written by Ali
It was bound to happen. I mean, seriously. Think about who you're dealing with.
In Kyoto, it was wandering through castles, exploring back alleys, and generally revelling in history.
And now, here in Tokyo, the time had time for another geek rite of passage: a pilgrimage to twin meccas of the capitol's otaku, Nakano Broadway and Akihabara.
Armed with naught but our determination, a rail map and a copy of "Cruising the Anime City," today we caught a train to the first of those two destinations. Nakano Broadway was farther away that we'd thought it would be, both from our Ryokan in Asakusa and Nakano station. We weren't exactly sure what to expect, as while "Anime City" was very thorough it was also inevitably out of date -- and really, when it comes to such dense concentrations of subculture, it's not easy to communicate the full effect on paper.
Nakano Broadway, as it turns out, gradates from a mostly uneventful and completely normal-looking shopping mall on the first floor to some seriously intense wall-to-wall otakudom on the upper floors. I'm not kidding. I've never seen anything like it. It was like being in the dealer room of an anime convention, only with unkempt twentysomething salarymen instead of fangirls, and bizzare newage crystal stores with life-sized alien replicas occasionally thrown into the mix. Also, while there were a few maids helping customers in the small arcade, absolutely no one was cosplaying as inuyasha.
Dominating the scene was Mandarake, an ever-expanding chain of stores that specialize in manga, doujinshi (fan comics) and other otaku goods. Much of what they sell is used but in excellent condition, which means the prices are generally very reasonable. The founder has proudly declared on more than one occasion that he plans to use his empire to take over the world. If taking over the world means burying it in gatchapon and backissues of Jump Comics titles, then I think he's off to a pretty good start.
The bits I spent the most time in, by far, were Madarake's doujinshi and used manga stores. Combing through floor-to ceiling shelves labled entirely in Japanese (and thus, asking a lot of stupid questions in the form of "_____ wa doku desu ka?" ie, "Where is ____?") I nevertheless scored an immense pile of goodies. All nine volumes of FMA, various postcard books and character guides, more doujin tankoban (collected volumes) than I care to think about, and an impressive collection of single-issue doujin. I even managed to avoid buying any gratuitous porn. That day.
Anyway, so after having been idiot enough to go straight for the books and thus burden myself with giant bags for the rest of the day, I met back up with Scott at the escalator. Turns out that he had embarked upon a mad quest for anything and everything he could find related to Rockman, the Japanese name of the game character most of you would know as Megaman, with whom he is mysteriously obsessed. Though at that point all he'd actually bought were random japanese electronica CDs from the sale bin that had pretty covers.
It's all sort of a blur after that. We looked as cosplay stores selling replicas of Edward Elric's automail arm, purchased design packs and storyboards and inexpensive animation cells, squinted at endless glass cases of tiny plastic figured (from which I scored an awesome model of DS9 for like 300¥, or about $3), pawed through piles of model kits (Scott finally found the Rockman goods he'd been craving), spent all our change on gachapon capsule toy machines, and generally ran amuck. It was wild.
Honestly, there was so much to look at that eventually you sort of numbed to it and became very businesslike about the whole affair. When faced with a shelf holding more toys from your favorite show than you've ever seen in one place, you'd expect to be shoving them into your basket in a sort of geek feeding frenzy. But instead, I found myself carefully examining the options, weighing them at my leisure, and taking a pass on far more than I'd have thought my willpower would allow. Aside from the gatchapon, which are addictive in that they are basically a form of toy-based gambling, Scott and I were relatively reserved in our selections.
Reserved in the sense that we didn't need to hire a sherpa to carry all my manga home for us. That day.
Eventually, with our wallets considerably lighter and our arms about to detach from our torsos from the weight of so much paper, we dragged our sorry asses back to our Ryokan.
But that was not the end of it. Oooooooooooh no.
After a brief pit stop to unload our goodies and recover somewhat from the morning's ordeal, we hit the streets yet again. This time we headed back to shinjuku in hopes of browsing through Kinokuniya, the largest bookstore in the city, if not the whole of Japan. Located just south of Takishimaya Times Square, it's seven stories tall and has an impressive selection of english language books, many of them small-press and hard to find. And to my delight, almost the entirety of the first floor is taken up by manga and related goods.
I didn't buy any manga, as I can get it used for much less money at home, but I did find a couple of items that are much harder to get ahold of. Most of it was Fullmetal Alchemist-related -- a fanbook, an artbook and a calendar -- but the real find was a kit for a paper model of Howl's moving castle. So many tiny bits of cardboard to cut out! So awesome!!!
Scott spend most of our time there upstairs in the English language section, browsing through their books on Japan. It's a really amazing collection. We'd never even heard of most of the titles we saw, and a good number of them are from university presses and other small publishers. Unfortunately, this fact combined with Kino's tendency to overprice meant that many of the books we wanted were far to expensive to contemplate. But we wrote down the ISBNs, and Scott managed to pick up some great titles are more reasonable prices: a bilingual copy of Ghost in the Shell from Kondansha; "Breaking into Japanese Literature," a facing-page translation he'll probably write up in Textuality; and a book by Kamo No Chomei.
Eventually, the store closed and we were shooed out onto the sidewalk again with our purchases. Which meant it was time for dinner!
Now, January 10th just happened to be our one-year anniversary of seeing each other, so we wanted to do something a little special for dinner. Not knowing much about the nightlife scene in Shinjuku, and not wanting to accidentally wander into the seedier bits of Kabuki-cho, we opted to rely on our copy of Time Out to guide us.
A place called Christon Cafe caught our eye -- Time Out described it as asian-fusion cuisine set in a setting designed to look like a gothic cathedral. As it turned out, it was an excellent call. We found it without too much trouble, the decor was fun and atmospheric without being tacky, the music was awesome, the wait staff was hip and friendly, the cocktails were creative and yummy (Scott had Lychee Beer. INSANE!) and the food was delicious.
Of course, we had to stay for a desert of sesame cake and pumpkin pastry. Which meant that, once again, we had to charge through underground corridors to make the last train back to Asakusa.
But we did make it. And after a day like this, what else was there to do but crawl feebly across the tatami and into our beds.
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