Plus, I got to wander around downtown for a bit, which I wouldn't have done otherwise. Took some pix of the local arcade, though I figured I'd get much more footage in Akihabara later. Interesting how the arcade never died out here. Some of the usual genres: fighting, shmups, first-person shooters, driving games, quiz games [all of these massively networked, and also allow connections/upgrades/etc to/from your phones and memory cards], and emulated classics. Plenty of games we never got over here. Guitar-Hero-like rhythm games are still very popular, but they've branched out quite a bit. Some of you may remember that Guitar Hero came from Guitar Freaks, and arcade game series about 15 years ago (I was still in Chicago; I remember playing it at Gameworks) which also contained a turntable game (like DJ Hero now), a drum machine game, etc. And of course, Dance Dance revolution. In Japan, they have a Taiko game that looked amazing (they have a Wii port as well - I saw the controllers in some of the game stores later in the day), and several on-rail rhythm games that reminded me of the Bit.Trip series. See Groove Coaster for iOS - this is a direct arcade port that was massive there.
Oh, and there are card game arcade games...by which I mean, either 1) scan your deck (or miniatures, ala Skylander) and use it to play the game, or ones where the machine simply deals you a deck. Um, if you've got a deck of cards, why not play with the deck? I guess a) for the animations, b) for the uploaded scoreboards, and c) to play networked with someone elsewhere.
They also had photo booths, with a twist. Basically, you could project yourself into a scene with a virtual companion (one guess as to which gender). There were also machines containing miniatures, but I'll save the miniature discussion for when I get to the Akihabara electronics store.
I had breakfast at the buffet again, and while most of the international fare was fantastic, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, try Natto. Wikipedia: "Nattō is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food. Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slimy texture". The slime looks like a combination of hairy snot and Shelob's webs, and it is impossible to get off you (in terms of physical presence or taste) once it acquires human flesh. My G-d, just typing that sentence makes me smell it again. Perhaps I should wash the taste out of my mouth with some Durian...
Afterwards, I mailed my postcards, briefly went up to the observation deck of the Metropolitan building again, this time in daylight, then changed hotels. I found the train stop easily enough, but, unlike last time, couldn't find the hotel on the map. Fortunately, someone pointed out the location to me - as soon as I made a right turn a few blocks down, the building's marquee in English was clearly visible [Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premier]. Whereas the previous hotel was lush, this was opulent in its minimalism. The previous hotel was an opulent sofa - this was an iPhone. The lobby was on the 16th floor - no idea what 2-15 were used for. The keycard was used both on the outside of the elevator (to call for a floor) and on the inside (to select a floor). Also, the keycard slotted into a hole in the wall near the bathroom, inside the suite, otherwise none of the lights would turn on (and a 10 second timer once you remove it). Nearby was a flashlight that had no button - it activates automatically when taken out of its wall hanging, and shut itself off when placed back in the cradle. Again, it strikes me as Steve Jobs-inspired. Fittingly, the Wi-Fi was 30 Megs, upstream and downstream - I tested it. I think it was comparable at the previous hotel as well. *sigh* We live in a backwater country in some ways. The bath was Japanese-style: enclosed glass room, half of which contained the bath, half of which was a bare floor with a drain on the side - one showers next to the bath, not in it [M&B's house was like this as well]. The toilet gave me some trouble. All of the non-squat toilets in Japan seem indentical in the respect that they are heated, but the flush mechanism is very non-standard. Sometimes there's something to pull down (though much smaller than in the US and cold be anywhere on the toilet), and sometimes a hand-sensor nearby (wave your hand in front). In this case, it was neither; turns out one of the nearby wall boxes, which looked like a thermostat, had several buttons, all written in Japanese. I pushed each one until one of them did the trick, then did it a second time to make sure I got it right. Good monkey, have a banana!
Finally (it was around 4:30 at this point - checkin was around 3), I headed to Akihabara, which was actually slightly closer by train than coming from Shinjuku. I resolved to stay until around 8, then head to Ginza for some window gazing for the next few hours.
I took far too many pictures of Akiba, as it's occasionally elided. Sega and Taito arcades. I snapped some pix inside before being told no. I was just taking pix of the machines, but from what I gather, there have been some concerns about...well, let me put it this way. When I got off the train, there were signs posted with a picture of a phone, bearing the words "Beware of upskirt". While there were definitely more people there with Y chromosomes than not, I saw plenty of otaku of both genders (I'd probably split it 75/25). I wanted into Sofmap, which is essentially their equivalent to Fry's. Maybe I'm jaded by living the Silicon Valley, but most of what I saw I could find easily back home, though it was an impressive array of items. Of course, there were some games that never came out in the US, and some games that are being released in Japan first, but still, the gap is not so wide between the two countries. (The digital cameras might be a different story, but I never made it to those floors). They also had a wide collection of miniatures, which can be easily sorted into two categories: Gundam/Mecha, and ...not sure if hentai is too strong a word, but there were definitely things there that would not be acceptable in American stores. Granted, there was no actual nudity, but the poses/proportions/etc would were...extremely suggestive (they had a DC Comics line: the Batman one looked fairly normal, but the Wonder Woman one was...atypical). And of course, the videos, anime and live-action, which ranged from rated G to extremely un-G. Saw a cover for one DVD called Dead Sushi: think Attack of the Killer Tomatoes meets Shawn of the Dead. (From looking this up on wikipedia, apparently there's also Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead).
