by JUSTIN EGLI
Ah, Japan. A magical land of fairies and robots and Nintendo flavoured chocolate and Pikachu's used panties sold in vending machines.
For decades, Japan has been portrayed by the western media as a surreal playground: a cross between Disneyland, a bowl of ramen and a big bag of speed. The truth is, once you've lived here for a while, Japan starts to feel normal – it's the rest if the world that seems weird. In many respects Japan is more conservative than a lot of countries around the world.
It's got to the stage now that when I hear a bunch of people talking and laughing on the train I do a heavy sigh and tut. Those BASTARDS! Where are their MANNERS? My god... what has happened to me?
“So what made you want to come to Japan?”
“Well, I watched Sailor Moon as a child and I loved it and dressed up as all the characters and always wanted to come to Japan so I could, you know, actually BE IN Sailor Moon.” <Interviewer backs away silently and leaves room>
Japan is chock-full of oddball gaijin (the Japanese term for foreigners) who come to the country solely to live out their otaku wet dreams.
They have to pay the rent somehow, and so the majority teach English. The end result is that Japanese school kids gaze upon these otaku overlords and perceive them to be a true representation of western society. An old gaijin boss of mine wore a Tweetie Pie tie to work. He was the actual manager of a company. Says it all really.
I'll also openly admit that after I watched Akira for the first time I was blown away and that was bound to have had an influence. So maybe I'm no better than the otaku after all. Right now, I'm taking a break from Tokyo after living there for three years. I'm doing a bit of travelling and then I'll most likely go back next year. It's a very comfortable place to live, and despite Tokyo not being the utter madhouse many believe it to be, I reckon daily life in this country is as interesting as you'll find anywhere in the world.
Japanese arcades are fun. It's legal to drink in public in Japan so you can go to the konbini (convenience store) and load up on cheap chuhai (fruity alcoholic drinks that you would be labelled as a girl for drinking in any other country but it's OK to here, hurrah). There are ashtrays moulded onto the arcade stick and the whole place reeks of smoke. So you sit down at Tekken 5 with a can of booze and a cigarette and it's brilliant until some Japanese guy sits down at the machine opposite and puts in money. “Here comes a new Challenger!” Oh for fuck sake. Within 30 seconds you are destroyed by some thirteen-year old Tekken fanatic leaving you sitting there just drinking booze.
Most arcades are four floors. On the ground floor there are the UFO catcher machines – those ones where you try and grab stuff with the shitty three-pronged arm. Prizes include Doraemon soft toys or if you are playing in Akihabara, a figurine with abnormal breasts.
Also on the bottom floor are the music related machines – where you get to beat the shit out of taiko drums and watch in horror (amazement) as a drunk Japanese salaryman attempts to play Dance Dance Revolution.
The purika machines are usually in the corner somewhere and there are now signs telling you that you are not allowed near them as a guy unless you have a girl with you. Basically these are the photobooth machines where you can dress up and take pictures of yourself and draw all over the photos. They are huge in Japan (and Korea) but over the years there have been an increasing number of anoraks perving on the girls, hence the new signs.
About ten years ago the photos you took were pretty normal, but with the increased popularity in wanting to look like an anime version of Donatella Versace, the machines now offer the option to smooth your skin, increase the size of your eyes and shave off any fat. The resulting image makes girls look like cartoon characters and guys look hideously deranged.
The horseracing arcade machines are upstairs. This is where the real action is: old men made of cigarettes sitting about drinking One Cup sake and dribbling over themselves.
Which brings me to Tokyo Game Show.
“Man, I'd love to visit Tokyo Game Show one day!” says every person on internet ever. Really? You queue outside for two hours in 30-degree heat then once you get inside the hall you queue to join another queue to join another queue to play a beta version of a game for three minutes. Trust me, the reality isn't as good as it seems.
The best part of these events is the cosplay area where you get to marvel at the weirdos that have spent the best part of a month constructing an outfit so they look like Barrett from FFVII but with tissue boxes stuck to their arm for a gun. I never did see anyone dressed up as Barry from the first Resident Evil. Sad face.
Akihabara is still the Mecca for many people who see pictures of Tokyo from abroad – the electronics district full of manga, maid cafes and sinister sex-cartoon stores. Yet when you arrive at Akihabara station you realise it's just a station like anywhere else in Tokyo, and for some this might be a bit of a let down. You don't just leave the station and fall head-first into streets of fairy dust and glitter; you have to walk about to find the stores
Admittedly, some of them are very good. I'm not hardcore into anime and stuff myself, but a wander around stores such as Mandarake is good fun to show you the vast amount of stuff people are prepared to part with their money for. There are some old Godzilla style figures that sell for thousands of pounds, and DVDs that my mum couldn't even BEGIN to comprehend even exist. I do of course mean hentai.
Hentai artists must lead a bit of a weird life, drawing dicks and tits day in, day out, for a living. I often wonder if their parents know what it is they do for a job. “So what is it that you do for a living, son?”
Oh you know... a bit of this, a bit of that... AND DRAWING GIANT TENTACLED MONSTERS HAVING SEX WITH GIRLS.
Some things are as big in Japan as you would think. Final Fantasy is massive. Hironobu Sakaguchi is a god. So is Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the music for the series. Katsuhiro Otomo – creator of Akira – had an entire exhibition devoted to his life's work displayed in Tokyo a few years back. Besides that, it's hard to say what the 'next big thing' will be.
I was teaching kindergarten for three years there, and every single kid was obsessed with Yo-Kai Watch. It's hard to explain just how massive this franchise is. Bigger than Pokemon. Bigger than everything, and yet some people in the west have never heard of it. (The anime movie had the highest grossing opening weekend of any Japanese film since at least 2000, making ¥1,628,893,00. That's a big number.) But that's Japan.
While some things make it out of the country and become massive worldwide, other exports such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and strawberry/custard sandwiches are destined to be a Japanese phenomenon. So for these things, best you go and visit the country for yourself. Ganbatte!
Visit Justin's webite: ikimasho.net