Kami Watch Over Me (Japan Day 2 – Tokyo)

Sunday, Oct 23 2022 (Day 2)

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
ට  Day 2 – Sunday, Oct 23 2022 – Autumn Reitaisai 9, Shinjuku (You are here)

Reitaisai is a Touhou Project convention held biannually, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Outside of the really famous Comiket, it’s one of the largest and most popular doujin (independent) music, literature, art etc conventions in Japan, drawing tens of thousands of people to the event in Tokyo Big Sight, a convention hall in southern Tokyo (I believe the event draws well north of 100k attendees even, but I don’t have a source for this and don’t care to look for one while on vacation, and am not sure if this still held true due to the pandemic).

For me personally, I became aware of this event while talking to Mart, a friend from the AMQ Discord server, about my trip dates. I am not well-versed in Touhou by any stretch of the imagination, although I’ve wanted to get more acquainted with the musical side of things as part of expanding my taste in Japanese music away from just anime songs. Touhou as a franchise has interested me for quite a while, but I dislike bullet hell/danmaku games and have no interest in playing any of the games in the mainline series, am not particularly interested in the storylines nor sorting out what’s official and what isn’t, do not read doujin comics in the least, and very few instrumental music tracks (even outside of Touhou music) even ever catch my interest. Nor for the most part can I even match most of the characters’ names to portraits outside of maybe the most popular 10-15 of them or so. So I’m a very casual fan at most. The only Touhou Project media I’ve consumed are several episodes of the fan anime, just over 50 hours of Touhou Gensou Wanderer on Steam (so for better or worse, most of my mental images of the characters come from there), and a bit of the Touhou Lost Word smartphone game. More RPGs and less bullet hell/rhythm games please.

Despite all that, I still did want an excuse to learn more about the franchise, and thus I really wanted to attend this event, if only to experience it at least once, and partly because Mart expressed interest in having me proxy buy a couple of CDs and shipping it to him later on. As a fellow music-lover, how could I say no? Besides, I like conventions (even though they’re tiring) and attending events like this tie in well with my archivist and chronicler goals that I’d like to continue cultivating as well.

I had read up about the event a couple weeks before coming over to Japan, and had bought a ticket for it from Livepocket (local), an online ticket sale website for Japanese events, after some struggles to get it to accept my new Visa card. Had to call in to my bank four times and reach the fraud department before they finally did something so I could use my card on the site. Anyway, they mailed me a ticket voucher, and said I had to bring it (with QR code) to the event venue on the day itself to get a wristband that would be needed for entry to the event. This ticket cost 2100 yen (after tax), and was buyable all the way up to one minute before closing time of the event though, so it could still have been bought on the day itself, from the venue, for those making last minute snap decisions to enter.

I had heard that there wasn’t really a well-documented English guide on how to get there, what to do once there, etc, and was even forewarned by people that there was probably next to no English signage at this event, unlike things like Comiket (which I would like to attend one day too). So I had to wing it and see if I could figure out how to get in and do what I wanted to do while only really knowing broken Japanese (i.e. my Japan 301 University course level Japanese from a couple years ago). My overall verdict was that it is possible, but there was indeed next to no English signage at the event, although it was not difficult to figure out what to do simply by following the crowd, watching others, using the Google Translate app on the phone if needed, and knowing to use basic Japanese phrases like nihongo wa chotto if really needed, to request a transaction be made in broken English instead. I mostly floated along without incident though, especially since I don’t look like a foreigner (I’m Chinese, and it can be hard for others to tell the difference in ethnicity, especially with a mask on), and I know enough to fake it and carry out a transaction as long as they don’t ask me weird followup questions.

