On my recent trip, I fulfilled a long-held ambition by visiting Dobuita Street in Yokosuka, one of the primary locations in one of my favourite games ever, Shenmue.
It’s fairly out of the way for a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s only 20 minutes or so down the train line from Kamakura, which is a spectacular day out in its own right. Fortunately we’d decided to go there, so I was able to abandon the group for an hour to pay a visit.
Found at the end of the conveniently named Yokosuka Line, Yokosuka is dominated by its harbour. It’s the home base for the US Navy in Japan and, as such, you don’t have to look very hard for sailors. Many were drunk, but they neither called me school boy or tried to serve me milk. I couldn’t see any forklift racing going on in the harbour, but there was a trio of Japanese submarines lined up in rather photogenic fashion.
Dobuita isn’t far from the station, requiring only a short walk through a pleasant naval-themed park and crossing a footbridge outside a mall that you can’t really miss. It starts around here if you find yourself making the same trip.
Appropriately enough, the weather did turn to rain that day – the only bad weather of the trip, really. But before rejoining the collective for dinner back in Kamakura, my usual reticence to pose was overcome for a quick look for sailors outside Tom’s hot dog stand bar.
It’s been 11 years since I last went to Japan, which seems particularly long given that I went twice in the space of a year back then.
I’m going back in less than a month, and this time will be particularly interesting. For one thing, I’m going with a much reduced interest in games, which was always one of the attractions before. I’ll check in at Akihabara once or twice, of course, and I might try to squeeze in a visit to Yokosuka, but this time I’m going to be travelling all over, from Osaka to Hiroshima, Hakone to Miyajima. Maiko performances and onsens rather than afternoons spent in Super Potato. I’ll be with friends, most of whom have never been before and couldn’t care less about whether my Dreamcast games have spine cards.
I doubt I’ll be doing anything resembling blogging beyond a few updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But expect photography. Lots and lots of photography. I have two cameras, unlimited data, a lot of cloud storage and, by god, I know how to use them.
It really wasn’t that long ago that almost every classic game would come out of Japan. I’m looking at my PS2 collection now and I see Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Katamari Damacy, Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill, Street Fighter, Shin Megami Tensei, and so on. Look further back at the PS1 and it was the same, and the Dreamcast was arguably even more weighted towards Japan.
This generation couldn’t have been more different, though. Look at the big new IPs that have been hits, the big games for this Christmas, and even the successful games of generations past that have received next-gen makeovers: almost all Western games.
Lost Planet and Dead Rising hit early on and boded well, but where are their sequels, let alone the second volley from Japan? Devil May Cry 4 and Metal Gear Solid 4 have done well, but DMC4 was still a disappointment by many accounts – including mine – due to its recycled environments and conservative design, and who was it that helped in redesigning many elements of the Metal Gear formula, including its increasingly cumbersome controls? Ryan Payton, its American producer, who has spoken about the Western influence that he fought to bring into the new game. Even the mighty Ninja Gaiden disappointed me on its next-gen debut.
The RPG genre, which has traditionally been dominated by Japan, in very much in transition at the moment as well. Where are the big-budget next-gen JRPGs? With the exception of Lost Odyssey, I’ve found all of them so far to be extremely disappointing; Final Fantasy XIII is at least another year away and Dragon Quest IX is a DS game; the latest MegaTen game, Persona 4, is on the PS2. Meanwhile we have Western devs mixing RPG conventions with their favoured genres, bringing us stuff like Mass Effect. Hell, someone even spilt their RPG in my Call of Duty 4. Continue reading What’s Happened to Japanese Gaming?→
Tomorrow is our last full day in Japan before we head home on Thursday morning, and it’s going to be spent with some lazing around and last bit of shopping thanks to a blister the size of my head (yes, that big) that’s appeared on my little toe. Quite nasty really.
Over the last couple of days we rinsed our JR Passes by taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto and Nikko where a great deal of temples and shrines are found. I took photos of most of them and the toll taken on my feet by the sheer amount of walking will probably turn out to be catastrophic. We ended it by taking a taxi up to Kegon Falls (an expensive choice, but I wasn’t paying so I don’t care) which was really beautiful.
Being a gamer, one of the main attractions of coming to Japan is the shopping. I did a bit in Australia (the most interesting being EzyDVD’s limited Serenity tin) but they’re generally in a similar boat to us when it comes to the things I’m interested in – only $1,000 for a PS3! – which makes saving money for Akihabara an obvious choice. This is what I picked up, technology-wise:
30GB iPod – Yep, I went to the dark side and bought a 5G iPod. I just use iTunes and podcasts enough now to justify it, and I love watching Consolevania and The 1UP Show on my MP3 player.
Cooking Mama (DS) – Haven’t played it yet since my DS is still in the UK, but I bought it on the strength of a couple of recommendations from people who liked Ouendan.
