If you find yourself in Harajuku, I urge you to visit Reissue, a café that has some of the best latte art I’ve ever seen! I went during my trip to Tokyo in December on the recommendation of a friend, and was not disappointed. The barista will make any request into 2D or 3D latte art that is almost too awesome to drink!
Just my luck – the one day I decide to go to bed at the ripe hour of 9 pm, Nintendo decides to hold a major Nintendo Direct! When I woke up the next morning, all the internet was abuzz with news of the New 3DS. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it’s all about… and what’s up with that awful name!
|Coming to Japan on October 11th!|
|Yet another game I’ve been meaning to play…|
Have you ever wanted to know what it’s really like working as a manga artist in Japan? Artist Jamie Lynn Lano had the extremely unique opportunity to work as an assistant on The Prince of Tennis and has recounted her experiences on her blog, Living Tall in Japan, and has decided to compile them into a book in order to share her story. Preorders are now open for the book, titled The Princess of Tennis: Working as an Assistant on The Prince of Tennis. As an avid follower of Jamie’s blog, this is a very exciting announcement indeed!
It’s often very difficult to get information on what goes on behind the scenes in the Japanese manga industry, especially outside of Japan, which makes Jamie’s book an invaluable resources for those interested in learning more about how the manga industry works, and what it’s like being a foreigner living and working in a Japanese-dominated field. If you’d like to get an idea of her writing style and what kind of content will be in the book, her whole story has been compiled in a series of blog posts available to read for free on her website. Even if you’re not sure you want to commit to buying the book, I highly suggest checking them out!
|Jamie hard at work (source)|
Preorders for The Princess of Tennis will only be available for a limited time, and for only $20 you can grab yourself a copy of the book (approx. 250 pages), postcard with Jamie’s original art, personalized message in the book (if desired), digital copy of the book on the day of release, and free shipping worldwide. That’s a pretty super deal, so it’s definitely worth putting your order in early! The book is scheduled to launch on June 15th.
It’s often said that one can either be a fan of Tokyo or Osaka, but not both. Well, I’m a certified Osaka girl, so while I’ve been to Japan numerous times, I’ve only actually been to Tokyo once for two days nearly 12 years ago. Blasphemy, I know! Luckily, I have the very unique opportunity to attend a popular Japanese media workshop at the University of Tokyo for two weeks in July, so I’ll finally get the Tokyo fix I never knew I needed.
I say “never knew I needed” because after hearing the wonderful news that I had been accepted into said program, I promptly hit up Google to see exactly what sights I’d been missing out on in the pop culture mecca of Japan. As expected, there are a lot of exciting things to see and do in Tokyo, and my planner is quickly filling up with places to go and things to eat!
Since a lot of folks were asking what exactly was making my “must see” list for Tokyo, I thought it’d be fun to compile a top 10 list of places I’m going to make sure I hit up this July. Hopefully this way I can hold myself accountable and report back in two months with how each place actually stacked up! I’m not going to include vague general destinations like Harajuku or Akihabara that are on every “must see in Tokyo” list, though, but rather very specific things that folks like me who enjoy all things nerdy and cute will probably appreciate…
Kit Kat Chocolatory
Everyone knows that Japan is a haven for all kinds of amazing Kit Kat flavors, from the innocuous matcha to stranger oddities such as wasabi. In fact, Kit Kats are so popular in Japan that Nestle opted to erect the world’s first dedicated Kit Kat store, known as the Kit Kat Chocolatory, in the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo! The Ikebukuro store opened this past January and has teamed up with patissier Yasumasa Takagi to sell three exclusive flavors: sublime bitter, special sakura green tea, and special chilli.*
While it’s a little disappointing that the store doesn’t sell all of the various regional Japanese Kit Kat flavors (as far as I can tell), there is no way I’m going to turn down the chance to visit the world’s only Kit Kat shop! And buy a pack of each exclusive flavor, of course.
I’m cheating a little by not specifying a single store here, but hear me out. Animate is a chain of anime merchandise stores located Japan-wide, but certain branches have cafés that frequently feature anime tie-in menus and special decor. There are two located in Tokyo, one in Ikebukuro that caters to a female audience, and another in Akihabara that has recently teamed up with Good Smile Company (it only just opened on April 25th!) to offer some extra goodies for the figure-loving crowd.
