Sunday, March 29, 2009

Big Walk 2009

NOTE: This year's Big Walk report includes some terminology, denoted by orange type, which is part of a unique lexicon developed by Craig and I while we were roommates during our early days in Tokyo. When you see orange words in this report that don't exactly make sense, you'll just have to use your imagination to figure out what they mean. (Half the time, we don't know what they mean, either.)

It may not have been the ideal timing for a sakura photo trek, but Big Walk 5 proved to be just that: Big. Due to insufficient planning and note taking on my part, the actual distance of our haphazard route proved difficult to measure. Near as I can figure, Big Walk 2009 came very close to matching the distance of Big Walk 2005. In fact, taking into account the time we spent double-backing and wandering aimlessly, we very well may have outdone that distance. Here's the blow up:

We start in front of Kitasenju Station, the same place we began Big Walk 2007. It is 11:00 AM on an unseasonably cold but sunny day. According to my so-called "plan," we will cross the Sumida River and then slam west to something called Arakawa Shizen Kōen (Arakawa Nature Park). I've never been there, but it sounds rad like a pipe bomb. So we follow Route 4 southward and over the bridge.

After bashing a trick over the river our goal is to stay as close to the river as possible and follow it west. We soon happen upon a little park called Tennō Kōen, which has a few cherry blossom trees (although most of these are still budding) and an artificial pond with tadpoles swimming in it. We find our way onto a path that follows the river and brings us to our first decent sakura of the day:

Craig's a damage fiend.

At a few minutes before noon, we reach Arakawa Nature Park. We soon realize that the park is located adjacent to Mikawa Water Recycling Center. This means that, from where we're standing, we can look to the east and see this:

But if we look to the west, we see this:

Ah, nature. Just when we think we can't take anymore of the pastoral serenity of this idyllic nature park and its neighboring industrial facility, we discover this filthy bridge leading from the park, over the water filtration equipment and down to the street:

Craig observes, correctly, that this bridge would be scary at night. Oh, mercy!

After leaving through the south exit of the "Nature Park," we decide that our next order of business should be to slice our way to Nippori Station. At this point we get a little lost because none of the streets in the area seem to go in the direction we want to go, which is southwest. On the way, we capture these random cherry blossoms:

We can't figure out our location until we find ourselves on a tiny street called Shichigosandōri (Seven-Five-Three Street, apparently named after a festival for children of those ages). Thank god for Shichigosandōri. Not only does this street help us get our bearings, it leads us to what is perhaps the highlight of Big Walk 2009: Swamp Thing's House.

Killa! We stop to marvel at this epic failure of pruning (half-expecting the house to catch on fire and burn down before our eyes), and also to take artsy photos using the traffic mirror at the entrance to an adjacent parking lot.

Nippori is one of Tokyo's Korea towns and, as such, is full of Korean restaurants. On reaching Nippori Station, we're bleeding for some medicine, so we decide it's time to stop and snort some Korean food: Chijimi and bibimba. It's a napalm lunch. We smash on and head west.

On the west side of Nippori Station is a Yanaka Cemetery. Even though most of the cherry blossoms are still closed, the road through the cemetery is bustling with flower viewers. On closer inspection, we notice that a lot of people are using the cemetery as a picnic venue. Apparently it's not considered morbid or taboo in Japan to get tinned and eat onigiri in the presence of the deceased. Bang dat! If I were dead I think I might be a little annoyed that everyone is enjoying food and drink in front of me while I'm preoccupied with not even being able to manipulate my environment. Remember how Patrick Swayze's character in Ghost could only do damage in the real world if he really concentrated? With practice, could that skill be applied to post-mortem consumption of fried chicken and Chu-Hi? Anyway. Back to the matter at hand.

Our route grows more and more complex as we hook east toward Uguisudani, which is a hotbed (if you will) of love hotels and appropriately trashy-looking women. From there, we bash a completely unnecessary half-circle around Ueno Station and into Ueno Park, Tokyo's de-facto hanami location. The park is predictably slammed with scum. Defying the slow tide of the crowd, I stop to take a close-up of an especially full branch of cherry blossoms. The photo doesn't turn out because some drunk guy, a real juice bag, distracts me by grabbing my arm, pointing at the tree I'm shooting and saying, "Eh, eh, uh, eh, TOGETHER?" To that, my response is a brusque "No." Must be the rage talking. The drunk guy leaves, presumably to go home and cry himself to sleep because his well-intentioned attempt at speaking English has just been crushed like a bug. Poor guy got a dose of reality.

