Thursday, September 18, 2008

Roppongi is the Mos Eisley of Tokyo or how I started worrying that one should be dubious of EVERY club in Roppongi.

After Tea Ceremony concluded, I headed out to Roppongi, an area of town know for it's clubs and bars. I normally wouldn;t care to go to something like this, but a friend back home encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone while I was away. It sounded like good advice at the time.

I was mostly interested in seeing Tokyo Tower at night. Tokyo Tower is a red and white eiffel tower-esque structure located in Midtown Tokyo, but visible from Roppongi. I walked around and was amazed at the number of Jamaican men milling about the streets. It didn't take long for them to approach me asking if I wanted to make sexy times at their club. I soldiered on and finally found the tower. I took my pictures and was trying to figure out what to do next. That's when I remembered the advice.

I wasn't interested in going to a strip club, so I kept my eyes peeled for a bar that didn't have a gaggle of street barkers trying to pull me through the threshold of the club. I finally found a small club called Club Jazz. The sign had a graphic icon of a piano and some kanji. I decided this was probably a good compromise and went in. There was no cover charge or doorman, just a small stage with a piano and lots of couples talking and having a good time. One such couple was in a booth right as I entered and they were at it pretty hot and heavy. Like in National Lampoon's European Vacation, I thought he was going to pork her right there.

I ordered a beer and waited for the music to start. As I sat at the bar, the bartender pointed to a japanese girl at the other end of the bar and said "why don't you buy her a drink?" Since my beer only cost $2, I said sure. The bartender went to talk to her and she came over. I asked her what she wanted to drink and she said "Wine." So I asked the barkeep for a glass of wine. We attempted to make small talk, but her English was pretty broken. I think she said she was from Osaka and I never caught her name. She said something about where I was from and if i saw anything I liked here. I told her the Ghibli Museum was pretty cool. She mumbled some other small talk at me, but seeing as how I could barely hear her, let alone understand her, I turned my gaze to people watching. Some of these couples were getting pretty frisky. It was then that Osaka said "Why don't you buy a bottle of champagne?" and proceeded to grab my junk.

Now the pieces had locked into place. The guy I thought was going to pork his companion was now getting a blow job. I told Osaka thanks, but no thanks and asked to close my tab. The bartender said I owed $30 for the wine, $20 for the introduction and $2 for my beer. I tried in vain to explain that's not what I thought was going on, but he obviously didn't care/had heard it all before. I paid and got up to leave. As I was leaving that crappy not-jazz Norah Jones song started playing over the PA and a chunky blonde with no top was writhing on the piano I had expected jazz to come out of.

I think the moral of the story is that there are no Clubs in Roppongi that aren't Gentleman's Clubs. At least that's the understanding I'm going to operate under from now on.

You've been served (Tea, formally)

so i did other stuff today. It rained. I Went to Shinjuku. Bought some stuff. Oh - Joe sent me directions to a local Old School Traditional Japanese Game store, in hopes I could find a Tehonbiki set for myself. I went and found it no problem. is directions were flawless. They didn't quite have what i wanted, but i bought a set anyways, just to have one.

Afterwards, I returned to the Andon and took a dip in the jacuzzi again. My back is killing me and soaking in the hot water seems to help a little. Afterwards i promptly fell asleep. when I awoke, it was already 6:45. I had signed up for the Japanese Tea Ceremony at the hotel and it started at 6:30! I ran out to the restaurant and there were already 6 people and the teacher sitting back on their feet ready for the ceremony to begin. I apologized for being late and sat down. Since I was late, I didn't really know what was going on. They had already started a little into it. I soon found out I was in the first chair and would be the first to have to mimic the teacher's moves. I was very nervous when the teacher got up, looked at me and said "your turn." I had not been watching as though I would have to do it myself. I got up and traded him seats. I sat in front of the water and tea and what not and proceeded to do as much as I could remember. Everyone once and a while, I would hear the teacher say very good under his breath. After I finished serving my classmate, he said Excellent! Very Very Good! Shen the next student went. She had to be reminded of many of the intricate steps. When she finished the teacher said "well done." Not to toot my own tea serving horn, but I was late to class and did the best. Suck it, Megatron! I am the tea ceremoniest!

