Tag Archives: Travel

Japan 2005: The Rest of It

This is basically what happened post Shinjuku, which is the last time that I updated when we were out there.

On the night after we went to Shinjuku we went into Roppongi which is one of the big districts for nightlife, and then visited a bar called Gas Panic. We got there at about 10pm and ended up leaving when it closed at 5am when it was light outside and people were actually starting to go to work. The language barrier wasn’t an issue since it was so loud, and I ended up getting some face/crotch action on the bar with a cute Japanese girl. Jan had a similar experience and got slightly aggressive at the end of the night when he found himself with us instead of a girl, screaming with laughter at himself outside a Yoshinoya restaurant while Eynon and Jude got their second post-drinking food fix, after already buying a kebab from a street vendor outside the club.

Unsurprisingly the best part of the next morning was pretty much a write-off, with us not getting out until the early afternoon. After that we went to Harajuku which is famous for the cosplay fraternity, especially on a Sunday. Also in Harajuku was our first brush with traditional Japanese culture when we visited the Meiji Shrine which consists of a really nice Shinto shrine in some absolutely beautiful surroundings. Heading back into Harajuku, we looked around the shopping area (it’s very much a fashion area, in keeping with the cosplay influence) and grabbed something to eat at a Japanese restaurant before calling it a night.

The Monday was the day we were booked into the Ghibli Museum which was conveniently on the same line that our nearest train station was. We took the train to Mitaka and instead of taking the shuttle bus to the museum from the station we just walked the kilometre which probably ended up losing half our body weight in sweat because it was about 30 degrees and still as humid. It didn’t really get any cooler until we left Japan, either.

The museum was very nice but didn’t allow photography inside the building. We got to see a Ghibli short film which will never be shown outside the museum (I don’t know the name but it was about a small puppy who gets lost) and explore the exhibits before hitting the souvenir shop. I was very good to my wallet and only bought the £10 souvenir book, but Eynon went a bit more wild. He managed to get himself under control and stop before the temptation to buy a £200 Spirited Away cel got too great. A lot of the museum was lost on us without being able to read, but I enjoyed it and it was worth the £5 to get in.

We got back to the hotel from the museum in the mid-afternoon and hung around for a bit before braving the heat again to see Shibuya by night. I was actually disappointed with the famous crossing because it’s smaller than I imagined, but at night the district is very pretty and has some great shops. One of them was about three floors underground but was huge and absolutely full of manga, games, and toys. It made me laugh how you’d have a case of Transformers, a case of Gundam, a case of Dragonball, and then a case of rope bondage figures in the middle as if there was nothing unusual about them. We went up into the Starbucks overlooking the crossing where photography isn’t allowed, but we followed the example of the Lost In Translation film crew and got covert pictures out of the window when the waitress wasn’t looking.

Tuesday was just a chance to head back to Akihabara to pick up more stuff. I’ve lost track of what I bought when but I think this is when I got Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS which is fantastic. It’s a rhythm-action game that’s probably never going to come out outside Japan but seems to be picking up a big cult following, and both me and Eynon ended up getting it and annoying the others with the endless repetition of infectious J-rock songs at full volume. I also got a few more DS games – Electroplankton, Touch! Kirby (Kirby Canvas Curse outside Japan), and Meteos.

On Wednesday we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto which was damn expensive (£150 for a return ticket) but got us the 500-odd kilometres from Tokyo to Kyoto in a little over two hours and, well, it was the bullet train. Considering our trains can barely do 70mph without derailing, this one was an amazingly smooth and comfortable ride for the speed of the thing. A short walk from the station we found the Higashi Honganji Temple which is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the world but is currently undergoing a big restoration (to be completed in 2011). A short subway ride away was the “must see” of Kyoto, Nijo Castle. Some of it was absolutely beautiful and I’d imagine that if you visited when the trees were blossoming it would look unbelievable.