While I’d definitely love to visit both, I’ll probably prioritize going to the one that is doing a tie-in with a series I’m more interested in. Since the Good Smile x Animate cafe is doing a Love Live! collaboration until July 30th, I’ll probably go with the Ikebukuro branch. However, I hear there may be some Good Smile figures that can only be purchased at the Akihabara store, so I may have to visit that one as well. Oh, decisions!
The Ghibli Museum, designed by visionary Hayao Miyazaki himself, is the ultimate mecca for fans of Ghibli films and Japanese animation, so of course it would be high on my “must see” list! Not only do you get to see exclusive animation shorts that are only shown at the museum, but there is also a yearly rotating exhibit that can’t be seen anywhere else. This year’s exhibit has just been revealed (flier pictured above), and the theme is The Nutcracker! As someone who attended The Nutcracker ballet every year at Christmas as a kid, I can’t wait to see Ghibli’s interpretation of the children’s ballet classic. You can purchase tickets to the Ghibli Museum in English through Voyagin!
Of course, another highlight of the Ghibli Museum is the Straw Hat Café! Not only is the decor to die for, all of the food is served on gorgeous Ghibli-themed plates, and if you order a coffee drink you’ll be treated with an adorable Ghibli design drawn in the foam. I’ve heard the wait can be an hour long, so it’s important to get there early!
Related: I also have to try these Totoro cream puffs I wrote about two years ago! I couldn’t bring myself to allow two Ghibli-related stops positions on this list, but you can bet your puffs I’ll be making my way to this adorable (Ghibli-supported!) patisserie come July.
Usagi no Ehon
There are two things I love very much in life – rabbits and books. Combine the two and you’ve got pretty much a winning combination for me! That’s why Usagi no Ehon, or Rabbit Picture Book, immediately caught my eye. I’ve always been a fan of cat cafés, but I’ve yet to visit a rabbit café, and one that combines adorable rabbit-themed decor with quiet atmosphere and all kinds of picture books crowding the cafe shelves sounds too good to be true! While I might end up swapping out Usagi no Ehon for another rabbit café if it happens to be more convenient, I may just opt to make a special trip to sit with the bunnies and read some Japanese picture books. Did you know that rabbits are illegal to keep as pets in Queensland? Yeah, it’s horrible. I need my rabbit fix!
I’ll tell you right now – Otome Road has always been the one major reason why I’ve been wistful to visit Tokyo. The single street in Ikebukuro is home to shops full of all a fujoshi’s favorite things, meaning it very well could the the one-stop destination for all my needs when I’m in Tokyo. So, if you’re like me and swoon over cute anime boys romancing each other or games where you play a girl who romances cute anime boys, Otome Road should not be missed! If I’m not mistaken, the Animate café in Ikebukuro is located in or around Otome Road, making them easy to see in the same trip. But knowing me, I’m sure I’ll visit Otome Road much more than once during my stay!
Capcom x Pasela Entertainment Bar
While nearly all of the themed eating establishments I’ve seen call themselves “cafés,” I find it interesting that Capcom has opted for the more mature “bar.” Virtually all themed cafés sell alcoholic drinks anyway, but I guess Capcom wanted a slightly different angle. Not only can you eat strange Capcom-themed delicacies here such as Resident Evil zombie brains (don’t worry, it’s a cake), but the staff apparently put on a little skits from the games when they bring out your food. While I’ll sadly be missing the special Monster Hunter 10th anniversary menu, I’m sure there will be plenty of interesting food items to try and Felyne goods to buy.
First, I must give a huge thanks to @Richmond_Lee for providing this suggestion. Everyone always says any video game/anime nerd has to hit up Akihabara while you’re in Tokyo, but there’s just so much to see! Where would you even start? Of course, if you have days to kill, it’s fine to wander around and find all of the hidden gems for yourself, but when you’re on a tight schedule like me, it’s much more helpful to have a few specific destinations in mind.
