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Fudd’s Journey to Japan Part II

Click here to read Fudd’s Journey to Japan: Part I
 
Day 2 – December 30, 2013
 
I forgot to mention in that I only won one game when I went to Versus, a casual game against Tomoza (Dic/DJ). Before I left Versus the previous night, I made sure to ask Shu how I could find HEY and Mikado. He drew a map to help explain HEY’s location, but his best hints were to follow signs that pointed me towards “Electric Town” and that it’s near a SEGA arcade. He reassured me that I would have no problem finding either arcade since Versus is the hardest one to find. I had heard many times before that Akihabara is the world capitol for all types of electronic goods. But I can also aptly sum up Akihabara in one word:
 
NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRDS.
 
Needless to say, I spent a majority of my time in Japan at Akihabara.
 
I decided to start using my 2-day rail pass (once you activate it, you must continue to use it on the consecutive day) since I would be doing a lot of exploring trying to find the other major arcades I planned on seeing. Today would really be my day to see, for the first time, what the Tokyo area had to offer (at least, as much as I could with hardly any command of Japanese). I had actually set my alarm for 11 or so, but it went off at 9:59, I think because the hotel’s checkout time is 10AM and they want to get people in and out. I hopped on the metro and transferred from Tozai line to Hibiya (gray) line at Otemachi station and rode up to Akihabara. I really enjoyed not having to futz around with coins for fare (ranging from ¥120 to ¥290 or so) and as I got to read the subway maps more, I slowly made my peace with the previous day’s frustrations about public transit.
 
I arrived at Akihabara and found some English directing me towards the “Electric” part everyone knows and loves. Shu told me that HEY opens at 10, so I’d be able to walk in as soon as I found it. And I feel it was about here when I felt a major reintroduction to cityscapes. That’s not to say Busan didn’t have a cityscape, but I guess a reminder of how cities, though they are meant to be designed for convenience and density, are different. Also, seeing a big city for the first time always has that introductory charm to it before you grow accustomed to its quirks. And as a quick aside, traffic flowing on the left side is indeed a bit strange (and counter-intuitive to me) at first, but fairly easy to get used to.
 
I think just about everything in Akihabara opens at 10, so by the time I got there (by the time I even woke up) everyone was going about their business as usual. Maids trying to get peoples’ attention with high, cutesy voices and passing out flyers. Other foreigners taking in the sights of tall buildings packed with media, hobbies, and just about any niche interest you can think of. I saw it all there: video games, trading/collectible cards, models, computers, cameras, cosplay, and nerds.
 
So many nerds.
 
But I had my own quest to walk, so I looked throughout the main, crowded streets for SEGA signs and got closer to them.
 

Holy site #2: HEY:
 
Shu-san told me this arcade would be easy to find since it’s right next to a SEGA arcade. There were quite a few big SEGA signs around, but I knew to look for the orange HEY sign since I saw a picture similar to this before.
 
An impressive arcade with several floors dedicated to specific genres. Fighting games are two floors up with the ST cabs right in your face as you step off the escalator.
 
10JPY for one credit (winner stays, obviously)!
 
This is one of the best ST stomping grounds around when you’ve got idle time during the week.
 
I instantly smiled when I saw the orange Hey sign and knew that I’d be spending a lot of time here. And even though my time in Japan was finite, I was fine with being taken in by whimsical wandering. I mean, I was finally here and looking at all these games with my own four eyes. I really let myself be who I am. That’s a strange thing to say, but when we’re at work or around other people who we don’t think would be able to handle our true selves, then we just wear the mask of public acceptance. But I felt like I could act more freely — not just because I was traveling alone — since Japan has different ideas about what is socially strange. All of those nerds indulging in their hobbies is the norm and it was great to join them and see that other people get as hype about manga and/or anime as I do with Super Turbo.
 

The four 10JPY ST cabs at HEY aren’t exactly side-by-side. You can see the 1/2P signs above the cabs.
 
