Day 3 December 31st:
I got as much sleep as I could, but started the day around 10AM to maximize my training and exploring time. I would have liked to go hardcore on the training that day for the New Year’s Eve event, but I figured I could do that on Wednesday (the next day) at Mikado since they have their ¥500 freeplay every Wednesday. Plus, I still had to make use of my Tokyo Metro pass. But first thing was first: I went to Hey in Akiba to warm up.
As soon as I got off the escalator, I saw someone I recognized by this point. Isaji Cammy in his red hoodie sweater was on the sticks. Even if there were no one else around, I’m sure he would be there playing against the CPU waiting for the next challenger. Since I already played Dhalsim in the Gamespot Versus event, I figured I would try Dee Jay at Mikado’s NYE event. It would probably be okay to play DJ against Isaji since I don’t get to play world-class Cammys offline every day. Even though it’s a hard match-up for Cammy, he naturally knew what to do. The strategy wasn’t very different than when he fought my Dhalsim, as Cammy has to deal with fireballs. He did a lot of walking forward and getting/staying in my face. I got caught by hooligan a lot and I knew I had to train my reaction to seeing it better. The closer Cammy is, the harder it is to react to (much like a tiger shot from O. Sagat or Boxer’s ground rush). There was at least one time where he walked up to such a perfect distance that he did a normal kick throw and threw me right out of my fireball. I’m pretty sure he did it to a Ryu sometime that day, as well. Getting thrown out of a fireball isn’t something completely new to me, but it’s quite a rarity. I get the feeling it’s not all that rare in Japan.
Others would come by to play and practice as well. I could never tell who was secretly a superstar, but most players knew what they were doing. I didn’t see anyone famous or recognize a familiar playstyle to go with a character color. There were two guys who arrived at the same time and they both played O. Ryu. I practiced mostly Sim against them since my DJ got zoned hard against most Ryus in Japan. Isaji would play his O. Ken against them at times. The O. Ryu players had very different styles to me. One of them wore a winter cap and did a ton of hurricane kicks (sometimes the aerial one, too) and spammed jab shoryu as O. Ken. The other one seemed to be a bit older and bald. His game was a lot less-rushed and less-active, but felt more calculated than the other guy. My guess is maybe he was Mayamura. Most of the time, one blunder from me was enough for them to secure a win, as is ST (even moreso playing as Sim).
After several hours of getting my fill of ST, I wandered around Akiba a bit more. I would stop for lunch if something caught my eye. Amidst the electronics, hobby shops, maids, and the nerds who love them, something actually caught my ear. I heard chiptunes and bit noises with no pachinko parlors nearby (thank God). I saw a sign for some kind of video game store. For whatever reason, I decided to move on. I could always come back the next day. My wandering and rail liberty led me to Shinjuku. Night had fallen and my hunger had risen, so I was in search for dinner.
Now, I’m not much of one for sushi, to be totally honest. I like to eat it now and then, but if I eat it too often or too much of it, I get indigestion. I could only think of people (I guess mostly my family) accusing me: You went to Japan and didn’t eat sushi?! I paced outside of a restaurant that looked welcoming enough stood around trying to decide and weighing in my shyness, silence, and sparse Japanese. Hunger got the best of me and I didn’t have to wait too long to be seated after going inside.
I looked at the paper menu until a waitress came and brought me the electronic one with a touch screen. I guess that’s one way of getting around the language barrier. As far as the meal is concerned, the tea and soup were the parts I enjoyed the most (it’s winter, after all), but the things I saw were rather interesting. Almost like dinner and a show. I waited quite a while for my meal at a booth seat against the wall and across from me were a man and a woman sitting together, face-to-face. The woman was all prettified and spoke with such a crinkly, cutesified voice (even among her winter coughs). The man had a wild, maybe gangsterish, style to him in his haircut, glasses, and smoking (maybe not unlike VIPER). And his teeth… were in terrible condition. Immediately, I did the math in my head.
What the hell does she see in this guy?
This must be what they call compensated dating.
And, sure enough, he had a present for her in a nice, little cushioned box. I forget whether it was a watch or bracelet or somesuch piece of (wrist) jewelry. Her impression with the gift was transparent. Later on, he showed her how to work his lighter and she made her impression transparent. It was all very interesting to observe.
Sometime during my spying on the compensation couple, there was a group of young men who were finished with their meal and got up to pay at the front counter before leaving. I had them pegged for Yakuza. If they weren’t, they certainly dressed the part. As I was waiting for my meal, another solo eater had been seated by the staff maybe four feet away from me on the same booth seat along the long wall. He was enjoying his beer in silence and I wondered if he was also enjoying the same sights I was or if such occurrences were of no large consequence. No big deal. Maybe it was just the part of Shinjuku I was in.
