by Daniel George
Day 12: Niigata! August 25
All aboard! The double-decker E4 train on the Max Toki Shinkansen route to Niigata.
Since I learned of its existence a month or two before my trip to Japan, I wanted to make the journey to see the Niigata Manga and Anime Museum, and the separate Niigata Manga House.
Almost there! A sign indicating the Niigata City Manga
and Anime Museum is just around the corner.
The trip is not a fast one, as Niigata is a port city on the west side of Honshu. It takes almost two and a half hours from Shinjuku, connecting at Omiya for the Toki or Max Toki Shinkansen. Thus it’s not a cheap trip either (unless you have a Japan Rail Pass); ¥9500 each way including non-reserved Shinkansen seats, which on the Max Toki train are on the lower level, so your view will be nothing.
The museum opens at 10:00, so you can comfortably get up at 6:30 on a weekend and book tickets at Shinjuku Station. We boarded a train to Omiya to transfer to the Max Toki Shinkansen 12 minutes after arrival. Leave by the Bandai Exit (clearly signed) and you will cross an overbridge to the Bandai exit. As you come out, the main road is straight ahead with a bus station to your left. There are sightseeing buses, and it will cost you about ¥200 each way (Suica is accepted but not JR pass).
You can walk, and the Niigata City Loop Bus pamphlet available from the station’s tourist information desk will show you where to go. The Anime and Manga Museum is in the Bandai City building and is about 10-15 minutes’ walk from the station. The simplest route is to walk straight down the main street and stop at the second to last street from the main bridge (2 chome). Turn left and walk to the second block down, and it’s on your right. the museum is clearly signed. You go inside and it’s on your left. On the right is a cosplay supply shop and a set of display cases full of ancient toys, including some from Mazinger.
… full of all manner of anime collectibles!
The museum map just inside the entrance.
The museum itself is relatively cheap to enter and has English on most of the permanent exhibits. There are many hands-on experiences as well as guest displays, and biographies of some of the locally-born talent. The most recognizable name to foreign audiences is without a doubt Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2, InuYasha and Urusei Yatsura (we saw a rapidly-leaving bus at Niigata Station that was painted in an InuYasha motif).
Want to know what it’s like to be a voice actor? Try it!
Some of the displays, both static and interactive.
In addition to a couple of temporary exhibits (one a manga whose name I didn’t find, and the then-airing series Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist), there was a museum shop with plenty of Yamato content – models, clear files, manga volumes, CDs (including YRA) and items I didn’t see at the Piccadilly the day before – a Sansen (Japanese style fan) with the Yamato on it and an Analyzer tumbler, which I had to get.
Downtown Niigata – the Manga House is further along across the river.
The entrance to the Niigata Manga House.
The Niigata Manga House was our next stop. This was a longer walk, about 15-20 minutes across the other side of the bridge and five blocks past it. The signage is here when you get close, but it doesn’t appear until you’re one block past it, and it drags you through a (thankfully covered) shopping mall. At the end of the mall, signs advise you to head back toward the Station. Follow them and they’ll take you to a narrow back street. It’s on your left and has the same sign motif as the other museum. Admission is free here, which is understandable considering it’s very small.
There are biographies of more local manga-ka and some interactive activities we didn’t pay much attention to, since we couldn’t read the instructions. That was when I heard Yamato music. We headed upstairs, and there was the reason for the trip – the exhibit for Yamato 2199 manga volume 3; the final pencil drawing for each page with the inked and toned page under it. There were a number of wonderful color art pieces of Yuki, Kodai and Shima, the Yamato Girls, and more than one of Yamato herself and other ships like Yukikaze. Finally, there were detailed drawings of the Wave-Motion Engine, Wave-Motion Gun conduit lines and Cosmo Zero cockpit panels. Again, Yamato 2199 goods were on sale back downstairs.
The quickest way back to the station is to walk through the lane in which the gallery is situated, back to the main street. One crosswalk to the left is bus stop #19 where you can get a ride back to Niigata station.
at the Manga House.
The lower floor of the manga house showcases
some more local manga authors.
Patrick tries out a digital touchscreen
vending machine…and pays with his Suica!.
I found it an enjoyable visit overall, but it’s something you only want to do if you either have the JR Pass or are insanely rich. It is a very expensive excursion, and you lose a day getting there. Since the Yamato 2199 exhibit was a temporary one, it is now gone. It’s great if you have the dedication and plenty of time on your hands, but not on a tight budget and schedule.
On the other hand, if sake is your thing, Niigata is one of the biggest sake-brewing regions in Japan. A number of breweries in the area offer tours (and samples), some of which are located on Sado Island (yes, this is where our beloved ship’s doctor got his name, for obvious reasons). So if you wanted to visit the region a little more, you could always spend a night or two here to see both the breweries and the anime/manga attractions.