Pemagrin at Ghibli Museum and Gaming in Japan

So I thankfully had the foresight to buy tickets to the Ghibli Museum before my trip while I was still in LA. I had to drive to Mitsuwa in Torrence, and the first time, I didn't know I needed my passport to buy the ticket, so I had to make the trip twice. If you are contemplating coming to Tokyo and are any kind of interested in feeling like a kid again, I highly suggest getting tickets to the museum beforehand. I have it on good authority that the museum still regularly sells out. Some locals I met with later in the evening were shocked and awed that I had been able to get in to the museum as they had all still never been. Besides guaranteeing you entrance, the voucher frm the US also allows you to go whenever you want. Normal tickets bought in Japan are for a 1 hour time slot, and if you miss that window, you're S.O.L.

When I entered the museum grounds, I was struck by the craftsmanship of not only the architecture, but of the greenery as well. Tall grass loped over the edge of the roof of one of the buildings as other vegetation partly obscured the view of a giant robot from Laputa. The interior of the Totoro Entrance is a very homey all wooden staircase and handrails leading to the front desk. The receptionist took my voucher (and, by the way, did not require to see my passport for verification. Hrumpf, Torrance Mitsuwa, I've got my eye on you!) and handed me an English map and a movie ticket. Now this was no ordinary movie ticket. No, it was a thick cardboard frame (600 GSM is my guess for those in the know) holding 3 frames of animation. Again, it's those little touches that made the whole experience more awesome.

The first room I saw was a zoetrope room. A zoetrope is an old animation device. Basically, artwork is drown on a thin long strip of paper. The artwork has to create a loop, that is it has no definite beginning nor end - a character walking is a perfect example. The artwork is then placed in the zoetrope with the artwork facing the inside of the wheel. For mental reference, think of a cylinder with thin vertical slits equally spaced out and you've got yourself a zoetrope. Once the artwork is loaded into the zoetrope, you spin it around it's center point and look through the slits at the artwork. A combination of the motion and your brain's persistence of vision makes the artwork appear to be animated. In short you brain sees the artwork then a blank frame of the wheel, then the artwork and so on. Your brain translates the blank frame followed by new artwork as a step in the animation cycle and fills in the missing information, thus giving you a fully animated sequence.

First in view was a Laputa Robot surounded by birds taking flight. What was awesome about this was the robot was a 3D sculpture that was slowly turning clockwise as the birds were a clear ring of acetate rotating counter clockwise. Instead of encasing the whole aparatus in a zoetrope, the blank frames were created by quickly flashing a strobe light as the acetate cylinder of birds flying artwork spun around.

This was nothing compared to what I saw next. There was a massive Totoro 3D Zoetrope a little further into the room. The scene takes place around a giant oak tree. At the foot of the tree, white rabbits weave and dance around two girls jumping rope. A little further back is Totoro himself jumping up and down. Behind Totoro very close to the trunk of te tree is another girl riding a unicycle. Flying around the tree clockwise is the Catbus (sans balls - if you didn't catch it or have never seen Totoro, the Catbus jumps over the camera at some point and is anatomically correct!) and above him flying counter clockwise is a bat. Now remember all of these are 3D sculptures. I wasn't able to count, but let's say there are at least 20 frames in the animation. That means there are 20 slightly different sculpts of each character to give the whole thing life once it spins up and the strobe light hits it.

It is at this point I should mention you cannot take pictures inside the museum. BOO. I am adding a youtube video that someone else shot so you can see this for yourself.

I saw a video of it prior to seeing it with my own eyes and I will say it doesn't spoil or diminish anything. seeing it in person is too amazing to be ruined by anything like a blurry youtube vid. It really must be seen in person to fully grasp the beauty.

After the zoetrope room, I headed up a super narrow spiral staircase to the third floor. I was instantly greeted by a 1/2 sized catbus. Unfortunately, you could be taller than this to ride this ride. Clearly made for kids and thankfully the kids I saw were enjoying themselves immensely.

I headed outside to a little patio. There were fish skeleton benches with little hand cranks where the eyes should be. There was also a laputa inspired water fountain and a green metal spiral staircase leading to the roof. Heading up the staircase lead me to come face-to-knee with the aforementioned laputa robot. After exploring the roof and taking plenty of pictures while I could, I headed downstairs to see how long the line to the café was. When I asked the hostess how long it would be she only answered "hours."

