Tokyo 11/18: Namja Town and Preparing for Animate Girls Festival

Day 2: Sunshine City and no Wi-Fi.

One of the glitches of the trip came when the mobile Wi-Fi I had ordered from Global Communications had not arrived at the hotel when I checked in. This was not completely unexpected as I had forgotten to confirm it initially, and then after I remembered to put in my payment, noticed it was after the cancellation point. It took my payment though, so I was hoping it would take, but no dice–after I emailed them about it, they just refunded me and I had to place another order for a couple days later. This meant that I had no Wi-Fi but I figured it would be ok since I have free roaming with T-Mobile and would be spending a lot of time in a big mall which would surely have free Wi-Fi. Right? Right?

Wrong. Although it looked like I had a pretty good docomo cell signal, it never registered any data connection. Also, the Sunshine City Mall is not so much for Wi-Fi unless you have a particular app that helps connect you, and it’s hard to download an app without already having Wi-Fi.  Also I couldn’t get my roaming cell service to kick in for anything, until the next day when I suddenly thought of restarting my phone after it updated its connection…things.  In any case, the moral is that you should probably not forget to pay for your mobile Wi-Fi router in a timely fashion.

On the off-chance that there are people out there interested in going to Animate Girls Festival (AGF) I’ll go into a little detail about it, since when I was planning to go I couldn’t find any practical information in English about it at all.  (This information was correct as of 11/2018, when I went, and is, of course, subject to change.) AGF is a yearly event put on by Animate, a huge chain of stores specializing in anime-related merchandise in Japan.  It takes place in Sunshine City, a reasonably large mall connected to a convention center space in Ikebukuro–what’s known as the Akihabara for women, as the stores and cafes there lean more towards properties geared towards girls.

Gacha as far as the eye can see.

AGF is basically a two day merchandising event where a large number of companies who produce anime, video games, visual novels, manga, etc. can buy booth space and sell merch related to their various properties.  Because of its specificity of focus, it attracts a lot of companies who don’t typically make or sell merch, so for the audience that’s really into that one obscure character in that one free-to-play mobile game, this is your big chance to get something with him on it.

Utano-PrinceSama merch at the Animate store in Ikebukuro

As is the case with a lot of things in Japan, the way to buy into something like this is somewhat complicated if you a) don’t live in Japan, and b) don’t speak or read Japanese.  It could be argued that no one in their right mind would want to go to such a thing if they didn’t either live in Japan or speak Japanese, but honestly, people in their right minds miss out on an awful lot.

I basically had to run all the Animate sites through Google Translate which is sometimes more helpful and sometimes less.  From what I could figure out, it seems that there are three types of tickets:  An early entry ticket, an all-day ticket, and an afternoon-only ticket.  The process of getting an early entry or all-day ticket involved entering a lottery that was only held once, for about a week.  After the lottery, winners were notified and could then purchase their tickets–any leftovers were dispensed in a secondary lottery some months later.  The problem I had was that from the erratic translation I had, I gathered that both types of tickets needed to be picked up onsite with a photo ID…and it wasn’t clear to me whether they would accept a passport with information that wasn’t in kana.  What was pretty clear was that if you didn’t have the right ID, they weren’t going to give you the ticket at all.  The afternoon tickets, in contrast, were available as just a straight online purchase so that seemed like a safer bet.

What made even that transaction difficult is that in order to buy anything from the AGF website, it appeared that you had to register for the Animate Club website, and then use that login to purchase the tickets.  Unfortunately, you could only register for the website with a Japan address.  What to do?

Sunshine City has some pretty cute stores.

I imagine there are many different ways to deal with this, however I used a website called Tenso which provides you with a free Japanese mailing address for the purposes of buying stuff.  I believe the way it’s supposed to work is that you buy stuff there, have it shipped domestically to whatever specific Japanese address they give you, and then they take it from there and ship it to you internationally for a service fee.  I have never used it in that fashion–only to register for online things.

