Wednesday, September 12, 2007


One of the places I just "Had To" see in Tokyo was Akihabara, the famous "Electric Town." It's a shopping area in Japan that specializes in duty free shops featuring tons of electronic equipment, DVDs, Manga and the like. You could call it "otaku central" in Japan (for those who don't know "otaku" is the Japanese term for 'fanboy' or what we in the U.S. would call a 'geek').

Akihabara certainly lived up to its hype, with huge neon displays and brightly lit shops that told you it was time to wake up and shop. It was similiar to the farmers' market I went to in Kanazawa, except here they were selling Gameboys, movies and cameras instead of fruits, vegetables and fish.

There were also anime and manga references splashed all over the place. The poster below uses characters from Neon Genesis Evangelion to sell some sort of canned coffee.

If this coffee can make Ayanami Rei look like this, it must be good!

As with most of my trip to Japan, the only regretable thing was not having more time to spend (or more money to shop with). I'm already planning a future trip to Tokyo, where I plan to spend more time in "Electric Town."


Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I'm back home now. I'm going to continue to post photos from my trip, covering the highlights, while I search for a place on line where I can post them all.

One of the places I wanted to go to while in Tokyo was Jimbocho. It's a section of the city that is famous for the number of booksellers that are there. Above is a view from the exit of the Jimbocho subway station. Just about every sign you can see in the image is for some sort of bookstore.

There were numerous multistory buildings that were single bookstores, or collectives of independent book resellers, like the Iwanami Shoten Annex, pictured below.

Others were just a set of shelves stuck on the alley walls between the buildings, like this one:

Most were these small stores with two doors. You enter on your left, follow the narrow aisle that loops to the back of the store and make your purchase at the register near the exit on the right.

The extent of the area was incredible. I walked two blocks from the subway exit, and except for the occassional sandwich or ramen shop, and all I saw was one book store after another. Even after that two block stretch, when other types of stores began to appear, you could find a bookstore or two in every block.

As someone who's loved to read since I was a kid, I found the existence of such a place to be a delight. And the range of books sold, from antique prints that looked like they were a century or two old to stores which sold nothing but manga (Japanese comic books). Now, I only need to learn to read Japanese.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Not quite a Disney song...

I had an interesting encounter last night...

I came back to my hotel after attending a couple of the parties that take place every night after the convention. I was stopping at the "konbinni" or convenience store to get something for breakfast. While shopping, I noticed a man there that was obviously a foreigner. It's relatively easy to spot people who are not native in a country where 97% of the population are from the same ethnic group.

The man turned and spotted me. He clearly had the same understanding as I had. I was trying to place him in the world (I was thinking he was from India at first) as we moved toward each other in the aisle.

"Hello," he said as we reached each other. His English was accented, but I couldn't place it. "Where are you from?"

"America," I replied. "U.S.A."

"Really?" I could tell that my answer had increased his interest. I realized why in the next moment when he said, "I'm from Iraq."

"Really..." I immediately felt somewhat awkward. "Did you...?" Leave the country, I almost asked, "Move here, or..."

"I'm here on business. Training..." He went on to tell me that he was in Japan to study security measures for sea ports. When he returned to Iraq, he was going to be working on security for the port at Basra.

"That's very important these days." He nodded in agreement, smiling as if my stating the obvious was insightful in some what.

We chatted for a little longer. He then shook my hand, giving me his name and room number. "If you need anything or want anything while you're here, let me know." He repeated his name and room number to make sure I had it.

I thanked him for his offer and said good night. I bought my breakfast and went back to my room. One of the 'neat things' I had mentioned to my tour mates was how, just a few months ago, I had been looking at this distant part of the world through the internet and other media, and now I was here, standing in places I had only dreamed of coming to. The encounter made me think about the other side of the coin; this security man from Iraq, trying to get someplace he could only dream about, and coming to the other side of the world to get there.

Small world, huh?


Fanboys, Cosplay & Robot Dogs

It was the chance to come to my first WorldCon that prompted me to make the trip to Japan. WorldCon is short for the World Science Fiction Convention in case you didn't know that. It's where the Hugo Awards are given out each year.

It's a relatively small convention compared to ComicCon, the convention I more routinely go to, with only about 3,000 to 4,000 people attending. Unlike ComicCon, WorldCon focuses almost exclusively on the literature of Science Fiction and doesn't range far from the books that form the basis of the genre, and the writers that create them. I came to WorldCon to reconnect with the genre, and so far the experience has been great.

Like any convention based on speculative fiction, there are certain things you come to expect. One are cosplayers, fans that show their love of the genre by dressing up as their favorite characters (or in the case of the little girl above dressed as Princess Mononoke, getting dressed up by their parents). There is also a fair share of gadgets, both weird and cool. The robot dog pictured in this blog would follow the ball when it was rolled and would sit up and wave a paw after it had caught it.

What else can I say? These are my people.