Gundam Front Tokyo

On October 25, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Kristen
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I am an avid Gundam fan. I thought that at least one entry to this website should involve some sort of evangelizing of the Gundam franchise, so, I decided to write about Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba.

First, let’s back up. Gundam is a franchise of anime, movies, manga, video games, and plastic model kits—dating back to 1979. Gundams, and other mecha in the series, are large humanoid robots that can be piloted in sea, air, ground, and outer space within their respective fictional histories. Gundam is a very large franchise, and has been airing almost continuously since it’s introduction with Mobile Suit Gundam, the original anime, in 1979. Now that you know what Gundam is, let’s continue.

Gundam Front Tokyo in Odaiba is a sort of a Mecha…Mecca. Its most prominent feature is the gigantic, life-size Gundam RX-78-2 statue from the original anime. This statue is sort of a living installment, as it occasionally gets upgraded and moved around to different places. It is also important to note that the Gundam statue lights up, moves, and has a projection video show with sound and audio that you can watch when you stand out in front of it.

Gundam Front itself is actually inside of Diver City mall, near Pallet Town and the gigantic Ferris wheel, Daikanransha. You can’t miss both the Ferris wheel and the Gundam statue. Inside, several floors up, features a Gundam Shop, where you can buy all manner of items, most notably exclusive Gundam Front model kits of figures from the series. Next, there is a clothing shop called Strict-G which features high-end fashionable clothes with a Gundam theme. The clothes and accessories are very cool, but quite expensive.

The main area of Gundam Front is a museum-like exhibition center which features life-size exhibits of Gundams, Fighter Jets, and many other amazing samples of the enormous Gundam franchise (and it, unfortunately, bans photography.) My favorite room, the Gunpla exhibit, features one copy of nearly every single Gundam plastic model figure every made, and additionally it exhibits custom models from famous modelers and celebrities. The line-up of figures changes throughout the year, so if you’re a fan of plastic models, toys, or any kind of tiny cool doodads, you should check this out.

The Gundam statue out front is free to walk up to and view, and it is Gundam Cafe adjacent. Gundam Front itself only charges for the museum portion of the floor, and additionally offers a paid course in how to build a model and how they are made. If you’d like to buy something Gundam, you have the option of buying it out front next to the giant Gundam, or, if their selection isn’t big enough, go inside of Gundam Front and you’ll find the full-size gift shop that contains all of the limited edition stuff as well as a ton of regular Gundam merchandise. If both your pockets and your love for Gundam are deep, Strict-G has some fashionably nerdy attire and accessories that look good and don’t scream “I’M AN OTAKU PLEASE STEP TO THE LEFT.”

Fortunately for us English-speakers, their site provides a guide in English to score early tickets and explains the exhibits and prices. If you’d like to see the place for yourself, go ahead and head to http://gundamfront-tokyo.com/ and figure out your trip.

“Who will survive?”

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Odaiba Decks and Tokyo Waterbus

On October 25, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Kristen
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I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge to a lot of foreigners living in Tokyo, but there is a way to travel that isn’t as slow as walking or as crowded by trains. Boats! That’s right, you can take a big, weird boat in between places like Asakusa and Odaiba, and it’s pretty cheap.

img_6164-1-1 img_6161-1Truth be told, my girlfriend and I took this trip in August, when the weather was much nicer, but our boat trip to Odaiba was a pretty great experience for both of us. We had been looking for an excuse to try a boat ride for a while, and on that day we had a craving for Takoyaki. A bunch of kinds of takoyaki. In a museum. In Odaiba.

If you check Tokyo Waterways online, you’ll see that there are a variety of routes and boats to choose from. Our boat was a standard party-boat, but there are several others such as two boats designed by the same guy who designed Space Battleship Yamato from its eponymous series. Our boat, as plain as it was, did featured multiple decks of seats and plenty of viewing space, as well as a small bar and snack counter on the lower level.

img_6142-1 Our trip was under an hour, but we got to see a completely different side of Tokyo for the very first time. The air was crisp and trip was smooth. We took a lot of photos. The snacks weren’t anything special, but the beer was a limited Asahi brew from the nearby Asahi beer company building, and it was delicious. When we finally got to our port, we took a few photos of the incoming boats, and made our way to Odaiba Decks.

