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JapanaTour: A boat ride around Tokyo Bay

Jul 08 // Lindo Korchi
Anyways, let's continue on:   If you're exploring Asakusa (when you're exploring Asakusa, I should say), you'll notice a ship-like torpedo, equipped with panoramic windows, maneuvering along Sumida River -- it is called a water bus. And if you're not familiar with the river, it's the one that separates Sensoji temple and Tokyo Skytree from one another. Keep that in mind.     You can take the water bus from Asakusa to Ryogoku (which is famous for its sumo stadium and chanko restaurants) or from Asakusa to Odaiba (the man-made island in Tokyo; also the headquarters for Fuji TV & the home to Tokyo Big Sight). Prices vary, but an average range is between 300 JPY to 1,600 JPY.   One of the highlights regarding the boat rides is that you have options. While the Asakusa to Odaiba route is quite popular, you can further explore the bay, along with other areas in Japan, by going to different piers. A few include Tsukiji, Yokohama, Harumi, Aomi, Toyosu, Ariake, and furthermore.   Another option worth exploring is by taking a ferry that crosses the Tokyo Bay Aqua-line bridge between Kawasaki and Kisarazu – or simply put, two different cities in entirely separate prefectures. The Tokyo-Wan Ferry crosses the bay between Kurihama (in Kanagawa) and Kanaya (in Chiba). I know, a lot of Japanese cities that you may have never heard of – but that's the point, look at how much you can explore. You'll have a chance to explore Japanese cities that most travelers don't venture out to, so keep that in mind.     If you're interested in experiencing the city of Tokyo in a unique way, while also taking in the scenery without the intrusion of cars, pedestrians, bikes, or buildings in your path, then this is something you may want to consider. If you’re into film and have a go-pro or similar recording device, you can create a time-lapse video of Tokyo by Boat. And that's a memory you won't forget. Of course, be sure to bring in an extra battery pack and memory card if you intend to do such.   If you've explored Tokyo by Boat, what stood out to you most and would you recommend it to others? [Image credits courtesy MyTokyoGuide, Japan Times, Andrusm]
JapanaTour photo
An Extra Adventure
As your plane arrives at Narita airport, your heart begins to race; after all, you'll be walking the streets of Tokyo, hanging out in Shibuya, and getting lost in the labyrinth known as Shinjuku station. However, there's some...

5 Days A Hitchhiker: An Abridged Tour of Japan

May 27 // Lindo Korchi
Here are some tips to keep in mind when hitchhiking in Japan (or anywhere else): - While it's true that there have been a number of hitchhikers who've said that hitchhiking in Japan is easy, along with a short wait time, don't expect it. It may be quick, but it's best to prepare for the worst, which are long wait times. My shortest wait time was 15 minutes in Aga, and longest was 12 hours trying to get out of Niigata. It's really unpredictable. - If you're considering urban camping, I suggest testing it out for a few nights before your initial journey. Also, decide how you want to urban camp. Some people bring tents to be more comfortable; I cared more about my backpack being light and just brought a sleeping bag, which I'm sure is less comfortable, so it depends on you. - If you urban camp with just a sleeping bag, as I did, you'll definitely capture a glimpse of how it is to be a homeless person. Those two nights, one in the grass and the other in front of a cemetery, gave me a glimpse of their lives. I developed more compassion and understanding towards them due to being placed in their shoes, briefly. Valuable insight. (Resting spot in Niigata) - As a sign of appreciation, I recommend giving your driver a gift. I purchased a pack of cookies to give to each one of the awesome drivers who chose to pick me up and make my journey possible. - A very important point is to remember that no one is obligated to pick you up. It doesn't matter if you've been waiting for 15 hours in one spot. It can be frustrating at times, trust me, I know. But remember that you chose to take part in this journey, and sometimes waiting a ridiculously long time is part of it. Embrace it and enjoy; besides, it usually all works out for the best. - Another important thing to keep in mind: if you realize you don't like hitchhiking, nor want to continue, then you don't have to keep doing it. You can always wrap it up. Just as the drivers aren't obligated to pick you up, you also aren't obligated to continue on a journey that you realize isn't fit for you. In the end, hitchhiking and urban camping will take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. You'll also develop a thicker skin the more you do it. And this is valuable. You'll constantly get rejected as cars blatantly ignore you. And it's up to you to persist or not. Will you shy away or persist in the face of rejection? In the beginning, I was uncomfortable. But by the 5th day, I was more confident in myself since I knew I could survive. It didn't matter that I was in some unknown town in Japan, I knew I'd find a way to sleep, eat, and get from one location to another. And it's because I was pushed to be more creative and think. And that's extremely valuable. All in all, be prepared to be challenged, pushed out of your comfort zone, wait long periods of time, meet great people, and have an unforgettable experience. If you're also interested in hitchhiking around Japan, then here is my full 5-day hitchhiking journey so you can see how it's like (and yes, timestamps are provided): [embed]35048:5652:0[/embed]
Hitchhiking in Japan photo
Here's to the Crazy Ones
The thought of hitchhiking as a form of travel sounds crazy; the implementation of actually doing it in Japan sounds impossible. Well, here's to the crazy ones who want to hitchhike in Japan. In short, I hitchhiked from the e...

Manga and Recovery: Reopening a comic museum in Kamen Rider's hometown

Apr 12 // Yussif Osman
The people of Tohoku are unique in all of Japan, they have their own dialect, their own food and attitude, they're louder, more themselves than the rest of what is quite a conservative country. I found the people very brave and very proud, heroically living through and beyond what befell them in 2011, and so it doesn't surprise me that many of the most iconic and heroic manga characters originate from this amazing part of Japan. As I get off the bus at Ishinomaki, a town in Tohoku's Miyagi prefecture, severely affected by the tsunami, I have certain expectations, I basically expect devastation. But that's not what I find. Instead, I'm confronted by statues of Kamen Rider and his contemporaries. The members of Cyborg 009 are striking poses and Astroboy is with them. This way, people who arrive at Ishinomaki station by Robocon covered train or bus, get a flavour of the true character of this place instead of just associating it with tragedy, the way much of the world has. Instead, travellers are met with colour and hope. Among the heroes which adorn the city, there's also Robocon and Sea Jetter, plentiful in murals and wall art alongside posing statues. Amazingly, many of these statues actually survived the tsunami, defying tragedy itself and becoming symbols of hope. And there is sincerely something super heroic about this place, the way people continue to live and who they are. People laugh and gather, eat heartily and celebrate what they share at every opportunity, they work through dark hours, from 2am onwards, harvesting catches from the sea and come to one another's aid, to pull their lives out of the rubble and build something new. Miyagi is home to the world's largest temporary housing camp for displaced people in the world, in the form of the kasetsu units, but many of these kasetsu have been converted into entrepreneurial hubs, restaurants and bakeries; people make more than the most of what they have, in fact they redefined their entire situation. In the town of Funakoshi, a fisherman named Nakasato (in the absence of the town's traditional leadership) brings his community together to rebuild and aspire, they gather in the local school and celebrate their harvests of seaweed and fish whilst putting together plans to move their town uphill, away from the waters. In Ishinomaki, an amazing woman named Hashimoto cooks nightly a feast for volunteers and community members, bringing immense warmth to the oceanic cold. The town holds children's festivals and local organisations like It's Not Just Mud whom I worked with, build amazing playgrounds and return to the sea to swim and reclaim the community's heritage. Throughout my time there, I found people speak little about what befell them, instead they speak of the present and the future, making plans and moving forward. For some, that's opening a sake store or reopening a community antique shop, others are focused on their next harvest of clams or their next shipment of crafts, others are planning the reconstruction of their town and others looking forward to the next gathering, to the next community meal. I found the manga characters which adorn the city allegorical (and I believe the community does as well) to the state of the community itself. Sea Jetter defies the calamities of the sea themselves, Cyborg 009 are a family and team who through working together can achieve anything, Robocon and Astroboy are both gentle and mighty and Takeshi Hongo, the Kamen Rider, all in all represents every act of tenacity and heroism. So though as a manga fan, I may have been looking forward to the reopening of the UFO-shaped Ishinomaki Mangattan, or Manga Museum, I couldn't imagine how much it meant to the people who actually lived there and their children. The days following the re-opening ceremony are immensely moving, costumed characters await at the doors to greet children and they're all there, from the members of Cyborg 009 to Kamen Rider. The community has been making steps towards recovery gradually, but this is a milestone, this is to celebrate all that. Artwork adorns the second floor above the gift shop, including concept art and original manga pages, as well as a movie theatre where never before shown short adaptations of manga are seen. And on the third floor is something out of a dream, a manga library containing a boundless collection of ongoing and completed series from Dragonball to Sailor Moon and Prince of Tennis. Among the celebrated creators in town is Osamu Tezuka, manga pioneer and arguably the father of modern manga. But here, I'd like to place particular emphasis on Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of both one of the first superhero teams in Japan in the form of Cyborg 009 and the iconic tokusatsu series Kamen Rider. Ishinomori was a native of Tohoku's own Miyagi prefecture, making the region home of Kamen Rider, the Cyborg team and Ganbare!! Robocon, which Ishinomori also created. The result was that the Mangattan's official name would actually be the Ishinomori Manga Museum. In fact, Ishinomaki itself is often considered the home town of Kamen Rider. In my time in Ishinomaki, I would also be confronted with a high density of promotional art for the upcoming film 009 Re: Cyborg, a continuation of the Cyborg 009 series, based on an Ishinomori story, entrenching the characters' presence in Miyagi and presenting the community's children and people with yet something more to look forward to as they continue to pull their lives back together. Ishinomori's work may have brought joy to people across Japan for decades, but I believe most vitally it has helped lift the hearts of local people and augment the sentiment that there are things to look forward to, that life is worth living and that we should never give up. Remember every cheesy yet cool moment from a manga? Well in Ishinomaki they mattered, they and their characters still do. I once had a disagreement with a friend of mine shortly after the tsunami, he said that the last thing people would care about after the disaster was manga or anime, but after going there myself, I found that that was very, very far from the truth. I hope that in time, Tohoku will be known for what it's culture and what its people celebrate and have achieved, rather than for what befell them, for hope, pride and the Tohoku way.
Ishinomaki Manga Museum photo
The role of manga in post-tsunami Tohoku
Everyone knows what happened in March 2011, everyone has heard about the tsunami and the earthquake and Fukushima, that's why I went, but what I discovered when I arrived is something the world hasn't paid the same level of a...

JapanaTour: Where to start when planning a Tokyo vacation

Sep 21 // Kristina Pino
For the devoted otaku Of course, this entry had to go first. So you're going to Tokyo and you're looking for all the nerdy stuff? Great. Here are a few places you can make pilgrimages to: Square Enix Artnia at Shinjuku (directions) Akihabara's Electric district (shops, maid/butler cafe, arcades - see also: JapanaTour part 1, part 2) Ikebukuro (Japan Guide's Ikebukuro page) The Ghibli Museum (warning: you need to reserve entry passes way in advance; access) Harajuku (where all fashion dreams come true) Gundam Front (don't miss out on the huge robot at Odaiba!) For the hungry traveler Great food can be found all over Tokyo, so this section was a little tougher to compile. Here are some suggestions: Asakusa (specialty snacks, street food) Theme Restaurants (costumed staff, themed decor/menu, overall cute experience) Kaiten (conveyer belt) sushi Chanko (the glorious soup of Sumo champions) Ramen (the dry packaged stuff you buy for cheap at the grocery store just isn't the same.) Okonomiyaki For the sight-seer Some folks just want to "be a tourist" and see all the "cheesy" (or cool) sights! Here are some suggestions in that area: Ueno Zoo (from Ueno Station) Yoyogi Park (for a relaxing picnic, yeah?) Tokyo Skytree at Oshiyage Shibuya (Shibuya Crossing, Hachiko statue next to train station) Harajuku's Meiji Shrine (follow signs from the train station; afterwards, stroll over to Yoyogi park for that picnic I mentioned) Asakusa's Sensoji (goes great with Ueno Zoo and Skytree Town) Tired of the big city? Take a day trip: Tokyo Disneyland (access) Kamakura (See the Daibutsu, and other lovely temples. It's the closest to Kyoto you'll get without actually going to Kansai; Japan Guide listing) Mount Fuji (the climb is so worth the view. Also Fuji Q; check out the official website for climbing season dates, tips, and directions) Yokohama (Japan Guide listing) This is, of course, not an exhaustive, or even an extensive list. I'd like to point out the title of this post, where it says "Where to start..." before anyone freaks out. Tokyo has so much to offer, and frankly you can spend weeks there and still not discover everything there is to it. I didn't even mention all of Tokyo's districts in this list! That being said, do feel free to add suggestions of your own. The more the merrier! Want more posts like this in the future? Your opinion matters. [Header image courtesy OnlyHDWallpapers, all other images have been snapped by yours truly]
Vacation to Tokyo photo
A few handy tips, because we care
In case you're planning a trip to Japan in the future (like for the 2020 Olympics), or even if you're there right now for Tokyo Game Show and are looking for suggestions, here's a list you didn't ask for but totally need. I've even gone through the trouble of sorting it based on interests/activities rather than just making it a numbered list.

Capsule hotels photo
Have a look around!
In this video, you get a quick tour of the general dorm facilities at a capsule hotel in Japan. Obviously, I left out stuff like the shared baths and the lobby/common area, since that would involve either a) being arrested o...

JapanaTour: Sayonara!

Apr 05 // Chris Walden
Here are some tips that you may not know about. If you have any of your own, let me know in the comments: If you want to do the Ghibli museum, you must buy tickets before you go. You have to take the confirmation slip with you in exchange for entry on the day, and you must have your passports or they wont let you in. On the subject of passports, you must carry yours with you at all times. While it hasn't happened to me, it is not unheard of for Japanese police to request to see them from foreigners. It is illegal for a non-Japanese citizen to walk about without a passport. Don't ruin your holiday! If you want to use a Japanese Rail pass, you must buy it before you go. They are very expensive, but it's going to cost a lot more if you travel outside of Tokyo on the bullet trains without one. It will save you money in the long run, and you can use it to get free fare on any JR (Japan Rail) train or bus service for the duration your pass is valid. Just show it to the guard/booth by the turnstiles. The drinking age is 20, so if the clerk/barman serving you seems to have a question when you are buying alcohol, he might want to see your ID. If you are using the bullet trains, bring a handheld game/book with you. As cool as the trains are, you'll get bored before long! Some seats in the regular trains will be a different colour to the others, and there will usually be an English sticker near them saying they are priority seats. If an elderly person, pregnant lady or disabled person comes over, offer them the seat. It's not a law, but it is courtesy. Of course, they'd appreciate it in regular seating too. Me and some friends got into an interesting conversation with a sweet old lady for giving away our seats! If you are under 18, you can't wander the streets after 10pm. Arcades will also tell you to leave at this time if you are under 18. Bear this in mind if you are fall into this category, or plan to travel with people younger than yourself. Be careful with your money! Be sure to set aside some of it for food and travel, so you don't end up having to flog your recently acquired figures in order to eat! If you do need to get more money during the trip, you'll be able to use the ATM's in 7-Eleven stores to get money out. Remember that your bank may charge you for doing this.  You can find the Japanese kanji for Coke here. Take a photo of it or memorize it, because a lot of restaurants have you order drinks via a ticket machine or a menu. Three kanji with a line in the middle is probably the best way to remember it. Of course, they have other drinks, but most restaurants have Coke, so it's worth remembering in case you have no idea what everything else is. If you have to ask for it, it's ko-ku-ko-ra. Saying Coke will get you nowhere, as they don't abbreviate it like we do. Try and save your 100 yen coins. You'll probably want them for arcade machines! Try and use your 10 yen coins in vending machines. That way you don't have to dump them all on the poor guy at your local convenience store! Always carry some 1 yen coins, however useless they seem, and use them if you have the slightest chance. If you don't, you won't ever get rid of them! Don't say I didn't warn you if you end up with a mountain of them! What's that weird gold coin with a hole in it and no number? It's a 5 yen coin. The rest of the coins have the relevant monetary values written on them. If you plan to play Taiko no Tatsujin at the arcade and you want a bigger challenge, hover over the hardest difficulty and hit the right edge of the drum (i.e. move the menu right) about 10 times. This will unlock Oni difficulty. Play the Gundam Try-AGE card game if it still exists, get addicted, do trades with me. You know you want to! And that's it! Will JapanaTour be back? Hopefully! At the moment I've pretty much exhausted my tourist knowledge, so there's very little I can say that I haven't already. However, like many of you out there, I have plans to go back in the future. If this happens, I'm sure there will be a few more articles to write. 

