Archive for May, 2018

After getting back to the hotel room late after the movie and composing the blog record of the day’s events, I didn’t get to sleep until 5am. So I was quite tired when I woke at nine. While Scott went to exercise in the hotel exercise room, Justin & I went downstairs for the breakfast buffet. Then we all met in the room and left the hotel together at 10:45. After arriving at Shinjuku Station via the hotel shuttle bus, we took the Chuo Rapid line to Mitaka. The Mitaka station is moderately sized and contains a number of attractive restaurants. We exited the station, took an escalator down to the ground floor, then began searching for the canopy signifying the pick-up point for the Ghibli Museum. A considerate local woman speaking relatively confident English directed us to go back the way we’d come until we saw the canopy and the machine selling tickets for a ride to the museum.

At the automated machine, each of us paid the 360 yen fee for a round-trip ride to and from the museum. Then we waited a few short minutes until the bus began loading. The guide directing the bus embarkation from the sidewalk encouraged us to separate our single perforated bus ticket into “to” and “from” tickets before boarding. We boarded the Mitaka City bus, which was painted in white and yellow with the images and name of the Ghibli Museum on its exterior, dropping our paper tickets into a small plastic box beside the driver.

The bus wound through dense residential areas and for quite a while followed alongside a stream separating city from dense forest. After several stops, the bus pulled parallel to the Inokashira Park. When we exited the bus and walked the several yards back toward the museum’s entrance, a lengthy line of the day’s guests was already waiting. The line stretched from the ticketing house back to the exterior restrooms and a canopy tent, around the side of the building, all the way back to the life-sized O-Totoro inside a replica ticket booth. Gelukkig het, the line moved quickly. A pair of employees compared patrons’ legal identification cards against the names on the museum tickets. Our tickets were scheduled for a noon entry. We arrived in the line nearly 15 minutes early.

When we entered the museum, we first queued for the short movie screening. The museum was screening Miyazaki’s Kemushi no Boro short film. The beautifully animated short has no soundtrack. Rather, all of its sound consists of manga-style sound effects and reaction sounds like “zawawawa” and “dondondondon” and “shuu shuu shuu shuu” contributed by comedian Tamori. The short film is adorable, of course, and like all good family anime, doesn’t avoid depicting both the wondrous and the crude or harshly amoral aspects of the natural life cycle. After we toured the first floor of the museum, Justin opted to climb the museum’s indoor spiral staircase. Scott and I moved to meet him on the second floor but then realized that the spiral staircase expired at the third floor. Scott & I found Justin in the Kemushi no Boro exhibit. The “Boro” gallery stretched down one hall. The sides of the hall housed samples of storyboards & animation frames from the short film’s production. The hallway itself was adorned with standees of “Boro” characters. Then we made our way through the regular second floor exhibition on the work of Ghibli’s animators. The exhibit rooms featured idealized recreations of Hayao Miyazaki’s work environments, and walls covered in storyboard images, genga, and final production artwork.

Scott suggested that we check out the museum’s rooftop. We walked out onto the porch through a doorway next to the giant plush catbus that small Japanese children were climbing on. The outdoor porch housed a pair of steel “leaf skeleton” benches, a sort of clockwork water fountain, and an enclosed spiral staircase leading to the topmost roof. We took a photo for a small group of American schoolgirl tourists. Then we climbed the external staircase to the rooftop and found a life-sized statue of the broken down Laputa guardian robot. Museum guests stood in a patient line for opportunities to pose before the robot statue for photographs. Since we’d taken a snapshot for the five young women, they returned the favor for us.

We briefly climbed down to the museum’s ground floor interior courtyard.

We returned to the museum’s second floor and turned into the “Taberu wo Kaku” (“Drawing Eating”) exhibit. The exhibit amply demonstrates the extent of the staggering effort Ghibli animators have devoted to drawing Ghibli’s films. The exhibit also included three-dimensional replicas of the foods prominently depicted within Ghibli films. At the sample recreation of the outhouse kitchen from Tonari no Totoro, patrons removed their shoes in order to walk over the tatami floor of the interactive set. The set was followed by a similar replica of the kitchen of Dola’s airship that museum patrons walked through, complete with cabinets fully stocked with cups and plates, preserved spices, and large cheese wheels.

In the museum’s gift shop, Justin & Scott each selected a small, plush caterpillar “Boro” keychain. Justin also purchased an inexpensive charm replica of Sheeta’s levitation stone. I also found a small Boro doll that would shiver and wiggle when its drawstring was pulled. I gave Justin 1,000 yen to purchase it for me at its 972-yen price while I walked to the other side of the fourth floor to patronize the book store. I was relieved to find that the ten Ghibli Museum exclusive movie programs cost 400 yen each rather than the 1,000 yen each I feared they’d cost. So I purchased all ten short film memorial books plus a booklet devoted to the “Taberu wo Kaku” exhibit for 5,100 yen. I’m rather certain that I already own two of the short film program books for the movies I’ve previously seen, but I chose to purchase a set rather than risk not having them all.

We then exited the museum’s grounds and returned to the bus stop, eventually climbing aboard the city bus and riding until the bus circled back around to the Mitaka station. At the station, we boarded the Chuo-Rapid again and stayed on it until it reached Nakano. The overcast sky had begun to rain consistently but lightly. We stopped to investigate Tenma Curry in the Nakano Sun Mall. After being seated, Justin & I each ordered a 500-yen fried curry & cheese bun & cup of homemade ginger ale meal set. Scott ordered the plain beef bun with drink set plus a second curry & soft-boiled egg fried bun. When we finished eating, we took the small clipboard with our customer number to the cashier to pay. Scott generously offered to pay for our light meals.

Several paces farther down the Nakano Sunshine mall, we noticed that the only two patrons within the Genso Zushi conveyor belt sushi restaurant were just leaving. So we took their place. Between the three of us, we selected and consumed a dozen or more plates of sushi with two pieces per plate. When we were finished, I grabbed the attention of the younger store attendant. In a flash, he mentally counted the number & color of plates we’d accumulated, motioned us to the register, and charged us a highly reasonable 1,500 yen for our total. While most of the sushi was merely ordinary in taste, the experience of eating conveyor belt sushi in Tokyo was worth far more than the price we paid.

We proceeded into Nakano Broadway and took the stairs up to the second floor. While Justin & I took a toilet break, Scott entered Mandarake Special 1 and purchased the Sunstreaker Masterpiece Transformers figure he’d had his eye on. Justin came back to the store and first dug through a basket of two-for-108-yen (including sales tax) mini figures of mostly Pokemon & Ultraman monsters. He and Scott pulled out a few figures. Then Justin requested four limited edition opaque color Ultraman figures from the glass display case, along with a vintage soft vinyl figure of Jirass, the 1966 Ultraman monster crafted from a modified Godzilla costume.

