Tag Archives: akihabara

Exciting Pachinko Action in Shinjuku!

Pachinko is Japan unique cultural amusement, it says here on this sign in Akihabara.


But that’s clearly for the tourists. For the real experience, I went to Shinjuku.

First I went walking around Shinjuku a bit. It was late afternoon, so things seemed a bit more lively than when I was here yesterday morning. The PA system was blasting out a boogie-woogie by a female singer where the only words I could understand were “boogie-woogie” and “Shinjuku.” When it finished, there would be a short announcement of some sort and it would start over again. I probably heard it at least eight times.


I went down one street I hadn’t seen before. It looked like it might have pachinko parlors. And it did, but as soon as I’d gone about half a block, I noticed that people were looking at me. Not menacingly, but furtively. One guy walked by me and said “six” as he passed. A little ways farther, another guy did the same. “Six what?” I thought.


Well, maybe I’ll try that pachinko parlor back by the station.


The guy at the door knew a few words of English and showed me what to do. What you do is basically this: Hold onto a dial. That’s it. Of course, you drop a coin in at the beginning, but after that, you hold the dial that controls how hard the little steel balls are shot into the mechanism. You don’t change this, you just pick a good level and hold it there.

Pachinko looks like pinball on its side. You shoot balls in at the top, and they bounce down among a bunch of pins. If they land in a narrow opening, you get points.

In the middle of this is a video screen with cartoon characters moving around and saying things in Japanese. I had a bunch of sea creatures with different point values, and a bikini girl who kept telling me how well I was doing. Arcade music blared at the same time and got faster whenever I was winning.

Every machine in the parlor had some variation on that theme and they were all blaring at the same time.

There was a non-smoking section, but this wasn’t it. And it was stiflingly hot. So I sat there in the heat and the visible cigarette haze and deafening music, holding the dial so that the balls shot to just the right point, as determined by sheer guesswork, and wishing that the balls would run out so I could leave.

At that point I started winning.

Not a lot, because each ball is worth 1 yen. But the balls kept coming out, and they filled up one tray and bikini girl told me I was lucky and that I had a “bonus get” so even more balls came out.

Eventually, the odds caught up with me and the balls stopped, but I still had a tray full to cash in.

Now, gambling for money is illegal in Japan, but gambling for prizes is not. So you take your tray of balls to a counter in back, where they count them and give you a receipt and you exchange the receipt for prizes that add up to that dollar amount. You can then take the prizes to an ostensibly separate establishment that will give you cash for your prizes.

I cashed in my tray of balls for a box of cookies, a box of chocolate, two cans of beer, and two pieces of candy. And then I realized that I had no idea where to cash this in. They weren’t going to tell me, because they had to keep up the charade that they were separate establishments. I wandered around the area looking for a while, but there was nothing obvious.

So basically I got some groceries I didn’t want in the most inefficient way possible.



Yesterday I went to Harajuku, which is a combination of a really crowded upscale shopping street (Omote-sando)…


…and a really crowded shopping street for hip kids who want to have a party on Mt. Fuji or something (Takeshita-dori).


Many of these stores employ people to stand out front and greet you and tell you of all the marvels that they offer in their store. On Omote-sando, they’re Japanese people who greet you in a low-key manner and don’t bug you. On Takeshita-dori, they sound more like carnival barkers. And about half of them were African, for some reason. Their Japanese accents sounded really strange.

At Akihabara, they’re all Japanese girls in French maid outfits. It doesn’t seem to matter what they’re trying to sell—DVDs, manga, food—they all dress that way.


These two were advertising (over a PA system) a maid cafe, wherein your waitress acts like your personal servant and treats you like you’re lord of the castle. Which would personally drive me nuts, so I didn’t go in. They would have had a problem with my camera anyway. They didn’t even really seem to like me taking pictures from the street.


UPDATE: The maid costumes were indeed all for maid cafes. But the maids in question are not necessarily positioned next to their associated cafes, hence my confusion. Most of the people rounding up customers in Akihabara are dressed in the more conventional style that I like to think of as “marketing huckster,” though there were also some dressed as anime characters.

This blog regrets the error.

Sleepwalking Through Shinjuku

Early morning. I have a cold. I took some Japanese decongestant and I’m undercaffeinated. My feet hurt. It’s starting to rain. What should I do today?

How about wander through the alleys of Shinjuku in the morning drizzle?

A triple latte made me a little less groggy, so I didn’t even get lost all that much.

The Golden Gai in Shinjuku looks like this. It had a definite Nasty Vomit Sauce vibe, but everything’s closed in the morning, so there’s no way to check.


Next I went to Akihabara. I had a hankering for Freshness Burger* and figured I could have lunch and check camera prices in the duty-free shops.

Akihabara is “Electric Town”. It grew out of the black market in surplus military electronics that went on under the train tracks after World War 2. That portion is still there—although it’s legit now—and sells all sorts of electronic components and related items as the trains rumble overhead.


If you’re more than about 5′ 10″ you’ll bump your head. There’s even a second story in there.


The rest of the area is a more standard jumble of computer/camera/stereo/DVD/you-name-it businesses.


The cameras I looked at all had the same prices as on Amazon. I would have saved on taxes and shipping, but that’s it.

And there’s no Freshness Burger there, so I went back to Shinjuku. I knew I’d seen one there. I had lunch and listened to two Japanese girls speak French to each other, then went back to the hotel to take a nap.

* Mos Burger is pretty good, but Freshness Burger is better.

Eel Update

The eel at the little divey place in Akihabara is better than the regular eel in Kyoto, but not as special as the special eel. The quality conger, while indeed exhibiting some quality, was slightly less special still.

Matsumoto to Tokyo

Matsumoto to Tokyo was simple: northeast to Nagano on the limited express, then southeast to Tokyo. After that…

I took the Yamanote line from Ueno station. It loops around the city, so I thought I could get a look at the different areas. All I got a look at was the people standing next to me, and occasionally some buildings and train tracks. And I might have seen Shibuya Crossing. Not sure. So I wasted about an hour looping back to Ueno station.

Now then. I have a membership with Toyoko Inn, which is a chain of inexpensive business hotels. They’re all over Japan. But in order to find one, I had to look them up online, and that meant that I had to find wifi. I hadn’t had wifi access since the fish & chips place in Matsumoto. Starbucks has free wifi, but you have to sign up for it first, which means you need an Internet connection first. If I had that, I wouldn’t need the wifi.

But I had signed up for it, just in case. Now I just needed access long enough to get to the confirmation email that they should have sent.

So I got off at Ueno to see if there was public wifi. Nothing. I walked a few blocks from the station to see if I could see a Toyoko Inn. Nothing. But I knew there was a Toyoko Inn near Akihabara, and that was just two more stops, so I got back on the train and went there.

I couldn’t see anything near the station, but I found really slow wifi in one area in front of the station, which enabled me to confirm my Starbucks registration. There was a Starbucks on the third floor of a department store adjacent to the station. So: upstairs, buy a latte, and…no place to sit. Found a bench in the department store and connected to Starbucks. “Cannot connect because you do not have an Internet connection.” Tried several times.

Back downstairs with all my stuff, including a latte I didn’t really want. Tried to put some of the stuff in a locker, but didn’t have enough coins. Carried everything back to the slow wifi area and got to the page with Toyoko Inn’s address and walked there. It’s not really that close.

They only had a vacancy for tonight. I still have to find a place for the rest of the nights, but at least I have wifi here.