Saturday, 4 January 2014

Trip Day 6: Sickness, Nerdiness and Bathhouses

Sorry that this update took so long! Life has been very good at getting in the way. I do plan to finish the report though, and I will try to steadily put out updates whenever I can. Thank you if you are still reading! I really appreciate all the comments so far, they encourage me to keep writing.

My first day after Disney, it became clear that my plan to get up early and explore Tokyo was not going to happen. The illness that I had felt coming on during Fantasmic the previous night had hit me full force, and I did not want to get out of bed. I decided to be reasonable and sleep through the morning, because if I didn’t rest I may end up ruining the rest of the trip for myself. I woke up again around lunch time, feeling a little better and desperately hungry. As the hostel didn’t have any food in it, I realised I would have to go out at some stage. Oh joy. I threw on jeans and a new shirt I had bought at 109 and headed toward the station where the restaurants are. 

On the way I stopped at the 7-11 to buy an essential product for someone coughing in Japan: the surgical mask. The Japanese find bodily functions such as coughing and sneezing quite gross, and in cities like Tokyo where people are packed close in trains and shops, dangerously contagious. Due to these issues it is considered common courtesy to cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask if you’ll be coughing in public. It is also important to note that the Japanese find blowing your nose in public very rude. C. Coville on Cracked once compared it to pulling out an adult diaper in public because you had a stomach upset. Considering this attitude toward the show my face was currently putting on, I was happy to head for the face masks and reserve my nose blowing for the bathroom. 

I bought a three pack and put one on. Despite the fact that I had regularly seen people wearing these all over Tokyo, I felt convinced for a moment that people would point and stare. Thankfully, as I kept walking people seemed to pay me no mind whatsoever. In fact, I noticed a diminished amount of attention from the neighbourhood people, possibly because my mask was masking a lot of my pale foreign face, or possibly because they had just seen me before by this point. When I got to the station, my food choices seemed to be Burger King and Denny’s. Not the best choices for someone feeling under the weather, but I didn’t feel like walking any further so I got a table at Denny’s and ordered some fairly plain pasta. By the time lunch was over, I was actually feeling a lot better. The food seemed to give me energy, so I decided to take the subway to one of my must-see spots that I had been dying to return to for years: Nakano Broadway.

While Akihabara is like a department store for nerdery, Nakano Broadway is like a great pawn shop or antique store. It’s poky, often cluttered, and full of weird old things you don’t care about, but for most collectors it is also home to weird old things you would sell your right arm for. It is multi floor indoor mall full of tiny specialty shops hidden north of the station (Find the Sun Mall near the station exit, walk all the way through and you will be staring at Nakano’s entrance). Most of the nerdier stuff is on 2F and above. Rare manga, gachapon toys, doujinshi (fan made comics), expensive rare film cells, cutesy themed merchandise, second hand collectibles, rare doll parts, and vintage toys that haven’t been seen in America in decades line the shelves of the stores here, often hidden among old plastic bags from special events and toys that look like stuff you would give to the Salvation Army. Some of the stores are very well organised, with special items in glass cases and very carefully protected. Others will have you searching through bins of clutter to find the best items. Beware of some stores in this complex if you are easily offended, as lewd gag gifts, porn, pornographic doujinshi, and other offensive comics (gore etc) are common in certain stores. This is also the home of a couple of Mandarake’s showcase stores, where nothing is for sale unless you’re a millionaire but you can come and look at their rare items. If you are headed for Nakano Broadway I definitely suggest you have a look at the information available online or in books like Cruising the Anime City by Patrick Macias  and Tomohiro Machiyama. There are many maps available that can tell you which little store is likely to sell what you’re looking for.

Seeing as I had been there before and was ill I decided I was happy to take my time and give each interesting shop a slow look over, digging if I wanted to. I saw a lot of things that were quite cool for me (Original Strawberry Shortcake Sour Grapes figurine! Wow!) but was mostly browsing when I saw something that made me think of all my dear Duffeteers:

Several shops seemed to have large section devoted to selling Duffys, Shellie Maes and racks of old edition outfits! Seeing these sections made me wish I was more of a Duffy collector because it was gorgeous to look at. I only wished I could take orders from friends on the forums but I was ill and had no idea what I’d be looking for. Instead I took some pictures so they might make their own pilgrimages to Nakano if needed.  Continuing on my way I found myself in yet another cluttered store that I wasn’t finding much interest in until suddenly I turned around and saw a very cute looking rack:

MORE DISNEYLAND MERCH! Not only that but at its foot, POPCORN BUCKETS! Some of the merchandise was even from foreign Disney parks, although Tokyo sells quite enough cutesy collectibles for me. The shopaholic in me went mad as I searched the racks for rare or personally relevant items. As a sucker for cute popcorn buckets I rooted around in the bucket bins like a mad thing, and struck gold – the Mickey jack o lantern bucket from the Halloween that I couldn’t get to Tokyo! After some more searching I sat at the foot of the rack with a pile of things I adored, slowly weighing the cost and putting some back on the shelf like a good recovering compulsive shopper. In the end though, I couldn’t leave without a few things, especially the popcorn bucket and a little decorative Minnie to go with him.

 Here is what the store looks like from the outside, for those who might visit. 

As I brought my choices to the counter the clerk gave me a knowing smile, as he had just quietly watched my surprise Disney discovery and subsequent frenzied searches while completely unnoticed by me! Goodness knows how amusing it was to watch the crazy gaijin suddenly stop and root through all that while my eyes stayed fixed on the DIIIIIIIISSSNNEEEEEEEEEEEYYYY. I smiled back widely, as I was way too happy with my purchases to be embarrassed. After this I spent the next hour or two wandering Nakano looking through a variety of cute merch, figurines, cosplay, manga and other fun stuff.

