Category Archives: Sprawling Narratives

Long-winded, rambling, or otherwise lengthy.

Tokyo 2009: Akihabara Revisited + Marunouchi

Akihabara

After getting visually overwhelmed earlier in the week, we made our first stop this morning a return to Akihabara. Overflowing with multi-story electronics superstores, anime/manga retailers, and nooks packed with games, it would be a nerd heaven even without an abundance of arcades, street food, and maid cafes.

Maid Cafe Crowd

There’s a definite advantage to trekking through the area during the daytime, as the neon glow from all of the stores combined with an abundance of people makes nighttime a bit challenging for those not native to the area. That said, there is something intangibly wonderful about the area after the sun sets.

IIDX Action

After flitting through a few stores, I settled back into the second and third floor of the Taito Station to get my mandatory music gaming out of the way. One round of Pop’n Music THE MOVIE, one round of DDR X, and one round of beatmania IIDX Sirius all passed by very quickly.

The third floor of Taito station is interesting as it seems to be mostly populated not by native Japanese, but by tourists from around the world. I suppose that after 10 years of DDR floating around the world, foreigners are most comfortable with these games, and are expecting some sort of show. (Fighting games are a floor higher; the “girly” music games like Pop’n and Taiko no Tatsujin are a floor below.)

A little bit more store browsing later, and we were on our way out of the area to head to Tokyo Station.

Under The Tokyo Station

Underneath Tokyo Station lies a maze of shops and restaurants, in addition to at least eight more train lines. It is frantically busy, especially on a day like today where much of the country seems to be traveling.

While wandering here, we found Katsugen in the “Kitchen Street” restaurant area, and we were ready to check another food off the list. I opted for the *Katsuzen* set lunch – red clam miso soup, rice, pickles, the mandatory pile of shredded cabbage with citrus yuzu dressing, and a healthy sized portion of katsu – and a mug of draft beer; Katie went for a different set that she had hoped contained crab croquettes but instead had katsu-fried oysters. (She did not complain.) It would be hard to call this anything other than my ideal Japanese meal.

Marunouchi

The day then turned a bit sour, as our planned shopping destination – the Pokemon Center – was not to be found where our guidebook indicated it would be. We beat up and down the back streets in the hopes that we just weren’t finding the entrance, but to no avail. After a while, the wind began to pick up, a headache began to set in, and we fled the area. (Later, research would prove that the store at that location closed in 2007; the new location is a few stations away. Will try again on Saturday.)

A little wandering around in Shinagawa allowed us to procure desserts and sweets for later tonight. Naps followed, as did a quiet sushi dinner at the proper hotel restaurant.
While it may be fun to traipse to Roppongi to hole up in a bar and ring in the new year, or to push through the cold towards a temple for the midnight bell ringing, we are taking the remainder of New Year’s Eve in our hotel room, quietly enjoying the TV. Happy new years!

Tokyo 2009: Harajuku + Ikebukuro

Climbing The Shinagawa Stairs

Shinagawa Station

One of the things I am really enjoying about Tokyo is how intricate and lively the stations are. American mass transit systems tend to allow only for a newsstand at the major stations; London is slightly better with vending machines near the tracks. But Tokyo has shopping malls surrounding and inside the transit system. The Shinagawa station alone has bookstores, CD/DVD stores, and a whole dessert-focused food court (among other dining options) beyond the turnstiles.

Harajuku

A 20 minute train ride later brought us to Harajuku. While a Wednesday trip doesn’t provide the opportunity to gawk at dressed up teenagers (they tend to come out on Sunday), it did let us explore an area that seems to be a cross between (in NYC terms) Fifth Avenue and the East Village.
The two main shopping streets run parallel to each other and both start at the station. Omotesando is the Fifth Avenue side – lots of international stores like Ralph Lauren, Gap, and Chanel.
Kiddy Land 5F

Omotesando is also where you can find KIDDYLAND, a six store toy store that has been serving happiness since 1946. It’s a worthwhile stop, if for nothing else to see how much floor space various franchises take up. (Pokemon gets about 30 square feet on B1, while Peanuts/”Snoopy Town” gets an entire floor.)
Katie Orders Hello Kitty Pastries

Outside of KIDDYLAND, a bakery turns out fresh baked Hello Kitty pastries with various fillings. A bag of 10 is about $4.
Takeshita Dori

A few blocks north from Omotesando is Takeshita Dori, a pedestrian only shopping mecca. This is the Harajuku you may expect, with ridiculous clothes and accessories and throngs of people. There’s a number of restaurants as well, but most people seemed to be queued up for one of the many crepe stands that all smelled delicious.
Ikebukuro

Our last major stop for the day was in Ikebukuro, a fairly commercial district where the train station is sandwiched in between two department stores: Seibu (apparently meaning “west area railway line”, located on the east side of the station) and Tobu (apparently meaning “east area railway line”, and naturally located on the west side of the station).

(A quick aside: there are ads practically everywhere for Seibu’s WE LOVE BARGAIN sale, and the TV commercial has aired so much I may start impulsively buying Kumi Koda’s music. The ad is damn cute.)