Eynon was adamant that we should visit Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple, so we went to a subway station somewhere nearby. It turned out it wasn’t as nearby as we thought but there were a ton of temples and shrines in the backstreets so we walked it, eventually getting there through a sea of cheap souvenir shops. It was in the hills outside Kyoto and the view back at the city was spectacular, as were views of other temples in the hills. Then we had the choice of subway, taxi, or walking back into central Kyoto and someone had the bright idea of walking it – bearing in mind that it was stupidly hot and this photo illustrates how far it is back to the centre of the city (where the Kyoto Tower is), I think I lost the other half of my body weight.

Back in the city we found a big electronics store that, not being in Tokyo, obviously wasn’t as packed as the ones in the capital. That meant that not only did they have iPod nanos (I abstained in the end) but they also had the Advent Children Pieces, which were utterly sold out in Tokyo, for £120. Eynon and Jude grabbed them both and it looks like Eynon’s has already sold in the shop for £400. I grabbed Street Fighter III: Third Strike on PS2 as well as a sale copy of the PS2 Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution for ¥1,000 (£5). Eynon also got a Panasonic Q for an absolute bargain price.

The last two days were spent just doing any other things that needed doing before the end of the holiday. I can’t remember exactly but I remember hitting Akihabara one last time and going back to Harajuku, and when I saw that I could get there on the JR Line for less than a fiver I was tempted to pay a visit to Yokosuka but was able to bring my Shenmue fanboyism under control before I did. Maybe next year…

And that was it. The morning we left it was raining torrentially, but I still would have stayed if I could. Now I’m completely fed up with typing so you probably won’t hear from me for a few days – I’m off to play Katamari Damacy.

Back From Japan

I’m back from Japan and I’m tired, so I’ll make a big post about it sometime soon. The idea of blogging what was happening every day kind of died when I realised how much time it was taking, but I kept taking photos. I have a couple which I haven’t uploaded that involve the best toilet ever, but that’s for another time.

I got home at about 10:30pm last night after a journey that was decidedly less enjoyable than the one on the way out. After queuing to check in at Narita Jude got told that his luggage was too heavy so he could either pay something like £200 to take it on the plane anyway (you have to wonder why, when they obviously can take it anyway, the charge is so high), about £80-100 to ship it home via EMS, or just repack. He chose to take his backpack out of the suitcase and move some of the heavier stuff into it and carry it on, meaning that he had both his Advent Children Pieces (an absolute steal, but that’s a story for later) and a ton of stuff in his bag as carry-on.

The flight to Paris left a bit late but was fine, and actually went amazingly fast thanks to strategic PSP use. I had my laptop with several movies in PSP format, my 1GB Memory Stick, a spare PSP battery, and a 2-in-1 USB data/power cable which meant that I could run the PSP off the iBook battery to give me more than enough battery life to last the whole flight. I watched Advent Children followed by My Neighbour Totoro, then played some of my Winning Eleven 9 league and a couple of games of Lumines, then watched Sin City and played the rest of the flight out with Virtua Tennis and Lumines.

When we arrived in Paris we found out that our 7:20 flight to London was cancelled, so instead they’d moved us to the 8:00 one which meant waiting a couple of hours and probably missing our bus back to Bournemouth. We sat in the departure lounge thinking of ways to annoy the French as revenge (buying bottles of drink on a credit card because we didn’t have any Euros was eventually chosen) and being crap at Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS (best game ever) until the flight was ready. Less than an hour later we were in London, got our bags, walked through customs with thousands of pounds in games and hardware between us to find it completely unattended, and a brisk walk to the bus station got us there literally right as the bus home arrived.

A happy ending then, except for the fact that I want to go back. Same time next year?

Japan 2005: Shinjuku

Visited Shinjuku today. It’s a district with a lot of shops, from clothes and souvenirs to traditional and foreign food with the usual plethora of places to buy games and a lot of arcades which put the ones at home to shame. In Shinjuku we went to a Yoshinoya which is a huge chain of restaurants selling traditional Japanese fast food for lunch – I had some mix of beef and pork on a bowl of rice which was delicious. We planned to visit the local shrine but forgot that it closed early, so we’re doing that first thing tomorrow morning.