Well, Nakano Broadway looks to be the perfect place to get my otaku shopping fix – it’s a three-story indoor market filled to the brim with rare toys, electronics, anime, manga, figures… and practically anything else a Japanese pop culture nerd could want! I like how Danny Choo describes it as an indoor Akihabara with “a lot less maids, eroge, and computer parts stores.” Sounds like my kind of place! I’m definitely going to head here for some toy, manga, and game hunting.
|These are all fake! (source)|
Ganso Shokuhin Sanpuru-ya
You know what’s just as awesome as eating amazing-looking food? Looking at amazing-looking food. Ganso Shokuhin is a company that has been making those plastic food samples many Japanese cafés and restaurants put in their front windows for nearly 100 years, and they’ve opened a shop near Tokyo Skytree where you can look at all of their amazing creations. On top of that, they have a shop for souvenirs and kits to make your own, and demonstrations so you can learn how the pros do it! It’s worth mentioning that they have a branch located in the Tokyo Solamachi, a mall beneath the Tokyo Skytree that is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, so I’ll probably have to take a day to visit the Skytree and get my shopping on!
Artnia Square Enix café
It’s no secret that I love nerdy themed cafés, so of course the Square Enix cafe, Artnia, would make this list. The café itself features a futuristic layout within a dome-shaped building and sells all manner of Square Enix merchandise (some that can be bought only here, of course!) in addition to the usual cafe fare. While it’d be great if Artnia is having a special menu when I’m there, I’ll be happy just to try the adorable Moogle cappuccino pictured above along with a tasty pancake set.
Kiddy Land Harajuku
Kiddy Land’s flagship store is five floors of so-sweet-you’ll-get-a-cavity cuteness, so of course I have to go there! I’ve been to Kiddy Land in Osaka before, but I’m sure everything else pales in comparison to the official Harajuku store. If you’re a fan of Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Disney, or virtually anything else sparkly and kawaii, this is a dangerous stop for your wallet! I think I’m going to need a shopping list and a strict budget for this one, or else I’ll end up with a suitcase full of tiny adorable merchandise. It’s a given that I’ll have a suitcase full of amazing purchases by the end of my trip, but it’ll be hard to pace myself with all the cute there is to take in at Kiddy Land Harajuku! If you’re interested in being overwhelmed by all the cute, I definitely recommend checking out Japan Lover and Danny Choo‘s great photos of Kiddy Land.
There you have it – 10 wonderful destinations in Tokyo hand-picked by yours truly! Of course there are many more things I want to see and do while I’m there, but this is just a tiny slice of what I hope to experience. If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, check out Voyagin for help buying tickets for all kinds of amazing experiences that normally require Japanese knowledge to access! If you have any suggestions/things you’d like to see me cover during my trip, let me know in the comments!
One thing I adore about Japan is the fact that, unlike the United States and Australia (and many other countries, I assume), it still has a very active arcade scene. Every large city, and even many of the smaller ones, have at least one or two arcades equipped with all the latest machines, ranging from titles westerners might know of such as Time Crisis to more obscure Japan-only interactive card strategy games, rhythm games, and crazy immersive Gundam games that look like something taken straight out of a sci-fi film.* While the rest of the world seems content to game at home, I was happy to see that even in 2013, the arcade business still appears to be booming in Osaka. The Taito Game Station in Nipponbashi above, for example, has multiple floors, each dedicated to a different genre of game, making it easy to find your favorites.
|My absolute favorite arcade game!|
As such, I made sure to hit up as many arcades as possible during my two weeks in Japan! Of course, the first thing I did was make a beeline for my favorite arcade machine: Pop’n Music. The series has gone through quite a few iterations, but all of the machines I saw during my stay were of the Sunny Park variety, which is the most recent machine in the series, having been launched in 2012. I don’t have time to discuss how the game plays at length here, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out the beginning of this post.
|Card on left is from Pop’n Music Sunny Park, cards on right are from a strategy
card game called Sengoku Taisen (grabbed for free from the discard pile)
Some of the Sunny Park machines actually had a card slot at the bottom, which meant you could select the option to play one song and get a random character card for 100 yen (approximately $1) instead of the usual 4 songs for 100 yen. I decided to try my luck at getting a cute card, and I wasn’t disappointed! Well, all of the character designs in Pop’n Music are drop-dead adorable, so it wasn’t much of a gamble…
My husband and I also spotted this Rhythm Heaven machine, which, from what I gather, features the same rhythm games as the GBA title by the same name. The only difference here is that the whole package is bigger and louder, and there’s an option for a two-player mode.
