Day 4 – Mario Kart, Revisionist History and a Literal Sushi Train

If the title looks confusing that’s because it is. There’s so much to do in Tokyo I had to tinker around with my itinerary so much before I could find a way to fit in everything I wanted to do during the week we had here. This some days didn’t really keep to a theme or anything, and it was a bunch of activities stitched together with one goal in mind: to achieve P E A K E F F I C I E N C Y.

Of course, with so many things planned for our first proper day in Tokyo, we had to make sure we’re well fed to start the day! As some of you would know, I don’t eat breakfast normally (unless you count the free biscuits at work) but while I’m on holidays there’s no reason not to splurge a little, *but only when there’s cheap options available*. This isn’t the Bourgeois’s Backpack after all. Now if you thought Japan is a fairly expensive city for food and in general, well…you’re right. It definitely is much more expensive than my last few destinations, namely South America, China and Vietnam. But if you know where to look there’s plenty of cheap food options in Japan, and most of them don’t compromise on quality at all! And the holy grail of cheap, fast but yummy food in Japan is the convenience store. Not the shitty 7-Eleven’s in Sydney that charges you $5 for a bottle of coke or bag of chips, their counterparts along with Family Mart and Lawson are extremely affordable and has a huge variety of cold and hot foods, not to mention together they are almost EVERYWHERE.

To drive that point home, there’s a Lawson about 2 minute walk from our apartment and that’s where we headed for breakfast. I made a beeline for one particular offering that’s a staple in all Japanese convenience stalls, especially during its cold winters. The oden pot.

Big pot of warm, tasty and most importantly cheap goodies

Oden is a collective name for a huge variety of things that are all stewed together in a soy-flavoured dashi broth. I’m definitely not able to tell you all of these ingredients, but some of the common ones are:

  • Tamago or boiled eggs
  • Chikuwa, a tube shaped fishcake, along with other various types of fishcakes
  • Tsukune, ground chicken balls on a skewer, along with other types of meat on a stick
  • Daikon, which is a big block of radish
  • Konnyaku, which is a root of a plant called konjac so I really can’t describe it much more than that, just give it a try

Here’s a zoomed in picture of the pot, in which you can recognise daikon on bottom right, tsukune and sausage skewers bottom left. That ball of rice noodle looking thing in the middle is a boiled version of konnyaku called shirataki and the rest are some kind of tofu or fishcakes I think.

If you wanna read more about the different types of oden, this link is a good place to start. But either way, you’ll probably have not much of an idea of what’s what in the big ass pot when you get here, so just point at stuff to order. Once they know you’re illiterate they’ll know what you’re trying to do lol. These are perfect for a cold winter morning since they’ll give you a big bowl of that piping hot dashi broth along with whatever items you ordered, plus they’re likely to run out by dinnertime so get them in your stomach early in the day!

I only picked out a tsukune and chikuwa, as my love of Japanese food is only trumped by my hatred of vegetables. To go along with that, I got another quintessential Japanese fast food that you’re sure to find in any self-respecting convenience store – the onigiri. I hope onigiri needs no introduction but it’s in essence a triangular ball of rice wrapped in seaweed, with filling inside. No that doesn’t make it a sushi, yes it is still delicious.

You can see from the first picture of the oden pot where some of the menu was in the shot that most of oden items are really cheap, nothing’s usually more than 150 yen each. Don’t forget you get that free broth too! The onigiri was also a cheap 130 yen, so this hearty breakfast was under $6, which definitely is more expensive than the lower tier Asian economies but if you consider Japan being a top 5 economy worldwide (they’re slipping) this is a pretty good deal! Just don’t forget, the unspoken rule of not eating while you walk also applies to convenience stores, so gobble down everything at the small stands inside before you head off!

Karl went down a different route and got a more funky breakfast.

What the fuck is that?

That is a yaki-pan, a combination of the words yakisoba which is stir fried soba noodles and pan, for bread. Now it should be fairly obvious what this is, literally stir fried noodles shoved inside a bread. It’s actually quite popular in Japan so trust the Japanese to think of these weird stuff, although I’m not sure if the noodles would be that good when it’s cold. Either way Karl said it was really good, plus only 148 yen + tax!

Both the yaki-pan and oden fall into the category of what I’d call “food that every Japanese person knows but almost no foreigners know”. Japanese food has been such a hit around the world in the last decade or so but what people don’t realise is that a huge chunk of Japanese cuisine has essentially fallen off the radar, making way for heavy-hitters such as sushi or ramen. There’s so much depth to Japanese cuisine unlike most white cultures (like seriously Italian food is pasta + pizza, after that you can go next, don’t get me started on Australian food, oh wait there’s no such thing -_-), which is pretty amazing when you consider how small Japan is really. In all my years of eating Japanese food in Sydney, which is like 10+ years now, I’ve never seen either of these 2 anywhere, so I’d highly recommend you try them out when you’re here, because honestly even if you don’t eat a single ramen while you’re here it’s not like you won’t get a chance to back home. Of course, I did my research and will be making considerable effort to try all the faces of Japanese cuisine that are usually hidden back at home, so feel free to leech my ideas!

After achieving well fed status (WoW reference anyone?) we headed to Shinjuku for our first stop of the day. Shinjuku is normally associated with the nightlife and the infamous Kabukicho, or the red light district. But since it’s barely 10 am when we got there it was pretty dead, which is perfect for us as we’re at one of Shinjuku’s relatively new attractions, the VR Zone, and the internet told me to come as early as possible to avoid the queues.

Reminds me of a big Rubik’s cube

The VR Zone is like a theme park for VR games, you pay an entry fee to get in and once inside you can by tickets to individual stations to try out one of the over 20 VR games they have on offer. However, I’d highly recommend you get the one-day ticket package instead, which cost 4400 yen (including tax!) and gives you access to 4 games, one from each coloured category. This is the most cost effective method of trying out *most* of the better games they have on offer, because there are some games where I would uhh highly suggest against wasting your money on. I say most because the catch here is that you’ll need to make some tough decisions!

But first, you can buy the ticket online in advance from their official website, the 1 day ticket should be the first thing you see. You’ll need to pick a time slot to get in, although once you’re in there’s no limit on how long you can stay for. I picked 10 am, when the place opens, as I’ve heard stories online that in general the place gets really popular after 4 pm, i.e. school’s out, and the most popular rides AHEM MARIO KART can have waits of up to 2 hours G_G. Not to mention this is now school holidays in Japan, so I wasn’t willing to take the risk of showing up when there’s a million kids, so maximise efficiency I put this on the first thing in the morning of my first day, hoping that being a weekday morning would let me avoid the worst crowds.

And it worked! When we got here there I think we were in the first 10 people to show up for the day, which means next to no lines for pretty much every game we wanted to do. Definitely recommend showing up early on a weekday, I cannot guarantee what it’d be like during weekends or after work/school hours. Once you arrive just show the staff the QR code in your confirmation email and you’ll get a band that will allow you to re-enter, although tbh once you’ve done your 4 rides there isn’t really a reason to come back.

Whole place has a very futuristic theme

Okay, time to explain how to make the most of your one-day ticket. I’ve done some extreme research and head scratching to figure out in advance what are the best games to do, so hopefully I can make your decision a little easier. As I mentioned with your one-day pass you can do only 1 game from each of the 4 categories, shown below.

Choose wisely!

Let’s start with the easiest category – yellow. So yeah if you don’t do the Mario Kart you might as well get a refund. Pretty sure EVERYONE chooses Mario Kart for the yellow category, you would be an idiot to pass up the opportunity to race against your friend in VR while throwing shells at them. Of course, being arguably the signature game of this entire place, we had to go there first to avoid ANY potential queuing even though there are like 5 other people in the building lol.

Ermergerdddddddddddddd

I’ve never tried VR before, properly. Once my office they had a mini technology exhibit and there was a VR headset to try on and of all the possibilities they had to demonstrate the endless capabilities of VR, they showed me a train station in rural NSW and told me about how VR technology can be used to conduct market research more effectively when the person doing a survey can’t physically be at or see the subject of the research, e.g. hey tell me what you think of this rural fucking train station that’s like 1000 km away. Yay…

Anyway this is not just a headset, there’s a whole driving set up with brakes and steering wheel! They have 8 of these setups so if you come with big group you can all play together. When we tried it, it was just us 2 so we had 2 bots play with us – I picked Mario and Karl picked Yoshi, then we were joined by Bowser and Princess Peach. You basically race through a fairly short course for a few laps, while avoiding obstacles like the big red flower that tries to eat you (I’m sure there’s a name for it but I’m not enough of a Mario Kart fangay to know). But the main attraction is the immersive experience, as it’s the little things that makes you feel like you’ve really hopped into a kart and entered the Mario world. There’s motion feedback so when Bowser bumps into you with his kart you can feel the vibration. You can get items from those boxes with question marks just like in the games by literally reaching out and grabbing them as you drive past them, as we wore some special gloves to register our hand movements in the VR environment. Then you can throw the banana or shell, or swing a hammer at anyone that dares to come close to you. The only downsides were 1) the game was quite short, or at least it felt like it with the adrenaline and 2) the graphics aren’t that great so everything looks a bit grainy inside, kinda like  those low-res old school games. Overall, easily the best game we played that day and the only “must do that you can’t miss out on.

For completeness, we did see someone playing the Big Fear of Heights Experience, one of the other options in the yellow category. There’s a TV showing what the person playing the game is seeing, which is being on a plank at the top of a skyscraper, trying to rescue a cat at the end of the plank that’s frozen in fear.

Pretty cool idea I have to admit, I’m sure it’s also very immersive and a more thrilling experience if you want that adrenaline rush. They even have wind blowing so I can only imagine how fucking scary that’d be in the game, and there’s even a little doll with sensors on it to represent the cat. I’d just ditch the cat tbh.

You can purchase extra tickets for the games individually, so if you’re really keen then you don’t have to be stuck with just Mario Kart. But it isn’t cheap, I think the standard games are 1200 yen each while they have some newly released special games that cost a lot more. Like this Futuristic Warfare Arena Ghost in Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds game (fuck that’s a mouthful), a VR shooting game with Ghost in Shell theme that you play on a special field. I would LOVE to try legit FPS in VR but I can’t afford the 2800 yen price tag 😦

Real life CoD!

For the record, I have no idea what Armored Trooper Votoms Battling Dudes is…

Moving on to the green category, which I thought was the second easiest category. Here it’s not because one game stood out, it’s more like there’s 2 games that are shit. Ski Rodeo is, you guessed it, a skiing VR simulator. Given that we are going to ski in REAL LIFE, I didn’t see any point in doing this.

