Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

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

Get Ready For Your Daily Dose Of Engrish March 2, 2008

Okay, I just came back from a shopping spree in Harajuku. I thought it was about time to get some fancy new clothes, and Harajuku is definitely one of the better places to shop for clothes in Tokyo. For one, there’s Omotesando, sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. I don’t know, has been quite some time since I have been to Paris, but to my understanding, Omotesando has little in common with Champs-Élysées (apart from the expensive shops). Anyway, shopping in Omotesando kind of breaks my budget anyway, so I went to Takeshita-dōri, which is near Omotesando and is more catered towards cheap people like me who don’t drive Ferraris.

More pictures in my Shibuya picture gallery.

Yesterday I recovered from a bad hangover after a looooong Friday night. But I don’t want to bore you again with event diners and Hookah bars so let’s talk about something really funny: Use of foreign languages in Japan! Using English and German on signs, t-shirts, book covers and basically anything you can label somehow is really popular in Japan. The funny thing about this is that only few people can actually read it, so whoever writes these texts does not really care much about spelling and grammar, resulting in some pretty funny sights, like these:

Or how about these. The first one is a sign I found at a counter (I think it was at Kawaguchiko Station) and it reads (it’s a little blurry, sorry for that): “This is an exclusive cash register selling a thing.” The second one is maybe my favorite. It’s a power button I spotted in a ropeway in Kawaguchiko and its creator actually managed to misspell the word “power” (it reads “POEWR” instead). I mean, seriously, a button with a typo in its label?! Gimme a break!! 😀

Okay, you still think this is not that funny? Then take a deep breath and have a look at this gem (sorry, only for my friends from Germany — unless you’re not from Germany and speak German of course). This is the cover of a notebook (a college block) we found at a 100Yen shop…

Whoever wrote this apparently didn’t even try to make sense of this. Too funny!

For more entertainment of this kind, please go to Now. 😉


Busted! February 24, 2008

Had a superb weekend again. This time the focus was on event bars. BUT FIRST! What’s a good weekend without a rollercoaster ride, so before going out we headed across the street (!) to Tokyo Dome City and rode the Thunder Dolphin rollercoaster (yes, we have an amusement park right next to our office; actually it is more of an entertainment venue, not a real amusement park. You can also go there for food or shopping. And baseball of course.). The rollercoaster isn’t just a normal rollcoaster, it is actually built on top of the building complex. In fact, at one point during the ride you will go right through a hole in the roof (which is probably a good 80 meters from the ground). You can take the virtual ride by watching the clip below (which I didn’t shoot by the way, found it on youtube).

Afterwards a Japanese friend of ours took us to a place called “Lock Up” in Ikebukuro. It’s a bar/diner which is modelled after a dungeon and where you eat and drink inside a prison cell! The waitresses are all dressed up rather naughty and at the front door they will hand-cuff you and take you to your cell. Cocktails are served in glasses from chemistry supplies, which is a pretty cool idea. During your stay, all kinds of weird things happen, like once in a while the lights will turn off and the music gets very loud and dark and funny people dressed up in halloween costumes will run around and scare you off! It’s really cool.

Funny drinks in “Lock Up”Scary guy in “Lock Up”

On Saturday I went to a similar diner called Ninja Akasaka. It is also some kind of event restaurant/bar but here, everything is done in Ninja-style. This place is really cool. Like when you enter, a Ninja will guide you through the only dimly lit and very confusing interior to your room (I think this place even has trap doors). Compared to Lock Up, it is slightly more pricey, but the food is really excellent and after your meal, a Ninja magician will come to your room and do cool tricks. Here’s another video I found on youtube, you should watch it all to the way to the magician. We had another one, but they are both really good.


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


A Short Trip To Asakusa And Tokyo’s Oldest Temple January 19, 2008

Today the weather was great, still pretty cold but very sunny. We took the opportunity and visited the Asakusa district of Tokyo’s Taito ward which houses Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. Until now, it was the most tourist heavy area I have been to in my (few) days in Japan, but the ancient temple building and its pretty garden area are really worth a bath in the masses.

Nearby is Sumida River, which flows into Tokyo Bay. You can see all pictures of this trip in my Asakusa picture gallery.


Shinjuku – The First Night Out

So this evening we went to experience the night life in Tokyo, or more precisely Shinjuku, one of the 23 special wards that make up the metropolis of Tokyo. To the unaware reader I should mention at this point that there is no such thing as a city called Tokyo. Tokyo is rather a gigantic merge of several autonomous districts (actually cities in their own right) called special wards which make up the metropolis people call Tokyo. This “core” of Tokyo already has a population of over 8 million people. If you count in all “suburbs” of the Tokyo prefecture (suburbs is really an understatement, they can be really large, too), you already count some 12 million inhabitants.

Anyway, we first went to visit the Tokyo City Hall where the headquarters of the Tokyo government is located. The building is 48 stories high and along with its neighboring buildings (which are just as impressive) houses over 13,000 government employees. We took the elevator to the 45th level in the North Tower to get some impressive view over Tokyo’s skyline at night (see pictures). You could also buy lots of, well, stuff there.

We left for Shinjuku station (according to Wikipedia and several traveler’s guides the busiest train station in the entire world) at 9pm to meet with a Japanese guy called Rene, whom Volker knew from Shinden, the town where he lives. Together we went to a very nice and cozy (but busy!) Irish Pub and had a couple of drinks — I can really recommend “China Blue”, a very tasty cocktail.

Unfortunately we had to leave at around 11pm already because for some reason the subway in Tokyo stops its service at around midnight, and considering the one hour ride you’ll always either have to leave early or stay until the next morning, which we were too tired to do today…

Well, next time maybe.

Visit the complete Shinjuku picture gallery.