I stopped into the Mandarake Deep store and asked for guidance to the selection of adult doujinshi by “Mental Specialist.” Expecting to find nothing, I was tremendously pleased and surprised to find that the selection included Watanabe Yoshimasa’s Dirty Pair Syuku Shinsaku Hatsubaikinen Genteibon doujinshi for 1,000 yen, Prescription volume 1 revised edition doujinshi for 1,500 yen, and Prescription volume 2 doujinshi for 1,500 yen. The selection also included a Prescription volume 4, but I already have a copy of that book. Actually, the store had two copies of the revised volume 1 doujin marked at the same price. I brought Justin into the store to look at them and give me a second opinion. One copy had small but noticeable brown stains on the cover that may or may not be removable. The cover of the second copy was a bit dirty but had no obvious stains. However, it did exhibit significant chipping on the lower front cover. I decided to purchase the first copy. Although 4,000 yen was a bit more than I’d hoped to pay for three vintage Dirty Pair doujinshi, I’m sure it’s less than I’d pay for them had I found them from a vendor in America.

The three of us collectively decided to depart Nakano and visit Tokyo Character Street. So we re-boarded the Chuo Rapid. At Shinjuku Station, much of the train emptied out, so we were able to secure seats for ourselves. We exited the train at Tokyo station’s Yaesu North Gate and didn’t know exactly where to go. So I asked at the information counter. The lady behind the counter directed me to go straight, exit, then take the left entrance into the basement. Ultimately Scott & I agreed to try the downward stairs next to the Ekiben-ya Matsuri shop. Doing so proved correct, because upon reaching the basement, I began to recognize Tokyo Character Street stores. So we made the loop. In the Ultraman store, I spent 300 yen on a bottle of Ultraman Kodomo Beer. Justin purchased a replica communicator badge and a steel V-TOL paperweight. Just outside the shop, Scott got accosted by a middle-aged Japanese man aggressively eager to practice his English language speaking skills. With great patience and fortitude, Scott carried on an extended conversation until finally exculpating himself by shifting the man’s focus onto Justin.

In the meantime, I crossed the hallway to the Precure store and purchased a booklet of mini-stickers that featured a unique Pretty Cure 15th anniversary logo and illustration on its cover. A lady managing the NekoZakka NyaOn pop-up shop cart confused Justin & me when she said something about “…sold out tomorrow.” With our minimal understanding of Japanese, we couldn’t comprehend if she meant that her goods would be sold out by tomorrow, if she had sold out of the day’s allotted inventory, of if she was closing for the day thus we should return to purchase goods from her tomorrow. In any case, while Scott & I were browsing the Shounen Jump store, Justin went back to the NekoZakka retail cart and purchased a cat-faced purse and a postcard for his wife. At the Jump Shop, Scott purchased a Dragon Ball themed water bottle. We browsed through the Moomin, Tomica (“Takara Tomy”), and Fuji TV network stores. In the Donguri Kyowakoku Ghibli store, Justin purchased vinyl mini figures of Pazu, Sheeta, Dola & her flapter, and Teto.

When we wandered past the boundaries of Tokyo Character Street and moved into the “First Avenue” shopping arcade, we spied a Kit-Kat specialty outlet. Scott purchased several boxes of unusual, Japanese exclusive Kit-Kat flavors. I was disappointed to learn that the box of sake flavored Kit-Kat didn’t include a sample bottle of sake.

We stopped and observed the automated work of an antique manju-making machine in a store window. The vintage cast iron machine would pour dough into molds, squirt a dollop of filling atop the dough, cover the filling with another layer of dough, then press and heat the ingredients into a circular, egg-like pastry. Justin entered the bakery and inquired about purchasing omiage gift boxes of azuki & matcha flavored manju, but the shop clerk pointed out that the confections had a strict week-long shelf life. They’d be no good to consume or give as gifts by the time Justin returned home if purchased today. So Justin thanked the clerk for his honest consideration and reluctantly left the store empty-handed.

We departed Tokyo Station and returned to our hotel. After a short rest, we took a walk out into the light rain. Although our intention was to purchase hot take-out food from the nearby 7-11, I suggested instead that we just eat a dinner at the nearby Yoshinoya restaurant. Scott took me up on the idea, so the two of us entered while Justin decided to wait outside. I didn’t realize at the time that Scott had given Justin the impression that Scott & I were ordering take-out, not sitting down to eat in the restaurant. Scott ordered the curry with beef & egg dish. I pointed out, on the menu, the curry with beef bowl, but the young woman waitress evidently put in my order as strictly a bowl of white rice topped with a thick layer of deep brown colored sweet curry. I paid the 450 yen for my meal then went next door into the Can Do 100 yen store. I purchased two bottles of Coke Zero, a long transparent utility box with a clasp, and, as an experiment, a B5-sized binder with permanent sheet protectors. The transparent box will serve as my means of transporting home a full plastic bottle of Pepsi’s” J-Cola. But I’ll need a second properly sized plastic container to carry the filled aluminum Coke can with the Tokyo silhouette that Scott purchased for me in Shibuya.

Since the 7-11 was sold out of meat buns, on the way back to the hotel, when we stuck our heads into Family Mart, I purchased two “FamiChiki” fried chicken patties to take back to the hotel room as snacks. Once back in the hotel room, I tried to compose this very document while current episodes of Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori and Juushinki Pandora played on the television behind me. But I was so exhausted that I unconsciously kept typing sentences that made no sense. And I eventually fell asleep in my chair. When Justin nudged me conscious, I shut off the laptop and climbed into bed for the night.

Since we qualified for only two free breakfast recipients, this morning Scott & Justin went for the morning meal while I remained in the room researching the relevance of visiting Asagaya Anime Street (seemingly rather little these days since the Shirobaco café has transformed into an idol singer-themed restaurant).

When we left the room, we took the hotel shuttle bus to Shinjuku station’s central west exit. I exchanged $300 USD at the J-Market store at a 112 yen exchange rate. Then the three of us took the Chuo Rapid train line to Ochanomizu. When the train stopped, we dashed across the platform onto the Chuo-Sobu local, arriving in Akihabara around 10:30am. Our goal for the day was to browse the stores off Chuo Dori. So underneath the rail overpass we crossed the street and headed straight, first visiting Mulan Akiba. The store carried video games, home video, and figure toys – new and second hand. Although the store did carry some items we hadn’t seen elsewhere, the store’s prices seemed a bit higher than average. Just outside of the store, on the side of the street, Scott stopped to purchase the last gachapon “I-shibari” in a 200 yen vending machine. The “prize” was literally a length of white twined rope tied into traditional Japanese shibari intended to enwrap a cell phone.

Returning to 3 Chome, we turned up the alley to the Autum Leaf store. I asked the shopkeeper for the Saigado “Toshimaku Sodachi no Toshima-san” manga. After searching his store’s inventory via PC, he went upstairs then returned with a new copy of the book. So I purchased the book plus a copy of Oda Non’s “Non Virgin” tankouban that was spotlighted on the store’s shelf. Half a block down the road, we came to the Akiba Cultures Zone building which we’d begun to explore two days before. So we went up to the third floor and finished exploring the Robot Robot store. Scott found a tiny Boba Fett figure. I picked up Kodansha’s “Hitagi” mook for 500 yen and the volume 0 DVD of the obscure “Omochi Alien” anime series, complete with a bonus figure, for 500 yen.