The other one is Gijiesta, a fishing VR…

Yeah…doesn’t matter how sick you make the promotional material look, I think I’m gonna pass. That leaves Argyle Shift, which bills itself as a interactive cinematic experience. This involves you taking control of a giant mech and shooting some enemies, with much much better graphics compared to Mario Kart. I guess that’s the “cinematic” part. Overall nothing too exciting but it was fun, kinda like Gundam, except there’s this virtual (VR-ception?) assistant in the form of a scantily dressed anime chick that besides giving you instructions on how to play, will also talk and flirt in the stereotypical cutesy anime style while leaning over you real close. So yeah not bad LOL. Although given this is Japan, not sure if it’s just a lightly disguised ad saying hey look what we can do in the future with VR hentai…

Not sure if the mecha is designed as the main attraction or something else…

There is a proper Gundam game if you’re wondering though, the Daiba Aerial Clash in the blue category. However don’t jump the gun so quick, as this is easily the most difficult to choose category, as you also have a Evangelion game and a Dragon Ball Z game. If you’re an anime fan and a millennial, then you probably grew up watching at least one of these 3 animes, probably some of the most popular and influential titles out there. I feel like most anime fan would probably like DBZ the most, or at least hold it up as the most iconic one as it has the most penetration in western culture, but the game itself seems quite dull.

Master the Kamehameha is literally that, you get a virtual Goku teaching you how to use the Kamehameha, his signature attack that’s basically a blue energy blast. Based on my research you just stand there, make Goku’s signature pose by squatting a bit and put your hand together (yelling optional) then try to hit some targets. Obviously in the VR world you’ll be shooting out blue chi blasts with Goku standing next to you giving you tips, and that’s probably enough to convince some people this is the Blue game they want to do. For me, I don’t like DBZ soooo much that I’m desperate enough to want to see Goku in VR to ignore the not-so-exciting gameplay.

Gundam is probably the next most iconic one out of the 3, although I haven’t actually seen it before. The game however, is more of the “cinematic experience” type rather than actual gameplay. I believe all you do is sit on this chair which in the VR world is the shoulder or hand of a Gundam (big mecha robot thingy) and watch as it flies around. More like a VR movie as you don’t actually *do* anything. So again, I’m not in love with Gundam to ignore the not-so-exciting gameplay, or the lack of.

Pass

That leaves one option, the Throne of Souls: Beserk, based on Neon Genesis Evangelion. Most of you probably haven’t heard or seen this one, it involves a kid Shinji being recruited to pilot these giant mechas called Evangelion units to battle aliens. So similar to Gundam in it’s premise, but whereas Gundam is more of a straight shounen manga about good vs. evil, Evangelion is a lot darker and frankly more fucked up and geared towards adults imo. I remember watching this as a kid in China and thinking what the fuck is going on. The ending is confusing as fuck and they’ve even made movies with separate endings to make it worse. Still, it’s become kind of a cult classic and influenced many famous animes that came after it, and by process of elimination this is the one we picked to play.

This one was actually quite popular and the only one we had to wait to play. Similar to Argyle Shift, you get into a mecha and fight together against an Angel, which is what the aliens are called in the anime. In this case I was Ayanami Rei’s 00 Unit (in the anime Shinji, the main character, actually faps to a picture of her so that should tell you how fucked up this anime was for a shounen type premise). We had to fight against the 14th Angel from the anime, Zeruel, who had the ability to shoot lasers at us. This was by far the most complex game in terms of gameplay and mechanics. You could actually move around using the two joysticks and take cover behind buildings against the lasers. There’s different types of weapons for you to use that you can cycle through, and to aim you had to move your head around which takes a bit to get used to. Lastly, when you sustain too much damage your Evanglion would temporarily shut down and you actually had to yell a phrase in Japanese to get it to start again. The graphics were also very good and there was motion feedback as well, so when you got hit by the laser you could feel it. The game was actually a little too complicated imo, or not enough instructions give, as I had no idea how to actually kill the Angel when it arrived, like does it have a shield that only goes down sometimes, or do I have to aim certain parts? Apparently you can also collect ammo around the map and even pick up more powerful weapons. So needless to say we both got rekt pretty fast, I don’t even know how much damage we ended up doing, but we were forced to watch as the Angel incapacitated us before walking up to us and literally eating my Evanglion with it’s weird alien mouth.

Still, it was the best approximation to what I imagined a VR mecha experience would be like. If that’s what you want to experience, then I’d definitely recommend this one over the Gundam one or even Argyle Shift, as I think they kinda overlap (so go try the skiing or fishing one LOL). Unless you’re a diehard Gundam or DBZ fan, this is the most fun one to do out of the blue category.

Okay, so moving on to the last category – Red. This one was probably the hardest because you can make a legit argument for all 3 options. Hanechari the Winged Bicycle is what I’d call a physics simulator – you sit on a bicycle which is the same in game, except you also have a parachute, and the goal is to guide the winged bicycle through the skies and avoid obstacles like cliffs. General opinion for this game seems to be that the gameplay is a great showcase of the physics that VR technology is able to achieve, also the views are awesome and a decent adrenaline boost. Not what we chose in the end, but I think it is a solid choice if you just what to see the boundaries of VR physics rather after enough of the more gimmicky things like mechas.

Jungle of Despair is a Jurassic Park inspired game, where you ride a motorcycle to escape from a T-rex. Very reminiscent of the scene in Jurassic World where Starlord runs away on his bike from the Indomitable Rex.

It did look pretty decent – who doesn’t wanna see dinosaurs in VR? But since nobody was playing this game  we couldn’t see what the gameplay looked like, so we took a while to make our decision, walking back and forth between the 3 games. It’s almost weird how polite all the staff are here, as you can see in the above picture, every time we walked past a game they would bow and repeat irasshaimase with a smile. You’ll hear this phrase a LOT while you’re in Japan, anytime you’re a customer and there’s a customer service person, as it is the hallmark of Japanese hospitality. It doesn’t have a direct English translation, as literally it is the polite form of the Japanese word for iku or “to go”, kuru or “to come” and iru or “to stay/be”, so depending on the context it could mean “welcome” (when you enter a store) or something like “thanks for coming” (when you leave a store).

Anyway back on topic, the promotional material seems to show it’s supposed to be scary, I guess being chased by a T-rex while you’re fully immersed in the environment is pretty scary. But we ultimately decided that if we wanted a scary VR experience (which we haven’t had), we might as well go balls deep and do the Horror Escape Terror – a game where you’re a mental asylum patient bound to a wheel chair and the goal is to escape the haunted hospital.

Fuck me look at the screen

Our first time walking past it we heard people scream and yell, and our second time we caught a glimpse of the screen, looks pretty fucked. So on our third time we decided yolo let’s do it. Before I get describing the game, major SPOILER ALERT if you don’t want the experience to be ruined in any way. Also, there’s a sign before you enter telling people of various ailments to avoid it, like heart problems and other restrictions you usually see at a roller coaster.

With two player you can play co-op, where you start in the same room together each on  a wheelchair but you’re path will crisscross as the game progresses. I think that’s a nice tough, as it definitely adds to the horror experience when you’re just cruising through a corridor and you hear Karl screaming like a little bitch. Seriously he can bench like 100kg+ but becomes a little girl when he puts a headset on LOL.

While you explore there’s some jump scares, but apart from that it wasn’t too scary imo – it was more of a gore and violence thing than actual horror. Think more like the Saw films rather than say, the Ring. All around you there’s dead people being mutilated in different ways and that kind of general fucked-up-ness. The main draw is the immersion of the VR, which just makes it feel like you’re in the hospital, but I guess deep down I know none of this is legit so I wasn’t toooo effected. Then came the co-op part, my wheelchair was captured by some bandage wrapped executioners and placed in a circle of other people in wheelchairs, while Karl enters a maze. On my screen there’s also a bird’s eye view of the map and a dot that tracks Karl, so my role is to guide him through the maze while the executioner slowly executes the other wheelchair-bound people around me in various gruesome ways. However, this was only explained to me in a mix of basic Japanese and broken English afterwards by the attendant, but in game I couldn’t quite figure out what I was supposed to do. Like I figured out I’m supposed to guide him but it wasn’t clear to me where he was supposed to go. There’s also some walls blocking Karl’s path which I could open by using a flashlight, but couldn’t quite figure out how to, forcing me to direct him through a longer alternative. I think there might’ve been better instructions in Japanese if we could read it, or it was supposed to be a bit under-explained to make it more challenging. Either way we didn’t make it in time and I took an axe to the face 😦

RIP Karl

The attendant explained that this was the first “boss” stage, and there’s another main challenge afterwards, although a lot of people do get stuck on this stage so we didn’t feel too bad. Still, you’d think an actuary and an engineer could figure something like this out lel, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see the rest. Not peaking efficiency here.

We ended up spending about 1.5 hours here, as the 4 games we played all were not that long but we walked around to watch people play other games. I’d recommend this as a morning activity, it’s just not worth lining up for hours to play a 5 minute game, doesn’t matter how cool Mario Kart VR sounds. It’s in the heart of Shinjuku so commuting is very very simple.

The short duration of our time here worked out perfectly for my plan, as I had booked a restaurant for lunch and I was scared we might miss it since I wasn’t sure beforehand how crowded the VR place would be. We will be having shabu shabu and sukiyaki for lunch:

  • Shabu Shabu is Japanese hotpot with a clear broth, in which you add vegetables and thinly sliced meat in. The name itself is an onomatopoeia, meant to reflect the sound of swishing the meat in the hot pot as it cooks very quickly. In reality it really isn’t that different from Chinese hotpot, except the soup is just water and flavour comes from the dipping sauces
  • Sukiyaki is another Japanese hotpot but with a soy sauce based broth, again with vegetables and meat. Unlike shabu shabu, you’re meant to leave the meat in there to simmer in the broth for a while, then taking it out to dip it with not a sauce (since the broth already has soy sauce flavour) but in a bowl of beaten raw egg!

These two dishes are not quite as obscure in the West as say oden, but not as ubiquitous as ramen either. They are usually eaten separately, since each dish takes up a hot pot, but that’s not maximising efficiency for us who only have a limited number of meals in Japan. Which is why I zeroed in on this particular restaurant, or a chain of restaurant, that specialises in both and provides the option of a half-and-half hot pot a small surcharge of 200 yen per person. It’s called Nabezonabe being the Japanese word for hot pot.

Oh yeah, and they’re a buffet.