I was careful to keep my purchases small unless they were gifts, but it took a lot of self discipline at times, especially when I saw this:

I desperately wanted to take this statue of kimono Mickey and Minnie home, but it was very heavy and bulky, and goodness knows I had a lot of other shopping left to potentially fit in my suitcase, so after a long time standing in the shop deliberating, I left it for some other collector to find and love. After this I was feeling a bit tired and was ready to leave, but I was also feeling a bit dirty and stuffy from being sick, and I realised one of my other Tokyo must-dos would fix my predicament perfectly: Oedo Onsen Monogatari, the Edo themed bathhouse.

I headed for the train and headed across the city to make my way to the man-made island of Odaiba, just off the coast of Tokyo. There are several ways to get to Odaiba, including trains and ferries, but my favourite was to head to Shimbashi Station so I could use the Yurikamome terminal just outside. The Yurikamome is a special monorail line that heads from Shimbashi over the river to most of the Odaiba stations. It goes through the city and then loops around in a circle to gain height before crossing the bridge, giving you ample time to see lovely views of the city and Odaiba, which is especially pretty at night. Odaiba was built as a sort of ‘city of the future’ and quite a few architects were given carte blanche to go crazy on the buildings here, so they are quite fun to look at. It was still daylight as I headed over, giving me a good look at the buildings, as well as a far off look at the 30 ft Gundam replica that has been built behind an Odaiba shopping centre.

From what I understand this big guy is temporary, but he’s been up for a while and is quite a sight poking out of the tree tops! Finally I made it to the station and my destination for the evening. This place is designed to offer a hot spring style experience in the city, themed around old Edo era Tokyo. You are required to wear a yukata (summer kimono), and all the common areas, restaurants and shops inside are themed to look like old Edo era stalls, only the theming is not what you’d call Disney quality. Most of it is quite obvious, plasticky and a little tacky, but that to be honest is a large part of the place’s charm. Not only that but it offers about 10-14 different baths for each gender (single sex bathing) some of which are outdoor rotemburo style, so it’s worth a little bit of tacky. 

(Enjoy my blurry, sneaky photographs of the common areas)

Oedo Onsen has a great payment system which allows you to walk around in nothing but a yukata and a plastic bracelet with a barcode you can use to pay for things. You settle your bill when you check out. This makes it much easier to relax, but it relies on you going through a farcical system of lockers and keys. Upon entering the building one of the first things you see is a locker room for your shoes. I immediately took off my shoes in the little entryway, placing them in an empty shoe locker and taking the key with me to the front desk. Key number 1. I then indicated ‘one person’ and was given my barcode bracelet, which also includes a locker key. Key number 2. The counter person directed toward the yukata rental counter, where they had 5 styles to choose from. Once I had my yukata I headed for the locker room, where I changed and deposited my clothes, valuables, and key number 1 into the locker. I then was free to wander the restaurant/shopping area with just my yukata and key/barcode bracelet, but I decided to head straight for the baths. When you get to the bathing area you are confronted with, that’s right, another locker room. The lady at the counter gave me a towel and a washcloth, and indicated for me to find a locker.

Now keep in mind that most Japanese communal bathing is done completely nude. Wearing even a bathing suit in a nude bath is a huge faux pas, as (among other things) getting completely naked and scrubbing every inch of your body first is the only way to be sure you won’t make the bath water dirty for others. Luckily I have done this a fair few times, so I was able to quietly strip down to my birthday suit, put my yukata, towel, and key number 2 into the locker, taking YET ANOTHER KEY on a bracelet to wear in the baths themselves. Key number 3. To sum up: My shoes were in a locker, the key to which was in another locker, the key to which was in another locker, the key to which was on my wrist. I find this system a little funny every time I visit, however you can’t fault it. After all, I was standing there naked but for a waterproof bracelet and felt completely confident that all my belongings were safely stored.

After all the days of Disney and sickness, I was deeply happy to get a really good clean. The hostel showers were fine, but Japanese bathing leaves you with a whole different level of clean if you do what the locals do: scrub every inch of your body, rinse, sit in the bath until you pretty much can’t handle the heat any longer, go back to the wash stations and scrub everything again now that your pores are open, rinse, repeat if needed. This much steam is also fantastic for blocked sinuses like I had, so this was perfect. A couple of hours later after trying out the rock pools, the spa jets, the cypress tubs, the salt baths, and scrubbing in between I needed to get out of the heat. 

When you go back into the locker room from the baths one of the really nice touches of this bathhouse becomes obvious. Next to the locker area there is a long hallway of lit mirrors and vanity stations with hairdryers, clean hairbrushes, and complementary moisturising products and hair products so that you can get yourself looking nice again before you go out into the common area. A lot of Japanese girls really love their hair and makeup (it is much more expected in Japan that women wear full makeup every day) so this is a great touch. I grabbed a cold drink from the vending machine (which is capable of scanning the barcode bracelet! So cool!) and took full advantage of the facilities.

Look at the cool barcode thing!

The rest of the evening I spent resting and wandering about the common areas, eating shaved ice and looking at souvenirs. I also discovered some lovely places to sit in the foot bath garden where people of both sexes can spend time together. A lot of couples on dates stroll around in their yukata and it’s adorable to watch. Although I recommend any future travellers watch out for the bath with pointy reflexology stones at the bottom. As the girl who walked through it before me put it: ‘Itai! Itai! Itai!’ You can also pay extra to have tiny fish eat skin from your feet in one pool. Some people swear it reduces their calluses like nothing else, but I decided to give it a miss this time. Eventually I decided I was tired and made my way home, falling straight into bed once I reached the hotel. 

Hopefully the next update will come faster than this one! Tune in next time for goth/Lolita shopping at Ikebukuro Closet Child.

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