Japan, Day 3: The Life-Size Gundam

Nov 25 2013

This was my only sunny day in Tokyo, according to weather reports, so I awoke with a dilemma in my mind. I had originally planned to visit Mount Fuji this day. More internet research revealed that Mount Fuji is 2.5 to 3 hours from my hotel, and is a bit of a tourist trap. You arrive, snap a photo, and get back on the bus. Also, no JR Pass trains go there, so you have to really schedule it (or take a bus tour).

Leiji Matsumoto boat, the HimikoThe Himiko arrived and out we went. It’s a beautiful craft, all curves and metal, with gull-wing doors. The onboard loudspeaker tour was pre-recorded by the characters from Galaxy Express 999, which felt right.

I decided to instead take the Leiji Matsumoto boats to Odaiba. I wandered down to the waterfront, taking photos as I did, to find the ticket office.

Travel trip: if you want to find something in a foreign country where the written language doesn’t use Latin characters, write down the URL of their website. This is inevitably on a poster or other sign on the building you’re trying to find.

I had written down the name of the boat and route I wanted to take, so I just said to the clerk “Odaiba, Himiko” and she procured my ticket. That secured, I waited and read handouts about various Leiji Matsumoto projects.

An hour later, we arrived at Odaiba. Odaiba is almost unthinkably huge. Imagine a 6-story shopping mall, then put 4 of them side by side. And that’s one corner of the island.

I knew roughly where the Gundam statue was supposed to be on the island, but when I actually stepped off the boat onto the shore and walked past the miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty (no joke), I couldn’t be sure where to go. However, I figured if i walked far enough, I’d eventually find the 50-foot giant robot. And after about 15 minutes, I rounded a corner, and there it was.

The life-size Gundam statue

The life-size Gundam statue

The Gundam statue is strange because your brain tells you it shouldn’t exist. I felt huge cognitive dissonance during the whole time I stared at it. A piece of anime extruded into real life. I, of course, took plenty of pictures.

Next door sat a small hobby store selling model kits, posters, and such. Near that was a smaller Gundam Cafe, which sold mugs, glasses, etc. I was amazed to see Gundam Wing-themed OZ glasses.

By then it was lunch time, so I entered a nearby mall. One noodle shop had English on its overhead menu, so I ordered there. I managed it, though I was flummoxed when the cashier asked which size I wanted. I eventually got it, and received excellent noodles with chicken.

Satisfied, I returned my dishes to the noodle shop (you don’t leave your tray out for someone to pick up; that would be uncivilized) and explored a Japanese mall. It wasn’t totally unlike the American experience; it’s just that the bar is higher. Imagine the most elegant shop in an American mall, with the most pleasant service. All the shops are like that.

THe top floor held an arcade, and what a blinking, flashing, beeping experience that was. I saw many claw machines, a few standard video games (mostly shooters), and quite a few mini-pachinko machines. Many of the pachinko machines were anime-themed, each with a small video window playing original animations for Evangelion, Macross (original), Macross Frontier, and the like. There was even a K-ON! rhythm game.

But at the back sat 8 Gundam pods. I had to try them. I got in, but sadly, I couldn’t get it to work. It rejected my coins, and when I bought a card, it rejected that, too. Ah well.

I went back to to explore Odaiba some more, including Sega Joypolis and a miniature Legoland. Unfortunately, both required payment to get in, and looked to be Japanese-only, so I abstained.

I marvelled again at the immensity of Odaiba. One whole building was apparently devoted to a single department store.

Then I returned to the dock, where I took the other Leiji Matsumoto-designed boat, the Hotaluna, back to Asakusa. Sadly, while the Hotaluna sported a top observation deck open to the sky, an employee closed it as we disembarked.

By this point my feet cried out for rest, so I spent the rest of the night watching Japanese television. A few anime episodes came on, and I learned a few interesting things:

The typical shonen titles like Naruto airs at the same time slot as Pokemon, late afternoon and early evening. The ads that air during those shows are aimed at younger boys than I expected: maybe 8 years old at the oldest.

Pokemon is even more huge than I thought. The episode of Pokemon XY ended with two Japanese men coming on to explain the basic concept behind Pokemon XY (that each Pokemon has one variant in X and a different variant in Y).

I soon fell into a blessed sleep.

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