It’s just not satisfying doing any kind of hot pot and not have it be all you can eat, plus given how much meat I could eat in one sitting it’s just not worth ordering a la carte. Here’s a breakdown of the different all you can eat options for Nabezo:

What When How much
Pork course All you can eat pork, veggies & desserts for 100 mins Weekday lunch         1,600
Nabezo course All you can eat beef, pork, veggies & desserts for 100 mins Weekday lunch         1,800
Weekday dinner & weekend         2,600
Beef tongue course Nabezo course + beef tongue Weekend         3,600
Japanese beef & pork course Nabezo course + Kuroge beef + Matsuzaka pork Weekday lunch         2,800
Weekday dinner & weekend         4,600

Now there’s probably a few terms here you’re not gonna be familiar with, namely Kuroge beef and Matsuzaka pork. Now’s a good time to introduce a word that many people have heard of, but very few understands properly – Wagyu beef.

Introduction to Wagyu Beef

Wagyu literally means Japanese beef (wa means things related to Japan, gyu for beef) so any cow killed in Japan will yield wagyu beef, and in general any wagyu beef will probably taste better than the beef you get at your local butcher. This also means the phrase wagyu beef is technically redundant, as it will literally translate to Japanese beef beef.

The export of wagyu outside Japan is strictly forbidden by the Japanese government, only recently loosened to allow exports to a few restaurants in the US, so it is actually impossible to get authentic “wagyu” in the technical sense in Australia. However, while wagyu is a highly protected brand in Japan, there is no such protection in Australia so as a result you get people getting away with calling literally anything with beef in it “wagyu”. It definitely cheapens the experience a bit (ever seen a dingy food truck call their $10 burger wagyu?), as to regular Japanese people tasting top-tier wagyu is a pretty rare and luxurious experience.

It also means that if you go to a decent butcher and pay a premium for what’s labelled wagyu, you’re most likely getting meat from a cow that’s descendent of a breeding program between Australian Angus and wagyu. So it’d be a mixed breed and the % of wagyu could be as little as 1%, as there’s law requiring the producer to clarify. So there you go next time you buy “wagyu” beef from a butcher, keep this in mind.

Now Japanese cow have 4 different species, of which kuroge or black hair, is one of them. Therefore, if you see kuroge beef, it is equivalent to wagyu.

So then what about stuff like Kobe beef? Kobe is a city in Japan but the region around it is known for raising kuroge cows of the highest quality, that are so much better than the average kuroge cow (which already yields extremely good beef) that the Japanese government has given it a special designation. What makes them so special is the fat content in the beef, sometimes there’s more fat than actual meat and where you often hear the phrase “melt in your mouth”, something that doesn’t really apply to beef usually. This is also where you might hear rumours that they literally massage the cows or feed them beer to achieve this, although some are facts and some are just myths. As with any luxury goods, you need to make sure people are getting the real deal if they are gonna pay top dollar for it, so each Kobe cow is electronically tagged and when you buy it you get a certificate with an ID of the cow, provided that the cow meet some strict criteria that I won’t get into detail here. Restaurants also need a certificate or license to sell Kobe beef, and any qualified restaurant will proudly and prominently show this certificate. You can ask the chef for the ID of the cow which you c which you can then enter it online to trace it’s entire lineage…that’s right you can find out about the mum, dad, grandparents and great grandparents of the cow you just ate LOL. And I’m not kidding when I say top dollar, while the prices will vary wildly, expect to pay at the absolute minimum $50/100g for authentic Kobe beef. At a good steakhouse a 200g steak will probably cost anywhere up to $250, depending on the quality of the cut.

Is Kobe the best wagyu money can buy then? Not quite. Kobe is just one region renowned for raising the best Japanese cows, there are many other regions in Japan that also want to lay claim to having the best wagyu. General consensus of the best wagyu seems to be the Big 3 brands – KobeMatsuzaka and Omi beef, from their namesake regions. All 3 fall into the category of kuroge cows and all 3 will hold the highest possible A5 rating.

Now’s a good time to explain what the A5 rating means, you probably seen it being marketed together with the word Kobe. This rating consist of two separate measure:

  • Yield – an objective measure of how much meat you get out of the carcass of the cow and ranges C being the least to A being the most
  • Quality – a subjective measure of the quality of the meat taking into account marbling (fat content), colour, firmness, texture, quality of fat etc and rages from 1 being the worst to 5 being the best

So really the A part for yield is entirely useless for the consumer, focus all your attention on the number for quality instead.

In summary, if you see the something marketed as A5 Kobe beef, it means the beef is from a cow from the Kobe region, which yielded the most amount of beef possible and and the beef is of the highest quality. If you see this in Japan or at one of the few authorised American importers, it’s worth blowing your load on. Otherwise, walk away.

Finally if you’re wondering – yes, on this trip I will be taste testing the Big 3, so stay tuned for that if you’re interested. Emphasis on the “taste” part, I can’t afford a full meal of any one of them, less all 3.


Okay I realise that was a looooooooooooong detour, but hopefully now you have a proper understanding of what wagyu is. Back to Nabezo’s menu. You probably forgot but I haven’t, what about Matsuzaka pork? Remember Mazusaka is the region that produced one of the Big 3 brands of wagyu, so you can bet the pork there is also gonna be pretty damn good. That just means the Japanese beef & pork course is the way to go if you want to sample some of the best quality beef and pork you can get as the average consumer. However, it doesn’t come cheap at almost $50 pp, BUT as I highlighted in red if you go during weekday lunch it’s a ridiculously cheap 2800 yen or $30 pp. That’s about what you’d pay for an all you can eat MSG hotpot with frozen plebeian beef in Sydney anyway. I know this is the Poor Man’s Backpack, but the value of this weekday lunch is undeniable, plus the weekday lunch course also includes FREE all you can drink too.

In short, get it.

Now’s probably also a good time to introduce two phrases that will come in handy for all you fatties and alcoholics out there:

  • Tabehodai means all you can eat, taberu being the verb to eat
  • Nomihodai means all you can drink, nomu being the verb to drink

Anyway, we both forked out 2800 yen each for the Japanese beef & pork course and then a further 200 yen each to pick two broths – sukiyaki and shabu shabu. Nabezo also offers 3 other broths – shio tonkotsu (salt & pork bones), kimchi and soy milk & collagen, but we just went for the two iconic ones. Once you enter, you’ll be guided to your seat and they’ll setup the hot pot for you. While it heats up you can go to the buffet area which has veggies, sides, drinks, desserts and various sauces and herbs to make your own dip.

They actaully have quite a lot of veggies but you know I know I’m just there for formalities, none of this shit really matters to me, I just let Karl take a bunch of whatever he wanted. I didn’t pay 2800 yen to come eat grass.

Some sides of dumplings and udon was acceptable.

You order the meat directly from the staff, which I guess prevents from people like me from going TOO ham. When we got back we started off with 1 plate of kuroge beef and Matsuzaka pork, since they only allowed us to get 1 plate of each at a time to finish before we can order again :(. Nerfed me hard.

Sukiyaki (L) and shabu shabu (R)

I didn’t notice initially, but the 4 black pots on the left contain 3 sauces – sukiyakiponzand one more I forgot the name of, plus one with just water to fill up the soup if too much evaporates. So you don’t really need to get anything from the sauce bar, better to just use those sauces to dip your meat. Now let’s get a close up on the main attraction.

Kuroge beef (L) and Matsuzaka pork (R)

Mmmmmmmmmm look at that marbling hnnnnnng.

Once you chuck the vegetables in (optional) and the water starts bubbling, it’s time to cook the meat! Good thing the meat is sliced thinly so it cooks real fast, allowing us to maximise eating in the 100 min window we have, or rater 85 mins since last order is 15 mins before end time. There is the option of a 30 mins extension for a flat 500 yen per person if you really need it though.

Finished product

I have to say the sukiyaki was significantly better than the shabu shabu, mainly because the broth for shabu shabu was just too plain and having to dip it in sauces not only a. did not infuse the flavour as much as simmering it in the sauce as it is done in sukiyaki, b. wasted precious eating time. The flavour of sukiyaki was just right for me, and dipping it in raw egg was a unique flavour I haven’t tried before, it’s the custom here and it doesn’t taste bad but it is just as delicious on its own if you’re not comfortable with raw eggs. That worked out well for Karl, who’s actually allergic to raw eggs (but not cooked ones ???).

I can’t remember the count exactly, but I think we got to 5 rounds of beef and pork. On the 5th round Karl tells me he’s done, and I interpreted as the rest of the 5th round is all mine. In which case I figured okay I don’t need the 6th round them and when the waiter came for last order I said we’re good. Then Karl fucking scams me by telling me he still wanted half of the 5th round, in which case I wanted a 6th round but it was tooooooooo laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Value was not maximised on this day T.T

Oh yeah, don’t forget to try out the various Japanese soft drinks they have since it’s included in the price, I especially liked the grape one, the non-soda version. Also get a scoop (or several) of ice cream at the end to complete the delicious meal. Gochisosama deshita!

My verdict is that sukiyaki is a must try in Japan, while shabu shabu is skippable since it’s not really that different from other Asian hot pots. If you want to try either, then Nabezo gets a strong recommendation from me. They have many locations in Tokyo, including 4 in Shinjuku and 2 in Shibuya, and you can see all of them here on their English website. Just beware that not every restaurant offers all the options, e.g. some of them don’t do weekday lunch, so if that’s the one you’re going for (and you should) then make sure it’s offered. You can even make online reservations through the website like I did, and when I went during weekday lunch at the Shinjuku Sanchome store it was almost filled up but there wasn’t a line, so it’s probably a safe be to just make a reservation.

Otherwise, don’t worry if it’s full on the day, the Shinjuku Higashiguchi store is less than 5 minutes walk away.

After that we took the Shinjuku Line of Tokyo Metro from Shinjuku-Sanchome Station to Kudanshita Station. From there we walked to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine that commemorates those who died during various wars in service of the Japanese emperor. The place enshrines the spirits of about 2.5 million people ranging from the Satsuma Rebellion during the Meiji Restoration (unhappy samurai that lost their social status after the Emperor regained power), to the First and Second World War. Now normally it’s pretty common for a country to have memorials dedicated to those who died fighting in wars, but the Yasukuni Shrine has been particularly controversial because since 1978, 14 convicted class A war criminals have been among the 2.5 million people enshrined here. Various Japanese prime ministers and prominent politicians have also made official visits to the shrine since, which drew particular ire from China, Korea and other countries that suffered at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army in the last century, as to them it shows Japan’s unwillingness to accept and repent for their past mistakes. I won’t get into detail about that here, but if you’re interested I’ll leave the Wikipedia page on this particular topic.

