Zac Bertschy: Terrible American Tourist

by Zac Bertschy, Mar 24th 2009

2009-03-23



We finally left the wasteland of Odaiba to head back to Shinagawa; on the way, we passed by Tokyo Tower.

This is a photo of Tokyo Tower. It is pretty much exactly like every other photo of Tokyo Tower you've ever seen, which is to say, it isn't very interesting. Ignore this. Move along.

This lovely establishment was attached to one of our hotels. Anyone up for a BURUMIN TAMANEGI?!

 ~Outohbaaacckkuuu konyaaaaaa~


Justin then decided to take us all to Gotanda, which is apparently a shady, dumpy, mildly scary place chock full of cheap bars and hostess clubs brothels.

Would anyone drink here? Would anyone even enter this building given how absolutely f*cking terrifying the entrance looks? I can't tell if this is a bar or some kind of sweathouse where you get gang-raped by frightening tanuki.

These places are all over Gotanda, at least the seedy area we were in. You pay something like 60 bucks for some desperate college girl to pretend she likes you for a half hour.

Something tells me this version of Caesar's Palace lacks the glitz of the Las Vegas version.

After that we hit up Ueno Park, which is a massive place chock full of beautiful wildlife, temples-aplenty, and TONS of excellent street food. It helps that Hanami (cherry blossom season) is right around the corner, so the whole place was brimming with food and beer stalls. This is a blurry, crappy shot of the entrance! Enjoy!

There's always money in the banana stand.

Hanami hasn't actually really started yet but we did get to see some trees that were jumping the gun, showing off too soon.

The crows in Ueno park are MASSIVE. I mean huge. One of them could probably easily take down a human being on its own. They have weird fuzzy heads. Again, GIANT. If you are scared of birds do not visit Ueno Park.

This is the Ueno Zoo. American zoos that aren't in San Diego or haven't been sufficiently modernized to maximize the animals' happiness and comfort are depressing as hell, and just the entrance to this place looks like it hasn't been updated since 1967, so we skipped it.

Pretty much the entire park looks like a postcard, or a background from the inevitable clichéd summer festival episode of any given lazy-ass romantic comedy anime series.

They actually fine you if you don't take photos of stuff like this.

This is the ‘everlasting flame’ monument to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story on the placard says that this guy went to Nagasaki to find his grandfather, and upon arriving found only the ruins of his grandfather's house, which were still on fire. So he lit a torch with the flame and carried it all the way back to Tokyo, and that flame has been kept alive ever since, now immortalized here.

(I don't buy the story, but it's a nice monument).

These people are douchebags. Honky douchebags.

Why?

Because they were making a huge show out of doing the whole single-clap, bowing, ringing the ceremonial bells, basically running through the whole Shinto ritual in front of this place while very openly and deliberately filming themselves doing it, all with VERY SERIOUS expressions on their faces, so you sure to know how serious and respectful they are.

Guess what, jerkfaces – you probably don't – wait, scratch that, I'm pretty damn sure you don't – actually practice the religion you're aping nor do you really believe in what you're doing, so knock it off. Nobody cares that you memorized the ritual. Doing things like this, filming yourselves doing it – that's the epitome of fake “worldliness”, a big narcissistic put-on where you make a big show about how you know the ritual and oh look at us we're so goddamn cosmopolitan and worldly and let's all go back to our youth hostel, snack on Trader Joe's wasabi peas while sitting cross-legged on a hemp blanket normally used on the quad during Capoeira sessions and talk about the latest Sigur Ros album while updating our Facebook profiles to tell our friends about how we're in Japan douching it up.

My rage is calmed by this very pretty and familiar sight. Ueno park is full of stuff like this. It's all been seen a zillion times, but it's different when you're standing in front of it.

Uh oh! Nazis! (cue countless ‘helpful’ posts correcting me about the usage of that symbol)

On the way back we ran into this giant poster for what is clearly an action drama about underground mining or exploration or some… wait what's it called again?





Welp, that about does it. I've had my fill of this place, time to head back home. I'll leave you with what I think is probably the nicest photo I took. If I got all the people out of this shot it'd make a nice postcard, and reminds me of how beautiful and unique a place this is. If you ever get the chance to visit yourself, do it.




...


Ah, who am I kidding. I'll leave you with this instead, taken in Shibuya.

Thanks, Japan.


2009-03-20

There isn't really much left to say about Tokyo Anime Fair, really – Wednesday and Thursday are the ‘business days’, and most everyone who's there for those days flees for their life on Friday, which is ‘fan day’, and Saturday, which is ‘family day’, meaning the previously sparsely-populated halls of the show floor become jam-packed with eager otaku, long-suffering parents and their screaming children.