It wasn’t too long before I took time with my meal and followed suit of the younger men I saw and paid at the front counter. It was good to get food in my belly and walk around, enjoying all the sights. I had left my bookbag at the hotel locker so I could travel light. I already got a feel for which subway stops were important and where to transfer, things like that. When I ran out of time for exploring, it was time to go back to Takadanobaba for the big New Year’s Eve celebration at Mikado. Who would I see from Hey that I saw earlier that day? Everybody?
I arrived at Mikado around 8PM so I could grind some casuals. I went upstairs to find some type of Samurai Showdown exhibition/stream going on. There were a few folks already there for ST and I saw the mighty Mattsun on the mic for the stream. I wanted to try pacing my casuals since games at Mikado cost ¥50. So by the virtue of coin value, each individual game of ST played at Versus and Mikado has more weight to it than the games at Hey. Hey is a great place to get training mode style practice in and try new things, certainly the best value for your coin. But when you drop ¥50 for a 2/3 set, you’re paying for world-class competition. Once you press Start, you have to be on-point. Roybisel told me once that, in the old school days, every match was a money match. It’s the same idea. This is what NKI meant when he wrote in the ToL program about spectating at MORE arcade.
NKI wrote, One of the best things about More was that even if you didn’t have any money, you could get better just by watching matches and learning.
This didn’t quite solidify for me until I was in the situation of getting played for my money.
ST streaming station, right next to the cabs
And this particular situation was especially tricky since the SamSho thing seemed to take forever! We didn’t start ST until after midnight. But more ST players started to trickle in and I was happy to see Shu otherwise I would have been totally lost. There was a tall man with glasses standing by the staircase, sometimes near the tiny CRT, who looked familiar. I was sure I had seen his picture on ST Revival or somewhere, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Shu told me, That’s T. Akiba. (pronounced Takiba) and my impression was apparent. I saw another face that was familiar because I had seen him in a video I’ve watched so many times.
I approached this man, who had a bit of a darker skin tone.
Sumimasen, Niia desuka?
Honestly, I was very surprised to see him. I wasn’t sure if he still played since I hadn’t really seen him in any recent match footage. He then said something that took me a moment to decipher, but correctly did so: How do you know me?
I replied, Tougeki ni-sen-san (2003). The first SBO, truly a legendary event that happened more than a decade ago. He smiled and nodded.
Other previous familiar faces were Isaji (of COURSE!), Shin & VIPER, Pony, and the man of the hour, Shogatsu. Mattsun would sit down to play ST once in a while, taking a break from his MC duty. I think the first time I played him I did manage to take a game, but not the set. That’s pretty much how it goes whenever I play a ST celebrity: I might be able to win one game, but then I get downloaded. Mattsun has such a strong gameface, too. Such is a composure tempered by years of hard play.
Warming up (or already after?) for the NYE/Shogatsu tourney. From left to right: HaruKING, ???, Shin, VIPER, Shuu, ???
It seemed to be scheduled to start at around 9PM, but started past midnight since there was another event going on, I think for Samurai Showdown. So, there you go: even events/tourneys in Japan don€™t start on time.
The tournament started and Shin asked if I preferred 1P or 2P and I initially took this as a question asking about side, but a second thought made me think he might have asked me if I wanted to play first or second. I talked with Shu to confirm that it was indeed for 1P or 2P side and when the time came to play, we’d just decide who would play first. Although it was already past midnight, but I didn’t have to worry about missing the train. I asked Shu when the last train was and Shu said they wouldn’t stop running because of the New Year holiday. He explained that trains don’t stop because people like to watch first sunrise of the new year and/or pray at shrines for good fortune in the new year. Later, I would find out from a Korean friend that people in Korea also have a similar practice to watch the first sunrise. In any case, I was relieved that I’d be able to relax and enjoy the tournament in its entirety and maybe participate in whatever happens afterwards.
Looking at the bracket, we were matched up against YURI, but I couldn’t read his teammate’s name. When I asked Shu, he couldn’t read Mattsun’s handwriting, so I didn’t fully know what we were up against. After waiting and watching for a long time, I recognized the names YURI, Shin, and Nathaniel on the mic. I volunteered to play first.
I missed most (but not all) of my combos in Japan. I don’t know if I should attribute that to rust or nervousness or excitement likely a combination of all. It was painful to miss the ol’ xup bnb tod.
Ganbatte was all I could say to Shin when I stepped off 2P side. Good luck/do your best. At least the rest of the tournament was really entertaining to watch. Akihabara Blanka (Akabla) performed especially well that night and Shogatsu’s one-man team was a wonder to behold. The finals and grand finals had a perfect blend of what we might be able to call, business-casual. Or maybe that’s just how you always create the atmosphere of a game you’ve been mastering for the past two decades. I say business-casual because it’s obviously a tournament and Shogatsu has his birthday/New Year’s/Honda honor to defend so it’s serious on that front. On the other hand, it’s always great to see what causes laughter and noise on a streamed event since the internet audience doesn’t see everything. Shogatsu flicking the character select cursor to Dee Jay after losing his first Honda. And during the second oh shit, double KO? moment Shogatsu raising his hand, palm-up, as if to beckon his Honda to wake to victory and then that exact thing happening. Little moments like those are always entertaining and memorable for me.