|one of Amane Nishiki’s victory poses from BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma|
I don’t mention BlazBlue all that often on this blog, but I’m what I’d call an “advanced casual fan.” Okay, that doesn’t mean much of anything, but though I like the look of the games and enjoy watching skilled fighters play, I’ve never been compelled to learn how to play it outside of some lighthearted button-mashing. But, when I heard a cross-dressing male character by the name of Amane was going to be in Chrono Phantasma, the latest game in the series, I just had to see him in action in the arcade. Luckily, the arcade version has a cheater’s mode that enables you to mash buttons and pull off all kinds of neat combos that shouldn’t normally be possible, so my husband and I were able to make it all the way to the end of arcade mode with only one credit. I’m definitely going to pick up a copy of Chrono Phantasma when it comes to PS3 – Amane is just too fabulous!
Though not directly related to arcades (though often found at or around them), toy capsule machines, or gatchapon, are another favorite way for me to spend a few of my extra coins in Japan. Many shopping centers have walls of different machines filled with everything from Pretty Cure toys to Alien figurines!
I grabbed a few of these Animal Crossing: New Leaf snow globes as souvenirs – they were quite the hit.
On hindsight, I probably should’ve grabbed one of these adorable Pikachu toys. I love the one wrapping a leaf around his head on the left!
Yes, Funghi really is as popular in Japan as the various campaigns and merchandise lead one to believe. I was amazed to hear that even my host mother knew who Funghi (aka Nameko) was! The machine above is related to the toy gatchapon, but instead of spitting out a capsule, it distributes a sticker sheet out of a slot for the fine price of 100 yen. I couldn’t pass it up!
Of course, we couldn’t pass up a Rilakkuma sticker sheet, as well. Please excuse the blurry photo, but it’s the only one I got of the machine in action!
Here are the fruits of our labor! The Rilakkuma and Funghi sticker sheets were quite extensive, but unfortunately the Hunter X Hunter one pales in comparison. I could barely stop myself from trying to get all the different sheets!
Now, these aren’t exactly gatchapon either, but when you buy one of these special boxed figurines (generally sold at hobby stores and in the candy isle at grocery stores), you have no idea which figure will be inside. There’s something fun about the excitement of opening a toy and not knowing what you’re going to get, but it’s always disappointing when you get one you don’t really like! Luckily, these Monster Hunter Felynes are all kinds of adorable.
The shop that was selling the boxed Felyne figurines was having a promotion where you’d get one free sticker for every Felyne product purchased!
Finally, let me relate a fun arcade experience from my last day in Japan: in an attempt to kill some time and get rid of our extra 100 yen coins, my husband and I headed to a local arcade to try our hand at the crane games. Now, let it be known that I’ve never won anything from a crane game. This time, I was trying for the particular Funghi plush pictured above… the hand of the crane plummeted downwards towards the toy, barely scraping the one I was aiming for. Suddenly, a voice on a loudspeaker exclaimed (in Japanese, of course), “So close!!”
It turns out the arcade had a woman going around helping customers while chattering loudly about their successes into her microphone as a sort of promotional thing. She asked which one I was aiming for and promptly opened up the machine to put it in such an easy to reach spot that I’d have to be totally inept not to get it on my next try. Well, knowing me, that’d be possible… but as you can see from the picture above, I got it!
While I was never expecting to get anything from the crane machines, especially on my last day, it was a sweet gesture and a pleasant surprise. Have you had any memorable arcade experiences in Japan or your home country?
*technically Kidō Senshi Gundam: Senjō no Kizuna is available outside Japan, as it has been made available in a couple of Asian countries, but it was never brought over to the US
Have you had enough of Pikachu’s adorable face yet? I sure haven’t! Japan always comes up with the greatest ways to plaster cute characters over everything, and from the 20th of September, Pokémon Centers across the nation will be selling these adorable Pikachu-inspired kitchen goods. As you can see, everything from kettles to knives have been Pikachu-ified. I think it’s safe to say that I’d get one of everything! If I lived in Japan, that is.
