Otome Road, Tokyo Trip Feb 2015

The last time I had spare time in Tokyo, I went to Ikebukuro. But I took left out of the wrong side of the station and went in a totally opposite direction than the famed walk of BL and Otome. What’s BL? What’s Otome? Well, let me tell you

Otome. Sometimes translated as virgin, but probably more akin to maiden. Otome I usually associate more with otome games than a term like otome manga which I have never heard. Otome games are games where you play as a girl and romance (or are romanced by) various guys.

Also, BL is short for “Boys Love” media, which isn’t always sexual as the commonly known term “yaoi” might be. Although much like yaoi, BL media is traditionally made for and by a female audience as opposed to a male one.

Ikebukuro is the hub of this community, and is probably the only place you can see trucks like this

As much as I like the idea of more media with gay male romance. This is actually a sub culture I know very little about, but my friend from the Akiba trip is much more knowledgeable one. So talking with her about it, seeing all of it a little more from her perspective was really interesting. Not that we got into much depth really.

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Akiba, Tokyo Trip Feb 2015

I must admit, I really am not the greatest writer when it comes to travel stuff. But practice makes perfect right? This is also coming nearly… a month later… yes a month later than it really should.

So, Saijo to Tokyo, it’s a decent trip distance wise. I had a few options to get there, from plane, bus or train. I opted for the cheapest, taking 11 hours by bus, from 7:50pm to 6:50am or so. I usually never get much sleep on international flights, but I have never had a bus trip quite this long before so unsure how well I would weather it. Surprisingly, I actually slept for most of the trip pretty well. Certainly not a great nights sleep, but could be far worse.

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So on the Wednesday morning, very very early, I arrive in Tokyo and… have to wait. Japan generally doesn’t have much open before 10am, which has always been a personal frustration of mine with the country actually. So once arriving, I went to Akihabara and immediately parked myself in a café for food. Once I had decided the staff were no longer going to abide by my parking in their café I decided to explore an Akiba where everything is closed.

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While, I didn’t find much of interest for obvious reasons, there were a few things I noticed. Most notably an outside market being set up and a pack of fans outside an anime goods store called ANIMATE, who seemed to be there waiting for something specific. And then a long line of people waiting to get into what appeared to be a pachislot place. (one day I will write about Pachinko), it seemed a new Madoka based machine was the reason for this line.

Then I parked myself in a bakery, and finished watching the classic film Snow White. Soon, the time of opening would be upon us though, so I met with my friend and we begun our Akiba Trip.

 Personally, I find describing a trip through Akiba hard. For me a lot of the fun is in poking around and either getting blasts of “Is this really a thing?” or “OMG IS THAT REALLY A (niche franchise) (object)”

 

Although my exploration did clue me onto the fact that somehow, someone, somewhere, decided a stage performance of Phantasy Star Online 2 was something that the world needed. Japan has many stage productions, of odd things. But that a stage production of a free to play MMO is something that will exist this march is baffling.

If I was wealthier or lived near Tokyo I would go and see it. But I don’t think I need to know how bad it is.

Anyway, come opening time a dear friend of mine rocked up and set us up exploring. This time, the exploration was a little different. My exploration is usually focused primarily around videogames. However, my friend is much more invested in the anime and VN side of things, which made this trip quite a bit different. So, we wandered around various shops. Mostly looking through doujin and figures. I was optimistic I would find an Umihara figurine, but no luck (although it was very unlikely). I did managed to pick up other goods though

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We also looked at a lot of Gatchapon. A lot of Gatchapon. For those not in the know, gatchapon, sometimes called capsule machines, are very common in Japan, containing small toys, keychains and the like fairly cheaply. But of course, there is a random element to them. It can be quite addictive really.

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Not a lot of game hunting went on though. Although we did stumble by my the great SUPER POTATO. Which is a little pricey, but a wonderful retro game shop that might that oozes with love. It might not have everything, but would probably be one of THE places for old games… Although you do pay for the pleasure of buying from a shelf, as these games are not cheap. Mandarake is the other major contender, and while nice, I like how homebrew Super Potato feels compared to Mandarake.

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Super Potato, along with selling a lot of games, also has a small amount of game merch, with two major takeways, the BATH BOY, and this wonderful Okami… plastic print? It feels like it is supposed to be a huge crappy mousepad, but currently lives on my wall.

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After a lot of walking, we have burgers, do some more running around, and then are exhausted so time to head to my hostel in Ueno/Nezu.

Next up, my trip down Otome Road.

 

Christmas Eve in Japan

MERRY CHRISTMAS…

Although at this point it is boxing day. Anyway, this was the first Christmas since 2006 I have spent away from my family. Because of that, and the fact I had taken the Christmas period off, I wanted to do a few things I wouldn’t normally be able to do on Christmas, and had wanted to do for a little while. So it was off to Matsuyama, the major metropolis of the Love Princess. (although, Saijo is where all the cool kids are at).

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The first thing to do was to go to Melon Books and Lashinbang, both very close to each other, and buy some general goods. In my only previous visit I didn’t fully explore the shops as there was a large amount of naked women in the shops. This time however, amid the naked ladies and various fan games to come from Touhou, I found a lot of rather nice looking Boys Love doujin (fan work). So i picked up the Nitro Plus, FREE and Hetalia ones I found all nice and cheaply.

In my previous trip, I had managed to miss ANIMATE, a big anime and manga goods chain store across Japan, and scored some nice trinkets, my favourite being the Card Captor Sakura phone decoration. However, the Persona 3 pencil case is pretty cool. Now I might actually start using a pencil case rather than the single pen approach.