I had nothing else to do that day and figured I may never come back to the museum, so why not wait in line? Like everything else about this museum, it was totally worth it. Waiting in line, I was passed a menu to peruse in hopes of expediting my dining experience inside. However, the menu was only in japanese, so I took some pictures of it an passedit along. The wait was close to 2 hours. Once I got seated at the bar, I was given a photocopy of the menu with hand written english in the margins. I ordered a Looking at sky through the clouds as a drink and the pancake sandwich as my lunch. I had no idea what either of these were, and figured again, I may never do this again. The drink was gorgeous. A sky blue elixir of soda water with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream floating on top, and garnished with a straw made from an actual reed - as in a plant! When I stirred the drink, the ice cream melted/foamed and actually looked like clouds in the sky. On top of looking wonderful, it tasted even better. My sandwich was a deep fried vegetable medley patty topped with sauteed enoki mushrooms and a light cream sauce all lodged between 2 whole wheat pancakes. It too was delicious. I really wanted to order a slice of strawberry cake, but I as too full to even think of getting one.

After finishing lunch, I continued exploring the second floor. Located on this floor was what I imagine is an exact replication of Studio Ghibli's animation studio. As well as what I'm guessing i s Hayao Miyazaki's study. Books and drawings and little models were strewn about and it really felt as though I was snooping though someone's private belongings.

Also on this floor was this month's special exhibit Le Petit Lourve. Yep, a mini Lourve. Impressive as all get out, but I couldn't see the point honestly. It's not as though someone repainted all those great masterpieces to scale. They were digital copies.

Now having finished the museum, all I had left was to see whatever the übercool movie ticket got me into. I headed downstairs to the ground floor and presented my ticket to the usher. She confirmed that sitting on the stairs was ok with me and stamped my ticket. Inside was a delightful little theatre with beautifully carved decorations culminating in a moon and a sun smiling at one another in the center of the ceiling. The lights dimmed and the projector fired up. I was astonished to see an orignal Ghibli short named The day I bought a Planet. It wasn't subtitled in english, but I got the gist of it. A young farmer boy on the way to sell his enormous onions at the market has his bike breakdown. An anthropomorphic Frog and Mole are sitting on the side of the road when he breaks down. The frog offers a seed in exchange for a couple slices of giant onion the boy picks a bright blue crystal from a case. When he returns home from the market, he plants it and waters it. The next day, above the pot he planted the seed in is a floating dirt ball being orbited by 2 moon-like crystals. The boy takes a spoonful of water and brings it close to the dirtball. The dirt ball's own gravitational field pulls the water off the spoon and soaks it into the dirt ball. Next the boy gets a spray bottle and mists the planet. Again, the gravitational field contains the mist and creates an atmosphere. The return to sleep and when he awakens the next day, the planet is teeming with life. At this point the film it takes a turn for the exposition and loses me. The farmer boy has moved to a Los Angeles circa 2019 a la Blade Runner and the anthropomorphic Frog and Mole land on his roof in a flying trolley car. Talking ensues and they take off to get his planet. So maybe I don't get the whole gist of it, bt I do know it was cool looking and I doubt i'd have a chance to see it otherwise. Having checked everything off the list of things to do at the museum, I headed home.

It's at this point I feel obligated to report that the night before i was chatting with my friend Nate Beeler. He was just in japan in february and said if I didn't have any plans tonight, that I could head over to Yellow Submarine, a local board game store in Akihabara. Tanaka-san has a weekly game night there and an active member on boardgamegeek, Joe was friendly enough to bring Nate to the game night when he was here. Nate gives me Joe's address and directions to the store.

After a quick dip in the jacuzzi at the hotel after the museum, I head out to Akihabara. I've got Nate's directions and Joe's cellphone number and a map, so I feel pretty confident I can find the shop.

I exit following the directions. It' supposed to only be a couple blocks from the train station assuming you come out the right exit. I either don't come out the right exit or depending on what train line you come in on, the same named exit is in a slightly different place. After walking for about 10 minutes, I declare that I am lost. I already know the map is useless to me, so I resort to calling Joe. Joe's happy enough to come get me where I am and escort me to the store.

Yellow Submarine #2 is located on the 7th floor of a building that looks more like an apartment complex than retail environment. Nevertheless, when Joe leads me inside, I am shocked at the size of the store. Space is a premium in Tokyo, which is why so many buildings opt for vertical expansion rather than horizontal. The store is a long skinny bowling alley of a room. 2/3 of it is store x selling anything from monopoly to keltis. There's a strong
German game section as well as an area for wargames ad rpgs s well as simple card games and ccgs. The other 1/3 are tables available for open gaming. There are about 12 cafeteria style tables and chairs in this part of the room and more than half of them are occupied by players. I instantly see people playing games like gemblo, burn rate and some traditional japanese game. Joe informs me the game is called Tehonbiki and is an old school yakuza/gambling game.