However, most if not all of the group names in particular were in Japanese, so if I knew no Japanese but wanted to buy CDs, for example, I would have made a list beforehand with booth number, artist name, and then a list of desired CDs from them. And even if I can’t pronounce the kanji, being able to recognize the kanji and thus be able to tell whether I have the right group or CD is probably really important. I definitely saw other people just hold out their smartphone, with a list of things they wanted to buy on it, to the booth attendant, who then gathered all the CDs for the attendee, even though they were all laid out on the table between them. But an attendee from overseas who can at least read hiragana and katakana and perhaps even be able to recognize certain key kanji phrases will have a definite advantage over someone coming in totally blinded to moon runes. The booth number and artist names and even names of new CDs coming up can be found by looking up XFD (crossfade) compilations/previews of songs linked to the event, often compiled on helpful doujin music places around the web, or by looking up artist Twitter/YouTube profiles directly.

Also, bring actual cash, as nothing in this event accepts (or seemed to accept) credit cards, and prepare to stand out a bit if a foreigner — I counted maybe three or four obvious Caucasians in the entire time I was here, even less than the number of grandmotherly old ladies I saw walking around on their own in a place like this. Although this could just be the effect of Japan just having reopened. Technically, I wasn’t allowed to attend this event — I found a thing noted under attendance notices at one point stating that people who had been out of the country within the past two weeks (in addition to people who were coughing, had fever, etc) would not be allowed in. But I had bought my ticket long before that point and the ticket page didn’t have any such stipulation, and that’s a dumb leftover rule anyway since I’m quad-vaccinated and coming from a place with a much lower rate of infection than Japan, AND no one at the event asked me at any point if I had been out of the country within the past two weeks, so I shrugged and assumed it was something from an earlier copy-paste that they just didn’t bother taking out, and went along for the ride anyway.

Tokyo Big Sight and Autumn Reitaisai 9

Tokyo Big Sight is located a short walking distance away from the Kokusai-tenjijō Station, on the Rinkai line. It’s a small station, and once outside, the path to Tokyo Big Sight looks like this:

There was a bit more in between that I cut out, but I just followed the crowd of people. The event doors were scheduled to open at 10:30 am, and they had requested that people not arrive before 8:30 am. I arrived at the station at 9:45 am. In that third picture above, there’s a picture of what the end of the line looked like at the time, but that was just one small portion of the sizable line stretching from the front doors of the building. More pictures forthcoming later. For now, I couldn’t join that line, as I had no yellow wristband yet and had to go get mine. There were always a group of attendants standing around the back of the line, directing people where to stand and pointing them toward where to go to get wristbands if they tried to join out without one. In essence, follow the attendants holding signs with this phrase on it:

There were many variations on it, but it was fairly clear where to go, except at one particular part where we had to go down an escalator from a fairly wide open courtyard. Following the steady stream of people and the signage with Touhou characters on them worked though.

The people on the other side of the cones/escalators in these pictures were returning to the front entrance of Tokyo Big Sight after successfully getting their wristband. The path we had to follow actually took us into the main hall where the Touhou event was going to take place itself, just a little ways into it, before looping us back out again.

Here, the line of people split between five or so tables, whichever one had the shortest queue, and they took my temperature by pointing a device at my palm and gave me the OK. Following the person in front of me, I then swiped my phone over a sensor with my QR code from the purchased ticket, and was given a wristband in return.

That went around the wrist, and once secured, I followed the crowd and headed back out and up the escalators.

A footnote here is to not join the wrong crowd — in this picture below, there’s a crowd belonging to a different event, COMIC1☆21 (local), that was taking place at the exact same time (local).

The lineup for entry to the event was out in the open, which meant that participants were susceptible to both rain or shine. The weather was supposedly a balmy 20 degrees Celsius, but despite that, the sun was VERY hot, and burned down on everyone but those fortunate enough to come early and get a seat in the shade. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in the middle of summer with temperatures in the mid 30s, if the 20 degree sun felt that way. Anyway, the front of the line looked like this:

And stretched on into the distance:

There was a passage break to allow people to walk past, and then a “Part 2” line (note the shade basically ended near the end of this first part of the line):

And past the Part 2 line, there were some stairs, and then a Part 3 line.