We took lunch at a Korean buffet on the 3F of Tobu Spice2, which required a lot of gesturing and *sumimasen*-ing. On the other hand, it was cheap and tasty. If nothing else, I am appreciative for the patience of the Japanese for those of us who know next to no Japanese.
Sunshine 60 Dori

We then crossed back through the train station to the east side, and made our way to Sunshine 60 Dori – another pedestrian mall shopping strip. We unfortunately didn’t find anything terribly unusual, so we beat our way back to the train and returned to Shinagawa.

For dinner, we opted for the set menu Mizu no Uta, a few blocks from the hotel. Sitting at the counter, we were treated to some of the best tuna I’ve ever tasted – perhaps too much of it. We started to run out of steam around the time we were grilling our own thin strips of tuna, and when a fried rice course came out immediately after, it became a struggle. Still – great food, and I can now cross the “sushi/sashimi” off my Tokyo food checklist. Now I just need to find a proper bowl of ramen and some tonkatsu.

Tokyo 2009: Shibuya + Akihabara

Hachiko Crossing

Shibuya seemed like a good district to start our trip in. Easily accessible via the JR Yamanote Line, home to a few specific destinations, it is energetic without being completely overwhelming.

Hachiko Crossing, iconic sight of Japan that it is, is not very intimidating at 10:30 AM. We proceeded across and walked up *Center Gai*, a pedestrian area lined with restaurants, clothing shops, bars, and towering *pachislot* arcades.

Center Gai

Our first major shopping destination was Tokyu Hands, the “Creative Life Store” which holds just about everything in its seven stories. There was a certain bemusement that many things that I’ve seen at AC Gears in the East Village could be found here, often for much cheaper. An hour later, we walked away with a truly mixed bag of merchandise, including a very tasty iPhone case.

Guhroovy Signage

GUHROOVY is a hardcore techno record shop tucked away on an isolated third story in Udagawacho. Run by DJ CHUCKY, the store is somewhat notorious in the IIDX/Bemani community for being a key resource for albums featuring popular artists from the series. It is less than 200 square feet in total, but for techno junkies, it is blissful.

This was the only business that I had gone so far as to print out directions for and to seek out, and seeing as I may not be back in the neighborhood beyond this day, I did not let the opportunity slip away from me.

Fun fact for the Bemani faithful: the store has, with no explanation or price tag, a copy of Beatmania US on top of one of the shelves.

We then started to backtrack, finding that a doll shop that Katie had seen earlier – Doneunyo – was now open. Katie has been collecting Japanese dolls for few years; an opportunity to go to an official Blythe dealer was not one she could resist. (Junie Moon, her go-to destination, had closed for the holiday week.) She walked away very happy.
We stopped into a few SEGA World arcades, where I learned that Katie has a crippling addiction to UFO Catcher machines. I also got a big round of applause, a bow, and a picture taken from two Japanese girls who were astounded to see someone foreign play Taiko no Tatsujin well.

After a quick lunch, we returned to the Shibuya train station, but not before stopping at RanKing RanQueen. Time Out Tokyo describes it as “an intriguing insight into the mind of the Japanese consumer”. All products are categorized and ranked by popularity – so for example, you can buy the most popular bath product, the Bloodtype Bath.


After sundown, we headed to Akihabara. No pictures were taken; had I brought the camera, I probably couldn’t have fit into 90% of the stores we visited.

Akihabara is truly a nerd paradise – stores selling electronics, games, and manga as far as the eye can see. It’s also overwhelming in the crowded dark; after two hours, the jetlagged and fatigue set in and we were forced to retreat. We plan to return later in the week.

I did manage to find Super Potato, famed gaming mecca, and it is as awesome as I had hoped. No purchases yet, although I may return to buy the Takeshi’s Challenge strategy guide.

A Mac Puzzler

My Sunday afternoons used to have a twisted chain of logic:

My family would pile into the back of the car and my parents would drive wherever they felt like around the Finger Lakes. This was done in the name of getting out of the house and exploring, I suppose.

As it was the only consistent programming across that region of New York – because there were multiple stations all airing the same program – NPR’s lineup would be the soundtrack of the day. This would mean Car Talk, followed by Prairie Home Companion, followed by Thistle & Shamrock. (These are generally not shows that pre-teens and teenagers enjoy.)

With this in mind, the only part of the radio I would not tune out was a short section of Car Talk entitled The Puzzler, where a riddle having nothing (or little) to do with cars would be thrown at the listeners. Being the sort of kid who thrived on logic puzzles and riddles (I purchased a copy of Raymond Smullyan’s WHAT IS THE NAME OF THIS BOOK? when I was 14), I enjoyed the chance to stretch my brain a little shortly before Garrison Keillor’s dulcet tones would shut it down.

As my mom has pointed out to me that it’s been over a month since my last blog post, I figured I would turn the major reason why I’ve been away from writing into a computer nerd version of The Puzzler. Feel free to take a stab at this in the comments or via email – I’ll reveal the answer once someone gets it correct. (If I’ve already told you the answer, don’t spoil it for everyone else.)