The rules seemed simple enough. The dealer has 6 blocks of wood with numbers 1 - 6 painted on them. All players have a hand of 6 cards also numbered 1 - 6. The dealer secretly picks his card. All other players ante up and make their pick, trying to guess what number the dealer has picked. If you're right, you get the pot, if you're all wrong. The house collects. There is no restriction as to what number the dealer can pick. Play 15 rounds and change dealer, at least in a friendly we all still have all of our pinkys kind of game.

Once that game finishes, Tanaka-san asks if I play german style games. I now tell the i'm a game designer for Mattel. They ask what games I've designed and I tell them mostly licensed stuff - Batman, Sponge Bob, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc. They nod

We sit down and play Kunstmarkt, or Art Market. It's a farly simple game where players are art dealers trying to amass the most money by game end. there are pieces of art for sale and each piece of art has some different attributes, like country of origin, type of painting, genre, size, date and fame ranking. There are also Customer cards. these represent people the players are selling their art to. The Customers have specific wants. Generally there are 2 criteria that have to be met. For example, Customer A wants Landscapes and of all available Landscapes, he wants the oldest one. Also listed on the bottom of the Customer Cards is how much they are willing to pay for said artwork.

So on your turn, you can do 1 of 3 things.

1) buy a piece of artwork. pay the money to the bank

2) draw a customer card

3) play a customer card from your hand.

Playing a customer card is basically asking each player in turn clockwise from the active player to show one of their pieces of art work that matches the criteria of the Customer. Whomever meets the requirements the best gets paid.

Game end when any of the following occur:

1) All the artwork has been bought

2) All the customer cards have been drawn

3) A Player Amasses some amount of money that no one was close to and I forget the amount anyways.

We played a full game, ending right before the shop had to close for the evening. Tanaka-san won via a tie breaker. A very nice game.

After Gaming, a group of about 10 of us went to get Sushi at a local department store. I know, sounds weird, but it was perfectly fine. Before dinner, Joe had us stop at the toys and game floor of the department store. He knew I was looking for a Hanafuda deck and thought they might have it here. They did, I bought a deck manufactured by Nintendo. Little Known Fact - Nintendo started out as a traditional playing card company. They still make Standard Poker decks and Hanafuda decks as well.

At dinner, we talked about anime, Zombie Movies and board games. Tanaka-san asked if I ever designed German-style games and I said I made 2. Voltage and Desert Bazaar. It was hard to believe, but their eyes lit up when they heard the names. They actually had heard of the games, so that was kinda cool. After we finished eating, I opened another game I got at the department store, Simpei. I was told it's a traditional Japanese abstract game. It's basically Advanced Tic Tac Toe. It's unfortunately kind of difficult to explain in just words and I'm too tired to try it now. maybe later i'll write it up so i don't forget how to play myself!

So a productive 2nd day in Tokyo. Playing games, even if it was just A single game was kind of perfect. It was fun seeing how we could communicate through the language of gaming faster than trying to translate and interpret each others' words. It has made this trip feel even more like something I needed to do for myself. What can I say, I love gaming with good people...

Joe invited me to play more games at his place on Friday, so I might do that as I've spent more money than I thought I would and fear that exploring will lead to more spending! That and gaming is fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Later That Evening...

So After a little downtime in the cool Air Conditioned Bliss of my hotel room, I decided to head out again. It was about 6PM and I figured I should find some dinner. I decided to check out Shibuya, a district known for it's GIANT crosswalk and as the hip fashion center for Japanese youth.

Well Known Fact: the giant crosswalk is named Hachiko. It's really amazing, you may remember it from such films as Lost in Translation or Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off! Tons of people are crossing EVERY time the crossing light turns green I have no idea where all these people are going or how they got there. As I siddled up the first time, the crossing light had just turned red. The crowd in the intersection thinned and I was fairly alone on my side of the street. Ass traffic resumed, I suddenly felt surrounded. Looking around, I realized I was enveloped in a sea of humanity. The light turned green and everyone starts crossing, It's like the most chaotic game of Red Rover ever.

