Thursday, June 22, 2006

Say Hello to My Little Friend

This week my apartment became just a shade brighter...just a tad happier...just the slightest bit fishier...with the arrival of Yamagata, a dark blue Siamese fighting fish I won from a UFO catcher in Shimokitazawa. A true survivor, Yamagata has made a harrowing journey from his place of birth (where ever that was...let's say Thailand to make the story interesting) to a tiny plastic jar inside a skill crane machine in Tokyo where he was tormented mercilessly by a mechanical claw, to a lightly furnished fishbowl in my living room.

Yamagata enjoys eating pulverized brine shrimp, dragging his decorative finnage around and snapping his jaws menacingly. I like to think that his new life is pretty sweet in comparison to the horror that must have been life inside a UFO catcher. Just the thought of feeling the vibrations of UFO catcher music all day long is horrendous. If fish get post traumatic stress syndrome, this little guy may very well have it.

Friday, June 16, 2006


This week I uploaded a new MP3 to my MySpace account. It's an arrangement of the Norfair theme from Metroid. Go there immediately and listen to it fifty times.

The Norfair theme has long been one of my favorite video game tunes of the 8-bit era. It does as good a job as it can of conveying the feeling of being the only human on the planet with its jilted waltz feel and dissonance. It also does a good job of suggesting that Metroid music composer Hip Tanaka was a fan of Erik Satie.

Of course, like most 8-bit soundtracks, Metroid's was doomed to become repetitive and end up getting turned down on TV sets across America. Even I grew tired of the jaunty "Hey! Let's Explore Brinstar" march, the mysterious ambiance of "Annoying Beeps and Boops in the Elevator Room" and the psychological horror of "Miniboss Hideout II: Descent Into Insanity." Of course I got tired of the music. It's hardly surprising when you consider the fact that I was the only kid I knew who didn't have the game's layout and item locations memorized. It took me so long to finish the game, I should have gotten some tragic ending where Samus takes off her suit and turns out to be a genetic hybrid of Regis Philbin and a kangaroo.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Big Walk 2006: Results

Start time: 10:45 AM

Finish time: 10:45 PM

Total time: 12 hours

Percentage of time spent walking: Less than 50%

Distance traveled: 16 km

Wards traversed:

Fluids consumed:
Green tea . . . 1 L
Aquarius/Pocari Sweat . . . 1 L
Mango juice . . . ??? L
Fosters/Corona . . . 1.4 L

Money gained by selling PS2 games: ¥15300

Money spent on arcade games: ¥800

Video arcades visited: 2

Convenience stores visited: 5

Photos taken: 24

Fosters is Australian for Corona

It's dark by the time we leave Club Sega (around 7:30, I'm guessing, but I have not taken any milestone notes since Ochanomizu). We decide, based on the time, that we will walk from Akihabara to Ueno, have a beer and call it a day. We take Chuo-dori northward past Suehirocho and Ueno-Hirokoji Stations, already talking of plans for the next Big Walk.

We stop at Hub in Ueno to drink some beer, eat fish and chips and watch the first half of Japan's World Cup warmup game against Malta. Then it's time for me to head home because I have university classes to teach the next morning. Big Walk II comes to a close.

Next Distraction: Akihabara

After a brief perusal of Ochanomizu's musical wares, the Kanda River shows us the way to festive (noisy) Akihabara, a colorful (gaudy) town catering (pandering) to Tokyo's elusive (antisocial) masses of otaku (scum). Once again, Craig and I are pulled by forces unknown into a video arcade (Club Sega this time), where more of our money finds its way out of our pockets and into House of the Dead 4, Taiko no Tatsujin and Under Defeat.

Let me take this opportunity to make a recommendation. If you ever find yourself in the same room as a Taiko no Tatsujin 8 machine, do yourself a favor: drop in some money, choose the highest difficulty level and play the "Super Mario Brothers Theme." That's some good taiko.

Kanda River to Ochanomizu

I know this is the worst photo on my entire blog, but it's the only one I have for this post.

Soon after Iidabashi, near Suidobashi Station and the Tokyo Dome, the Outer Moat disappears underground and magically reappears as the Kanda River, one of my favorite Tokyo features. It's a well-vegetated, steep-walled channel of dark green water feeding into the much bigger Sumida River, and is one several tributaries created out of water supply needs during the development of Edo. The Kanda River began as a means to carry water from the Inokashira Spring in present-day Kichijoji (Inokashira literally means "Head of the Well") to low-lying Kanda, just north of the site of Edo Castle. Despite being obviously manmade, its "banks" are home to quite a few popular cherry blossom viewing spots in the springtime.

(Right now you are saying, "Jesse, you should have taken a picture of this Kanda River, if it's as awesome as you say." And you know what? You are right.)

With the river as our guide, we are led to Ochanomizu, Tokyo's focal point for musical instrument shops. The area is called Ochanomizu ("Tea Water") because the shogun used to drink tea around here on the way home from a hawk hunt, making the local water famous...and early form of celebrity endorsement, I guess.

Fighting in Iidabashi

We follow the Outer Moat and the adjacent Chuo Line to the northeast. Near Iidabashi Station, we find ourselves sucked inexorably into a game center, where we experience approximately 45 minutes of Final Fight and Tekken 5. Urban hiking is cool and everything, but sometimes you need to sit down and let your fingers do the walking. Or in this case, the ass-kicking.

