train I saw a woman get on, pushing a stroller, presumably with a child in it, but I didn’t see. What I did see was a stuffed animal of some sort fall between the train and platform as the stroller crossed the threshold. The mom didn’t see it. The child didn’t make a noise. No one else on the train seemed to notice. I only had seconds before the door would close and a limited grasp of the language. With determination, I thought, what can I do to help.
I stepped over, looked down into the space – and saw that it was a bear. What a relief! I can do this: “Kuma!” I said, skipping over various niceties I don’t have the reflexes for yet and cutting right to the point. See, one of my friends from the trick-taking community goes by the name “Trick Kuma” – somebody I’d only just met in person at a meal this trip. But his partner is often drawing pictures of him as a bear, and because of this I knew kuma was the word for bear, and this mother was able to thank me and get off the train before the doors closed.
What’s the sort of opposite of schadenfreude – where you feel joy because of somebody else’s good fortune? It was these moments which punctuate the memories of my trip. I can’t wait to return.