Monday, December 8
Waiting for the Cat Bus!
First thing on the agenda on Monday was to see Ark of the Stars again. Once we’d secured tickets for the day’s first screening of the movie, we ducked across the road for breakfast at Tim’s favorite breakfast place, Cafe Renoir. After taking our time over the morning meal, we headed back across to our second sitting of Ark. While Tim and Roger caught some scenes they’d slept through on Saturday, I simply enjoyed the film again.
Roger and Tim went to get an early start at Nakano Broadway, while I stayed at the hotel to finish booking my transport home from the airport. I grabbed lunch at Hakata-furyu, then a brief walkaround and catching up with the guys at Nakano Broadway. While there I finally got to try the pastries from the stand just outside the Sun Mall. If you ever go to Tokyo and visit Nakano, these are a must-try.
Time was of the essence, so we returned to the station to make our scheduled time slot at the Ghibli Museum in nearby Mitaka. Because of schedule limitations, I didn’t do the Gihbli Museum on my first trip, so I was keen to visit it this time around. Tim organized the tickets weeks earlier and had booked a late afternoon entry. At Mitaka Station, it’s not hard to find where you need to go: a Totoro-shaped bus stop sign marks the spot, and the Cat Bus (a regular one with it painted on the outside) shows up to carry you to the museum.
Walking around the outside, one of the first things you see is Totoro, of course. After that, it’s time to put the camera away since photography is prohibited inside. You can walk leisurely and see the various exhibits, which show the Ghibli animation production methodology and some of the techniques they use to bring their movies to life. An enjoyable experience, but not sure it’s somewhere I could go twice.
The Laputa robot on the rooftop garden.
Tuesday, December 9
The next morning, it was off to another movie screening, this time to see the first compilation movie of the smash hit series Shingeki no Kyoujin (Attack on Titan) in Ikebukuro. Along the way there, we kept an ear open at Takadanobaba Station midway between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Its jingle would be very familiar to many an anime fan: the Astro Boy theme (Takadnobaba is the birthplace of the legendary robot). If one had the time to walk around the suburb, you’d find that murals abound of Astro Boy and Osamu Tezuka’s artwork.
Lunch: Maru Go.. again!
We arrived at the, as Tim put it, past-its-prime Sunshine Theater. It’s a very oddly-laid-out cineplex, with a box office on the sidewalk next to a video arcade. You have to go upstairs, downstairs, and even around the corner to get to the various screening rooms (one of which had Ark of the Stars).
Despite it being a worldwide phenomenon, Attack on Titan isn’t a series that grabbed me. I watched a few episodes on Crunchyroll with friends, but it didn’t interest me and I didn’t watch it past that. That said, the compilation movie gave me the cliff notes version of the first half of the anime to date, and it was entertaining enough to be worth the time and money. (As a side note, at the time of writing, the first of two live-action movies has been released in Japan, and was the subject of almost as much ridicule as Fantastic Four – which has been absolutely savaged by critics and scored only 9% on Rotten Tomatoes).
The 1/1 Gundam never ceases to impress.
After the movie let out, we discussed lunch options. The plan after lunch was to head to Hinode Pier, catch one of the Leiji Matsumoto-designed water buses to Odaiba, and visit Gundam Front. It took little discussion to decide on the lunch venue. Yup, off to Akihabara and Maru Go!
This time around, I had the Rosu Katsu (pork tenderloin), which was more juicy and fattier than the filet I’d had two days earlier, but was equally melt-in-the-mouth. After another satisfied meal there, I asked Tim if we could make a brief stop at K Books in the Radio Kaikan building near Akihabara Station, where Tim had found the 2199 Complete Works a few days prior. I’d seen something there I wanted to pick up – a couple of Janes-style books on the VF-1 Valkyrie from Macross. I hadn’t been unable to track them down through online sources, but they seemed to be very much still in print. With these in hand, I rejoined the gents and we caught the train to Shimbashi.
Transferring onto the Yurikamome line, a train I’d already traveled several times on this trip, we stopped at Hinode in the hope of riding either Himiko or Hotaluna, the futuristic-looking water buses designed by Leiji Matsumoto. Alas, it wasn’t to be; timetables and maintenance were completely at odds with our agenda for the rest of the day.
After riding the rest of the way to Odaiba on the train, it’s only a short walk past the Grand Pacific Le Daiba hotel (where I stayed my first two nights) to Diver City, home of the 1/1 Gundam statue and Gundam Front.
On the last trip, Gundam Front eluded Patrick, Terry, and myself by one story; the closest we got before giving up was one floor below it in a steak restaurant. Just twenty meters away from being directly under it. We started by going into the huge viewing dome, which showed a fifteen-minute panoramic video that covered the entire Gundam universe. We enjoyed it so much, we went in a second time and got to see a different show.
The sights of Gundam Front!