Well folks, this is it! It's been a great six months writing about the most fascinating place I've had the pleasure of visiting, and hopefully you'll benefit from what I had to say when you make your own pilgrimages over ther...

JapanaTour: Kyoto

Mar 30 // Chris Walden
Emperor Kammu, the 50th Emperor of Japan, chose the village of Uda to become the new capital of Japan and keep a distance from the popular Buddhist influence at the time. In 794, the city of Heian-kyo became the location for the imperial court, and thus kicked off development in the area. These were the very beginnings of what would later become Kyoto. Jump forward to the 16th century, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi built more streets and introduced more shrines, making Kyoto one of the three major cities, along with Edo and Osaka.   Kyoto wasn't hit as hard as many of the other Japanese villages and cities during World War Two, and it's the reason why there are a significant number of old buildings still standing. The old architecture has become just one of many different reasons drawing people to Kyoto.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that Kyoto can mean capital city? After Edo became known as Tokyo (which can mean Eastern Capital), Kyoto was known as Saikyo for a short time, because it meant Western Capital. It didn't catch on, and Kyoto has stuck since.  Did I ever mention how useful a Japan Rail Pass is? You'll want to have one again if you wish to travel to Kyoto, unless you have a lot of money! If you don't have the pass you may as well ride the faster 'Nozomi' train that you cannot ride with the Rail Pass, but it'll cost you a hefty ¥13,500. From Tokyo Station, take the 'Hikari' shinkansen (if you have a Rail Pass) or the 'Nozomi' (if you don't) to Kyoto station. This should take about an two-and-a-quarter hours (Nozomi) or two-and-three-quarter hours (Hikari).  It's another fairly long trip. so be sure to bring a bag of some description with something to do inside. You'll also want to note down the first and last trains of the day (remember that the shinkansen trains do not run after set times at night) as well as carry some water or sports drinks to keep you hydrated in the summer! Better safe than sorry! Our first stop is the Kinkakuji, which literally translates as the 'golden pavilion'. As you can see from the picture above, it certainly lives up to it's name! The temple has it's upper half coated in gold leaf, and looks stunning with the surrounding pond and trees. As impressive as it is, it has in fact been burned down on several occasions. The most recent time this happened was in the 1950's when a monk set it alight, but the current building was completed in 1955.  While this is the main attraction, there are other things to see when visiting the Kinkakuji. As you follow the trail, you'll get to see the former living quarters of the head priest, as well as walk through the temple gardens. You'll notice on this trip around that there are a set of statues surrounded by money, with a small cup placed in front of them. A lot of people will try to throw money into the cup for good luck, so make sure you have some change at hand if you fancy a go! You can also get your fortune while you are here, as the temple even has some available in English. Fun fact time! Did you know that there is also a Ginkakuji, meaning silver pavilion? It was based on the Kinkakuji, and features a stunning moss garden, as well as a dry sand garden. Though it doesn't feature a building covered in silver, it's certainly a beautiful place to visit, so bring a camera! Sticking with the temple theme, another one worth seeing is the very impressive Chionin temple. Well, as you may have seen in the header image for this article, it has an absolutely massive gate! It's a whopping 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide, and has been the largest wooden gate in Japan since the 17th century. There are rock and pond gardens to wander about after you climb all those stairs, but perhaps the most fascinating sight is when the temple illuminates in the dark, with lots of small lanterns lighting up the paths around the temple. While you are here, you can also check out the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Emperors of Japan lived here until 1868 when Tokyo became the capital, though the Imperial Household Agency continues to handle upkeep and tours. You'll need to book your visit in advance like with the Tokyo Imperial Palace, but it's free to do so and you get a tour too! Can't argue with that. Sightseeing is obviously the main draw in coming here, though you'll also be able to get a little bit of a history lesson on the tour, as well as the chance to see some historical buildings up close.  If you really dig the old buildings and historical vibes, you'll want to visit the Higashiyama District. It is perhaps the most well-preserved area of Kyoto, with many of the old wooden buildings and features remaining. In fact, newer additions like modern paving and telephone poles were actually removed to keep the historic feel of the place. If you plan on eating here, you'll want to make sure you arrive before 5pm, when most of the shops close. There is also Hanatoro in March, where for ten days the shop hours are extended and the streets are lines with lanterns.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Kyoto has an International Manga Museum? After paying the entrance fee, you are free to read as much manga as you like! They also have a pretty daunting aim, claiming that they want to collect a copy of every manga ever produced.  If you happen to be in Japan during July, you might want to check out the Gion Matsuri. It is the most renown festival in the whole of Japan, and takes place on July 17th. It is comprised of several different events, but perhaps the most famous of those is the Yamabako Junko, a parade of fantastic looking floats. These are mostly gigantic and intricately designed, each one showing a different theme. After the parade, many of the floats can be entered, and the streets are lined with food and drink stalls, as well as other festival staples.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look into the historic land of Kyoto. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Ever wondered what it would be like to cut Tokyo in half, then stick it together the wrong way around? That's what Kyoto is. Probably.  Welcome back to JapanaTour, where we'll be looking at Kyoto as our very last locatio...

JapanaTour: Arcades

Mar 15 // Chris Walden
While there are hundreds of different arcades to be discovered in Japan, I find you can usually split them into three categories; Sega, Taito and independent. There are many other 'chains' of arcade too, but Sega and Taito certainly own the vast majority of them. If you're exploring Tokyo, you'll certainly find it hard to avoid the arcades, as the Club Sega and Taito arcades stand out especially! Fun Fact Time! Did you know that SEGA used to be known as Service Games? It was a name that they used while mainly in the business of making arcade staples like slot machines, before they later expanded into the video game market. As you can tell by the plethora of Club Sega's in Japan, they still care a lot about their arcades! So, what will you find in an arcade? The first thing you'll see in most of them are the prize machines, which range from the more traditional UFO machines to all sorts of weird and wonderful money traps. If you are on the hunt for prizes more than anything, the Club Sega arcades usually have some reasonable exclusive figurines on offer for those with the patience to win them! Of course, you could always buy them second hand at Akihabara, but what's the fun in that? If you don't fancy winning figurines, you won't have to walk far before you find a game where you can win plush toys or even food! Oh, and goldfish.  Besides prize machines and video games, there are a few other things you can expect to find. Many arcades will also have pachinko halls on one (or more) floors, so be wary of those if you don't plan to actually play! They can be quite a nightmare to navigate, as the machines are usually crammed in with most of the walkways taken up by people using them! There may also be floors dedicated to card games and mahjong.  Another popular feature you'll see in arcades are the huge selection of rhythm games. DJ Max, Jubeat, Pop'n Music, DDR and Guitar Freaks are literally the tip of the iceberg, as it certainly feels difficult not to find a new one in each arcade you visit. If you want some recommendations, then there are two that I haven't mentioned so far. The first would be Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade, though for this one be sure to have headphones with you! It's more or less the same game as the PSP iterations, but smashing some oversize buttons to The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku isn't something that'll get old quickly. The other, and probably my favourite out of the lot, is Taiko no Tatsujin. It's a very cool drum game you'll see in nearly every arcade, and you can get portable versions on the DS and PSP. If it's a bit too easy for you, hover over the hardest available difficulty and hit the right edge of the drum about ten times to unlock Oni mode! It can get crazy, but I love it! Fun Fact Time! Did you know that it is illegal to win money in a pachinko hall? This is due to Japan's gambling laws, and is worked around by giving winners 'tokens' which can be redeemed for cash in a different building! Perhaps the most popular feature of most arcades are the fighting games, and you'll never be too far from seeing some crazy impressive Japanese folk in heated combat. It's not too difficult to find staple fighters like Street Fighter IV, Tekken 6 and Virtua Fighter, but you can find others if you look around. BlazBlue and Guilty Gear in particular can be found in a particular arcade in Shibuya that I'll be talking about shortly! No doubt if they have retro games in the arcade your in, they'll have a Street Fighter II machine somewhere.  Love them or hate them, there are a lot of weird and wonderful card-based arcade machines to discover. Many are variations on 3v3 battle games, such as Gundam TriAge, Pokémon Battrio and Dragon Ball Heroes, which give you a new card every time you pay ¥100 to play the game. They also give you the option to save your progress on something that looks like a credit card, which you can buy separately from places like Yodabashi Camera. I wouldn't worry about those for the most part, but I did make good use out of a TriAge card while I proceeded to wage war in space with my awesome combination of Amuro, Char and Setsuna! There are also machines like the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Terminal and Kamen Rider Battle: Ganbaride which seemed to be pretty popular too. Some of these games are fairly self explanatory, but it's worth checking out the rules beforehand, just in case you end up wondering what to do!  So then, where are all the good arcades hidden? Well, I can only tell you what I know, so be sure to leave your own suggestions in the comments if there's a particular place I've missed! For now, I'll talk a little about those in Akihabara. There's certainly more of a focus on prize machines and fighting games, but there's still a healthy amount of the other varieties too. Upon leaving the train station, you'd have to do well to not end up opposite Club Sega! If you want somewhere a little more specialist, be sure to check out Super Potato. They have a decent selection of retro games, as well as a badass throne made out of Famicom games! Akihabara deserves a mention simply for the sheer number of different arcades it has, and it's probably where you'll want to go to find some good old competitive play.  There are a lot of arcades in Shinjuku too, but there are two in particular that I visited near enough daily. The first is one that's a little hidden away, and it's on the top floor of the Yodabashi Camera store that sells video games. Yodabashi Camera in Shinjuku is split into several buildings, so you'll know you're on the right track when you walk in to the shop and see all the latest releases, as well as televisions on the outside playing trailers for upcoming games. You can either climb the stairs or take the lift, but the very top floor has a huge selection of gashapon machines, as well as a lot of card game units. If you want to play Pokémon Battrio or Gundam TriAge and keep finding the machines in use, this is definitely the best spot to play! There's also a Club Sega nearby which has all of the staple fighters and prize games.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that Kamurocho, the main locale from Yakuza 4, is a pretty accurate depiction of Shinjuku? Well, more specifically the red light district of Shinjuku, but a great representation nonetheless! That game should give you an idea of how common arcades actually are! If you're after some retro arcade units rather than those newfangled games with 3D graphics, you have to try out the Shibuya Kaikan arcade, which as you may have guessed, is in Shibuya. If you head downstairs from the entrance, you'll find some fantastic retro arcade units, the vast majority of which are ¥50 per play. You can try out some competitive Super Mario Bros., Metal Slug and even have a heated game of Mr Driller. My personal favourites are the large collection of bullet hell shooters, which are a lot of fun even when you're terrible at them! If you head upstairs, you'll be able to play the more common machines, though this is where you'll find a lot of the rarer fighters. Incidentally, if you still crave fighting arcade machines after this, give Nakano Broadway a try. They don't have a huge selection, but they certainly have some more obscure titles.  The last place I'm going to recommend isn't in a place I've covered before, but you'll be able to get here via the Yamanote line if you were unsure about travel! Takadanobaba is a very short train journey from Shinjuku, and while I admittedly never really explored it, there was one place in particular I did visit. As soon as you leave the train station, you'll see a huge building with 'Big Box' written on it. The top floor of this place is dedicated to arcade machines of all shapes and sizes, and it has a bit of everything. They have some Dragon Ball Z fighters linked up so you can fight other people, as well as some of the large 'pod' type games. They also had Tank!Tank!Tank! which saw you fending off bugs like in the Earth Defence Force games, only with vibrations and movement in the chair reacting to your in-game tank. There was also a 'rhythm shooter' game involving light guns, plus a fairly good selection of retro game machines too. A word of warning, if you're caught taking photos or filming in this place, they won't be happy! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse at Japanese arcades. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

I used to go to arcades once. Then she left me.  ... I had to get around to this eventually, didn't I? There's a lot to say and a lot to love about Japanese arcades, and you'll no doubt spend a good amount of time rootin...

JapanaTour: Otaku Tourist part two

Mar 08 // Chris Walden
Ueno Zoo, the paradise for panda otaku all across the globe! It is in fact Japan's oldest zoo, opening back in 1882, and is a whopping 35 acres in size. Interestingly, the zoo also holds Japan's very first monorail, which can be used to travel from one side of the zoo to the other.  It's relatively simple to get here, but be wary of where you will end up if you decide to leave the zoo from the opposite entrance. Also, the zoo is closed every Monday, so don't plan on showing up then! You'll want to hunt down the following trains:  From Shinjuku station, take the JR Yamanote line to Ueno station (about 15 minutes, it's just a few stations before Akihabara).   From Tokyo station, take the JR Yamanote line to Ueno station (about 5 minutes).  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that Ueno Zoo is very famous for it's pandas? Pandas are often given to Japan from China as a token of peace and to strengthen relations, and have proven to be very popular amongst visitors to the zoo. Famously, the giant panda known as Ling Ling passed away in 2008, leaving Ueno Zoo without a panda exhibit for the first time since the seventies. However, if you plan to visit the zoo in the near future, you'll get to see two! The new pandas, known as Līlī and Shinshin, were brought into the zoo in 2011.  Even if you feel that the ¥600 entry fee isn't worth it for the animals alone, I think I could honestly say that the cost of entry is worth it for the views, let alone the exhibits. It truly is a beautiful place, and it's a great location to visit if you just want to spend a day winding down and chilling out. You'll certainly want to take a camera, so that you can remind yourself in the future about the amazing sights. The panda exhibit is no doubt the most popular amongst the Japanese, but there are certainly plenty of other animals to see. Other interesting animals on display include gorillas, hippos, white rhinoceros, tigers, lions and elephants. Oh, and a polar bear. This is just the tip of the iceberg really, as there are a whopping 464 different species of animal here! There's a reason for the scenic picture above, rather than just snapping a photo of the next location itself, and that's pretty much because you can't. You'd have to be trying pretty hard or have some super camera to take a photo of the Tokyo Tower in it's entirety, without including the surroundings! Still, with surroundings like that in the picture above, who would mind? From Shinjuku station, take the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsuchō station (about 25 minutes). From Tokyo station, take the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsuchō station (about 5 minutes).  There will be a short walk from the station to the tower, so be prepared to walk a little uphill. I could tell you directions, but besides the signposts, you could just look up and walk towards it! The price isn't as cheap as some of the other towers and buildings you can climb, costing a pretty hefty ¥1420. Still, it's pretty darn iconic, so it's up to you to decide whether the view is worth it! Fun Fact Time! Did you know that at the foot of the tower you can find a building known as FootTown? In here, you can find an aquarium, restaurants and a few museums. You can visit the Guinness World Records Museum Tokyo, which displays memorabilia relating to some weird and wonderful records, as well as the Tokyo Tower Wax Museum, which I hear is like that one film.  While you'll be up there for the view, there are souvenir shops and other interesting things in the observation deck. There are also frequent events held at the tower, usually for advertising particular products or celebrations. I was quite surprised to find a Pokémon Black/White event being held when I visited, but what even will be on, if any, is really just down to luck. You can't really plan for it, but you can check it out nearer the time just in case! A cool feature of the observation deck is that there are a few glass panels on the floor in some places, meaning you get to jump on it and terrify those around. Still, the views are pretty good if you aren't squeamish!  The last place on today's list is the Imperial Palace, the residence of the Emperor himself. If you thought the last two places were full of beautiful scenery, this one will probably blow you away! Well, in person anyway. You can get a guided tour of this place absolutely free, and what's more, you get a device for English commentary! No excuse for not visiting!  From Shinjuku station, take the JR Yamanote line to Tokyo station (about 20 minutes, though there will be another ten minute or so walk from the station to the palace).   If you want to go, you will have to go here and book your tickets in advance, as they won't let you in without them. You will then need to take your reservation details to the relevant gate (there are many gates surrounding the palace) where you will be escorted to the waiting area for when the tour starts.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that there are only two days in which you can enter the inner palace grounds? The first is on January 2nd, which serves as a new year greeting, and December 23rd, which is the Emperor's birthday.  There will always be a set route on the tour, but depending on when you go, there are extra things you can see. If you go on any day that isn't a holiday, Monday or Friday, you will be able to visit the East Gardens, which is certainly worth checking out if you have the time. Again, doing so is free, and the lush scenery away from the concrete city around it is certainly something you have to see for yourselves. It's not a bad history lesson either! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this somewhat scenic look at Japan. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

I love the smell of retcon in the afternoon.  I've opted to use 'tourist' instead of 'pilgrimage' from now on, mainly because not all of the places I feel I should talk about really count as an otaku pilgrimage. Not that...