Urban Fishing

At Ichigaya Station Yasukuni-dori jogs over most mercurially and continues on the opposite side of the Outer Moat. We stay on the north side, now following Sotobori-dori. Next to the Ichigaya Bridge is a designated fishing area packed with people enjoying the "great outdoors." I half expect two fishermen opposite each other to simultaneously stand up and yell, "I got a bite!" and then try to reel each other into the water.

Cutting Across the Middle

After 3:00 we are ready to leave the stench and squalor of Shinjuku Station's higashiguchi district behind and continue the journey. We follow Yasukuni-dori east past Akebonobashi Station. You may remember last year's Big Walk having a "boring zone" in the middle, between Shinjuku and the Imperial Palace. Similarly, this particular stretch of road has nothing particularly photogenic or memorable. Plus, after leaving the familiarity of Shinjuku, we don't really know anything about our surroundings that we can't learn from my Tokyo mini-atlas. We push forward, however, knowing that we'll eventually contact the Chuo Line.

Ah, Mango Juice

At noon I reach the Shinjuku South Exit district, home of a second-hand video games shop called Trader. In the wake of the tragic death of my PlayStation 2 I have about ten games to sell, and Trader is unique in that they buy and sell foreign games as well as domestic ones. I empty my backpack of PS2 games for the happy sum of ¥15,300.

While waiting for the Trader guy to total up my goods I get a call from my ex-roommate Craig, who will meet me in Shinjuku for lunch and join the Big Walk from Shinjuku onward. Ehhhh-xcellent.

Lunch is Vietnamese food and several glasses of mango juice.

Good Enough for German Opera

Tokyo Opera City marks the spot where it starts to feel like you're actually in Shinjuku. Seeing the sign makes me want to belt out a resounding tenor line from Götterdämmerung which, in turn, makes me wish I knew a tenor line from Götterdämmerung, which I do not.

After Tokyo Opera City I pass the triplet stair-step spires of Shinjuku Park Tower, one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in Tokyo. It's 235 meters of "intelligent building," the top 14 floors which compose the Park Hyatt Tokyo (the hotel where Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are seen moping, skulking and wondering, "Why do they mix up their L's and R's?" in Lost In Translation).

Kannana to Koshuu

At 11:02 I cross Inokashira-dori and at 11:08 I turn right on Koshuu-kaido, the road that will take me all the way to Shinjuku Station. (Thus far the only plan existing in my head is that I'll begin by going to Shinjuku because I have errands to do there.) Koshuu-kaido is to Chinese restaurants what Kannana-dori is to ramen shops: a seemingly endless chain of grease-smelling exhaust vents. I hold my breath passing each one because I'm not feeling hungry just yet. Snickers really satisfies, after all.

Sasazuka Station. Hatagaya Station. At 11:35, right before Hatsudai Station, I spy something I've never seen before: A vending machine on the sidewalk stocked with two-liter bottles. Obviously a two-liter bottle would be cumbersome regardless of its contents, so I take a picture and walk on by.

Big Walk 2006: START!

I know how much you love surprises, so SURPRISE! Here's the first installment of the story of "Big Walk 2006," my second trans-metropolitan pedestrian pilgrimage from one end of central Tokyo to the other. Sunday, June 4 was a cool, mostly cloudy day with no precipitation in the Tokyo area and I seized the opportunity to get a second Big Walk under my belt, even if it meant doing so with virtually no planned route or goal.

So, just like last April's Big Walk, I started at the entrance to Setagaya-Daita Station (the station with the with an all-new super inconvenient upstairs-downstairs approach to the train platform!) and marked the occasion with a hasty keitai photo.

The time is 10:45 AM. I am ready to ambulate. I switch tenses in mid-blog.

If there's something strangely familiar about this, it's probably because my clothes are nearly identical to the ones I wore on last year's Big Walk. Refer to the April 2005 archive for proof of this.

I make a quick stop at the Daily Yamazaki for some green tea and a Snickers (my first Snickers bar in about two years, in fact) and start north on Kannana-dori.

FUN FACT! If you do a Google search for "Kannana-dori," Google will incorrectly ask you if you meant to type "Kanana-dori." Congratulations, Jesse. I guess you know more than Google.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stay Gold, Pony Boy

When I modified my PlayStation 2 last year I heard a little voice in my head saying, "Don't do it! It's not worth it! Nyooooo!" But I ignored the voice and went ahead with the mod, installing a new top-loading drive cover for using my swap-discs. It gave my white PS2 console a new black-and-white color scheme and allowed me to play the ghostly copies of games I had earlier decided weren't quite worth owning anymore. A sound investment, I thought, ignoring the rattling noise coming from my console with ever-increasing frequency. But after months of smacking the top of my PlayStation 2 to stop it from going "ratatatatatat," it finally looked at me today and said, "You know what? Screw you, I'm outta here."

I'll get over it, but my PS2 died while I was in the middle of Monster Hunter 2, a game I had been playing for months and hadn't yet gotten tired of. Now the little voice in my head is telling me to just hold my horses until the PlayStation 3 comes out this November. And this time I'm going to obey the little voice.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Feels Like I'm Rockin' At Heaven's Door

click to enlarge

Last night I played a five-song "mini set" at Shimokitazawa "mini pub" Heaven's Door, ending a three-year stint of intending to play a show in Tokyo. My guitar playing only moderately sucked. The setlist, for those to whom it matters:

"Shimokitazawa" (working title)
"King of Fighters"
"Red Balloon"
"Jenna Jameson"

Hear MP3s of "King of Fighters" and "Monica" at MySpace.