Then we took the elevator up to the fifth floor’s Good Smile & Animate Café that was hosting a limited time Cowboy Bebop 20th anniversary café. The airy L-shaped café had wooden tables covered with Cowboy Bebop spaceship themed banners. The walls were adorned with Cowboy Bebop illustrations. The rear of the eating space had large cardboard standees of the characters in their 20th anniversary formal clothing. The menu consisted of foods and drinks inspired by and named after the show. Each of us ordered aSpike” (a strawberry ginger ale). I also ordered a 1,000 yen plate of spaghetti & meatballs since I hadn’t had breakfast. Our order was brought to us along with three of twelve exclusive laminated cardboard Cowboy Bebop drink coasters. I received a second randomly selected coaster when my plate of spaghetti arrived. The drink was tasty. The spaghetti was rather zesty, but a rather small portion considering its price. As I finished eating, Scott & Justin both ordered a “Spike Spigel,” an “Old Fashioned” whisky cocktail served with a handful of peanuts and a small chocolate in the shape of a pistol. Justin initially considered ordering a “Faye Valentine,” a martini. But the waiter confirmed that the martini was made with gin rather than vodka. Before paying for our meal, I picked up two three-packs of thin vinyl cases for the coasters, and an acrylic Cowboy Bebop café “Faye” standee. The “Swordfish” tie-tac was sold out. Scott picked up one of the limited framed three-dimensional illustrations of the Bebop crew lounging in its 20th anniversary formal wear.

To finish off the Akiba Cultures Zone building, we browsed the second and first floors. Particularly worth noting, in a first floor display case we noticed a beautiful 5,000 yen matching set of Susumu Kodai and Yuki Mori design ball point pens.

Across the street, we entered the Akihabara Mandarake complex and took the elevator up to the eighth floor. Justin inquired about a vintage Robocop Auto 9 airsoft pistol priced at 5,000 yen. Unexpectedly considerately, the Mandarake staff called the airport to inquire about the viability of simply packing the toy gun within checked luggage. Since the response was unfavorable, Justin didn’t buy the replica gun. On the seventh floor Justin found a vintage Marusan vinyl Godzilla figure available for 12,000 yen that especially piqued his interest. I thumbed through the selection of vintage shitajiki and found one Dirty Pair release that I didn’t own. I purchased it at 1,500 yen. We skipped the sixth and fifth floors. The fourth floor is men’s doujinshi. I spent a few minutes in vain searching for the “Saigado” section before I gave up and asked an employee. He directed me to an entirely different bookshelf than the one’s I’d looked at. I pulled three used comics that brought my collection of Saigado doujinshi to up-to-date completion. I then asked the employee to point out the “Mental Specialist” section. He did. I looked but didn’t see any of artist Yoshimasa Watanabe’s early Dirty Pair doujinshi that I didn’t already own.

Further up 3 Chome, we found the second Jungle store. [Technically it’s referred to as Jungle store 1, and the Radio Kaikan store is “store 2”]. Justin opted to initially browse the basement “monster” floor. He ended up purchasing only a Sonico beverage bottle holder for 540 yen. Digging through the clearance box, I found a copy of Hiroki Yagami’s “G-Taste volume 5” illustration book discounted to an unbelievable 54 yen. At check-out, we were behind a pair of young men studying abroad. The pair proffered their passports and requested sales tax exemption. One of them buying sentai goods requested that the toys be removed from their packaging in order to conserve space in his luggage. The same young man also spent additional time with the cashier staff to get his bill correctly sorted out and his change correct. After Justin cashed out, a Chinese tourist stepped up. He also spent a while ensuring that his purchase was tax-free. So I spent a great deal of time waiting in line for a fifty cent purchase.

After exploring the basement and the above-ground first level of Jungle’s first Akihabara store, we backtracked by a few feet, turned the aisle, and found the entrance to the Monsters Labo specialty store. So Justin & Scott descended and browsed while I shot a brief video commemorating the unusual entrance approach to the store.

Before leaving, Scott pointed out an un-priced Ichiban Kuji Godzilla prize drinking cup in box, After Justin re-introduced himself to the shop-owner he’d first met briefly in 2016, the shop owner insisted that Justin pay only 100 yen for the glass cup. The shop owner then dug out a small pile of kaiju-themed hand towels and a similar stack of Godzilla-themed clear files. A sense of politeness seemingly encouraged Justin & Scott to both purchase a few items from the selected offerings.

Initially Justin forgetfully left behind his printed need lists of Godzilla toys in the Monsters Labo store. So while he returned to the store to fetch it, Scott browsed the neighboring electronics store. Justin rejoined us, and the three of us then returned to Chuo Dori and walked down to the Mos burger store. Requested by the sign in the door, Scott first went upstairs and secured a table for us. I ordered the “Tobikiri burger with Japanese sauce.” Justin ordered a cheeseburger and a hot dog. Then Scott went downstairs and ordered two beef & rice patty sandwiches. The food was delivered up to our seats.

By mutual agreement over lunch, we departed the Mos Burger and returned to Akihabara Station. There we took the Chuo line to Ochanomizu, switched trains to the Chuo Rapid to Shinjuku, then at Shinjuku switched trains to the Yamanote line to Shibuya. Being forced to pack into the trains during the rush hour commute effectively prepared us for the crushing throng of people at the Ningen Scramble crossing outside of the station’s Hachiko exit. By a near miracle, I successfully navigated a passage from the Shibuya station to the Shibuya Mandarake store without having to backtrack, get lost, or ask anyone for assistance.

Unexpectedly, this time around the Shibuya Mandarake store seemed unsatisfying and picked over. In previous years we’d found an abundance of stellar deals at the store. But this time around we all found very little of interest. I was surprised and pleased to see that the men’s doujinshi section now had a placard for “Dirty Pair,” I purchased one Dirty Pair Flash doujinshi that I didn’t previously have.

We left the Mandarake store by its ground floor side-street entrance and crossed the street into the Daiso 100 yen store. Upon recognizing the length of the line of customers at the check-out registers, we decided to forgo the shop. So we stepped outside into an adjacent small parking lot lined with soda vending machines. I noticed one machine offered an aluminum bottle of Coca-Cola with a Tokyo silhouette emblazoned on around the bottle. So I dropped a pair of hundred yen coins into the machine and pressed the dispense button, but nothing happened. So I depressed the coin return lever. Nothing happened. The machine simply stole my 200 yen. Luckily, Scott spotted the same style of Coke bottle in another machine and purchased one for me. Then we followed Scott on a long straight-line walk back to the station that cut out the shorter diagonal navigation back to the Hachiko entrance of the Shibuya station. From our home station, we returned to the hotel. After an hour’s rest, we took the shuttle bus back to the station, and from there walked to the Toho Shinjuku Theater, a multiplex attached to the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, famous for its life-sized Godzilla peeking over the rooftop. We arrived a half-hour early for the day’s final screening of Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. To avoid spoilers, I’ll simply call the second film comparable in quality to the first.

