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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.