Even after the tournament, as I stood at the sidelines to spectate, I was amazed to see everyone spending so much and continuously playing. Every machine was always occupied for HOURS. One of the change machines I went to during that night even ran out of ¥50 pieces and spit my ¥100 coin back out! And that’s how Japan’s arcade scene stays alive: sheer player dedication. I was so happy to see Super Turbo alive and well. There were also a lot of drinks from the vending machines that ran out of supply, as well as some ice cream flavors. In retrospect, the hardcore aspect of continual, nonstop play reminded me of the after-hours casuals with MAO at EVO2K12. He was asleep at first, but everyone else kept playing (since the US is so damn big and we rarely get to see other ST players except at EVO). Eventually, MAO gave in and started playing.
I played a couple post-tourney games with Mattsun (he paid for a couple games for me) that I thought might still be on the stream. I played hard and still ate the mix-ups. It’s insane: he would do something like a well-spaced cr. Short after a knee-bash and then he takes a step back and waits just the perfect amount of time, less than half a heartbeat, to respond to whatever I did. I was so impressed with how finely-tuned that pause is because it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist and then, I think damdai’s words fit here. I asked damdai some EVOs back ago why he thinks Mattsun is the best player. Everything he does is right.
Post-tourney casuals kept going for a long time and I saw Shu land a sick j. Jab xx fadeaway juice kick with N. Ken on a Dictator, something straight out of a combovideo. I put my Dhalsim up against Kotaka Shoten’s black Guile and got horribly worked by perfectly-spaced s. MKs. It was really impressive and I coudn’t wrap my head around it. I think maybe in the same way that Claw player from Hey knew when I liked to hit buttons, Kotaka Shoten had the same intuition to beat out my pokes.
As the hour grew late, things started to wind down when someone invited me to the post-gathering hangout/afterparty. ‘Course, people would be drinking. The tension of a drinking social situation returned. I know it’s considered impolite to refuse, and it was getting late, anyway. I could just let them have their fun and be on my wandering way. I remembered the Japanese refusal gesture and held my hand vertically straight near my nose/mouth and waved it side-to-side a bit.
Ah, he nodded.
I explained to Shu that I can’t really drink much so it’s usually not a fun experience for me. Shu passed on the message and told me, you don’t have to drink.
We took the back exit because, according to Japanese law, it’s illegal for a business to be operating past midnight (or something like that) so they wanted to keep it on the down-low. As we stood around waiting on the street to see if a nearby restaurant/bar would accommodate so many guests, I heard the word shinzui. It sounded very familiar, but I couldn’t place it and I told Shu. Kotaka Shoten bumped in and said something like samurai essence. After he said that, I immediately remembered a shinzui conversation on GGPO. If you want to learn more, maybe ask ultracombo about that. Kotaka Shoten was trying so hard to explain shinzui that he explained it like this:
Guile shinzui level: 20.
This was way too funny, so I couldn’t help but play along.
Dhalsim shinzui level: 19.
S. Dee Jay? (O. DJ)
X. Dee Jay shinzui rating: 5.
…S. DJ shinzui 10.
And then Shu really explained things to me later on. He said, nobody knows what the hell he’s saying. Not even the Japanese. Sometimes he’ll be on stream doing commentary and nobody knows what he’s talking about. I was relieved that it wasn’t just me misunderstanding his eccentricity. Still, he plays a mean Guile that I really frustrated me and I hated fighting him. By this time, we were indoors and had about three tables worth of people in total, so maybe 12. Shu introduced me to Jenety, sitting at the adjacent table, a name I’ve seen occasionally in videos attached to O. Chun. However, I didn’t know that it’s Jenety’s trademark to never use the fireball. Everyone was surprised when he accidentally fired one off during the tournament! His O. Chun rushdown and runaway that night was admittedly impressive.
Every time there was a toast and I felt bad for toasting with water, as I’ve read it’s poor form. But it can’t be helped. I was grateful that Shu was still around so I wasn’t completely left hanging, though people were starting to get a bit of a buzz from the beer and being sober in this situation isn’t new to me, so it was okay. We moved to another, more crowded, local place to continue the drinking and snacking since the first was closing up shop for the night. I think it had to be around 3AM at this time. The new place was actually the first place the group had in mind, but maybe they didn’t have room earlier. We had to remove our shoes and store them in plastic grocery bags since there were so many shoes outside the drinking/dining area.