Monday morning in Tokyo was cloudy but still warm. Justin, Scott, and I took the shuttle bus from the Hilton Hotel to Shinjuku Station. Once at the station we decided to procure food before beginning our proper excursion of the day. Initially we descended into the basement of the Odakyu department store. However, despite the tremendous variety of fresh food available, we realized that no seating was available. Scott purchased a Scotch egg before we ascended one level. I led us around the station until we found a Lotteria restaurant. Scott ordered a double burger meal. Justin ordered a single burger meal and a separate “hash” burger that included a hash brown patty atop the beef patty. I ordered a teriyaki chicken burger. Scott realized after a bite that his Scotch egg contained onions, so I finished the egg.

I re-charged my Suica card with an additional 1,000 yen before boarding the train bound for Akihabara. Scott & I sat on the train ride over while Justin chose to stand. Upon reaching the station, we took the south Electric Town exit and first browsed the first five floors of the Volks Hobby Tengoku store. Then we roamed through a covered arcade alley lined by electronics vendors. Scott purchased a handful of random electronic switches and buttons for future household electronics engineering projects. Then we began a devoted crawl down the southern side of Chuo Dori. Of particular note, we noticed a number of heavily discounted second-hand or opened nude bishoujo completed figures on the fourth floor of the Trader third store. The Surugaya store on Chuo Dori offered a surprising number of rare second-hand figures, particularly robot and mecha figures at bargain prices. Justin deliberated over a vinyl Mothra larva figure and a “grown” winged Mothra figure with a complete hang tag. Both toys seemed to be ones missing from his collection, but with our limited reference materials at hand, we had trouble distinguishing which specific toys we were looking at. Justin did find a boxed Heisei-era 8” Mothra vinyl toy that he purchased for 3,500 yen.

Golden Age, next-door to Liberty 8, was closed when we first approached. The sign on the door asserted that the store was closed from 3pm until 5pm. So we browsed Liberty store 8, which proved especially fruitful. The clearance wall shelves on the fifth floor were exceptionally plentiful with bargains. In fact, I literally didn’t have enough cash to pay for everything that interested me. And moreover I’d already purchased so much that I simply couldn’t carry any more. Notably, the Yamato-armored Yuki Mori toy that was on sale brand new from Volks Hobby Paradise down the street for 122,00 was available second-hand from Liberty 8 at 6,900 yen. A second-hand CM’s Corporation Mospeada Brave 01 EX Legioss Tread Type IOTA robot figure set was around 17,000 yen, a bargain compared to its original 28,000 retail price. A complete Minami-ke Chiaki Nendoroid figure was available at 2,300 yen. Particularly, a boxed Banpresto UFO catcher prize “Hikari Kohinata” figure from Amanchu was available within the store for a mere $8.

Naysayers who claim that there are no bargains left to be found in Tokyo’s anime stores either haven’t looked or happen to have such limited and esoteric collecting tastes that they don’t find anything appealing. On this day alone I purchased 35 figures of varying sizes, including two open box & incomplete Nendoroid figures, a large “original” devil girl completed figure, two six inch-plus figures, and plenty of smaller sized and gachapon figures for 11,200 yen. At Trader 3, Justin found three Gamera (1995) boxed figure toy sets for under $50 total.

Golden Age was open for business by the time we exited the Liberty 8 building. While the store still had the impressively dense selection of vintage toys and collectables, the store was appreciably more crowded by browsing patrons than normally, and the stores’ prices compared to 2016 had risen noticeably in many cases.

We crossed over Chuo Dori just past 6pm. Just after crossing the street at the intersection, Justin accepted a flyer proffered by a Japanese lady on the sidewalk. The barker immediately petitioned us to visit the art gallery her flyer was promoting. She pointed out Gallery 9 and encouraged us to visit the store, saying, “It’s only one floor.” The small store offered varying sizes of framed fine art prints. The saleslady admirably tried her hardest to engage us in English language conversation. Scott politely flipped through the framed prints. When I appeared disengaged, the sales lady motioned me to take a look and nearly under her breath said, “Please buy something.” Scott and Justin walked out of the store, causing the saleslady to gasp in disappointed astonishment. I turned to her and said, “Suman,” before walking out without looking back.

Although our intention was to cover both sides of Chuo Dori, we deliberately took a slight side-trip to the Surugaya Specialty Store. We walked into the first floor then walked out again when we realized that the first floor had neither elevator or stairs. We walked around the building and discovered a stairway leading to the second floor. Upon browsing the store’s Warhammer gaming shelves, Scott decided to ask for assistance. The clerk eventually assured Scott that the Japanese exclusive Warhammer 40,000 goods he wanted were sold out. So the three of us approached the station.

To return home, we weaved our way through, past, and around the numerous parents with children and other patrons of the train system to reach the Chuo-Sobu train line. We rode the train until its first stop at Ochanomizu then exited, choosing instead to catch a different train.

Getting off the Chuo-Sobu line, we crossed the platform just as the Chuo-Rapid line arrived. We boarded the Chuo-Rapid line train because it was a faster transfer to Shinjuku Station. Back at the station, we once again descended into the basement grocery of the Odakyu department store. Justin selected and purchased a half-dozen chicken skewers, a pair of fried balls filled with minced chicken, and a large serving of potato salad. I paid the 600 yen bill for a pair of egg rolls. Scott purchased an omrice in gravy and a pair of Scotch eggs as his dinner. We exited the train station through the Odakyu exit then walked around the bend of the station’s exterior. Just as we came into clear sight of the bus station, I saw the Hilton shuttle close its rear passenger door. My initial thought was that the bus was pulling away to depart. So I dashed over to get the driver’s attention. The driver waved me, Justin, and Scott onto the bus and shortly later departed. Once back at the hotel, we first walked down the lobby stairs into the shopping arcade beneath the hotel. Most of the stores were closed, but the convenience market remained open. So Justin purchased a 2,300 yen bottle of Scotch, and we marched back up to the room.

I snapped a photograph of my day’s purchases then began arranging my luggage to see how much space I had remaining, to make tentative plans for how many more larger, boxed items I’d be able to purchase during this trip and still transfer home myself.

Justin & Scott woke rather early, but I chose to sleep in a bit. We finally left the hotel at 11am. At the hotel driveway turnabout, my friend Jon texted us to inquire about joining us. We decided to agree upon a time and place later on. So we took the free hotel shuttle bus to Shinjuku Station. There, we took the Chuo-Sobu line to Akihabara. Initially we walked past the “Electric Town” exit, and took the northernmost exit from the station. We then followed the street beneath the elevated railroad tracks in search for the “Akiba no FleaMa.” However, we couldn’t find the otaku street market. The official website describes the flea market as underneath the railroad tracks, but we found only an empty lot fenced off for construction. In the evening I looked up the website again and realized that the May flea market dates had been canceled, presumably due to the construction.

