Some quick observations and general progress updates.
Tokyo-to is a big place. Even Shinjuku, which is the particular district that I’m living in, is ridiculously busy. My apartelle is about 5 minutes walk from the JR East station, which is the locus for all 37 (!) train lines that crisscross the city. So far, I’ve taken the train by myself twice, and consequently got lost and overshot my destination by several dozen kilometers during my first attempt.
Yesterday, I went to Akihabara Electric Town, which is constantly covered by blogs like Gizmodo due to its propensity for generating tech-weirdness as only the Japanese can muster. “Electric Town” isn’t a euphemism either; it really is several city blocks of nothing but four- to seven-storey buildings selling nothing but nerdware. I spent about 3 hours walking around aimlessly (I could only read about 10% of the signages, so many of the buildings I entered were totally random choices) before my back started to complain.
Interestingly, although Tokyo-to itself is a smokers’ city (nearly every resto has a smoking section, and shared areas in residential buildings like my apartelle always have ashtrays), Akihabara itself is sprinkled with No Smoking signs. Being a responsible gaijin, I decided to walk around until I found an appropriate place. Took about 15 minutes to locate a small room appropriately labelled Smokers Style in a corner of the public square. There were a good 15 people inside it when I entered, although they didn’t look particularly uncomfortable. There were plenty of ashtrays and vendo machines inside, and the ventilation was such that there wasn’t the thick haze of smoke that you usually expect in places like this. The room was nicely heated too, and was much better than standing outside in the single-digit temperature.
Beside the Smokers Style was a pay toilet, which looked rather welcoming. The pay toilets in Manila are generally very pleasant places to hang out if you want to be away from the mall-noise for a few minutes, and the Japanese implementation was positively majestic. For JPY100, you enter a washroom decorated in the style of a fancy hotel, lock yourself in to a spacious, fully-automated water closet, and spend as long as you want on the heated toilet seats. (Favorite feature: the auto-bidet has a rotor which washes your ass in circular, linear or standard motions, depending on what gets you off. It also blasts you with hot air so you’re nice and toasty before you get up. Thoughtful technology is bloody fantastic.)
After that brief interlude, I crossed the square over to Yodabashi-Akiba, which is one of the largest electronics chains in Japan. The store in Akihabara was about the size of Landmark, seven floors of every electronic device you could think of, and other crap that you probably didn’t know existed (or needed to, for that matter). I happily found the Thanko USB oddities of lore, although they were a bit too expensive to give as gifts (and I certainly didn’t want any of them).
As expected, nearly every device I found had a Japanese interface and manual so comparison-shopping was a bit challenging. (You could read the specifications by looking at the units – GB, MB, MP, etc. – but the nuances of unfamiliar products were literally lost in translation.) Nintendo Wiis were going for JPY25,000 (ridiculous!), and 8gb iPod Touches were JPY36,800 (no way!). Didn’t buy anything though, except for an overpriced fruit shake at a Juicer Bar. Will definitely be back before I leave Japan.