Archive for March, 2012
So that whole thing about “there are vending machines all over Japan” that you hear? Totally true. They are all along the streets and in buildings and stations and pretty much anywhere humans can get to. Anyway, I noticed a number of them featuring the American actor Tommy Lee Jones for “Boss Coffee.” Here’s a photo I took of one:
It seems there are a series of commercials (almost 20!) featuring Tommy Lee Jones as a visiting alien exploring Earth and drinking lots of coffee. This commercial lays out the mythology:
This one is one of my favorites:
It seems that someone has subbed all the commercials for our enjoyment. You can see them on his YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/katz515
Here’s the official Boss Coffee website: http://www.suntory.co.jp/softdrink/boss/
Our adventure in Akihabara continued after the Maid Cafe as we further explored the area. While perusing the shops full of anime, manga, electronics, and toys we came upon a prime example of the Japanese fascination with certain elements of American culture. In this case, Kentucy Fried Chicken. Have you ever wondered what Colonel Sanders would look like if he were Asian? Wonder no more:
I saw KFC restaurants all over Japan, but I never found the time to eat at one. (Partly over my fear of this statue; partly over the trauma from the “tongue incident.”)
We passed by Sanders-san and continued our tour of the district. You could easily spend days (weeks?) exploring all the stores in Akihabara. There is seriously so much to look at and buy for geeks that the experience of going there borders on mental overload. The most memorable shop (for me) was this one:
I love retro video gaming. The team at Wasabi Anime has been hosting the Retrocade at conventions for some time, and we currently host a Japanese only video game room at Florida Anime Experience. This store presented a rare resource of video game systems, cartridges, disks, controllers and other elements dating as far back as before the age of Atari.
It was absolutely amazing and it absolutely took my money. Lots of it. Lots and lots of it. ALL WORTH IT. (Those of you coming to Florida Anime Experience 2012 will soon see.)
After way too much time in the video game store (all worth it) we walked around Akihabara some more and saw some amazing ads and signs and stuff. Things like this:
HELLO JAPANESE BOOBIES!
The last place we stopped was an ice cream shop called “ICE.” It professed to have “ice cream made by angel.” Who was I to say no to that?
This was my first experience with ordering food in a very specifically Japanese style. A beautiful young woman working behind the counter (dressed in a super cute pink outfit matching the color scheme of the front of that building) asked me what flavor I wanted. After exploring all the options, I chose the one flavor I had never heard of: kurogoma.
(It seems that kurogoma is a black bean, similar to vanilla, that we don’t have in the U.S. – or so I’ve been told.)
Upon ordering, I stood and waited expecting her to start making my ice cream cone. After a few moments, though, she walked around the counter and came up to me seeing that I was confused. In true way-too-cute-to-be-real fashion, she led me to the back of the shop. There stood a large vending machine with all the flavor options labelled on it:
It seems that you pay for your ice cream in the vending machine and it prints out a ticket. You then hand the ticket to the person working the counter and she creates your ice cream cone. My guess is that this in place to eliminate cash handling/change mistakes.
After standing in the shop and eating the ice cream… Wait. This deserves explanation: In Japan, it is considered rude to eat while walking. Therefore, if you order something to eat you are expected to eat it there or take it somewhere to eat – but you do not eat en route. Does it happen? (Walking while eating?) Sure. I met a friend in Japan that says she does it, but it makes her parents very upset when she does it.
After standing in the shop and eating ice cream, I realized it was time for Rob and I to head back in order to make it to a scheduled event we were supposed to appear at for T.A.F. We headed back to the station to catch the train.
But not before getting one last photo:
I spent a number of my formative years in Orlando, Florida. As a result, I have developed all the key skills needed to operate as a fairly efficient tourist. My wife and I often return from vacations amazed at the amount we are able to see and do in brief periods of time.
In short: we’re “walkers.” When it comes time to visit places we have the stamina for urban exploring that seems outside the realm of normal.
On my third day in Japan, Rob (from Anime Expo) and I made a VERY important discovery that we had somehow missed the first couple of days: there is a Starbucks in Shinigawa Station!
The drink menu is pretty much identical to a Starbucks in America with one notable exception: an Orange Brulee Latte. Of course that meant I had to get one… and it was really good! Even living in Florida, I would never had thought about putting orange and coffee together, but it worked.
Day three in Japan was also my first day dressing more casually (read: NO SUIT.) The only reason this is immediately noteworthy is that I ran into an exception to what had been “the rule” up until now in my visit: a non-shy/reserved Japanese woman.