The attendant forming the lines had people stand in groups of 4, filling the columns up by Column 1 Row 1, Column 2 Row 1, Column 3 Row 1, Column 4 Row 1, Column 1-4 Row 2, Column 1-4 Row 3, etc, with the columns stretching back to whatever long limit they had decided. Once they reached the end of that column, anyone else was shuffled back to the front, with Column 5-8 Row 1, Column 5-8 Row 2, etc, filling that up to the back as well. They then did the same thing with Column 9-12, until that column was also full, so each part of the queue was basically 12 columns deep and maybe a hundred rows long. They then directed anyone new back to wherever they were starting the next snake segment — I know there was at least a Part 4 queue behind us, but obviously didn’t go to check how long it went.

There was a random burst of applause right at the 10:30 am mark when the gates first opened, probably something started from the people at the very front of the line due to some announcement that was made there. Not that anyone else besides the people up at the very front of the first part of the queue could hear a thing. I was near the front of Column 7 of the Part 3 of the queue, and it wasn’t until 10:49 am before our line started moving. I was sweating buckets by then. Once we started moving into the event, the attendants led the columns up in groups of 4 too, so the entirely of Columns 1-4 would get to move up first, and then Columns 5-8 would join up with the tail end of Columns 1-4, and so on. They did it this way because at one point there are escalators that have to be used to get into the event, two of them side by side, and so moving four columns at a time meant that two people could use each escalator at once, and the stream could flow on in an orderly manner without any bottlenecks.

Here we were back inside Tokyo Big Sight, near where I had been previously to pick up my wristband, and basically inside Reitaisai Autumn 9 now. Although this entire outer area with the art exhibition and a few other things (off to the left from the final picture above) was accessible without a wristband, which was only necessary for the next area, the actual convention halls. That’s where the line ended though, and everyone then split up from there.

My next couple pictures are actually from just before I left the convention, around 2 pm or so, but they are important enough to place up here because it’s something I apparently missed on the way in. Somewhere, I’m not sure where, there was a reception area (受付, or uketsuki) where at some point one could pick up a sheet of paper with tasks or something to do in the hall itself, and eventually trade it in (after some sort of minigame) for a card prize of some sort. Kind of like a stamp rally, I think. I have no idea exactly where this started though, as the correct reception area was long gone by the time I noticed the redemption booth on the way out, but if this interests any future participants, look out for this either on the way in or possibly soon after they shuffle everyone in the queues in, as the signage does say that they were only giving out those until they ran out of task sheets.

Well, whatever. The halls were extremely packed, but my main goal here was to get music CDs before they ran out (which, it turned out, wasn’t really a danger except maybe near the very end of the event), so I joined the queue. Stalls are divided into sections based on the Japanese hiragana, and then a number/letter after that for their stall number, for example あ-40a or い-36b (another reason why hiragana proficiency is highly desired — one can get by by just recognizing the symbols, more or less, but it would be harder to find the correct section without knowing that the that equivalent order of English’s A-B-C-D-E is あ-い-う-え-お and so on. Still possible though as there’s no big time rush.

That being said, I noticed that the あ- designation was given to the larger and more popular circles (groups) and that they were largely spread out along the sides rather than grouped together by alphabet, so they were a little bit more difficult to track down for me at first until I realized what they were doing. The other option would have been heading straight to buy the event catalogue (for 1200 yen), which was on sale inside the venue itself, in the paid area, and came with a handy map inside:

Even though it was really crowded, many of the stalls just had a small line (or nonexistent line) that I could just join up with. For example, this Yuuhei Satellite one at あ-40a was just a tiny line that I joined up with:

As was SOUND HOLIC’s あ-41 booth (I think) next door. Other queues were long though, and had a subqueue off to one side that one had to queue through before joining the main queue! The two longest queues by far in the music area in this event, and the only two that I really saw a subqueue for, were あ-39ab’s Liz Triangle (ShinRa Bansho) and あ-44ab’s AQUASTYLE.