After that, we had a look at the various exhibits showing the history of the franchise, before coming face-to-face with another 1/1 scale Gundam. This time it was upper body of Gundam SEED Destiny‘s Strike Freedom Gundam, set up for visitors to get souvenir photos with it (with optional costume). Various other exhibits adorned this wide open space, and having seen all there was to see, we got one more viewing of the 1/1 scale RX-78 outside before departure.
Mount Fuji peeping out in the background from outside Diver City.
After stopping by the hotel to grab some loot, we ventured up to Nakano and met Sonchori-san again. He took us to a small okonomiyaki/yakisoba grill restaurant where the tables have their own built-in grills. There we enjoyed a good meal (I had yakisoba myself that was delicious) and some good conversation, before bidding Sonchori-san a good night. (I handed over the loot that wouldn’t fit in my luggage so he could ship it to me. He’s amazingly accomodating with such things.) The next day would be my last in Japan on this trip, and part of it would be spent at a Yamato 2199 art exhibition.
Loot, wonderful loot! Just no room in the bags to take it home with me! So, get someone else to send it through!
Wednesday, December 10
The next morning, we headed to Shinjuku Station relatively early, since we had a long southwesterly journey to Ebina. After a 50-minute train ride on the Odakyu line, we found ourselves at our destination.
Marui Department Store, venue for the exhibition.
Unable to find the exhibition at first glance, we continued on to a Toho cinema in the complex that was showing Ark and had a nice set of merchandise in the gift shop. As hoped, they had signage for the art exhibition we’d come to see, so we headed back to the Marui department store. This time, we managed to find it.
The detail of the 1/100 Yamato is amazing.
It comprised a very nice collection of line art for the anime, as well as a very large print of the Starsha/Dessler mural adorning Dessler’s palace, and the 1/100 Yamato, which the three of us shot from almost every angle imaginable. During the course of this, an American lady walked past with her young daughter, and pointing out to her daughter the “submarine” that was in the movie. The three of us had to bite our tongues to keep from correcting her. As Tim said in his account of the event, had we been more on our game, we could have had a snappy comeback.
After we finished photographing the model, we went and had a closer look at the sizeable merchandise collection (naturally). I bit the bullet and bought a Yamato 2199 USB drive – only a 4-gigabyte capacity, but the drive was encased in leather with the embossed Yamato logo which adorns the crew caps (like my own, for example). That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
The spirit of Ed Hawkins was with us throughout the trip.
NEX-t train outta town!
After the young lady working the cash register rang up our various purchases, she offered to take our photographs beside the model, and did so with all of our cameras. We had lunch at a family-style Italian restaurant before getting the train back to Shinjuku. Along the way, we finally found time to discuss where Yamato would go from here, in terms of story and in terms of production.
In Shinjuku I grabbed all of my luggage (other than the two bags I’d sent ahead to the airport the previous day), and stopped by Tim’s room to sign the copy of Complete Works we’d bought for Luis. The three of us headed to the station. Tim and Roger were headed off to Akihabara for the rest of the day, so we parted ways there.
Since I was early, I got a ticket on an earlier train to the airport. I figured there wasn’t much point in waiting around Shinjuku for an hour carrying all my stuff. So after a short wait I boarded the Narita Express and bade farewell to Tokyo.
At the airport I stowed my bags in a locker while I had a look around the place, grabbing some final souvenirs for friends and family, as well as having a last meal for the trip (avoiding a certain place that caused an unpleasant flight home the previous trip). I settled on a kurobuta tonkatsu meal that, while tasty, had nothing on Maru Go, I grabbed my bags and checked in for the flight home.
… and it has to be Tonkatsu!
Following a short wait in the Qantas Lounge (where I got to enjoy a Suntory Premium Malts beer poured by a machine similar to those at Haneda Airport), I was on the plane bound for home. A long month, which took me almost from one end of the country to another, was over. And, same as the previous trip, I was already wondering about what I’d see next time.
Time to head home, alas.
Even though it’s taken me more than half a year to finally finish this travelogue, much of the trip is still fresh in my head. I accomplished about 70% of what I’d hoped, and still did so while taking it a bit easier than the prior visit.
The travel tips I offered after my first trip haven’t changed, but I’ll add one or two things I learned this time:
- If possible, pay hotel accounts in cash. Language misunderstandings can be costly when using cards.
- Spend the money on internet connectivity. Having a wifi connection was incredibly helpful. CD Japan offer a good-value rental service for a pocket-sized wifi router which gives you good internet coverage throughout most of the country.
Other than that, it’s simple. Enjoy yourself.
So, when’s the next time? Not for awhile yet. Although, with all the current talk about the next big thing, it may be slightly sooner than I’d expected. Hopefully it will involve the theatrical premiere of a Yamato 2 remake with Tim, Luis, Roger, and all the other Yamato fans I’ve met along the way, joining the fun.