Modcineaste’s Japan Trip 2013
“The First 5 days” Part 1
Photos by Leonardo Flores
It was that time of year again where I pull out my suitcases and passport, get my model kit checklist together and head my way out back to my spiritual homeland of Japan. Since 2010 I have made an attempt to travel to Japan every year but having missed 2012 I was more than ready to make my trip this year in May. The first time I traveled to Japan I caught a cold and was sick in bed for the last half of the trip, missing a lot of places I wanted to visit, so it was going back to Tokyo this year and visiting the places I missed the first time around was a high priority.
Do not let anybody tell you otherwise, Haneda does have international flights through Delta Airlines and if all possible try to land at Haneda when traveling to Tokyo. I prefer Haneda as you actually land in Tokyo and you get a nice introduction to Tokyo from the air. I landed at 10:30 and after customs made my way to the bus that would take me to the JR station at Ikebukuro near my hotel. It was a nice bus ride into Tokyo and Ikebukuro. When I got off the bus the first thing that greeted me at the station was a DYRL Minmei sticker on a utility truck. Welcome to Japan!
I really did not plan much on my first day in Japan, dealing with Jet lag, making sure my rented cell phone worked (it didn’t) and pulling money out of the bank and other to do items to prepare for my 10 day stay in Tokyo. The place I settled on staying was the Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro. What turned out to be a wonderful hotel stay, Sakura hotel was the perfect place to stay for my trip. Geared for foreign travelers but with Japanese hospitality, the hotel hosted a 24-hour café where Japanese and Gaijin alike could talk over beers and an excellent international menu of items.
Ikebukuro is considered the second busiest JR station in Japan after Shinjuku Station. A mere 8-minute ride to Shinjuku, The Sakura Hotel being located at Ikebukuro was a great location to visit all of Tokyo. Ikebukuro has a double meaning of Owl in its name, which is why one will see Owl motifs all over town.
Once I woke up, I walked over to Sunshine City across the street where Animate anime goods store was located. According to what I read this particular store and the neighboring stores near it are actually geared towards female anime fans, which is kind of interesting compared to most anime goods shops I went to. Sure enough waiting for the stores to open there must have been 200 girls and myself waiting for these stores to open. Great stores but no vintage Macross here!
Having arrived early before Animate opened, I check out Sunshine City, a huge mall where hundreds of mostly clothing shops are located. A beautiful young girl handed me a flyer promoting an “I-Pop” concert located on a huge stage with a fountain in the center of Sunshine City. The concert was going to begin in the afternoon with a second concert in the evening. I made a mental note and made my way out to Animate.
Later in the afternoon, I headed over to visit my friend Nabe who works at Rock Inn one of the premier music shops in Tokyo. Being a musician it is always great to see the many music stores throughout the city, especially Rock Inn. Later I hit up my favorite record store chain in Japan, Disc Union. A great place to locate rare Japanese CD’s and vinyl Records, most of my early shopping was CD’s from Disc Union. There are usually Disc Union’s located near most of the bigger stations. Most Disc Union shops are separated by types of music, so you might have to get a map to see where the Disc Union store that caters to your type of music is.
After dinner I headed over back to my hotel but then I remembered the concert flyer that the young girl handed me, I made my way back to Sunshine City to see what this “I-Pop” was all about. What I discovered was about hundreds of fans enjoying the sounds of the four-member singing group Space Girls Planet. It was just drawn into this wonderful group of singers/performers, so much so that I purchased their 4th CD single.
I noticed there were fans lined up to meet the members of Space Girls Planet. I asked if they sign autographs and the lady selling the CD’s said “No. they will shake your hand if you buy the CD.” So I stood in line and got to meet these wonderful Idols in person. As much as some “serious” musicians and critics might dismiss the sounds of Idol music, I personally believe these girls work very hard for what they do, in learning the dance steps, recording and touring around Japan. I admire what they do and I am proud to say I am the biggest fan in the USA. You are doing very well Space Girls Planet! Keep up the good work and best to your career!
Sunday would be the highlight of my trip when I made my way down to the National Stadium and along with my friend Atsushi-san took part in the supporters section of the J-Leauge football/soccer team Kashiwa Reysol. Watching J-League in person has been one of my favorite pastimes while I am in Japan, having watched Nagoya Grampus in 2011.
