Tag Archives: shibuya

Tokyo 2010: A Scattered Final Day

We had held today as a final wrap-up day, mostly with the intention to clean up things we had missed, not found, or otherwise not gotten around to. This may be less interesting than the other days – my apologies.
After the Fukubukuro madness, we took a short ride up to Harajuku to grab a few additional gifts for people. Because of the proximity to the Meiji shrine, the area was flooded with people – as we would learn, Saturday foot traffic practically everywhere in Tokyo is about five times the volume of what we experienced mid-week.
We then returned to Shibuya once more to hit the Tower Records (or, as our bank transactions romanized it, “Towa Reko”). With the death of large-scale music shops in NYC – HMV closed around 2003, Tower in 2007, and Virgin Megastore in 2009 – I found it thrilling that Tower and HMV are not only alive, but thriving. More functional than any Tower I had ever been in previously, the store featured lots of listening stations, plenty of recommendations, and well defined floors. (Entertainment, unfortunately, is one place where the Japanese costs far outpace ones in the US – most Japanese CDs float between $20-30, tax inclusive. Games and movies run a similar premium. Strangely, American CDs tend to be about $15-20, even after tax.)
As far as pickups: the new Fantastic Plastic Machine album, “FPM”, just came out a week prior and was a no-brainer. Katie managed to find House☆Disney, a remix album by Japanese house artists. She also picked up the heavily advertised flumpool album.
After some more flitting around in Shibuya – visiting the Seibu and Oioijam department stores – we headed to the station to grab the train to the Imperial Palace. January 2nd is one of two days of the year (the other being in mid-December, for the Emperor’s birthday) that the inner gardens are open to the public. That was the intent, anyhow – due to an unspecified “accident”, train service would be suspended for about 45 minutes.
As Close As We Got To The Inner Garden
By the time we made it to the Imperial Palace, the large crowds coming back didn’t give me a lot of hope – and sure enough, people were being turned away at the entrance.
Imperial Palace Trees
Still, the parts of the grounds that are open to the public at all times are impressive and otherwise pleasant.
We then returned to Tokyo Station with the intent of finding me my bowl of ramen. But after searching around, we opted instead for Suginoko, an Udon noodle place (ironically, right next door to Katsugen from two days prior). I am not heartbroken over missing out on the ramen – the bowl of hot udon in a pork curry broth was fantastic. The Udon was served with a side of tempura fried mass of onions – not unlike an onion ring loaf, but about a thousand times better.

While venturing around the station, Katie got pulled into a mochi kneading demonstration. The crowd was very excited to see her whack the mochi with the mallet, and afterwords we were given some of the fresh mochi with sweet red bean paste. Delicious.
By this point, we had been out and active for nearly 12 hours, so we cut short the evening plans, but not before taking the train to Hamamatsucho for…
Pokemon Center Success
Yes, the Pokemon Center. Watching Katie’s eyes light up as she slid through the crowded store, grabbing nearly every Pichu-related item she could find was quite a sight. I opted for a shirt from the upscale/designer line, Pokemon151.
For the last time, we returned to Shinagawa – I managed to make it out of the turnstile with exactly 40 yen remaining on my Suica card – and returned to the hotel to begin trying to figure out how we’re going to pack all this stuff in our two suitcases.

Tokyo 2010: Fukubukuro

On January 2nd, as most stores re-open after New Years Day, they put out fukubukuro – mystery bags filled with whatever inventory they feel like, usually at a steep discount. All the major department stores seem to do these, as do many electronics stores and clothing shops.
While the Apple Stores around Tokyo were participating, I just missed the cutoff at the Shibuya store at around 6:30 this morning. *C’est la vie.*

Shibuya109, From Afar

Shibuya happens to also be home to Shibuya109, a large tower of fashion shops. It was clear almost immediately that girls were flocking here from around the area in the hopes of grabbing as many bags as they could carry. Every time the walk signal would light for the crosswalk, another swarm of Japanese girls would run across the street to get the best position in line.

Here is one such crossing:

That’s a security guard on a bullhorn you hear in the background; there were at least five of them posted around the exterior of the building to ensure that the girls ran the corridors in the most appropriate manner. Inside, I could hear girls posted outside of each shop shouting on their own bullhorns, trying to convince the horde to come to their store and run away with a bag.

Post Fukubukuro Trading in front of 109

As the girls start to emerge with the bags, many of them plop down in designated protected space, open their bags, review what they got and potentially offer items for trade. Various handbags, accessories, jackets and shirts were constantly thrust in the air and swapped. A block away, a van sat with a small posse of shoppers who seemed to have scored about 12 bags from the same store, undoubtedly destined for eBay.

All told, it is loud, frantic, and a sight to behold, with nothing comparable in the US. (Save maybe Black Friday, but I don’t think people get trampled for Fukubukuro.)

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.