I snapped this picture after I already toured all of Hey’s floors and looked at all of the popular, new, and obscure games they had. Even the obscure games were in cabinets where the Insert Coin sticker said ¥100. I’m not sure if that accurately reflects the actual price to play, but really? A dollar to play? That’s pretty ruthless, but it would definitely make you hone your skills quick and take the game seriously (as well as keep Hey operating). The level of smoke wasn’t too bad, nor was it in Versus. In fact, I got a bit of a secondhand high a few times. Or was it just a feeling of slight lightheadedness? In any case, if you look at the picture, the player in the winter hat who is second from the left is “Sako Diamond Lane” or the N. Hawk who defeated me in the Versus East-West battle. I got to play him a bit more, but after he left I never saw him again. The guy in the red sweater on the far right was at Versus, Isaji Cammy.
 
First, I observed for a bit to see how things worked. There were a few other people watching and once in a while, they’d jump on, too. It should be noted that when you lose a game, you should stand up and step aside so someone else can play. Even if there’s no one around (or it doesn’t seem like there is), you should at least stand up and make it obvious that there’s an open spot. It’s a little weird, but it’s Japan’s courtesy culture. If no one claims your spot, you can recoin and rejoin. Sometimes there will be other people watching, but no one makes a move to join — my guess is that no one wishes to challenge the champion opponent. I spelunked in my pocket to fish out some ¥10 coins.
 

About a dime per game. Sugoi!
 
I spent a couple of hours changing out some ¥100 coins into ¥10 coins (the change machine specifically assigned for this purpose is very close). Back in Northern California, the best place to play arcade ST was an arcade in San Mateo named Gamecenter. I think the owner intentionally must have designed it to be like Hey since ST games only cost a dime (on a card system, though) and there was a vending machine for drinks nearby. It was about a 90 minute drive for me (and two bridge tolls about $5 each), but it was always fantastic to play there. Unfortunately, Gamecenter closed down a couple months back, but visiting Japan gave me more memories of playing ST on a dime. And the competition was quite varied, too. Throughout the day, I would see some familiar faces from Versus. I got to play against Isaji Cammy a lot while putting in the time to grind. I picked Dhalsim a lot since I don’t get to practice that match often at all and I lost to Mike Creque at EVO last year. I had to learn how to block Cammy’s cross-up short the hard way — getting knocked down, stunned by the combo, and then finished off over and over again. I admire the consistency in which Isaji landed it (even into a safe blockstring when I blocked properly), but it was clear to see that he practiced it a lot. And he was always, always moving forward to get in my face and would often react to my cr. Mk xx yoga fire with a super whenever he was within range and had meter. I had actually expected the matchup to be something like having to guess jump-in mixups (would Cammy do strong or roundhouse?). But he walked in or hooligan’d most of the time. I certainly learned a lot. I also played a lot of Dee Jay that day against appropriate characters (not Honda — I need Sim practice there).
 
There was one guy who I found to be particularly strange. He stood around and watched for a long time. He was tall, with carefully gelled hair and circular glasses lenses. He carried a sort of smaller duffel bag and stood in such a way that his feet pointed inward a bit (intentional or not, I do not know). I wondered if he would ever sit down to play and which character he might use. When he finally did, it was against a Dictator player that I saw at Versus. The other guy was also tall with glasses who would take tiny, playful steps whenever he walked over to play, jiggling his leg a lot when he did, clearly never hiding his excitement for ST). It was funny to me since these guys seemed like they had really opposite demeanors: one very calm and thoughtful, the other always moving and doing something. The guy with the duffel bag picked fierce Claw and immediately started doing repeated backward jump jab/strong til he was in the corner. My first thought was “Wtf, does this guy even play ST?” and being really confused. Claw won that game and stayed on for a long time. I took a few licks at him with Dee Jay and suddenly this guy’s personality became clear to me (or at least, how I decided to perceive him). He played the matchup “caged bird” style and quickly learned when I like to hit buttons, stuffing or trading most of my attacks to keep me in the corner. He was particularly annoying with the timing of his slide and just really annoying overall. It made me think that this guy wants to control the situation at all times (thus studying opponents for a long time). When someone finally did knock him off, I think it was a Boxer, I don’t think he got back very often (it was a long streak). And he never elected to play against the Boxer. I never did find out who the Claw was, if he even has an alias.
 

