Kami Watch Over Me (Japan Day 1 – Tokyo)

Saturday, Oct 22 2022 (Day 1)

Table of Contents

ට  Day 0 – Thursday, Oct 20 2022 to Friday Oct 21 2022 – Flight from Edmonton to Tokyo
ට  Day 1 – Saturday, Oct 22 2022 – Tokyo, Saitama, Ikebukuro (You are here)

My plan for the the day was to visit an anime convention in Saitama, which I had read about here (local). How would it compare to ones in North America, I wondered? The person who wrote that Saitama tourism blog page didn’t seem too enthused about it, so I suspected it probably didn’t hold up to the ones in Edmonton and New York that I had been to, but I did like one of the mentioned works, Yama no Susume, a lot, and I’m sure Japan of all places knows how to do anime conventions correctly, right? Also it was in Saitama, slightly outside of central Tokyo proper, and would give me an excuse to learn more train routes and see different parts of Kanto, so I had pencilled this in for my first full day in Japan, and figured that even if this went wrong somehow, I could spend some time walking around the region where that train station was.

Before that though, my first order of business after I woke up was to take some daylight pictures of my ryokan. This is the view out of my room window:

and I took several pictures of the hallway area outside as well as the upstairs toilets. Narrow and cosy, and those stairs are really steep! There’s other guests here in the six rooms, I know there are some Australians with children in tow (one of them might have COVID as they’re coughing a ton, I hope the elderly owner doesn’t get sick), at least one South Korean, and other Westerners. My room is the Mutsumu room, although it just uses the first kanji from the actual verb on the door display.

Train ride to Ōmiya Station

I then went to the train station. As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, this place is next to a station that’s located on the green Yamanote line, and I had arrived here yesterday after taking a train from Narita to Nippori, and then riding this line for 8 stops:

Nippori — Nishi-Nippori — Tabata — Komagome — Sugamo — Ōtsuka — Ikebukuro — Mejiro — Takadanobaba

The loop continues in the other direction toward a couple of fairly famous stations as well:

Takadanobaba — Shin-Ōkubo — Shinjuku — Yoyogi — Harajuku — Shibuya

and then onwards from there to Tokyo, Akihabara, and other household stations/neighbourhoods before looping back around toward Nippori. Very convenient. But that also makes this line quite crowded all the time, especially at the larger and more famous stations because they’re by and large all transit hubs as well. My itinerary had me headed to Ōmiya Station in Saitama, which involved me first taking the Yamanote train two stops in the direction that I had come from last night, to Ikebukuro Station, and then transitting to a different line from there. That sounded like fun, so off I went!

The first part of the trip proceeded without incident. During the transit at Ikebukuro Station, I noticed day lockers that I had seen other Life in Japan sites talk about:

They were actually inside the paid area, not outside, though I bet there were some outside too. That picture above has the toll gates in the background on the left, and a sign on the pillar pointing in the direction of the western exit from the train station or something. Anyway, I thought this was interesting because it meant that one could leave their stuff in a transit station that wasn’t actually their start or end station, and pick their stuff back up on the way back after a long hard day’s worth of doing whatever they were doing., without having to pass through the toll gates each time to do so. (I also did read on Japan’s Wikitravel page that one could leave their luggage with the station office attendant for a higher fee, I’m not sure if they mean the toll gate booth or some other ticket office though.)

After heading back up another escalator to a different platform to wait for the train, I took a picture of some vending machines there. These machines were in most if not all the stations I’ve seen so far, and even one single platform often had multiple identical islands of these two machines.

Getting from Ikebukuro station to Saitama’s Ōmiya Station (there’s one in Kyoto too) was interesting. I’ll start by adding a picture of Ikebukuro Station from my platform:

I’m not entirely sure how obvious it is from the picture and my earlier description, but many of the more central hub stations (and even sometimes smaller ones) have multiple platforms and tracks that weave between and around them — there was one across from us, and one further on in the background to the right (from my camera’s point of view) past the platform directly across from us as well, as well as yet another one to my platform’s left, I believe. And these platforms are so long! Incoming and upcoming train announcements were read out over the endlessly droning station loudspeakers in both Japanese and English, as well as displayed on digital signboards hanging from the ceiling, right where every other train station I’ve ever seen mounts them as well.

