Catching up on a Japanese childhood31 January, 2013 by Chad
Today, Yan and I lucked into some tickets for an AKB48 theater show in the evening. I’d have the rest of the day free though. So in the meantime had made plans to meet up with Chisaki to head over once again to that wonderful man made island of Odaiba.
We were to meet up at Shimbashi Station first to catch the light rail over to Odaiba. She’d have some trouble with the morning rush hour crowd, so I’d have some time to take a look around the area first.
There was a flea market of sorts being held just beside the station where all the stands exclusively sold old books but beyond that Shimbashi was mostly just a terminal to Shiodome and the high rise office buildings that call it home.
She popped up soon enough and we’d make our way over. It’d be her first time visiting Odaiba. Apart from us, there were a few families and a good number of other tourists taking the Yurikamome over to Odaiba this morning.
I had decided to forgo taking out the camera again today since it’d be too much of a hassle, especially in the evening. Though it would seem that some of the most enjoyable days of the trip also tend to be the ones which were devoid of any bulky photographic equipment. Starting to believe that the best camera you can bring along would be a compact.
Walking over to Venus Fort, it would be apparent that even now, we had arrived far too early as the malls on the island had yet to open. So we caught some breakfast at the only place that was open at this time, McDonalds.
Our decision to try out the other seasonal special, the Teriyaki McBurger turned out to be a bad one as it was quite unappetizing. Don’t do it.
Interestingly, the prices shown in Japanese McDonalds are for the default “M size” sets, you can actually opt to downsize your set (as we did in this case) to a happy meal-ish “S size” to save some yen, or if you’re not feeling too hungry.
After the shops opened, we spent some time looking around at Venus Fort before heading over to Diver City. While walking around the new mall, we came across a Round 1 Stadium complex occupying the top two floors of the building. Round 1 is a sports and entertainment center originating from Osaka. Some would have seen advertisements for it featuring the city’s poster girls NMB48.
The one here today was split into 4 parts, a gaming arcade, bowling center, karaoke lounge and “Spo-cha”, which combined popular indoor sports facilities together with some amusement center machines.
Much like Sega Joypolis, you could pay a fixed fee at Round 1 Spo-Cha, for unlimited access of its facilities. 1,480 yen for 90 min, 1,880 yen for 180 min or just 2,180 yen for an entire day. At the recommendation of a friend, visiting this was one of the things on Chisaki’s to do list. We didn’t have that much time this afternoon but went with the 90 minute option. The staff at the entrance passed us some timed bracelets upon entry and informed us that payment would be settled later.
Spo-cho’s facilities turned out to be pretty robust. The front of the hall holds some older arcade machines, at least by Japanese standards. We spent perhaps a bit too much time messing around one of the machines there called Let’s Go Jungle!, before continuing to check out the sports areas.
There were billiard and ping pong tables, squash rooms and even a skating rink, while nearby some youths were playing at the indoor basketball and street soccer courts. Made a beeline for the batting center which Chisaki was most interested in, the amusing outcome of which can be seen below. Later, we also failed miserably at the indoor golf range and chipping area.
There was just a bit more time left and Chisaki was keen on having a go at the skating rink. There wasn’t too many people around Round 1 this weekday afternoon, so no one was using it.
Which was great, since unfortunately for her and embarrassing to say, I had never skated before in my life. Still I was urged to give it a go, and despite her best attempts to teach me the rudiments of skating, spent most of the time fumbling about. Eventually we were asked to leave, since some sort of children’s cycling contest had been scheduled on the rink. Felt a little bad after that she couldn’t get the free rein of the place.
Hadn’t been paying attention to the time so we ended up leaving about 15 minutes later than the allocated time and were charged a couple hundred yen extra. Given the opportunity, it would be best to go for the day pass at Round 1. Just a couple of hours at any single sporting or games facility in Singapore would cost pretty much the same price. The Japanese kids really have it good.
While leaving the place we were actually given some coupons to be redeemed at the amusement center part of Round 1 downstairs. The one free go at a catcher machine and 10 medal game token coupons took the form of larger than usual plastic boards so we guessed that they were meant to be redeemed immediately.
Taking them downstairs, we each received a plastic cup containing a measly 10 medals. For the catcher machine we had to flag down a staff member after choosing a machine that we wanted. Spent both tries on a machine with Arpakasso but the claws were rigged to have no grabbing strength at all.