Frustrated, we walked back toward Chuo Dori, first stopping in at the X Akihabara Honten store. Justin then suggested that we get an early lunch at a restaurant he spied from across the street. When we crossed the street to the establishment, we discovered that it offered only seafood. So we decided to proceed on. We stopped into the M’s Pop Life store where I purchased an inexpensive gag gift that a friend back home had asked me to procure. Then we made our way to Chuo Dori but noticed that the street hadn’t yet been blocked off for exclusive Sunday pedestrian traffic. Rather than initially dive into shopping, although Justin did make a brief side detour, we decided to prioritize acquiring lunch. Rather than try to find a restaurant on Chuo Dori, we crossed the street to the lane behind the KFC. There we spotted a second floor restaurant that looked appealing. The small restaurant consisted primarily of a row of stools facing the wall. When we entered, we each utilized the computer terminal, after switching its menu to English, to choose our food selections. The machine printed out tickets, and we sat down. Only then did we realize that we were once again eating at another branch of the Yokohama Iekei Ramen Ichikakuya chain. Justin & I both ordered the “stamina” empowering karaage bowl – a bowl of white rice topped with fried boneless chunks of sautéed chicken – while Scott tried the Hawaiian curry – a slightly sweeter version of Japanese curry with a hamburger patty. Each meal included a bowl of miso soup and cost about 1,000 yen.

When we left the restaurant, we marched into the Kotobukiya store. I purchased two “blind box” Nyanboard office-style clips for 200 yen each. I then found Justin & Scott on the second floor. Both of them were holding items selected from the first floor, despite signs seemingly everywhere stating that products must be purchased on their respective floors.

I browsed the second floor while Justin & Scott took their purchases back downstairs to pay for them. When they returned, Justin purchased a faux vintage Japanese postcard depicting Godzilla facing off against Hokusai’s famous Great Wave off Kanagawa.

We then entered the Akiba Cultures Zone building. Taking the elevator, we rode up to the fourth floor and began browsing. After covering the floor, we made our way upstairs for a peek around. The limited Cowboy Bebop pop-up café wasn’t open yet but already had a line of interested patrons. At that point, Jon contacted us again, asking us to meet him in 20 minutes. So we traveled down to the third floor and explored the selections of another shop or two before we decided that little time remained for us to meet Jon. So we made our way to the front of the Radio Kaikan building and spotted Jon waiting for us.

Now that Akiba’s Chuo Street was closed for automobile traffic, the neighborhood was jam packed with pedestrians. So rather than fight our way back to the Akiba Cultures Zone building, we instead first browsed the stand of anime figures available for sale on the tables outside of the Radio Kaikan building. Then we entered and walked through The Akiba gift shop. Items including Pop Team Epic cookies and bottled water, Dragon Ball bottled water and candy senzu beans, and Kumamoto Ikinari Dango flavored Kit-Kat candy convinced us to definitely make purchases there at some future time. We then browsed the stores of the Radio Kaikan building up to the fifth floor. At that point, Justin & Scott demanded refreshments. So we descended to street level, and walked several blocks to the closest McDonalds restaurant. I ordered a medium (the largest size offered) limited-time-available Morinaga Milk Caramel milkshake. Jon ordered a soft-serve waffle cone and a Coke. Scott ordered a burger with fried egg value meal, while Justin just drank a Diet Coke. Due to the seating available in the basement, Justin & Scott sat together while Jon & I sat next to each other. During the break, Justin & Scott noticed a young Japanese person slumped at a nearby table, possibly either crying or sleeping. The person appeared to have been recently evicted, judging by the amount of bags and possessions that surrounded her. Scott, in particular, wanted to express some pity on her, but the language barrier prevented his kindness.

Following our respite, we exited the restaurant, and Justin purchased a bottle of water from a vending machine. While Jon, Scott, and Justin were occupied, I noticed and pointed out that a Japanese woman standing on the street corner had a live owl perched on her shoulder. The woman turned out to be advertising a recently launched owl café in Akihabara.

On the way back to the Radio Kaikan, we stopped at a crane game arcade. On the second floor, Jon found a machine he felt confident about besting, so after Scott & I donated about 1,500 yen, Jon made enough successful efforts to win a boxed Pop Team Epic towel from a crane game machine. For Scott, just seeing and video recording a successful effort was reward enough.

Back at the Radio Kaikan building, we continued to browse the sixth through ninth floors. Some of the highlights we encountered were a 23,300-yen Tomonosuke resin model kit of the Blade Runner 2049 PKD and an 88,800 yen full-metal replica of the same gun; and at Jungle, a 1:1 sized Memoru from the 1984 Tongari Boshi no Memoru anime television series, and inside the store six-foot tall statues of Mazinger Z and Grendizer. Throughout the exploration, Justin & Scott took extensive notes on items to potentially purchase in future days. I bought a number of bargain items including a 7” Koufuku Graffitti figure for 500 yen and an elaborate figure of a sword-wielding armor-clad maiden (not Saber, but similar in design), for 2,100 yen.

We finished circling the ninth floor just ten minutes before 8pm when the building was scheduled to close for the day. So Jon led us back to the Akihabara train station. I was surprised to see a large bank of gachapon machines set up in the middle of the station’s second floor. We took the train to Yotsuya where Jon directed us to the Hokkaido Yotsuya-ten izekaya restaurant. Collectively the four of us used our table’s digital tablet to order servings of skewered teriyaki chicken, fried chicken cutlet with tartar sauce, potato salad with egg, a serving of fried potato cubes, a large bowl of minced cabbage, peppers, and strips of thin-sliced beef cooked on an iron bowl over a butane heater brought to the table, a bowl of teriyaki pork over rice, and a cod roe rice ball. Along with three alcoholic drinks, the meal totaled just under 17,000 yen.

After dinner and conversation, Justin, Scott, and I walked back to Jon’s apartment where he, Justin, and Scott sampled a now rare bottle of Hakushu 12-year-old single malt whisky. We all talked and joked for a while, and Jon handed to me our advance tickets to the Ghibli Museum that he’d purchased on our behalf, a handful of anime books he’d ordered online for me, along with four doujinshi that he’d purchased at my request back in 2016 but forgotten to pass along to me. We departed Jon’s apartment just past 11pm.

Mornings seem to arrive very early in Tokyo. At 6:30 in the morning, the sun was already high and especially bright, waking all three of us. Each of us showered and prepared for the day, planning to initially walk the few blocks from the hotel to the Can Do 100 yen store. We proceeded down to the hotel lobby where Scott was suddenly inclined to inquire about the morning breakfast buffet. The hotel staff stated that due to Scott’s level of Hilton Hotel repeat patronage, he qualified for two free breakfasts. In the sense that I was the odd man out, Justin offered to split the cost of the third breakfast. The breakfast buffet turned out to cost 4,000 yen, but the price seemed justifiable considering the impressive, virtually intimidating range of the buffet. The food offerings ranged from cold cereals to smoked salmon to assortments of Japanese cold noodles to English style baked beans.