Decks is a multilevel indoor-outdoor mall full of lots of shops and restaurants right next to the water. If you’re a fan of retro video games and spooky stuff, Decks has an old-school arcade stocked with games from the early 80s as well as a mini haunted house. I even found retro soda cans, a 3 wheeled Daihatsu Midget, as well as a man-sized robot from Tetsujin 28.

img_6198-13-11Decks also features the Takoyaki Museum, which is less of a museum and more of a food court with several varieties of takoyaki to choose from. There are about 6 different stalls for takoyaki, and each stall has it’s own vending ticket machine with a huge variety of quantity and choice. We got a variety set, and took our place in the seating area. The smell of this whole place is wonderful, and the taste and texture of our meal was fantastic.

img_6226-22-18After the meal, we walked around a bit. Fun fact if you are a fan of Dippin’ Dots ice cream—Decks has Dippin’ Dots on the first floor! It was the last snack I expected to find in Tokyo. Eating mint-chocolate Dippin’ Dots in Tokyo really made my trip perfect. After that, we walked around the side of Diver City to score a few shots of the miniature Statue of Liberty nearby. Why is there a miniature Statue of Liberty within a few steps of a giant Gundam statue? Not sure, but it’s pretty awesome.

Odaiba lends itself to a lot great photo opportunities and good food, and next time you’re in the mood to see a different side of Tokyo, why not try Tokyo by boat?

 

Previously, from July 7th to September 11th, there was a massive showing of artwork and other exhibits by Studio Ghibli at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. My girlfriend and I were lucky enough to catch the showing before it ended, and I’d like to share my experience. I should probably note that I haven’t yet been to the Ghibli Museum itself yet, and this was the first time I saw any sort of Ghibli exhibit. Also, most of the exhibition banned photography unfortunately, but I will do my best to summarize.

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I didn’t grow up with Studio Ghibli like my girlfriend did. Whereas she’s seen nearly all of the their films, and has even met with the actress who portrayed a main character in Laputa (her favorite), I saw my very first Ghibli movie only a few years ago. After moving to Tokyo, we set upon a Ghibli marathon to watch all of the most classic Ghibli movies. I have become quite the fan, and when this exhibit opened, I really wanted to see it all for myself.

img_5991-1-13Heading to the Mori Art Museum, the streets were filled with Doraemon. When we finally arrived at Mori, we were met with a long line of people all ages waiting patiently in crammed lines. Pokemon Go was still very recent, and everyone from children to their grandparents were swiping their phone screens and discussing what they might see within the exhibits. We paid about ¥2,300 (a bit over $22.00), got our tickets, and headed up to the display area on the 52nd floor.

img_6009-10-18After being ushered into the correct entrance of the showing, we entered a small bar area with Tottoro himself managing the register, and then into a viewing area featuring many Ghibli movie posters. The walls were completely covered with international editions, recreations, and alternate versions. Further in, the high walls revealed concept sketches, fliers, mini-posters, and other promotional materials related to the films. My degree is in graphic design, and I’ve always been a great fan of movie posters, so this was quite the time for me.

Next, we spotted something a bit unexpected–a perfect to-scale recreation of the director’s office. Down to the books on the shelf, it was an exact replica of the real office at Studio Ghibli, complete with a reference photo as proof. We weren’t allowed to go inside (or take photos) but it was a very interesting sight indeed. Beyond that exhibit, we entered a display room that, from floor to ceiling, displayed nearly every single piece of merchandise ever made featuring Ghibli characters. We weren’t allowed to take photos or touch anything, but it was a sight not unlike anime shops in Akihabara near the Electric Town exit, but it was all Studio Ghibli fare.
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Finally, the signs warning us to not take photographs disappeared, and we were ushered into a darkened room. Breaching the exit, our eyes adjusted to something fantastic–the iconic Cat-But from My Neighbor Totoro, complete with lights, and filled to the brim with happy fans. After waiting our turn in line, we were given approximately 2 minutes to set-up and take our own photographs, as well as explore the inside of the big cat himself. The attention to detail in this exhibit is absolutely stunning, and it was the highlight of our trip. In my attempt to hurry to get my own photograph of myself inside the cat-bus, I was flanked by an granny and her family before I was able to get my photo. She looks like she’s enjoying herself, at least.

