Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Gamer's guide to Tokyo: Odaiba

Last may, I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan.  It was awesome, I had tons of fun, and I realized that there's not a whole lot of information for gamers on what to do and see in Tokyo.  Thus begins this series of posts.  I'm going to point out the important things to see and check out in Tokyo, in as many districts as I can.  In addition, I'll point out as much cultural information as I can, so you don't stick out like a stupid tourist.
Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.  You can drive to it, or you can take this really awesome boat ride to get there.  The trip takes about 45 minutes, they have some amazing gelato for sale, and after about 20 minutes, they open up the deck so you can take pictures.  There's two boats available to ride on, and they alternate trips.  My group took a trip on the Hotaruna (ホタルナ).  The total cost was ¥1560, or roughly $13 at the time of this writing.  I talked with a French tourist while on the boat, we got to talking about cameras, the weather, and other miscellany.  There were several japanese families going to Odaiba for the day as well, and one of the kids tried practicing their English with me.  You'll find this a lot in Japan in general.  A lot of people will want to practice their English with you.

#1: Sega Joypolis

Once you've reached Odaiba, there's a lot available.  If you come in via the Hotaluna or its sister ship, your first stop should be Sega Joypolis.  It's part Sega museum, part arcade, part gift shop, and I'm kicking myself for not going there. It's one of the places I intend to go back to the next time I'm in Tokyo.

#2: Divers City
Oh hey, a giant shopping mall, on a man-made island!  It's the epitome of living in excess.  7 floors of shopping!  Clothes, clothes everywhere!  Hello kitty, drug stores, and candy shops on the first floor!  A giant food court! Why, ddrfr33k, why would you recommend this to a gamer?  Because, my friends, there's reasons to come here.  First and foremost, the Gundam front!
Gundam RX-78, larger than life
The gundam front features a life size Gundam RX-78, in all its 18m glory.  Anyone who likes giant robots should definitely take time to come here.  Next to the Gundam statue outside the mall is a small shop with gundam model kits (also known as gunpla) for sale.  The real meat of the operation, though, is located on the 7th floor of Divers City.  The Gundam Front features a huge museum with a bust of Gundam Strike Freedom, a dome theater constantly playing Gundam Movies, and a display showing how they make the Gundam model kits.  They have some of the original protoypes of the first model kits, which is really, really fascinating.
Early gunpla protoype

As a "thank you" to those that go through the museum, they give you a miniature gundam head piece gunpla that you take home as a souveneir.  Also, they have a huge shop in the museum with a wide variety of Gunpla.  They cover all the major series, and a variety of price ranges.  I bought a Zaku II gunpla for a friend for ¥1300.  He's gonna have to paint it himself, but he'll live.

Some of the gunpla kits are pre-colored, others require painting.  If nothing else, you can open the box and peek inside.  They carry official color paint pens on site, but they charge an arm and a leg if you want to buy them.  Get your own model paint when you come home, it's cheaper.

Within Divers City, there's a few arcades worth checking out, as well.  There's a big one on the 4th floor with UFO games, a kinect dancing style game, and pachinko.  If you like music/rhythm games, they have a whole section of those, too.  There's also photo booths, skee-ball, and other kid-friendly games.  On the 7th floor, near the Gundam Front, is a venue very similar to Grand Slam or other sports venues.  They have go-karts, batting cages, and a large arcade.  What's special about this arcade, however, is that all the machines are free-play.  You pay per hour for the games.  And they have a lot of really hard to find early 2000's racing games.  There's an old DDR Extreme arcade cabinet, a bunch of American arcade staples, and good variety of arcade shooters.  If you like those sorts of games, you should check them out while there.

Down in the food court, you'll find a variety of shops.  One of them, however, made me do a double take.  I'm looking at the menu, and lo and behold, one of the combos is called bukkake (ブカッケ).  I had to stop and ask if that's what it said, but sure enough, there it was.  For the uninitated, bukkake is a type of sex act.  It's not what you normally associate with food.

#3:  Oedo Onsen
If you're looking for an Onsen to visit, this one in Tokyo is a total tourist trap.  It's designed after the anime Gin Tama, which will throw you off if you're not ready for it.  As my group was walking up, we had this back and forth between myself and Sapp, our de facto "tour guide."  Sapp had already told us this place was a tourist trap, so I was aware of that.  But this? This was our exchange:

Me: "Dude, you didn't tell me this was an anime onsen."

Sapp:  "It is?"

Me: "Yeah, that's the Gin Tama logo."

Sapp: "And you expect me to know that, how?"

Me: "I don't, but I still think it's funny.  You know, all these anime characters and everything? You'd think something's up."

When you get inside, you're given a yukata, a wrist band with a key, and then you're sent on your way.  Enter the lockers, put on your yukata, stash your belongings, and go into the main space.

Important!  Make sure you follow the poster guides in the locker room when putting on your yukata.  If you put it on the wrong way, you'll wrap yourself the way the locals wrap the dead.  Big mistake, don't make it.

Inside, there's a constant festival going on.  There's carnival games, food vendors, drinks of alcoholic and non alcoholic variety,  and periodic entertainment.  When you go to purchase anything, they'll scan the barcode on your wrist band, then bill you when you leave.

Step out to the foot bath and soak your feet.  There's a great bridge for taking photos, like my group did.

The foot bath is kept warm, but not hot.  It's quite comfortable, even in the summer months. comfortable, except for one thing.  Throughout the path, there's rocks placed in the concrete.  They stick up so that stepping on them "massages" your feet.  In reality, you're sitting there thinking, "welcome to hell."  Being the stupid tourist that I am, I decided to walk the entire length of the foot bath for the experience.  I get through the first part fairly quickly.  The pool stops, and there's rows of rocks set up above ground that lead to the next part of the pool.  And they're set up so you can't tiptoe through them.  They're also spaced so they either land on the ball and heel, or they poke your arch.  Again, welcome to hell.  As I'm going through this, each step elicits the following sounds out of me:

"あつ!" (atsu, means "ouch!")


"ででで" (de de de, an onomatopoeia for pain)

"<indiscernible groaning>"

And at this point, a couple of older Japanese men saw what was happening and were thoroughly enjoying the show.  I see them at the end of this charade, say "いたいよ!" (itai yo, means "it hurts!") at which point they burst out laughing.

In all honesty, my feet felt pretty good after completing the walk.  Hurts like hell for a while, but you come out feeling really relaxed.  If you're up for it, the actual hot springs proper are fantastic.  You'll need to wash yourself off first, but the actual springs are super relaxing, even during the summer.  It's very easy to lost track of time, so be aware of your surroundings.

Oedo Onsen is one of a handful of locations that will accept credit cards.  You will need to make sure it's EMV compliant, but that's a small price to pay.  Oedo Onsen also has a hotel on site, if you want to spend the night.

Hopefully this helps, be sure to check out my other Gamer's Guide to Tokyo articles coming in the next couple weeks!

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