Having seen the topic, I originally struggled to come up with a subject to talk about. I don't often watch a single anime series more than once, so that was out. I'm also not a fan of playing a game to completion more than once, so that was out. After a lot of thinking, I finally realised that there is something related to Japan that I keep on wanting more of...the country itself!
I've been to Japan twice. My first visit was in early 2010, while the latest visit was last summer. I thoroughly enjoyed both visits. All my expectations were surpassed. Each time I leave the country, I keep on wanting to go back (there's another trip planned, in fact). In this blog, I'll explain why.
...oh, and on both occasions, one of the guys I travelled with is an editor on this site and a fellow Brit. I wonder who that could be...*mysterious music*
Sadly, western arcades haven't been what they used to be for quite some time now. In the UK, they're mainly limited to seaside locations (which are usually only open during the summer). I imagine the bigger cities still have some arcades dotted around, but they're definitely not as popular these days. In the current climate, it's not likely to change any time soon.
In Japan, arcades are very much still a part of everyday life. Customers range from students to middle-aged businessmen. They also have a wide variety of both new and old games. Because of their popularity, Japanese arcade games tend to be a bit more adventurous. Want to play out a battle with some special cards? You can. Ever fancied a game where you literally flip a table? You're covered. You can even have a date with a virtual girlfriend, if you feel like it. There's a bit of something for everyone. In the Tokyo area, you never have to go far to find a gaming arcade.
I personally enjoy the arcades because of the variety of games on offer and the atmosphere. It's also pretty cool that the arcades are open until late. My friends and I spent a lot of our evenings at them...mostly playing games like Gundam TryAge...
One of the things that always impresses me about Japan are the local train systems. It's easy to use and extremely efficient. As long as you have a Suica card, getting from one place to another in Tokyo is a simple case of swiping a card when you enter and leave a station. There's also a lot of English signage and announcements, so it's hard to go wrong.
When you enter Japan after leaving the airport, one of the first things you're likely to do is go on a train. Along the way to your destination, you're treated to some impressive scenery. It's really nice to see the contrast between rural and urban Japan. It's a great introduction to the country.
I probably couldn't do a blog highlighting the good things about Japan without mentioning the great shops that are out there. Aside from the 'Otaku Paradise' that is Akihabara, you've also got Nakano Broadway and Den Den Town (although the latter is a bit out of the way from Tokyo...). They're all worth checking out, particularly if you're looking for something that's long out of stock or just plain obscure.
My friends and I spend a lot of time trying to look for figures or other anime goods. Personally, I tend to go for Figmas, as they make up the vast majority of my collection. Because of the popularity of the range, it's pretty easy to find the ones I'm after. A lot of them are pretty cheap, too. While I can buy figures online, it's definitely more of an enjoyable experience buying them at a physical store. I may even find things that I previously didn't know about.
Food and Drink
There are some great places to eat over in Japan. While you're over there, you're likely to eat at a lot of ramen or curry restaraunts. There's plenty of Western restaurants for when you feel like eating something more familiar. I did that a couple of times, but I mainly went for the Japanese stuff. While ramen is commonplace, the recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant, so you'll never get quite the same thing. My personal favourite is miso ramen. I also recommend GoGo Curry, which can be found in various places around Tokyo. It can be busy as hell (which is hardly suprisingly, given what they offer), but it is possible to catch it during a quiet period.
There are plenty of novelty restaurants, too. The most notable are the Gundam Café and Good Smile Café (both of which have two branches now). Despite the thematic meals, the prices are still reasonable. The choice of meals changes after a while, so you never know what to expect. As for the Good Smile Café, they completely change their theme at certain intervals. When I visited, they had a Puella Magi Madoka theme. I went for the Kyubey Curry, which had rice arranged in the shape of everyone's favourite Madoka character (no, I didn't make a contract with him...at least, I don't think I did...).
Aside from restaurants, it's easy to find some nice snacks at convenience stores. They're really handy if you want something quick for breakfast or lunch. I highly recommend melon bread or curry buns. You may also want to try onigiri (rice balls), which are available with a variety of fillings (mainly fish). Oh, and if you've ever wanted to eat noodles in a bun, Japan won't leave you disappointed.
You won't be left wanting with drinks, either. With vending machines dotted all over the place, you're bound to find something you'll want to drink. As well as a lot of the Western favourites, you'll also find Japan exclusives such as C.C. Lemon, Mitsuya Cider and a bizarre drink called Cola Up, which is made up of chunks of jelly. In addtion, a lot of your favourites have permament or seasonal flavours, such as Fanta Melon (why isn't that a flavour over here?!) or Pepsi Caribbean Gold.
Each time I've went, I've found the Japanese people to be very welcoming to foreigners. They're generally happy to help out if you need anything. Even if they don't speak English, they'll do their best. I remember an elderly woman giving us directions to a platform while we were in Osaka (without even asking). There was also a guy who pointed out that I left a bag behind just before I got on a train. What a life saver he was.
As I mentioned in the 'Trains' section, there's a lot of English signage, food menus and other stuff like that. It doesn't cover everything, but it's certainly more than enough for a visitor to get by with.
Another thing I like about Japan is the unpredictability of what you'll experience while you're there. During one of the Akihabara visits, my friends and I passed an outdoor concert with Hyadain and other people involved with Nichijou. On another, we saw a guy with an unusual Kyubey outfit outside Gamers (pictured). Heck, some randomer even high-fived one of my friends when he won an intense game of table hockey.
Because of the above reasons, I'm likely to visit Japan again and again. Would I actually want to live there? I'm not sure, but it's certainly something that's crossed my mind. I'm aware of some of the pros and cons. That said, it would probably be a lot cheaper than visiting every now and then...hmm...
If you want to know more, check out Chris' JapanaTour series. Having experienced exactly the same visits he based his entries on, I can assure you the write-ups are 100% accurate.
Thanks for reading and I hope I've convinced you to go on a trip of your own (not that I needed to, right?).
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