Now, the part I find interesting is there is another story about a different Hachiko, but also taking place in Akihabara. Now, I may have the finer details wrong, but a nice man told me this much as I took photographs of a statue of a dog not far from the crosswalk with the same name.

The story goes like this. Somewhere in the black mining hills of
Akihabara, there live a little dog named Hachiko. Hachiko would walk every day to the train station to meet his owner at the end of the work day. Like clockwork, the dog would be waiting at the station for it's owner. Then one day the owner died. For seven years following the death of his owner, Hachiko would return to the station at the end of the day loyally to wait in vain. It's such a touching story that when the dog finally passed away, it was big national news and they built a monument to the dogs loyalty in the form of a statue.

I'm not sure the cross walk and the dog have anything to do with one another, but I'd like to think so...

Anyway, back to Shibuya. So everyone told me I had to come to Shibuya and make it at night. I had no idea why until I got here. Shibya is the hip fashion capitol of Tokyo. It's endless rows and walkways of clothing stores. If your a girl looking to spend some hard earned Yen on some fashion, Shibuya is where to come. If your a guy, Shibuya is where to come to get an eyeful, and let me tell you, the girls are dressed to kill. This was a Monday night, mind you, and girls were dressed like it was time to go clubbing at the hottest club that clubbing kids club at. Many of them wore improbably short skirts and thigh high stockings (a look I whole heartedly hope makes it to the states) - skirts so short they were practically giving it away for free. Oddly enough, the guys in Shibuya look like guys anywhere else in the world. Jeans and T-shirts - still cool looking, but not in the same class as the ladies.

I made my way into 109, an 8 floor building filled with boutiques of all types. It wasn't clear to me if 109 was a department store, or just the name of the building as every little fashion nook inside had it's own name and cash register. Anyway, I entered wondering if there was any men's fashion to be had. I basically made a circular pattern from the escalator around the floor seeing what I could see. Around the 3rd floor, I realized I was one of the few men in the whole building - the others that were there were in the presence of a fashionable gal. So it seemed pretty obvious that there was not a men's department, but by this point I didn't care, there were hot Japanese girl's milling about. If you're single (or just want to ogle) Japanese girl's I give 109 high marks.

After looking at other shops, ones with men's fashions, I found myself aimlessly wandering. I had no agenda and no destination, so I would just turn whichever way down whichever street. There's really no better way to guarantee getting lost then not paying attention and hopelessly turning at every intersection. I did happen across a very cool looking shrine. I took some pictures and headed out. I suddenly realized tht the bustle and din of the huge crowds had faded to silence. I was actually alone somehow. I wandered a bit back the way I came, or the way I thought I came and quickly realized I had no idea where I was or how to get back to the Train Station. It was like a scene out of a zombie movie. The night grew quiet, the air grew still and the streets were morbidly empty. It was then that I noticed I was in a graveyard of Love Hotels.

A Love Hotel is a hotel that charges either by the 2 hour block or the overnight block. Think what you may, but I don't believe the main focus of these hotels is to aid the prostitution racket. I believe it's because privacy is at a premium. Even in my hotel, the walls a way thinner than I would believe or am comfortable with. So for a few hundred yen, you and your significant other can check in to the posh confines of a Love Hotel. Some of them are just like a normal hotel, bed, desk, bathroom, etc. and some are themed! I saw Moroccan and Egyptian themed ones as well as ones that specialize in CosPlay. I couldn't make out the squiggles on the sign, but there was clearly an image of a white plug suit from Evangelion and the english word costume on the sign. Alas it was too dark to take a good picture, that and the fear of being lost in an empty area of town with not being able to read signs or speak the language led my mind to race. There were dark silhouettes aprroaching me from ahead. Was I going to get mugged? How safe is this part of Shibuya at night for a foreigner? I picked up the pce and briskly walked straight in a direction. Every once and awhile I would come across another lonely soul and every time, I wondered how I let myself get lost. Luckily, the little winding road I was on dumped me out onto the main street with some stores I recognized.

I wandered around a little, trying to regain my calm. I finally came across a ramen house. I decided to go in and get a bowl of noodles. This was a traditional styled restaurant. Wood stools in front of the wood bar and the chef handing you your order over the divider. I went to sit down and a lady came up and spoke quickly in Japanese. I said I didn't understand and she pointed behind me. In the front corner of the restaurant, there was a vending machine. each button showed a different dish and had a price attached to it. Oddly this is how I was to order.