Having figured out how to register, I was a little concerned as to whether I would need to have them mail the tickets to the address and get them sent by proxy to me which seemed like a huge hassle, but then realized you could arrange to print them out and pick them up at any 7-11, which are ubiquitous and multi-purpose there.  By this time, the only tickets left were for Sunday afternoon, but I figured without knowing how much of a madhouse it was going to be, that might be all I needed.  From this point it was pretty easy, since they took international credit cards online and the pickup at the 7-11 across the street from my hotel was a breeze thanks to the helpful employees there.

Since I didn’t have a ticket for the first day, I figured I would head over and do a trial run to the mall, scoping it out for the second day.  After walking around all of Ikebukuro cursing my lack of Wi-Fi for about 45 minutes, I finally found it.  Sunshine City is a large mall that seems to be connected to a convention center-like area on one end where AGF was taking place.  By the time I arrived, which was around noon, the huge staircase that leads up to that side’s entrance seemed totally covered with people in line or trading things or trying to muscle their way into the mall between them.  I tried to figure out where the line started so I could get in position fast the next day, when I discovered that there was no English written or spoken in AGF except for the letters “AGF.”  Eventually I wandered around enough where I felt like I knew how the line was going, and actually ended up seeing Hiro and Diana from Cybird in line.

Hiro and Diana at the Cybird panel at Anime Expo 2018

Having found out about as much as I could concerning the line up process (which looked frighteningly long even an hour before the afternoon tickets were supposed to be let in,) I just wandered the mall looking at the cute things and watched one of the few programming events that took place on the mall stage and didn’t require a ticket.  Because this is a bizarro situation where the performances didn’t need a ticket, but buying the merch did.

An appearance by the voice actors of Ikemen Live Koi no Uta o Kimi ni
There were a LOT of people at AGF. I think the people in chairs bought the early/fast entry tickets.
It was a talk-show format, I think, with parts where they did improv and read scripts from the visual novel. It was entertaining even without understanding much of it.

Afterwards, I walked around Ikebukuro and visited the big Animate store where they were having a big K7 Stories display (one of the few current animes I’ve seen.)

Afterwards visited Namja Town–a mini amusement park inside the mall that is part arcade and part themed food court.

Namja Town

The games there looked interesting (additional fee) but most seemed to require a pretty high degree of Japanese to play them, so I contented myself with just walking around and triggering the various effects placed around the themed areas.

Some areas have little windows you can peek into to see scenes, or areas you touch that move or make a noise.
There are of course scary haunted areas because Japanese stories are always mad scary.
They were having some sort of special event on these guys from a game I did not know.

The main reason I was there however, was for the Gyoza Stadium.  In Japan, they frequently advertise things like ramen or takoyaki museums that are really just food courts, and this wasn’t too much more than that, except for the great post-war theming.

It was pretty good gyoza. Not too cheap after awhile, but you’re not going to go every day.
All the different booths had different gyoza from different locations around Japan, presumably renowned for their gyoza.

They were supposed to also be known for having a dessert area where you could get ice cream in a bunch of wacky flavors, but I only saw one place open in that spot and I think it was selling pastries, mostly.

They even played period-appropriate music which I thought was a nice touch.
Most of these corridors opened up into little areas where people could sit and eat their gyoza.

Anyway, after that closed for the night, it was time to find my way back to the hotel and rest up for the next day of actually attending AGF.

The hotel was reasonably close to both the train station and Sunshine City, if you are not terminally lost, as I am.



Tokyo, 11/18: Flying Over

After managing to put off nailing down mileage flights until the week before, I flew LAX-HND on JAL in F, which is a pretty good way to start off your trip. Unfortunately it used enough miles (80k) to make it prudent for me to return in steerage, but I figured that would be Future!Jeanine’s problem.

The first leg over was on AA in economy which was actually pretty fabulous as I was able to move up to their “slightly less miserable” class of coach and no one sat next to me.

The first meal of the trip.