The history between Japan and it’s Asian neighbours is very complicated and even today there I’m sure there’s lots of anger simmering beneath the surface, especially for the older generation. I will give a brief summary here of how I understand the events to be, as the actual accounts can be subject to some fierce debates, I’d suggest doing your own independent reading if you want to know more. Just a disclaimer, I’m not only Chinese but grew up in China too, going through part of their education system. While I’m sure they do teach you things from China’s perspective, I think I’ve been exposed enough to other perspectives form my own critical opinion on these issues without bias. So whatever you read here are my views, in a simplified and shortened form and should not be taken out of context or extrapolated in any way.

Japan in WWII and Beyond

During the WWII era Japan had the most advanced economy and military in the Asian region, and sort to both assert itself on the world stage and acquire land and natural resources that were scarce on the tiny island nation. This involved an aggressive expansionist campaign that saw the Japanese Emperor, generally revered as a godlike figure, give orders to the Imperial Army to invade many Asian countries, e.g. China, Korea, and even a small attempt at Darwin, Australia. Their methods were very cruel and both enemy soldiers and civilians suffered greatly at the hands of their Japanese occupiers, with torture, mass murder, forced labour and rape being fairly common. Some incidents that stand out in particular and always touch a nerve with the older generations of those countries involved are:

  • Rape of Nanking or the Nanking Massacre in 1937, where Japanese troops committed mass murder and mass rape against residents of Nanjing, then the capital of China. A rough but heavily contested estimate puts the death toll at 100,000 to 300,000. Apparently two Japanese officers had a contest to see who could kill the most Chinese with their swords. Japanese newspapers covered it as though it was a sporting event, talking about the contest going into an “extra innings” when they both reached 100 at about the same time.
  • The issue of “comfort women“, a euphemism for young women of various Asian countries abducted and forced into prostitution, usually to satisfy the Japanese troops.
  • Lethal human experimentation for research of biological and chemical weapons, usually PoWs or just civilians from captured territories. Of particular notoriety is the Unit 731, whose operations we know the most about due to the records of their experiments. Be warned, don’t read the examples below if you have a weak stomach
    • Vivisection without anaesthetics to remove organs for study or amputation of limbs to study blood loss
    • Intentionally infect prisoners with various diseases such as syphilis to study their effect
    • Deliberately allowing various body parts to freeze to study the effects of frostbites, then thawed to study the effects of gangrene and rotting of the flesh
    • Locking prisoners in a cell and releasing diseases such as plagues, cholera or anthrax to study their feasibility for biological warfare
    • Forced pregnancies of female prisoners through rape to study transmission of various disease from mother to fetus

As you can imagine, all these issues are fucked up extremely sensitive especially since there are still survivors living today, advocating for their plight to be recognised and for appropriate compensation from the Japanese government. I personally feel like the older generation of Japanese (at least a lot of those who used to be in charge) are extremely proud people and really wanted for Japan to become a superpower despite their small land and lack of natural resources. This type personality also meant that when they went too far and it backfired, i.e. got absolutely rekt by nukes, they don’t want to admit they were wrong. Yes surrender was unavoidable after getting shit on by the Americans, but the right wing nationalists have made it a mission ever since to deny or tone down Japan’s actions and share of the blame in the atrocities they committed in the Asia Pacific region during WWII. The reason any death tolls are highly contested is because Japanese historians will always low ball their estimates, as one suggested the number of “comfort women” was only 20,000 compared to the international consensus over at the very least 100,000. This is why a lot of the older generation of Chinese and Koreans despise Japan, and if you’re someone of Asian descent I’m sure your grandparents have similar views just like mine. And I can totally see their point of view, nobody who hasn’t gone through what their era went through really has a right to tell them to think otherwise, doesn’t matter how different Japan is now. All of their lives have been made objectively worse due to the greed of a handful of powerful Japanese people, and the thousands of soliders that blindly followed their godlike Emperor. Plus, forgiveness is made infinitely harder when they have such a hard time just to admit their guilt and constantly attempts to sweep it under the rugs. Look at Germany, the recovery of their perception has been the polar opposite since most of the country have fully acknowledged and condemned the Nazi’s role in WWII and at least taken steps to hold those responsible accountable and ensure it won’t happen again.

Nowadays, since their surrender and a new constitution written by the Americans that strictly forbade military armament, younger generations of Japanese have become much more pacifist. I think this has spawned a whole generation of rather weak-willed people, e.g. the “herbivore” men who have lost their “manliness” and in particular any interest in dating or getting married, and the hikikomori people that just couldn’t deal with society and shut themselves off in their room for years on end. However, at the same time there’s still a sizeable group of right wing nationalists who long for Japan to return to its “glory days”, such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the ruling nationalist party. They generally see the constitution as a humiliation. I mean he’s probably not wrong, I read somewhere that Japanese soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions are a laughing stock since they aren’t even allowed to carry guns LOL. His government has approved revisionist history textbooks that either deny or just fail to mention any of the atrocities committed by Japan during WWII, and is making moves towards amending the constitution to potentially allow Japan to theoretically apply it’s military might beyond self-defence or even develop nuclear weapons. And yes, he has visited the Yasukuni Shrine. But for now at least, in the eyes of younger generations, Japan is known for their anime and various weird but harmless cultural quirks.


So that’s the context behind some of those enshrined in the Yasukuni Shrine. I don’t hate the Japanese, although I didn’t suffer because of them, on the contrary I find many aspects of Japanese culture both interesting and worth taking lessons from. I’ve learnt Japanese for 4 years in high school to reach a level of basic proficiency (but since forgotten). However, that doesn’t mean I’m a weeb who thinks Japan is numba wan, rather I think we should all be aware of their less-than-spotless past, and that sometimes involves at least seeing things from their perspective even if in no way you agree with them.

For that reason we’re here today, but another reason is that the Yasukuni Shrine is a prominent Shinto shrine that’s easily accessible within Tokyo. Even if you don’t come to this one, definitely at least visit one Shinto shrine during your time in Japan. Shinto is one of the two main religions in Japan along with Buddhism. From the wise Wikipedia, Shinto is a “traditional religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently in order to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past”. Shinto shrines are places of worship and the residence of various kami, or Shinto gods, so most are much less controversial than the Yasukuni Shrine. Sacred objects of worship that represent the kami are stored in the innermost chamber of the shrine where they cannot be seen by anybody.

Shinto shrines all have a few things common, one of which is the tori gate, which serves as the entrance to the shrine grounds.

Tori gate at the entrance of the grounds of Yusukuni Shrine

The tori gate is supposed to separate the common space and sacred space within the shrine, and the area between the two poles are supposed to be reserved for the gods, and mere mortals like us are supposed to walk around on the outside. Karl proceeds to promptly walk through the middle after hearing that lmao.

Inside the grounds it’s a very peaceful walk to the main shrine, which has another tori gate in front of it.

Another thing you’ll find at every Shinto shrine, or even some Buddhist temples, is the temizuya, or the purification pavilion. You are expected to perform the temizu ritual here to purify yourself before you enter the sacred grounds of the shaden, the main shrine. Te means hand and mizu means water (ya means place/house), so this ritual involves you washing your hands using the sacred water in the pavilion.

Don’t worry, unless your first shrine visit is a very small or obscure one, most touristy shrines have English instructions on how to perform the temizu. But if you want to familiarise yourself beforehand, the steps are:

  1. Scoop some water from the pond using the ladle with your right hand and pour some on your left hand to wash
  2. Switch the ladle to your left hand and pour some water on your right hand to wash
  3. Switch the ladle back to your right hand and pour some water on your left hand to rinse your mouth with, then spit it out into the trough in front of you (I’ve seen people just drink it…)
  4. Rinse the ladle by raising it so some of the remaining water flows onto the handle, then place it back on the pond

Not very hard. Now you have earned the right to enter the main shrine.

That round symbol on the white cloths hanging from the shrine is something you’ll see quite often around Japan. This is the symbol of the Emperor and Imperial Family, the  Imperial Seal of Japan, which is a 16 petal chrysanthemum flower.

People visit shrines in order to pay respect to the kami or to pray for good fortune, especially on major holidays such as New Year day. In order to pray, walk up to the main shrine where you’ll find a big box. This is a saisenbako or donation box, and you’re expected to throw a coin (or more) in before you pray, like an offering to the kami. There’s no minimum or any cultural norms I am aware of, so since I’m a tightass and I think religion is total BS, this is a perfect occasion to use those pesky 1 yen coins LOL. I’m basically fucked if any religion turns out to be the real deal, but let’s be honest lel. Then you’re supposed to bow twice, then clap your hands twice as you make your prayers which is supposed to express “your joy of meeting with the kami and show respect”. Hi? Then bow once more. Now uhhh I didn’t know this when I first got here, so I kinda just copied the Japanese people in front of me so I don’t look like a retard and he did something slightly different, so there probably are variations to the standard procedure.

What you can also do, and nearly every shrine offers this, is get an omikuji or a fortune. These are also on a pay2win basis like praying at the shrine, but there is usually a defined price tag with 100 yen being the norm. That was cheap enough to lure Karl in.

Omikuji comes in many forms, this one we just leave a “donation” and pick a piece of paper out of the box. Time to pray to RNGesus.

The hard part is interpreting what it says, since even the most touristy shrines probably won’t have English translation on it. A general guide to the main things to look out for on your omikuji are:

  1. 大 means big, 中 means medium, 小 means small
  2. 吉 means good fortune, 凶 means bad fortune

Most likely your omikuji will have a combination of 1 and 2 on it, that’s your fortune. All the rest are stuff like what you should do or watch out for, typical fortune telling BS, e.g. beware of the ocean or some shit like that. If you do get a bad fortune, don’t fret there’s an easy way to get rid of it. Next to the omikuji stations there is usually a place where you can tie your bad fortune, to like leave it behind. Then you go to the shrine and pray it stays the fuck away.

In this video, Karl got a 中吉 or medium fortune, which is pretty decent. But being a greedy cunt he still went and tied it up LOL.

Watch out for karma bitch

The Yasukuni Shrine is a good introduction to Shinto shrines as it’s easily accessible within Tokyo. But if you wanted to get a proper understanding of Japan’s perspective throughout the wars, what you really need to come for is this place – the Yushukan, located right next to the main shrine. It is a museum focused on wars Japan has participated in, with excellent English translation and information. The catch is that everything is presented from a conservative Japanese perspective, which has been accused of revisionism regarding Japan’s actions  and glorifying its aggressive military policies during WWII.

Right at the entrance you’re greeted with a replica of a WWII era Japanese fighter.

As you can imagine, photos inside the exhibit halls are forbidden, but I’ve developed a technique called the Sleight of Camera which allows me to take pictures without been seen, both by guards and security cameras. With great power, comes great responsibility, so I only use this whenever I see things that are against what I believe to be the truth, and thus I believe it’s for the public good that these are revealed. Yeah that’s my justification deal with it scrubs.