JapanaTour: Wonder Festival

Mar 01 // Chris Walden
Wonder Festival occurs twice a year, giving professional figurine manufacturers and garage kit creators alike the chance to show off and sell their wares. The very first WonFes was held way back in 1985, and like Comiket, has had its attendance grow considerably with each instalment. It's not just figurines that show up here, as you can often find plushies, anime, manga and musicians about the place. Just make sure not to take photos of the idols! It's not as heavily enforced as it is in Comiket, but like me, you'll look like a bit of an idiot when you realise you shouldn't be doing it! Professional Tip #1 If you are going in the summer, be wary about the heat! As you can see in the top image, many Japanese folk will bring towels to stave off the sun and the unfortunate bi-products it brings with it. Dress lightly, bring plenty of water (as drinks are uncommon and expensive inside the hall) and avoid wearing black. A hat is also worth considering, as it's pretty easy to get your head burned. Plus it'll keep that sun out of your face, so there's that too. You may not be outside long, but you'll certainly feel the effects.  Wonder Festival is held at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, so that's where you'll need to head! It's a little out of the way, so you'll want to aim for the rapid service trains if you can get them. You don't need to make any changes either, so it's not too difficult to get there. From Shinjuku station, take the JR Sōbu Rapid line to Chiba station (about 40 minutes, just make sure you are on the rapid service).   From Tokyo station, take the JR Keiyō line to Chiba station (about 45 minutes).  Before you make travel arrangements, you'll need to be aware that to enter WonFes, you'll need one of their guide books. This will set you back ¥2000, but also contains information about the stalls you'll be seeing, as well as event times and other such things. They'll look a bit like this, and you can buy them on the day if you don't have one already. Just make sure you remember to buy one, otherwise you'll be wondering why they're chasing after you! Be aware of long queues if you arrive before the place opens, as many people will be getting there early to snag the exclusives! Like me, you may be interested in doing the same and try to get hold of those exclusive figures that go on sale. The Good Smile Company certainly have the largest offering of these, which causes most people to head straight there upon entering the hall. For reference, I arrived around an hour before the event started at Summer WonFes 2011, and barely managed to get the exclusive Madoka Nendoroid they had for sale. The 1:1 scale Kyubey sold out while I was in the queue, and everything sold out just minutes after I'd left it. Get here at least an hour early to avoid disappointment, and make sure you have adequate protection if you are here in the summer, as you'll be sitting in direct sunlight while waiting for WonFes to begin.  You shouldn't have any trouble finding the stall to head to, as most people will be heading straight to it. Follow the crowd and get in the queue, but don't try running or barging in! When you are there, you'll see some people holding signs like this, which indicate what exclusives are for sale, and how many you can get per person. When you get close to the sales desk, you'll be given a pencil and an order sheet, which you'll need to fill out and hand to the desk so they can retrieve your order as fast as possible. Have your money ready too, so you don't hold up the queue! You may also be lucky enough to get one of these awesome masks for your troubles!  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that particular works are shown off in the 'wonder showcase'? Many sellers have their works promoted this way, bringing them to the attention of people with extortionate amounts of money (i.e. the visitors). Many of the pieces on display are snapped up really quickly, so be sure to check it out before they all sell, just to see what they're like! Right next to the Good Smile Company stand is the stage, which will have various people talking/performing on throughout the day. You'll need to check the website and/or guide book at the time to see who will be appearing, and whether you need to prepare copious amounts of glow sticks in advance. I got to see the JAM Project and the Milky Holmes voice actresses, so it really is a mixed bag of people! As I mentioned before, it's forbidden to take photos of the stage at any time. Don't be surprised if an employee busts into a ninja pose to dive himself in front of your camera and prevent you taking a fantastic photograph. Not that it happened to me at Comiket or anything. Nuh uh.  There are actually several halls full of sellers, rather than one large hall like many conventions here in the west. The main hall features a lot of the large figurine companies showing off what they'll be selling in the not too distant future. You'll get to see a lot of prototype models, as well as buy some of the older ones at select stalls. There are definitely a lot of photo opportunities to be found here, especially if this is your kind of hobby! There will be a lot of people handing out promotional material, whether this be catalogues and bags to plastic folders and badges. Keep an eye out to score some free goodies! If you move into the other halls, you will see a lot of the garage kit creators. It's easy to pass them off as cheap imitations of professional models, but you can really see some gems here! Madoka fever was still in full effect when I got to look around, and many people had stunning recreations of the characters for sale. I don't doubt that if there's a popular series at the time, you'll be seeing a lot of related figures from people here! Oh, and be sure to show some ID if you are trying to enter the 'adult' tent that sells the more... revealing figures. Professional Tip #2 A few small things to think about! Make sure that, if you are going with other people, that you have somewhere you can meet up in the event you lose each other. This place might not have Comiket levels of people in the halls, but it's still very easy to get separated. Pick a place to meet, and go back their on the hour if someone is missing from your group. It can be tricky to find people without phones! The other thing is to consider bringing some food with you if you're staying over lunch. There are a few stalls selling food, but it's definitely cheaper to bring some onigiri or a bento with you. More money for cooler things, right? The halls right at the back are full of sellers, from professionals to flea market type stands. I certainly recommend rummaging around the stalls here, as you can find some great bargains. It's also a good place to finally hunt down that Figma/Nendoroid/other figurine you were looking for, and at cheaper prices than your typical Akihabara store too. I walked away with a case of Godzilla blind boxes (8 figures) for a very sweet ¥1000, so certainly take your time and look around! As you might expect, there is still a fair amount of cosplay to be seen here. Most of the cosplayers will stay outside for photographs and such, but you can still see them walking through the exhibition halls on occasion. You're free to cosplay if you like, but remember that you have to get changed at the event hall, as you aren't allowed to arrive in costume.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look at the festival of wonders. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Today's episode of JapanaTour is all about the wander festival, where thousands of people gather in a large field to walk about aimlessly.  Actually, I lied, as that's next weeks instalment. This week will be all about W...

JapanaTour: Shibuya

Feb 23 // Chris Walden
Shibuya slowly built itself up, but received a significant boost upon the completion of the Yamanote line rail service in 1885, and from then on it slowly became the entertainment district we know it for today. Shibuya station has since become one of the busiest in the country, and because of that the ward sees plenty of business. In 1947, Shibuya was accepted as one of Japan's special wards, joining the original 21 wards before the induction of Nerima. Shibuya is particularly famous with the Japanese youth for the night-life, music and fashion found here, but one of the most famous stories about the place concerns a dog.  The dog in question was Hachiko, who was born in 1923 and was absolutely adored by his owner. Hachiko would walk with his owner to the train station to see him off for work, then walk himself back home. He would then meet his owner as he arrived back from work, and as you might expect, Hachiko became famous with the locals because of this. However, one day, his master didn't return from work, having passed away while at the University he taught at. Hachiko then spent the next 12 or so years turning up to the station, waiting for a master that would never arrive. The dogs minor celebrity status earned him the famous Hachiko statue that can be seen in Shibuya, and Hachiko himself attended the unveiling back in 1934. Even after all the fuss, he continued to appear at the station until a year later when he passed away. His statue now serves as not only a memorial, but an extremely popular meeting spot. It's definitely worth checking out while you're there, but it'll no doubt be very busy. Fun Fact Time! Did you know that there is another popular meeting spot in Shibuya? It's a statue known as 'Moyai', which is based on the famous Moai statues of Easter island. It was gifted to Shibuya by Niijima island back in 1980, and like the Hachiko statue, is nigh on always crowded.  I mentioned it briefly, but you'll want to be taking the Yamanote line to Shibuya if you are coming from Shinjuku or Tokyo station. There are many other lines that come through Shibuya station, but I wouldn't worry too much about those unless you are coming from a location that the Yamanote line doesn't serve: From Shinjuku/Tokyo station, take the Yamanote line to Shibuya station (about 10 minutes from Shinjuku station, about 20 minutes from Tokyo station). Simple as that!  Shibuya station is very busy, and it can be easy to get yourself a bit confused while trying to navigate it. Be sure to keep an eye on the signs, and if need be, being wary of which way people are walking. The exit that you'll want to look for is the Hachikō exit (ハチ公), which will lead you to the famous Shibuya crossing. It is recommended that if you are looking for places in particular, you use this as the starting point!  As you may have guessed, Shibuya is home to the Shibuya crossing (madness, I know!) which is pictured in the topmost image. It's potentially the most famous scramble crossing in the world, and is just one of those sights you really have to see while you're over here. For a minute, just imagine being at the front of the crowd when you start to cross to the opposite side. You have people walking towards you from the left, right and the front. You can't help but think you're going to walk into someone and look like a total idiot, but somehow you manage to make it across to the other side without any crazy manoeuvres. It's one of those things that looks like it would be an absolute nightmare, but works fantastically. You won't be bored while you wait to cross either, as you get to admire the large televisions on the buildings around you, which beam down all sorts of weird and wonderful advertisements. If you end up in Shibuya you'll find it hard to avoid using it, but I'd certainly recommend doing so.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Yoyogi Park has been used as an Olympic venue? It was used for the 1964 Summer Olympics, and featured as one of the main locations. Shibuya as a whole featured somewhat, becoming cordoned off to become part of the marathon course. Of course, I can't really do an article about Shibuya without talking a little about what it does best! First on the hit list would be Center Gai, one of the most famous areas here for fashion and starting new trends. The place is surrounded by clothes and music stores, as well as the odd arcade here and there, so there's reason enough to explore this place even if you're just as unfashionable as I am! If you are more into your music than your fashion, there's one place you'll want to check out. I would have recommended visiting the absolutely massive HMV store they have here, but unfortunately it closed it's doors in 2010 after struggling to find the sales it needed. Fortunately, Tower Records is perhaps even more impressive. This seven-storey monstrosity was at one point the largest music store in the world, and even though it doesn't hold this title any more, it's still ridiculously impressive. They have a huge collection of world music as well as Japanese tunes, so if you happen to be looking for any piece of music in general, it might be worth popping in. You never know what you might find! For the more traditional otaku, there is a very cool Mandarake store here! The outside of the store, when you manage to find it, has a very awesome steampunk look to it. From here, you walk down a few flights of stairs into what looks like a cave area, with some flashing lights providing the illumination you need to actually find the entrance of the shop. This particular store has a large focus on doujins and manga, but they also have quite a good collection of figurines, anime and trading cards. In fact, a lot of the figures I saw here (being a Nendoroid addict) were particularly rare ones, so I'd recommend a look around.  Another interesting place to visit, though admittedly a little limited on what you can actually do there, is the NHK Studio Park. For a pretty reasonable ¥200 you get to go on an hour long tour of the NHK broadcasting studios. The very first thing you'll get to see is... yourself! They use a video camera to place you, and whoever else you happen to be touring with, on their massive 150 inch television! There are many different things to see and do while on the tour, and at the end of it all you get to visit the gift shop, which has, for good reason, the largest collection of Domo figures for sale on the planet! Fun fact time! Did you know that noitaminA is Animation backwards? Of course you do, so here's something else! The noitaminA anime block started back in 2005 on Fuji TV, but at this time only lasted half an hour and showed just a single episode of anime at a time. In 2010 it became an hour long, meaning double the anime! The first shows to appear as a 'double' were House of Five Leaves and The Tatami Galaxy, and since the creation of the block, it's aired 32 seasons of anime and one live action show!  The last place on my list is a very cool place, tucked away on the fifth floor of the Parco 1 building. It's the official store for noitaminA, the animation block that has broadcast awesome shows like The Tatami Galaxy, Ano Hana and Bunny Drop, and is currently showing the television series of Black★Rock Shooter. The store itself sells all sorts of goodies that are related to the shows it is or has been airing, which means there can be some very rare and awesome merchandise to be had. They also have a lot of displays to look at, which again are relevant to what they've been showing. When I was there, I got to see some drawings and a script from the Ano Hana anime, as well as some costumes that were tailored based on those seen in Fractale. They were even selling those cool cards that get waved about in C, though I was a bit poor at this point to consider buying one. The store is constantly changing as you might expect, so it's definitely a store to come back to whenever you find yourself in Shibuya!  You may have noticed that I've not said a lot about the arcades in this article (or any, really!). This is because I'll be doing an arcade-focused post in the future, so don't worry about it, I'll talk about the gooduns soon! For the record, there's a particular arcade here in Shibuya that is a sure visit! But hey, I'll talk about it soon enough! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look into the colourful land of Shibuya. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Today's episode of JapanaTour is all about the electric spectacle that is famous for it's fashion, music and stormtroopers.  When Japan is mentioned, a lot of people automatically assume that the entire country is a busy...

