Due to birth of my second son, which allowed me to take off a lot of time from work, I got to travel in Japan for over 3 weeks.
Hitomi planned out the entire trip, and for this I am grateful. Logistically, a lot goes into planning a long vacation, especially with children. I was fortunate to attend a concert and get to go skiing on my own, despite having two children to take after.
Hitomi got us tickets on ANA, on the new Boeing Dreamliner 787. Despite the problems it has had, the Dreamliner was probably one of the most comfortable planes I’ve been on. We were seated in a bulkhead row, which allowed the use of a bassinet for baby Luca. Since the plane handles higher pressure better, there was little ear discomfort, which can happen especially with children.
The flight attendants (all women) were something else. Having children I guess gets you extra attention, I suppose, but I never had so many beautiful ladies so attentive. Leo kept busy with his videos. He got a special meal with lots of treats and toys. The food in general was better than most, although it still had that gelatinous quality of reheated food.
On our flight coincidentally was an old friend Max Pham who we met at from Sakura-con–and later helped with a special convention she helped put on for gothic-lolita fashion. Max was going to visit Tokyo Disneyland and various military resorts or bases in Japan with her family (husband, two children). I thought we might have a chance to meet up in Japan, but no, not with our schedules.
In Japan, it always feels late but it’s early. This time (spring) the sun was still out. Once we made it through immigration (I’m still a ‘visitor’ though my kids are Japanese) and customs, we take a local train (we didn’t make the ‘Skyliner’) on a Keisei railway. With our bags, half asleep kids we transfer to Asakusa station, and then check into this very narrow (though modern) hotel.
By narrow, I mean probably less than 15 feet wide, yet maybe 8 stories tall. Places in Tokyo are like this: Built to whatever width land is available. The room was very small, yet big enough for the four of us. For an American, the room (a double nonetheless) seemed like an impossibility, yet was equipped with every comfort (and even a decent bath).
Dinner was MOS Burger, which is was a favorite from back when I was a student in 1997-98 in Japan. The burgers are fairly small and fleshy, but the toppings and bun are the perfect proportion, plus the accompanying fries and drinks are always good. We’d be having nicer dinners the following few weeks, anyway.
We woke up at 5am or so. NHK (public TV) kept Leo and us okay until breakfast was obtainable. Breakfast was on the top floor, from a small room overlooking the river. The weather was cool and rainy, yet we see the (part of) Tokyo Skytree across the way.
The original plan was to see some cherry blossoms, old Asakusa and its surrounding area, and the Skytree. Then head to Odaiba for Anime Japan. With the rain and cool weather, the blossoms were not out yet, and instead the mall seemed like the place to be.
If you are a particular fan of a show in Japan, anime or not, there is something for you to buy. If you like toy trains or cars, there are shops for you. Yes, I’m not a mall guy, but the food and things are much more interesting in Japan. Plus, they really make it easy for breastfeeding mothers and diaper changing fathers.
Other than consuming, we also went to the Sumida Aquarium. The main exhibit was on jelly fish, circulating in some sort of round or donut shaped tanks, of course illuminated with colored lights. Then there were the penguins. Apparently the Japanese have more penguins in aquariums and zoos than any other country. There was of course a huge tank: My favorite part was scaring Leo with the big shark who would appear from time to time.
We took a very cool ferry to Odaiba, a man-made island where Tokyo Big Sight is located for Anime Japan. Hitomi fortunately reserved tickets beforehand, since it seems to be a popular ferry. The ferry was designed by Leiji Matsumoto and had narration (mostly regarding the bridges we passed under) by several of the cast of Galaxy Express 999.
Once we arrived, the weather was pretty good (windy by sunny) and Leo had fun tossing rocks into the water from the beach. Leo’s love of throwing things into the water is intense. Eventually we head out towards the hotel, taking the long way through the park along the water. I think to myself, what a nice place to be, though it’s not maybe so pleasant in summer.
On island are bicycles (even electric and family carrying) for rent, unfortunately Luca is too young to yet ride at three months. I feel like I must ride a bicycle, yet I will have to wait until next trip to do so.
Checking in to the Grand Pacific Le Daiba, there are plenty of bilingual (English) speaking staff on hand and once they figure we speak Japanese they do too. Hitomi hates getting the English map (which is “hard to use”) but one of the staff explains you can enjoy the flavorful way the Japanese translated the map text into English.
The main convention, for those of you who have been to conventions in the U.S., was the equivalent of the industry you might see at a U.S. convention of the exhibit hall, but more in proportion with like E3. The old E3. Probably most impressive was the life-sized model of a Patlabor, loaded onto the truck like in the anime, and possibly used in the upcoming live action movie.
Besides industry booths: Several regions of Japan were promoting otaku tourism. Many manufacturers of goods and services (e.g. cakes) were selling wares. One of the most interesting was a booth selling ‘hanko’ (chops or signature seals) which can be customized with various anime characters, usable at ordinary banks for approving documents. There were a couple of kid play areas, one where you could get your photograph taken with various popular characters, or another where you could work on crafts.
A cosplay area was setup, complete with dressing area and costumes for rent. There were custom backdrops from various shows. Unfortunately I was too large for most of the costumes and Hitomi wasn’t keen on wearing one herself. We did have fun posing (especially at the end of the show when the crowds left) with the various backdrops.
The other part of the convention were events. Hitomi fortunately had the foresight to sign up for various events ahead of time. Events were the U.S. convention equivalent of panels, though more polished, where questions were arranged ahead of time. I managed to attend the Patlabor live action panel, where Mamoru Oshii, this very soft-spoken and diminutive old man, could barely be heard: Was he really a director?
Hitomi attended an event in the morning where Haruko Momoi and Koike (‘Aniki’) were re-united on stage to talk about their days as Under17. Personally, I have a great fondness of that time, of that unique moé music. I suppose anime fans might find that music a novelty today but really a lot of factors came together, at that time to make it really authentic and fresh. I really enjoyed seeing the event, but poor Hitomi is short and only got to hear it…
Speaking of which, the downside of a good event is too many people were there. The crowds (especially when ferrying around kids) make it tough to really enjoy things. Plus the noise was incredible. There was a retrospective theater (favorite anime from the past 50 years), and they showed the new Mushishi but the theater was part of the convention floor, and who can watch such a show with such noise?
The convention was over early. Around 5 or so on Sunday. It felt fairly short.
One of the highlights for food was an Oyakodon restaurant. They serve these very orange and big eggs in Japan, which you eat mostly raw. It wasn’t particularly kid friendly, but a nice meal. I appreciate that Hitomi let us go for it: She is very concerned about disturbing other diners. (There was a very kid friendly place, and pretty good food which we ate at earlier: Think ball pit where the kids can run around and the adults can watch and eat.)
Noitamina (animation spelled backwards) Shop: Late night anime seems to have been around forever, and despite being impossible for employed people to watch (do people just tape it?) continues to grow. Anyway, this shop has both goods and an interesting seating arrangement, sort of like a lecture hall overlooking a screen, but at night overlooks the Rainbow Bridge. (Seating I suppose is for singles or couples to sit side-by-side, not a bad idea.) There was a special menu inspired by Silver Spoon, which just had a live action adaption come out, and we ordered some things off of it.