Next was a 5-6 hour layover at SFO where I figured I’d try out the different One World Lounges. I had heard that the JAL Sakura Lounge wasn’t much and it actually turned out to be less than that, as although the piece of paper taped to the door said it would be open from 11pm to 2:30pm, it was pretty definitely closed. I went to Cathay Pacific’s lounge which was nearby and they said they thought the JAL lounge only opened up shortly before they had flights coming in/out. ‘This turned out to be a blessing because the Cathay Pacific Lounge was pretty nice with plenty of seating and a noodle bar making won ton or dan dan noodles.

Cathay Pacific SFO Lounge
Lots of seating that inexplicably doesn’t have much of a runway view.
Won Ton Noodles

I later went to check in at the JAL lounge when it was open, and wow, it looked shabby in comparison. It had all the charm of a waiting room at the doctor’s, with a little closet (looked like it might have been a smoking room once) set aside for the first class passengers.  There were only about as many chairs in the closet as there are seats in first class, and they were arranged in almost a Tetris-style fashion to make them all fit without people having to sit knee-to-knee. Virtually every seat was full, and I beat it back to the Cathay lounge as soon as possible.

Once on the plane however, everything was gorgeous. The stewards cannot do enough for you and the seating pods are great. They give you complementary Wi-Fi for the flight so I actually didn’t use any of the entertainment, although the offerings looked pretty standard.

First class pod on JAL from LAX-HND.
Ok, maybe not all that standard.

The food was very good—I went with the Western menu—and really, the eating never stops if you play your cards right. At about 7 hours into the flight, I think everyone in our compartment was sleeping except the guy across the aisle and myself, who kept ordering food for snacks throughout the flight.

The menu. There were other snacks on the back for a la carte dining.
Your amuse-bouche. “Very amoosing.”–Chandler Bing
Cold mushroom soup was kind of different. I didn’t taste the foie gras much in the mousse.
Virtually the only time I have caviar is on airplanes.

One thing I loved about this flight is the bathroom which turned out to probably be larger than the one in my hotel room. It came complete with linen hand towels and a platform you lowered to stand on when you changed into their lounge wear so you didn’t have to step directly on the restroom floor.

The worst part actually was the free Wi-Fi that wasn’t fast enough to even load instagram half the time, although I guess that’s a pretty petty complaint when you’re up in the sky eating a filet.

Sadly, the flight had to end sometime, and although I offered to just spend the rest of the trip flying back and forth with them throwing caviar in my mouth like an indolent seal, they made me get off. They did gift me one of their styling coffee mugs that I had admired, so that was some nice parting magic.

After a relatively painless trip through HND customs, I caught the next Airport Limo bus to Ikebukuro. It was supposed to be a quick 5 minute walk from the station to the hotel, however the bus dropped us off at the station’s West entrance and the hotel was by the East entrance, and as anyone who has traveled much in Japan can attest, that can add on roughly six days to your walk. In this case, it ended up being more like 45 minutes as I dragged my suitcases up and down staircases, borking the handle mechanism again, in the process. It would probably have been longer, except a random dude couldn’t take watching me almost fall down the stairs several times and just picked up my bag and carried it down for me. Thank you random dude! My blessings on your house!

The b tokyo ikebukuro is a perfectly pleasant hotel with all the amenities and petite rooms you’d expect of a mid-range hotel in Tokyo. Probably the oddest part of the room was that it seemed to come with AC but no heater. I found this out, after I left the AC blasting the first day (it was hot!) and then a cold snap set in the second evening and all I could do to warm up was turn it off. Weird for a town that typically likes all its indoor temperatures around 90 degrees.

The b tokyo ikebukuro hotel. See that coat hanger on the right hand wall? That’s the closet.

The best part was that it was across the street from a 7-11 where I was able to pick up my Animate Girls Festival ticket that I wasn’t sure I had bought online correctly, given their labyrinthine rules for doing so, and the obligatory melon soda and onigiri. If I lived in Tokyo, that would pretty much be my diet, since I probably wouldn’t be able to afford luxuries like dining out, or a kitchen.

Next time: A Trip to Animate Girls Festival