Day 13: Diver City and Gatchaman! August 26
The first accomplishment this day was Terry and I booking the car for Friday. It took a while for us to find the rental place, and even then it was with the help of a friendly English-speaking Japanese gentleman who went way out of his way not only to find the office for us (talking with the local constabulary) but also acting as interpreter for our actual car reservation. Another fine example of a local going way beyond the call of duty to help out some lost foreigners.
When hunting the RX-78, always make a stealthy approach….
We soon found out to our disappointment that the GTR had to be booked four months in advance due to demand for the sports car, so we had to settle for the closely related Nissan Skyline – a sedan version of the car that the GTR was based on to begin with. We thanked our benefactor for his help with arranging the booking, and bade him farewell.
Then it was on to Diver City Mall and the Giant Gundam Statue. A short walk from the station and then right around the building and there it is: 18 meters of RX-78 for your viewing and photographic pleasure. The level of detail in this 1:1 scale model is insane – Everything from maintenance instructions (in English) to access panels and emergency cockpit access levers are done in exquisite detail. And, since the exhibit was temporarily set up for us walk directly underneath, we could also get some unique perspective photos!
The 1:1 scale RX-78 Gundam and some of the up-close detail.
The nearby Gundam Front store van has a number of Gunpla and completed models, most notably exclusive 1/48 Gundam and Zaku kits.
After many photos from many angles, it was time for lunch. Diver City has no shortage of restaurants, and we found one that does hamburger steak on hotplates and great onion rings. For some reason I still can’t remember, we didn’t go in search of the Gundam Front museum/store deep inside the mall.
Then we went in search of the Leiji Matsumoto-designed water buses Himiko and the larger Hotaluna. Alas, we found that they only stop in Odaiba four times a day. In retrospect, if you want to ride Himiko, I recommend getting it from Hinode Pier to Odaiba and then take the rail across the rainbow bridge for your return trip.
We returned to Shinjuku and headed out to see the Gatchaman movie. This was an interesting interpretation of the classic anime and provided an awesome Berg Katse. (As an afternote, I saw it with English subtitles a couple months later at the Brisbane stretch of the annual Japanese Film Festival held throughout Australia. Being able to understand the dialogue, I was much less impressed by it than I had been in Tokyo. Then again, I had low expectations of the movie to begin with, given that they were trying to make a single movie that did justice to a series which ran for 105 episodes and had over a hundred more between two sequel series).
Day 14: Chapter 7 again! Tokyo Tower! Nakano Broadway! August 27
Today was Patrick Bleakney’s last full day in Japan, and Terry and I were determined that he see a landmark or two. First stop for Patrick and myself was the Shinjuku Piccadilly to catch a repeat screening of Chapter 7. We both wanted to see it, but Terry had had his fill of seeing movies unsubtitled, so we left him to his own devices. Needless to say, the rewatch didn’t lessen our enjoyment of the finale one iota.
After Patrick and I got back from the Piccadilly, the three of us discussed our options for the remainder of the day. We wanted to see Nakano Broadway Mall, but we also wanted to visit either Tokyo Tower or the Tokyo Skytree. Tokyo Tower seemed to be the more easily accessible of the two, so we went with it. We took the Yamanote line to Hamamasutcho Station, and en route we passed through Zojoji Temple, a famous tourist sight. It was then a bit further down a side road to Tokyo Tower. We bought tickets (¥820) to go to the main observatory and went straight up. The view from 150 meters is very good, but a better view is offered a further hundred meters up for an extra fee (¥600).
By the time I got to the waiting area, my vertigo got the better of me. Must have been the openness of the waiting area or that I had to use stairs, since the next day I would go to the 45th floor observatories of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building without any trouble. Terry and Patrick went up while I went downstairs and looked around the lower area where food and souvenirs were sold. When Patrick and Terry came back down, we sought lunch. I found chocolate coronets, something I had been looking for since I arrived in Japan.
Afternoon: Nakano Broadway
This is a place you have to see to believe. First there’s the Sun Mall, a hundred meters or so of all sorts of stores, one of which had “Anniversary of Movie” Yamato t-shirts going at ¥200 each. There was a “no photographs” sign in the store. “Funny that” was what my ever-skeptical mind thought at the time. We later learned from Tim that they were the genuine article. Bummer.
We reached Nakano Broadway itself, but other than some display cases just inside and to the right, we did not find a single store of interest on the bottom two floors. We then saw the first sign of our quarry – Mandarake. To say that this took up half the floor space of the upper two floors would not be much of an exaggeration.
A multitude of small stores carried all sorts of collectibles from both Japan and overseas. Star Wars, Thunderbirds, and many other western properties were very well represented. The bigger stores (most of whose names I forget) had a lot of what we would buy if we had “unlimited funds.” Plenty of Macross stuff; one smaller store had a 1/3000 Takatoku die cast SDF-1 (TV version with Daedalus and Prometheus) for ¥42,000 ($420) which was just a tad rich for my blood (a common theme with a lot of the stuff I found here and in Akihabara).