I handed the receipt from the machine over and took my seat waiting. In less than 5 minutes, my food was ready. Now I can't tell you the finer points of what I ordered as I ordered based on picture alone. I do know this - it was egg noodles in a miso broth with green onions, bamboo, a slice of pork and 1 sheet of nori (seaweed paper) as garnish. Let me tell you, in this unassuming hole in the wall ramen shop in Akihabara, I had the best bowl of ramen I'd ever consumed (and we have some pretty fine ramen in LA). It's like they really know what they are doing over here. My only gripe was the pork was a bit dry and tough, but who knows, maybe that's exactly what I ordered.

After finishing dinner, it was close to 11PM, so I decided to head home as I had tickets to the Ghibli Museum the next day and had no idea wha time I had to be there or even how to get there.

I returned home to the Andon and checked some email and loaded some more pictures to facebook. It was then that my stomach started to ache. I thought nothing of it and went to sleep. I awoke a few hours later with a bad case of diarrhea. what an excellent way to spend a vacation...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here Comes a New Challenger!

So, I couldn't sleep last night and it wasn't due to jetlag. After my ordeal to finally find the hotel, Kayo showed me around. The Andon Ryokan is a very traditionally Japanese room - one must remove their shoes before entering their own room, tatami mats on the floor, thin futon to sleep on, yet it is very modern as well - cable internet acces in every room (alas, not wifi), TV and DVD player in room as weel and all of the plumbing is Gaijin standard, that is not just some hole in the floor. There's a jacuzzi on the 4th floor and I think laundry is available.

Once daylight broke, and thekitchen opened, I decided to start to get ready for the day. I eventually exited my room and was greeted by a very enthusiastic Kayo - it was as though the late night checking me in hadn't phased her. She asked me what I wanted for breakfast, point towards the picture menu. I opted for the $3 omelette with toast and black tea option. I was served 2 daintily constructed omelettes from a single egg. 4 triangles of HUGE toast and black tea in a little glass. I ate it all, including a second cup of tea minus 1 triangle of toast.

With a full belly, I set out to find Akihabara and hopefully an arcade with some Street Fighter IV machines. Now, I had some help here. I asked Kayo how to get to Akihabara, and my friend Tadd asked his Japanese wife Naomi where arcades could be found. Naomi was kind enough to locate an arcade in Akihabara called Club Sega. She also found me a map, but I had since found maps in Japan to be less than helpful as often times they do not show all the streets on the map. Or in the case of the 7-11 map, no streets at all! I figured I could hunt for the arcade on my own.

I got to Akihabara Station with no problems. It's a straight shot from Minowa Station, the closest station to my hotel. I exited the station and sought out the awesomeness I was promised. Upon exiting, I was assaulted by seer plainess. There was nothing extraordinary about what I saw. No maid cafes. No ellectronic stores and certainly no arcades. I hoofed it around untl I happened upon the train station again. Using it as areference point, I started in the opposite direction as my first attempt. This proved to be the way.

I found the "cool part" of Akihabara. I wandered into a few toy stores - of both the creepy adult variety and the more traditional action figure/giant robot type. A few blocks more and I found my goal; Club Sega.

I entered and looked at each of the 6 floors in search of some Street Fighter IV machines. Found a slew of them on the 3rd floor. I changed a bill into coins and siddled up to a machine. There was a young man already sitting down at a machine, so I sat next to him. He said something in Japanese and I replied “English?” He then said “Challenge!”

So I dropped my yen in the slot and fired the game up. I picked Abel, one of the new characters and he picked El Fuerte, another new character. I quickly skimmed the moves chart for Abel and the fight began. The only move I could remember was an over the top flip kick – fireball + kick. I mixed it up with some simple strikes and beat him 2 – 0. He then Picked Crimson Viper, another new Character, and again, he lost . Finally, he picked Ryu, the old stand by. I thought I might have trouble with him now, since he probably knew all of Ryu’s moves from SFII. Well, it didn't matter, he won 1 round, but I still won 2 out of the 3. While we were playing another person stood behind us. As soon I finished Ryu, the other guy said something in Japanese. The first player stood up and let the new guy take his place.