Continue reading A Mac Puzzler

To Hannah and Jason

Thank you all for coming today.

I am not normally the type to give wedding speeches. Despite the nearly fifteen wedding ceremonies I have attended since my own wedding in 2002, I have never once been asked to give a speech about the couple. (To be fair to my friends and family, I have not volunteered to, either.)

Continue reading To Hannah and Jason

You Made Me Realize: APW 2009

This is mud. Three hours of heavy rain shortly after the start of the festival combined with a not insignificant number of feet walking across the grounds combined with the frequent animal visitors to the park (geese / dogs / feral cats / et cetera) yield a unique mud blend that is extremely slick yet sticky and also heavily smells of shit. While the texture will threaten to cause you both to slip and to be stuck, this is temporary and location based. The smell will burn your nostrils for the duration of the festival no matter where you are positioned.

This is how you discover your new favorite band, later.

Continue reading You Made Me Realize: APW 2009

The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

In May of 2007, my Xbox 360 suffered from what is commonly referred to as the Red Ring of Death. A series of four posts followed, in which:

* I spent 40 minutes on the phone with Xbox Support to request my “casket”.
* A week later, I received an extremely destroyed box that I was intended to ship my 360 back with.
* Two weeks later, I received a 360 that was not my own back. Because of Microsoft’s DRM, I then had to fight to get my purchases reactivated.
* This fight lasted another ten days, and involved a Better Business Bureau case, a text adventure, and much screaming into the phone.

Last, my launch Playstation 3 began to routinely crash after 30 minutes of use. This, as far as I can tell, is not a widespread problem – the closest parallel that Sony has is the “Yellow Light of Death”.

(Strangely, my RRoD occurred while playing Crackdown, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. My PS3 issues occurred while playing inFamous, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. I will not be buying Prototype, largely for the safety of my hardware.)

After the frustration I had dealing with Microsoft – a combination of poor materials, shoddy business practices, and a cavalier attitude towards the customer’s experience – I figured it would be worth documenting whatever hell Sony would put me through. Horror stories are easily found regarding service for launch units, include time frames of “months”, due to Sony no longer manufacturing that exact type of hardware. And given the bile that was spilled regarding the 360’s failures, it would only be fair to hold the PS3 up to the same light.

Continue reading The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

The Big Dipper Of Mixed Metaphor

“12 years too late,” I think to myself as I wait at the intersection of Church and Vesey, fake brass horns and breakbeats burning on my headphones.

“This song shouldn’t have any meaning in 2009,” my inner monologue went on as I waited for the third Lexington express train at Fulton Street as a choir sings portions of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” over swelling strings.

But as I came up out of the underground by my office, and the same track still playing, my lips could not keep still when the refrain came around once more:

Fuck the millenium – we want it now.

> Be ready to ride the big dipper of the mixed metaphor. Be ready to dip your hands in the lucky bag of life, gather the storm clouds of fantasy and anoint your own genius.

I have been thinking a lot lately about Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty.

Continue reading The Big Dipper Of Mixed Metaphor

All News Is Local

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and this is my pledge post:

I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.

Now, it would be terribly easy to write a post about Ada Lovelace Day organizer, and close personal friend, Suw Charman-Anderson. So easy, in fact, I feel it would be a bit of a cop out. (Sorry, Suw!)

Instead, I will write about a different personal friend. Because that isn’t a cop-out at all.


A blog focusing on the goings-on of a city doesn’t sound revolutionary in 2009, but in 2002, it was practically unheard of.

In the time since, Jen Chung’s tireless editorial work at Gothamist has been a source of stability in a restless city. Day in and day out, Jen is researching, writing, posting, and responding to the news. Yesterday, she posted 15 separate stories – an average day, from what I’ve seen. In the time since Gothamist was founded, as of when I’m writing this, Jen has written eighteen-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety posts. Just for comparison: in the time it takes me to crank out a single entry, Jen is averaging fourteen – and that’s with me having a two year head-start.

Of course, it’s quality, not quantity, that counts most – and what’s even more impressive is her tireless work to cover the stories that New Yorkers are talking about and affected by. Every major NYC story over the last five years – HookerGate, the Astoria blackout, the Transit Strike, Flight 1549, even the Maple Syrup Mystery – has her fingerprints all over it. Jen’s work helped to ensure that after four years of fighting for a press pass from the NYPD – denied on the grounds of “being a website” – Gothamist was finally issued one in February for a City Hall press conference.
Her job is largely thankless. She is frequently raked over the coals by Gothamist commenters over typos and grammar mistakes. Somehow, under all that stress and pressure, Jen remains down-to-earth, friendly, and personable.

Six years has taken Gothamist from personal blog to indispensable resource. Nearly everyone I know reads it; the New York Times said it “reflects everything worth knowing about this city.” I can’t imagine living in the city without it. (To be fair and also not be beaten to death by other friends, plenty of that cause can be attributed to Jake, Neil, Tien, and the other editors.)

As one of the most prolific, knowledgeable bloggers I’ve ever met – as someone who’s work ethic is unmatched – Jen Chung is the woman in technology I admire.