It´s September again! Since 2001 (with the exception of last year´s, damn thesis!) I´ve been going to Japan in September. First for pleasure, then for the Tokyo Game Show and this year both for TGS and the DiGRA conference. As always, I´m staying at my good friend Alvaro´s (of Khronos Projector fame). Oh, and the photo credit belongs to Jason Della Rocca, who I´m looking forward to see again next week.
Since it´s likely that many of my readers will be in Tokyo next week for DiGRA, I decided to write down a few tips. I´m not an expert in Japan by any means, but I hope they´ll be somehow useful.
Tokyo Game Show (TGS)
TGS is split into two: Business Days (September 20th and 21st) and regular days open to the public (September 22nd and 23rd). Tickets are very cheap by E3 standards (only 1200 yen, about 11 dollars). Business Days are great because not only there are presentations but the show is less crowded and that means that you get a higher chance of actually testing the games and bagging in the goodies offered on the floor. On the other hand, during regular days you get to see the actual Japanese gamers going crazy for the games, as well as witnessing families and children at play (something unthinkable during E3). Additionally, you get to see the cosplayers and that is something that should not be missed.
TGS takes place in Makuhari, which is about 45 minutes away from Tokyo. It´s a business satellite city and you should NOT, by any means, get a hotel there. The reason is simple: it may be convenient for the show but it´s really far away from the Tokyo action. Another important tip is that, in my experience, a day is enough to see the show. This year I´m probably just going during business day (all you need to prove that you work in the games industry are two business cards). However, if it is your first time (and you do work professionally in games) you may want to try one business day and one regular day.
How to get your TGS ticket? Simply print this form and take it to the show. Make sure that you print a copy at home, so you don´t have to beg for printing at your hotel.
One last thing: be prepared to walk a lot. The line on regular days is enormous and the sun is generally very high in September (and the humidity could literally drown you). The walk from Makuhari Station to TGS takes at least 15 minutes, so make sure you have good walking shoes.
Rest of Japan
Unlike previous years, I do not plan to ride bullet trains up and down the islands. If it is your first time in Japan, you may want to stay in Tokyo, too. There´s plenty to see in the city if you are staying for one or two weeks. However, if you want to explore the country, Kyoto and Nara are a must see. If that´s the case, you MUST get a Japanese Rail Pass that entitles you to a fixed amount of days of train use. You can only buy these overseas, so make sure that you get one before you visit Japan. The Pass is great for bullet train (shinkansen) hopping, but it is also good for the JR lines inside Tokyo, too (it may not be worth to use a day only for taking the train in Tokyo, but if you end up with spare pass days, it may come handy).
WHAT TO DO IN TOKYO
Tokyo is one of the biggest and coolest cities in the world, so you can basically do whatever you want. Here´s a list of some of my favorite places.
The Ghibli Museum
Ghibli Museum was built by Studio Ghibli and it features many of their characters. It´s a tiny museum and do not expect to see the animators at work, since this is not the studio itself. The museum was built with children in mind, so adults generally have to get on their knees to fully appreciate some of the exhibits.
The museum is located in Mitaka, a Tokyo suburb. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the station and then you must take a bus to the museum (a 10 minute ride). It may be faster (albeit more expensive) to take a taxi to the museum from the station, if you are not alone.
Tickets MUST be bought overseas at Japanese Travel Agencies. Sadly, these agencies are not located everywhere, but only on major cities (I know for sure there are available in London, Paris, NY and LA). Tickets are sold for a specific date and cost about 15 dollars. Again, you can´t buy these tickets in Japan so if you don´t get a voucher before arriving to the country, don´t bother to show up. Why is this? Well, the museum is wildly popular in Japan so if you try to buy a ticket today, the closest available dates that they´ll offer you are three months in the future. Since tourists generally never stay more than a few weeks, the museum decided to make special arrangements for foreigners.
Needless to say, this is where geeks go to get their electronics and videogames. You could literally spend days in these shops. Two tips: look for used electronics stores. Generally, the have fairly new stuff, in great shape and at a reduced price (even though the reduction may not be huge, so make sure you double check before buying anything). Another tip: there are plenty of minuscule vintage videogame stores where you can find cartridges for old consoles. Many of these are hidden inside apartment buildings and hard to find if you don´t know how to get there.
Akihabara is also a good place to find manga, anime, toys and figurines
It´s the fashion district and you´ll find some of the coolest clothing on Earth in there. Take Takeshita street, which is a pedestrian street, and get lost in the crowd. It´s much better to go at noon in weekdays. After you got you share of young clothing, you may want to walk to Omotesando (just take a right at the end of Takeshita and walk for 10 minutes), the Japanese Champs Elysees, where you´ll find the posh version of what you just saw. Omotesando is well worth the trip, even if you don´t plan to spend a fortune in clothing. And even more important, Kiddyland, a huge toy store, is located on that street and it´s a must see. A new mall, Omotesando Hills, opened last year, but I haven´t yet been there.
Ueno Park is fairly close to the University of Tokyo, so if you are going to DiGRA, you´ll likely find yourself there. Additionally, the train from the airport will leave you at Ueno Station. You´ll find plenty of small shops around it, including a few nice toy stores and decent places to have a snack.
A fantastic department store where you´ll fin almost anything, particularly in what deals with hobbies and home improvement. A nice place to find great quality small things for the house.
The Sony Building
If I´m not wrong, it´s located in Ginza. Back in the time when Sony was the coolest brand, this was their Apple Store. I´m just being a bit mean. It´s actually well worth the trip to see what Sony has to offer, from TV sets to Playstation gear. It´s more like a museum/showroom than a shop, but if you enjoy technology, you may want to check it out.
Place I´m looking forward to visit
That´s about it for now (this was a LONG post by my standards). I may include something else in the future. And feel free to drop me a line if you are going to Tokyo. I´m looking forward to seeing you there!