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< Piro >

picture of Tagajou station, looking west towards Sendai

"Sumo over Anchorage"

Thursday - January 22, 2004

[Piro] - 02:45:00 - [link here]

As i start to write this, i'm somewhere over Alaska, on my way home from my trip to Japan. I watching Sumo on the little TV in the headrest in front of me. It's kinda surreal.

Hard to believe that the day started with me leaving the Hotel JAL City Sendai, walking to the bus stop to catch a bus for the 40 min bus ride to Sendai airport, catching a small commuter turboprop for Narita, and then getting on this flight for the 12 hr trip home. The trip home is a few hours shorter (something to do with flying with the winds rather than against them), Of course, when i step off of this plane in Washington Dulles, I still have to fly to Detroit.

Whee.

Ah well, doesn't matter. I'm really looking forward to getting home. Traveling is great, but it always feels good to head home. Besides, i miss Seraphim. This is the first long trip i've taken without her in well over a year. Felt like i was missing my better half all week.

Last time i traveled to Japan it was to visit buildings and architectural landmarks that I had studied in college. I considered it something worth doing because it was connected with what I did for a living. The funny thing is, in the end it wasn't the architectural landmarks or important buildings that impacted my life and my career, it was the inbetween moments and my quiet impressions of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyouto that ended up being of most value. Megatokyo is based on these impressions.

Admittedly, a large factor in my decision to go to japan back then was my growing interest in anime and manga. The tour to look at japan's architecture was as much an excuse to go as anything. What was nice about the trip I am now returning from is that my reasons for going were far clearer - i make a living writing a story (soon to be two stories) that take place in Japan. That requires research, going there, doing the appropriate research that any good writer or artist will do. It's almost hard to explain exactly how you do this.

Trying to absorb a sense of place takes more than just taking pictures and walking around. Actually, on the surface that pretty much is what it is, but there's more to it than that. Doing research for a story isn't, i think, like doing scientific research. I didn't spend all of my wandering around time taking pictures and mapping out neighborhoods. Sometimes i just... walked. Waited a half hour for a train to arrive. Put a can of hot coffee in my pocket to see how long it stayed warm. Stood and looked at a river. Kick back and watched an episode of Hamtaro while drinking a can of Boss coffee. People watching. Looking up, looking around.

It's not much different than what i did last time i was here, only then I had no idea that i'd be writing stuff based on what I was looking at. On this trip i was able to be a lot more focused, to look at specific neighborhoods, look at specific things... It's sort of like expanding on the toolbox of impressions that I had from 10 years ago. I've been able to add a lot to it. A whole lot, actually..

After a week of constant absorption, you sort of reach a saturation point. Last night my brain was saying "ok, i'm full. I'm not paying attention anymore." ^^;; You get to a point where you have to stop looking and start absorbing what you've seen. You have to start making connections, start to mix what you've seen with what you are writing and what you are drawing. That's sort of what i'm working on right now - decompression. Since i can't sleep on planes, that's pretty much what i've been doing.

Oh, I have a bunch of things to relate regarding Anime Expo Tokyo, but I'll save that for friday. I'm kind of in a thoughtful mood, so i'll go with the flow here. It's my rant area, i can rant however i feel like ranting. :P

Something that worked really well was to spend a few hours sitting here slowly reading thru MT from Chapter 1 right thru to the most recent strip. It's odd, but I look back at some of what happened previous chapters and some of it isn't bad, not bad at all. I feel like there are some dimensions to things that I can add that i hadn't thought of before. All in all, Megatokyo works all right. Not bad for winging it all this time.

I've been doing some sketches for warmth, and i think i'll turn now to working on the story a little. I have about three hrs of batter life left, that should get me thru the rest of the flight... yeah, just about. 3:10 left according to the flight data stuff. These little flight data readouts are the best thing ever. You know exactly where you are and how much longer it's gonna take to get there. This ANA plane actually has down pointing cameras that you can tune into. Of course, it's nightime out now, so it's just nothing but pitch black out over northern Canada, but in the daytime it's fun to look down sometimes.

I'll be posting this when i get home, with a picutre or two - so obviously the flight will be done and i'll be home when you see this, but i think i'll be too tired to do much else - traveling wears on you. I feel pretty energized about MT and warmth right now, it was really good to refresh my memory and learn some new things to help fill out some of the density of the stories and the sense of place. We'll see how all that pans out in the comics that i'm gonna have to get cracking on as soon as i can shake jetlag when i get home :)

...