Okay I lied slightly, I also snapped these two pictures of things I thought were cool.

Imperial Army uniform

Painting depicting a naval battle in incredible detail

Okay now onto the dodgy revisionist history stuff. But before that, I have to say before I got there many reviews I read absolutely shit on this place for how inaccurate and biased the information was. Honestly after going through the whole place in in about 1.5 hours at a fairly quick pace (one can easily spend double that here), most of the information appears to be fairly and accurately portray what happened, at least to me. So overall most of it was quite informative and gives a good account of all the wars Japan has gone through, both domestically and internationally. Let me tell you, Japan has been in a LOT of wars – the dodgy stuff is really only confined around the WWII era, which is only a small portion of its history.

“Korea became an independent state, which Japan had long hoped for” – fails to mention that Japan annexed Korea around 10 years after this treaty was signed

“Chinese nationalism developed into a campaign for the removal of foreign interests, in violation of existing treaties” – umm okay these treaties don’t sound too fair then? “Under such circumstances the Kwantung Army resorted to force” – or you know, coulda just went home?

“revival of terrorism incited by the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-Japanese policy” – yea how dare they try to repel their invaders

“Incident” – not massacre apparently, clearly an attempt to tone down the seriousness of this event, also note how small of a box this incident gets in an entire museum. “they were to maintain strict military disciplines and that anyone committing unlawful acts would be severely punished” – WELL that sounds totally legit, then the hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors must all be lying!

Moral support from a high school in the form of messages on the Japanese flag with the phrase “must win” at the top, sad how the kids are brainwashed into thinking their soldiers are the good guys

I guess that justifies everything guys! Too bad we don’t have a system of exchanging goods for a currency or something

“war is inevitable” – here they try to justify the Pearl Harbour attack as a pre-emptive strike the Americans forced them into

Sounds good and all, but from Wikipedia – “The Conference addressed few issues of any substance, but was intended from the start as a propaganda show piece, to illustrate the Empire of Japan’s commitments to the Pan-Asianism ideal and to emphasize its role as the “liberator” of Asia from Western colonialism”

I mean…you can’t really say it’s an “excuse to continue to their offensive” if you ignore the declaration…called karma bitch

Potsdam Declaration was a statement from the US with an ultimatum for Japan to surrender, or face “prompt and utter destruction”. Since the Japanese were too proud to accept their defeat, Hiroshima and Nagasaki was promptly and utterly destroyed.

Flawless logic 10/10 would kamikaze again

This last picture at the end of the exhibit is a bit hard to read because I had to get all the portraits in there, so I’ll type the top part out here, note the grammar isn’t perfect:

“Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War inspired other oppressed peoples, particularly Asian peoples, to dream of achieving independence. Many future leaders of independence movements visited Japan as a model for independence and modernisation. But even when the turmoil of World War I subsided, the road to independence seemed endless to the peoples of Asia. Not until Japan won a stunning victory in the early stages of the Greater East Asia War, did the idea of independence enter the realm of reality. Once the desire for independence has been kindled under Japanese occupation, it did not fade away, even though Japan was ultimately defeated.”

So basically…they are taking credit for literally every independence movements in Asia from their European colonial masters. Like shit there’s a portrait of Gandi, obviously he looked at Japan beating Russia in a war and realised welp time for India to tell the British to piss off. Which is stupid because it’s not like Russia colonised Japan to begin with. The most oxymoronic statement is the last sentence – “Once the desire for independence has been kindled under Japanese occupation, it did not fade away” – so even though Japan was the occupier, they still spun it to make it a good thing. Maybe the locals wouldnt need to have a desire for independence if you just like…left them alone? But good job Jappos you did it!

The last part of the museum was the only place where photography was allowed, oops? It had a lot of replicas of wartime weapons and equipment.

Pew pew pewwwwww

anti-air turret, tank and a missile

Aircraft carrier

Overall, like I said before it was actually a very informative museum and covered the history of Japanese wars very well and mostly in an objective manner despite what I showed above. Just remember that WWII is just a tiny part of Japan’s history! By the time we finished the sun has mostly set and the shrines were slightly lit which gave it a mysterious look.

We took the metro back to Shinjuku and wandered a bit in the massive underground complex, which connects the basement of several large shopping malls dotted around Shinjuku Station, the largest and most famous of which are Takashimaya, Isetan and Seibu. We ended up in the basement of Seibu department store at around 5:30 pm which is like middle of rush hour that gets particularly bad for the basement floor. That’s because the basement floor of department stores in Japan are not where all the useless stuff gets buried like you might see at a Western department store. Rather, they are more like a theme park for food, selling almost every type of cuisine you’d want, strategically positioned in the basement on the way to the train station and thus lures in thousands of workers heading home too lazy to cook. It even has it’s own special name, depachika, which is a portmanteau combining depato meaning department store and chika meaning basementIt’s basically the deli of a supermarket mixed with a food court on steroids.

I would go as far as to say that making a meal out of stuff you buy at a depachika a must do while you’re in Tokyo. It’s so convenient having pretty much all types of Japanese food plus more under one roof, all ready to eat. However, it isn’t the most budget friendly place to eat, as the quality is generally a little bit higher than the most budget eateries so the price reflects that too. Around $20 will get you a decent meal here, trying a bit of everything, and while you might scoff at paying $20 for a meal made out of what’s essentially a supermarket deli, the quality of these stuff are very good. Don’t apply your view of supermarkets at home to depachika here in Japan.

If you’re not convinced, just look at all these food I managed to snap when there weren’t all these people trying to buy them and keep an eye out on the price. For reference it’s around 80-85 yen to 1 AUD.

Lobster mornay

Various deli style bentos

All kinds of aburamono or fried food

More aburamono

Wood fire roast pork

Fresh sushi and sashimi sets

Various kinds of yakitori or meat on a stick

Buns and dim sums

Unagi or grilled eel

I didn’t realise that there’s actually 2 sections to this depachika, separated by a passageway for people to get to the station. The other section was dedicated to desserts and traditional Japanese snacks all packaged in incredibly elegant gift boxes, with a price tag to match.

Traditional Japanese snacks – that box at bottom right is 10000 yen!

Various kinds of biscuits

Boxes of fancy chocolates

Strawberry tarts, chocolate mousses and cheesecakes

A Kit Kat tower! One for each of your birth stones

Another dish that was very prominently displayed at the depachika is a seasonal dish that’s only available around December called the osechi ryori, literally meaning New Year cuisine. As the name implies this it is meant to be eaten on New Years Day to welcome the new year. However, rather than a single dish it is a collection of many small dishes packed into a lacquered box called jubako, often multi-layered due the sheer number of dishes, which also means it can sometimes last a family a few days into the new year. The traditional dishes that make up a typical osechi ryori are made of relatively common ingredients, but they all have a meaning behind them, for example:

  • Kuromame or black soybeans – mame sounds like the Japanese word for good health, symbolising the wish for a healthy year
  • Tazukuri or dried sardines in soy sauce – the kanji literally means rice paddy maker as the fish was traditionally used to fertilise rice fields, symbolising the wish for an abundant harvest in the new year
  • Ebi or prawns – its whiskers and curved body is similar to an old person’s beard and bent waist, symbolising a wish for longevity
  • Daidai or Japanese bitter orange – daidai can also be translated literally to “generation to generation”, symbolising the wish for children
  • Konbu or Japanese seaweed – based on the Japanese verb yorokonbu, which is to be happy, symbolising a wish for happiness

Of course there are many more components of osechi ryori with meanings behind them that I am not aware of, if you’re interested you can read about it here. So as you can see, none of these dishes are particularly luxurious, but that doesn’t mean these boxes are cheap unfortunately. In fact, most of them are quite expensive, at a minimum of $100 for a cheap box at clearance discount rates. I think a combination of the variety, level of preparation and presentation, plus a premium for the fact that most people would want to eat this on NY day for tradition has kept the prices fairly high, even though they are super popular to the point where you need to pre-order them. The Seibu depachika had quite a few different osechi ryori sets available, but only the fake versions could been seen on display. Still, you can get a glimpse of what these look like, even if they are outside our budget.

Cheapest set at $190 – “budget” set with traditional ingredients

Next level up at $330 – Chinese style set with 3 tiers but I guess dim sums aren’t exactly traditional if that’s what you’re going for

Next level up at $470 – supposedly for 5-6 people but me & Karl could easily destroy this

Boss level at $700 – a two-tiered western style version with lobster and caviar

Exact same price as above, but with 3 tiers so seems like more quantity but quality also looks just as good if not better?

The glitch – I assume this one would cost even more as it looks goddamn fancy, but it’s sold out already so can’t tell how much it is

So yeah, this can blow your budget wide open if you want to try it out, so as much as I was keen to test it out it was just too much to blow on something that I might not like. When I saw the first “budget” set I thought it was 1600 yen as my mind wasn’t yet accustomed to looking at yen in the ten thousands. Legit WTF moment when I realised it was 16000 yen or about $190. That is a lot of fucking money for a glorified bento box, neither the quality and quantity of ingredients in the model looks like the $190 price tag was justifiable. Plus the pricing seems arbitrary, the jump between the sets are like $100 each time but the quality doesn’t seem to improve by that much…

As a side note, only after did one of the YouTube channels I watch for Japanese videos upload an “upboxing” and live tasting of one of a osechi ryori. I think I made a good decision by passing on it, and it seems to be their opinion too that they are pretty poor value. But hey I guess it’s not too bad if this is considered the most important meal of the year. So this is one of the few times I saw something very local, very traditional, and passed up on trying it. I’ll leave the aforementioned video here if you’re still interested to see what it looks like inside.

Welp, looking at all these food in the depachika has made us quite hungry, but it’s still a while until dinner time so we took a walk around Shinjuku, this time at the ground level. As usual, the whole place is very crowded and if you’re walking away from the station at the night rush hour, get ready for waves of people going in the opposite direction. A lot of stores take advantage of this foot traffic and run random small promotions, so we stopped at one to try our luck.

This is a typical Japanese lottery game called the garapon, it’s in the shape of a wooden wheel filled with tiny little balls. Here there are 4 types and in order of rarity they are yellow, green, red and white. Getting a yellow ball (there’s probably only 1 in there) wins you the first prize of ticket to your dream country, while getting a white ball (there’s probably hundreds) wins you a small snack. I have no idea what store it was and what they were trying to promote, but it was free2play so why not?

As expected, Karl with his medium fortune only got a free snack, although I didn’t do any better. Rigged game.