JapanaTour: Odaiba

Feb 16 // Chris Walden
Back in 1853, many small island batteries were built in order to defend Edo from naval attacks. These were known as 'daiba' in reference to the cannons that were used on them, but they were otherwise referred to by their number (for example, the number six island was known as the Dai-Roku Daiba). Skipping forward to 1979, several of these islands (that hadn't already been removed) were connected by what was then known as 'landfill no.13', forming what we know now as Odaiba. It was from here that Odaiba tried to prosper, but kept failing due to under-population and constant failed government projects, hampered by the Japanese asset price bubble in the late 80's. In the 90's, Odaiba was planned to be redeveloped into the Tokyo Teleport Town, an island 'from the future' that would showcase all sorts of weird and wonderful things, as well as provide housing for 100,000 people. This was abandoned in 1995, though the island would soon catch a break when important businesses like Fuji TV relocated there, as well as the completion of places like the Tokyo Big Sight convention centre.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that the voices behind the announcements at each station on the Yurikamome are recorded by famous voice actors? Each stop has a different actor, and some of them are particularly notable. My favourite has to be Hiro Shimono who does the announcements for the Shiodome stop. You may recognise him as Keima from The World God Only Knows and Yō Satō in Ben-To.  Travel is pretty simple, and there are two main ways you can get to Odaiba by train. The first is to be really boring and take regular trains to Tokyo Teleport Station (which is at least worth visiting, just so you can bring it up in conversation), but I most certainly recommend taking the Yurikamome. This looks kind of like a monorail, though it's essentially an elevated train that crosses over the water surrounding the island. I call it the sky train, because it sounds really impressive. In all seriousness, you can get some absolutely stunning views of the area that you wouldn't get by being boring and taking the underground. You can get to the Yurikamome like so: From Shinjuku/Tokyo station, take the Yamanote line to Shimbashi station. From here, change to the Yurikamome.  The Yurikamome travels in a loop, so you don't have to worry too much about getting back, so long as you can remember where you got off! While you can pay individual fares, it is worth paying for the all-day pass if you plan to do some exploring. This will cost you ¥800, and it'll definitely stop you worrying about racking up several individual fares.  There is a lot you can get up to while you're here, but it really depends on what kind of things you enjoy doing. There's the Fuji-TV building, which you can pay a small fee to visit the observation floor if you fancy seeing the sights. You'll recognise this building immediately from the header image, as well as it having a strange sphere built into it. Inside the sphere itself is a particularly expensive Chinese restaurant, but it could be worth a visit if you fancy splashing out. An interesting place, at least to look at, is the Museum of Maritime Science. The building itself is shaped like an ocean liner, and strangely enough this place was built around one of it's exhibits, rather than the other way around. If you like swimming and are here in the summer, you can pay to use their open-air swimming pool! One of the more famous sights is the Rainbow Bridge, which is a great piece of eye candy. Feel free to walk across it if you fancy that, just be wary that it can take about 40 minutes to do so. That, and you'll be contending with the exhaust fumes, so it might be better to take a few photos! Oh, and you've got to check the Gundam out if it's that time when the planets are aligned and it's actually on display.  Fun fact time! Did you know that near the Ferris wheel lies a building known as Leisureland? It's a massive entertainment building, where you can get involved in activities like bowling, darts and baseball, while also housing some of the more traditional arcades. Two things of note are the haunted house and the ninja illusion house. Definitely worth checking out! If you ride the Yurikamome to Aomi Station, you'll be able to visit Palette Town. This is kind of like the one from the popular Pokémon games, besides being spelt differently. Unfortunately I'm lying, though there are some cool things here besides just being able to say you've been. Perhaps the coolest thing here is the Venus Fort, a shopping centre modelled after 17th century Europe. The place is indoors, so it may feel a little weird with the painted sky and whatnot, but it's pretty darn cool. There's even a casino in here, if you really fancy your luck! The Sun Walk is another shopping centre here that may hold your attention, if you're interested in pets anyway! You can visit the dog café, which you can bring your canine companion to if you happen to have one. If you don't, why not find the strange yet cool dog rental service? You get to walk the dog for an hour, which is pretty neat for those pet lovers who can't have a furry friend in the house. There are also some arcades that'll keep you busy if you don't fancy any of that! If you don't have a fear of heights, you can ride the 115 meter tall Ferris wheel for some crazy views. Each rotation takes fifteen minutes, so it wont take up much of your time either. It's ¥900 per person, or ¥3000 for a whole cabin, which up to six people can use.  It's up for debate, but aside from Comiket days, I think Joypolis is definitely the place you'll want to check out first. It's a three-floor indoor theme park owned by those crazy Sega folk, combining rides, simulators and arcade machines. Entry will cost you ¥500 for the basic pass, which you'll then need to top up with money accordingly while inside the park, depending on what rides you'll be trying out. There are a variety of all-inclusive ticket prices too, so you'll have to take your pick based on how much you think you'll be doing.  The bottom floor is where the bigger rides are, such as the roller coaster and the Board Rider. This is also where a lot of the usual arcade fixtures are found, such as the UFO machines and various arcade cabinets. They don't have as good a selection of arcade units here compared to their main arcades, but there are some cool older games available that you won't see elsewhere. I spent a lot of my time playing an older version of Taiko no Tatsujin, but also worth checking out is the Lupin III typing game, which was pretty much a carbon copy of Typing of the Dead. Also, be sure to grab a friend and play the air hockey. Besides it being an awesome version which uses a projector to display things like power-ups and other interesting things, on both occasions me and a friend did this we garnered quite the crowd! I'm not sure if we play this game differently in the West, but after a particularly heated match in an arcade in Shinjuku, our game ended to applause and a guy high-fiving me. Pretty darn cool, no? Fun fact time! Did you know that the first Joypolis opened in 1994 in Yokohama? Unfortunately it was fairly short lived, as it ended up closing in 1998 during corporate restructuring. Luckily for us the one in Odaiba is still going strong, and it continues to lure in a lot of celebrities. If you fancy seeing Michael Jackson's signature, you'll find it on the wall on the way out, along with many others! Perhaps my favourite feature of Joypolis is the simulation-style games they have here. One particularly cool one features you and a friend getting in a safari car that can move and spin, with two screens in front and behind you. As you progress through the game, the car spins, making it harder for you to shoot the incoming waves of giant insects, as well as spinning you 180 degrees to fend off action on both of the large screens. There were some very cool looking games that you'll only really be able to do if you have a good understanding of the Japanese language, such as the 4-team quiz game with a real-life host, and the Ace Attorney Investigations attraction, which has you inspect a real room to figure out how a crime happened. Unfortunately out of my scope, but seriously awesome nonetheless.  To round off your trip, it's worth checking out Aqua City, which is a great place to eat out and explore. It's technically another shopping centre, though definitely the better one out of the lot in Odaiba. If you head all the way up to the fifth floor, you can check out the Ramen Museum, where you can also eat a variety of different types of the wonder noodle. There is also a Sony Mediage, which showcases some of their new products, as well as housing a cinema. If you read last weeks article, you'll also know that there is a Jump Shop here too! It's a pretty good place to go and wind down after a fun day at Joypolis.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look into the artificial land of Odaiba. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Today's episode of JapanaTour is brought to you by the letter φ.  I'm not sure if you are aware, but Sega is a pretty big deal in Japan. Sega owned arcades are fairly commonplace in Tokyo, so there's no surprise...

JapanaTour: Otaku Tourist part one

Feb 09 // Chris Walden
It might seem a bit weird to start the ball rolling with a well known name like this, but there are some good reasons as to why I am. This particular store is hidden away in Akihabara, and if you aren't exploring every back alley (which I seriously urge you do), then it would be pretty easy to miss it. They sell a lot of miscellaneous merchandise, and you'll find most of it down on the bottom floor. Blind box figures, Kyubey pillows and the like can be found here. They also sell some of the more odd items, such as Railgun ties. I'd like to see someone wear one to work, that's for sure.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that Kotobukiya originally existed as a single toy store, all the way back in 1947? Their venture into figurines came when they made their first original kit back in 1983, and the business took off in 1985 with the release of their first licensed kit; King Godzilla. Of course, I wouldn't be talking about this place if that was all there was to it. If you head upstairs you will find several floors dedicated to figurines, be this statues or kits. They sell a huge number of them, but what makes it really interesting is that they have large display cabinets set up on these floors. They'll take figures that are for sale, as well as a few that I imagine aren't, and create little dioramas in some of them. Not all of the cabinets are like that admittedly, but we did get to see a fantastic pile of Misaka Mikoto stackable figures (like this, but hundreds of them in towers and piles). There was also a TV showing clips from a Godzilla film, so they really knew how to keep people in there! If you love mecha kits in particular, this store is certainly for you. Our next stop is the Jump Shop, a chain of stores dedicated to selling the merchandise of series found in Weekly Shounen Jump. If you think that most of the goodies behind these doors is going to be Naruto, Bleach or One Piece related... you'd be right. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't enough representation for shows like Gintama and Katekyo Hitman Reborn, just be prepared to sift through a lot of goodies! Still, it's an awesome place to visit. The door has manga displayed around it for crying out loud! Fun fact time! Did you know that while manga frequently comes and goes from Weekly Shonen Jump, there has been a series running since 1976? It's called Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen Mae Hashutsujo, or Kochikame for short! If you're interested, you'll have to hunt around for all 176 volumes! One of the great things about the different Jump Shops is that they are packed with some fantastic, store-specific displays. I took a picture of this one outside the store in Odaiba, but it only really serves as a small glimpse into what else they had to show. They came in all sorts of forms, including a giant Luffy statue stood beside one of the walls. You should check this post that Brad made a few years back, so you'll really get an idea of what these places can be like.  The biggest draw is probably the fact that there is a lot of merchandise that can only be found in these shops, so you won't often see them cropping up in Akihabara unless someone is selling them on. You can also get some interesting anime branded consumables, such as Naruto ramen or One Piece Franky cola. You can find one of these stores in the very cool Tokyo Dome City, or head to Yokohama to find the Landmark Mall, which houses not only another Jump Shop, but one of these stores also:  Whether you are a fellow Pokémaniac or just a curious observer, this place is amazing. It's the store we all wanted as kids when our Pokémon Red and Blue cartridges were firmly seated in our Game Boy Pockets. Everywhere you look, there is something weird and wonderful with Pokémon slapped all over it. Kids run around the store with baskets full of anything and everything they could reach, and believe me, this stuff isn't cheap. From food to plush toys, to figurines and toasters, there was very little that the kids weren't interested in. I'm not sure if it's a tradition, like a rite of passage, but their parents must have been loaded. Either that or they had run off when the kid wasn't looking.  Fun fact time! Did you know that behind the trio of Pokémon up there, you can find Satoshi Tajiri's signature? Seems he did that when the store first opened, and there are a few other signatures alongside it from top dogs in the Pokémon business.  When you walk in, you'll notice that they are indeed playing the Pokécenter theme from the games. It makes it feel that much more awesome, but you can't help but feel a little sorry for the employees that have to deal with screaming children, looping music and tourists all day. Be prepared to lose your money though, as this shop definitely has something that lures you into buying unnecessary things. For example, in my first trip to the store, I ended up buying some Japanese Pokémon trading cards. I don't play the game and I can't read Japanese. I have no idea why I bought them, but I sure as hell bought more when I went back. On second thought, perhaps it's a good idea to stay away... That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look into ways of losing all of your money. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some places to recommend, leave them in the comments below! 

JapanaTour: now running on Valve time.  I'll admit, I'm nearing the end of places I can write about. Having only visited the country on holidays, my time there has been rather limited, so I figure it's high time I focus ...

JapanaTour: Sendai

Jan 26 // Chris Walden
After receiving permission from Tokugawa Ieyasu, Date Masamune had a new castle built on Mount Aoba in Sendai, and it's at this point that Sendai began to grow. Why did he want to build a new castle? He just really didn't like his current one! The surrounding city was built soon afterwards, and it continues to flourish to this day. Sendai has become famous for its extravagant festivals, as well as gaining the nickname 'gakuto', or 'academic city', due to the number of colleges and universities they have.  Sendai is also particularly famous for it's scenic views, especially around the Akiu and Sakunami hot springs. You can also find the Matsushima here, which are 260 pine tree covered islands that are hailed as one of the 'three views of Japan'. Unfortunately, Sendai was devastated in the 2011 earthquakes, though it didn't take them long to get to work restoring the area.  Fun Fact Time! Did you know that Sendai has popularised a few different foods? One of these is 'gyutan', which you can try out for yourselves when you go for lunch! Oh, it's cow tongue, usually served grilled. You never know, it may taste great! It's back to the bullet train again, so you'll want to head over to Tokyo station to catch it. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, you'll want the 'Hayate' train, but if you're paying for the trains individually, you're mad you may as well take the 'Hayabusa'. Those with the Rail Pass can't use it, but it's only three hundred yen more expensive than a regular 'Hayate' train fare (¥10,890 instead of ¥10,590), and will get you there a little quicker. You'll want to do the following: From Tokyo Station, take the 'Hayate' shinkansen (if you have a Rail Pass) or the 'Hayabusa' (if you don't) to Sendai station. This should take about an hour and a half (Hayabusa) or a little under two hours (Hayate).  Remember to carry your Japan Rail Pass and your Passport at all times! Luckily this is one of the shorter trips outside of Tokyo, but I'd still recommend bringing along a few games or something. My DS saw a lot of play time, I'll tell you that. A short walk from the station you will find the 'Loople Sendai' bus service. Using this, you can pay a mere ¥600 for unlimited travel on it's route, which will take you to many of Sendai's significant historical locations. You'll need to buy a ticket at the bus station from a small booth, and you'll notice the buses from afar, as they have a very old-fashioned look.  One place definitely worth checking out is the Date mausoleum, known as the Zuihoden. Date Masamune himself ordered that it built upon his death, and it was finally completed in 1637, after under a year in construction. Many of the Date clan are buried here, including some members of the family that did not necessarily become daimyo. It's a beautiful place to visit, as it contains many elaborate stone statues and ornate buildings. A lot of the structures were damaged or destroyed in 1945 during the Second World War, but have since been restored. There is also a small museum here, containing items that were excavated after the 1945 bombings during reconstruction of the Zuihoden. You will also find a guest book here, which you can sign and leave messages in. If you get the chance to visit, see if you can find my entry! Fun fact time! Did you know that, contrary to popular opinion, Date Masamune didn't wear an eyepatch to prevent accidental laser-related accidents? He lost the sight in one of his eyes to smallpox, which caused his mother to try and get his younger brother made heir to the Date clan instead. In response, Date killed his brother, thus preventing future arguments on the matter. Some people claim that Date removed the eyeball himself, where others say he had Katakura Kojuro do it for him. Regardless, he didn't let the eye hamper his reign as daimyo, though it is the reason behind his 'One-Eyed Dragon' nickname.  Of course, it would be silly to visit Sendai and not visit Aoba Castle. If you survive the climb up the hill to get to it (tip: take the bus) you'll be treated to one of the best views in the whole of Japan. Of course, this is my own opinion, but I went up enough towers to give a pretty good opinion, I think! It's from up here that you will see the towering statue of Date Masamune on a horse (seen in the header image). On good days, there will also be people dressed up as Sengoku era warriors, who I imagine will talk a little bit about the history of the place. If you can't understand Japanese like myself, it at least makes for an awesome photo opportunity. The majority of the castle is still in ruin, both from being dismantled in part in the 1870s, as well as the 1945 bombings, but there are some beautiful sights to see and I would strongly recommend going along with a camera.  The Sendai Loople will also take you past the Sendai City Museum, which houses well over 90,000 items of interest. It has a ¥400 entry and has a wide range of different exhibits, not necessarily limited to the Sengoku era. There is certainly a fair amount of it though, including full suits of armour (replica and originals) and weaponry, letters from one daimyo to another and all sorts of other cool things. Some of the one-off exhibits they like to run may have an additional entry fee, but to be honest, the main museum will certainly hold your interest. Even if history isn't your thing, you may want to consider coming so that you can try on a replica of Date Masamune's helmet. I certainly had a good laugh messing around with it, but here's a picture of a friend of mine wearing it instead. Sold yet? Fun fact time! Did you know that the 'City of Lights' festival in Riverside, California was an idea taken from Sendai? Every December it holds the 'Sendai Pageant of Starlight', which involves adorning the trees in Aoba-dōri and Jōzenji-dōri with over a million tiny orange lights. Apparently the light it casts on the harsh, cold weather is very pleasant, and no doubt a sight to see if you are in Japan at the time. Chances are that you've seen something related to Tanabata in manga/anime. This particular festival is hugely celebrated in Sendai, where they will hang intricate decorations and hold parades at the beginning of August. People will often write a wish on a 'tanzaku', which are small strips of paper, and tie them to bamboo. Food stalls and carnival games can also be seen, and the Sendai festival in particular hosts a huge fireworks display. This is held every August 5th, so you may want to consider renting a hotel room overnight so that you can enjoy it. Unfortunately, the shinkansen doesn't run at late hours.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this look into the land of never-ending parties. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

THIS. IS. JAPANATOUR! Apologies for the two weeks of no-show, I had a really silly deadline at University I had to make amongst other things. But never mind that, as this week we'll be heading to lands once trodden by the One...