For queues like that, look for a sign being held up by someone that looked like this:

The style is different for each sign, but they basically had the name of the group (and/or the table number, but sometimes the table number isn’t on the card! This is important, and why being able to recognize the group name in Kanji is somewhat necessary for an easier time) on the card, as well as the phrase 最後尾, or “end of the line”. The etiquette is that the person at the end of the line holds the placard up, and anyone joining the line after them takes the card from them and holds it up instead, so in this way the back of the queue is clearly marked at all times via community effort. Funnily enough, I had learnt this yesterday from watching the idol stage performance in the Saitama AniTamaSai event, as they were doing the exact same thing there to mark the end of the autograph/picture/meet and greet lines with the idols. Although I didn’t take any pictures of that signage back then, I watched the scene play out with interest while not actually joining the line itself.

This time, I joined one, the Liz Triangle one, to get a CD for Mart. The queue was really long, snaking around a wall and back again, and it took well over half an hour after joining the queue before I (and a small group of fellow linemates) were led to the table to join another short queue and make our purchases. It is also important to note that often, these queues are a little bit away from the actual table itself, so it might not be obvious at first where to go. There’s usually an attendant there protecting the back of the main queue who will point stragglers toward the secondary queue if they try to directly join the main one though.

The queue was really long and I was bored. We were in rows of two for this one, but no one tried to talk to me or vice versa, so that was nice at least. Everyone was too busy tapping away on their phones or reading their catalogues or some doujin manga that they had already bought prior to joining these lines.

After I had acquired all my CDs, I went for the plushie line, a booth right near the front entrance run by a company named Gift. They had multiple plushies on display, large and small:

But only had 14 different types of plushies across three sizes actually for sale. The queue was long but I joined it anyway.

Upon joining the queue, I was given a piece of paper and a pencil to mark down what I wanted to buy once I reached the front of the line.

I could also see someone holding up a sign marking the end of the line, with a huge picture of the plushies on it, so I knew quite well what the form meant even if I didn’t absolutely recognize all the words on it — the first three lines were for the jumbo plushies, the next five for the medium sized ones, and the last six were for the mini plushies, with the first 12 being new products and the last 2 I suppose being a rerun from an earlier event. A person was restricted to buying 10 at a time (though they could probably have rejoined the line again) and the number of each that they wanted went into the little grey shaded boxes going down the middle of the page. The total number of plushies ordered, summing up the little boxes, went into the shaded box on the bottom left, whereas the total cost went into the box on the bottom right.

The plushies (and the sign marking the end of the line) looked like this:

With the important note that a couple of the larger ones were already marked off in red with 完売, or kanbai, which meant that they were sold out. Later on, when something else was sold out, someone came to the back and simply scrawled that on next to its listing (#8 in the picture below was sold out shortly after I joined the line), so in a sense these poster signs also helped serve as a notice of what was left in stock:

Size was a limitation for me so I was only ever going to purchase the smallest ones, and since there were only a few plushie characters on sale, and only a few Touhou characters that I actively know and like (the main duo Reimu and Marisa, the yousei Cirno, and the entire Scarlet Mansion crew with Meiling and Flandre in particular), I just picked up one plushie, the Patchouli one. She’s very cute, but I would really appreciate it if she stops blowing me up in Gensou Wanderer.

I also picked up the catalog book from the main desk at this point, which in hindsight might have been where the forms for the earlier event I mentioned were too. I’m not sure, and I don’t seem to have taken any pictures of this event. That was the last item I purchased, and the second last item I acquired (besides a few free promotional brochures and such, and a badge that I’ll touch on later), so my loot at the end of the day looked like this:

I’m probably not going to end up scanning that catalog in as it’s rather huge and the spine doesn’t lend itself to easy bending (and the art goes right up into the page crease on many pages, so I’d have to actually unbind the catalog/break the book spine to scan it), but we’ll see.

