Continued from part 1.
So, the previous evening it had started to rain quite heavily. Due to the heat, I was glad of the break personally, but when we were about to leave in the morning, I was informed it was the start of a typhoon. We were told to buy umbrellas, but I haughtily scoffed, “We’re from Grimsby, and used to a bit of rain and wind,” and strolled outside for a morning cigarette. Five minutes later I returned inside, trainers squeaking on the lush hotel floor, admitting I had made a huge mistake. I needed an umbrella.
The typhoon scuppered the day’s plans so we went to Odaiba instead, where we admired the huge Gundam statue from the dry safety of a shopping centre doorway and were let loose in a shopping centre for a while. I later found out that this shopping centre was home to the mecca for Kit-Kats in terms of unique flavours. And I missed it like a chump.
My compatriots assured me it was just ‘innocent’ fun, but the sight of a solitary middle-aged man playing pocket billiards with one hand and picking his nose with the other convinced me otherwise
Later in the day we were taken to what was possibly my most uncomfortable experience during my entire trip – a maid café. For those who don’t know, a maid café is where you are served food by an avalanche of kawaii (cute). Except it isn’t cute. It is a blend of the sacred and the profane. Women dressed in stockings and short skirts screech inanities and occasionally break into (mimed) song. The pseudo-sexy get-up is couple by the fact that they seem to be pretending to be children. It’s something I’ve always found a little creepy about animé too. My compatriots assured me it was just ‘innocent’ fun, but the sight of a solitary middle-aged man playing pocket billiards with one hand and picking his nose with the other (whilst I was eating) convinced me otherwise. The service was also terrible.
After this we toured some of the arcades in the same area. Monoliths that promised a gaming Shangri-La on the outside, but when you entered, you realise they are all pretty uniform. One floor is dedicated to UFO catchers (grabbers), one floor is solely rhythm games and the remaining two are rows of fighting games (Tekken 7/Streetfighter 5 etc.) or Gundam card games which seemed too complex for someone who can’t read Japanese. There was a cool game where the machine featured two guns that clipped together in various ways to change the play style, but again it only went so far before my lack of reading ability scuppered me. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of range in these places considering Japan is basically the birthplace of videogames. After this we visited the world famous Super-Potato retro gaming store. I’d have bought a t-shirt, but they don’t cater for fat people in Japan for clothing.
I imagine I looked rather gormless, walking around the busy streets open-mouthed gawping at the scenery
The next day, before we left for Hakone, was back on the proposed itinerary so we made our way to Ikebukuro to be marvelled by skyscrapers and neon once again. I imagine to passers-by, I looked rather gormless, walking around the busy streets open-mouthed gawping at the scenery. I’m no stranger to cities, but this really has to be seen to be believed. It is almost Blade Runner-esque, if the film had a budget of 23 billion.
Whilst in Ikebukuro, I tried ramen for the first time. The sceptic in me had heard people speak highly of it and immediately dismissed it as a ‘posh pot noodle’. I couldn’t be more wrong. We visited a ramen chain called Ichiran and it was delicious. Very foreigner friendly as the machine at the door lets you choose what you want from pictures and cards printed in English and Japanese allow you to omit and add ingredients to taste. It’s very easy to see why people come back obsessed with the food. My companion had visited the year before (not that he mentioned it) and had gone to the same restaurant five times in one day.
Feeling rebellious in the evening, I had a couple of drinks and a cigarette on some steps outside the Sun Plaza hotel. Why rebellious? In Japan, it has some bizarre smoking laws. You can’t smoke outside apart from at designated smoking areas; this is apparently less stringently enforced in other areas. You can smoke indoors at a variety of places, at the discretion of the management. This meant that most of the time, I was smoking indoors. It doesn’t seem to be the health based legislation that we have, but more of a tidiness issue. And it shows – I didn’t litter once, as everywhere is so clean.
Sitting on the steps watching the late night hustle of Nakano, we were sad to be leaving the next day, but excited for what the rest of the journey would bring. The next day would be our first of four trips on the bullet train.
Continued in Part 3