JapanaTour: Akihabara part two

Jan 05 // Chris Walden
Where better to start than the firm favourite of newtypes from across the globe? The Gundam Café certainly isn't going to be a place you'll walk past without realising! The exterior looks like it could be a part of the White Base, while the interior contains flat-screen TV's, Gundam statues and a good amount of themed merchandise. Haro takes pride of place on the bar, where they serve a surprisingly large list of cocktails. I went for the Ramba Ral myself! The whole café is kitted out with neon lights too, so it really feels like you've been whisked away from Akihabara. To get a seat, you have to wait outside and be shown to a table when one becomes available. You should notice the queues when you arrive, as it's very rarely a quiet place to stop!  Professional Tip #1 A little peckish, near the Gundam Café and don't fancy eating inside? No problem! To the right of the doors to the adjacent Gundam shop, there is a small window in which you can purchase Gundam shaped taiyaki! The machine to the right of that window is where you will pay and receive a voucher to hand in and claim your food. Fillings include ham and cheese, custard and red bean paste, plus the machine is labelled in English. Delicious! You will be looking at spending between ¥800 and ¥1500 for the food alone if you want to eat here, and while the food itself isn't spectacular, the experience sure is. I picked the 'Char-Zaku Curry Rice', because it was red, and boy was it hot. It had a warning on the menu, and even the lady at the till pointed it out just in case I hadn't seen it, but you've got to go all out at times like this! Perhaps I was channelling the spirit of Char himself, or it could be because I'm a fan of hot food, but spice aside, it was a really nice curry! There are of course some less flammable choices on the menu, but just bear in mind that the portions shown in the pictures are exactly what you'll be getting. If you are absolutely starving, I'd avoid coming here as a first choice. Oh, be sure to check out the bathroom while you are here! You'll be in for a treat! Here's a very recent addition to the already plentiful Akihabara cafés, and it gets absolutely no complaints from me! This didn't exist when I last visited Japan, though I did venture out to the middle of nowhere to visit the original Good Smile Café. If you aren't already aware, the café regularly changes its theme every few months, giving people like us more of a reason to make a return visit. It was a Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica theme back in July, but I believe the current theme for the Akihabara café is Type-Moon. You'll have to look up the theme before you go, which you can do by checking their website. This café can be found hidden up on the fifth floor of the Akiba Culture Zone building, which looks like this.  Professional Tip #2 Don't feel like you are obliged to eat a full meal! A lot of people will come to these cafés to buy a drink and/or a dessert, so if you don't fancy it, just go for a snack! Sure, you could go elsewhere for a cheaper price, but where's the fun in that? With the menus changing frequently, it's hard to really recommend any food in particular. However, chances are you can find a meal shaped like a character (see the header image if you somehow missed it) and start to do creative things to it. I was told to never play with my food, but I figured this was as good a time as any to rebel. It is worth pointing out that it isn't just the food that changes with the themes, as the entire café will be plastered in relevant merchandise. The Madoka café in particular had early sketches, cut outs and figurines that really spruced the place up. Oh, and that one witch.  There is also the very recent AKB48 café, which has opened up literally next door to the Gundam Café. This place also didn't exist when I last visited, so I can't really speak for its menu, but I imagine they've really pushed the boat out for it. Perhaps the members that aren't doing so well end up here... Moving on. If you want to really fill yourself up for a good price, then I can't recommend Go!Go!Curry! enough. The queues can be fairly long as it's a very popular place to eat, but it's completely worth it for the huge portions of curry and large selections of meats to go inside it. Of course, if you can't seem to adapt to the Japanese cuisine, there is also a KFC somewhere. Try to be adventurous though! Now, I can't really touch on food without mentioning the infamous maid cafés! There are a frightening number of the places in Akihabara, and you only have to look around the streets to see girls handing out fliers for their respective workplaces. They aren't my cup to tea unfortunately, but I will tell you about the three I find most interesting! The very first of its kind, 'Cure Maid Café' started the phenomenon and is still going strong. The maids here are very much the traditional style maids, so you won't be seeing any short skirts! 'Cos-cha' is the second on my list, which features their maids in a huge variety of different costumes. I hear they are also famous for their 'school swimsuit' days, and offer a 'spoon feeding' service for a mere ¥500! The final café is 'Nagomi', which focuses on 'little sister' maids. Apparently they can be really nice, but some will act tsundere and cry when you try and leave. I'm sure this will appeal to someone reading this!  Professional Tip #3 'Popopure' gets an honourable mention, as they have a few English-speaking maids. If you don't think you can handle the real deal, you may want to check this place out! There are a lot of stalls and shops where you can get snacks if you aren't feeling up to a full meal, besides those I've mentioned before. Mister Donut sells plenty of dough-based goodies that'll surely satisfy your sweet tooth, and there are a few crepe stands too. Failing all of that, you could always pop into a convenience store and pick up some onigiri! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this second look into the world of Akihabara and it's fabulous foodstuffs. If you want to write about your own experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that are created by mashing my fingers on a keyboard until something half legible appears. Raising the bar, folks!  It's time for a second trip into the otaku wonderland...

JapanaTour: Osaka

Dec 29 // Chris Walden
Osaka has a rife history dating all the way back to the 5th century, but it wasn't until the Edo period in the 17th century that it really began to prosper. It became the most important economic centre at the time, and re-established itself as an important port city, a title it had held in the past. In the late 19th century it became such a busy and profitable place to live that it began to lure in immigrants, most of which had moved from Korea to make a living.  Unfortunately, Osaka and the area around it was a huge target for allied bombing runs in the Second World War, and was absolutely devastated by explosive damage. However, it eventually rebuilt itself and became the huge commercial hub we see today. Fun fact time! Did you know that Osaka was referred to as the 'tenka no daidokoro' during the Edo period? It literally means 'nation's kitchen', and was known as this due to Osaka being the centre of rice trade at the time.  You'll need to head on over to Tokyo station again to take the shinkansen to Osaka. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, you'll be looking out for the 'Hikari' train again: From Tokyo Station, take the 'Hikari' shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station. This should take a little over three hours.  From Shin-Osaka, you can take the JR Kyoto line to Osaka station itself. From here you can start exploring, or use one of the many JR lines to go elsewhere. Do note that the 'Hikari' shinkansen does not stop at the main Osaka station.  Remember to show your Japan Rail Pass to the attendants at the gates if you are using a JR line train, as you wont want to have to pay more than you already are! It may be a long trip, but be sure to be on your best behaviour. I'm probably not the best example to follow! The most predominant feature of Osaka is debatably the castle, which is absolutely stunning. You can venture inside it, though instead of seeing a recreation of what the castle would have looked like back in its prime, it has instead been converted into a museum. Again, most of the exhibits and stories told within are available in English, but the entry fee is only ¥600 so it's worth paying that to snoop around regardless! Outside the castle are a lot of market-style stalls, which sell both souvenirs and refreshments. Be careful though, as in the Summer weather, there are a lot of wasps about! If you can make it, it's worth visiting the castle at the very end of March/beginning of April, when Hanami starts. Hanami, which literally means 'flower viewing', is when the cherry blossoms trees bloom and people from all over will visit to picnic, drink and generally have a good time! There are also festivities, such as dancing and taiko drummers, which makes for one awesome experience! Fun fact time! Did you know that Osaka castle was damaged in the Second World War in 1945, yet it wasn't until 1995 that reconstruction began? The castle renovations were completed a few years later in 1997.  Another area of interest is the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is a great place to chill out after the long train journey. You'll need to head to Osakako station via the Osaka Municipal Subway Chūō Line, which will more or less take you straight to it. You should notice it fairly easy, as the building has all sorts of aquatic themed pictures around it. Also, it looks like it should be in a Gundam series. But why travel all the way to Osaka just to see some fish? Well, it just so happens that they have a really large one. A really large one. From what I can gather, there are only thirteen whale sharks in captivity like this, so if you really want to see one up close and don't happen to live in Atlanta, USA, then this would be an ideal opportunity! They also have many more fish, penguins, seals and even some monkeys. Yeah, I'm not too sure why they have monkeys, but it just adds to the fun! There also seems to be entertainment outside the aquarium, where I managed to see a lady ride a unicycle while juggling. Japanese culture at its finest! Also, if you go in the summer, they have cooling tents set up which you can stand under and get sprayed by a very fine, misty water. It certainly helped cool you down in the 35 degree July heat! Fun fact time! Did you know that there are 470 different species held at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan? That might not sound like a lot, but they have roughly 29,000 individual animals inside that building! For those looking for an Akihabara replacement while away from Tokyo, then Nipponbashi is definitely worth checking out. You may know it as Den-Den Town, and it's just as focused on electronics, figurines and maid cafés as its Tokyo twin. There are a lot of duty-free shops in the area too, more so than Akiba, so if that matters to you then you can also save a few pennies! If you are into your mechs, you may want to check out Osaka Gundams. It's a two story building dedicated to everything Gundam, so you budding Neo Zeons out there will want to bring lots of gilla! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look at the mighty Osaka. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that should never be made wet, exposed to sunlight or fed after midnight.  Continuing from last week, we will be staying out of Tokyo to take a look at Osaka. Wait, Osak...

JapanaTour: Hiroshima

Dec 22 // Chris Walden
Hiroshima was founded way back in 1589 by the warlord Mōri Terumoto, building a castle and making it the capital of his controlled fiefs. During these times, the ownership of Hiroshima and the property therein changed hands frequently. It wasn't until the 19th century during the Imperial period that Hiroshima became a port town, slowly establishing itself as an important city. The Russo-Japanese war and the First World War meant that Hiroshima was involved in military activities, which it continued in the Second World War.   Unfortunately, most of us know what happened next. On August 6th 1945, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb that would eventually kill in excess of 140,000. Twinned with the atomic bombing in Nagasaki, Japan soon surrendered and the war ended. The area was ruined, and post-war restoration projects were started in order to restore Hiroshima. Contrary to popular belief, it is now an absolutely stunning city, a beauty that hides the horrors of the nuclear wasteland it once was.  Fact #1 Did you know that Barefoot Gen is a manga and animated film based on the Hiroshima bombing and aftermath? Gen is a six year-old boy who is faced with coping with the repercussions caused by the atomic bomb. It is also loosely based on the authors own experiences. The best way to get to Hiroshima, assuming you are staying in Tokyo, is to take the shinkansen from Tokyo station: From Tokyo Station, take the 'Hikari' shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station. This should take a little over three hours.  From Shin-Osaka, take the 'Sakura' shinkansen to Hiroshima station. This should take about an hour and a half.  As you can see, the train travel is going to take around five hours, transfer included. It is very important that you plan your day out if you want to come here, just to try and avoid missing out on something, or in the worst case scenario missing the last train back to Tokyo. Be sure to remember that if you are using the Japan Rail Pass, you can't take the 'Nozomi' train. Don't make a mistake by aiming to catch one of those trains back unless you have a whopping ¥17,540 spare! You can ride a 'Hikari' train out of Tokyo from around 7am, so be sure to look up the exact times you'll be heading out, as well as the times for the last two trains back. If you are planning to visit the museum and memorials, this will likely take up all the time you have available to spend there. It might sound like it's not worth the effort for the small amount of time you'll have there, but of all of the places I visited outside of Tokyo (Kyoto, Osaka and Sendai being some of the others), the trip here was the most memorable and worthwhile. As you might be able to tell from the photo above, there is little to show for the destruction that existed 65 years ago. Well, that is if you disregard the building on the right of the photo, but we'll get onto that later. If you wanted to go wild with the camera to take some stunning mementos, this is certainly the place to do it. Those of you that will spend most of your time in and around Tokyo will be welcomed by the greenery, as it's surprising how little of it you'll see in a usual day in Japan. There are plenty of monuments and memorials to look at, or perhaps catch a boat down the river. It seems strange to say it, but it can be a very relaxing yet surreal experience. A far cry from the bustling cities to the east.  Fact #2 Did you know that Sadako Sasaki folded over a thousand paper cranes here? She was only two years old when she was hit by the radiation from the blast, and suffered with it all the way up to her death at the young age of twelve. She began folding paper cranes after hearing the ancient story that doing so would grant you a wish. Aiming to cure herself of the leukaemia, she managed the thousand and kept on going. A lot of the memorials in Hiroshima feature Sadako or cranes, and the museum contains a few of the cranes she folded while in the hospital.  The husk of a building in that photo is known as the 'A-Bomb Dome', and it lays in the same state as it was directly after the bombings, besides a little renovation work to minimise damage to the structure. The bomb itself detonated almost directly above this, so the fact that it still stands is what made is so significant. It was to be torn down during the reconstruction of Hiroshima, the same as the few other remaining buildings, but this was delayed due to it's unusual state. As the city was rebuilt around it, people began to rally to keep the building as a memorial, and eventually that is what it became. You can't go inside, but the views from around the structure offer more than enough information as to the elements it was put through. While the building is now here to stay, keeping it was a controversial decision, and a good number of people in Hiroshima refuse to go near it. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a tough place to recommend. I have no regrets whatsoever about going, and I'm glad I did, but those of you who get upset easily or can't cope with graphic images may want to give it a miss. The museum recounts the history of Hiroshima, as well as having an obvious focus on the bomb and the after effects. However, there is a large section of the museum that shows items and photos taken from the atomic wasteland, and they are without exaggeration images I'll be seeing for years to come. Entry is a mere ¥50, the exhibits inside are mostly in English and photos can be taken in most areas. It isn't going to be a happy experience, but I assure you that, on the assumption that you can cope with such information, it isn't a place you will regret visiting.  Fact #3 Did you know that the oleander is the official flower of Hiroshima? This is because it was the first flower to bloom after the radiation set in.  Whether or not you decide to view the museum, know that there are a lot of people hanging about Hiroshima that will give you information about the area. I was lucky enough to bump into a nice lady who was practising English by the A-Bomb Dome, where she toured me and my friends around key areas of the city. These people aren't hard to come by either, as many go here as part of school courses to help practice their language skills. If you see large groups of school children, be prepared to have them come and talk to you. They won't be talking about Hiroshima specifically though, as they will be wanting to practice basic English with you. There seems to be a mutual understanding between people here, where it doesn't feel odd or awkward to be approached in such a place. Keep an eye out for people with clipboards if you want a tour, and as much as they are usually around, be sure to have other plans if you manage to arrive on a day where they don't show up.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look at the beautiful yet saddening Hiroshima. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that are written in my spare time, between watching Pokémon, Godzilla and Ghibli films.  The next few JapanaTour articles are going to feature places outside of T...

