by Daniel George
Day 9: Shinjuku and Jingu Stadium, August 22
First thing this morning, breakfast at the hotel. It wasn’t too bad, but we’d later procure breakfast from the Family Mart next door to the hotel. You learn very quickly that convenience store food is much better in Japan than it is elsewhere in the world. Not long after that we met Patrick Bleakney, who was staying in the same hotel (the Wing International Shinjuku). Introductions out of the way, we found each of us had common ground: aside from all being Yamato fans, we were all Star Wars fans; while both Terry and Patrick are Star Trek fans, Patrick and I are Red Sox fans, so there was plenty to talk about as we spent the morning finding our way around Shinjuku.
In the space of an hour or so we found the Piccadilly Theater and the nearby Animate, Forest Comics, and Kinokunia stores (the latter of which was important to locate for the Yamato 2199 store that would open in it the next day), the Shinjuku Post Office (important since JP Bank ATMs were the only ones we could withdraw cash from) and had a look at the Bic Camera store. It included a massive Lego display and had more than a few different Yamato 2199 items in stock, ranging from the Blu-Rays and DVDs to the model kits, including some of the more recently-released ones.
Alas, the adventure of the first seven days in the heat and humidity of western Honshu had sapped my energy, and while Terry and Patrick ventured farther around Shinjuku looking at all manner of stores, I returned to the hotel to put my feet up and catch up with what was going on in the world.
Life-size statues of Rei, Kaworu, and Asuka from Rebuild of Evangelion on the other side of the entrance.
Upon Terry and Patrick’s return to the hotel, we got to thinking about how to spend the afternoon; since Patrick and I were both fans, and Terry had expressed interest in attending a game while in Japan, why not go see a baseball game? That night there was a scheduled game between cross-town rivals, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and the Yomiuri Giants, at Jingu Stadium only a couple of stops away by train. After finding the Shinjuku Metro station and making a change onto a different line a few stops along, we were soon at Gaienmae Station and took a short walk to the stadium where people were already lining up.
Jingu Stadium starting to fill up during batting practice
The stadium staff had signs which I assumed were an identifier of where tickets would run out or something along those lines, especially when they seemed to cut the line off. We later found out these were specific seats for Swallows fans. After venturing into the stadium we queued up, bought the best seats still available at ~¥4500 apiece, and made our way around the stadium to the entrance to our section.
Now, as I said earlier, I’m a huge Red Sox fan; I saw them play the Yankees in New York in 2004, about a month before that storied stadium played host to the game’s greatest comeback. However, the experience there, as awesome as it is to go into enemy territory wearing your colors, paled vastly into insignificance compared with a Nippon Professional Baseball game. First thing that hits you are the food options. You have your typical burgers and hot dogs, but after that there are all sorts of Japanese dishes – yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), takoyaki (octopus balls), and karaage (fried chicken), as well as some you wouldn’t think possible at a ball game – giant bowls of curry rice, ramen (thin noodle soup), udon (thick noodle soup), or yakisoba (fried noodles). And then there was the beer. Yebisu, Suntory Premium, Suntory Regular, Asahi Dry, Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo, Sapporo Premium, etc. being carried around by stadium workers all night (invariably cute girls as well).
Cheerleaders performing during the pre-game entertainment.
We took our seats, which were high but more or less behind the plate. We looked around and noticed that like everything else, Japan loves its baseball games to be organized – Swallows fans on one side, visitors on the other. We were just in the visitors’ section by virtue of our just-on-the-left-side-of-the-plate seats. We settled down and began watching the batting practice on the field. After that was the pre-game entertainment of mascots running around, and something I normally associate with American football rather than baseball: cheerleaders!
No seats left by the time the sky was dark.
I won’t go into a play-by-play, but suffice to say, much fun was had in the crowd, constant cheering contests interrupted by the scoreboard issuing some warning on a regular basis, or flashing the Jingu Stadium version of the “Charge!” music. (“GO GO SWALLOWS!”) You knew when each team’s American import player was up – Japanese hitters on the night tended to hit line drive home runs that just cleared the yellow line on the outfield walls, but the American players were hitting massive fly balls. The end result was the home team’s fans went home happy with a comprehensive win to the Swallows, 8-3. The Swallows’ import player, Wladimir Balentien, who had two home runs on the night, would break the Nippon Professional Baseball single-season home run record by season’s end.
At the end of the game, we proceeded to follow the masses in the hope of getting to the nearest train station. We found ourselves at the entryway to a nearby Metro station, but since it looked ridiculously crowded, Terry suggested we walk to find the next one. Some time later, the three of us found ourselves at Hiroo Metro station, a mile and a half in the wrong direction to getting back to Shinjuku. While figuring out how expensive it would be to get a ticket back to Shinjuku (we hadn’t bought Suicas [Swipe Cards] up to this point, since Patrick had just arrived and Terry and I had Japan Rail Passes). A friendly English-speaking Japanese-American showed up and gave us guidance on the best way to get back to Shinjuku. After that adventure, it was time to get some sleep.