While taking my plate to the trash area at Starbucks – actually, this bears some explanation: in Japan, all trash is segrigated based on what it is. In America, some states have recycling (like Florida and California.) In Japan, though, it is taken to a whole new level.
Check it out (click the photos to enlarge and see details):
Garbage is serious business in Tokyo.
Back to my non-shy Japanese girl story: when I was putting my tray and trash away, a nice young Japanese woman working for Starbucks was standing there and offered to take the tray. THIS was normal. The Japanese are VERY helpful and service oriented. Think Orlando, Florida theme parks – but 100% better.
I looked at her when handing her my tray and said thank you.
She held my gaze longer than a couple of seconds and then, very excitedly, ask me where I was from. Japanese (in general) are not fans of eye contact, nor do they hold it for more than a couple of seconds. This is exceptionally true of Japanese woman.
I told her I was from the United States and smiled at her expecting her to be satisfied with the answer and (probably) walk away and return to her work. She didn’t. (Again, I can’t emphasize how unusual this was compared to EVERY interaction I had had in Japan up until this point.) We proceeded to talk for a couple of minutes. I told her I was from Florida and she explained that she knew where Florida was and had always wanted to visit. She then introduced herself as Ami.
Yes. Just like Sailor Mercury for you anime nerds.
I am assuming that she just didn’t notice my wedding ring, but by the end of the conversation it seemed very obvious that this delightful Japanese woman was using the best English she could to flirt me with.
Total. Ego. Win.
(This would, of course, come back to haunt me later.)
Moving on, Rob and I caught the train and made our way to the Geek Mecca – Akihabara.
“Akiba” (the shortened nickname) is the district in Tokyo famous for it’s otaku-centric stores and atmosphere. Anime, manga, video games and all sorts of tech awesomeness are available in the district. Think of it as an anime convention dealer’s room on steriods. It’s an uber-nerd’s wet dream.
AND I LOVED IT.
Upon getting there, we were overwhelmed by the signs and stores around us. We were early and nothing was open yet, but there were already lines outside of many of the shops:
(I took a ton of photos that I’ll post later.)
While walking around the area we were approached by a cute young Japanese girl wearing a maid outfit. There were a number of these ladies along the sidewalks passing out flyers. This one, though, spoke English as walked up to us. I’m always a sucker for a good sales pitch, so I decided to hear her out.
“Have you ever heard of a Maid Cafe?” she asked.
“A Maid Cafe? No. What’s that?” (I was, of course, lying; I knew what one was.)
She became very excited at the chance to explain the concept to someone – especially in English. ”It is a place where you go and you have cute Maids serve you food and drinks but instead of saying ‘can I help you’ we say ‘yes my master.’”
This was too good to pass up, so I looked as Rob and asked if he thought we should go. He stalled out with an answer and blurted out “Um…”
So I said yes.
“Great!” said our new Maid friend. “I will lead you there. Follow me!”
She led us down the street to “Animation Studio & Maid Cafe.”
We got there and were seated together at a table near the entrance. Now, Maid Cafes (if done correctly) are an attack on the senses of “super cute.” The success of how well they run is really in the details. we got lucky and scored a really cool one for our first time out.
Rob and I both ordered a sweet roll cake and drinks. Presentation is EVERYTHING in these establishments. Check out our plates:
You can’t take photos in the Maid Cafes, but we snuck this one by taking a picture of Rob’s drink:
The reason you can’t take photos inside the cafe is because you have to pay for photos with the maids. The menu offered to let you and a couple of maids dub the voices on an anime scene together (and keep the DVD) for 2000 yen. If you wanted to have your photo taken with your favorite maid it was 500 yen.
I decided to be “that American” and asked how many maids work working that day. The maid helping us found her manager who did a count and told me there were five total in the cafe at the moment. I told her I wanted a photo with ALL the maids together. She seemed overwhelmed with the prospect and made sure that I understood that I would have to pay for each maid in the photo. I made it abundently clear that payment was not a problem.
I wanted all the maids in the picture.
All the girls all seemed excited at the idea. Well, almost all of them. One of them very obviously didn’t want to be in the photo with the American. Her manager, though, scolded her and told her that is was her job as a maid to make the customers happy. Thus, we all gathered together and the cafe manager took out a Fuji instamatic camera (retro AWESOME.)
The result was this amazing photo:
Note the maid in the front center. She is NOT happy to be in the photo. The other four girls, though, were having the time of their lives.