When we finished our meal, we walked past the University Hospital and down to the 7-11. We noticed that the Can Do 100-yen store wasn’t open yet. So we returned to the hotel where we caught the free shuttle bus to the station. At Shinjuku Station’s west entrance, we wandered in circles a bit, waiting for the stores to open at 10am. When the J-Market store opened, Justin exchanged currency into Japanese yet. The advance ticket booking store offered an exchange rate of 107 yen to the dollar, the best rate we’d encountered yet.

We entered the station’s train terminal and boarded the Chuo-Sobu line headed for Nakano. The train stopped at several intermittent stations before Nakano. We exited the station’s north exit and proceeded across the car turnabout, entering the covered shopping arcade. I was particularly surprised by how few people seemed to be about. On the way through the Nakano Sunmall, Scott & Justin stopped to purchase panda-shaped taiyaki.

Since we’d arrived in Nakano around 10:30am, before most of the stores opened, we poked our heads into the Namco arcade. Scott pointed out an elaborate Densha do Go train conductor simulation game. Justin spent 100 yen to try it out. The game consisted of three large monitors providing a panoramic view, and a replica train dashboard. On the game tutorial, which was communicated exclusively in Japanese, Justin managed to stop at the station too early. Then he pulled too far ahead.

We proceeded into the basement where we found a Daiso 100 yen store. I purchased a three-pack of bars of bath soap since bars weren’t available individually. I also purchased a pair of finger & toe nail clippers. We proceeded into the grocery section of the basement and marveled at some of the fresh seafood offerings – amazed at both the quality and price of the foodstuffs.

When 11am struck, we made our way to the Card Shop Treasure store on the first floor. In a display case, I noticed a memo-sized clipboard with a monochrome image of an attractive topless girl printed on it. The clipboard was priced at only 100 yen. I also thumbed through the stacks of remainder telephone card packaging and promotional postcards, ultimately pulling out two shitajiki, a postcard, and a Youkai Watch plastic poster all for 10 yen each. I asked for the clipboard by referring to it as “Urushihara.” The attendant deliberately pointed out to me that the artist was actually Yoshihiro Kimura. She asked if I still wanted it. I did. On one side note, I was surprised to see that a single vintage Urusei Yatsura telephone card cost the USD equivalent of about $2,000.

The Mandarake stores opened at noon, so we began a lengthy process of browsing and shopping. Since we first entered an elevator, I recommended that we ride up to the fourth floor and make our day down.

I’ve heard countless armchair critics claim that Tokyo, and in particular both Nakano Broadway and Akihabara, have become too accustomed to foreign collectors and shoppers and have resultantly matched their prices to typical online values, leaving no bargains left to be found in Tokyo’s otaku stores. Granted, some items available in the various Nakano Broadway stores are priced at typical online rates. But bargains are definitely still available to hunters who search for them. I found and purchased items including an Ichiban Kuji Yamato 2199 laminated poster for 100 yen, a pair of loose six-inch tall bishoujo figures I couldn’t recognize for 500 yen each, a Gloomy Bear figure in package for 600 yen. I found a boxed set of marching Working! Mini-Popura figures (from the show’s opening animation) discounted to 3,000 yen. And unexpectedly Justin spotted a Fullcock Takagi type-M2019 Blade Runner water blaster in a display case for only 4100 yen including sales tax. I eagerly suggested that I’d purchase the water gun if Justin didn’t. So he allowed me to purchase it.

Justin’s purchases included a 2001 Bandai GMK Godzilla translucent black theater exclusive figure for 3800 yen, and a “blue spines” exclusive 2014 Bandai Godzilla six-inch figure for 1,000 yen. Scott’s interests were extensive but his purchases very limited for the first full day.

After extensively exploring the fourth then third floors, we took a break at Scott’s urging. Randomly wandering in a direction, we came upon a Hanamaru restaurant. Justin and Scott ordered bowl of udon. I ordered a plate of curry and learned that the curry was only available as a side-order with an udon purchase. So I ordered both entrees.

After lunch, we returned to Nakano Broadway’s second floor. At last, we finished our browsing at 6:40pm. Although we’d initially considered transferring directly from Nakano to Tokyo Character Street, we decided to delay the visit to Tokyo Character Street until another day, considering the time. On the way back to the train station, the pedestrian traffic was far heavier than it had been during the morning. Justin stopped into a small electronics store nearby the entrance of the shopping arcade, in order to purchase a short changing cable for his cell phone.

Largely by chance, we took the Chuo Rapid train line back toward the hotel. The train ride skipped all of the stops in between Shinjuku & Nakano. We took the hotel shuttle back to the hotel. After a short rest at the room, we walked back to the Can Do 100 yen store. Scott purchased a random selection of Japanese candies & snacks to try out. Justin purchased a tea cup. I purchased several bottles of water & Coke Zero. I also purchased several hundred-yen Japanese cat ears and rabbit ears headbands to bring home to re-sell at conventions.

Tentatively our plan for tomorrow is to visit Akihabara, initially scoping out the Akiba no FleaMa street market before lapping Chuo-dori and its parallel streets. Further tentatively, my friend Jon, who works & lies in Yotsuya, Tokyo, will meet us tomorrow in Akihabara.

All three of us got varying amounts of sleep in the LA Airport Hilton before catching the shuttle bus to the airport. At terminal 4 we approached the self-check in terminals to check in our baggage. At that time we realized that we’d been assigned three randomly chosen seats throughout the 787 airliner despite having purchased our tickets together. Scott, being a big guy, asserted that he absolutely needed an aisle seat. However, the automated terminal refused to acknowledge his credit card and allow him to purchase a seat upgrade. So we proceed through security. Our flight from Gate 41 as the very first waiting area past security. So while Scott went in search of an attendant to inquire about a seat change, Justin & I wandered up the concourse in search of affordable food. Our search proved fruitless, as a breakfast burrito was an intimidating $17, and even a cold sandwich started at $10. Justin spotted a patron with an infant and mother at a restaurant. Justin was certain that the young man was an actor from the Glee television series. When we returned to Gate 41, Scott hadn’t yet encountered a live attendant, so I mentioned that down the concourse was a manned American Airlines customer service station. So we walked to it, and Scott successfully petitioned for a seat re-assignment.

Scott was seated in 17C. Justin was seated in 32A. I was near the back of the plane in seat 36B in between a young man who appeared to be a college Japanese language teacher and a petite Japanese-American woman visiting family in Japan. I spent most of the 12-hour flight either sleeping to attempting to sleep. During the trip I did listen to Don Henley’s Greatest Hits & Justin Heyward’s “All the Way” greatest hits collection. Justin watched a number of movies including Black Panther, Geostorm, and The Disaster Artist. Scott watched 3 Billboards. The first meal service was a choice of beef tips with rice or chicken couscous. The “snack” was a turkey sandwich on flatbread. The second meal of the flight was a breakfast choice of omelet or noodles. Judging by our post-flight anecdotes, my flight was a bit more peaceful than Justin or Scott’s.