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After all that and checking into my hostel (which, supposedly fully booked, netted me a room with 6 beds and 1 person) which is very near the Dogo Onsen (Hotspring/bathhouse). Seem familiar, there is good reason for that. The Dogo onsen was supposedly a major inspiration for the bathhouse in Spirited Away. It is also one of Japan’s oldest Onsen, and one which past emperors have visited. This being my Christmas eve, I was extravagant and took the most expensive option available, the bath of the spirits with Private room at a whopping 1500 or so yen. Honestly, while the service was amazing, the actual onsen experience was much like my experience in other places, if not a little worse. It was a lovely experience overall, but it’s really just a little more old school than a modern onsen, and that changes very little. Although, perhaps I did miss something?

To end that day off I went to a few gay bars I had read about online. I went too early as is typical of me, but that combined with the fact Christmas eve isn’t a great bar night meant that I mostly just chatted with the bar tenders. Which was really nice. I did learn a few interesting bits and pieces about gay culture here though. How widespread these are I can’t really tell you, but they sounded likely to extend beyond Matsuyama.

Firstly, the thing that surprised me was the concern when I entered each bar. They were like ‘… so… You know what kind of bar this is…’ The first time I was very confused, because I thought it would be obvious I knew since it was out of the way, so I said, ‘no, not really, I just read about it online and it sounded good.’ Thinking he might have been refering to like a special drink system or maybe more like the niche of gay people they cater too. After a few more awkward exchanges, I realised he was unsure if I knew it was a gay bar. After that it was all much more at ease and generally really pleasant conversation ensued. A few interesting things popped up, and I have come to understand that I really need to select a type I am into, because the fact I don’t have a set type is immensely confounding it seems.

At the second bar though, it’s appeal was more for bears, which I am not the most into, but they are usually really nice to talk with in my experience in the west, can’t say so much in Japan. Anyway, I was curious about dating app use here. A lot of the popular western apps, Grindr in particular, have little to no people on them in Japan outside of westerners and people in larger cities. I was interested to know why and the answer I go was kind of worrisome. Apparently Grindr had gotten quite popular in Japan too. Too popular in fact. To the point that people outside the gay community started to know about it, and were using it to out people. Being out in Japan is not as common as it would be in Australia. I have gathered that westerners can get away with being out because we are always outsiders and so it doesn’t add too much on top of what we already have.  (Gaijin, 外人, means forienger but the kanji more sort of implicate outsider. Gaikokujin 外国人, more directly says someone from another country. And there is a difference I have gathered over the last year or so in reading, but maybe for another time). For a Japanese person, it seemed much more troublesome, at least based on talked with the few people here I have about being out.

So for the Japanese gay community, Grindr actually ultimately caused some serious problems, and so they migrated over to other apps. Not that I think my blog will be a major hit with the kinds of the people who’d want to use these apps maliciously, but, I certainly don’t want to help cause more issues in that regard. One of the more popular ones is has quite an amusing and horrifying metagame element though…

Anyway, with those gay bars, I ended my evening finished watching the Meryl Streep film It’s Complicated and then slept, excited for Christmas day!

Osaka trip and merch!

I went on a trip! Osaka baby! The Tokyo of the west, where all comedians are from supposedly, and the heart of the Kansai region generally.

My time was somewhat limited, however, I did make Nipponbashi one of my priorities. It’s not as famous as Akihabara but Nipponbashi, aka , Den Den Town, is the main gaming and electronics goods area of the western half of Japan. I did try and be somewhat sensible in regards to purchases as I had limited, although it hardly seems that way…

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So first, a small collection of Persona Q character goods… Persona Q is a cross over combining chibi versions of Persona 3/4 characters and the dungeon crawling gameplay of Etrian Odyssey, known as Sekai Meikyu in Japan, often abbreviated to SQ (Hence Persona Q). I haven’t played the game to know if I like it, but CUTE CHIBI PERSONA CHARACTERS SO SO CUTE!

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BADGES. Phoenix Wright badges specifically. These aren’t for me but a friend back home. So you can be jealous of them.

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I don’t usually like to buy additional  versions of games I already own, but SaGa 2 is a pretty fantastic lean clever RPG from one of Square’s maddest designers Akitoshi Kawazu was left in charge of this and it’s one of his finest creations! The gameboy really limited just how insane he could be and so SaGa 2 lacks a lot of the useless complexity many of his later games like The Last Remnant have. And I love that insane mesh of systems where the point of the game is almost to actually solve the matrix of systems. Anyway… I felt it was worth getting an extra bit of Kawazu in my life.

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Looks ominous right? Well, I think you should read about it on hardcoregaming101. But, in case you won’t… Nanashi no Game (The Nameless Game) is a horror game inspired by classic, The Ring, where you discover a cursed nameless game, that appears to be a glitchy version of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It’s apparently quite interesting and fairly hard to get hold off, so when I found it while wandering the game shops, I couldn’t resist it as I’ve never seen a real copy before.  Although quite frankly I’m not likely to play it for a while as my Japanese is not good enough right now, and I’m trying to avoid buying too many games like that these days, but sometimes it isn’t so bad.

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Some of the cheapest things I bought! 300 yen a piece! Although… I paid with sanity… These are all independently produced games by 07th Expansion, making them not simply ‘indie games’ but also doujin. Doujin pc games in Japan are associated with… porn… So, since I was set on finding these when doujin sections were around I had to wade through so many boobs… Drawn, animated, CG, photos.  And not just boobs too!

Not that I think porn is inherently bad, but I do find it notable that it’s not a question that straight men would be looking at porn games outside of very rare circumstances. So many women, so so few men getting it on. To be fair, most of Nipponbashi was filled with men, so they understand their actual audience, but… Why can’t we see more gender equality with this kind of software?

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And this piece, was not from Nipponbashi, it’s some merch brought somewhere else to be discussed next time!