After walking around the platform, I also noticed that train guides for the trains that this platform served were pasted on a couple of the pillars, so I took a picture of those as well:

From that, I noticed that there were at least seven trains — or at least, two different lines, one the Saikyō Line and the other the Shōnan–Shinjuku Line, with the Saikyō Line having three variations (Local, Rapid, and Commuter Rapid) based on which stations it stops at, and the Shōnan–Shinjuku Line having four variations (Local x2, Rapid, and Special Rapid) depending on which stations it stopped at and which starting and ending stations it used. If I was headed in the other direction, there would have been even more mud in the water because the Saikyō Line splits into two in that direction. Both Ikebukuro and Ōmiya were big transit hubs though, so all the trains stopped at them anyway, but the speeds varied depending on how many stops the trains stopped at along the way, so an express train that comes later could quite often reach a destination before a local train that comes earlier but stops off at more stations along the way.

In addition to that, I couldn’t find a signboard for it on the platform, but there was at least one other train that stopped by there as well, the Limited Express Spacia Kinugawa 3 (with variants) marked in red font on the signboard, that also stopped by that platform. That one seemed to require reserved seats, but Google Maps swore up and down that it would have cost me nothing extra to just take that train from Ikebukuro to Ōmiya as well. I was sure Google Maps was pathologically wrong though (and had been forewarned that this happens in Japan, and to rely on Hyperdia instead), so I ignored it, instead focusing on another digital signboard in the station that listed the trains in order of which train would first arrive at Ōmiya from Ikebukuro.

I ended up taking the Rapid Shōnan–Shinjuku train instead, which only stopped at two other stops along the way, so it passed by a bunch of other trains en route, including the first freight train that I saw as well a train with Genshin Impact advertisements plastered all over its outside. Didn’t manage to grab a picture of either one though.

That’s one complex map. The entire route from Takananobaba to Ōmiya cost just 396 yen, despite Google’s best efforts to get me a fine.

Ōmiya Station was pretty immense and crowded as well, and not only had shops lining the sides of the walking paths, but also popup stalls near the exits selling things like bento boxes and souvenirs. There was also an umbrella rental box thing near the exit I used, though it seemed like at least one umbrella in there might have just been discarded for general use. It did remind me that I still needed to buy an umbrella — the forecast for Saturday (this first full day in Japan) and Sunday (the day I’m actually writing this blog post) was for clear skies and great weather, but there was a good chance of rain from Monday through Wednesday.

AniTamaSai

Sonic City, which was basically a small exhibition hall, was just a couple minutes walk away, and I passed an overhead bridge that cut diagonally across a 4-way traffic intersection along the way. That was a first for me.

I soon arrived at the venue, where they were giving out plastic files with Lucky☆Star characters on them. Not a show I’ve watched, but I don’t tend to pass up on free stuff, and there was an exhibition brochure inside anyway, so I got my grubby paws on one of them (picture at the end of this entire post). This AniTamaSai event/exhibition had several components to it, starting with the outdoor area, which had a live stage and a bunch of cars and motorcycles painted with anime characters on them on display. I’m not sure who travels all this distance just to see paint on cars, but then again I travelled all this distance just for the chance to see (and collect) pictures on paper, so I’m probably not the best person to comment on how pointless I felt this part of the exhibition was. I took some pictures of these cars anyhow, largely (but not entirely) focussing on characters and franchises that I knew.

There was a girl dressed as Silence Suzuka from Uma Musume: Pretty Derby as part of that show’s motorcycle display, I believe she was part of the exhibit in the sense that there was a placard with her Twitter handle on display next to it too. She was also the only cosplayer I saw the entire time here at this event, at least that I actually recognized as a cosplay costume. Also, she had a really cute tail. I’m allowed to say that, right? I want to wear a cute tail around too. No one reads this right? Moving along…

Inside the actual Sonic City building, there was an exhibition room with… I think it was supposed to be some eSports thing, according to the schedule, but there was barely anyone in it and I wasn’t interested in it so I passed on it. It looked like this from the outside though. What the heck -were- they watching on that screen?

There were also two halls upstairs on the fourth floor where there either were or would be some guest speaker talks or symposiums or something  They seemed really, really dry, like “Work Style Reform Symposium!” (local) levels of dry, but I did go upstairs anyway only to be met by closed doors and staff waiting expectantly at a table outside the closed doors, so I quickly beat a hasty retreat.

The main showcase event was held in an exhibition hall that I was pretty sure was about the same size as my Tama Ryokan place of residence if all the interior walls were taken down, that’s how tiny the actual hall was. There was a table with hand sanitizer to the left by the entrance door, and beyond that were these displays:

Those were certification plaques showing ten different sites in Saitama that had been chosen as part of the Anime Tourism top 88 pilgrimage spots, and stamps that one could collect at nine of them (the tenth, at least in the 2022 edition and in this display, didn’t have an associated stamp). It was roped off though so no one could actually get close enough to see the stamps. Someone didn’t think this through.