JapanaTour: The Suica and the Shinkansen

Dec 09 // Chris Walden
The humble Suica card was introduced in 2001 as a method of simplifying payment for travel. It's pretty much a credit card that contains 'contactless technology,' meaning you don't have to insert the card into a barrier or jam it on top of the sensor for it to work. You can top them up in several locations, but most train stations in Tokyo will have the machines that do this. They are clearly marked and are as simple as popping the card in the machine and then inserting the money. The on-screen instructions are also available in English, so that helps! Fun fact time! Did you know that the name 'Suica' actually means 'Super Urban Intelligent Card'? You may also notice that on the logo the 'I' and 'C' are different. This is because they are representing the 'Integrated Circuit' kept inside the cards. Of course, it is entirely optional as to whether you want to use a Suica card, as you can also buy regular train tickets. I highly recommend you do though, and keep it topped up with at least ¥1000 at all times. You never know if you'll just fancy nipping into Akihabara on the way back from somewhere else! Now, to get hold of one of these, you'll need to buy one in a Tokyo train station. They cost ¥2000, but ¥1500 of that cost will be placed on the card for you. The other ¥500 acts as a deposit, so if you don't plan on coming back to Japan, you can hand it back. Pretty neat right? If you think you'll be back, you can use the Suica card and any money you left on it on your next trip. The card will stay active for ten years after the last use, so there's plenty of time to re-use it. There are plenty of details on the English page over here if you fancy reading up on it! The primary use of the Suica card is to serve as a train ticket. When you are heading for a train, you will have to pass through some barriers that will have both a ticket slot and a Suica sensor on top. To use the Suica card, all you need to do is wave it across the sensor and walk through. The card will remember what station you are at, then when you leave the station of your destination, it'll calculate the cost and deduct it from your credit. Just keep the card in your wallet, as there's no need to remove it for the sensor to pick it up. You'll notice most people just swiping their wallets over the sensors! When you swipe your card, there will be a small display near the sensor that will show you your remaining credit. If for some reason you don't have the credit to leave a station, you'll be able to find machines to top up before leaving, so no need to worry about that! Fun fact time! Did you know that you can get Suica cards with different designs on them? The regular cards are the same as the one shown in the header image up the top, but in some places and for certain events, you may get a different looking one. Some people have even created their own! My Suica card doesn't have the regular design, and it looks like this. You may notice sensors for Pasmo, which was a rival card to that of the Suica. However, they now have a partnership, meaning that whether you have a Pasmo or Suica card, you can use it on any Pasmo or Suica sensor! Trains aren't the only thing these cards work on though. Convenience stores will often let you pay by Suica, but check they have the sensor by the counter before you try! A lot of vending machines will have the option to pay by Suica, which is darn cool! When you have bags full of things you've bought, the last thing you want to do is fiddly about with 10 yen coins! Well, that last one might just be down to me being super lazy, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who appreciates the option! If you are planning to travel around Japan, you'll definitely have checked out the bullet trains, or Shinkansen as they are known over there. With top speeds of around 300km/h, they are absolutely necessary if you want to stay in a hotel in Tokyo and also visit places like Osaka and Hiroshima. It's also the world's busiest high-speed train service, carrying over 151 million passengers a year. It's also particularly eco-friendly, producing about 16% of the carbon dioxide an equivalent journey by car would produce. In short, it's pretty amazing! Fun fact time! Did you know that the Hayabusa Shinkansen got its name from a public vote? However, while the top two names caught media attention (Hatsukari, the name of a train that was scrapped, and Hatsune, based on the Vocaloid and a popular vote because of the trains colour scheme), the contest deemed the 7th place Hayabusa the victor. As you might expect, the Shinkansen only run from particular stations. Tokyo station is where you want to go to catch one of them, but you'll need a ticket first. Individual tickets are going to cost a lot of money, so it's highly recommended that if you are planning to do more than the odd trip out of Tokyo, you buy a 'Japan Rail Pass'. What this does is grant you unlimited travel on any of the JR line trains, including the Shinkansen. However, you won't be allowed to ride on the fastest bullet train, known as Nozomi, without paying for a separate ticket. The next fastest train, known as Hikari, is available on the Rail Pass and isn't much slower, so I suggest you go for the week-long pass at ¥28,300. It's a crazy amount of money, but as I'll eventually cover, it is most definitely worth visiting places like Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. You'll want to order these ahead of time from places like this, but you'll need to redeem the pass when you are in Japan. You can also use the pass to avoid going through the barriers you would usually use a Suica on, though you will have to show it to an attendant. You can do this for any travel method owned by the JR, be this trains or buses. The attendants will let you know if you're trying to use the pass on a different companies service, but the JR services are quite clearly marked.  The Shinkansen are fantastic to ride in and are absolutely worth the money. On the inside they are very similar to the inside of a plane, only you get much better leg room and none of that flying business. Attendants will come around to check your ticket or Rail Pass, as well as frequently offer you refreshments (that you have to pay for, unfortunately!). As comfy as they are, be sure you have a way to not sleep through your stop! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into contactless cards and super fast trains! If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that appear every Thursday. Today, we're breaking the rules and putting this out on Friday. No one can stop me now! It's time for a short break from awesome Japanese location...

JapanaTour: Fuji-Q Highland

Dec 01 // Chris Walden
Fuji-Q Highland was built way back in 1961, and since then has seen rides come and go with the times. Their foray into roller coasters peaked in 1996 with the introduction of the Fujiyama coaster, and since then Fuji-Q has housed many more. The park is full of present and ex-record breakers, so it's certainly the place to visit for that all important adrenaline rush. Of course, if you aren't a huge fan of roller coasters, there are plenty of other attractions, including many anime-related offerings.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Fuji-Q is open all year? The only days that it's shut are public holidays and one day every month. You'll want to check here to make sure you don't pick that day! It's possible to get to Fuji-Q by train, so if you're heading there that way, you'll want to take the following: From JR Shinjuku Station, take the Chuo Main line towards Otsuki Get off at Otsuki station (approximately 60 minutes on the super-express) Change to the Fujikyu line, getting off at Fuji-Q Highland (approximately 50 minutes) However, while the train route isn't particularly complex, do bear in mind that the rail fees for such a route are going to be in the ¥2000-3000 area. Make sure you have some cash on you, or that your Suica card is topped up! The alternative is to go for the 'Q-PACK'. This will pay for a coach ticket to the park, the entry fee and a pass that lets you ride everything. You would usually have to pay a fee to use each ride (anything up to ¥1000), but this ticket allows you to ignore them and get straight in the queue. The Q-PACK costs a hefty ¥7,100, or¥ 6,600 for those between the ages of 12 and 18. For those using the train, it'll cost either ¥1,200 (for basic entry and no rides inclusive) or ¥5,000 (unlimited rides). If you are worried you wont ride much, or have a fear of certain rides, it's probably worth going for the basic ticket and paying for the rides that interest you. It's an expensive day out, but you'll have to judge for yourself if it's worth going! As far as amusement parks go, it's certainly one of the best! The park is open from 9 til 5 on weekdays, and usually 9 til 8 on weekends. On occasion the park will open for an extra hour, so be sure to look it up! You can take a look at an older map of the park here, but unfortunately it's missing some attractions, such as Takabisha and the Sengoku Basara game. You can go here for a less-detailed but official PDF which has the locations of most places you can visit.  As I mentioned previously, Fuji-Q has a good selection of anime-themed attractions, and as some of you will know, it is the home of 'Evangelion World'. This isn't actually a ride, but a huge building dedicated to both the series and the recent films. You can play around recreations of particular scenes, including being able to sit at Gendou's desk! There are also life-sized models of most of the characters (didn't see PenPen...or Shinji) as well as an Eva pod you can have your photo taken in. There is even a dedicated room that displays props and other items from the series, such as Mari's glasses. It's certainly a haven for Evangelion fans, as they've done a fantastic job setting the place up. Of course, the best part has to be the gigantic models of the Eva units themselves. They are positioned in dramatic poses and have accompanying lighting and videos to make everything super dramatic. The purple Eva even has it's eyes start to glow and spew smoke out it's mouth while the lights go crazy. Very cool! Fun fact time! Did you know that Fuji-Q has the worlds second largest haunted attraction? The Haunted Hospital is a huge maze, which can take up to an hour to complete! If you want to do it, get in the queue early, because due to the nature of the attraction, this has the longest queue times in the entire park! Another anime themed attraction is Gundam Crisis. You are given a chunky 'scanner' (think an original Game Boy but with a larger, colour screen) that you must take around two different areas. It's your job to 'find' magnetic coating data for five different parts of the Gundam, and you do this by scanning particular points hidden on walls and behind obstacles. However, all of this is timed, there are about thirty people doing this with you and not all of the ports will scan. Some can even erase one of your parts! It's all a bit like a children's game show, but it's pretty fun nonetheless. It seems that the locations of the parts don't change, so it you can memorise where everything is after several plays, you can complete the game. You certainly won't do it on your first go, but if you do indeed manage it, you get taken to a special cockpit that only you will be allowed to enter, where you'll see a special animated video, as well as getting your picture taken and receiving a certificate! Fan or not, this is definitely worth checking out!  There is also a similar attraction called the Sengoku Basara Battle. Unlike the Gundam attraction, you receive a card from the attendant, which you must go around a themed castle area inserting into card readers. Some of these will give your card a stamp, and after collecting six pieces of armour, you get to go to fight Nobunaga! Same rules as Gundam Crisis apply, meaning you are timed and can also lose armour in certain slots. The Nobunaga fight apparently involves using a sword to fight a 'hologram', but it's pretty difficult so I haven't seen it myself! The cards that you get given are based on different characters from the games, which also changes the armour you can pick up. I got a Yukimura card myself, so I picked up one of his spears when hunting around the castle.  Now, onto those roller coasters! There are four major coasters at Fuji-Q, so you'll want to go as early as you can in order to ride all of them. Queues can get really bad when schools out, so try and plan around that! Fujiyama, when it was opened in 1996, held the world records for tallest (79m), fastest (130 km/h) and highest drop (70m). While it doesn't hold these records nowadays, it's certainly very impressive! The name Fujiyama comes from Mt. Fuji, which you can get a great view of when you're at the top of the coaster. You can see a video of it in action over here.  Dodonpa was the next of the major roller coasters to be released, at least of those still operating (a ride called Mad Mouse was released before this, but has since closed). It was opened to the public in 2001 and was the fastest roller coaster in the world at the time, hitting a whopping 172 km/h. However, while it lost this title over time, it still holds the record for fastest launch acceleration. How long does it take to reach that top speed? A measly 1.8 seconds! The name comes from the sounds made from a taiko drum, which you can hear while queuing. You can see a video of it in action over here.  Fun fact time! Did you know that the coach included in the Q-PACK has Wi-fi access? If you have a mobile device or a laptop with wireless, you can pay a very small fee to be able to access the web. You'll be on the coach for a few hours, so it's worth it to stave the boredom! 2006 saw the unveiling of Eejanaika, a type of coaster dubbed '4-dimensional'. The seats are placed either side of the track rather than upon it, where they can spin independently of the track itself. Motors in these arms can then rotate the seats to create a crazy experience when partnered by the loops and spins in the track. It is the second of these to have been built, the first being X2 in Six Flags. It holds the record for having the most inversions on a roller coaster, partnering those on the tracks with the spinning seats. It also travels at a not-so-shabby 126 km/h. You can see a video of it in action over here.  The final attraction in the 'big four' is the very recent Takabisha (pictured above), which was opened this year. Yet again, another record was broken when it became the roller coaster with the steepest drop at a crazy 121 degrees! Unfortunately, it won't be holding this record for much longer, as the 15th of December sees the release of the Green Lantern coaster in Six Flags, which boasts a drop of 122 degrees. Not to rain on Takabisha's parade though, as it's still a fantastic and terrifying ride. The track itself weaves around itself and looks somewhat like a coiled, black dragon. You can see a video of it in action over here.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the magical land of Fuji-Q Highland. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that explores every nook and cranny that the Japanator site has to offer. This week, we talk about the front page! Back to sensible! If you're considering visiting a theme pa...

JapanaTour: Akihabara part one

Nov 24 // Chris Walden
It seems that Japan just can't catch a break, with early Akihabara not being an exception. Way back in 1869, the area which would later become the famous electric town was engulfed in a blaze, absolutely decimating everything in the surrounding area. It wouldn't be until 1936 that Akihabara would become renown for it's electrical supplies. It seems that being an electric town isn't all plain sailing, as Akihabara was constantly competing with Nipponbashi in Osaka to be recognised as the best place for electrical goods. Strange considering the distance between the two, but it only made the places improve quicker. Skip forward to the 90's, where the video game boom started to take over Akihabara, introducing these strange creatures known as otaku. The games helped usher in anime goods and other related merchandise, such as manga, dojinshi and cosplay. That is the extremely concise, otaku-biased overview of the history of Akihabara! Fun fact time! Did you know that Akihabara literally means 'field of Autumn leaves'? A little ironic really! Remember in last weeks post I said that travel was simple? Well, so is getting to Akihabara! While there are many lines that pass through Akihabara, you will be able to reach it via the Yamanote line regardless of if you are in Shinjuku or Tokyo Station. Tokyo gets the better end of the bargain being so close! From JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 18 minutes via the Yamanote line) From JR Tōkyō Station (approximately 3 minutes via the Yamanote line) When you arrive, you will want to look for the 'Akihabara Electric Town' exit. It might be worth writing that one down, in case you forget or something. You'll know you are going the right way when you start bumping into anime and video game posters everywhere! When you emerge from the station, you'll be greeted with a view similar to this: Aside from the huge variety of different otaku-centric shops, it is worth checking out the Tokyo Anime Centre while you are in the area. You'll find it tucked away on the fourth floor of the UDX building, which you may or may not find with the following shoddy directions! As you head out of Akihabara station towards the electric town exit, take the right exit. Now stop and take a look into the distance, you'll see some modern looking skyscrapers. You want to head towards the one that is the second closest to you. Ignore the closest one! The Tokyo Animation Centre has a lot of information, showings and exhibits for both Japanese and Western visitors alike, but best of all you can sometimes witness some recording sessions! Did I mention it was free? They also sell souvenirs and other merchandise if you feel guilty for not paying!   If, for some bizarre reason, you only have one day to visit Akihabara, be sure to aim for a Sunday! Every Sunday, the roads that travel through the electric town are closed off, so cosplayers, street performers and who knows what else descend! It's certainly a spectacle, plus the bonus of not having to watch out for passing cars while skipping gleefully down the pavements with bags full of nendoroids also has its benefits. Remember to bring your camera, but be considerate!  Fun fact time! Did you know that even though I'm not focusing on them, there are indeed a huge amount of electrical goods shops? They're not all otaku related, but if you love building computers or fancy having one built for you, this is a good place to go! Akihabara is full of what you could call 'general' stores. They sell a little bit of everything, but of course I'm limiting the products to otaku goods, so I'm not about to start listing why Lawson is awesome. There are two major shops that fall into this category, and those are Animate and Gamers. Anime, manga, video games, merchandise. If you're after something that has just recently come out, these are the places to check out. They have about 7 or so different floors, which may sound rather spacious, but you'll be sharing the space with a lot of other customers. It may sound silly, but if you have a fear of crowds, being cramped or anything like that, it's worth assessing the situation a little first!  K-Books are also a good store to check out. While you could take a guess as to what they sell by their name, they also sell dojinshi that you may not necessarily find elsewhere. They sell the usual merchandise as well, on a lesser scale, but also carry a lot more adult themed items. Just remember that before you end up with more than you bargained for! This is where you'll be able to pick up your Gundam hugging pillows though.  (Disclaimer: K-Books, Akihabara and Japan may not have Gundam hugging pillows) For the duelists amongst us, there is a haven known as Yellow Submarine. Other than having a damn awesome name, they sell a lot of different types of trading cards. Of course, this may not be appealing to you if you don't want to spend the time to work out the rules via google translate, but you can in some instances find English language games. The popular card game Weiss Schwarz even released a Disgaea themed English language deck, so that is a start if you fancy getting into that game! I picked a set up myself for about ¥500. Bargain! However, this isn't all that there is to this place. I mentioned them back in the Nakano article, but Yellow Submarine has a few floors dedicated to housing glass cabinets that people can rent and sell their anime related goods. These are great for finding some rarities, as well as the occasional bargain. It's always worth shopping around though, you will usually find things like arcade-exclusive figures cheaper elsewhere. There is also the massive 8-storey Mandarake to invade! DVDs, video games, figurines, gachapon, cosplay. Mandarake sell the lot! Just remember it's all second hand, and while it's not usually a problem, you may find boxes a little scuffed and potentially pieces missing from sets. Be sure to check the box covers for additional stickers, as while you may not understand what is missing, you will know that something is missing and you can continue to shop around. This is only the case with a few items, but it is worth keeping in mind! Fun fact time! Did you know that Akihabara is packed full of duty free shops? If you are worried about getting lynched by customs on the trip back, it could be worth checking these out when hunting for souvenirs!  "But Chris, I'm not that kind of otaku! I just love playing video games!" Well now, do I have something that'll give you an appetite! It's a Super Potato! Rather this one is a shop, not one of those newfangled vegetable things. If retro gaming is something you are interested in, then this is going to be heaven! Super Potato has about three floors dedicated to consoles dating further back than the Famicom and all the way up to the Playstation 1. They sell a ridiculous number of games, some extremely rare, but mostly at great prices. Hardware and software, they have got you covered! If you want some game related merchandise, this is also a good place to browse, though it does seem to be mostly Nintendo items. On the top floor is where things get interesting! There are loads of retro gaming cabinets, complete with a vending machine, a manga corner and of course, the throne made from famicom games. Sitting in that thing is a highlight in itself! Unfortunately on my last trip in August the throne was actually broken, but I don't doubt they will fix it up soon enough.  The last place that I'll be talking about in the first part of what seems to be an up-and-coming epic is the fantastic Gachapon Kaikan. On the ground floor you will be greeted by walls of gachapon machines, all of them tempting you to continually feed the change machine with your ¥1000 notes. They aren't all anime related though, with a lot of them to do with superhero shows, tv personalities and just plain odd things. They even have a dark corner at the back for... you know... more detailed gachapon. On the next few floors they sell a lot of anime related merchandise like t-shirts, figures and other things. At the very top is another glass cabinet sales area, in case Yellow Submarine wasn't enough for you!  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Akihabara and its electric glory. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that makes me spend more time thinking of a witty opening line than actually writing meaningful words! This week, it seems I have the daunting task of describing Akihabara, t...

