Nerd Tour Japan 2014: Day Two

by Zac Bertschy & Hope Chapman,

Well, here we are on Day Two. Freezing-ass pouring rain blasting cold wind Day Two. Naturally we started at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, a big outdoor complex enshrining the spirit of the man credited with the Meiji Restoration. Shinto shrines are lovely in the rain, provided you're seeing said images on television or something and not actually standing around in it.

HOPE: When I think of Shinto shrines I've seen in Japanese movies and anime, I tend to think of much smaller structures than the opulent Meiji Jingu shrine we visited near Harajuku. Once past the torii gate shown in this picture, it was a very long and scenic walk to the shrine itself. Unfortunately, it was a walk plagued by pouring rain uphill and down. It was hard to focus much on the beauty of nature with goosebumpy arms and wet gravel in my shoes. The shrine itself, isolated within a 170-acre forest, was enormous and austere. Exploring the courtyard took my mind off the freezing rain a little bit, and learning about the history behind Emperor Meiji and why he is held in such high esteem helped as well. It was a unique experience, and I'd like to see other shrines like Omi Jingu or some of the smaller ones in the future…provided it's not raining!

Ah, the quiet beauty of nature. Someone please tell me where there's a warm indoor coffee shop or something god it's so cold and wet

These are huge sake barrels left in honor of the Meiji emperor. You're warned not to try and break into them, presumably in order to steal the sake inside. I would drain the sake out and use the barrel as shelter from the FREEZING COLD WIND AND RAIN DID I MENTION HOW BAD THE WEATHER WAS anyway…

Wine barrels on the other side symbolizing the friendship between France and Japan. Besties, those two. They have sleepovers on Saturday nights and order pizza and watch scary movies.

Something about me - I've been to a dozen of these shrines and I never partake in the purification ceremony or any of the other Shinto rituals that lie within. I've always seen it as a kind of religious “tourism” and it never really sit well with me – nothing against those who do, of course.  I see it this way – if I visited a Mosque, I wouldn't practice Salat, yanno? I'd admire the building quietly and then go.


HOPE: Kiddy Land is full of toys and family entertainment both Japanese and imported. (There's an entire Disney floor, for instance. Disney rules the world, after all.) Adventure Time seems to be just starting to take off here, so it was fun hearing the voices of characters I love in Japanese. B-MO sounds extremely adorable and has a lovely singing voice.

HOPE: These kitty paws will massage your back! (Or your foot, or your neck, or…anywhere else you'd like massaged.)

HOPE: Just put that shelf in a poorly lit basement and insert a grown man in a fedora holding a katana, and you have roughly 10% of the photography content on DeviantArt.

Man, that new Sailor Moon show really is gonna be different.

The trick to these dolls is that you have a soul before you look at one and then afterward you don't anymore.

Kiki stuff is dominating all the Ghibli sections in stores like this one thanks to that new live-action movie. I haven't seen it yet, but I'd imagine merchandise based on the animated version is merely a reminder of its superiority.  Also, note the monstrous display of horrible Monchichis to the left there. You're welcome.

HOPE: Frozen opened in Japan just this past weekend, so advertising for it is ubiquitous. The tiny-eyed, tiny-smiled Olaf plush up there gives me the weirds.

HOPE: Even in the rain, Harajuku was packed, and largely with noisy, excited high schoolers. I was vaguely aware of Harajuku's status as a “fashion center” of Japan, but I think I was imagining more of a New York meets Gothic Lolita vibe. I'm sure that exists elsewhere in the district, but not down Takeshita Street, which was dominated by the mix n' match scrap n' parcel clothing you might associate with Forever 21, hip hop style clothes slathered with Engrish phrases, and some punk n' metal alt wear. Many outlets were obviously chains, but there were pockets of independent clothiers and shops here and there as well. I mostly took it in through cursory glances and quick browsing, fashion's not really my thing, but watching the regulars motor their way from store to store told me a lot. It's a loud, chaotic, teen-heavy area, like a 90s mall turned open flea market. Despite the cruddy weather, Harajuku was easily the most energetic place I'd visited in Japan, fun to walk through but a little nerve-wracking too. It's easy to get shoved about or lost down those narrow streets!

HOPE: This store mostly just reminds me of Japan's unique fascination with Avril Lavigne, which is tied to fashion as much as it is to music. The same is true of Lady Gaga, for completely different reasons, although she's more a worldwide phenom than Avril.

HOPE: Free tagline: “It's NERV or nothin'!” I'm not as big of an EVA fan as Zac is, but the shameless merchandising glut for what is and continues to be a very artsy, challenging, and often deeply disturbing franchise is pretty much the best, so exploring this store was a ton of fun. It's not as artsy of a property, but Attack on Titan is also unflinchingly harsh, mega-popular, and being given a similar marketing treatment, which tickles me as well. Every time I spot Evangelion boxers with EVA-01's eye on the crotch or Titan-brand gummy snacks shaped and colored like chunks of raw meat, my heart fills with glee.

Stupid Evangelion merchandise is one of the things that continues to make me warm inside with happiness and the Evangelion store in Harajuku is ground zero for it. The first floor is all high-end apparel and accessories, like watches and wallets and bags and shoes, and the second floor is all character merchandise and cologne and hankies and plushes and headphones and anything else you could possibly think of.

HOPE: Well, it's about time they tied the knot! It's been almost 20 years!

So I came here specifically to buy this:

Which is I think one of the only pieces of Lilith merchandise ever made, and owning it makes me immeasurably happy. There were at least a half-dozen other stupid-ass things in here I nearly bought – they had an AT-Field umbrella, a Lance of Longinus letter opener (only $52!), and more, but common sense won out (although now I find myself asking why).

HOPE: Most of the vendors on Takeshita Street had their clothes out on racks and shelves pretty much right in the street like this. If it was anything that could be rain-damaged, they had a tarp thrown over it.

So the last stop on today's tour was this place, Square Enix's Artnia café, which is this egg-shaped thing in Shinjuku where you can pay like $20 for a parfait with Cloud's Buster Sword in it. Evan led us on a 20-minute death march through the bitter cold and rain out here only to discover the Egg was closed. Sore, exhausted, drenched and chilled to the bone after an entire day trudging around in the elements, we peaced the hell out and got in a cab. Here is an artist's rendition of our exit:

Thankfully, cabs are plentiful in Tokyo.

Japanese cabs are really nice, by the way. Heated, quiet, super clean with doilies everywhere, and since it's Japan you don't have to tip (Japan is not a tipping economy – you aren't supposed to do it). It cost me $30 to get us back to our hotel, but it was the best $30 I'd spent that day. Driving past all those suckers still out in the rain was real nice.

Click Here for Day Three!

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