Then we went inside a arcade games centre to check out some of the wacky games they have here in Japan. Here at the birthplace of arcade games they never fell out of favour like they did in the West, and has become a favourite pastime of generations of young and old people alike. As a result, the arcade games here are far more advanced than what you’ll see at your local bowling alley at home, forget stuff like Tekken or Daytona.

At the ground level however, they are usually preoccupied with games more familiar to the Western audience. Perhaps that’s why they are there on the most visible floor, as anyone can figure out how to play this game, the claw machine or commonly known as the UFO catcher in Japan.

I think the concept of these games need no explanation, but there’s actually a lot of different varieties here. Like more than just the drop a claw and hope it picks something up variety.

Then once you go upstairs it’s where the hardcore shit is. Remember that game where you put in a token and it would fall down a maze to a platform that continuously pushes and contracts, so the aim is to keep dropping tokens to help the platform push a bigger block of tokens over the edge and into your wallet? You’ve definitely seen it, if not lost some money to it, but a picture tells a thousand words.

Look at that big pill of tokens just waiting to be pushed over

Now you know what I’m talking about, but here they’ve also taken that to the next level, with big elaborate machines and complicated instructions and bonus systems.

Seriously what is going on that’s like some Rainbow Road level difficulty. But I can also see how all these lights and stuff makes the game seem a lot more entertaining, or rather addictive, just like a slot machine (don’t worry I’ll get to that eventually). If you look at these pictures, half of the people there are middle aged men and women who just mindlessly continues to insert one coin after another. They look like they’ve been here all day and don’t have any plans of leaving, with a big cup full of tokens at their disposal. It’s honestly kinda sad to me, like these people have lost the will to be outside world but instead taken refuge in this dimly lit place but full of bright and flashing lights.

This guy is probably someone’s grandpa…

At least for some this pays off…but is it really worth it?

Damn this woman just won the 6108 token jackpot! She just sits there as the machine endlessly spits out tokens into her cup, only moving to replace a full cup with an empty one

Then if you keep going up, sometimes things can get a little weird.

Quick! Promotion ends 8th of January!

So uh this is an area for a VR game where you can immerse yourself in a onsen with a bunch of naked boys from an anime…Not a surprise it’s behind curtains and photography isn’t allowed.

We didn’t end up playing anything, just took a look around to see what’s there and absorbing in the weirdness of it all. There’ll be plenty of time to try them later. Then we made our way to an area called Ikebukuro north of Shinjuku using the JR Yamanote Line, there they have a place known as the Sunshine City. It was the first “city within a city” in Tokyo, which is a relatively new urban development concept. The idea is to have a complex that consist of shopping, entertainment, offices, restaurants and residential areas such that the complex serves a mini-city where residents can get everything they need for their daily lives without leaving the complex. Sunshine City itself is also equipped with a hotel, indoor theme park, planetarium and even an aquarium. My honest assessment is that most of these things are not that worth seeing, especially if you’re on a tight schedule, and we really just came for one particular shop within the Sunshine City – the Pokemon Centre. Named after the place in the Pokemon games where you go to heal or store you’re captured Pokemons, the Pokemon Centre Mega Tokyo store is supposed to the be largest of its kind in Japan.

Uhh shit what Pokemon is that…

Okay I know that’s Charizard

I used to be somewhat of a fan of Pokemon, just the games nothing more. Story time. I didn’t have much toys growing up, but when I was in China my uncle who migrated to Sydney a loooong time ago bought me back a Gameboy Advanced. Back then China was a shithole in terms of technology, even in Shanghai where I grew up, and this was like the most amazing thing ever. No other kids in my grade had something like this, it was by far my most prized possession. However, proper game cartridges were both rare and expensive, so I was mostly relegated to playing those pirated cartridges of the “60 games in 1” type. Most of the games were either super buggy or just outright didn’t load, but a few had the First Gen Pokemon games on there and so I got a taste of them. Only a taste though, as I couldn’t save my games probably due to the lack of memory on the cartridge, so I didn’t get much farther than the first or second gym. A few years later after I came to Australia, and during the only birthday I spent with both of my parents together they bought me the new Pokemon Ruby game, the real one, from Toys R Us in Parramatta Westfield, not sure if that stores even there anymore. It costed $60 which was a lot of money for us back then, but for the first time I got to save my progress LOL. I played that game a lot, beating the plot and just kept doing Battle Tower over and over again. But the thing I remember the most was when I got an XP Share at the start of the game I didn’t know what it did, so I chucked it on one of weak early game Pokemons I had at the time, Taillow, or the 3rd Gen version of Pidgey, and forgot about it. A while later I ended up with a level 100 Swellow while everything else was much lower, and it pretty much carried me through the rest of the game. It was only when I got much much older I realised there’s a whole science behind Pokemon with EV and IV points, and even world championships and stuff, whereas my knowledge pretty much stopped at water type > fire type.

Then disaster struck, when I was around 11, I had the Gameboy in my school bag sitting near the window. A couple of Aboriginal dudes broke into our place while we were out, and grabbed a few of the most accessible things, including my school bag. This was just after Chinese New Year, I know because they also took the red pockets I got which had like $50 in there :(. I hope these fuckers burn in Aboriginal hell. And so that’s the last time I ever played a Gameboy or Pokemon, except a few brief spells of playing FireRed/LeafGreen on PC emulators for nostalgia purposes.

Pokemon is now on what, 7th Gen? I have no idea what most Pokemon are and it seems like to me they’ve run out of ideas. Isn’t there a Pokemon based on a vacuum cleaner now…I don’t know how popular Pokemon is these days, but I feel like for me 1st to 3rd Gen was where the glory days were at. Clearly the guys running the Pokemon Centre agrees, as early generation Pokemon merchandise still featured prominently throughout the place.

I can recognise Magikarp, Clefairy, Voltorb, Charmander, Squirtle, Meowth, Ninetales, Volpix and Slowpoke

And of course, nothing has ever been able to overtake the popularity of the one and only Pikachu!

Milk that $$$

I do give the franchise a lot of credit for staying relevant more than 20 years after it started, much longer than other fads of the time. Even now we saw a kid beg his dad to buy him booster packs for the trading card game.

However, I was a little disappointed at this place because as the biggest Pokemon Centre, I kinda expected a bit more interactive-ness, like things to actually do, but it’s just literally all merchandise. They are pretty expensive too, $15 for a small key chain, so unless you are a huge Pokemon fan, probably give this place a pass if you’re a filthy casual like me.

One good thing we managed to spot while we were here was a live concert. We saw a huge crowd of people and went to check it out, and a few floors below was a singer performing a slew of songs. Some in English, some in Japanese. Some Christmas-y, some not really, like when she sang Forever Young, a blast from the past.

I thought this was just some random singer doing a small gig at a shopping centre to get some exposure and make some extra cash. But when I saw the backdrop with her name on it and Googled her up, she’s actually a proper celebrity. At least in Japan lol, never heard of this Crystal Kay.

She’s a veteran singer who’s half Korean and half African American, which explains her fluent English and American accent. She’s also considered a “pioneer for interracial acts in Japan”, debuting back in 1999 when she was just 13. This may not seem like a big deal in a lot of other countries that are used to multiculturalism, but I’d imagine it was a big deal in Japan especially back then. This is because while Japan seems very friendly to foreign tourists, it is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world in terms of racial diversity. I think something like 99% of the population here is ethnically Japanese with Chinese and Korean the next largest, not a surprise given their geographical closeness, but basically if you’re not Japanese then you’re a minority. This is a result of Japan’s immigration policies, which makes it very difficult for any foreigner to become a permanent resident, let alone a citizen, of Japan. Even expats who have been here for decades, speak fluent Japanese and even married a Japanese person, is often still not considered to be “true” Japanese even by close friends and relatives. I’m not an economist or a sociologist, but I’d think this would be a big reason why Japan has such an ageing population and shrinking workforce.

But hey that’s none of my business, I’m just here to enjoy a FREE concert. Her voice was really good (as expected of a professional singer), but it’s also impressive to see her switch seamlessly between Japanese and English.

After her performance we walked back to Ikebukuro Station. This place gave me a similar vibe to Shinjuku earlier, tonnes of shops, neon lights and of course people. Although I guess you could probably say that about a lot of places in Tokyo.

Our target was once again a Seibu department store, but this time right next to the Ikebukuro Station. Not for shopping however, we’re here to finally settle the cravings we had after visiting the depachika. We’re here for a sushi train restaurant chain called Katsu Midori, located on the 8th floor of Seibu. Usually department stores will have the top 1 or 2 levels dedicated to food, not as a food court, but a collection of restaurants. My research has told me that this is THE best sushi train in Tokyo, chain or not, known for their freshness, serving size and relatively low prices, which equates to the most important quality of all – value. Of course this meant I was expecting a line, and my research has also told me to avoid their locations at popular places such as Shinjuku or Shibuya, but instead come to the lesser known Ikebukuro (at least to tourists). And so I did, expecting maybe waiting 10 minutes, 20 minute max?

Well shit. I was wrong. Very very wrong. See that guy in white on the very right? That’s the end of the line. The line starts right next to the restaurant, turns right into a small alleyway behind the restaurant then snakes back to the front where the white shirt guy is. G_G

I gave Karl an ultimatum. This is the best sushi train based on what I know, we can wait or go try out a different place that’s probably okay too. He chose to wait, and thus began the long journey to get some food. In the meantime I got bored of sitting down and took a walk around the floor, checking out some of the other restaurants. None had a line even remotely close to this place.

Some glorious looking Shinshu beef, another special type of wagyuu from the Nagano prefecture

Various katsu or fried cutlets

Japanese set menus

After waiting 1.5 hours, our time has finally come. We took a seat along the sushi train, there’s also tables but I highly suggest the counter if you don’t have a big group – so that you can see the sushi train in action! Everyone has probably been to a sushi train before back at home, but you may not know that the term “sushi train” is used quite loosely in the West. Technically, most places that we refer to as “sushi train” is known here as kaitenzushi, literally spinning sushi, referring to the conveyor belts that go around the counter seats with plates of sushi on it. However, sushi trains or refer sushi restaurants that instead use actual mini trains to deliver the sushi to your seat, with no conveyor belts in sight. This ensures that anything you order is made fresh rather than something taken off the belt after spending a couple hours there. Plus the obvious gimmick factor of having your food basically delivered by a robot. Needless to say, the technology for this is a little more advanced and thus costly, which is why you don’t see this often in the West.

This Katsu Midori had both conveyor belts going around with sushi on it, and a train track above it to delivery any orders you made using their tablet.