Ueno Park is the last place I take any pictures. We exit the west side of the park and follow Kototoidōri past Nezu Station and through the campus of Tokyo University. Then we circumnavigate Tokyo Dome and take Sotoboridōri and Yasukunidōri west, past the defense ministry where the PAC-3 missile launchers that will defend us from North Korea's "communications satellite" are deployed, all the way to Shin-J. At 6:30PM, Big Walk 2009 is finished! We hit an izakaya to celebrate the completion of our journey with a food smash.

click map to blow up

Big Walk 2009 Is Today

Thanks to the perverse weather we've had this spring, Tokyo is probably still about a week away from the peak of cherry blossom viewing season. In spite of that, my friend Craig and I will partake of Chorus, Isolate, Confirm's fifth annual Big Walk across Tokyo today. Resulting photography (and maps showing where we got lost) will be posted soon after.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Patient Transfer

The cable that was supposed reach me ten days after yesterday was delivered this morning. Trying it out confirmed my suspicion: The problem is with my console proper, not with my cable. So now my only alternative is to send the Xbox 360 in to be repaired, which is also supposed to take ten days (and cost over ¥10,000). It's a bit spendy, but I've been told that doing so will also extend my warranty for an additional year from the time of the repairs.

After reading a lot of internet forum testimonials from people who partook of Microsoft's Xbox 360 repair services, I'm reassured that this won't be a waste of a hundred dollars (unless some cute intern falls in love with my Xbox, agrees to marry it and then cuts off its life support).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Xbox 360 Needs Medical Attention

There are many ways to annoy me. You can do it by using your screeching bicycle breaks within three meters of my ears. Or you can fall asleep while taking up the seat space normally occupied by two people on the Nambu Line. You can even annoy me by coming to your English lesson and answering the question "How are you?" with "I'm tired" or "I'm sick." (Many students don't understand that "How are you?" is a rhetorical question and that "I'm sick" is the last thing a teacher wants to hear at the beginning of an English lesson in a tiny classroom with no ventilation.)

The point is, when it comes to being annoyed, I'm just about the most versatile person I know. And this week, even my Xbox 360 decided to have a go at putting me in a mood by exhibiting symptoms of video card trouble...and doing so while I was in the middle of Street Fighter IV, Biohazard 5 and Call of Duty: World At War.

I'm not sure what course of action I'll take. Barring the appearance of the Red Ring of Death between now and October, my machine is out of warranty. And Microsoft's priced repair services, while supposedly helpful, are expensive and slow. The only reason I'm even considering using said repair service is that last year, when the R button on my out-of-warranty DS broke, Nintendo bolstered my faith in the basic goodness of humankind by repairing it free of charge.

I'm currently waiting for Microsoft to send me a new video cable, just to make sure that the problem isn't with the cable rather than the actual hardware. The simple act of sending me this cable is supposed to take ten days. Ten days?! What are they doing, carving the cable out of ivory?

I hope it is just the cable. It'd be sad if my Xbox became an ex-Xbox.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Games of Yore: Resident Evil

After picking up my copy of Biohazard 5 (which was released this Thursday in Japan) and seeing first hand the dramatic changes Capcom has made in this incarnation of its zombie saga, I have decided that the subject of my second Games of Yore feature will be the game that started it all.

Game: Resident Evil (Capcom; 1996)
Console: PlayStation
Genre: Action/Adventure (later categorized as "Survival Horror")

I was in my final year of high school when this landmark title came out. My friends and I, none of whom owned a PlayStation at the time of the game's release, rented a console and a copy of the game and sat down for a long night of zombie intrigue. We screamed our heads off every time a giant tarantula dropped down from the ceiling or a diseased dog crashed through the window. It was a damn good time. Unfortunately, there were two things about the game we had to learn the hard way.

Thing one: We really should have pooled our cash together for a memory card. Without one, we faced the epic challenge of playing the game without dying (since, after the player died, his only recourse was to load his last saved game from the title screen). We actually became pretty good at this after a while. In fact, one of my friends finally mustered the stamina to finish the whole game on a single life. Soon after completing this task, he lost his mind and disappeared into the uncharted wilds of Wisconsin.

Thing two: Not even Sewer Shark could have prepared us for the sober truth that, with the quantum leap forward in game audio technology provided by a CD-based console like the PlayStation, would inevitably come a quantum leap backward in the quality of voice acting. Come to think of it, Sewer Shark didn't even succeed in preparing us for the part in Resident Evil where there were actual sharks in the sewer.

My buddies and I initially found great entertainment in the goofy lines uttered by the game's protagonists. But with repeated deaths and subsequent viewings of the game's opening scenes (which, cruelly, could not be skipped), it became apparent that "WHAT IS IT?" was to Resident Evil as "SMOKIN'!" was to The Mask. Fun at first, but ultimately exasperating. I'd be lying, however, if I said that I don't still get a little laugh out of golden classics like "You were almost a Jill Sandwich!"

After getting these two hard lessons behind us, Resident Evil proved to us that the video game format was capable of delivering a sense of dread more palpable than that of most horror movies. We learned to be afraid of certain hallways based solely on the music and the color of the wallpaper. For teenagers like my friends and me, that dread value alone was enough to make the game an integral part of our lives during the spring and summer of 1996.