Anime Expo 2014Posted: July 7, 2014
I didn’t go. Instead, I went to Japan.
It had been my dream to go to Japan for over nine years, and for a fresh college graduate, what better thing to do than lay down a couple thousand (aka my life’s savings) to go to the mecca of otaku culture? There go all my vacations for the next six years. But in all seriousness, my trip to Japan was fun, exciting, and a very worthwhile experience that served as the culmination of my interest in anime, Japan, and Japanese culture. It’s all downhill from here.
A full-scale rundown of exactly where I went, what I saw, and how I felt (see Anime Expo: 2011 and 2012) isn’t what I’m going to do here. Such a post might be interesting and would serve for some cool discussion if anybody actually read my blog, but I’m tired and my reader count is -1. Instead, I’ll talk about three things: Akihabara, Kiyomizu Temple, and my day of non-stop incredible fuck ups.
Akihabara. The Holy Land of anime and manga. Animate, Gamers, Melonbooks, Toranoana, Mandarake. Places I’d heard of from other people, from the internet, and from Konata in Lucky Star. A gaijin otaku’s dream, right?
Walking up and down the floors of these enormous buildings, looking at figures, manga, and merchandise, I realized how far my interest in anime had waned. Even two or three years ago, I would have bought up figure after figure, looking for all the Mikoto Misaka, Eureka, and Nichijou statuettes I could afford. But this time, I was tired. Maybe I was put off from all of the merchandise from recent series that I had never heard of, or maybe it was the language barrier, or maybe I was just frustrated at the lack of Nichijou stuff. By the end of my day in Akiba, I was itching to get out of the area.
Still, I did see some of the strangest things here. From Attack on Titan perfume to boob flan, Akiba gave off that “weird Japan” feel in waves. And even though I’ve been out of the loop for recent seasons/years of anime, I still recognized a lot of stuff and learned a lot.
Like how Free and Kuroko no Basuke are the biggest things for girls right now. There are entire floors of buildings dedicated to merchandise from these two shows, and nothing aimed at males could even get close to the sheer amount of floor space they claimed. On the guys’ side, I found out that Love Live is the biggest thing since the Meiji Restoration, as well as the primary cause of the declining birth rate. I was also surprised to discover the great popularity of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. And of course, anime like Attack on Titan and (less so) Sword Art Online are still claiming Japanese wallets by the dozen.
The lesson I took away from Akihabara was: I’m not that into anime anymore, even though this place is interesting.
Kiyomizu-dera (temple) is one of the many famous temples of Kyoto, and a popular spot for tourists, both domestic and foreign. Going here was an incredible cultural and historical experience. That said, I wanted to come here because of Negima!, the first manga I picked up back in middle school. One of the first arcs in Negima! has the whole class going to Kyoto for a school trip, not unlike the hundreds (thousands??) of middle school kids I saw in Kyoto. Negi and his classmates fool around at Kiyomizu-dera in seven pages of chapter 29 of the manga, and it must have left an impression on me, since I had a big urge to visit this temple.
Shown below are the three places featured in Negima, as well as pictures I took of those same places.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the Kiyomizu-dera monks paid Ken Akamatsu big bucks to feature their big attractions in Negima!. What a sneaky plan… and it worked on me.
- Kiyomizu Stage.
It was quite the view, though it honestly wasn’t all that high off the ground. There were an incredible number of middle schoolers taking selfies and hanging out on the stage itself.
- Love Rock.
The idea is to close your eyes and walk from one rock to the other… and get true love, etc. I took a picture of a couple dressed in yukata who tried to do it. The woman was right on, but the man went way off. After that, a bunch of middle school girls tried it while cheating.
- Three Streams.
I’m not even sure what this is called (three fountains, maybe?), but it was really popular. The ladles are UV sterilized and are really long, but some people still couldn’t reach the water. Also, I asked some old ladies about the three fountains and they said all three granted the same good luck. So, I drank from the leftmost one… which Akamatsu notes is for true love. Huh.
My visit to Kiyomizu-dera brought me full-circle, linking my journey through otaku culture back to its very beginnings. I got a sense of closure at Kiyomizu-dera while discovering a growing interest in aspects of Japanese culture besides anime and manga. Negima! may have been why I went to Kiyomizu-dera, but I found these three attractions very appealing for their historical and religious significance.