Didn’t get a particularly big haul today – picked up the Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy soundtrack in HMV, got Mawaru: Made in Wario (Ware Ware Twisted) for the GBA, and also got the latest Famitsu which has some good stuff on MGS4 and other games on show at TGS. Bargain of the day was definitely Jude’s white Saturn for £25.

Japan 2005: TGS Impressions

Right…the easiest way for me to do things is probably just to list the main stuff I played and saw and what I thought, so here goes. It’s in no particular order because I’m going through what I saw in the order that I saw it.

  • Xbox 360 – The machine itself is bigger than I expected; very similar in size to the current Xbox. The controller felt very nice, though – softer edges and analogue sticks that felt more accurate than the current ones. It reminded me a lot of the nice wireless Logitech ones. Graphical quality obviously varied from game to game, but went from disappointing (Test Drive Unlimited) through to the impressive (Call of Duty 2) and the amazing (Ridge Racer 6).
  • Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360) – I didn’t play it but graphically it was very limited. Very detailed and everything but the framerate was incredibly poor and I think I can see why it was delayed from the launch window.
  • Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) – Now holds the title of the first Xbox 360 game I ever played. Gameplay-wise there’s very little to differentiate between it and the other COD games (not necessarily a bad thing at all), but graphically I was very impressed. There were a ton of effects and detailed characters and objects around but the framerate was nice and steady. The lighting was very accomplished with the blinding effect of walking from a dark room into direct sunlight actually affecting the way you play. I’ll probably be picking this one up on launch day.
  • Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360) – I only watched someone play it and it looked like vintage Ridge Racer, but graphically it’s spectacular. High definition shows it off with the typical vividness and exuberance of a Ridge game, and the whole thing runs rock solid at 60fps. Absolutely gorgeous and another probable purchase.
  • Boku no Watashi no Katamari Damacy (PSP) – Looking at least as good as the PS2 version and gaining an almost current affairs-based storyline (instead of creating stars you’re now rebuilding an island destroyed by a tsunami), this is going to be worth a look. The controls will definitely need some getting used to as the dual analogue PS2 controls are replaced by dual digital using the D-pad and face buttons, but still a great game that should be ideal for short portable blasts. I want a prince puppet like the guys at the demo pods had.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3) – Obviously only in trailer form, but it looked spectacular and the resolution looked ridiculously high even on the 50-foot screen they were showing it on, and it’s definitely running in real time. It’s hard to take anything concrete from it but it seems like this will be more action-orientated that the predecessors and I couldn’t help but feel echoes of the Seoul level from Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. I can’t wait to see more.
  • Okami (PS2) – Graphically beautiful. The whole world looks like an animated painting and the gameplay, where you do things like paint a bridge over a chasm so that you can cross it, looks very unique and interesting. I’ll definitely be looking out for this one.
  • Chromehounds (Xbox 360) – This wasn’t playable but Sega gave a demonstration on a massive screen and it looked very impressive indeed. There were loads of mechs on screen with some excellent effects bringing the carnage to life, and they showed what looked to be gameplay footage (no HUD, but seemed to be a playable camera angle) which was very reminiscent of MechAssault.
  • Street Fighter Zero 3: Double Upper (PSP) – A decent conversion of one of my favourite fighting games of all time. The PSP D-pad isn’t exactly great for this so the analogue nub provides the best control, but even that’s not optimal. Even so, the GBA version was hardly true to the arcade experience so I’m probably going to overlook those relatively minor flaws.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) – Wasn’t playable but they were running videos on a high definition monitor where it looked stunning. I was impressed by the trailer that came out online a little while back and this one has me considering yet another game for the 360 launch.
  • Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360) – Didn’t play it but watched it being played and came away impressed visually – very bright and colourful, but also very detailed. Rare need to make that $375 million investment by Microsoft worthwhile and Grabbed By The Ghoulies and Conker aren’t really doing that, so this and Perfect Dark Zero could go some way to paying it back.