Moving clockwide along the room, there was a television on the left wall showing an anime episode of Tsuki ga Kirei. This is a very prestigious event, “Saitama’s largest anime/manga festival” after all, so it makes sense that they laid out a grand total of four seats and exactly one was occupied.

But it was fine, they had extra spare chairs on the side in case a sudden surge of tourists arrived and wanted to watch a random episode of a pretty good anime that absolutely cannot be watched out of context.

Next up, there were two booths at the far left side of the room where it looked like they were trying to use anime characters to make people sign up for some service or other (I have no idea what it actually was though, but it reminded me of tax return services back in Canada, two side-by-side booths where one could sit down and speak one-on-one with some agent across a table). I didn’t take a picture of this, nor the next display, which was a board with several informational posters pinned up showing locations of those anime pilgrimage spots and details on how to do some of the treks. They were also giving out free booklets with pretty much the same information though, and it was the one part of the exhibition hall that did seem to generate some sort of sustained interest from the trickle of people wandering in, so I elected to take the free booklets (that will be scanned at some point) rather than taking pictures of these too.

Next to that was a stamp table, that looked like this:

I do have that travel journal that I’ve been lugging around and writing in, so I took this as an opportunity to stamp my journal!

This was actually cool. There was one peculiarity though, which I realized after — this was the same style of stamp that the Anime 88 thing uses, which can be seen in the pictures of the plaques above and elsewhere around the internet, but AniTamasai isn’t actually one of the 88 sites (which does apparently include a couple of conventions/events), nor has it ever been one (since the website shows past lists of 88 as well). So I’m not sure why this stamp exists or was allowed to exist. But it was still cool. I will admit having a weakness for stamps.

Next to this, taking up the entirety of the far right wall, were two tables joined up lengthwise with things like clear file folders, gacha card boxes, anime-branded potato chips, keychains or badges, and some other paraphernalia. I seem to have missed a picture of this one, unfortunately, but I did buy a Yama no Susume clear file because I like that series a lot. It cost aroud 500 yen and there will be a picture of it at the end of this blog post as well. My overseas Visa was accepted, happily enough, and the payment went through Rakuten as a merchant.

Finally, in the middle of the room, there was an anime shrine display. This is the picture I took of it.

Behind it, the free pilgrimage booklets can be seen on a magazine stand in the corner, the stamp table is hidden behind the guy looking my way, and the posters were mounted on the five wall frames but hidden by the little shrine. The very edge of the merchandise table is also visible at the right edge of the picture. The shrine was roughly in the middle of the room, so this picture also provides a scale of exactly how cavernous the exhibition was, since two of the four walls are visible in the picture. And that was it for the main exhibition hall of Saitama’s greatest anime and manga event!

After getting a fill of that very epic convention that definitely puts the North American ones that I’ve been to to shame, I walked around the rest of the building and came across a Saitama tourism/gift shop that I found interesting. It’s a permanent fixture rather than being part of an event, and besides things like books and toys and stationery gifts, they also had a large section devoted to food, and meant to be brought home as souvenirs, or omiyage, the exchange of which is part of the Japanese culture when visiting someone or when coming home from a trip. Local goods from the place you’re coming from works really well for this, thus why this shop had such a large supply and variety of what I assume were Saitama local specialties. I really liked seeing this, even if I had barely any idea what anything was.

I didn’t buy any, but they looked really cheap too. Outside the store were two posters that I also took pictures of.

The first was a digital stamp rally, which wasn’t as cool because I can’t put a digital stamp in my travel journal. Also, the rally doesn’t end until February and (if I’m not wrong) only gives you a chance in a lottery to win stuff after the rally ends. I wouldn’t be around in Japan by that point, so that was meaningless for me.

The second was a fireworks festival in another nearby city in Saitama, which sounds fun, except that I also had already pencilled in a different fireworks event for that night, November 5th. If both are going forward, I will have to decide at some point which one to go to.

Idols

After leaving the jam-packed and wondrously stimulating exhibition, I heard lots of loud noises and singing coming from the front area where the stage next to the car displays was, so I made my way down there, and realized that there were a number of local idol groups (and eventually other singers) taking part in live performances on the stage. This was neat! It was difficult for me to get any good pictures because there were lots of taller people in the way, but I largely stood around for about an hour or so to listen to several of the performances anyway, as the idols did their performances in 15-20 minute blocks.