Still, I have a few photos left.

This is the bright, shiny jailbait cast of Pretty Cure All Stars, which if you look closely you'll notice no two girls have the exact same hair color. I assume that's the only way you can tell them apart.

Look, it's a garden of nonsense!

This is the kids' play area, presumably so parents can dump their kids off here and then go look at a bunch of booths hawking shows meant for their children. In hindsight it's like putting a ball pit and a jungle gym in Disneyland.

Actual props and costumes from the terrible live-action Yatterman movie! Why, it's only a thin sheet of plexiglass separating you from the stench of used pleather and bad decisions!

I feel like I barely need to add anything to this. Actually, I'm not even sure what I would add to this.

You can't tell in this photo, but the monkey-thing was a lot more mobile and seemed a lot more comfortable than the bear, who was either drunk or dizzy, because he looked like he'd collapse at any moment. Maybe they put too much weight in the head.

Hey, I know why Pac-Man is so happy!

Because this is where they fill him up! He's brought to life via prostate exam!

Otakon showed up and created their own little gaijin corner. They should've replaced the booth sign with one that read “WHITE DUDES”.

So TAF is over now, and we headed back to the hotel to get some work done.

Insert “shaken, not stirred” joke here.

I don't care what anyone says – Japanese daytime TV is a LOT worse than American daytime TV. It's all cheap-ass game shows or lame dramas or infomercials. There's nothing GOOD, like The Price is Right, or The Young and the Restless, or the ShamWow guy.

So by now you're probably thinking to yourself that Japan is a country of blistering uniqueness, where local culture thrives in every corner. From the ancient, mist-shrouded onsen baths to the solemn, soothing crash of ocean waves against red wooden arches erected in the sea hundreds of years ago by noble craftsmen, to the sparkling heights of Shibuya and Harajuku, where fashion lives on the cutting edge. Where you can savor the taste of steaming green tea and feast on expertly-prepared sushi, melting in your mouth mere moments after being pulled from the ocean. Where shining bullet trains, each a spectacular feat of engineering and efficiency, can speed you from one fantastic destination to the next in mere minutes, a whole world of color flashing before your eyes.

Or you can go to Odaiba.

Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, and is basically a sprawl dedicated to all the crap Westerners probably come here to try and escape for a little while. If you really thought Japan was totally different from America and didn't partake in the same kind of mindless consumer bullshit Americans wallow in, just visit Aqua City, a gigantic monument to all things plastic, fried, and available in bulk.

This is a big fake Statue of Liberty, situated just outside Aqua City, which I'm told (along with the rest of the attractions in Odaiba) is a hot date spot. I saw no fewer than 10 people posing for photos in front of this thing.

Let's visit Toys 'R Us, shall we?

If you've ever been in a Toys 'R Us before then this is probably a familiar site, except instead of the big Clone Wars display, the store is slathered in Pokémon signage and merchandise.

There really isn't much difference between this place and any standard TRU you might find in the states, except for the merchandise selection, which is admittedly somewhat baffling.

This thing lives in my nightmares. I think it's some kind of a game where you yank plastic bits out of the disgusting goo oozing out of the dog's mouth, and… pardon me while I go vomit.

Hey look, it's a dust-covered Aura Battler Dunbine toy! Why, it's covered in nearly as much dust as the countless unsold copies of this show sitting in ADV's rental storage unit!

This Tony Tony Chopper was easily 2.5 feet tall and was something like 170 bucks. Presumably intended for only the most spoiled of Japanese children(and if the throng of screaming, flailing kids in this Toys 'R Us is any indication, Japanese kids could give American kids a run for their money in the 'spoiled, bratty' department).

There were at least 2 pegs full of Public Enemy figures. These were released in America years and years ago. I have no idea why they're in the action figure aisle in a Japanese Toys 'R Us. I cannot imagine the Japanese child that would be happy upon receiving this.

Just to drive the point home, there was an entire little promenade filled with caricature artists like this one here. In America, caricature artists are sort of like the dead canary in the coal mine – if you see one, you know you're in a bad place, one you should get out of immediately. Turns out the same rings true here.

Big tacky burger place with obnoxious themed signage? Check!

Food court jam-packed with people devouring McDonald's? Check!

And to top it all off , the home of one of Japan's best-kept secrets, that fine local delicacy only found in the misty backstreets of Tokyo, the Cheddar Bay Biscuit.

Ugh. That's it for today. Check back tomorrow for something (maybe) more upbeat.