Conveyor belts and train tracks co-existing, best of both worlds

However, today we won’t be touching the conveyor belts, because I’ve already researched this place to figure out what I wanna order. When I looked this place up there wasn’t much info, but what I could find said it was really good because of its value for money. Once I looked at the menu online I can also add another reason to visit this place – its sheer variety of sushi on offer. Most kaitenzushi menus will only have a page worth of different sushi, usually on a poster outside the store, but the menu here is extremely extensive. How extensive? Try 15 pages. Okay not all 15 pages contain unique sushi, some pages have value sets that let you try a bit of everything, but still.

The first 9 pages are the individual sushi menus, which has nigiri, maki and gunkan maki. If you’re not familiar with these different types of sushi, here’s a quick explanation:

  • Nigiri a small pressed blob of rice with a piece of usually seafood over it.
  • Maki is a roll of rice with filling inside, wrapped with seaweed – sometimes you’ll see this being called temaki, which means a hand rolled maki
  • Gunkan maki is a oval shaped blob of rice wrapped with seaweed then topped with seafood and other things, hence the name gunkan which means battleship

Here everything start from the simple 100 yen menu, which you might be expecting stuff like canned tuna or whatever goes for like $3 a plate here in Sydney, but it’s got some decent stuff like shrimp and squid. As you scroll down, the quality and price of the toppings increase, all the way up to the 500 yen menu with things like ootoro (fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin) and even abalone. Do note that within the different menus, there are some that are just better versions of another nigiri, e.g. the regular uni gunkan costs 250 yen but there’s a “prime” version that costs 350 yen, which I assume is fresher or better quality. So this place can cater to both budget diners hoping to get full on no more than $10, or those who want to splurge a bit to try the high end stuff. Since we waited 1.5 hours to get in, we’re gonna put ourselves in the latter category and make the most of this place. Most things come in pairs, so with 2 of us it’s not that bad to split one piece each and try a bit of everything.

There’s also the set menus which have 3-5 pieces with a bit of discount than if you ordered each one individually. For example, there’s the tuna set with one piece each of akami (lean tuna, the red ones we are used to), chutoro (medium fatty tuna) and ootoro (fatty tuna), for 500 yen. These are good if you’re partner aren’t interested in splitting the individual orders that come in pairs, or if you want to try a specific type of fish since they have themed sets such as the 3-piece hotate (scallop) or ebi (shrimp) sets. The point is, thanks to their extensive menu there are lots of ways you can mix and match stuff to maximise the variety of sushi you get to try while keeping costs low.

Okay so now let’s get to the food part. Once we make our order using the tablet, we watch with amazement as a train arrives with our sushi.

Okay that’s our neighbour in the video but you get the point. It comes really quickly without much warning so I ceebs timing it for ours.

3 piece tuna set with ootoro – 500 yen. My god this was good, it’s so different to the bright red tuna which we get in Sydney, otherwise known as akami

Fresh scallops – 400 yen (not the frozen one for 200 yen). Look how big they are! I love the their texture even if they don’t have much innate flavour

Fresh fatty salmon – 350 yen. While the most popular sushi ingredient in the West, tuna is the king in Japan while salmon isn’t all that popular, still worth a try

Fresh raw snow crab – 300 yen. You know it’s premium when you only get one

Mantis shrimp – 300 yen. No idea what a mantis shrimp is, which means we should order it!

Prime salmon roe – 350 yen. These are soooo juicy and pop in your mouth

Prime sea urchin – 500 yen. Considered one of the top delicacies from the sea, it has an usual texture and not that much flavour, probably not worth the price for me other than to try it out

Fresh whelk – 400 yen. *Googles what a whelk is*

Elephant trunk clam – 350 yen. Didn’t even know you could eat this as a sushi. Texture is like a cross between a mussel and a scallop

Fresh ark shell – 500 yen. Again not sure what an ark shell is but when else am I gonna get to try it? Texture is a bit stringy and tough though

3-piece set of blue backed fish – 200 yen. I guess these fish have blue backs? Very good value though

Fresh surf claim – 350 yen. Yeah I’ve ran out of things to say, at this point it’s just like have we seen this before? Nope? Okay get it

3-piece shrimp set – 300 yen. I think top one was a scampi, very fresh taste like the ocean

Boiled anago or conger eel – 300 yen. You can get a larger version for 600 yen but we just wanted to try. They sure didn’t skimp out on eel

Finally, to blow his load Karl ordered the most bourgeois item there is on the menu, the Golden Sushi at 500 yen with 2 chutoronegitoro (minced fatty tuna), uni, salmon roe and yup fucking gold flakes

It’s so bourgeois that it has it’s own video – so how did Karl find it?

Karl is one happy man, ready to shit gold tomorrow.

That rounds up our meal and we call a cute attendant over to calculate our bill. Here they don’t go by plate with different colours for different prices, nor can they just calculate off the tablet since you might’ve grabbed stuff from the belt. Instead they use a machine that somehow scans the stack to calculate number of plates, and maybe each one has some kind of unique ID for the price?

I checked, 20 plates is correct!

I think our bill came to almost $80, with Karl paying a bit more than me thanks to his golden sushi. This might sound like a lot if your idea of sushi train is more of a budget eatery, but keep in mind we pretty much only ordered stuff from the 300 yen menu and above, it’s so easy for us to spend $10 here and be full, but that would be a waste of their huge variety.

Overall I think this place was worth the line and wait. The sushi was better than anything I’ve had in Sydney and easily puts all of Sydney’s sushi trains to shame. The sheer variety of different kinds of seafood they have here is also a huge plus, as we got to try all these weird and wonderful creatures of the sea.

On our way back down to the bottom floor, we noticed this department store even have attendants specifically to use the elevator for us, which was a bit of an overkill to me…

He was so close to the wall and so focused it looked like a primary school kid facing the wall for a time out.

It wasn’t super late yet, so we decided to get off at Shinjuku Station and explore a bit more, starting from where we left off yesterday.

Just a few steps from where we turned back yesterday is the famous KabukichoKabuki is a traditional form of Japanese theatre, while cho refers to a district, however rather than the literal definition this place is more well known as the red light district of Tokyo.

The gates of Kabukicho

Kabukicho may have had a bad reputation once upon a time, nowadays it is the premier location for legal and safe night life and entertainment, with many restaurants, bars and karaokes that are safe for foreigners to visit. But let’s be honest, everyone comes here because they are interested in the not so legal stuff that goes on around here. Prostitution is technically illegal in Japan, but they still exist in various forms through many loopholes and police generally turns a blind eye. Nowhere is that more evident than Kabukicho, where as soon as you walk in you’ll be hit with various advertisement that will tell you all you need to know about the nature of that particular establishment, even if you can read 0 Japanese at all.

Looks legal AF

I don’t even want to know what this place is. Okay fine it sucks that I can actually read Japanese, this one claims to offer “pornstar experience” -_-, whatever that means

Introduction to the Sex Trade in Japan

In fact, the sex trade in Japan is thriving and there’s so many different types of establishments to cater for different men’s (even women’s) needs. Even though I have no intention of visiting any of the said establishments I still found it interesting to research. In fact, a lot of these establishments have a no foreigner policy, so some of you *ahem* out there might be disappointed. Be warned, the following section will obviously have adult content.

On the bottom of the prude-O-meter you have the Hostess Clubs. Also known as kyabakura (portmanteau of kyabare or cabaret and kurabu or club), these are basically posh bars staffed by hostesses which are seen as the modern counterpart to geishaThe hostess’ job is to provide entertainment to the customers, who are mostly always salarymen burnt out after working 60 hour weeks, which are a dime a dozen in Corporate Japan. These services include drinking with the men, playing games, singing karaoke and flirting, anything to help these poor souls de-stress. Anything but sexual services that is – Hostess Clubs are generally strictly non-sexual and most will even enforce a no-touching policy. Therefore, these establishments are legal in the strictest sense (if they do it right), more regulated and thus quite common. Although it isn’t uncommon for hostesses to form a sexual relationship with high roller clients outside of work, kinda like a sugar daddy.

I’d recommend you take caution if you do want to visit one to see what it’s like, as they can get very expensive. The club might charge a hefty entree fee and the girls are experts at getting you to buy their overpriced drinks, don’t be surprised to be out of pocket a couple hundred bucks after an outing. Buying drinks is the only way to keep the girls attention on you and their main source of revenue, but the drinks you buy for the girls will be non-alcoholic or very weak so they can keep going all night, while for you the aim is to get you drunk ASAP so you can cough up more cash. I have seen many stories about more dodgy places that will make you go to an ATM to withdraw money once you’re too drunk to care, with a menacing bodyguard threatening to beat you up, or just simply spike your drink and steal your stuff. Just look it up yourself, the internet is littered with stories of victims of these establishments.

The counterpart of Hostess Clubs is Host Clubs, staffed by men and targeted towards women customers, but otherwise operating in the same way. Advertisements for these places are quite interesting themselves, as they will often show the top hosts in the club ranked in order of the revenue they brought in in the previous month.

EWWWWWWWWWWW

It also shows the Japanese standard of beauty for men, which generally involves long, bleached hair and a metrosexual style. Seriously to me all these idiots look the same and are in no way attractive men. Some of them look legit disgusting, like please crawl back in the dumpster you came from disgusting. Why do Japanese chicks like this???

On the other hand, hostesses at least appear attractive

But on a serious note, Hostess Clubs and Host Clubs form like a revolving door relationship, as majority of the female customers of Host Clubs are in fact hostesses or other sex workers. You can see how these women that spend their day pleasuring men as a job can end up lonely and empty inside, and seek refuge at a Host Clubs where men are dying to give them their full attention in return for the girls’ hefty pay cheques (some can easily make 6 figures easy in a year). There’s a very insightful documentary on this phenomenon on YouTube, which I highly recommend you to give it a go.

But if you don’t have 1 hour to spare, this shorter Vice documentary also gives a good summary of the life of a host, with higher production value.

Next up the prude-O-meter you have the Sekukyaba or sexy cabaret clubs. These are a upgrade version of the aforementioned Host Clubs and are also known as sexual harassment pubs. I guess that should tell you what kind of upgrade I’m talking about here, although everything is strictly limited to touching and only above her waist. G-Scandal a few pictures ago is one such establishment, specialising in girls with big breasts if you must translate the ad. As the services aren’t full blown prostitution, these are considered relatively cheap, as you can see in the ad it’s 40 minutes of all you can drink + uhh services for 8000 yen, or 7000 yen for first time customers!

After that you have what’s called Pink Salons. These are sex shops that exclusively specialises in blowjobs, so now we’re getting into the full blown prostitution territory. Most pink salons register as a hostess club to obtain the official permits to run a business, so they’ll also offer soft drinks and alcohol to loosely comply with the regulations. Then after the business is approved, they’ll completely renovate the interior with the uhhh necessary equipment, think beds and privacy, until the cops come bust them (usually for not paying their bribe).