Just a small note now that I'm home - god, what a day. That's a lot of flying. Good to be back. I kinda crashed and had to sleep for a while when i got in. Gonna go crash now to try to get my internal clock back on schedule. I'll post friday's comic as soon as i finish it (should be early on thursday evening). Gonna post some more comments, and some more pictures tomorrow and friday as well.

< Dom >

Oop ack!

"Just add monkeys"

Thursday - January 22, 2004

[Dom] - 11:00:00 - [link here]

Chuc Mung Nam Moi, people! Or Gung Hay Fat Choy, Gung Hsi Fa Tsai (Gong Xi Fa Cai for the communists) or Saehae Bok Mani Paduseyo, depending on your culture. I'd say Akemashite Omedetou, but those Japanese freaks don't celebrate the new year properly ;)

Now, let's see, where did I leave off? Oh yeah.

January 5th: Our first day in Tokyo starts with a slight snafu in finding our hotel, once again proving that Japan desperately needs street addresses rather than the block/district/city/etc. system. But what do I know? I'm just a tourist.

It also starts with me finding out that Toubu and Seibu are both attached to the Ikebukuro station--and that Toubu is west of Seibu, which is freaky because the Tou in Toubu means "east" while the Sei in Seibu means "west". I have no idea why this is, and I don't think I want to know.

After checking in at the hotel, Seiya and I immediately head to Yokohama, where we hit the Ramen Museum. We didn't do anything else in Yokohama, because, well, the Ramen Museum is something you have to plan around, let me tell you. The first floor of the Ramen Museum is a fairly run-of-the-mill museum, which runs old ramen commercials on its TVs and has exhibits on ramen bowls, instant ramen, and other stuff. But the bottom floor's the real draw here--underneath the ramen museum is a theme area, set to resemble a city street in the 1950s, complete with Hidden Fortress movie posters. Walking down the stairs, you get the standard "You're going back in time!" cliches, like the clock running backwards and the old posters. But once you're down there, it's Ramen Time.

As far as I know, the best ramen restaurants in Japan are invited to be in the Ramen Museum, and every place sells mini-ramen for sampling the best ramen in the country. There are bigger bowls, too, but those are for chumps--well, and for the people who waited the 45 minutes to get Sapporo-style ramen, which is understandably rare in the Yokohama area. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of pork in the world, this place was awesome. Anyone who has ever had instant ramen (and since many of MT's readers are either college students or in the tech industry, that's a whole lot of you) owes it to him or herself to hit up this museum and try it out. It's that good. Come hungry, since you probably won't be hungry for about a day and a half afterward, too.

January 6th: This is the day we headed to Akihabara, where we bought things. And bought things. And bought more things. I had to buy a new piece of luggage to hold all the crap, but that was easy enough, since I had come into the country planning to get new luggage anyway.

Among other stops, we went to Toranoana, where they have a shrine to Moetan, the English phrasebook for fanboys that you can see in the top left of 510. It's a frightening monument to what people in Akihabara can do. I'll have a picture of it up once I hit up Seiya for the CD he made of our vacation pics.

Other highlights of the day in Akihabara included playing a whole freakload of games at Asobit City, which is now my favorite game store on the globe, due to its tradition of having a row of TVs dedicated to letting people play games that aren't out yet. I spent some quality time with Donkey Konga and Seven Samurai 20XX, which will be the subject of my next rant, and watched the Japanese discover EA's Lord of the Rings: Return of the King game.

I had to go to Gamers, so I did, and that was the only place in Japan I found Magic cards that I could give to my friends... as well as a very "special" card game that I had to get for a few other friends.

To complete my day of being a complete fanboy, we ate dinner at the Taishou Romandou, Sega's theme cafe based around its Sakura Taisen series (which I call Sega's Star Trek--once you work in that franchise, you'll never lack for work again).

The Taishou Romandou was probably the most expensive meal I had in Japan, since the kaiten zushi lunch we had in Shibuya (yes, we did see Hachikou, and even met a friend there) was only 100 yen a plate. Damn good prices for some pretty good food, that kaiten zushi.

But wait, my day as a fanboy wasn't over! I stayed up until 3 AM to watch Chrno Crusade, which is far too short to do the manga justice. After listening to the Chiba-sung ending song, I promptly fell unconscious, exhausted from the effort of being so nerdy for a day.