Our flight’s landing at Haneda airport startled me because the plane felt as if it distinctly slid to the right then overcompensated back to the left before straightening out. Upon disembarking, we stopped in a restroom. Even though I’ve experienced Japanese toilets before, I was still surprised by how high tech the toilet stall appeared. All three of us were also surprised to see that upon entering the customs inspection an infrared camera examined each entrant to scan for elevated body temperatures suggesting infection or illness.

We passed through immigration then picked up our baggage. The layout of the Haneda airport is practically identical to Narita. After we passed through the customs inspection we considered what to do next. Since Scott & Justin already had enough Japanese yen to get by, we decided to forego immediate currency exchange. Instead, we attempted to purchase 690 yen tickets for the monorail ride to Hamamatsucho then transfer to Shinjuku. My Suica card had only 669 yen remaining on it, and the minimum amount possible to recharge a Suica card is 500 yen, so I borrowed a 500 yen coin from Scott to recharge my card. Then we boarded the monorail and rode 7 stops to Hamamatsucho. Scott took the escalator downstairs while Justin & I grabbed the elevator, particularly since I was dragging along two large roller totes. However, upon descending, Justin & I discovered that Scott had exited the escalator on one side of a barrier while we were on the other. Justin felt anxious about having enough money left on his Suica card, so he tried an automated machine, but the machine rejected his card. After a few failed efforts, he switched to the adjacent machine that also rejected his card. Eventually an elderly lady terminal assistance approached us. When the machine refused Justin’s card under her efforts, she directed us to the uniformed station security. That young man eventually motioned for Justin to try using the fare adjustment machine. That machine did acknowledge Justin’s card, so Justin put more money on the debit card, and the two of us finally passed through the automated gates to rejoin Scott. The only train at the Hamamatsucho station that went directly to Shinjuku was the Yamanote line. So we boarded the green Yamanote line train and rode the loop for 27 minutes before finally reaching Shinjuku. On the train, Justin remained standing near the door. Scott and I sat opposite each other. Scott’s two suitcases and my two stacked totes nearly blocked off passage through the train.

We exited the train and proceeded down two flights of stairs, across and underground tunnel, and up a flight of stairs leading to the Central West station exit. There we were greeted by a small crowd of Japanese people snapping photographs of a live-sized display of an automated jockey astride a race horse. Scott stepped up to the information desk and asked for directions to the hotel shuttle bus terminal. The attendant directed us to the elevator around the corner that took us up to ground level. Once on the sidewalk across from the Nishi Shinjuku shopping area and Yadobashi Camera stores, Justin & I waited with our luggage while Scott walked up and down the street to locate the bus drop-off location. Upon finding it a half-block to our right, we stationed ourselves at the pick-up point and waited ten minutes until the free shuttle bus from Shinjuku Station to the Hilton Hotel made its “once every 20 minutes” scheduled arrival.

When we arrived at the hotel, Scott checked us in. We were assigned room 2128. The room was cozy with two single Japanese sized beds. Scott realized quickly that his feet extended off the end of the short Japanese bed. He went back downstairs to the lobby to inquire about a room change. After being informed that no larger rooms were available without an additional up-charge, Scott went downstairs into the “Hiltopia shopping arcade” and purchased a baked pastry for himself and a pair of onigiri for Justin & me.

Back in the room, Justin & Scott managed, through experimentation and trial & error, to successfully get their cell phones’ internet data connections working. So after nearly an hour’s rest, we decided to venture out. In 2016 we’d discovered that the Travelex Currency Exchange company offered a percentage bonus when exchanging large sums of money in a single transaction. So we walked over to Shinjuku station and eventually found the Travelex counter after passing by it once. The company’s exchange policies appeared to have changed, so as an experiment, Scott exchanged $100 at a mere 101 exchange rate, meaning that he got only slight over 10,100 yen for his hundred dollars. On the way into the depths of the station we’d passed by a MUFG Bank World Currency Shop. So I walked back to it with Justin & Scott in tow. The MUFG Currency Shop offered a 106.58 exchange rate, slightly more favorable than Travelex’s 101 rate. So I changed $500, half of the amount I’d initially anticipated changing. I held back in hopes of later finding a still more favorable exchange rate.

We wandered back into the shopping area of the station where Justin & Scott purchased some fried cutlets from a take-out window. Then we took stairs up to the street level and navigated toward the Yadobashi Camera store “D,” the five floor game & hobby store. First we popped into the 7-11 across the street. I was surprised and pleased to see canned coffees with manga panels printed on the cans. We passed through the first floor of the store, the video game floor, to reach the elevator to the second floor, which was primarily plastic model kits. To our surprise, the stores’ plastic model floor was hosting a promotional demonstration and meet & greet with a celebrity modeler wearing a green luchador mask. Justin & Scott both introduced themselves. The masked modeler gave each of them a foil sticker.

Scott paid particularly close attention to the selection of Mospeada plamo as well as a line of 1:144 scale Macross Frontier Valkyrie model kits. Since the store only carried new items, the prices on select small or old items like small Yamato 2199 starship models were very good while prices on many other items were reasonable but not cheap. Eventually I herded us up to the fourth floor that specialized in boys’ & girls’ toys. Justin immediately gravitated to the section of hanging Ultraman & Godzilla vinyl figures. Scott was a bit less interested in the offerings of this floor. I was surprised and amused to see beer pouring devices on sale aschildrenstoys.

When we returned to the street, I noticed a sign for a Yellow Submarine store. I warned Scott & Justin that I wasn’t certain if the store carried models or collectable cards. This particular store turned out to specialize in the later. We explored the store’s second and third floors but skipped the basement floor that advertised primarily offering Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

The “Yokohama Iekei Ramen Ichikakuya Nishi-Shinjuku Main Branch” restaurant across the street looked delectable, so we entered the second floor entrance and took a table. Justin order an appetizer of sausages then a bowl of rice topped with minced meat and raw egg. I ordered the large “sutameshi” bowl of rice topped with thin sliced pork and green onions. Scott ordered the cheese tonkatsu ramen with extra noodles and egg. The entire bill for the three of us was a mere 2,690 yen.

I then notice the oddly named “Ramen Shinjuku Shukuguchi-ten” store which was evidently a hybrid anime and adult erotica store. We ventured into the first floor, and tucked among the video games and home video found a selection of used and discounted anime figures and goods. Primarily to possibly re-sell them, I purchased an Idolm@ster Azusa figure with a slightly damaged box discounted to 380 yen then a pair of clear plastic display standees of Rem from Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu discounted to 100 yen apiece.