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img_6300-29-3After that exhibit, we entered the Laputa: Castle in the Sky area, which was the main area of the exhibit. The Laputa exhibit was extra amazing, most likely because of the film’s 30th anniversary, and was what excited both of us the most about coming to the exhibition. This area featured a glowing scale model of the sky ship from Laputa, as well as the terrain below. Characters were hung from the walls in all directions, and in the center, the giant sky ship glowed and elegantly raised and lowered itself as if paddling it’s way through the clouds. It was a quiet, dimly lit room with a very high ceiling with an amazing view of the city below. The combination of this exhibit and the room it was presented in made you feel as though you may be in Laputa yourself, overlooking all of Tokyo.

img_6343-35-6 img_6341-34-5 img_6030-18-22 img_6022-15-21 img_6018-13-20Sadly, from there we exited the exhibit. The Ghibli gift shop was on a lower floor, and once we made our way down, we found it to be even more crowded than the exhibition itself. For sale was a massive variety of figurines, notebooks, bags, clothes, movies, books…anything Ghibli you could ever want. It was all very expensive, but that didn’t stop many fans from filling their large shopping bags and fighting back through the crowd to exit.

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img_6424-46-12After leafing through some very expensive Blu-Ray releases of the films and looking at all the adorable plush toys, we decided to save our money. Before we left however, we both decided to pay the ¥500 fee to see the Mori rooftop. You walk through what looks like the set of a horror movie to the uppermost deck, which featured walking platforms, speakers, seats, and tons of young couples. We were on the roof of a 52 or 53 floor building, so the view was worth the money alone. We took lots of pictures, danced to their playlist of early 90s rock, and dodged a few rude tourists running around on the platform before returning home.

img_6044-20-1Overall, our experience was very positive. It was a great place to take a date, and the other visitors appeared to have a great time as well. As an English speaker, it really helped to have an interpreter, but I can’t exactly fault the exhibition for being almost entirely Japanese. The only complaint I had was the ban on all photography for over half of the exhibit. I understand why it was put in place, but because of it being a limited engagement, it’s difficult to find photos of everything that I saw in the exhibit, and my memory isn’t so great. That said, if there is a similar exhibition in the future, you can count on my reservation.

img_6067-24-24All photos credit to Kris Leisman and Midori Oyama

http://www.roppongihills.com.e.nt.hp.transer.com/museum/

 

IMG_6083-9This month, History Garage, which is across from famed shopping center Diver City, is hosting a collection of incredibly historical World Rally Championship cars from Toyota. My girlfriend and I attended this showing, which is free for anyone who would like to go, and is presented in both English and Japanese. The viewing is until September 4th, 2016.

IMG_6076-2 IMG_6077-3The World Rally Championship is a international car racing event that pits extremely tough cars against one another on rough terrain with some of the most skilled drivers who ever lived. Until just under 20 years ago, it was known as a widow-maker of a sport, with resulted in tons of experimental steel smashed into trees, other cars, and unfortunately, fans. Mostly gone are the days when Group A/B rally cars buzzed by sideways at 95MPH on a mud road millimeters away from a group of photographers, but the cars that braved those legendary races are largely intact. In fact, a lot of championship winning cars are right here in Tokyo.

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If you got this far and you’re not a car person, I gotta commend you for your effort to learn about Japan’s history of cars (or maybe you’re just really, really bored). Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Subaru are probably the three most famous Japanese brands that have raced in the WRC historically. In fact, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru’s WRX STI street cars are based off of their real-life racing counterparts that participate(d) in the WRC. The big rear deck wings and wide fender flares are designed for stability at high speeds on roads that are more like hiking paths in the woods. So, it’s a bit of a non-traditional style of car racing, and with that in mind, we can look at these race cars for what they are—purpose-built machines meant for one type of extreme racing.

IMG_6079-5 IMG_6080-6Every car in the line-up here is famous in the sport, and several of them are regularly pictured in car racing magazines as legendary examples. Take for instance the Toyota Celica GT-Four 1995 Safari Rally winner, which is one of the most ubiquitous rally cars of all time, partially due to its huge air snorkel and front bull bar. In fact, each of these exact cars has it’s own wikipedia article where you can learn the details of it’s development. The amount of testing and production that went into each of these is truly amazing, especially since they are based off of regular production cars.

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WRC Modified 1985 MR2

This sort-of brings us to my favorite of the bunch. Each of these cars may be considered a kind of working production prototype—such is the nature of car racing—especially since many of the ideas that were used on these cars evolved into faster trim levels back in the civilian world. But, there is one car here that is truly a rare prototype, since it was not actually used in a sanctioned WRC event—The Toyota MR2 222D.