My favorite is this kettle. Check out the adorable back! Even the knob for the lid is shaped like Pikachu’s head! Boiling water in this every morning would be sure to put a smile on my face.
I wish they had a close-up of the knife, too, but this pot will have to do:
I’m not entirely convinced I like the three different facial expressions… Thoughts?
And since I’m on the subject of kitchenware, I thought I’d give this Rilakkuma espresso machine a mention:
Certainly it’d be much better if it were bright yellow with Pikachu’s face on the front!
All this talk about Japanese 3DS’s has gotten me thinking about Japanese 3DS games. As we all know, Nintendo decided to break the hearts of millions of fans around the globe by making the 3DS region-locked, meaning the system can only play games from the same “region.” Since the major regions are, as always, PAL (Europe and Australia), NTSC-J (Japan), and NTSC-U or C (North America and pretty much everywhere else, usually includes China), that means there are many Japanese games that are going unplayed by this NTSC-U 3DS-owning gal.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there aren’t really that many Japanese 3DS games I’m itching to have. But as someone who may or may not find themselves in possession of a Japanese 3DS in the near future, I began to wonder what I’d theoretically buy if the situation presented itself. So, without further ado: my most wanted Japanese 3DS titles!
New Love Plus
A male-oriented dating sim on my list of most wanted 3DS games?! Yeah, I know, you probably think I’ve gone crazy. But when did I ever say I had anything against bishojo dating sims? Sure, I’d much prefer an otome game full of male characters to pursue, but I like the genre enough to want to pick up New Love Plus, even though it wasn’t exactly made with me in mind. I wouldn’t say this is at the very top of my list, but it’s definitely a unique experience that can’t be had anywhere else. That, and I never did play the original! I’d probably play this one in the name of “research.”
Taiko Drum Master: The Little Dragon and the Mysterious Orb
Ah, Taiko Drum Master. My mom bought me a Japanese PlayStation 2 for Christmas one year, along with a copy of the original Taiko Drum Master and two taiko controllers… I have many a fine memory sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, banging two plastic taiko sticks to some semblance of a beat.
Well, handheld Taiko Drum Master titles may not have the same charm as their arcade, or even home console, counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pack a punch! Reliable sources tell me the DS versions were quite good, and that this new 3DS installment, with a new story mode, does not disappoint. Of course my saying “reliable sources” reveals that, yes, I have never played a handheld Taiko Drum Master game. That’s definitely something I’d like to rectify!
Nazo Waku Yakata: Oto no Ma ni Ma ni
Does anyone even remember this game? If you do, it’s probably because of the flack Capcom got for releasing a paid demo for the title on the Japanese eShop. But even though Nazo Waku Yakata came out a whole year ago, I can barely find a peep about it anywhere. I’m assuming this means it was pretty lackluster, but the game’s emphasis on sound, unique art style, and whacky gameplay that makes use of a wide variety of the 3DS’s features make it seem like a great choice for someone with a new Japanese 3DS. I wonder if it’s worth the 20 or so dollars used copies are going for on Amazon.jp these days? I’m going to answer my own question: since the above image is actually an in-game screenshot, I’d have to say “yes”!
Rune Factory 4
I think I can safely say that Rune Factory 4 is my most-wanted 3DS title. Of course, we’ve seen every other Rune Factory game come out in English so far, but Natsume has yet to utter a peep about the possibility of localizing Rune Factory 4. I’ve made it pretty clear in previous posts that the male suitors and Harvest Moon-esque elements in this installment really appeal to me –– so much so that I’d purchase this game in a heartbeat if I had a Japanese 3DS, even with the possibility of a future English release. Is that a guy with cat ears and a peacock-feather fan? I’m so there.
So, what Japanese 3DS games are you itching to add to your collection? I bet you’re all going to say Bravely Default: Flying Fairy –– I would’ve, too, but I thought I’d shake things up by limiting myself to only titles that are out right now. Hurrah for self-imposed, nonsensical rules!