The new guy picks Zangief and i beat him 2 - 0. By this time, I'm getting bored with Abel. Now I'm not trying to use that as a crutch for what happens next, but I really wanted to try someone else out. Remember, I've only put 100 Yen in the machine once. I kept winning, but had to keep using Abel. The other guy picks Sagat and destroys me. I lose 0 - 2. So I finally get to pick someone else. I chose Ryu and defeat Sagat 2 - 1. Both players say something in Japanese to me. It seems like not only did I win the game, I won their respect. Except when I asked to take their pictures, they both emphatically said no.

Mission Accomplished - I proved to 2 japanese arcade goers that us Americans can still hang with the Street Fightin'!

After playing some more SFIV single player, I decided to leave the arcade and do some shopping. I was running low on Yen, so I hit up a bank and asked the nice teller where to buy cool clothes. I told her I was looking for a Uniqlo store in particular. If you're not aware, Uniqlo is a Japanese clothing chain, akin to The Gap. Relatively inexpensive, but high quality wares. I especially like them for their graphic t-shirts. They have countless designs, many manga or anime inspired. The teller explains I should ride the train to Ueno station. Since I already knew how to get there, I left the bank and headed for the train station.

After bombing around the Ueno Area, I found that it's a hip little quirky neighborhood. It's old meets new like nowhere else I've seen yet. Old store fronts selling bolts of fabric, or ceramics or even mundane groceries like just tofu or seaweed are juxtaposed next to high end fashion and high tech gadget shops. Very interesting part of Tokyo.

Anyways, I shopped. Bought some clothes. Came back to the hotel.

One thing of interest, I knew Ueno station was only 2 stops away from Minowa, so I decided to walk from Ueno to the hotel. I strongly believe there's no better way to get a feel for a city than walking it. Unfortunately for me, the stops are fairly far apart. Not sure how far in miles of kilometers, but it took me the better part of an hour to hoof the 2 stop distance.

So I know a little more about the area between Ueno and the Andon Ryokan, but man-alive, I am sore now. I went out again after a little rest in the confines of my Air Conditioned room, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tokyo Adventure Begins!

So my flight out of Manila got delayed, meaning i got into Tokyo later. I was supposed to arrive at 8PM and ended up landing around 9PM. This wouldn't be a problem, except the hotel I'm staying at states the latest check-in will be 10PM. So I had that hurdle to face eventually. I did email the hotel to tell them I was arriving later and the innskeeper, Kayo said to call when i got to Ueno Station. More on that later.

Back at the airport, I went through immigrations where the lady had to call over 2 different people to say something i couldn't understand except blah blah blah Philippines blah blah American blah blah quarantine... finally she let me through. Went to get my bags and then through customs. I'm not sure if Immigration Lady wrote some secret squiggle in my passport, but Customs Dude totally grills me on what I'm doing in Japan and what was I doing in the Philippines. He has me open my bag and he rifles through it. Disappoint to find nothing but clothes, he has me empty my pockets. Then he makes me turn on my phone. Then he turns me around and pats me down. Then he asks me to put my left foot in and my left foot out and shake it all about. ok, that last part didn't happen, but I was fearing a full ccavity search after being told to turn around for the pat down. Finally I make it out into the "Real World".

I follow signs for the trains and find the line I need to take to get to my hotel. Unfortunately, it isn't clear to me how much i need to pay, so I ask an ticket window attendant if she speaks English. She convincingly tells me yes and I explain my problem. She asks where I'm going and I tell her. Then she tells me I need to take the train to Ueno station and transfer to the Hibiya Line. All of this I already knew, I just needed to know how much money to put on my ticket and if I can buy it from her. She repeats, more loudly to take the train to Ueno Station and transfer to the Hibiya Line. I ask again How Much? and she repeats, louder still, totake the train to Ueno and transfer. finally some kind nondescript Japanese woman asks if i need help and explains the map to me. There are 2 prices, one for adult and one for children. I pt my Yen in the machine and get a really tiny ticket.

I head down to the platform just in time to hear, "The next train arriving is an Express Line to Ueno Station." Finally a break. At 9:40, I hop on the train and find that there are no seats left available. No problem. It's an express, right, I'll be off the train in no time. Looking at the map as the train pulls into the first stop, I realize it's the first stop after the airport. Must be one of the stops on the express, right? Next stop is the stop after the first stop. By the time the train pulls into the 4 stop on the map, I've finally figured out this is no express train. A little over an hour and 20 stops later, I reach Ueno Station.