What I found interesting were a small group of fans who obviously knew the idols and the songs and were cheering and hand-gesturing/waving in tune with the idols, with a couple of them even holding glowsticks. They also seemed to know each other, judging by their banter between songs and groups, and this was basically my first encounter with what I recognized as wotagei. I was impressed that even small idol groups had their own dedicated sets of fans (although the couple I watched actually seemed to know the choreography and call signs of different groups). As I was standing roughly behind them, I ended up watching them as much as I watched the idols performing on stage, and it was a neat experience.

There were also merchandise booths, but they weren’t selling CDs, which would have been the only thing I would have been interested in buying. I did watch people line up to buy what I think were autograph cards though, and then later on line up to get signatures and/or pictures with their most beloved idols. I was there for quite a long time watching both the performances as well as the fan interactions. The schedule looked something like this:

I watched from near the end of the 12:00 pm one, Omiya I☆DOLL, through Lapis at 12:20, IDOLL Brave at 12:20, and then until HoneyHoney at 12:50 ended before I left due to starvation from missing breakfast and part of lunch. To get a sense of the people watching, I took a few pictures from my bad vantage point anyway:

Omiya I☆DOLL:

Lapis:

IDOLL Brave:

And also this is totally a future idol in training:

She wasn’t with anyone that I could tell, just kind of rolled up on her bicycle to watch for some time.

Even though the schedule sign said no pictures, the MC introducing the groups specifically said that pictures were allowed, and to please take cute pictures and upload them on SMS. This was not the case with the fourth group though, I believe, so I didn’t take any pictures of them, they came out dressed in full maid outfits, as opposed to the first three groups that I watched, who were in proper, cute, and colourful idol costumes! I also want one. Not necessarily with a tail.

From a bit of cursory research after, and a handout that someone gave out during the Lapis performance, the first three groups all work under a production company named Office DMW and feature at an idol cafe as part of their training. HoneyHoney is from a different idol cafe in Yokohama City in Kanagawa. A proper scan will be made in the future, but a photograph of the handout in question is here.

Anyway, that’s about as far down this rabbit hole as I wanted to go at this time. I was starving, so I wandered around until I found an interesting bar to pop into.

Lunch

I continued wandering in the area, heading through the ground level of a tall department store and coming out the other side and then wandering down side roads until I came across something that called out to me and that was actually open. This store was 福の軒, or Fukunoken, and I ordered what was basically listed on the menu as Pork Base Ramen + Fried Chicken + Rice. It cost 980 yen, which was the most expensive thing on their basic menu, and it was delicious, especially the fried chicken, which was crispily breaded in a ring around the outside, while the inside was soft and tender.

They also asked me how I wanted the ramen, which was not an option I had ever seen or heard of before:

So in the end I just went with normal. Futsuu. Once I was done leaving, I noticed that there was a long queue outside the eatery:

There was no queue when I went in, so I was obviously part of the trend-setting crew here, that or fans of Tigey had discovered his location and were zoning in on him.

I then spent an hour or so wandering the shelves of a nearby store called Animate, a store franchise that sells CDs, Blurays, blind pick random boxes with badges and keychains in them, and so on based around various anime franchises. I was tempted to get a couple things, especially a plushie, but it was too early on in the trip and the items were far too expensive for my blood so I passed on them. I did take pictures, though the last picture wasn’t from Animate, but instead a nearby bookshop franchise called Melonbooks that specialized in selling doujin (indie) works.

I then took the train home, both to dump off the stuff I was carrying as well as to recharge my phone, which was down to below 20% battery life at that point even with being on Battery Saver mode all day. This time, I took the other train, the rapid version of the Saikyō Line train, home, for the main reason that Ōmiya was a more confusing station to me, and even after staring at the stairs leading down to platforms 19-22, where the Saikyō and Shōnan–Shinjuku trains were, I still managed to get onto a train bound for the opposite direction, but managed to step out before it departed. There was also a train sitting on one of those platforms for quite a long time (over 15 minutes) before its departure time, as though it was the train’s start/end station or something.

Anyway, this rapid version still stopped at something like 10 stops before it got to my stop, as opposed to the other train I had taken here, which only stopped at 3 (including my destination), but I was happy to find out that the return cost was still the same, 396 yen, which matched the cost of my earlier trip.

After resting at home for a bit, I decided to compare train ticket prices again and explore a new neighbourhood, and went right back the way I had come home yet again, this time alighting and departing the station entirely at Ikebukuro itself. The sun sets really early in Tokyo — apparently before 5pm from mid October to late January, so by 5:25 pm or so when I headed out the front door again, Tokyo had transformed into a glorious night city!