Near the top of the prude-O-meter is the Health Clubs. This of course is a euphemism, nothing like what you’d expect a place called Health Club in the West to be. These are disguised as massage parlours and often will display the girls they have on posters outside the store. Kinda similar to the Heaven on Earth massage parlour from Lee & Carter visits in Rush Hour 2, but ratchet up the service a notch to everything but proper sex. Some variants called Image Clubs will have themed rooms with girls in uniform, and being Japan these themes can get pretty fucked up from what I read. Apparently these clubs go to great length and expense to acquire real uniforms, e.g. from an airline, because customers expect and will pay for an authentic experience O_O. Another variant is Delivery Health, which as the name implies is essentially a take out service that will send the girl to a local Love Hotel to complete the transaction. Basically an escort service without the full service.

Naturally, a step up from that and at the top of the prude-O-meter are Escorts working privately or with an agencies that do offer full service. So how does this not conflict with the fact that Japan outlawed full service prostitution in 1956? Through a loophole of course, with the help of these discrete but ubiquitous stores in Kabukicho and other red light districts in Tokyo.

Sign translates to “free information”

We saw these everywhere in the small block around Kabukicho but could not figure out what they are to save our life. What free information could they be supplying, and why? Turns out these are information for prostitutes (surprise!), hence why the entrance is all covered up. But as they flap about in the wind you can peer inside and see posters for different escorts or agencies, and there’s a phone inside you can use to contact them or an attendant inside will do it for you. To get around the ban on prostitution, the attendant will only help you set up a “blind date” with the escort at a love hotel, and anything that happens after is basically considered a ONS, although there *might* be money involved.

Also at the top of the prude-O-meter you have the Soapland, which are basically Japanese brothels. After Japan outlawed full service prostitution, operators of brothels turned them into bath houses to maintain some form of outward legitimacy. Services here usually start with the girl giving you a proper bath and massage, hence the name Soapland. After that anything goes as long as you’re willing to pay, and since you pay directly to the girls it circumvents the laws prohibiting prostitution as *technically* it’s a transaction between 2 consenting adults.

Last but not least you have Enjo Kosai which I consider up there as well but it’s a fairly unique so I thought it deserves a special mention. Translated literally it means compensated dating, it’s a practice that involves older men giving money or gifts to younger women for their companionship or even sexual favours. If that sounds familiar then you’re hunch is probably correct, this is the Japanese version of sugar babies and sugar daddies. However, just engaging in the act of enjo kosai doesn’t mean there’s sex involved, as it could purely be a lonely rich guy who wants some company with young, attractive girls. Still weird, but not prostitution. The Japanese media likes to portray this phenomenon as involving girls who are desperate for money (which are a common cause of girls going into the sex trade, especially SEA girls living in Japan who have a hard time finding a proper job due to the strict work visa laws), but I think a lot of girls also get into it not out of desperation but more for fun and material gains since it’s easy to make some quick money and get lots of luxury gifts. However, given that a lot of girls who participate in enjo kosai are high school girls, a.k.a. underage, it does have a connotation of child prostitution to most people, especially those against this practice such as women’s rights groups.

Lastly, another staple of red light districts, particularly Kabukicho, are the big black dudes tout on the street. While not prostitutes themselves (thank God) they are just as woven into the sex trade in Japan. These are usually Nigerian migrants who either legally or illegally came to Japan, some have married locals to obtain legal status, but given Japan’s inward (or racist, depending on your view) attitude towards foreigners, it’s very hard for them to get a honest job. Therefore, a lot of them end up working with the Yakuza at their various red light establishments to bring in foreign customers and when things go sour, act as intimidating bouncers. Since they can speak English and generally look quite scary (black people are rare as hell to most local Japanese people), they’re quite natural at this job. If you look like a tourist, especially if you’re white, then there is 100% chance that as you walk through Kabukicho, one of them will walk up to you and ask you something along the lines of “you want sex?” or “we got nice girls”. They can be as persistent as touts across SEA trying to sell you random handicrafts and souvenirs, so if you give any sort of reaction get ready for them to follow you for a bit trying to sell you their employer. Deal with them just like any touts in Asia, put up a stern face, minimise contact with a firm “no” or wave of your hand, and continue walking without making eye contact.


Of course, we are here purely for sightseeing, as even the completely legal bars and restaurants here are generally overpriced and tourist traps. Still, that doesn’t stop the black dudes from approaching us and asking us what kind of girls do we like. Even looking Asian doesn’t help, as there are also Japanese touts to bother us, some of them even switches to Chinese after not getting a reaction from me. I’m pretty good at dealing with them after all my experience of fending off touts around Asia, and most of them usually give up after I say “kekko desu“, which means it’s okay or I’m okay. Since I can actually speak Japanese reasonably well plus my non-amused poker face, they usually either think I’m not a tourist or understand clearly that I’m not interested in whatever they are offering, and leave me alone. Can’t say the same for Karl though, he totally ruined my cover and fell for their trap by actively answering all their questions and making small talk to them. Facepalm.

Most embarrassingly, when I taught him the phrase “kekko desu” he made an awful attempt at mimicking me. The double k in kekko needs to be pronounced quickly, instead he drags it on so it sounds like “keiko desu“. Keiko is a very common girl name in Japanese, so he’s literally saying “I am Keiko”. I think a few of the Japanese touts were super confused, probably thought Karl was inquiring for a particular girl named Keiko. Facepalm x2.

Also let’s not forget the time he got quite drunk and offered to pay for half of my bill if I went to a hostess club with him. But that’s a story for another time…

I did manage to take a video of the streets as we strolled along, in it you can see some these black dudes in action. Apologies for the shaky camera as I had to use my Sleight of Camera technique, I wasn’t sure whether the businesses here and their patrons would be okay with a tourist filming.

If you are planning to stick to purely regular establishments in Kabukicho, one possible option that’s popular with tourists is the Robot Restaurant.

It’s quite hard to give a description for this place, not least because I haven’t actually been there. It’s a dinner show where the dinner is more of a side dish, and the main course is the “show” part. Probably the best description I’ve seen for this show is it’s like an acid trip, or the closes thing to taking LSD without actually taking one. Just watch a video on YouTube and you’ll understand lol, it features everything from dancers, tribal drums, dinosaurs to of course, robots. Is there a plot? Who knows. All I can tell you the food is awful so it’s recommended to eat beforehand. I guess a show like does encapsulates the weirdness and wonderfulness that is Japanese pop culture. If you know me at all then it should be fairly clear why I didn’t go now, not to mention the ticket price has shot up to 8000 yen per person now that it’s so popular with tourists (you can obtain sizeable discounts through booking with hotels etc.). Also as a result of its popularity they’ve changed it over the years to be more family friendly by toning down the sexualisation, think dancers in scantily clad robot costumes. Guess that’s another reason not go waste my money LOL.

However you plan to spend your time in Kabukicho, it’s always a good idea to use common sense. Most places here, legal or otherwise, are owned by the Yakuza. While commonly referred to as the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza is a very different criminal organisation, sometimes not even criminal as most Yakuza organisations are registered as legal businesses. That doesn’t mean you can fuck with them though, as a common punishment for low level members to atone for their mistakes is a ritual called yubitsume, which involves cutting off the tip your little finger. This may be a common knowledge but few people are aware of the historical reasons behind it. If I asked you which finger is most responsible for your grip strength you might be inclined to answer index or middle finger, but it is actually the little finger. In fact it accounts for than half of our grip strength! Therefore, in the old days where swords reigned the battlefield, losing more than half of your grip strength severely hindered your ability to be a slayer. Moral of the story, don’t get too drunk and act like a retard in this area, you never know who you might piss off.

Finally after a long day we made our way home. As we exited Shibuya Station, we found a rare opportunity to admire a local landmark all by ourselves – the Hachiko statue. As a widely recognised landmark in the otherwise incredibly complex that is Shibuya Station, the Hachiko Statue has become an extremely popular meeting place. During the day the statue is usually surrounded with people waiting for others, or just tourists taking a picture.

Inscription reads “loyal dog Hachiko”

The Touching Story of Hachiko

Hachiko was an Akita dog known for its loyalty towards its owner. He belonged to a Professor Ueno in the University of Tokyo in early 1900s, who would commute to and from work from Shibuya Station. Everyday, Hachiko would leave the house in the afternoon by himself to greet Professor Ueno at Shibuya Station, and they continued this routine until one day Professor Ueno did not show up. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while teaching and passed away. However, that did not stop Hachiko and he would show up everyday at Shibuya station when Professor Ueno’s usual train was to arrive, waiting for his owner. Eventually, other commuters and even the media took notice, and people started to leave treats for him while he waited. Hachiko continued this daily routine for more than NINE years, before succumbing to terminal cancer. In the years since, Hachiko was celebrated as a symbol of loyalty throughout Japanese culture, with several movie adaptations made about his life. There’s even an exit in Shibuya Station called Hachiko Exit, which upon exiting aptly takes you to the Hachiko Statue.


That’s not the only interesting statue we found during our walk back home though, as at the entrance of Center Gai we found this.

Honestly, as much as I love basketball I have no idea why this street is called Basketball Street, what happened to Center Gai? Turns out in 2011 the city changed the street’s official name from Center Gai (remember Gai means street in Japanese) to Basketball Street. Why? Nooooooooo idea. Some say it’s because basketball is a sport that represents youth, which is generally the crowd of Centre Gai. Others say it’s because it’s close to National Yoyogi Gymnasium, a major basketball stadium near where we were at yesterday for the Christmas Festival, although apart from that the street has literally nothing to do with basketball. So since both the reasoning and the actual decision sounds stupid as fuck, I’m pretty sure 99% of the people still refer to this place as Center Gai.

That draws to an end everything I saw or ate for the day, and what a packed day it has been. This monster took me forever to write, especially all the practical information I put in there, hopefully a post like this won’t happen again T_T.

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5 thoughts on “Day 4 – Mario Kart, Revisionist History and a Literal Sushi Train

  1. Pingback: Day 7 – A View of Mt. Fuji from Japan’s Fastest Roller Coasters | Poor Man's Backpack

  2. Pingback: Day 10 – A Traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve to Welcome 2018 | Poor Man's Backpack

  3. Pingback: Day 14 – Getting Lost in the Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama & A Feast Fit for a King | Poor Man's Backpack

  4. Pingback: Day 16 – Over Eating in Osaka & A Visit to Osaka Castle | Poor Man's Backpack

  5. Pingback: Day 17 – Witnessing the Tragic History of Hiroshima, Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima & Eating Too Much Okonomiyaki | Poor Man's Backpack

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