2009-03-18

Today we begin in Odaiba, which is basically Japan's answer to Orange County – a big sprawl of office complexes, malls, amusement centers and apartment buildings just far enough away from Tokyo to be a pain in the ass commute.


We did wind up in a very nice hotel, though. There are mirrors everywhere for some reason, but it's a hell of a step up from the shoebox we were in the first night.


This toilet will violate you sexually if you hit the right button. Pretty much every toilet in Japan will, unless you're in a rural area and the “toilet” is actually a “hole in the ground”.

So here's a tip about visiting Japan: if you have to do a number two, be prepared to either be horribly violated or be forced to do your business in a ditch. Take it from me, seasoned veteran.


We actually have a booth this year, but we didn't get top billing. We may be big in America, but in Japan, we're still co-stars.

See that Doraemon winking? That mischievous smile? Oh that saucy Doraemon! He knows something you don't! A secret, if you will!

And that secret is that he'll never, ever be popular in America!

YOU'LL BE JEALOUS THAT YOU'RE NOT HERE IN 3…

2…

1...



To be honest they didn't really have a whole lot to show for FMA 2 but the teaser posters and the giant awesome booth are enough to get me excited.


Pop quiz: Is this the Animax booth, or the set of The Price is Right?


A couple of booths were using these absolutely hideous mannequin puppet things and I have no idea why. Who would look at this grotesque thing and say “yeah, that's a decent approximation of Naruto” and not “GAAAHHHHH”?

I'm convinced this is a bootleg Bart Simpson doll with Naruto makeup on and not actually a licensed Naruto mannequin.


I've always wanted to wipe that smug little look off of Detective Conan's face. What in the hell is he so damn proud of himself for?


Oh boy, it's my favorite show, The One With A Bunch Of Girls! Why, they're all here – the innocent one, the spunky one, the mysterious one with the hair clip and a soft spot, and the one with glasses! Can't wait for the sequel!


This is a very literal title. I guess they don't want the audience to be confused. This is why Titanic had the subtitle “Sinking Ship Movie” and Dragonball: Evolution is actually called Dragon Ball: Cancer of the Eyes and Brain.

Minky Momo turns 30 this year, I guess. They should run a promotion called “Minky Momo 30th Anniversary: The Search for Someone Who Gives a Sh*t”. It's pretty self-explanatory, I think.


I don't have anything mean to say about this neat little Ponyo diorama.


This “naked dude taking a shower” action figure was on display at the Good Smile Company booth, and I have absolutely no idea what's going on here. Maybe that's a spray-tan booth? I can't figure out who would want this. Aside from my fellow blogger Evan Miller, of course. He'll be getting two for Christmas.

Maybe it's just me but Naruto is in a really awkward pose here.

Oh boy, it's my other favorite show, The One with a Bunch of Dudes! There's the gentle, possibly gay one, the hard-assed, possibly gay one, the angry, possibly gay one and the gay one! Can't wait for the sequel!

The odd thing about Tokyo Anime Fair is that they still seem to run all the ‘fan event’ stuff even though everyone in the room is a businessman or a journalist and nobody's really there to watch a concert or interact with a dude in a plush mascot costume. Still, these guys – and I have no idea who they are – came out and gave some approved, scripted remarks about how excited they are to be whoever the hell they are.


Media Factory has a new show for the spring called Queen's Blade, which I guess is a de-porned anime version of the porno game and they had a big display of the character designs on the back of their OH MY GOD

GOOD LORD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE

THAT WOMAN WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO STAND UP

This is a small booth dedicated to a line of merchandise that features a puppy whose slogan is “I wanna be puppy!”, even though he clearly already is a puppy. It is mildly infuriating. You are already a puppy, you idiot.

O-kay, that's it for today. Tomorrow: TAF day two, and probably some other stuff.




2009-03-17

Yesterday we started out in Shibuya, which I was told was the super-fashionable trendy shopping district (the one not named Harajuku, anyway, which I'll talk about a little later), also the place that has the famous gigantic pedestrian intersection that you see in countless movies and anime series. Personally, I was on the lookout for this ‘Mugen Endless Banana’, which is a plastic banana you can peel over and over again and it makes noises and apparently replicates the pleasant sensation of peeling a banana perfectly.


Shibuya turned out to basically be Manhattan (or at least the upscale shopping districts in Manhattan) except it's in Japanese with English subs. It's also the closest thing to the Blade Runner-esque FUTURE CITY stereotype I had in my head before visiting Tokyo so I was pleased as punch to see giant displays with asian chicks hawking cosmetics next to flashing neon displays in Katakana. All I needed was a Harrison Ford voiceover track (plus a trendwhore girlfriend and around a million yen in cash to blow on designer boots and handbags and eyelash extensions and all that crap) and I'd be right at home.