Overall it was a pretty good show. Smaller than I expected and insanely busy with even 30,000 people there (the public days are supposed to have double that at least), but I got to see a lot of cool stuff and play the Xbox 360 so it was worth it. Nintendo, as usual, don’t have any presence at the show but I’ve still seen and been slightly worried by this. I’m really beginning to think that they’ve lost it completely when they can come up with a fantastic idea like having all their old stuff emulated and downloadable on the Revolution and then back it up with that.

Japan 2005: The TGS Aftermath

I’m back from TGS which was fun. I’ll post some decent impressions of stuff I saw and played later, but in the meantime here’s a rundown of the day.

As for the rest of the day, I woke up at around 5am and couldn’t sleep so after grabbing this photo out the window I jumped on Skype and made some calls home. When everyone else was up we headed on over to the Makuhari Messe for TGS (about an hour by train) and on the way got talking to a Japanese guy who lives in New York but was back in Japan for business. He helped point us in the right direction when we couldn’t read the kanji on the signs. Before we headed into the show we got some traditional Japanese food for breakfast (thick noodles with various seafood and vegetable things – £5 in yen can get you a hell of a lot of decent food if you eat traditional). I failed miserably at chopsticks but got there eventually.

After a good few hours around TGS we headed back and dropped into Akihabara briefly on the way back. I picked up both Katamari Damacy games (£15 for the first one and around £25 for the second) and the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, as well as a couple more of those PSP screen protectors. Jan picked up a white PSP for himself and Eynon managed to find four more Famicom Game Boy Micros. After that we were so tired from so much walking that we just got a taxi back to the hotel (five minutes’ walk at most) and that’s where you find me now.

Tomorrow has nothing planned but we’re probably going to look at a nearby shrine and the Imperial Palace.

Japan 2005: Live From Tokyo

Well, I’m here. I’ve been in Tokyo for about twelve hours and it’s an incredible place.

The flights were surprisingly good considering the great deal we got on them, even if it did seem unbearably long at times (40 minutes from London to Paris, 45 minutes going through security again in France with some arseholes for security people, and then almost 11 hours from Paris to Tokyo). In-flight entertainment wasn’t great but I watched Sin City on my laptop and slept a couple of hours, and I got the seat next to the emergency exit so I had about two metres of leg room the whole way.

It was about two hours on the coach from the airport which wasn’t too bad since we got to see a lot of the city. After a quick pit stop at the hotel we went straight to Akihabara to do some of our essential shopping – I came away with two white PSPs (launched today), two copies of Winning Eleven 9 on PSP (also out today, complete with insanely long load times), Lumines, Rez on PS2 (for the irresistible price of ¥500, or about £2.50), and a PSP screen protector. I would have bought more but I didn’t want to blow my proverbial load on the first day and we’ll be heading back after TGS when the crowds of spoddy Americans have left.

The Game Boy Micro came out a couple of days ago and has a seriously impressive screen, and the Famicom versions have sold out everywhere. Eynon managed to hunt down four for the shop but they’re going to be hard to come by. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is rare on UMD at the moment and absolutely impossible to find on DVD (even in £250 limited edition form) because it looks to have been wildly popular. I was on the lookout for iPod nanos and they were sold out everywhere too, although I tried a demo unit and was really impressed with how tiny it was. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Tokyo Game Show so hopefully I’ll have some interesting photos and stories (not to mention freebies) from there.

The weather here isn’t actually especially hot (around 23 degrees today, I think) but it’s very humid and feels far hotter. It’s supposed to be pushing 30 in the next few days so I’m not really looking forward to that. The Japanese people are also great – most don’t speak much, if any, English but between my bad Japanese and their bad English we can usually find enough common ground to make ourselves understood. They always go out of their way to help you out, especially if you make the effort to try to speak Japanese. One thing that really summed up how different the culture is was when we saw a whole group of schoolchildren who must have been well under ten, all walking home and catching the train by themselves. You just wouldn’t see it in the west.