tirsdag den 29. november 2011

Itabashi-ku, Tokyo-to, Japan 2011/11/29

This was written in three parts: First as I rode the Shinkansen to Kyoto with Laila, then with Juste, and finally in my new apartment.

Once again, it's been quite a while since my last blog. However, now that I am trapped in a small carbon-fiber tube hurling along at 300 km/h towards Kyoto, with no interesting company, I thought I might as well update you guys on the past 3 months.

Starting from where we left off, I headed north to the northernmost main island of Japan, Hokkaido, a few days after writing my last post. I was going there to see something that wasn't Tokyo, and I certainly got my wish! First I took the Shinkansen super-express from Tokyo station to Aomori, the northernmost city on the main island of Honshu. A ~600 km trip which took two hours and forty minutes, despite the Shinkansen line there having recently been wrecked by the earthquake.

At Aomori, I transferred to the local line, but even though it was the express, the remaining 150 km took me ~3 hours. It was incredibly slow compared to the Shinkansen. And, to make matters worse, I'd forgotten to buy tickets for the express, which meant that I missed the train leaving just after my arrival, and had to wait for an hour to get on the next one. After finally arriving at my hotel in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, at around 21, I was so exhausted that all I could manage was a walk around the station plaza to find a 7/11 to get some cash and a toothbrush before I collapsed on my bed.

The next day, my only full day in Sapporo, I spent walking around the city. I decided early on that I wanted to see the big temple located nearby, Hokkaido Jingu, so I headed off southwest through the city, making sure to walk through the local park.

Sapporo was a bit of a disappointment in that it was very much a modern city, like Tokyo, but even more influenced by the west. It was designed by a European architect in the mid-20th century, and reminded me a lot of modern European cities, which I've seen plenty of. As opposed to Tokyo, the roads are very wide, and it's generally a very airy city. It is also encircled by a beautiful mountain range which, thanks to the streets all being perpendicular to each other, can be seen from any place in the city.

In the temple garden, I met an old lady who explained how to do a proper temple visit, cleansing, and prayer. She even bought me a small souvenir to give my family when I return home. All in all, it was a fun experience.

I then rode a very old streetcar back to the hotel, and went to see Hokkaido University. It was my first time on a University campus, and it was quite impressive. I was a bit surprised by how small the department dedicated to the culture of the original population of Hokkaido, the Ainu, was. It seems like it's still not a very acceptable subject in Japan, which prides itself on its homogeneity.

I then went out to eat sashimi for dinner at a small traditional restaurant I'd found while walking around, before heading up the th Onsen(Open-air bath) on the 37th floor of my hotel. The view would have been great if only there'd been a little less steam, but unfortunately, the windows were almost completely opague.

I then went up to my room on the 42nd floor, where I enjoyed the view, browsed the Internet, and packed the few belongings I had unpacked, before heading to bed.

After checking out of the hotel the following morning, I headed to the station to take the train back to the southernmost part of Hokkaido, to a city called Hakodate. This city is known as a historically very important port town, as it was the first to be opened for trade with the west. Thankfully, it was much more interesting than Sapporo, which was very modern. Hakodate has many temples, as well as a number of old western-style buildings, most of which used to be embassies.

As opposed to Sapporo, where I'd stayed at a western-style hotel, I stayed in ar Ryokan – a Japanese inn. It had its own onsen, and both breakfast and dinner were served by a young maid in my room. It was a great experience, very Japanese, and I can definitely recommend It to anyone traveling to Japan.

The city itself was, as I've already said, very interesting. There were several museums ranging over a braod spectrum of the city's history, including a museum of western architecture, photography, and the time when the American ships forced Japan to open (some of) its ports. There were many embassies as well, and with the entire city unscathed by war, they looked exactly like they would have had you seen them when they were still in use. The former British embassy even allowed you to walk around inside.

I also went by cable-car to the top of the city's namesake, Mt. Hakodate. There was a wonderful view over the city, but otherwise there isn't much to report on that front.

After staying one last night at the ryokan, I went by train back to Aomori, where I once again switched to the Shinkansen and headed home to Tokyo.

---Disclaimer: I took a break from writing, and now resume while once again being inside a small carbon-fiber tube hurling along at 300 km/h towards Kyoto, this time accompanied by another friend from Denmark, I though I should try to get this thing finished.---

After returning from Hokkaido, I spent my weekdays going to school, and my weekends having fun with my friends. I am really grateful to them for showing me a lot of interesting places around Tokyo, for making me even more of a geek, and for generally being great fun to hang out with. And thus, July passed without major incident, and we reach the middle of the second semester at school, when a big event happened: Comiket 80.