The afternoon game was Kashiwa Reysol versus Urawa Red Diamonds, two rival teams in J-League. It was all about Black and Gold this afternoon and the Kashiwa supporters had the highest spirits throughout the game but in the end Red Diamonds beat out Reysol in a highly dramatic game. Overall, the best part was meeting such wonderful people throughout the game and I’m looking forward to visiting my new Reysol friends again in 2014.
Back in the USA this was Memorial Day, and I was lucky enough to visit two US Navy bases through my good friend Rosa and her husband Dillion, who is in the Navy. This was an incredible opportunity to not only visit Yokosuka NS and Atsugi NAS but get a personal tour of the USS George Washington (CVN-73) while it was in port. Having never been on an aircraft carrier before this was an unbelievable experience as many of you know I am a fan of Navy Aviation. Below are some pictures of the massive carrier and was glad to see it up close and personal.
Afterwards, Rosa, Dillion and their newborn daughter Dahlia and I made our way back to Atsugi NAS where Dillion is stationed. Like Yokosuka, Atsugi is co operated with the Japanese Defense Force and was incredible seeing dozens JDF aircraft on the tarmac. Dillion’s tour included a visiting haunted WWII hanger and a spooky tree with a curse, we also visited numerous static aircraft around the base that included F-14s, F-4 Phantoms and many others. It was great seeing old Mod/scooter friends now living in Japan. I told Rosa that they were going to love it and Rosa agrees! With that it was back to Ikebukuro hotel after a long day with three great friends.
It had been a long day and dragging my feet off the station towards my hotel I was met with a young lady singing her heart out near the station, Ranka Lee style. I stopped and listened to her beautiful voice and wonderful piano songs she had written for over an hour. This was a young singer named Hiromi who has already recorded a couple of albums already. It was great meeting her and purchasing her music and best of luck to her career. This is what I love about Japan; the pure randomness of it all and it was great supporting these young artists as our paths cross.
You can visit Hiromi's website Here.
So as you can see not much in the way of Anime and Plamodel for the first few days of my trip but now the sustain was beginning to come to a head and very much from here on out it will be no holds anime and plamodel shopping with some other special events and places thrown in for good measure.
Tuesday will be hanging with my long time Facebook friend and all around top fellow Shogo-san from Kobe. Although Shogo lives in Kobe he just happened to working in Tokyo for a few months and we were able to meet up a couple times. We met on Facebook due to our love of Jun Mayuzumi and Showa Era Kamen Rider tokusatsu shows. The first place Shogo took me to was a place located right in Ikeabukura itself, Kamen Rider The Diner.
Yes a diner devoted specifically to our bug eyed hero, Kamen Rider complete with décor, kamen rider themed dinners and alcoholic drinks and kamen Rider music and videos blaring in the background. With so many young people present, this was the place to be. Shogo had never been there before so it was somewhat an important and emotional event for him as he grew up with Kamen Rider, and I don’t blame him! What can I say? This was one of the coolest places I have ever visited in my life, and it was great visiting it with my good friend and top Kamen Rider fan Shogo!
After that it was off to Mandrake Shibuya for some toy, book, cd and plamodel purchasing. Shibuya is a place that needs to be experienced, as I have never been to a place quite like this when I first visited it in 2011. Thousands upon thousands of young people shopping, hanging out and generally having a good time in this rather hip area with too many beautiful Japanese girls to comprehend. Shogo took me over to Mandrake and I picked up over ¥10000 in models, books and music. Having never been to the Shibuya Mandrake it was a cool place to visit and ended up going back one more time before the trip ended.
After a couple more beers at the awesome Asahi Beer Bar in Shibuya, it was goodbye to my good friend Shogo and it was off to Nakano Broadway for some more Mandrake overload!
I love Nakano Broadway. It seems to be ground zero for all things I love about Showa Era Japan. It's like all the cool, underground dealers of toys, Militaria, art, manga, music and other odd assortments of items got together and said “Let’s get together and make a place for ourselves.” Although Mandrake is the cornerstone of Nakano Broadway it’s the entire shopping experience here that in my opinion blows Akihabara out of the water. This is punk rock underground Nihon shopping at its finest. All JR trains lead to Nakano Broadway.
Mandranke shines its finest at Nakano Broadway, and has actually expanded with many new shops since the last time I visited it in 2010. It is here I unleashed my Macross plamodel shopping madness picking up a ton items for next to nothing. So much so they gave the huge Golden Mandrake bag, the ultimate sign of appreciation from the fine people at Mandranke.
With a ton of items had, it was back to Ikebukuro with a nice night of drinking and food at the Sukura Hotel 24 hour café.
Part II “The last Five days” Next week.