Ate dinner at the Gundam Cafe. Food was so-so, but you're eating surrounded by giant Mecha, with carrots cut up into Gundam insignias. So what if it's basically spaghetti-o's? I'm amused. Next to the Gundam Cafe is the AKB48 theatre. Run away! Basically, some local impresario came up with the idea of creating a girl band with 48 members (though I think they're multiple bands merged together, and actually have far more members than that) and giving them a home base (and theater, and boutique) right smack dab in Akihabara (hence AKB) where their target audience would be. This is the sort of thing Simon Cowell probably wishes he'd thought of. The group is everywhere, and this was ground zero. M tried to get me to listen to them; I think it was an attempt at torture, but I'm not sure.
But let's get to the crowning achievement, and my main reason for heading to Akiba: Super Potato, one of the most jaw-dropping retro-gaming stores in existence, from pong-era units up to the present, plus a plethora of arcade machines to play (and buy) on the top level. But I'd forgotten to bring directions, and by the time I remembered there was an information center, it had already closed. So I wondered around, hoping to find it.
I wandered into K-Books (or Akiba Culture Zone), which was a huge manga store, with no discernible boundary between adult and non-adult. There were some US graphic novels here as well - I almost bought a Japanese language version of Watchmen until I realized how much it was.
I wandered past a couple of maid cafes, desperately looking for Super Potato (boy, there's a sentence I never pictured I'd write). Maid cafes are...well, picture a stereotypical goofy teenage girl anime character, in a maid outfit. Now picture there's a cafe where those are your waitress. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is Akiba's PG-13 answer to Hooters. I'd read about this in the Lonely Planet (hah! get it!) guidebook. Basically, it's a maid Cosplay restaurant, where they address you as Master, giggle, engage in typical anime/commedia-level whiplash of emotions, and play an odd game of rock-paper-scissors (lose once, you have to drink a sickening mixture of i-don't-know-what; lose twice, you get slapped hard on the face). Seriously, google this. Most are Japanese only, but apparently there's one that caters to English speakers (it's called @Home...wasn't there a US company called Excite@Home? Just saying...) [Interestingly enough, on the walk back to my hotel from the train station, I saw an actual Hooters restaurant. They were advertising the usual food, but not evidence that it was anything other than a regular greasy spoon] I suppose I should have gone in, just to try it, but it just sounded annoying.
I wandered past a cosplay outfitter store. Seriously, 7 or 8 stories of everything you'd need to DIY. Very impressive, actually; I can picture that catching on well here. An anime version of Gentlemen's Emporium?
Finally, just as I was despairing of finding the object of my quest, I heard he opening strains from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in all its 16-bit midi glory. I turned around, and there it was. Besides the picture of an anime potato, I knew just enough Katakana to figure out what it said. I squeeed as if I should've been the one in the anime maid outfit. Japan pong clones. Tons of original Famicoms (the original, Japanese, top-loading NES), even Japanese Atari boxes. The original Mother for NES (think, grade school RPG: a malevolent, roaming beach ball attacks you; you fend it off with a slingshot and a wiffleball bat), which never made it over here. The sequel did, for the NES, but the original was never fully translated (someone did, many years later, and released the ROM, so I've actually played it, but never actually seen it in the flesh). I could go on for awhile about this...
And it is here that I must curse my future employer for not making iPhones with > 64 GB storage. As I spent time deleting unused apps ad backed-up pics/videos, the time grew later. I made it to the next-to-last floor, and was about to ascend to the arcade level when I noticed that the sounds emanating from some of the kiosks had stopped. They were closing up...at *8*PM on a Friday night. Otaku must have to go to bed early. Game Over (, man, game over!)
As I headed back to the station, it finally occurred to me that I had a camera around my neck with a full set of batteries. *facepalm* Oh well, I've probably played them all emulated anyway.
I then headed directly to Ginza, the Times Square of Tokyo. A Cartier store 10 stories tall tied up in a fluorescent red bow for Christmas. Dior, Prada, Tiffany...name a designer whose average price contains at least one more zero than your yearly salary, and it was here. Plenty of other stores as well, all rather expensive. I wandered into a dessert place and had a green tea ice cream sundae with a waffle (they seem to like waffles, though they're very floppy) and a tiramisu "jelly", and sat looking out the window, admiring the Tron-like sights several floors below me.
I finally headed back to the hotel around 10:30. The fish market auction was at 5 AM (first come, first served; only 120 people overall get to tour the auction area, though anyone can come to the market afterwards), and I then had to get on the plane home later that day, to get into at 8:30 AM Pacific Time. I was going to be colossally overtired afterwards...