For the medals, it seemed that we could only use them at the coin pushers or slot machines in the arcade. To use them for the slot machines, you’d first need to pay the usual price for a game and the medals served as additional ammo, whereas there was no fee involved in the pushers so we went with that.
Japanese medal games or coin pushers definitely blow traditional impressions out of the water, especially when the only common comparison outside of the country these days are the rudimentary simulators inspired by it on smart phones. A spectacular example would had been the giant Monster Hunter themed medal game we saw here this afternoon which consisted of 6 large medal machines interconnected to form a giant medal complex full.
A 32 inch TV at each segment replaced mechanical slots as a bonus mechanism for the machine and displayed a 3D visuals of the player’s battle with the game’s creatures. Should one hit the jackpot, the entire pusher platform would tilt over, relinquishing all medals in the machine to the player.
Though I’ve been into gaming parlors before and a division of my company actually develops pachinko games, this was the first time trying out such medal machines in Japan. It was actually quite fun and could definitely feel the addictivity involved. While we did win a few medals here and there, ended up spending our medals pretty quickly at a Super Mario Brothers themed coin pusher game which was the easiest to comprehend.
Amusingly, while finishing up our coins at the pusher, a Japanese couple came along and offered us their medals as they were about to leave. They passed us an entire bucket full of coins. They must had gotten lucky earlier. While the house rate is something like 100 yen for 5 medals, in actual practice they are worth far less (if not nearly nothing), as medals cannot be converted back to cash (legally at least). Even among the slot machines, we had seen medals being left in the payout tray unclaimed.
With a whole bucket full of coins and not much time, we ended up being pretty imprudent with the medals. Japanese gaming machines tend to payout really often (though in negligible amounts) so losing all the medals would not be as simple a task as one would think. Still, somehow we managed to finish up all of the coins that were given to us within about half an hour.
Personally felt a little bad for losing the couple’s coins so easily but we had fun. Chisaki especially, who excitedly started tossing in multiple coins at a time. I guess one could draw parallels to this with how good someone actually is with money. But her strategy seemed to work out pretty well. As fast as she worked through the coins, she also ended up winning them at a better rate.
Passed by the life sized Gundam statue outside Diver City on the way out. Chisaki needed to get some Gundam themed goods for someone back in Singapore, but had already picked them up at Akihabara beforehand so there wasn’t much to do here other than take some touristy shots before heading back to mainland Tokyo.
There were search around Shiodome in hopes of finding somewhere we could get a quick dinner but didn’t find anything we could possible go for given the limited time left, so opted to skip dinner instead. We saw a couple of local snapping photos of the courtyard here, at first wondering why, though we eventually remembered it as the ground level of the NTV headquarters. It should be familiar to those who’ve seen older episodes of a certain AKB48 variety show.
I’d be heading over to Akihabara next to meet up with Yan. Similarly my company for the afternoon had a band concert to attend to in the evening. But first she’d actually be heading over to Haneda Airport to pick up a friend who was flying in and the two would then rush over to the live house.
There would still be time before Yan would arrive at Akihabara, so I spent the time getting a snack over at the Mister Donut overlooking the main street there. Tried some of their special Christmas edition pon de ring, while ironically observing the crowds in Akihabara from the cafe’s second floor. It was really just a regular chocolate frosted pon de ring with a platic star stuck in.
Met up with Yan who had been shopping before heading over to the Don Quijote building to get our tickets. The AKB48 staff there were quite unfriendly, especially when considering the standards that we had become accustomed to these past weeks.
We would be attending a Team A “waiting stage” performance, which was simply a mix of old AKB48 songs. It would look like producer Akimoto Yasushi had been far too busy counting his money to write any new theater songs for the past couple of years. Today’s show also happened to be the birthday celebration for member Kasai Tomomi.
Over in Japan, it has become traditional at AKB48 shows that the most hardcore of fans form an alliance (or birthday committee as they like to call it) to purchase flowers and glow sticks in celebration of their favorite member’s birthday show. Taking a look around the theater level, Yan spotted the flower stand promptly rushed forward to take some photographs.