This truck was roaming the streets of Shibuya – which for the two of you reading this who don't know, the city is shaped like an asterisk (the center of which I can only assume houses the underground lair of the Shibuya Hive Queen, a horrible genetic mutation created by attempting to fuse Gwen Stefani, Paris Hilton and Diddy) which sounds difficult to navigate but I ran into this truck at least 4 times. It's advertising this absolutely ridiculous boy band called A Bunch of Dudes Whose Clothing Makes It Impossible For Them To Look Menacing Despite Their Best Efforts, blaring their latest single.


Oh the number of poor confused otaku who went all the way up to the fifth floor based on this advertisement and walked away disappointed.


Hey, here's something you won't see in America – a Tower Records that's still in business!


Among other things you cannot escape no matter how far you may run from America, these two masterpieces were in full display inside Tower Records. Notably, Mamma Mia! Was also (still) playing at the theater I saw Dragonball: Evolution at. To be perfectly honest I'm not sure which movie I'd rather never see again.

Next we hit up Loft, a gigantic department store that's like a bizarre crossbreed between Urban Outfitters, Spencer's Gifts and Target, with a heapin' helpin' of Ikea thrown in and then blended together with the art galleries and boutique shops in West Hollywood. It's a pretty rad store. It was there I found this baffling item:


It's a blender where your drink is clearly – obviously – being dispensed through Mickey Mouse's genitals.

I mean look at it. Just stare at it for a good long while. Then imagine yourself pouring a tall cold glass of delicious Pina Colada out of that thing.

Then ask yourself if you'd be able to drink it.


They also had this amazing line of toys called “Robo Ja Nai” or something like that – basically “This is not a Robot” – that are designed to be figural representations of the crappy mecha drawings kids do. It's really a hilarious idea. This is the main one, and there's a whole line of them.

You cannot help but be swayed by this piece of promotional art for the line. It's like personifying the feeling you got on Christmas morning when Mom & Dad got you Karnov for the NES instead of Super Mario Bros. 2.

CROCS SIGHTED

JAPANESE CULTURE: DESTROYED

But then here comes this guy to save it.

Next we went over to Suginami to visit the little anime museum there. I'll have a buttload of photos and a writeup on this place for y'all after the Tokyo Anime Fair, so for now I'll just show you the relief outside the building, which is all well known anime characters from the history of the medi…. wait a second


WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE

YOU ARE FROM STRANGE DAWN

NOBODY LIKES YOU

YOU DO NOT BELONG IN A MUSEUM

Across the street was this awesome little shrine. I have nothing more to say about it except that it was pretty rad to see this after spending days drowning in metropolitan Tokyo.

This is Harajuku. The minute we stepped off the train I was surrounded by Japanese girls in ridiculous outfits and an ocean of douchey white dudes in aviator sunglasses and skinny jeans desperately trying to pick them up. It was absolutely f*cking miserable. This here is a lovely shot of how you can't move at all in any direction because the arteries of Harajuku are so painfully clogged with hipster trash.

Here's a shop called “Snoberry”. Pretty much sums it up if you pronounce it in just the right way.

AND NOW: The moment you've all been waiting for!

This is it!

A WORLD EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW PICTURE from this year's Tokyo Anime Fair which hasn't even started yet (as of this writing)!!! NEVER BEFORE SEEN!

I was given top-secret access to the Tokyo Anime Fair showroom floor just moments ago and, braving threat of pain and death, I have decided to break the press silence and offer you, my loyal readers, this amazing behind-the-scenes exclusive shot that could change the world of anime forever!

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to continue replacing my blood with Asahi Super Dry. Tomorrow: Tokyo Anime Fair Day One, and probably some other nonsense.


2009-03-16

As you may well have guessed, I, along with a handful of my delightful coworkers, are in Japan right now for the Tokyo Anime Fair. I've never been out of the country before (shocking, I know, since I've spent the last 10 years of my life writing about Japanese cartoons and yet this is the first time I've ever been to the motherland), so I figured I'd take this amazing opportunity to embark on an adventure to the mystical, exotic Land of the Rising Sun and be a cranky gasbag tourist about it. Join me, won't you?