Back to the event though. Once my purchases were done, I wandered around the event to take in the sights and sounds. There was this rakugaki (graffiti/doodling) wall:

Several areas for cosplayers to hang out in and get pictures taken of them (and more decorated cars if yesterday’s weren’t enough):

There was this area, which I could (but didn’t) pay for a minigame to get a random gift:

This, which was basically the same thing but pricier:

Some gaming areas with arcade machines and taiko drums:

Some more merchandise I didn’t bite on:

Some card game area that I was utterly unfamiliar with but looked interesting:

And then a Touhou Lost Word booth, where one could (download, if necessary, and) show them your phone with the game installed on it, and pick a card from a touchscreen with 25 face-down cards on it to win a small random prize from them. Generally a badge, which was what I got (and is visible in my loot picture above) when I showed mine, though someone at some point did win a slightly larger thing in a plastic wrapper when I was nearby amidst a small round of applause. No idea what it actually was.

The Touhou Lost Word booth also had a guestbook, which they invited people to leave notes in for the game staff, but which very few people actually wrote in. I took pictures of the ones that were there, for archival purposes:

And then added my own in English, not because I couldn’t do it in Japanese but because I was going for “ooh shiny” effect for whoever ends up reading them in the end:

So that was cool. I then took a walk around the entire exhibition, which was basically divided into four main sections. From the front, there was the main exhibit area (with the cosplay area, and all those games and booths I just covered above), then the music CD section behind it, then the general goods section (badges, cards, posters, etc) past that, then the doujin comics section past that, then a section for literature (short stories, etc), and then an adult erotica section right at the back where kids would have long been too exhausted to walk to. Heck, I was exhausted by this point as well. I did take some general pictures of the area at various points to try to capture the sheer size of the crowd, though.

Finally, I headed to the outer area to take a few pictures there too.

I was really hungry at this point, so I went for an ice cream vending machine in that main lobby area:

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream for 150 yen, it was pretty great. I looked around at what services they had, and noticed they had things like battery rental:

Though I’m not sure how that would have worked in regards to returning the battery after. Also lots of locker storage:

With differing rates depending on how big of a locker one needed. There was also an eatery named Eat It! attached to the convention hall, where I went for lunch on the way out:

I had never seen a rice dispenser until now, where one can put a plate and press a button and the machine burps out some cooked white rice, but I guess it exists.

I elected for the Rich Broiled Cheese Curry Rice for 900 yen, and while it tasted good, it wasn’t nearly enough to be worth 900 yen.

With some of my needs bars partially regenerated, I then headed out and back toward the train station against a beautiful backdrop of blue sky, trailing cloud explosions, and apartment blocks in the background.

That’s it for the Reitaisai Guide part of my blog post, but this is still ultimately my travel blog, so I’m going to talk about everything else mundane that happened on this day. Firstly, on my journey here from Takadanobaba Station, I took the usual green JR Yamanote Line train to Ebisu station, although this was the first time that I had passed Takadanobaba going in this direction, as both Ikebukuro and the Narita Airport connection to Nippori were in the opposite direction. At Ebisu, I saw a condensed version of the same Shōnan-Shinjuku and Saikyō Line maps that I had seen the day before, it was nice to have them in one place and not on opposite pillars of a platform though. This time, I had to take the train past one of the splits, so I had to make sure to take the correct Saikyō Line train (to Ōsaki Station, before it turned into the Rinkyo line and took me onwards to Kokusai-Tenjijō) and not the one going down the other fork.

This cost 533 yen.