I took my usual Yamanote train back to Ikebukuro, noting that they had found some supernatural phenomena along one of the tracks somewhere:

And then figured it was this baka tanuki girl’s fault:

Fittingly enough, that’s an ad for a seasonal anime that I am watching, My Master Has No Tail. Ikebukuro Station itself was crowded, even more packed than Ōmiya was in terms of density:

But I got out fine, and got many nice night view pictures as I wandered around both before and after dinner.

I made a huge and possibly fatal mistake here though, as I stepped into a store named BookOff that had been recommended to me. This is a second hand franchise with many locations around Japan, and they sell CDs (and BluRays, books, comics, etc) in pristine or near-pristine condition for bargain prices — I spent two full hours here and plucked out nine CDs for 110 yen each, two more for 330 yen each, and one for 700 and change, featuring/supporting some of my favourite shows or songs.

Since music is a big part of my anime watching experience with how entwined Anime Music Quiz is with my anime groupwatch group’s activities, there’s many groups and/or songs that I’d be happy to have collections for, and lots I’d have been happy to purchase if I had found copies of them, especially if they were for sale for 110 yen each. I eventually just burned myself out from sheer exhaustion, but I hope to find and visit after BookOff stores in the near future to see what they have, and find more cheap loot. And CDs are small too, so I think I can fit a fair few in my bag, I just don’t want to do so too early on on my trip. Or not, it depends what I find really.

Anyway I also learnt a new word — rejibukuro, or (plastic) shopping bag, and I learnt that it costs 5 yen for one at BookOff.

Dinner

Dinnertime found me prowling the streets again. I went through this quirky-looking alley:

Which curved oddly around the halfway mark but then continued down the same direction, as though someone had bumped the street just slightly out of position somehow:

But I didn’t find my place to eat until the end of the street, when it opened up into another side street. There, a female attendant was seeing another customer out of a shop named Fukurou Kouji (梟小路), or Owl Alley, and she saw me staring at the signs and engaged me in fluent Japanese. I looked at her in puzzlement and explained that I only understood about a third of what she was saying, and she hesitated a bit, waggled a finger, and brought out another male attendant. Possibly the owner, I’m not sure. He was willing to engage with me in broken English though, and even recommended a dish from the complicated-looking food ticket machine outside the storefront, which I gladly accepted. For 800 yen, I ended up with Pork Short Rib with Rice and Soba.

It was actually 650 yen on the machine for the Pork Short Ribs with Rice, and the 150 yen addon for a separate soba bowl. Anyway, I attached that picture because the item he recommended was 豚カルビ定食, or Buta (pig) Karubi (short ribs) Teishoku (set meal), and I was happy that I actually had recognized the entire phrase due to the Japanese food section of my travel journal that I had been building. For example, here’s the first page of the food section that I have in my journal:

I had started building this a couple days before the trip through videos, and pausing at whatever looked interesting, but had also continue once I arrived here, and all three parts of the dish were already on the list — 豚 4th from the top, カルビ from the beef version of the same dish at the very top (I was unfamiliar with the actual English/Korean term there too), and 定食 from the third to last entry. So I was clearly making progress along the food culture side of things, which made me happy.

Anyway the meal looked like this:

It was pretty great, and this guy was watching over me like a hawk as I ate:

It was the best meal I had so far since arriving though, the pork ribs were succulent and contrasted the slightly sourish taste (because I dumped all the mustard or whatever those greens were into the soba) of the noodles.

Satisfied with that, I headed on home, noting that the Takadanohaha to Ikebukuro trip cost me 136 yen each way. Nice and cheap. Someone also offered me some tissue papers with an ad on it:

Which was.. I mean, it’s free, and I like scanning things and want to find interesting things to scan, so that’s ending up on A Stack of Papers with everything else eventually.

This picture consists of the stuff I picked up today, the free and paid plastic file from AniTamaSai, and the twelve CDs that I picked up from BookOff for cheap.

Finally, I haven’t decided but I think I want to try to buy a new vending machine item every day to start learning and experiencing that part of Japanese culture, and so I can get a taste for what’s good or bad to me, even though I don’t drink coffee and so will never be able to give my opinion on those (or rather, they all get a Terrible Taste rating from me by default). I won’t be keeping all my bottles, but here’s my bottle from yesterday, the green tea one on the left, as well as some sort of berry juice that I got on this day from the vending machine just outside my ryokan’s front door. It’s some sort of berry juice.. it actually really reminds me of how the pomegranate blueberry juice or something from Safeway tastes, but I haven’t exactly sampled many different types of berry juices and it’s been a long time since I even had that one so I might be mixing it up with something else. Anyway this is acerola, a type of cherry.

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