For those who do not know(That would probably be all of you)Comiket is the biggest comic convention in the world, and is mostly centered around amateurs selling their self-published manga, anime, music, games, novels, maps, food guides, plushies, and whatever else they can think of. During the 3 days it runs, more than 600.000 people pass through tens of thousands of booths spread over 4 gigantic halls, each of which could probably contain Copenhagen's Bella Center with no major issues. I can't think of a better way to describe it than just listing what I did during the first day of my first Comiket, so here I go:

Day 1

Me and a friend meet up at 8 am in front of the nearest station, then start walking to find the end of one of the lines, which at this point stretches ~1 km out from the convention center, which opens its doors at 10am. It's ~37C. We wait and talk while the line grows longer, the air hotter and more humid. (Darold: If you read this and find inaccuracies, remember that I'm writing this several months after the fact, and that it's merely intended to give an impression of what Comiket is like)

9:30: The line begins to move as they start moving the people in the very front of the line, which can't be seen from where we are, up the stairs to the convention center. After approx. 20 minutes, it stops again, as the front of the line has now been moved into position.

10:00: All of a sudden, people start applauding. You can hear it slowly spreading from the beginning of the line, with the sound growing louder and louder as people around us begin to applaud as well. This way, even though we were too far away to hear the announcement over the speaker, we know that Summer Comiket 80 has officially opened.

10:05: The line finally begins to move, after a five minute lag, probably because we're still so far way. As it does, I realise that the queue is far from the straight line I imagined it to be, and more like a snake, twisting and turning to make the best of the available space; it's disconcertingly long.

10:30: We can finally see the convention center! It's an amazing building, all glass and steel, and huge. When I say “We can see the convention center,” that's actually not entirely true, as it's way too spread out to see from the ground. What we can actually see is the entrance hall and iconic elevted conference center, which is only a small part of the complex.

11:30: We're finally inside! My friend and I head off to fulfill our various objectives, me staying in the pro booth area, and him heading to the doujin(fan-made goods) area. But as this is my first time, I completely misunderstand the queuing system, and end up getting none of the limited edition items before they sell out for the day. I later realize that there was no way for me to get them anyway, since the lines for the popular booths are generally closed around ~10:30, since they estimate that people lining up after that won't make it to the counter before the show closes at 17:00!! After having spent around an hour wasting my time not being able to figure out the queuing system, and finally realizing that there are no longer any lines open for the things I wanted to buy, I check my phone to see that my friend almost had a heatstroke. I head towards the doujin area to meet up with him and find out whether there is anything I want to buy.

13:30: Short, but necessary explanation: The pro booths are in the west halls, and most of the doujin booths are in the east hall. This I knew. What I did not know is that moving between them takes approximately an hour, due to the distance, and the huge crowd. After finally arriving in the East halls and texting my friend, he says that he is now in west: Great. Maybe I should have informed him of my intentions in advance... I decide to look around the East halls for a while, now that I'm finally here. Thankfully, Friday is mostly oriented towards girl's doujin(BL), so I don't end up buying very much. There are still a few sections which are aimed at a male or more general audience, and I spend quite a lot of time looking around there. I'm surprised to find that the lines inside are very, very short. I was aware that today(Friday) was the least crowded and all that, and this isn't the pro booth area, but I did expect longer lines. After trying to get in line and being kindly pointed outside, I realize I've made a huge mistakes: The lines are all outside, and they are, if it is at all possible, even longer than the ones in the pro booth area. Some of these amateurs have so many fans, it's incredible.

15:30: After looking through One and a half halls, and with my head spinning from dehydration and way too many impressions, I agree with my friend to meet in the Central Hall, which is pretty much a hub area for people moving between East and West. There, we meet up with some of our other friends, who joined later because they didn't want to stand in line. We hang out for a while, then split up again to do some final shopping, agreeing to meet at around 17:00. I head to the lower West Halls to see the doujin things there, but soon realize that it's all aimed at women, and head outside to take pictures of the cosplayers(People who dress up as characters from anime) instead.

17:00: With sore feet, I head over to leave the convention with my friends. Because I'm going to be staying with one of them during Comiket, and he's got plans to go to karaoke this evening, we all split up early today. Me and the friend I'm going to stay with head to the karaoke place, which is in Akihabara, and though I am exhausted and only sing one or two songs, I had fun anyway.

20:00 We finally arrive at his apartment. I've decided that I am going to aim for the limited edition goods tomorrow, and thus plan to take the first train bound for Tokyo Big Sight(The convention center). To make that connection, I need to leave the apartment around 04:45am, so after a quick bath, dinner and a bit of talking, I finally fall asleep at around 23:00. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.

I hope that gave you a good impression of the experience. The last two days of the convention I managed to make the second train every morning. Not because I was late for the first, but because people had been waiting in line for the station to open, and it filled up! On the third day, I came even earlier, but still wasn't able to make it! I did manage to get some of the things I wanted though, and after only standing in line for... 7 hours... From ~5am 'till 10am to get into the convention, and then from 10am to ~12am to get to one of the booths. It was hellish, but so, so satisfying. There's also a great feeling of unity in the crowd, and even tough I was a foreigner, I had a great time talking to like-minded people. I'm definitely going in winter as well, can't wait for Comiket 81!

I think I'm going to cut it off here and just post this. It's been way too long. I'll continue this in the near future. Who knows, maybe I'll even be able to catch up to the present!