Shinjuku was exotic, vibrant, and full of mystique. This long forsaken vice land of Tokyo painted the right first impression for this city.
This ward was a nice introduction to this urban jungle, but today, I'm off to the Chiyoda ward.
This specific part of Tokyo houses one of the most infamous electronics and gaming epicenters of the world, Akihabara.
I found a nice hostel to stay at, so I'll be gaining space (and some roommates) for my next stop.
Chiyoda is a neighboring ward to Shinjuku, so it shouldn't take long for me to reach my destination. I load up my things on the DZed and navigate the busy morning streets over to Akihabara.
The route says it's around 8km between destinations, so this should be a breeze of a ride.
On 2nd thought... The route, itself, is easy. Feathering my way through congested traffic is another. What should have been a 20-minute commute turned into an hour of clutch practice.
I should have figured that morning traffic would be no joke around here, but I underestimated how much car traffic there is (despite the uber-efficient rail systems).
I found my hostel and paid a visit to the front desk.
Unfortunately, I'm not able to check in until 3 PM (currently 10:30), but they do offer locker/storage areas for incoming guests to stow things away.
Because of this setback, I've decided to kill time looking for different vending machines. I've heard that this part of town has some of the oddest selections in the country.
If that isn't a litmus test for these quirky machines, I don't know what is.
Within a few blocks of the hostel, I stumble upon a machine unlike any I've seen before. A large, dingy white container holding several square boxes in rows.
In these little machines are capsule encased toys and collectibles from various pieces of media. These are not any ordinary vending machines. They are called "Gashapon".
In a lot of ways, they remind me of old gumball machines that I'd see at the supermarket.
To retrieve one of the toys, you place a coin into the front slot and crank the wheel until said toy can be removed.
Fortunately for me, I came across a Gashapon that contains character figures from a popular Anime that I used to watch, as a kid.
With the flick of a coin and a few turns, I have a new collectible to take home and enjoy.
For lunch, I found a nearby ramen shop and slurped up my lunch hour, anticipating my afternoon activities.
This part of Tokyo gained notoriety after WW2 for being a black market for all things electronics.
Over the decades, the area built upon its electronic roots and emerged as a gigantic gaming mecha.
Everything from old arcade parlors to modern VR shops can be found in this stretch of the city.
Aside from electronics, Akihabara has developed a strong Manga/Anime following, as the area houses countless shops dedicated to those art forms.
I decided to start my tour in an old electronics shop.
This place has everything from ancient microchips for old PCs to solid-state drives for your new gaming computer.
Building your PC has become a trend in the west recently, so this shop is like a personified web store for parts.
It's kind of insane to see a bulk inventory of parts so small and insignificant to a piece of machinery. Even something as small as wires for soldering the parts can be found, in various lengths.
I eventually hop around to some nearby department stores and see what Japanese retail has to offer. The first store is part of a bigger chain, with this location spanning over 7 floors.
Each floor has its theme, from kitchen utensils to "cosplay".
The surrealism of the apparel for sale shouldn't be surprising in an era of online shopping, but I guess seeing tangible products always beats instant searches online.
Amid the strange apparel, I stumbled upon a pair of socks that I couldn't resist. Like the Gashapon figurine I was awarded earlier, I found a pair of socks from the same Anime that I adore.
I couldn't help but buy 3 pairs (they had a deal- 3 pairs for 1000 yen).
The richly colored, kanji-stamped socks are going to be worn proudly regularly. Just a note to self for the next visit, take the tag off before you leave that floor.
Every floor has security sensors and they beep relentlessly if it senses a store tag leaving the premises.
With a few hours behind me and lunch squarely digested, I step into my first official arcade. This place has about any kind of gaming system that you can imagine.
Everything old is new again here, as decades-old arcade games are vibrantly flashing life with their battle-worn buttons being smashed into oblivion.
One thing that I did not expect is for some of these places to be smoker friendly, as some of the players are stacking smoke above their games like a chimney.
While I'm not a fan of the disgusting habit, perhaps it provides a true litmus test for how these machines have stood the test of time.
The billowing clouds of smoke and ashy residue permeate the face of the consoles, testing its patience.
I wouldn't be surprised if the nearby electronics stores help repair these machines, as some of them are in amazing shape (despite the constant abuse).
I finally got my turn to try some of the old arcade games and man, I was not disappointed. There's just something so visceral about pounding the buttons of these machines.
Something about it just feels warm and reminiscent. For those few moments, I feel fluxed back into time, to when gaming was simpler.
Back when all we had were button controllers and it required a certain kind of coordination to play.
Nothing was touching the screen or moving with your body, it was usually just a few buttons and a joystick (or two).
With my pockets a few hundred yen lighter, I continue to make my way about the different arcades and see what else these places have to offer.
The next machine to catch my eye was this drum game. I've seen music games like this before, but this one is by far the most unique.
You use these thick drumsticks to pound on a set of Taiko Drums, hoping to match the rhythm on the screen.
The seemingly simple game gradually increases its complexity, forcing a symbiosis between player and game.
Despite my musical ability, I found the game getting staggeringly difficult within seconds of entry.
The loud timbre of the Taiko drums hypnotizes you, enabling you to play and lose all sense of time.
Speaking of which, the arcades of Akihabara seduced my senses for hours and before I knew it, I was able to check into my hostel.
As I move my way back in that direction, I can't help but notice the growing number of oddly dressed women in the street.
One thing that has become popular in the city (if not most of the country) are these businesses called "maid cafes".
Essentially, they're coffee and treat shops in which the workers, otherwise known as "maids", perform for the customer while serving them.
They can be dressed as anything from actual maids to characters synonymous with pop culture.
Part of the maid's duty is to pass out flyers and promote their respective businesses in the busy side streets of Akihabara.
There's a lot of things I'm willing to try here, but the concept of a maid cafe is just too odd, to me.
As I check into my hostel, I'm given the customary slippers and toiletry bag. Despite the drastic change in scenery, it's nice to see the highly exemplary customer service stay consistent.
I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon chilling in my bunk before heading back into the abyss of Akihabara one more time tonight.
The last thing on the list for today was to adventure into a pop culture-themed bar and grill.
Like many other things I've witnessed today, this place is themed after a popular anime that I used to watch, with everything on the menu tying into that classic story.
I think one thing that gets lost in these kinds of places in the west is that they tend to focus one or a few dishes on the theme of the restaurant.
Here, EVERYTHING ties back to the source of inspiration. It's over the top, but quite impressive.
With that out of the way, my night winds down by playing a few rounds at the arcade and my pocket devoid of yen coins.
It looks like I'll have to stop by a Conbini tomorrow and pick up more yen, as the arcades of Akihabara have rendered me coinless.
Tomorrow, I'll make one last jaunt through Akihabara before making my way over to the Shibuya ward and getting a first-hand look at the world's busiest crosswalk... Ok, there's other stuff, too.
You know that's just the obvious attraction...
Thanks and I'll see you soon!