Tokyo – Tuesday, May 28, 2013 – The Monorail, Tokyo Character Street and creepy Akihabara

As a big fan of Japanese poster art, I was looking forward to the Ad Museum Tokyo; alas, when I got there it was temporarily closed. So I enjoyed the giant Shimodome complex, which had so many levels that it managed to be indoors and outdoors at the same time:IMG_2765

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Nestled in the complex was the Panasonic Centre (at least, I think it was that one. Panasonic has at least three different offices in the neighbourhood.) I wandered through the immaculate showrooms featuring beautiful appliances in impossibly large apartments. The tech was gorgeous of course, but what really caught my eye was what appeared to be an electric saddle, like the kind featured in western-themed strip bars, and what turned out to be… an electric saddle, or joba:

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Apparently horse-riding is great for your core muscles. I asked for a pamphlet, which featured such purely-exercise-themed images as this:

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I think Panasonic may have gotten confused between the otakus who want to see horse-riding women, and women who may actually want to ride a horse.

Trying to get a visual sense of what appeared to be a giant square block of building, complete with overhead walkways and monorail, I found the post office at the heart of the district – here’s what it looked like originally:

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And here’s what it looks like now:IMG_4830

In fact, the Japanese seem to specialize in sprouting giant skyscrapers from modernist palaces – this was a few blocks away, in Ginza:

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I spent a few frustrating hours wandering around Ginza, finding the fish market and the Sony showroom, which featured giant TVs and 3D headsets but which all looked a little naff, frankly. This was the first time I considered that Japan is not the centre of hi-tech I knew it to be – that’s been globalized, or at least regionalized to most of east Asia.

My next tourist destination was the Yurikamome Line, a rubber-wheeled driverless train that snakes around Tokyo harbour. For once I got a good transit deal by paying for a single-stop trip… which I got off at, after travelling the length of the route. Later I regretted my thriftiness when I learned that one of the stops was Divercity Tokyo, featuring Gundam Front Tokyo, a theme park for giant robots. But the surrounding buildings were also impressive – these aren’t particularly stunning photos, but they give a sense of the massive scale.IMG_4868IMG_4904IMG_4885

I particularly like this shot – something about the cranes seems like they’re framing the sky and building site:IMG_4887 IMG_4889 IMG_4891 IMG_4893  IMG_4909

My next stop was Tokyo Character Street, a useful centralization of all the Japanese TV networks’ mascot merchandise shops into one handy, underground mall beneath Tokyo station:IMG_2782 IMG_2780

I have a theory on why TV networks in particular, and Japan culture in general, likes mascots so much. Talismans – spiritually significant totems – are an integral part of Taoism and also exist in Shintoism. It makes sense that capitalism, never shy about appropriating existing traditions to make a profit, would take the Japanese focus on words and images with independent power and remake it. Maybe this is a common insight in cultural studies and therefore not nearly as profound as I gave myself credit for. But wandering the crowded stores of Character Street, I was impressed by the completeness each TV network tried to immerse its fans in. Each store was a complete world, where every possible marketing item for different characters was available to purchase:

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This one is about Imoto, a schoolgirl with big eyebrows who explores the world:IMG_2787 IMG_2788

Hello Kitty has been successfully exported to the west, but it was a comparatively tame offering next to the other shops – it wasn’t even crowded:IMG_2789 IMG_2791 IMG_2792

I found the shop of my favourite corporate logo, Domo-Kun. But I was getting overwhelmed by all the cuteness and passed up an opportunity to drop $20 on a sock-puppet Domo. Instead I went two stops north to Akihibara, the otaku paradise.

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Electronics shops abutted multi-story anime and sex shops, and sometimes a combination of all three. Here’s (Yumi?) Tamura trying to make it big by dancing with furries:

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A friend had warned me this part of town was creepy, and indeed it was. But I appreciated its honesty, unlike Panasonic’s sexy joba-marketing. Here there was no doubt what was being sold. How many girls shilling for maid cafes can you spot in this picture? I count six and, next to Colonel Sanders, the kind of men who frequent them. Wikipedia says cafes are now for couples, tourists and women, but I only saw men on their own.

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After officially prudish Korea, I was ready for prurient Japan, so I visited the biggest sex shop I could find and dodged eye contact with uncomfortable foreigners. This sign caught my eye, so I snapped a surreptitious photo: men could visit the women’s floor, but women couldn’t visit the men’s. Hey Tokyo, it’s a sex-y shop, not a sexist shop. OK, it seemed wittier at the time.

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From there I went back to the Tsujiki fish market for some late night alleyway sushi, and then I was out of energy.

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