Scott, in particular, was feeling very exhausted after going so long without sleep. So we made our last stop at the Daily Yamazaki convenience store. I noticed a cup of Cloretes chewing gum in a commemorative Lupin III package with a Fujiko Mine label. I also purchased a bottle of Pepsi J-Cola to keep, just because I like the design of the bottle. Then I purchased a bottle of Pokka Sapporo’s Sparkling Lemon, and from the self-serve hot food counter, a teriyaki chicken skewer and two fried croquettes that I later discovered were a slice of deep fried ham and a chunk of deep fried cheese & chicken. Scott purchased a canned Hi-ball and a twin box of peach flavored Pocky. Justin purchased a selection of chocolate sweets. Outside of the store, I purchased a 140 yen bottle of C.C. Lemon that I drank on the walk back to the hotel. Back in the hotel, Scott & Justin discovered that the canned hi-ball was a mix of whiskey with beer. On television we happened to catch the current episodes of Jushinki Pandora, Hakyu Hoshin Engi and Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory.

In March 2016 my friends Scott & Justin went to Tokyo for the first time, bringing me along on my ninth, I think, trip. From the outset Scott intended his trip to be his first of many such trips, but due to his personal and family circumstances, Justin anticipated the trip being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, he enjoyed the adventure so much that even during our trip back to the States, he was already anticipating a second visit.

Upon realization that the future costs of visiting Japan would only increase since the country would host the World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020, the three of us decided to plan a return trip for late May 2018. After extensive research and planning, we mutually agreed upon the least expensive travel option as a concession to Justin and me. Since booking a flight directly from Tampa, Florida, to Tokyo would cost at least $1,500, we spent just under $1,100 to book a Southwest flight from Tampa to Los Angeles, then a separate flight from LA to Haneda International.

Prior to our departure, I purchased a pair of wheeled plastic totes providing, hopefully, more than enough storage space for all of my purchases. My intention on this trip was, as always, to search for vintage Dirty Pair merchandise, anything else that caught my eye, and also, unique to this trip, bargain priced figures, toys, and other items that I could bring home to resell at local small conventions. Justin’s intention was to prioritize the handful of 8” Bandai vinyl Godzilla figures his collection was missing, and select higher end monster toys and model kits. Scott’s area of interest lay in Masterpiece Transformers figures, provocative bishoujo figures, and higher end items at affordable prices that he could resell at home.

I arrived at Justin’s house on Wednesday, May 23, at 3:30pm. Justin was finishing his arrangements while our mutual friend Naomi waited to drive us to the airport. Fortunately, I was struck by a bolt of foresight and had Justin research and write down the address of the Nishi Shinjuku Hilton Hotel that we’d be staying at, so we could easily include the information on our immigration custom declaration. Justin nearly forgot to grab his printed list of “need” Godzilla toys. Then, outdoors, he remembered to rush back into the house to secure his traditional green highlighter pen used to cross off new additions to his collection on the printed list.

After wrestling our way through particularly dense rush hour traffic on US-275, Naomi dropped off Justin & me at the Southwest terminal of Tampa International Airport. Being the particularly generous friend that she is, she donated a $5 bill to each of us as a gratuity to the attendants handling curbside baggage check-in. So after dropping off our luggage and riding the escalator up to the next floor, we took the short monorail across to the “C” concourse. Upon stepping out of the monorail, both of us were shocked to see the length of the line awaiting security inspection, as the curbside and check-in desks had been relatively sparsely populated. Unexpectedly, or perhaps because by now most air travelers know what to expect and anticipate the security check procedure, the line moved quickly. Both of us passed through security easily and located Gate 30, where our flight would board. After a restroom break, Justin expressed a desire for a fountain soda. So we wandered up and down the concourse, eventually stopping at a burger joint counter. During the interim, Scott sent Justin a text message. After Justin got his fountain Diet Coke, we stopped again, and I purchased a plastic bottle of Cherry Coke Zero. Then Justin & I returned to Gate 30, immediately spotting Scott reclining at the end of an aisle of seats.

Scott & Justin discussed Pokemon Go for a few minutes before the airline announced the beginning of the boarding process. Scott had opted for premium pre-boarding, so he took Justin with him and entered the plane. The prior evening I’d lost track of time and completed online check-in five minutes later than my earliest opportunity. Despite checking-in only five minutes after check-in opened, I was assigned boarding number “C1,” entirely missing the “A” and “B” boarding groups. So fortunately Scott & Justin boarded initially and held the seat between them for me.

The initial two-and-a-half-hour flight from Tampa to the Dallas Love Field airport went smoothly. As we landed with an hour to spare, we patronized the Whataburger restaurant in the food court. Justin & I both ordered the double burger meal while Scott ordered the barbeque chicken strips burger meal.

After our early dinner but before boarding our next flight, Scott especially faced some anxiety when he tried to look up our reservation for the LA to Tokyo flight, and the web form returned no matching results. I decided to refrain from worry until we actually tried to check-in. If we encountered trouble then, I’d worry then.

Since my boarding position for the three-hour flight from Dallas to Los Angeles was better, Scott and Justin pre-boarded the plane, opting for the first left-side row in the coach section. I followed into the plane rather shortly later. Scott realized quickly that although the economy first row offered greater forward leg-room, the solid-sided seat dividers allowed precious little room for Scott to settle comfortably. The premonition predicated the flight. The plane seemed stuffy, as its air vents felt under-powered. Shortly after lift-off, the flight captain used the intercom to encourage passengers to be considerate with the volume of their personal devices. Later during the flight an attendant requested that a passenger behind us lower the volume of his personal device to avoid disturbing other sleeping passengers. An infant to our right periodically went on loud crying jags which the parent seemed to do nothing to calm or muffle. And the pre-adolescent boy seated directly behind Justin spent most of the flight kicking Justin’s seat. Furthermore, despite the flight being three hours long, the attendants offered passengers drinks immediately after take-off but never again. Then the plane landed and taxied for a full 30 minutes before reaching its gate and allowing passengers to disembark.

Although we landed in Los Angeles just after 11pm, our flight to Tokyo wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10:25am the following day. Initially we’d expected to grind the long wait in the airport concourse. However, a few days prior Scott decided to book a room at the LA Airport Hilton hotel. After a somewhat long wait, we claimed our baggage then learned that we should take a shuttle bus to the international terminal. We approached, and I began to climb aboard an internal airport shuttle bus, but the driver stopped me, announcing that the bus was out of service. But then she asked where we were going. Scott stepped forward to explain that our flight was JAL operated by American, so we weren’t certain whether we should approach the JAL counter or the American counter. The bus driver invited us to board and dropped us off at the international terminal. Since we couldn’t find a JAL check-in counter, we asked for directions and were directed to walk down the sidewalk to the next building, to terminal 4. So we hiked down the sidewalk until we spotted the American Airlines counter. An attendant observing the self-service check-in kiosks successfully keyed our flight reservation and printed our boarding passes. However, we couldn’t check in our baggage until 3am, three hours away.

So we headed outdoors again, underneath the covered drive, and navigated to the hotel shuttle bus pick-up area. Eventually a short bus with a “Hilton” destination sign arrived, so we boarded then disembarked at the hotel right around 1am. The three of us relaxed, intending to pass time while staying awake in hopes of being able to sleep later on the interminably lengthy flight to Tokyo.

Random pics
Vind ons op Facebook
Ads by Google
Ads by Google