Mandarake itself had several stores covering books, manga, toys, toys, and still more toys. And collectibles, many of which weren’t for sale much to Terry’s chagrin. If you wanted Transformers, there were plenty to go around. Lots of Gestalt gift sets (Aerialbots, Predacons, Technnobots, Constructicons amongst them), G1 reissues and Masterpiece classic characters, and plenty of Evangelion, Mazinger, and Gundam. Of course there would be countless Gundam models and so forth. Yamato and Harlock were well represented too; a couple of Arcadia kits, a Soul of Popynica Yamato, a Soul of Chogokin Andromeda, and even some of the Yamato 2199 models could be found here.
Eventually, we left empty-handed. No sign of a König Monster from Macross Frontier, which was my big ticket item for the trip. I noted a couple of things which would be nice to look at again if time permitted. We headed back to the hotel where Patrick returned to his room to pack for the trip home the next day. Terry and I went to a local 24-hour hamburger steak restaurant which also did huge servings of cut up rump. Food was pretty good.
Day 15: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and Akihabara, Phase 2. August 28
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
A late start today, as our first task was to ensure Patrick made the bus to the Airport. After looking around for twenty minutes, we found an English-speaking information desk for directions, and Patrick got a ticket on the next bus to Narita. Thanks for the memories, Patrick, and hopefully we’ll catch up when you make it Down Under, or we make it to Boston.
After that, Terry and I met up with an old mate of his from high school who had been living in Japan for nine years. A bit of a walk around for lunch and then to another Kinokunia bookstore to search for magazines and mooks; no luck finding what I was after, so Terry and I walked his friend to work, which conveniently left us a short distance from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings.
After a search we found access to the south observatory. It’s 45 floors up and free to enter, but there is a baggage check which isn’t a big deal. Up to the top and there’s a 280-300 degree view of Tokyo (partially obscured by the other tower). From here you can see and photograph the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower with a modest zoom lens, and even get them in the same shot. You can see many other landmarks as well, including Mt Fuji (albeit behind a heavy haze and at the time of year we were there, devoid of its iconic snow cap).
There’s a small gift shop and cafe up there as well, but I gave both a miss. We went back down and lined up for the northern observatory. After a bag check we got straight on the lift. Not as great a view, more gift shops (selling Gunpla and Yamato 2199 models, no less).
A view of Tokyo from one of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observation decks.
The Tokyo Olympic Stadium (left), National Baseball Stadium (center), Jingu Stadium
(right, with the yellow and pale blue seats) and Tokyo Tower in the background.
Akihabara was our next stop; a Chuo rapid service to Kanda and then a change onto the Yamanote line for a short trip to Akihabara. Our first stop was the tonkatsu restaurant that Tim recommended, but again timing was against us since it was closed from 3:00 through 5:30 – I am going to have to go there next time I’m in Japan.
The main street of Akihabara, with the entire sides of buildings covered in anime-style characters.
We started back for the main part of Akihabara, noting places we would return to later. Eventually, way past the northernmost part of Akiba along the main street, we found food right next to McDonald’s – a place that did quick meals like hamburger, steak and katsudon. Fully refueled, we started back down the strip and started walking into toy stores at will.
An Akiba Maid motif adorns a Porsche.
After making our way through all of of those we intended to visit and then some (including Animate, where I finally found a copy of the October Dengeki Hobby magazine), we found a lot of Macross, Evangelion, Gundam, and some Yamato stuff. (The occasional 2199 Yuki figure among them at a horribly inflated price.) We found a few things we liked, but not enough to buy at the prices being offered, so we continued to walk around. Then we found the 8-floor Mandarake Akihabara store. Straight up to Level 8 it was (HQ toys).
We found a Yamato (BPX-01 Soul of Popynica) and Andromeda, the beautiful 1/350 garage kit which carried a price tag of over ¥63,000 ($630). As much as I would love to have it, there was no way I would pay that when I could get TWO of the new SoC 2199 Yamatos PLUS a 1/500 2199 kit for the same price. There were multitudes of Gundam, Macross, and Transformers stuff, and then I found my quarry – the Soul of Chogokin VB-6 König Monster.
Right next to it were a couple of 1/60 scale VE-1s from the Macross movie, some of the larger 1/48 scale Valkyrie toys, and also a very old and rare Takatoku VF-1S Super Valkyrie gift box. At ¥12,000 it was a steal; very good condition for a 30-year old toy, only missing the gun pod. (It even had additional stickers and missiles for the gun pod still on their runners). Terry bought that one once we had a look inside at the clerk’s insistence, which is a good thing to do when considering one of these, since the shoulder joints are especially delicate. Make sure they’re intact and solid.
My big ticket buy for the trip – the Soul of Chogokin VB-6 König Monster from Macross Frontier.
Now that we’d bought our big ticket items for the trip, it was back to Shinjuku before we found other things that we couldn’t refuse.
Click here to continue to the finale!