JapanaTour: Ghibli Museum

Nov 17 // Chris Walden
Studio Ghibli are quite simply an amazing company. They have established themselves as masters of animated film, rivalling even Disney themselves. Not bad for a company that started in the mid-eighties! Most of the studios films have been directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but over recent years they have had other directors get involved, including Hayao's son Goro Miyazaki. If you've yet to see a Ghibli film, refer to my opening statements! In all seriousness, they have made some simply stunning movies, and there is no better way to celebrate their achievements than in a museum. However, this is Ghibli we are talking about, so it isn't like a regular museum by any stretch of the imagination!  Fun fact time! Did you know that Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind isn't actually a Studio Ghibli film? The film was written and directed by Miyazaki, and also had a manga iteration that he penned himself. However, this film was created back in 1984, and spurned the creation of Studio Ghibli in 1985. It is often credited as a Ghibli film because of how influential it was to the studios creation.  Before you can plan your journey, you'll need to book your tickets. These reservations must be made at least a month in advance, and you can do that on websites such as this one. They'll send you a sheet that you'll need to print off and take with you, which employees at the museum will look over and exchange for the tickets themselves. Tickets are a very reasonable ¥1000 and come as film strips, each one having a small segment of a random Ghibli movie on them. You'll see a lot of people holding them up to the light for a better look on the way in!  Travel is pretty simple, hooray! All you need to do is hop on the Chuo line in the direction of Mitaka Station. A small word of warning though, try and avoid the limited express trains on this occasion. While awesome in any other circumstance, Mitaka is usually skipped on their route. Catch a regular train to avoid shouting something Darth Vader would be proud of! From JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 15 minutes via the Chuo line) From JR Tōkyō Station (approximately 35 minutes via the Chuo line) Once at the station, you'll be walking about 15 minutes or so to get to the museum itself. The route isn't terribly complicated and is somewhat signposted, but having a map to hand may be an idea if you aren't confident in finding it!  The whole museum has been designed as if it were a location from a Ghibli film, and it sure does look the part! If you take another gander at the header image, you can see just a small sample of the plants growing around the place, giving it a mysterious and aged feel. Considering this place only opened in 2001, it's pretty impressive! If you walk inside, you get the feeling that the inside is bigger than what you saw on the outside. There are massive spiral staircases, narrow walkways and even an opening in a wall to crawl under, just to see what they've hidden around the corner. The main room on the bottom floor shows off some of the most basic yet visually stunning animation techniques. There is a large projector showing off a looped animation of an animal food chain of sorts, while a series of intricately posed models on a turntable sits at the back. This is in fact a zoetrope, so it spins round while a light on the inside flickers on and off at the right speed, making it look like the figures are coming to life. There is a wall on one side of the room with a depiction of what I believe was a house with little doors attached to it. Behind each of these doors was a different Ghibli film, with many empty doors waiting to be filled. This is likely the first room you'll come to, and it'll just blow you away.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Spirited Away is the highest grossing film in Japanese history? It made a little under 275 million dollars worldwide. It also managed to knock Titanic off the top of the Japanese box office, having been there for four years. Of course, Spirited Away has remained there since 2001 and there's no indication of that changing in the near future! There are of course other rooms! You can visit the studios upstairs which show off concept work and other little things related to the earlier Ghibli films. These rooms are apparently modelled on the early Ghibli studios, with real notes and equipment that they used when drafting new concepts and other cool stuff. There is even a catbus room for the younger kids to play with. Unfortunate for us older kids, but it was still impressive nonetheless! You can take another staircase onto the roof, which shows off a huge statue that you may recognise from Laputa: Castle in the Sky or even Lupin III Part II. You won't get quite as good a photo opportunity as that one, as photography inside the museum is forbidden. You can go nuts on the roof and outside the main building though, so remember to snag one or you'll regret it when you start looking for a new Facebook photo! After a leisurely stroll through the rooftop gardens, you can rest up in The Straw Hat Cafe. Don't expect to see Luffy and company though! There is also a room inside the museum that is remodelled every year or so, which makes repeat trips all the more worthwhile. The current exhibit showcases the Ghibli Forest Movies, while past rooms have shown off their new films (such as Ponyo) or even the work of other animators (including Aardman, the company behind Wallace and Gromit.) The Ponyo room was a treat, as it featured concept sketches, models and videos that you simply couldn't see anywhere else. It's worth noting that a lot of things inside the museum are interactive, allowing you to turn leavers or cranks to operate machinery or models that are relevant to their film creation process.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Studio Ghibli have a strict 'no cuts' policy? This was created due to the butchering the American release of Nausicaä received. This policy was brought up again after the release of Princess Mononoke in 1997, where Miramax attempted to make changes to the film in order to make it more marketable. A producer at Studio Ghibli responded by shipping them an authentic katana, with the simple message of 'no cuts' attached to it.  Of course, those of you who know about the museum will surely have heard about the Saturn Theatre! You are allowed entry to this area once per ticket, where it'll be stamped by an attendant to prevent re-entry (take a look at the photo from earlier!). After a short wait you'll be lead into a small and cosy cinema where you will be shown one of these aforementioned Forest Movies. They are Ghibli animated shorts that are rarely shown anywhere but inside the museum, and while they only last around ten minutes and lack subtitles, they are very easy to understand and are simply a great addition to the whole experience. It definitely deserves a huge recommendation, fan of Ghibli or not! A word of warning though, watch your knees when sitting down in there! The seats are pretty low and it'll take you by surprise!  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Ghibli and their darn awesome museum. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome to JapanaTour, the series of articles that makes you painfully aware of the sorry state your bank account is in. Or is that just me? Today we're heading for Inokashira Park in Mitaka to visit the one and only Ghibli M...

JapanaTour: Namja Town

Nov 10 // Chris Walden
Namja Town is hidden away in a 'city within a city,' an accurate description of Sunshine City being located inside Ikebukuro. However, Namja Town is but a small part of what you can get up to here. Besides your usual shops and restaurants, you can visit places like the Ancient Orient Museum and even a planetarium. However, besides Namja Town itself, there are two other places worth putting on your list of places to visit.  The first is the newly revamped Sunshine Aquarium, which you may indeed find advertised while you're over there. The adverts are fairly iconic, sporting pixel-like renditions of the animals they have there, including the iconic and fitting Ocean Sunfish. It's not all about the fish though, as they also have snakes, penguins and seals. You will find it on the 10th floor of the World Import Mart. That's right, a 10th floor aquarium!  The other place to go is the Sunshine 60 skyscraper. Back when it was built it boasted the title of being the tallest building in Asia. It remained the tallest building in Japan all the way up to the construction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which of course resides in Shinjuku. As the name suggests, it is a towering 60-storeys high, and to get visitors up and down from the observation deck you use an elevator that moves at a top speed of 22 miles per hour! You can get an idea of what the views are like on the Sunshine City website over here. But I digress, to Namja Town! Fun fact time! Did you know that the land that Sunshine City is built upon was once home to the Sugamo prison? It closed back in 1971 due to its age, but there is a commemoration inside the city in the form of a stone with "Pray for Eternal Peace" engraved upon it.  Getting there via train is pretty simple if you're coming from inside Tokyo. Sticking to the lines mentioned in the bullet point list will be the fastest way to Ikebukuro, though you can take the Yamanote line from Tōkyō Station if you fancy it. It'll take longer, but it saves you looking for the Marunouchi subway line if you can't be fussed with the hassle!  From JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 8 minutes via the Yamanote line) From JR Tōkyō Station (approximately 15 minutes via the Marunouchi subway line) So, onto the amusement park itself! Namja Town was created back in 1996 by Namco, and strangely doesn't focus on any of their classic franchises. You wouldn't think so, but besides a few signs and perhaps the shop, you'll be hard pushed to find a Pac-man! There are twenty-four different attractions to visit, and these are split into six different zones, similar to most theme parks. As you may or may not have clicked from the name of this place, there are many original mascots hanging about the park in the form of extravagantly dressed cats.  Fun fact time! Did you know what I was talking about earlier when I mentioned Otome Road? To put it simply, if you are in dire need of yaoi supplies, it's the place to be! Most stores here, including variants of the popular Mandarake and K-Books retailers, focus on selling 'boys love' items and doujinshi. Don't be fooled by the familiar shops if you're not fully prepared!  Have a heavy wallet? Not to worry, as there are all sorts of weird and wonderful attractions to spend your hard-earned money on! You'll first need to find a token machine, as you need to exchange tokens for entry to particular rides and attractions. You can buy a passport on entry for around 3000¥ which will allow you unlimited access to everything on offer, but you are free to just pay out on a per-ride basis. Ride prices average about 600¥ this way, but prices will vary. There are all sorts of attractions, including rides for kids, some strange game which involves you carrying a giant egg-like thing to certain points hidden about the park, and what I believe is a laser tag style game. There are also themed promotions running all the time. When I visited back in July there was a Prince of Tennis promotion, but you'll find it now features Squid Girl. Expect to see themed menus, as well as UFO prizes based on the series at hand and sometimes an Ichiban Kuji (which you pay a fixed amount to draw a ticket from a box, winning one of many different prizes based on whichever show it's promoting). You'll have to check the website before you go to be sure! The highlight of all the attractions has got to be the ghost busting game! You'll see it early on after entering the park and it will set you back 800¥ if you don't have the passport. After being briefed by the staff (there will be an English subtitled video and most of the tips the staff say are understandable) you are let loose with a ghost capture device for forty minutes. What you then have to do is search the park for strange looking letter G's that are painted on walls and objects. Then by moving the scanner over a specific area that is close to this letter, you will find a ghost. You then have to rotate your body so that the ghost lines up on the centre of the screen on your device, then pull the trigger to capture it. When you find enough monsters, you get to fight the big boss in a dedicated 'boss chamber' room. When your time is up you will get a printed score sheet, with harder to find monsters giving you more points. It's a nice memento of a super fun game, even if I was most definitely 10 years older than the target audience!  Fun fact time! Did you know that Durarara!! is set in Ikebukuro? A great anime to get your vending machine fix from, as well as just being darn good. Sequel please! Namja Town is also famous for its selection of food, especially gyoza (which are essentially dumplings with assorted fillings). In fact, they even have the Gyoza Stadium that is full of dedicated food stands. Keep an eye out for oddities such as the multi-coloured gyoza, as well as the ramen noodle variants! Regardless, the highlight of Namja Town in terms of food simply has to be the Ice Cream City. As well as being able to order ice cream and crepes from the many vendors, you can buy small tubs of ice cream in some weird and wonderful flavours! Highlights include garlic, salt, curry, viper and eggplant flavours. I would hazard a guess at there being around fifty or more variations, including the more traditional flavours like vanilla and strawberry. I went for the squid one myself, which had small chunks of meat inside it. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, I assure you! You can also risk your sanity by buying crushed ice from a terrifying robot cat machine.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Namja Town. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome back to the JapanaTour, the series where we make you want to spend lots of your precious pennies. For the greater good!  We're heading for Ikebukuro this week, a place that some of you guys may be aware of due to...