Every Extend Extra (PSP) – It hasn’t clicked with me like Lumines, but it’s an interesting little puzzler. I’ll persevere with it before I draw any conclusions.
Goku Makaimura (PSP) – Ultimate Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins to most of you. Just mind-bendingly, masochistically hard. I’m inclined to say that it falls on the wrong side of the line between frustrating and challenging, but again I’ll wait until I’ve been able to put in some real playtime before I condemn it.
Jump Superstars (DS) – Again, haven’t played it. Supposedly it’s a very good Smash Bros clone with Shonen Jump characters (DBZ, Naruto, etc).
Street Fighter Zero 3: Double Upper (PSP) – I don’t think I need to go into how much I like this game and this is a great version, but the PSP has undoubtably the WORST D-PAD IN THE WORLD. I need to find one of those mods.
Tekken: Dark Resurrection (PSP) – Great-looking for a PSP title and a decent game, but it’s still Tekken. Probably the most fun I’ve had with the series since Tekken 2 which really isn’t too hard, but it’s supposed to be a compliment here.
Viewtiful Joe (GC) – A classic that I’ve been meaning to pick up since I got my Cube going through component. It only cost me like a fiver anyway. Henshin-a-go-go, baby!
I’m not counting the litres of Grape Fanta and a new discovery, Melon Cream Soda Fanta, in the purchases because then this would turn into some kind of epic love poem. In another game-related story, I went into an arcade in Shibuya and played Virtua Fighter 5 which, if I’m honest, really didn’t blow me away. I do enjoy the series but this wasn’t a big leap by any stretch of the imagination, and rather than looking like a graphical showpiece it looked kind of artificial. I suppose I need to wait to try the PS3 version before I complain too vociferously.
This really will be it until I get home. Can’t wait for it now.
I knew I was in trouble when we stepped out of the airport in Japan and it was over 30 degrees…at night. So far Tokyo has been very grey (torrential rain on the first morning, but other than that dry), but still in the low thirties with high humidity. Not comfortable but hey, it’s Tokyo.
I haven’t been online in a while because getting on in Australia was a pain and it took me a few days to realise that we have free (I think) broadband in our hotel room here, but now all my photos should be up, even if I haven’t been able to annotate them all yet. Except this one, for obvious reasons. The rest of them will have to wait until I get home on Thursday.
In Japan we’ve been to most of the main districts in Tokyo, the highlight probably being the serendipitous visit to Harajuku at the same time as the Super Yosakoi festival. We also went to Kamakura and saw the big temples, all the while being captured by an old Japanese man who spends his days practicing English by collaring random westerners and showing them round. His opening line is “I am not suspicious,” which pretty much sums up the caliber of conversation.
Tomorrow we’re taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto (tip: if you’re planning on using the train when in Japan buy the Japan Rail Pass; it pays for itself with one bullet train trip) and then in the last couple of days we’re planning on hitting Nikko and the Imperial Palace before heading home on Thursday.
First of all let me apologise in advance for any weird spelling or punctuation in this post. I’m in a Japanese Internet cafe fighting against an alien keyboard layout and a laptop that wants to type everything in hiragana…
On days like this I wonder why I want to be a journalist when it seems that any story can be blown out of all proportion. As I’m sure you’re aware all British airports were in “chaos” because of the whole security threat thing so I was naturally all worried that all my plans would be disrupted. We got picked up by the airport car three hours early to account for any delays that the news was telling us were inevitable, and I had to leave my DS and PSP at home because I couldn’t carry them on and wasn’t risking them in the hold.
So…the two-hour drive to Heathrow ends up taking about 80 minutes because within a few miles of the airport there are hardly any cars on the road. Nothing. We wait for check-in to open and that goes smoothly and then queue for about 20 minutes longer than usual to go through security since everyone is being patted down.
Now what really had me fucked off is that I couldn’t carry on any games, my camera, my laptop, books, magazines, etc, but once I was through security as long as I wasn’t flying to the United States of Paranoia (they weren’t letting people carry on anything at all) I could have gone and bought any of the items in Dixons and carried them on. I wasn’t desperate enough to buy yet another DS so I just bought a couple of books from Borders (Roy Keane’s autobiography and the complete Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) which I breezed through a good chunk of on the way to Tokyo.
The flight got off on time and went without a hitch (MI3 and Ice Age 2 were the films; I watched most of MI3) and 12 hours later I now find myself at Narita Airport with four more hours to kill until my connecting flight to Sydney. Thankfully it has a free Internet cafe that I’m using now which also sells Pocky, successfully combining two of my favourite things in the world, so that eases the pain. Amusingly, it also has a mini cinema where, for £400 a time, you can watch such hits as “Batman Bigins” (sic). I wish I had my camera.