This is the vending machine inside the first “business hotel” (which is Japanese for “sterile shoebox large enough for a dollhouse bed and a miniature toilet”). You've seen billions of photos of Japanese vending machines and the WA-A-A-ACKY stuff they have in them, but I mention this particular vending machine only because it contains “Lemon's Lemon”, a drink I bought on a whim and wound up regretting because it's like squirting a gallon of hyper-concentrated pure lemon juice straight down your gullet. It is what I imagine it feels like to have Satan himself pee directly into your mouth, only his pee is fortified with Vitamin C.


Naturally since the lot of us are a pack of nerdy gaijin looking to fulfill the stereotype, the first thing we did on the first full day here was hit up Akihabara, the fading otaku mecca that was once home to many sudden Haruhi dance routines but now seems oddly low-key due to the lack of a mega-hit show that gets the locals all hot and bothered. Still, there are billions of inappropriate action figures with breast sizes ranging from prepubescent to twin pre-disaster Hindenburgs, just as you'd expect. This is the first giant billboard you see upon exiting the train station. It's a big effin' pair of glasses. This should probably be changed to a giant sign that says “SURRENDER YOUR WALLETS, DORKBAGS”.


An average street in Akihabara. “Orochi Z” is big right now I suppose (or it just came out, like Biohazard 5) because there were ads for it everywhere and plenty of stalls with spare copies in the street. If you squint a little you can see part of some random moe arcade nonsense thing there at the far left! I'd be lying if I said I had the foggiest idea what the hell it was!


There are a couple huge multi-story (well, everything is multi-story here, even the dollar store) Taito-branded arcades, and this one has been themed to the 30th anniversary of Space Invaders, which is rad as hell. Most of these arcades have the same machines – tons of fighting game cabinets ranging from Street Fighter II to Street Fighter IV to countless unrecognizable bishojo fighting games with words like “Melty” and “Bloodslake” in the title. They also want 100 yen to play most of the retro cabinets, so if you feel like blowing a dollar to get killed in the first level of a CAPCOM CPS-1 game, the chance is yours.


I did get to play this extremely awesome Castlevania arcade game, which is basically House of the Dead except with whips and hearts and knives and the usual Castlevania trappings which makes it really goddamn awesome in my book. Naturally I got killed on the first boss, but that's OK, because directly downstairs was this beautiful gem:


Rambo: The Arcade Experience. With actual clips from the movie!



This is Cool Old Dude, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of Japan, Taro Aso. He is apparently blisteringly aware that all he really needs to do is feign interest in anime, turn himself into a mascot character, plaster Akiba with these posters and he'll immediately get the Otaku vote to fall in line. Hint: it worked.



Here he is again posing on a box of some odd food thing with Japan's official Obama lookalike, who in this particular drawing looks more like what it would look like if the President and Senator John Kerry had a child and then deported him to Japan. There's actually a lot of Obama merchandise around Tokyo, which comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone at all.



I don't really need to say anything about this, do I?

So far everything in Akihabara seems pretty OK, so let's just


NNNNYYYYAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAGGGGGGGAGAGGGGGGG

THE ABYSS, IT STARES BACK INTO ME



After that terrifying encounter we hit up Nakano Broadway, a big outdoor mall attached to a big indoor mall, the top two floors of which are mostly populated by a mind-numbing, eye-straining blur of countless little anime merchandise vendors, including Mandarake which pretty much consumes the entire fourth floor. It's fun for a little while until your brain starts to melt from overexposure.



There are many things you cannot escape no matter how far you go or how hard you try. Claire's Boutique is apparently one of them.



This is the Mandarake “Weird Shop”. It is creepy and awesome all at the same time, and going inside is probably a lot like dropping acid and watching old Japanese soda mascot characters and the cast of Gegege no Kitarō engaging in a violent and sloppy orgy.



This is probably a completely appropriate onesie for a baby if neither you nor anyone else around you nor anyone who would ever see your baby wearing this speaks a single word of English.



Just when I was feeling homesick for American nerdery, this popped up around the corner. Look inside! Real Japanese geeks playing Warhammer! Now all I need is a Cinnabon and it'll be just like home.



Lastly we popped into a Book-Off, a used media shop pretty much everyone is familiar with so I won't bother explaining it. However, to my shock and dismay, here I was faced with a terrible reality:

Manga cows are not an American phenomenon. Here is a magnificent herd, grazing with abandon, blocking the aisle AND the shelves. I'm sure you could demurely bow your head and please ask if they'd please pretty please with sato on top move so you could browse the abused stacks of used Eyeshield 21 volumes, but then you'd run the risk of making a wrong move and sparking a stampede.

That's all for today. Check back tomorrow for Shibuya, the Suginami Anime Museum, and some other crapola.

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