JapanaTour: Shinjuku

Nov 03 // Chris Walden
Shinjuku is, to put quite simply, very impressive. It is bustling with activity, and very much the image of Tokyo you will often see in television and cinema. However, it  had to go through many ordeals before becoming the ward it is today. Shinjuku, while it existed as a collection of smaller areas at the time, did not make any leaps and bounds in development until after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Twenty-two years later, around 90% of buildings in Shinjuku were destroyed by allied forces in a mere four month period in 1945. Shinjuku finally became a ward when it merged with Yotsuya, Ushigome and Yodabashi two years later. It was from here on in that it began to progress to the Shinjuku of today.  Fun fact time! Did you know that there were originally 35 special wards? This changed on March 15th 1947 when a law was passed that stated how to define these special wards, and as a result knocked the number down to 22. A few months later on August 1st, the 23rd ward was created when Nerima was accepted.  If you are planning to travel to Shinjuku from elsewhere in Tokyo, you'll be hard pushed to find a line that doesn't stop there! Keep an eye out for the JR Yamanote, Chuo, Sobu, Saikyo, and Shonan-Shinjuku line trains, but which one you use ultimately comes down to where you are at the time.  If you are coming directly to Shinjuku from Narita Airport (as you may find a hotel here) then you'll want to take the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori, then change trains and use the JR Yamanote line to reach Shinjuku. This is the fastest and cheapest way to get to Shinjuku from Narita (at least by train) and will cost you around ¥2500. You could use the Narita Express to travel to Shinjuku directly, but it'll take longer (around 20 minutes) and cost about ¥500 more. If you aren't confident with trains, this may be the option to go for.  If you are planning a trip to Japan and are staying in Tokyo, you may very well be considering staying in Shinjuku. The two benefits to this come via the huge number of hotels available, as well as access to the world's busiest train station. A lot of the hotels here are used by short stay businessman, which offer minimalistic accommodation but for a very good price. I've personally stayed at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel on two occasions now, and cannot recommend them enough! The rooms aren't much to look at, but the hotel is great and it's a short walk to the shops in Shinjuku, as well as the train station. What's more, there's a 24-hour convenience store on the bottom floor of the hotel, as well as on-site restaurants, laundrettes and other useful places. Even a pachinko parlour! You also can get net access if you bring along a laptop to use it with, or pay to use the computers elsewhere in the hotel.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Shinjuku Station has an expansive underground network of shops? Besides taking a train, you could eat out and even pick up some new clothes, all without going above ground! It also boasts a staggering 200 or more different exits!   As mentioned previously, Shinjuku is home to the world busiest train station. There are so many different train lines that run here that you will find it easy to reach any place you fancy in Tokyo. If you want to explore the realms outside of the capital, you can grab a train to either Shinagawa or Tokyo station and ride the Shinkansen bullet train. With that, you can travel to places like Osaka, Hiroshima and Sendai without having to worry about your whole day being taken up. You can buy weekly passes to use these, but I'll cover that as well as the destinations you might like to venture to at a later date.  Shinjuku is, at least in my opinion, as much an electric town as Akihabara is. By that, I don't just mean that it is sprawled in neon lighting and vivid colours, but that it is packed with many electronic stores. While there are many smaller shops scattered about, there are two huge buildings you might want to visit. The first of these is the Yodabashi Camera, which has a good six or so stores hidden about the place. Best of all, there is one that focuses on video games and toys, with a great gashapon (capsule toys) store with card game machines hidden away on the top floor. Many a night was spent up there playing Pokémon Battrio or the newer Gundam Tri-Age! Fun fact time! Did you know that video game giants Atlus have their headquarters in Shinjuku? They have developed many long-running series including Shin Megami Tensei, as well as publishing games such as Demon's Souls and Rock of Ages.  The second of these is Labi, which hasn't been in Shinjuku for very long. It's a whopping 11-storeys tall and can be accessed via the Shinjuku underground network or above ground with the regular shops. It sells more or less the same things as Yodabashi Camera, but has a lot more to choose from and in one place. If you head up to the very top, you can try out some of the newer games that they have set up to demo. We got to mess about in Yakuza: Dead Souls this way!  Of course, it's not all electronics. There are so many restaurants in this place it is unreal, so if you are looking for something different to eat, just wander around! If you fancy a curry, I highly recommend finding the Go! Go! Curry! which is hidden underground behind the KFC. It's a small but cosy chain of restaurants that give you huge portions for good prices. Unfortunately because they are so small, they can sometimes be so busy you can't get seats. There is a good alternative in C&C Curry, whose prices are better but have slightly smaller portions, and you won't have to worry about it being full either. There is a huge variety of different types of foods from sushi to yakiniku, as well as home favourites if you are feeling unadventurous. There is also the ramen: There are many ramen restaurants, but if you keep an eye out for a huge, thin paper lantern (apologies, I don't know the name of the place!) you'll come across the best one in existence. As verified officially, of course. They serve the 'world's best ramen,' which you can see pictured above. I can wholeheartedly confirm that it is most definitely the world's best ramen. You also get a massive beer-tankard style glass of Coke for a mere ¥200. It's delicious, cheap and perfect for eating out. There's even an English menu and a ticket machine if you don't fancy testing your Japanese skills!  If you fancy a little sight-seeing, you may want to head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. If you head there before 11pm on a weekday, you'll be able to go to the 45th floor observation decks. This is also free to do, and there are gift shops and a few cafés up there should you get tired of admiring the amazing views. You can take as many pictures as you like, but you'll be asked not to use a tripod. Not exactly sure why, but you have to respect their rules! Due to the design of the building, there are actually two different observation decks you can visit. You'll need to queue by the elevator and be shown up to the top by an attendant, with an ear-popping minute or so in the lift.  Fun fact time! Did you know that in the 1991 film Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was destroyed by Mecha-King Ghidorah? Yes, I am indeed a kaiju fan! It's also the last remaining landmark in Tokyo in Mobile Fighter G Gundam.  That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Shinjuku. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

Apologies for there being no JapanaTour last week, I was unfortunately stuck in hospital. I'm fighting fit now though, so we'll take our third glance at glourious Nippon! This time we'll be having our first look at the Shinju...

JapanaTour: Nakano Broadway

Oct 20 // Chris Walden
If you said that McDonalds is not in fact floating 50 metres in the air, then you'd be correct in one way or another. The answer I was looking for is that it isn't Nakano Broadway! Now, there's a very good reason for me using this picture. It is actually a photo of the Nakano Sun Mall, which is what you'll be seeing immediately after leaving the train station, and is where you'll want to head to reach Nakano Broadway. Walking through that tunnel of shops is how you get there, but you can also find some good restaurants and mini-arcades along the way.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Nakano Broadway takes the latter half of its name from the famous street in New York? It was built back in 1966 as a building full of luxury apartments, with the idea of having high-class shops below it. These rooms still exist above the four floors open to shoppers and are extremely sought after.  All you'll need to worry about is getting to Nakano. You'll be looking for the JR Chuo or Sobu lines to take you there, but even better would be catching one of the rapid Chuo line trains. The 'rapid' trains skip some of the minor stations, so as the name suggests, you will arrive at Nakano or any other station on the route a little quicker. They appear regularly and are marked on the electronic boards, so finding one won't be an issue. Via the rapid service, you are looking at the following times: From JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 5 minutes) From JR Tōkyō Station (approximately 20 minutes) One of the most defining features of Nakano Broadway is the sheer amount of Mandarake stores. These stores sell a whole manner of different otaku-centric goodies, including manga (published and dōjin), anime, toys, trading cards and even cosplay. You'll likely run into the huge 8-storey Mandarake while you are in Akihabara, but this is where the chain started. The eight or so stores that you will find in this complex are all very specialist, so if you're looking for some rare items, this is the place to look. There are a lot of independent stores here that sell figurines and other anime related items, so you're really spoilt for choice. If you fancy a change of pace, you could visit some of the more unique stores this place has to offer. How about the yo-yo shop on the third floor, which is frequented by enthusiasts and professional competitors alike? Maybe even the train enthusiast store, which sells hand rails, signs and all sorts of other interesting things.  Fun fact time! Did you know that Mandarake is a portmanteau? It's a combination of 'Man' from manga, and 'darake,' which in Japanese translates roughly to 'a lot of.' Incidentally "Rulers of Time" is actually their slogan.   One thing you will notice around the complex are the sheer number of glass cabinets, which are filled with all sorts of weird, wonderful and at times terrifying things. These are actually rented spaces, where people can place items they wish to sell at the cost of a small fee. You'll find the prices on the items themselves, so you'll just need to flag down the store clerk who will open it up for you. You pay for these items in the usual way, with the money being given to the owner the next time he/she decides to visit the shop. The prices are often very reasonable, so it's almost like a permanent flea market. You can also find some items that you will be hard pushed to find elsewhere, even in Akihabara. One shop in particular sells anime cels, which is a great way to suck time out of your day when you flick through boxes of them in a dire attempt to find an anime you recognise. Interestingly enough they had some Bleach themed cels, which I can only assume are used for drafting scenes before creating them digitally. Pride of place on the shop wall was an ace Cardcaptor Sakura cel. If I had been considerably wealthier at the time I may have considered it, but unfortunately for me, and perhaps fortunately for my bank balance, it was out of my financial grasp. Fun fact time! Did you know that Nakano is the home of the infamous 'Guts Soul' yakiniku (literally meaning 'grilled meat') restaurant? They serve Korean barbecue at reasonable prices, with an average meal costing about 1,500 yen and unlimited drinks for an extra 1000 yen or so.  On your way up to fourth floor, you'll be able to hear a very dedicated group of fighting game enthusiasts, battling away on the many retro arcade cabinets up there before you even see them. Of course if you don't want to get publicly humiliated in-game, you can have a go at some of the fighting games that aren't in use. Ever wanted to play a Fist of the North Star arcade fighter? Now you can! Bear in mind that the cabinets in the centre of the arcade area will likely be linked to the cabinet directly opposite, so you could in fact end up fighting against someone else. That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Nakano Broadway. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 

It's Thursday and it's midnight over here. That can only mean that it's time to go on a JapanaTour! This time I'll be talking about Nakano Broadway, a place that I could safely describe as a smaller Akihabara. Even better if ...

JapanaTour: Comiket

Oct 13 // Chris Walden
I'm sure there are some of you that are wondering what Comiket is all about. Essentially, it is a huge fair held in the Tokyo Big Sight (yes, Sight and not Site!) that sells large quantities of dōjinshi, which are self-published products. Fan-made manga, music and games are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of wares you can expect to see for sale. There are also licensed products available, so if you are still looking for that elusive hugging pillow, you may just find it here! There is a huge amount of cosplaying, as well as a stage for live music, so there really is something for everyone. Better yet, it has free entry! Fun fact time! Did you know that the Tokyo Big Sight is officially known as the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre, or to the Japanese, the Tōkyō Kokusai Tenjijō? The first thing on the agenda is preparation for the weekend itself. If you take a trip into Akihabara a week or two before the event, you'll be able to pick up a guide that is packed full of useful information, even for us lot that don't understand the native lingo! Not only does it include seller information, which is handy when you're hunting out a particular circle, but it includes those all-important maps! Next, you'll want to find a bag and take a few bottles of water and a towel. If you're going in the summer and your home country doesn't get 35 degree and above heat, you'll need that towel! Even the Japanese do it, so don't worry about looking out of place. Drink the water sparingly too, you'll run into trouble if you need to use the loos in there! Be prepared for ridiculously long queues if you decide to chance it.  There are several ways to get to the venue, but the best way would be to go via train. You'll want to be aiming for the Kokusai-Tenjijo station, as the Big Sight is just a ten or so minute walk away. You can get there on the Rinkai line via: JR Shibuya Station (approximately 20 minutes) JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 25 minutes) JR Ikebukuro Station (approximately 30 minutes) If you had planned to visit Palette Town at all during your trip, then it is also possible to walk from there. Just beware of the heat in the summer and getting sore feet! Palette Town, other than being an alternative spelling of the town where Ash Ketchum was born and raised, is an extraordinary shopping mall. We'll talk about that some other time! Fun fact time! If you end up going to Comiket, you may notice a giant, red-handled saw. This is an art piece called 'Saw, Sawwing' by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, and is one of nine different works of art scattered around the Tokyo Big Sight.  As you might expect, the crowds of people at Comiket are a sight to behold in their own right. Be prepared to be barged about a sea of bodies before reaching one of the sales halls. The morning is definitely the worst time for this, but it's a price you must pay if you are aiming to collect goods from some of the top circles. If you want to go just to see what it's like, it's worth considering popping in during the afternoon. You may often see people holding large signs to indicate the end of queues leading to a particular circle, so be wary of them!  You'll find a large stage outside the exhibition hall, which features chatter from famous individuals and performances from various musical acts. You'll need to check the guide when you get one to see what exactly will be going on each day, but there's usually a few well known groups performing. At Comiket 80, I had the pleasure of watching a particularly... colourful idol group (whose name I do not know, sorry!) as well as an appearance from Yuichiro Nagashima, who you may know as the cosplay kickboxer. Anyone can end up on that stage, so be sure to look it up prior to arriving! Fun fact time! The first ever Comiket was held on December 21st 1975, and there were roughly 600 attendees. Nowadays, the event attracts over 560,000 people over the three day weekend. There are a few rules that you must follow while over there, not counting the obvious things like barging into queues and the like. Photography and video recording is the big issue here. Inside the exhibition hall and by the stage, don't start taking photos! You will likely be asked by one of the staff to stop. Taking photos of cosplayers should also be kept outside.  The other main rule you may not have heard of regards cosplay. If you intend to cosplay at the event, you must get changed at the Tokyo Big Sight, and not wear your costume to and from the venue. There are changing rooms available for this purpose, so please use them! That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Comiket. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own concerning Comiket, leave them in the comments below! 

Welcome to the first edition of a new segment us folks like to call JapanaTour, a glance at some of the awesome places and events Japan has to offer. The authors of these articles will be people who have actually visited the ...


Japan offering 10,000 free plane tickets to foreigners

Oct 10
// Bob Muir
Ever since the devastating earthquake earlier this year, the amount of tourists visiting Japan has plunged, with some prefectures reporting an 80% drop. It's understandable, but it's putting the hurt on an already-damaged ind...

JapanaTour: A first-person walk through Fushimi Inari

Feb 18
// Dale North
Fushimi Inari, located just outside of Kyoto, Japan, is an amazing site with its thousands of torii gates. You'll walk (and eventually hike) through countless gates as you walk uphill towards amazing views of the surrounding ...

JapanaTour: Kyoto's Kiyomizudera Temple

Feb 17
// Dale North
Set in the mountains of eastern Kyoto is a lovely shrine called Kiyomizudera. A UNESCO World Heritage site and once a candidate for one of the Wonders of the World, this is one of Japan's most famous landmarks, and on just ab...

JapanaTour: Nishiki's Food Market in video

Feb 15
// Dale North
We've taken you to Kyoto's Nishiki Food Market in picture form before, but a visit again last weekend let me film video of the amazing street and all of its charms. Nishiki is the freshest food, tastiest snacks, and just abou...

JapanaTour: Kyoto's Nishiki Food Market

Apr 21 // Dale North
Kyoto's Nishiki Market runs perpendicular to the also covered but much larger (and likely more popular) Teramachi Shopping Arcade. If you're strolling down the Terimachi or the parallel Shin-Kyogoku shopping arcade, you'll come across the same beautiful little shrine, seen above. This is Shin-Kyogoku shrine. Do a complete 180 degree turn and you'll see the entrance to Nishiki Market, as seen below.Disregard that ABC-Mart shoe store on the left, or the young people hanging out. These are just overflow from Teramachi. Walk a few steps and you'll see what I mean, as shown below. It gets dark. Dark and comfy. The kids? They're behind you now. Now it's time for real atmosphere. And food. Smell that?  You don't smell that, I guess. But it's amazing. It's grilled things and raw things. Soups, fish, pickled...everything. Even if you can't smell what I did, you can appreciate how beautiful every little storefront was.  What was fun is that every shop owner insisted that you try everything they were selling. I thought I was pretty well-versed in Japanese food, but my trip to Nishiki had me eating so many things I've never seen before. Note that all were delicious, even if I couldn't tell you what they were. One of the things that stopped me dead in my tracks was the smell of roasting tea. Mouth-watering. I tracked the smell down, following my nose and then I stood and stared as a small cloud of delicious smoke came up from this roaster, pictured below.   Speaking of smells and roasting, another shop just a bit further up the road was roasting chestnuts.  It wasn't all food. There were plenty of shops that sold cookware, knives and other kitchen implements. There was very little in the way of electronic rice cookers and microwaves, though. Think handmade and really expensive, and you'll be on the right track. One of the most amazing stores was selling hand-made pans and knives. Inside you could see craftsmen hammering out pans and etching their names into knives. My wallet and bank account were scared for their lives. With all the food items there was to drool over, there were plenty more that would make any westerner cringe. Hell, I'd bet some Japanese people would cringe at some of the food offerings there. Things floating in jars gave me the willies. Odd seafood also did the trick. One store was basically just a small table that offered up every part of sea life that you'd normally imagine you'd throw away. I liked these octopus eyes.  Of course, seeing all of this is bound to make you hungry. Many shops were more interested in feeding you now, right there on the street, rather than later with ingredients. Food stalls sold everything you could imagine: grilled meats and fish, vegetables, oden. The biggest hit was things on sticks. Food on a stick is universally appealing. One particular stall had a constant line for the many hours I spent walking Nishiki.     Nishiki Food Market was probably one of the most rewarding destinations I've ever seen in Kyoto, and that's saying a lot for this attraction-filled city. If you're a foodie, there should be no question: this needs to be on your itinerary.  Also, photographers, do not miss this. I'd go as far as to say that anyone that visits Kyoto needs to make the trip to Nishiki. It's rare that you find such a sense of old atmosphere. And the smells. Oh, the smells.

One of the most amazing sights (and smells) I've ever come across is Kyoto's Nishiki Food Market. This is a long, covered, and very photogenic shopping street in the downtown Kyoto area, and is probably one of the old capital...

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