A vending machine with tasty drinks is never too far away. You can also see the escalator leading up to the third floor and a screen for watching one of the games if there’s too big of a crowd. The TV lagged a bit behind the cabs 🙂
 
When I had a chance to play against Dhalsim that day, I used Dee Jay. And I recall fighting one Dhalsim (in India) and having a relatively easy time neutral jumping over yoga fires from a little less than full-screen. It was weird — I felt like afro legends or something. It was the joy of playing offline and getting immediate response from the joystick. I think it must have been around 2PM when I decided to grab lunch and explore Akiba more. I bought a new backpack with camouflage design for Â¥980, but kept it in its plastic wrapping and folded up until I got back to Korea. I didn’t explore too much since I thought it wise to head over to Takadanobaba (luckily, also a station on the Tozai line) and search for Mikado. I wanted to know where it was during my downtime so I’d have no trouble finding it again the next day for the NYE/Shougatsu event. Plus the rail pass would allow me the luxury to go back and forth as I liked.
 
I hit Takadanobaba and took the same approach as I did with Nishi-nippori: I picked a direction and started walking. I walked for a few blocks and noticed the scenery was really comfy and homely compared to the constant action of Akiba. I only realized on my last day that there’s a giant shopping mall and a lot more restaurants in the other direction, but never had to go there since Mikado was actually really close to the station. I walked back towards the station after buying a pack of lemon-lime Stride gum from 7-11 and saw a smaller gamecenter. The first time I passed it, there was no one inside and no one to ask. This time I asked the employee where I could find Mikado and he pointed me down a small road just outside. Was Mikado really that close this whole time?
 

Holy site #3: Mi-Ka-Do:
 
It’s only two left turns right out of the Tokyo Metro station exit 1. Mikado’s selection of games is somewhat obscure, but nonetheless impressive. On Wednesdays they have freeplay nights starting at 7PM for 500JPY. Mattsun works at this arcade so you can always count on him being there.
 
Yes, it was. And it was still early in the day, as the sun was out. I had found all my goals within two days using only the help of gamecenter employees. I got a bit emotional — a bit verklempt — when I took that picture, knowing this journey has been years in the making. I went inside to have a look at the two floors of this legendary arcade. When you go upstairs to can see this on the right side:
 

Tougeki accolades. Hmm, getting warmer…
 
The ST cabs are on the second floor and there wasn’t really anyone there. I didn’t even see Mattsun. I saw some people playing HSF2: Anniversary Edition and thought to immediately pay my arcade respects. One of them was defeated and I walked around a bit before putting in my ¥50. I played WW Guile and knocked the other guy off only to lose to CPU Ryu a little later. I guess it’s only right that Ryu defends his turf, heh. Satisfied, I walked out and hopped back on the Tokyo Metro to get my money’s worth out of the rail pass. I looked at the map to see where I could go and which of the familiar names I should visit. I went to Roppongi to have a glance, but I think it was still too early to see people getting wild and partying. However, I studied a subway exit map and found that there is a Philippine embassy in Roppongi. This gave me a good laugh and just seemed to make sense for me. It was as if Japan had officially labeled Filipinos as party animals.
 
I think it was around that time I decided to go to Tokyo proper. As I got closer to the subway stop, I noticed the train was getting more crowded and people appeared very rich and nicely dressed. When I got off the subway, I must have picked the wrong exit or something since there weren’t too many people around and I seemed to be in a sort of ritzy, business district. There were a lot of high-class shops and very clean streets (saw the street cleaners myself) as the day became night. I did a lot of walking until I came across an area that was a bit more lively, which turned out to be Ginza, a different subway stop I passed on the way.
 

It was nice to see more of the normal people again, going about their lives in a culture that is still a mystery to me. But I have to admit I missed being around the other freaks so I went back to Akiba and decided it was the place to be. I spent a little too much time wandering aimlessly, though I had an event to train for the next day. I believe that night I ate some delicious Japanese-style katsu curry (after waiting outside in line for a bit) and returned to Hey to play as much as I could before catching the train back to Kiba. Judging from all the children I saw at Kiba, I would say that it’s a residential area, so sadly there wasn’t much for me to do at night. I even wandered around Kiba at night just to confirm that there was nothing around. I’m the kind of person that considers midnight to be early. I’m sure if I had been born a different person I could have easily been a businessman or a Yakuza. With all of the hygienic face masks around, I actually wondered at how many Yakuza and JAV idols I might have passed by. A fun thing to think about, though you can’t go wrong with the things you already know. As fun as this day was, the next day would show me what Mikado is like when there is ST going on.
 
Tune in next time for Day 3, the final day of 2013 and the NYE/Shougatsu event!
 
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