This wouldn’t had be an issue, were the birthday committee members not in the midst of already taking photographs with the flowers at the same time themselves. Everyone gave him and sadly through association, myself shocked, perhaps even disgusted stares as he suddenly squeezed between the posing committee members and the flower stand.
Somehow Yan had managed to anger the entire committee even before the show had started. One of them, a fierce looking young woman in a tokko fuku (biker gang outfit) who looked like Shinahama Saemi. Guess we were not getting any free glow sticks.
There was still time before the show started to get some dinner. Yan wanted to try out a kebab restaurant that he had taken note of so we went in search of that. We found the small run down shop not too far away. Apart from serving kebabs off the stand, they also sold kebab dishes, such as rice bowls. Decided to try that. The meats turned out to be tasteless, trumping even Rakeru at being the worst dining experience this trip.
After dinner, we looked around a few adjacent anime themed shops to see if we could get glow sticks cheaper than at Donki, but when that wasn’t possible, picked up one light stick each below the theater. It turns out that the Japanese people weren’t that petty and we ended up receiving additional glow sticks from the birthday committee after all, along with instructions as to which songs to use them for. Making our purchase obsolete. We were to break the pink one for “Junai no Crescendo” and the white one during “Sakura no Hanabiratachi”.
We were holding enpou tickets so were given seats at the last sitting row in the theater. Being second to enter though I managed to get the seat aligned directly center to the stage, which turned out to be a really good seat. Since I would learn later that the performers (particularly those in the center) would basically look at me as a marker of sorts. The only downside to this was that we had a particularly large wota behind us, who seemed to emit heat and odor like a radiator.
Today’s theater performance was lackluster at best. All of the popular Team A members were absent from today’s performance but even then, I wondered if the show would had been saved. Despite featuring many familiar, popular songs old songs, nearly all of the members performing today looked as if they had better things to do elsewhere. Many were simply going through the motions. Some even looked downright miserable.
The only exceptions to this were the research student Oshima Ryoka and NMB48’s Kotani Riho who was here as a transfer member. The two danced energetically and engaged the audience whenever possible, even going so far as to lead the MCs. Unsurprisingly, they got the loudest cheers out of the crowd, even more so than the birthday girl herself.
At the end of the show, the girls popped up with a birthday cake, Kasai acted surprised and everyone started crying, you know, the typical AKB48 birthday celebration. What did come as a surprise though was the sudden appearance of Miyazawa Sae with a birthday message for Tomomi. Seems she was in town for a television show later at night and spared some time between her busy schedule to appear for this. This was probably the most genuine gesture this evening.
As customary of AKB48 shows, there was a quick high touch session after show theater performance. As expected, we were pushed through pretty quickly but didn’t expect to say anything more than greetings or thank you to the members. It turned out to be a far more disappointing experience though since at least half of the members weren’t even bothered with this part either. They’d simply stick out their hands, while continuing to chat among themselves.
Needless to say, today was kind of the last straw for me as far as AKB48 was concerned. After a year of unimaginative releases, distasteful publicity stunts and even less pleasant scandals, I was hoping to revitalize a little bit of interest through the live. Sadly, the members had already reached a level of disillusion or contentment that they no longer found motivation to perform the basics of their job.
Sure, theaters might not be as glamorous as performing at arenas, or nearly as profitable as the hundreds of advertisements you’ll see AKB48 in these days but still it showed a serve lack of professionalism, even, or particularly among the group’s older members.
Overall, today still ended up being quite an enjoyable day though, if only because of the first half. Spending nearly 2 hours at an amusement center might not be atypical of your usual holiday, but it was still a novel experience. Definitely envy Japanese kids in having all these entertainment options at their disposal.
After coming across last week’s episode of Shibuya Deep A while channel surfing (in part due to Yamada Nana being on the show) had taken note to catch this week’s which featured Okunaka Makoto. This also turned out to be the show which Miyazawa Sae was appearing in.
Shibuya Deep A is a late night quiz variety show where subjective questions are posed to viewers and you could provide live feedback using your television remote. The hosts and celebrities appearing in the show competed to guess what the majority would answer. Played along, it was really quite entertaining. Today’s topic was on relationships.
The later segments of the show even allowed viewers to log into their website online to suggest questions. The guests picked out questions from those suggested in real time to answer. This sort of interactivity isn’t exactly new to television, but the show has certainly made good use of newer technology to make it a lot more accessible.