Anime and Arcades

We found a proper grocery shop last night so this morning we made porridge. This was a nice familiar and cheap way to start the day before we walked to the Pokémon Center.

This was hidden inside a shopping centre so as we approached we had no idea where it was. The shopping centre had a sort of roof garden which was nice, with miniature stone houses and tracks between them. I even found one proud homeowner standing outside enjoying the passers by, it was very cute and oddly English. But once we found the entrance, we descended into the shopping mall and found the floor with the Pokémon centre.

This was more like a shop and any sort of tourist attraction. There was literally EVERY pokémon made into a cuddly toy you could name or imagine. Or figurine, or picture, or t-shirt or badge, or sticker… people were walking around with baskets overflowing with merch and I knew we would be too. Luckily, because our bags have a weight limit for the flights Aimi restrained herself to just a few small bits, and I got some stickers. 

Next we visited Takeshita Street, not because we needed the loo, but to see a load of shops selling all sorts of Anime and Cosplay cloths and merch. This was obviously a more touristy part of Tokyo as we started to see more westerners and other nationalities in the crowds. Aimi again went full Goo Goo eyes and enjoyed browsing the shops bits and bobs. 

One of the most amazing and culturally interesting shops was just lined floor the ceiling with capsule machines. This is a sort of vending machine where you put in your 300 yen (about £1.65) and turn the handle. A capsule then drops out with a figure or toy in it. Each machine has a range or theme or collection of anything from famous anime characters, to plastic sushi, little torches, dinosaurs, or covid masks. There are all sorts in there and one chap in the back was getting really excited yelling “YES YES YES” when he got the one he wanted.

The questionable but surprisingly good thing we did here was a puppy cafe. Being a little worried about the welfare of the dogs it was nice to see them all very happy and wide eyed and well cared for. Some were obviously not puppies, just small breeds like the Chihuahua  and Pekingese dogs. But they did have a puppy Shiba Inu, which immediately became our favourite (much to the pugs distress). She was called Omiso and we just wanted to tuck her up under our arms and walk out… I may be persuaded to get another shiba when we get home. But don’t tell Aimi…

Needing to pee we bought a train ticket so we could access the loos and make our way back to the town center to find somewhere to eat. Exiting the station in the wrong direction we we found ourselves in the “Red Light District” of Tokyo, according to a quick google. But it wasn’t a few seedy alleyways, there were towering blocks of restaurants intermixed with Top Dandy clubs and arcades. And along the main street were lots and lots of (mostly) young girls dressed in cosplay / manga outfits touting signs. This is a very strange thing to see, as a westerner you immediately jump to thinking “prostitute”. Usually depicted hanging around covertly on street corners in the dodgy part of town. But I went and asked a well dressed office working Japanese guy and he said these are maids. They wait on you at cafes and bars, give conversation and are in a subservient role. When I asked if they have sex with you, he told me no, most of the time this is not what happens but it can do. Later walking around we came across @Home Cafe which is less freelance and more organised. We will have to check this out as its so strange.

We are mostly walking around enjoying spotting Japanesey stuff and just ogling. Like a huge Godzilla statue looking over the top of a building, or the incredible number of colourful signs on every building. We even got stopped by a street magician who was actually pretty good. Eventually we had to sit down and just have a coffee to rest.

We also found a Pachinko arcade. An incredibly packed hall of machines that make the most cacophonous sound! They are a cross between an anime tv screen, pinball and slot machine and hundreds of Japanese people were just sitting there mindlessly watching it happen. I had to have a go and spent my 1000Y (£5.50) in about 5 mins just watching it all happen. I’ve no idea what the appeal is because there is no skill of strategy involved.

This area we came to was in search of Golden Gai or Piss Alley where a load of tiny bars basically only serve locals. It seems to be a respite for the salary men from the formal and structured lives they lead. We were a bit early for it to really get going and didn’t stay long. Instead we went to another collection of tiny businesses down cramped alleyways called Omoide Yokochō. Here you find loads of 1 room restaurants about the size of 1 small american car. In here they cram, a full kitchen, charcoal grill, bar and between 6-10 stools for people to sit on all squashed up next to each other. We tried to eat at one and were discouraged in favour of locals. Drinking alcohol is mandatory and smoking is permitted indoors, unlike everywhere else where smoking is shunned into special discrete areas. Failing the first place we found another around the corner and had a meal including grilled eel and something called crystal plum, which was frozen fish eggs and cabbage. 

That night I had a shower before bed and felt wheezy from the smoke. Not somewhere I’d return for a meal, but a great experience of Japanese culture.