On the return trip, I followed Google Maps without first cross-checking with Hyperdia, and took the train down the Yurikamome line, from their Tokyo Big Sight station (a different station from the Kokusai-Tenjijō that I had arrived on) to Shimbashi station, a waterline route that took me past several large crane rigs in the distance that looked like giant monsters attacking Tokyo (just another day in the big city, though), and a small Statue of Liberty replica. At Yurikamome’s Shimbashi station, I had to tap out of the station and walk to the nearby JR Shimbashi Station and tap in again from there, which counted as a free transfer.

It wasn’t actually straightforward to find. Not particularly difficult, but I did go down a wrong flight of stairs at one point due to confusing signage. The scenery was really pleasant though and I almost end up staying here and walking around.

From here, I found out that while I was on the Yamanote Line, I was on the exact opposite side of the line from where Takadanobaba was, so I had to sit for nearly half an hour on that train. Thanks to that horrific transfer, I’ve now “visited” (passed by) 23 of the 30 stations on the Yamanote loop though, with the missing ones being Yūrakuchō, Tokyo, Kanda, Akihabara, Okachimachi, Ueno, and Uguisudani. Also, this route cost 586 yen to return home, 53 yen more than the other route in addition to taking forever.

I don’t want to be amused at someone else’s misfortune, but I’m also somewhat enamoured by these line delay notifications and the different reasons that they give for it. I’m not sure anything will beat yesterday’s “Strange noises” one, but today there was one for “Personal injury accident”, and there is a bingo game here just waiting to be built around finding these.

Evening and Dinner in Shinjuku

Later on that evening, I went out to source some dinner and try to find some other things on my family shopping list. I went to Shinjuku this time, taking a bunch of nice night city pictures that I’ll attach to the end of this section. I picked up a small portable external battery for my phone and a travel adaptor power plug from a tall 6-7 storey Bic Camera store, and bought a book for my sister from a tall 6-7 storey Kinokuniya store. There were several sidewalk buskers in the area, with a bunch of people standing around and watching them, one guy even had a number of phones on tripods recording him. There were also smaller but equally pleasant acts, like this lady below:

Dinner was Stir-fried Bitter Melon and Egg Tofu Luncheon Meat with Meal Set from a random side street restaurant called Okinawa Soba Yanbaru, and it was actually quite great if one enjoys bitter melon like I do. The egg and luncheon meat and bitter melon combined really well and almost reminded me of fried carrot cake dishes in Singapore, though not quite.

The meal cost 1100 yen, though I had to fumble around for several minutes outside the restaurant once I purchased the meal ticket from the machine there, because I immediately lost it and had no idea what happened to it. I eventually found it at the bottom of the main compartment of my sling bag. I polished off the meal, then headed home, passing by a Tom and Jerry popup shop in the labyrinth of shopping tunnels around Shinjuku station.

A man also accosted me right by the ticket gates of Shinjuku station, within a crowd of over a hundred people walking by, approaching and saying that I was pretty and asking me if I wanted to go out for a drink with him. He first tried it in Japanese, and when I said I didn’t understand it, he asked in Chinese if I knew Chinese instead. I said I did, a bit, but that I was better in English, so he used broken English to convey his message instead and I laughed politely at it. He was obviously a bit buzzed at that point though, and I shook my head anyway and said I had to leave, which I promptly did. What kind of aura was I projecting exactly, that would cause him to randomly approach me (and thinking I was a local at that) in the middle of a large crowd right in front of the Shinjuku station ticket gates?? So weird!

I then returned home without much else happening, after taking a night stroll around the Takadanobaba area down some side streets I had not been to on the other side of the station, and stopping into a couple of convenience stores as well as a Don Quijote store (which Singapore also has) to have a look-see around and listen to the Japanese version of the jingle play over the store loudspeakers. The train fare was 136 yen both ways, same as yesterday. There’s probably a fare table somewhere that lists prices, but it’s not obvious and I’m too lazy to look it up since it doesn’t actually matter since I’m not deciding on where to go or not go based on train ticket prices.

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