Throughout this trip, I’ve gained an appreciation for Japanese culture. The many, many temples I visited were amazing, but I found myself more intrigued by how obediently the Japanese people line up on the left side when taking an escalator in Tokyo, making room for people to walk on the right. I wondered how Japanese cuisine could provide a balanced diet with only carbs, meat, and fish… until I saw the variety of Vitamin C supplements and drinks in vending machines and convenience stores. I was extremely grateful for the many different kinds of functions on the washlets that seemed to be everywhere. One could look at me and call me a Japanophile, but Ilike to think that I’m becoming more interested in the culture that produced the anime and manga that engrossed me throughout middle school, high school, and college.
In any case, Kiyomizu-dera showed me aspects of Japan I had not known, aspects of Japan that I have come to love.
The fuck up day
It was relatively simple:
- Get on the southbound train from Kyoto to Osaka.
- At Osaka, transfer to the JR line down to Shinimamiya station.
- At Shinimamiya, take the Nankai Koya Line Limited Express straight to Koyasan, our destination.
Here’s the Google Maps route I was trying to follow:
It may seem complicated and a bit daunting going so far in a foreign country, but by this point I had already been in Japan for over a week. I could have asked any person at the station how to get on the right line. I could have checked Google Maps more carefully. But noooo, I took about five wrong trains and ended up taking twice as long to get to Koyasan. Here’s what actually happened:
Starting from Kyoto station, we took the train on the wrong side of the platform. So instead of going south to Osaka, we headed north to Tsuruga… and there were no stops along the way. It was a bit of a detour, but we figured nothing could be done. The train attendant guy laughed at us, though. We planned to get out at Tsuruga and then find a train going back the way we came. However, we ended up going all the way around Lake Biwa to Maibara station and back round to Kyoto. Oops.
But from Kyoto, we took the shinkansen to Shinosaka, and then transferred to Osaka and then Shinimamiya. Things were going just dandy. Then at Shinimamiya, Google Maps told us to take the “Nankai Koya Line Limited Express” to Koyasan. We looked for the nearest Nankai Limited Express train and got on. It was the Neo Zeon train:
In retrospect, we should have figured out that this was reserved seats only, but I really wanted to get on this train. It looked cool, people were taking pictures, and it had the right train name. So we were riding along on this fancy train in the front two seats of the car when we reached the next station. An excited couple with a baby walk in, camera at the ready, filming their exciting experience on their ride of a lifetime. And then they see us in their seats. Oops.
We get kicked out of our seats and then told to get off by the train attendant, who says that this train isn’t even going in the right direction. So we get off at Kishiwada Station, and instead of waiting for an express train to take us back to Osaka, we take the next available train. This happened to be a local train that stopped at every single station. When we realized this, we got off at the next station and waited for an express train. Oops.
Unfortunately for us, that next station was local trains only, so we saw about three express trains pass by, including another Neo Zeon rich person train, before we decided to take a local train all the way back to Osaka (Tengachaya station). At Tengachaya, we found out that ALL of the train lines were called “Nankai” something and that the only one that did NOT start with “Nankai” was the one we had to take, the Koya line. Oops. Eventually we got on the “Koya Limited Express” that took us all the way to our destination… over three hours late.
The lesson here? Talk with station attendants instead of rushing onto cool trains. But get better at speaking Japanese first.
Just a month ago, my only experiences with Japanese culture had been from anime and manga, and my Japanese/Japanese history classes in college. This trip to Japan made me realize how alien their society seemed to my Western eyes. The Japanese are a very law and custom-abiding people, so much so that すみません and すいません (sumimasen/sorry/pardon me/excuse me) were by far the most common words I heard on the streets. That makes for a very clean society filled to the brim with notions of respect and conformity. These stand completely opposite to the idea of the “American Dream” that I’ve grown up with, and that only make me want to learn more.
Initially, I had wanted to make this the final post on this blog. It would have been fitting, no? From my first volume of manga all the way to my visit to Japan, this would have been a complete story. And with me going to graduate school this fall, it would have marked the end of my childhood and the end of my childhood interest in girl cartoons. But that’s not how things work here, and I would hate to go out so pompously when this website has never been that important to begin with. (That’s why this post isn’t titled “Japan: A Space Odyssey.”) Instead, this site is going to be the same it’s always been: inactive for long stretches of time between thoughtless, un-funny posts. I will continue to watch anime from time to time, so I hope you’ll stop by.
Thanks for reading.