I recently got back from a two-week vacation to Japan, spending most of my time in Tokyo with stops at Tokyo Disney and Osaka. It was seriously one of the best experiences of my life—mostly because my inner otaku was surrounded by some of the coolest, and cutest, things imaginable. Here are some of the neatest things I saw during my time in Tokyo, along with a few trendy things you might not know about yet.
It’s true that Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant (along with Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku) is a total tourist trap designed for foreigners. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most jaw-dropping things you’ll ever see. The Robot Restaurant show is an assault on the senses, where you sip cocktails out of lightbulbs and watch giant robots do battle with characters that border on copyright infringement. It’s all noise, all lights, all robots.
I mean, where else are you going to see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle wield a machine gun while being propelled by Mothra, watch Darth Maul play with light beams, or cheer on a princess of the sea as she attacks a Rita Repulsa clone with lasers while riding a giant crab? If that sounds impossible, you would be mistaken. Because nothing’s impossible at Robot Restaurant.
Mandarake is an otaku shop with a few locations throughout Tokyo. I stopped at the one in Shibuya. After walking down several flights of stairs, flanked by images of classic anime and modern J-pop girl groups, you enter a nerdy paradise of manga, collectibles, and a heck of a lot of yaoi and fanfic. I myself picked up a copy of an X-Men fanfic manga where Logan is the surrogate father of a toddler-aged Nightcrawler. It’s basically the cutest thing ever.
I did have to tell my coworker James Whitbrook that, no, I didn’t have room in my suitcase (or budget) to buy him every single Ultraman or Gundam figure in the store. I tried. Believe me, I tried.
No, this isn’t a video of me playing the arcade video game Chunithm on Master Level. I wish! I got up to Level 5 and that’s about it, folks. Dance Dance Revolution is practically a dead art in Japan. Nowadays, it’s all about sensor-laden rhythm games like Sega’s Chunithm.
First released in 2015, it takes the mechanics of DDR and amps them up to 11. Instead of a series of buttons, you have a whole slider to work with—along with motion sensors—allowing players to do all sorts of wild moves. Check out the video to see it in action. I watched several players during my time there. Most of them were, indeed, this good.
What’s better than one Newt Scamander? Obviously: Two of them. I tried to win one in one of the city’s many claw game machines. I did not succeed.
If you’re 20 years of age or older, I highly recommend this bar in Shibuya. Hachigatsu No Kujira—which translates to Whale of August—is a classy basement bar dedicated to the art of movies. There are over 100 drinks on the ever-expanding menu, all of which are named (and themed) after classic, modern, and obscure movies. You don’t see them beforehand, it’s a wild guess. All you’re told is the name and the main liquor.
In honor of my esteemed colleagues, I ordered the Pacific Rim (left) and the Mad Max: Fury Road (right). I do want to celebrate how the bartenders warned me about the Mad Max one, saying it was “very strong.” It was. But I’m a strong woman. Still, that drink knocked me on my ass.
Spotted on the way to Tower Records (yes, it still exists). This screen showed Miles Morales hanging out in the cool neighborhood of Shibuya. I filmed a small section of it, but it went on to showcase all the characters in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. An awesome way to celebrate an equally awesome movie.
AND HE’S COMING AFTER BUMBLEBEE!
So...this was a thing I found. In celebration of Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, which happens to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland, Disney released an “utaite” cover album called Connected to Disney featuring Japanese internet stars. Singers include “Mafu Mafu,” “96 Cat,” and “Urunanuki”—who have billions of views on YouTube. It basically turns a bunch of classic Disney tracks into J-pop hits. It’s funky, it’s weird, and it’s a lot of fun. And yes: I bought a copy.
Spending two days at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneysea made me realize a harsh truth: We’ve been doing Disney fandom all wrong. Forget pin trading, or ironic Grumpy sweatshirts that say you’re “not in the mood for fun.” Over in Japan, they take their Disney fandom seriously. Coordinated group outfits, giant plushy hats, the greatest park food of all time. A big trend right now are headbands with stuffed animals on top, like this (you could totally make them at home with a hot glue gun or Velcro, for those interested). There’s even Duffy, the Disneysea Bear, who is a big honkin’ deal over there.
On top of that, Tokyo Disneysea has got to be the most beautiful Disney park I’ve ever seen, or might ever see. It’s like a better version of Epcot World Showcase...yes, including the drinking.
I also want to point out what might be the best Hidden Mickey I’ve ever seen—spotted at the Teddy Roosevelt lounge onboard the U.S.S. Columbia in Tokyo Disneysea, creating by the shadow of three liquor bottles. Somebody get Sora to selfie himself with that thing. He’ll get two bonus endings.
(Oh, and for anyone who’s interested, I got my custom Star Wars 3D-printed Disney ears from Etsy user The ‘55 Creative Co. They’re fantastic, and I could not recommend them more.)
Over in the neighborhood of Mitaka in West Tokyo, there’s a place that rivals even Tokyo Disneysea: the Ghibli Museum. Designed by Studio Ghibli creator Hayao Miyazaki himself (who had no previous experience in architecture), the Ghibli Museum can only be described as a sensory experience. It’s a large, open place that looks and feels like a wealthy benefactor’s country mansion. Hidden doors, spiraled staircases, and an endless maze of things to do and find. You can explore at your pace, and in your own time.
There are exhibits dedicated to the art and work of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, examining things like his use of color and forms of inspiration. There’s even a rotating batch of short films in the movie theater, which are only viewable at the museum and nowhere else. I saw an adorable one about a water spider. However, they don’t allow photographs inside. Might be frustrating when you yearn to capture everything, but it does increase the sense of discovery and wonder. For any Studio Ghibli fans, it’s not just a museum. It’s a pilgrimage. Better get your tickets in advance, though. It sells out every day.
I’m pretty sure my boss Jill Pantozzi would fire me if I didn’t include a slideshow of cats. I’m not taking that chance.
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