Day 10: Tokyo Dome and Ginza, August 23
We didn’t have anything specific planned for Friday, save being back in the evening to hopefully check out the Yamato 2199 shop at the Shinjuku Kinokunia bookstore. I had some things on my to-do list, notably finding a baseball cap for a friend at work. I’d set my mind on getting him a Giants cap. At the game the previous night, the small Yomiuri merchandise stand lacked caps, and we didn’t go looking for the Swallows’ store. So, after Tim Eldred informed those on the Yamatour mailing list that a gallery in Ginza was hosting a Leiji Matsumoto exhibition, and Anime News Network informed us of an Evangelion exhibition in the same area, I realised it wasn’t too far past the Tokyo Dome, which is the Yomiuri Giants’ home ball park. There was a train path to get from Shinjuku to the Tokyo Dome and then onto Ginza without too much difficulty. So around midday we arrived at the Tokyo Dome City.
Now this place is more than just a ball park – it’s a veritable entertainment metropolis, with bowling alley, amusement park, shopping, restaurants, even a hotel complex.
First things first, we made our way around in search of the Giants store, noting along the way that there was a Yebisu Bar in the complex. We found it after passing an Adidas store as well. The Giants store had a LOT of customised player jerseys and numerous other baseball memorabilia, including team caps from other teams in the Japanese League. However, all these caps were fitted rather than adjustable, and way too small for a westerner’s head. So I went back to the Adidas store and, sure enough, found some adjustable caps. I saw one that I thought was really good, and then balked at the ¥7,900 ($79) price until the shop assistant pointed me in the direction of others around ¥3,000 ($30). So I grabbed two of those.
We headed back toward the restaurants, seeing as we were all starving by this point, not to mention dying of thirst in the heat and humidity. Thus, back to the Yebisu Bar we saw earlier. Some grilled steak and fries was the order of the day, along with Yebisu Kohaku (Amber Ale). One sip and this beer was my new favourite. I later would find out that it was a limited edition beer. Much much later I would find cans of it were available at Amazon Japan, but after looking into the import duties on alcohol into Australia, I realized I’d have to wait until my next visit to taste that sweet brew again.
Terry and Patrick Bleakney knock down a Yebisu. Kanpai!
From there, we did the musical trains thing again until we reached Ginza.
The entryway to the Wakayama Art Museum,
and a sign for the Leiji Matsumoto
60th Anniversary exhibition.
The Evangelion Exhibition was being held at Matsuya Ginza, a giant department store which has a huge exhibition space on the 8th floor. Something you don’t normally expect to see in a high-class department store is a bunch of anime fans crowding around to see a display of various production drawings, storyboards, and layouts around a centerpiece of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Evangelion manga work, with screens throughout playing various scenes from the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. Cameras weren’t permitted inside, but the experience was enjoyable for two fans such as Terry and myself (and we managed to pique Patrick’s interest in the series).
We had a quick look around the temporary Evangelion Store you exit into from the exhibit, noting an insane range of products from action figures to manju cakes and other sweets, to sneakers. That’s right, sneakers. I’m sure they will continue to produce more products with the franchise’s name that may or may not have any relevance to the series. Evangelion has been a cash cow for Studio Gainax for nearly 20 years now, and I can’t see that changing any time soon, especially with a final movie still to be released for the Rebuild series.
From there, it was time to figure out how to get to the Wakayama Art Museum, where we would find the Matsumoto Exhibition. Of course, all we had to go on was a silhouette map on my iPad with little or no English. Basically, it told us the route from one of the nearby Metro stations. Fortunately, the second good Samaritan we ran into in Tokyo, a young man on his way to meeting somebody, asked us in English if we were lost and whether he could help us. I explained we were looking for the Wakayama Art Museum, showed him the map, and we were off. Using my iPad as a reference, he guided us towards the right place, and even jumped into nearby stores to figure out where the museum was. And then lo and behold, it was just a little further down the street. We parted ways, with us all graciously thanking him, before he took his leave.
We took a couple of photos as points of reference in the area before going into the museum. After paying the admission fee, we were all provided with small souvenirs of the museum itself (which had a lot of other artworks on display) and a special commemorative set of collector cards on a numbered backing card. We were shown upstairs into the exhibit, which Tim describes in his report here (I didn’t feel right taking photos in there, so I abstained. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, as I would have loved to have gotten the shot of the Yamato rough sketch, even if it was a copy).
… and rear
We returned to Shinjuku for a look at the Yamato 2199 store in Kinokunia. I grabbed some Yuki and Akira postcard sets that caught my eye, as well as a 3D version of the poster of Akira and Alpha 2 that appeared in New Type Ace earlier in the year. After that, it was back to the hotel and to bed, because the next morning offered the impetus for coming to Japan in the first place – the seventh and final chapter of Space Battleship Yamato 2199!
