06 December 2007

Tokyo Day 1: Asakusa and Akihabara

We arrived in Tokyo around 2 pm or so, then stored our bags in a locker at Ueno station. Based on proximity, we decided to check out the Asakusa neighborhood.
As I mentioned previously, we lost our "No Plan, No Problem" guide to Tokyo, but we managed to get by with one of those free English brochures from the airport. The brochure featured handy profiles of the most popular neighborhoods in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the neighborhood maps were pretty terrible. The map was filled with western reference points like TGI Friday's, the Gap, or Citibank, which was not very helpful when asking a local Japanese person for directions.

We arrived in Asakusa without much of a game plan, but the neighborhood looked very promising once we were greeted by this large, golden sweet potato!

Asakusa features a nice little marketplace, a warren of small shops selling snacks and souvenirs. It has a similar vibe to the International Marketplace in Waikiki.

Listen to the dog: "Smile everyday."

Our first day in Tokyo was marred by rain, but to our great luck, we found an abandoned (or more likely, forgotten) umbrella on the Keisei train from Narita airport. Tokyo totally loves us.

Throughout the marketplace, you'll find a dozen of snack shops selling fresh, seasoned rice crackers. I totally thought these were made in a factory in China.

After a walk through the market, we stopped by the Asakusa Tourist Information Center, which is located somewhere near this cool Seiko clock. At the start of every hour, this little animatronic (is that word or just something that Disney made up?) troupe performs a taiko number.

Asakusa also features an area known as Kappabayagi (or something like that), a large block of kitchen supply wholesalers. They had stores bursting with all sorts of cooking and baking supplies. I even found a store selling fake food displays used in restaurants. I find fake food strangely appealing.

Following the suggestion of the nice lady at the tourist info, we also checked out a nearby shrine.

We're not clear on the details, but we saw a bunch of people basking themselves in the burning incense, so we, of course, did the same. I'm hoping it was all for good luck, and not just something that stupid tourists get fooled into doing.

After Asakusa, we headed to Akihabara to check in at the Capsule Inn. Akihabara is the home of otaku, "geek culture," so I thought that I'd feel at home. But, it turns out that "geek culture" entails an extreme interest in video games, electronics, manga, and dressing up in costumes. I guess that's why it's more accurate to say that I am nerd, not a geek.

We stopped and played some old school Super Mario off an interesting console that is not made by Nintendo. I played for a little bit, and those stupid turtle-bird creatures totally kicked my butt.

I think this photo pretty much captures the essence of Akihabara, at least as far as I've seen: a multi-storied Taito arcade, a bunch of manga related shops, and Don Quiojte. If you've ever been to the Don Quiojte in Honolulu, you know how crazy that this mega-mart can be. If fact, I would say that the Don Quiojte in Tokyo is ten times as crazy. It's bursting with all sorts of costumes, cosmetics, and groceries.

We spent a couple of hundred yen (a few dollars) fruitlessly trying to win one of these amazing prizes from the claw machines.

These rodents are cute, yet disturbing -- something my sister would enjoy.

Huge boxes of those koala biscuits -- something that Stacy would also enjoy.

After hitting up a karaoke and murdering a few Mariah Carey songs, we checked in for the night at the Capsule Inn in Akihabara. The capsule is a nice option if you want to save a little yen, and don't mind small spaces.

A stay in the capsule is about $40 a night, and the inn accepts credit cards. Reservations are not required, but recommended during high travel times. Since capsule inns are usually frequented by salary men, I had my reservations; especially when the manager was like, "You know that this is a capsule inn, right?"

Women get their own floor. The female floors are accessed by a key, so we were allowed to bring our luggage up to the capsule rooms. Otherwise, I believe that luggage must be left in the lobby area. They give you a little chain lock to secure the luggage to something heavy.

Overall, I felt quite safe, and the inn is clean enough.

The capsules comes with a yukata robe, towels, and a toothbrush. The bedding is quite comfortable, and the rooms are nice and toasty.

You can even watch some TV or listen to the radio.

In my opinion, the capsules are quite roomy, though I should note that I'm rather short.

Just pull down the shade for some privacy.

I wonder if we have capsule inns in America. Probably not. We're pretty big on personal space in America.

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