Also note that artwork on the photo. After we took the picture, one of the maids spent the next ten minutes painting on to give it the super cute effect. She was totally into it. She even painted on the back:
The end result is that I can now visit a Maid Cafe in American and critique it on authenticity. To me, the experience was so uniquely Japanese that I can’t imagine it being replicated to anywhere near the awesomeness of the ones in Japan.
But who knows?
That’s all for now. More updates tomorrow. For now: I’m back in the States and I have SO MUCH unpacking. :)
These young ladies were nice enough to let me take a photo of them yesterday. Mom was so excited that I asked (to photograph them) that she made sure they posed. These two were living a the life at Disney Toyko Sea.
While there are some interesting adventures, Day 2 in Japan was mostly a work day. We got up in the morning and (after a late start) caught the train to head out to Tokyo Big Sight for the Tokyo Anime Fair.
Tokyo is a city of trains and monorails. While there are cars here, they are few and far between based on the lack of space in the city. Everyone EVERYWHERE takes the train.
Once we got to the event, we began having conversations with various companies and attending private events. One such event was a 3:00 PM business tea party where I learned something very very important: Being “Tom Croom” works in Japan.
(For my close friends reading this: Japan is not Las Vegas.)
Allow me to explain. Up until that tea party, I had been operating in a very reserved (read: Japanese) fashion in order to avoid being perceived as the “loud American.” I wore a suit to give a professional presentation and avoided being… well… me. During the party I got introduced to someone from the States who was also at the party. Out of sheer thrill, I went into “dude, what’s up” mode in order to properly convey the essence of my home state of Florida. After a minute of being pseudo-me (in a suit but in Converse All-Stars and talking like “me” again) a number of Japanese business men started walking into the conversation to present business cards wanting to talk to me.
A moment about the business card thing: it’s all true. 100% of it. I must have collected over forty cards doing formal introductions throughout the course of the weekend.
ANYWAY, it seems that my style of personality works because I was acknowledging the correct elements of respect: following custom, wearing a suit, bowing, etc. The cultural part (being reserved) is what they are used to here, but the idea of the “American personality” seems as interesting to them as the uniquely Japanese vocal patterns (especially in women) fascinates me. They like the larger than life American personality… as long as it is respectful.
Which I am (it would appear.)
Thus the rest of the trip I have been more of myself (with various local traditional adjustments) and it has worked out well.
My next test of acting like “me” again was at the Takara booth where I took this photo:
I spoke to the men running it and they both were thrilled that I was a big Transformers fan from America. I explained the voices of the characters they had on display (one of them recognized the name “The Rock” when I mentioned it as Dwayne Johnson; he was thrilled to translate the info to the other guy.) Needless to say, I was offered two business cards and they have requested I email photos of my “legendary” Optimus Prime collection in the office back at the States.
I walked around some more and saw the usual Japanese stuff. You know. Hot anime girls on cars:
After hoofing it for a bit, we opted to grab some food. Looking for something quick and easy, I walked the line of booths set up (just like any convention center) and grabbed what looked like “meat on a stick” for Marc and I.
It looked safe enough, but the consistency was a little strange. It tasted like good grilled beef… but kind of spongy. I noted this oddness to the Anime Expo team sitting with me and Rob quickly pointed out the answer:
“You’re eating tongue.”
Had he not told me, I could have finished. Sure, it seemed a little “off” but I was fine with it. It was just meat. Knowing it was tongue, though, destroyed by ability to finish (and Marc’s, too.)
THUS, I went back and bought this:
‘Cause you can never go wrong with FRIED CHICKEN in any country!
We left the convention center after meetings and opted to meet for dinner at a place complex (mall) called Aqua City. Inside there, we saw a couple of cool things.
First: they had an arcade dedicated to claw style “catch the prize” sort of games. Lots of anime statues and similar items as prizes. The coolest thing was a variation on skeeball from America. Instead of rolling balls up a row to get points, you get bombarded with small balls that you put into the mouth of a talking ramen cup. I have video (that will be posted later.) For now, here’s a photo:
As we walked around the mall, I got further insight into Japanese everyday life and culture. Anime and Sentai are a big deal. They go through as much trouble promoting these things in Japan as we do our Hollywood movies. Check out the awesome Ultraman display we found in the mall promoting an upcoming show:
After a long day of work and walking, we headed back for rest. I passed the McDonalds outside my hotel and saw the latest addition to the “Big America” line of foods they are promoting.
I don’t know about you, but I have NEVER had a cherry milkshake in America.
That’s all for now. :)
Running out the door this morning to Tokyo Disney Sea.
Here’s three photos to hold you over until I get time to write. :)