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Unmodified 1986 Toyota MR2

Due to its mid engine, small size, and light weight, the first-generation Toyota MR2 is still widely regarded as one of the best handling cars ever made in it’s price-point. (It’s also known for something called snap over-steer, which is terrifying. Google it.) Using this car as a base, approximately eleven 222D spec MR2 race cars were produced with slightly differing features for different track types. All cars were tested and raced, and the final few cars that survived were rumored to be demonic on the race track. Alas, shifting race rules and regulations forced Toyota to switch over to the Celica as it’s flagship WRC base-car.

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Fender flairs add stability by allowing for wider wheels and tires.

There are but three surviving, original 222D MR2 cars. Two of these cars are white, one is black. One of the white cars is rumored to have a 6 cylinder engine while the others feature in-line 4 turbo engines. Frankly, I’m not certain which one was the one I saw, it really is an amazing sight to behold. The interior of any rally car is always fitted with all sorts of gizmos, but the inside of the 222D looks like the Millenium Falcon cockpit vomited inside KITT from Knightrider. Too bad I couldn’t get a good photo of it, but it’s exactly as I’ve described, I promise.

 

The bodywork on these cars is very extreme, and the only original exterior cues from the stock MR2 are the doors. The cars are widened by what looks like about 2 feet, and they are weight-reduced from an already light weight to less than 1,700 pounds. Additionally, at least one of the white ones featured approximately 750 horsepower. It’s hard to compare a race car to a production car, but the Koenigsegg One:1, which is a pretty famous supercar (with a strange name), has almost the same power-to-weight ratio, but it has 1,340 horsepower, which is more than 1/8th that of an average locomotive…and costs almost 2.9 million USD. I don’t know what each 222D cost to develop, but I prefer the ugly mini-Batmobile look myself. I just like all the vents. I don’t know why…

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All of these cars are in great shape (for being smashed into things), and I was very happy to get a chance to see such famous, historically significant cars when all I expected to see were a few Volkswagen Beetles (yes, they did have one). I hope you enjoyed this non-brief look at Japanese Rally cars of the Group A, B, and WRC era and didn’t fall asleep and/or smash your keyboard with your face.

-K

P.S. It was this Beetle.

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Elekibass TokyoTown 2016

On July 31, 2016, in English, Travel, by Kristen
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TokyoTown Live is a annual concert that is held at the Institut Francais in Iidabashi. This year, my girlfriend and I were invited by the lead singer of the band Elekibass (a band known for it’s energetic live shows and variety of musicians) which was headlining the event. The concert took place on our holiday weekend, on Monday, July 18th, 2016.

We hadn’t planned on seeing everything that day, eIMG_3350
this being our second concert that weekend (and we’re old), but the band roster seemed pretty good. The event was basically the following: Six bands (plus a DJ in-between sets), good summertime drinks, spicy curry and snacks, and fantastic weather. The sets are played indoors, inside the dining room of Institut Francais, but the food, drinks, and company are all outside on the veranda.

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We arrived a bit late, but we were able to see the middle and end of the band 音の旅crew (Otonotabi Crew), who are a fantastic alt rock group with bits of reggae and punk mixed in. I greatly enjoyed their show, and I was sad I didn’t catch the very beginning. The musicians are very talented and their sound is aggressive enough to be interesting, but not so aggressive that my mother would complain. I would highly recommend going to their website, otonotabi.com, and check out upcoming shows.

As I mentioned, my girlfriend is a friend of the singer of Elekibass, who is also an organizer of this event. We spoke to him briefly about the show, music, and how terrible my Japanese is currently—he’s a good dude and well-traveled. When his band took the stage, they did so in costume, parade-style, through the crowd. I figured I was up for something interesting.

Describing the style of Elekibass is a bit difficult. You could most easily say its ska music, I guess, but that doesn’t quite cover it. I mean, it’s rock, it’s jazz, and it’s comedy. The songs are catchy and the band is full of energy. They’re a wonder to see live, with a full group stocked with sax, trumpet, piano, drums, bass, and guitar. Imagine Cake, but less monotone and with a caffeine drip.

The people were nice, the music was great fun, and the food was delicious. eIMG_3349Also, the drinks were generous and hit the spot perfectly on a mid-July day in Tokyo. My hope is that they continue the TokyoTown event next year, and if they do, I will be there.

Special thanks for my girlfriend Midori for taking me to the event, and thanks to everyone that helped organize and put on the show. ありがとう。

 

IMG_3346Bands Featured:

LOS ADIOS GOMEZ

Sunday カミデ

音の旅crew

The Pen Friend Club

ELEKIBASS

中嶋佑樹

Venue Info:
Institut Francais, Iidabashi (institutfrancais.jp)