January 7th: This is the day we did stuff actual tourists should do. A trip to the Meiji Jinguu in the morning was perhaps the most peaceful time I spent in Tokyo, and that includes the time I spent sleeping in my hotel room. Seriously, the Meiji Jinguu, which borders both the Harajuku and Yoyogi stations, is the kind of place where you can forget that you're in a major metropolitan area, and think that maybe you're in the woods or something.

After that, we went to the top of the Tokyo Tower, which is surprising, given that at some point in my life, I was afraid of heights. I got over it at some point, though I'm not sure exactly when. But I certainly got a flash of it from the lowest observation deck on the tower, where you have the 'privilege' of looking about 150 meters straight down. The view from the top was nice, but it was nothing compared to that of Hinomisaki lighthouse--though that may just be bitterness on my part, because the day was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji.

We then went back to Akihabara to buy stuff for other people, indulging our fanboy sides a bit more before going back to being tourists again and hitting up Shinjuku at night. Unfortunately, the seedy Shinjuku of legend is mostly gone, replaced with a business district, so we didn't see anything shady during our quick li'l tour of the area around the station. Which means that unfortunately, I didn't manage to get a picture of any underwear vending machines or other stuff that Tokyo is infamous for--but I suppose I shouldn't be too disappointed, given what happened in Hiroshima.

January 8th: About five minutes before we're about to head off to Kyoto on our way back to Osaka airport, we get an IM from Genjitsu of American Cosplay Paradise, the site that will soon be running a MegaTokyo cosplay contest. Turns out that his Tokyo stay had been extended by a week, meaning that he was sleeping in net cafes and playing a lot of OutRun 2's Heart Attack mode.

So we met with him at Hachikou, made fun of him (while seiya made fun of me for getting a nosebleed on the train while looking at the strategy guide for some mech game or other) and wandered Shibuya for a while, when we saw the greatest commercial ever. As you may know, Shibuya has gigantic TVs on the sides of many of its buildings (and dammit, that SMAP song was playing on one of them, making it at least once a day that we heard the song), and we got to see a man in a broccoli costume fight a man in a carrot costume, to "Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting". (added 1/23/04: some of you have informed me that this was stolen from Daddy Day Care--a movie which I carefully avoided. I stand corrected, though it was still weird as hell to see on the side of a building and in Japanese)

Did I mention that Japanese TV is weird and great?

That night, we stayed in Kyoto, wandering the area and finding out that yes, Virginia, Kyoto has only two businesses--hotels and temples. Well, Nintendo might count too.

But we decided not to head up the Kyoto Tower, given that we'd just been to the Tokyo Tower, and just wandered the stores. Then, we crashed and got ready for the flight home.

January 9th: As we were about to head out of the ryokan, the woman in charge said to us that we HAD to go to this one garden nearby, and, being American, she promised us samurai. And while there were no samurai at the garden, it was yet another place of serene beauty we found in the middle of a city.

Then we went to Osamu Tezuka world, which was basically a couple of bookshelves, a gift shop and a theater. It would've been disappointing if we hadn't seen an episode of Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy made exclusively for showing in Kyoto, so that turned out alright.

Then we headed to Kansai Airport, and that's my trip to Japan in a nutshell.

Some random things that don't really have a place in the chronological narrative, so I stuck them at the end:

- I counted 23 McDonald's while I was there, and not one Burger King. Don't ask me why I counted McDonald's, because I don't know either.

- You remember how I said the bathroom attacked Seiya on that first night in Osaka? Well, it's because he decided to test the "shower" function on the toilet, without actually sitting on the toilet, as it was intended. He walked out of the bathroom sheepishly that night, saying "There's no real good way to explain this..." with a wet shirt.

- I wanted to, but I never found time to just ride the Yamanote line in a circle for a while and watch people on the train. Oh well, I had plenty of time on the shinkansen.

- Governor Ahnold wanted to declare state bankruptcy while I was in Japan. If it weren't for the job that was waiting for me when I came back, I think I would've stayed.

- Rosenqueen, from Disgaea and La Pucelle, is a semi-real store. It's in Messe San-o, behind the boys' live and next to the Konamilk. I bought a Prinny shirt.

- Buying omikuji (new year's fortunes) until you get "lucky" doesn't really work. At least not for trying to get Daikichi.

- Never, ever go to the boonies for about 4 days after New Year's. It's all closed.

And with that, I leave you. Next time, why Seven Samurai 20XX is not a complete disgrace--though it's not exactly an epic, either.

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