Day 11: Yamato 2199 Chapter 7 and Akihabara, August 24
Waking up on the 24th had quite a degree of anticipation for me. After over a year of waiting for each chapter to come out on Blu-Ray and fly its way to me from Japan, and yet only one month after seeing Chapter 6 on my 50″ HD television in the comfort of my own home, I would be seeing the final installment of Yamato 2199 on the big screen, on opening day, in Japan!
First thing was meeting up with the Yamatour folk. Brad and Ardith, who organised the tickets for us all, asked us to meet them at Studio Alta (which still has live-action Kodai on the roof). Terry, Patrick and I left early in hope of chasing down the Nissan car rental place that would loan us a GTR so we could emulate Top Gear. No luck. Instead, we had breakfast at Subway just across the road from Studio Alta. I have to admit, Subway is one thing Japan doesn’t do better than the west.
We arrived outside Studio Alta around 8:30. Within the next quarter hour or so, everyone had showed up and we made our way to the Shinjuku Piccadilly. Right in front of us were the clear Yamato model that was released as a movie exclusive and the program book that was sold along with it. We headed up to the level three store. 20,000 yen poorer, it was time to get a soda before the movie (which I finished off before the movie began). We entered just after 10:00 and found our seats. After as many trailers and ads as we see in cinemas back home, we got a recap of the story, then it was on to the main event. And boy, was it epic. It would be another two months before a subtitled release would be seen by my eyes, but I didn’t care. You could still more than enjoy it despite not being able to interpret most of the dialogue.
The set of lit up movie posters for the first six Yamato 2199 movies, separated by
posters for the seventh, along the foyer staircase at the Shinjuku Piccadilly.
After that we split into two groups. Brad was the tour guide for Bud, Mark, Terry, Patrick and myself while the others went off to do their own tour. We started by replenishing our cash reserves and then eating lunch at Funabashiya, a very popular tempura restaurant. Food was good but it took Brad a while to get his tea. During lunch, Brad showed us all seven movie programs and having been unable to get the first six the first time around, some of us went back to the Piccadilly to get what was missing from our collection.
The giant Yodabashi Camera store.
After that we had agreed on going to Akihabara. With Brad as our intrepid guide, we went to the giant Yodobashi Camera Store there. Like Bic Camera, it sells a lot more than cameras, several floors of stuff. For us it was straight to level four: games, toys and models. Terry finally got his 1/72 perfect Transformation VF-1 Valkyrie. We also saw the massive 1/500 and 1/350 Yamato models and so much Gunpla it wasn’t funny. We went hunting for Valkyrie toys but found none other than ones in the display case. I went hunting and found myself the Yamato music video Blu-Rays I swore I would wait to buy from Amazon when I got home. Well, so much for that idea.
After cooling our heels at a Tully’s coffee shop just down the road, Brad took us on a tour of the real Akihabara; the roads full of PC parts stores, anime collectible stores, DVD and Game stores, and the like. From there it was back to Shinjuku and to the venue for the evening – the Shinjuku Pasela karaoke resort. Brad took us via the scenic route, but we got there. It was not far from the Shinjuku Piccadilly.
We took the stairs to room 216 on the 2nd floor. You may have seen karaoke booths in manga or anime, but it’s still impressive to be in one. There were a plethora of menus to order food and drink from, and tonight there was one more – the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 menu! Meals included Planet Bomb Curry and Yamato Meatball Stew while the desserts were the Domel Special – a half loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with ice cream, various toppings and topped with a waffle cone (or as Ardith later referred to it, the Drill Missile). All food and drink were ordered through the remote control used to select songs (each menu item had a key number to punch in).
Not long after the other group arrived, a gift from megafan Yutaka Shiratori was passed around: flyers galore – one of each movie’s flyer, plus one for Yamato Gallery Zero – for each of us. Many thanks to him for his generosity and thoughtfulness.
The night was filled with anime karaoke, ranging from Yamato to Macross to Mazinger and the spectrum of giant robot and super sentai songs, amidst sausages, steak, pork belly salad, delicious onion rings, and then the Yamato 2199 menu items.
The Planet Bomb Curry!
Planet Bomb curry (see photo), which was not as hot as it looked, but tasty. Then the Magellan Parfaits arrived and they could have fooled me for looking exactly like those seen in Episode 22. Finally, the Domel dessert came out and though it was passed around for all to try, I’d had my fill between beers and cokes and everything else. We got a phone call with our ten minute warning, which gave us the option to extend by 30 minutes, but we decided to call it a night since everyone was planning to meet up with Shiratori-san. Terry, Patrick and myself were all tired out (and my shopping bags were giving my fingers rope burns by now), so we parted from the rest of the group for the night.
… and the Domel Dessert!
Back at the hotel, I went through my loot for the day: the clear Yamato model, the MV Blu-Rays, the two jigsaws, the crew cap, the special edition poster sets, the lenticular posters, two types of fans, Analyser phone charms, the newly-released super poster book, and last because it was my favourite of all the loot, the Movie Program Collector’s box and the programs for all seven movies.
The program guides for all seven movies and the box to store them in!