Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

happenings and experiences during my stay at RICOH Software R&D, Tokyo

Pachinko Madness And Artificial Islands February 17, 2008

No post within one week, I’m sorry for that. However, you can take my word for it: This one will be as good as two! This weekend was one of the most exciting and funniest so far, so let me tell what happened.

First things first: We did not travel across Japan this time, actually we all feel that we have travelled enough for now. Instead, we will focus on the Tokyo area in the remaining weekends, because there is so much to see here, why travel thousands of kilometers? That being said, this weekend was as follows:

On Friday evening, we went to Akihabara. It was actually my third or fourth time to Akihabara, and since this special area of Tokyo is so famous and well-known, I actually wanted to dedicate an own post to it, but what gives. So let me tell you about Akihabara a bit. Akiba (that’s what most people here call it) is also known as the “Electric City”, because it is one of the biggest sites for all sorts of consumer electronics and related articles in the entire world. There are Apple stores, SEGA stores, SONY stores, and of course Yodobashi Akiba, an electronics mega-store expanding over nine floors — BIG floors. You can buy literally everything here which needs power to operate, and more. Akiba is also known as THE site to go for anything related to Manga (Japanese comics) and Anime (Japanese animation films), which is why it attracts a lot of nerds. Often you find them being dressed up like Manga characters doing crazy things on the streets (I think this is called “cosplay”, which is short for “costume play”). Weird.Blossoms in a park near Odaiba

Actually we went to Akiba this time to visit some Maiden Cafes — cafes and restaurants where the waiters are all female and dress up like Maidens… We visited two, but it wasn’t as cool as we thought. Instead of visiting more cafes, we thought it was about time to check out one of the Pachinko parlors. And then the fun really started! For your info, Pachinko is some form of gambling game similar to slot machines and is so popular in Japan that you find these parlors almost everywhere. So we went into one of the bigger parlors (“Big Apple”), and boy, I thought my ears were about to collapse. It is so freaking loud inside these things, you can hardly hear your own voice. I wonder how anyone can stay there longer than 30 minutes without getting some nervous breakdown or something?! So we sat down at one of the machines and being the completely clueless “Gaijins” we are, just randomly pressed buttons because noone had a clue how Pachinko worked… We only knew that you have to get as many metal balls as possible, and we got more balls… and more… and more… It seemed that Martin (who operated the machine) was on a winning streak! He filled like four canisters with metal balls until we just couldn’t cope with the terrible noise and left to trade in the balls for our prize. We received two packs of potato chips and a stack of gold. YES, GOLD! Now you think I’m crazy or something, but no. Gambling is in fact illegal in Japan, therefore the Pachinko parlors bend the rules by not paying out money if you win, but instead you get gold in various sizes (e.g. 1 gram) sealed in small plastic cards and have to visit special stores to trade them in for money. That way it stays legal…Statue of Liberty... NOT!

Okay, now we had a couple of gold stacks in our hands and had not only NO clue whatsoever where to trade them in, but also how much we actually won, because of course none of us had an idea what 1 gram of gold is actually worth. So we step outside the parlor, walk ten meters and suddenly some suspicious looking guy in a suit comes over and starts making us offers for our gold stacks! He had a LOT of money in his wallet but we had NO clue what it was actually worth, but Martin somehow managed to look not as clueless as we actually were and sold the gold to that guy for 16000 Yen — that’s almost 100 €! So let me summarize: We paid 6€ to play Pachinko, had NO idea how it works, and won 100€ at the first try. Now how cool is that! Of course we expected the guy completely ripped us off, but back at the apartment we checked the current gold price and it was only 10€ above what he paid us, so it was still a very good deal for us.

Rainbow Bridge

The next day we went to Odaiba, an artifical island in the Tokyo Bay. It is connected with the landside by the Rainbow Bridge but we used a “Water Bus” to get there. Odaiba has a lot of attractions and we didn’t have enough time to see them all, but the more notable ones we saw were the artificial beach, the Statue of Liberty (copied from the one you know from New York — Japanese love copying things), the Fuji TV building, and my personal favorite: Miraikan, the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It covers various topics such as robotics, space travel technology, micro electronics, but also biology and Earth’s eco systems. My three highlights in the museum were: First, a gigantic globe made of displays, where the Museum staff can show overlays of Earth’s climate development and global warming. Second, a small aquarium which was a completely autonomous eco system of its own. The water is never changed by the staff, instead millions of microbes keep the water clean. The fish in it are never fed; instead, they live off the plants which grow in the water. The third attraction, maybe my favorite, didn’t look very exciting at first: It was a small stage where two rather uninteresting spider-like robots could walk around by controlling them with PlayStation-controllers. But, if you stand in line, you will eventually enter a room with a huge display in front of you. You will get 3D-glasses and are being “beamed” into one of these robots on the stage! It works by projecting the image the eye-camera of the robot is recording to the display. The room will shake with every step you make with the controls and with the 3D effect, you really think you are sitting in this robot and are walking around! The staff (which is still outside) will meanwhile do funny things like putting small obstacles in the robot’s (your!) way, which of course look huge on the display. What’s even funnier is that you need two people to control the robot: One for the left legs, and one for the right. So you have to coordinate yourself. So much fun!

In the evening we went to Roppongi to see the Tokyo Tower, an ugly replica of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t actually enter Tokyo Tower, because it’s rip-off, you get much better sights from other buildings. So we went to the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills to the 52nd floor — that is so much better! You can also see Tokyo Tower from there (see picture). Plus, included in the entrance fee is a ticket for an art museum which is on the same floor and very worthwhile to see.

After that, we went to a bar and finally could rest our sore feet and have a drink. Three, actually.

Visit my Akihabara picture gallery
Visit my Odaiba picture gallery
Visit my Roppongi picture gallery