Now to find the Hibiya Line and make my transfer. This is the point of my story where I realize I don't read squiggles. I swear, I came up the only set of stairs into a part of that station that had no english. none. I walk around and around and can't find anysigns to point me which way to go. Luckily, there are still plenty of people milling about, even though it's close to 11PM on a Sunday. An nice man points me to a set of semi-hidden stairs. Once I reached the bottom of said stairs, there was a sign in english pointing me to the Hibiya line.

At this point, I'm ready to bag finding my hotel and try to find a coffin hotel for the night somewhere around the Ueno Station. So I searched out a pay phone so I could call Kayo back and tell her my plan. She answers the phone in Japanese. Apparently there's more than just squiggles i don't understand around here. I say "Kayo?" She replies "Brain? Brain Yu?" I don't have the heart to correct her as a smile crosses
my lips. she says she was worried about me and glad i called. she asked where i was and said she would still be waiting. There goes the coffin hotel idea. Now that I knew how to read the map, I bought my ticket and went to the platform. Got on the train and got off at the Minowa Station.

Now I knew i had to get to exit #3 and follow the directions to the hotel that I had printed off the internet. Unfortunately, when I exited the platform, I only saw signs for exits 1 & 2. I figured once I got upstairs, I could find exit 3. Wrong. When I got upstairs, I was on street level exiting from Exit #2. I head back down and ask the security guard how to get to Exit #3. He points up the stairs and to the right. So I head up the stairs and to the right. I head to street level and start walking. It's drizzling now. I know I'm looking for a McDonald's so I keep my eyes peeled. After about 4 blocks and no McDonalds, I pop into a 7-11 and ask for directions. The cashier doesn't speak English, so I show him the address. He pulls out a map and draws 2 circles. The Bigger One is the hotel, the Smaller one is the 7-11. he opens the register and pulls a coin out and then walks around the counter and to the copy machine. The man makes me a free copy of his map. He orients the map for me and points out the front door.

He's totally pointing in the way i came from. 4 blocks back in the rain the way i had just come and about 4 more in the correct direction I finally see the McDonalds. I turn down the street and keep my eyes peeled for the next landmark in the directions - a noodle house across the street from a flower shop. Should be easy enough, right? No. It's about midnight. NOTHING is open except 7-11's and McDonalds. I walk down the sreet looking for what could be a noodle house facade only to be thwarted by the fact that every storefront has big metal shutters down in front of their windows.

I keep walking until i see another 7-11 and i pop in to ask for directions again. This cashier speaks english and says i'm 2 blocks too far. I head back the other way, totally drenched now. Then I stop and turn around and go back into the 7-11. I buy a $5 umbrella. Slightly less wetter now, I head back in search of the hotel. I turn down the second street and see no hotel. just closed shopfronts. i keep circling the block and finally find the hotel. Kayo is waiting for me and asks if I had any problems finding it. I tell her all the landmarks are closed and she says that's why they don't normally allow for check-in after 10PM!

anyways, I'm here and ready for Tokyo. Tomorrow I plan on searching out a Street Fighter IV machine. I have a pocket full of Yen and plan on showing Nippon how we hadouken in the States!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Taking it back, like Randall...

Ok - so it's been awhile since I posted anything real. Well, a lot has happened lately. I assume if you're reading this at all, then you know what I'm talking about, If you don't then... oh well, try to keep up.

I am currently in the Philippines. Cebu to be exact. I came to see my Aunt who was sick. I'm glad I came. She slipped into a coma while I was en route; somewhere while I was between LAX and Hong Kong International Airport, I believe. By the time I got to Cebu, she was already moved to her bed at home so her family could watch over her. I got to see her briefly the night I landed in Cebu. It was hard to see her like that. I'm not sure why the reality of someone in a coma is so vastly different than it was in my head, but it was strikingly so.

The next day I tooled around with family. Running errands with my cousins. Eating huge meals with extended family. Everything was on the up and up. On Wednesday, we went to the house for mass. Father Sonny had flown in from Manilla especially for Auntie Don Don. Part way through the reading, my Aunt passed away. It was 9:50. I'm not sure I've ever felt more sad in my life, watching as my cousins and Uncle Peter lost their mom and wife right in front of me. Later, Father Sonny was reminiscing about something my Aunt had told him a while back. She said "when I go, I hope it can be in the middle of a service." So there's that...

I leave the Philippines on Monday. I'm going to Japan. Tokyo to be exact. I'm looking forward to a couple days of serious alone time. I don't speak the language and don't know anyone there, so hopefully I can find myself.