The conversations at this place cut a bit deeper (not that they weren’t deep in the first place), as alcohol tends to loosen lips. These might not go in the order they occurred, but I’ve tried to arrange them based on subject. Shu asked me which Japanese player I wanted to see/meet the most. I tried to give as few names as possible.
Best overall player I wanted to meet? Kurahashi
Dhalsim player? Hakase
Dee Jay player? Yuuzuru
I know he is outclassed by the likes of Seki, Ito, and Fujimon in terms of overall solid play and win rate. But I admire Yuuzuru’s consistency with combo execution. Just as Dhalsim has a poke for every situation, I believe Dee Jay has a combo for every situation. And Yuuzuru pulls off a lot of them successfully, maximizing his damage output in most instances.
Honorable mentions go out to hazi and that other Japanese guy who plays DJ on GGPO, also known for killer combos but whose name escapes me.
“He was at Versus on Sunday.”
I couldn’t believe it, I totally missed my chance to meet him. Would have been cool to at least watch his hands.
I was also curious if I could see Foosuke, SBO MC and first national champion (who also plays Sim/DJ). But Pony responded, He is dust. Good player, but dust. (I guess he’s getting on in his years or he can’t/doesn’t quite play like he used to?).
I asked if any of the Japanese ST celebrities play undercover on GGPO, but none of them do. I guess any Japanese superstar you see on GGPO is just an online warrior. It’s quite different than how some American players like afro legends and DGV are able to get a lot out of their online training. As the logic goes, you don’t really need to play online if you live near a popular arcade with lots of competition. I asked the players at my table which of the American players they wanted to see, but I think it was a pretty simple answer. Shu confirmed it. afro legends. His boxer is very strong. He would be most welcome here. Tonegawa actually said he wants to see Valle the most, but everyone else agreed with afro legends.
Shu asked me a question on AFO’s behalf, In America, what do you call Chun-Li’s super?
Uhh… Chun super.
*Translation and laughter*
Shu and the rest also seemed to be amused when I said our nickname for Fei Long’s Dragon Arc Kick is chicken wing.
AFO asked me what kind of music I like and I told him my favorite band is Machinae Supremacy. Shu shared his love of Metallica and Bon Jovi with me and I gave hearty approval. I complained about how hard it was to cross-up Boxer and AFO said that Boxer’s sprite appears to get up quicker than the actual hitbox does, so it’s visually deceiving. Tojo said something from the other table and Shu glossed things for me: Tojo thinks that all Chun-Li players are… perverts. He was playing with a handheld camcorder (very common in Japan) and Shu said he likes to record when he has sex. Tojo winked. I laughed and speculated about Ohnuki and NKI. Shu joked along.
I asked if Gunze still plays and, naturally, Pony was suddenly in the conversation. I remember hearing Gunze and hentai.
Fudd: Gunze is a pervert?
Shu: Ah, you know what it means. I guess pervert is the best word to describe.
I think that all checks out since Super NH2 says Gunze is the name of a pantyhose manufacturer or something like that on his profile. I think they said he still plays once in a while.
Shu commented that Shogatsu was wearing a jacket with the WWE logo and then pro wrestling became a hot topic for a bit. Shu said he learned some English from watching wrestling and used to watch from around the same era that I used to watch it. Pony asked me who my favorite wrestler was. For me, it’s a toss-up between Diamond Dallas Page and Billy Kidman. I went with the more familiar name and more familiar it was since Shu just said DDP in translation. I turned the question back on Pony and he answered with only a short pause, but almost no hesitation.
Ric Flair, he said and then let out a healthy WOOOO for good measure. Ah, the Nature Boy.
Why do you play this game instead of other fighting games like SFIV? Shu asked for HaruKING. I explained that Super Turbo is the greatest fighting game of all time. SFIV is too slow, so it’s not interesting for me. ST is fast and brutal simple, yet elegant. I supplemented with something that I felt earlier that night. It was rare for me to stay on the machine, but when I did I looked to the side of me. As I saw the other players, I saw a reflection of myself in a way. The view from sitting at the cabinet after winning at a row of six other cabinets is breathtaking. Much later, after I returned from Japan, my school’s principal asked me why I want to travel to Japan when there’s many mountains to see and climb in Korea. I’ve hiked a couple of these mountains and, of course, the view is gorgeous. But to me, the sight of those other players and being at the same seat-level (thus sort of eye-level) gave me a sense that I belonged there. I deserved to win. I can’t really say with absolute authority that one is better than the other. They’re both incredible experiences and I’m thankful to be able to appreciate them. But if I had to pick one over the other, I would have to lean toward ST just as a matter of personal preference. Some people like to climb mountains. I like to hit buttons.
Shu relayed my reason and I heard him say ichiban number one. HaruKING replied and Shu told me, This game is Japanese culture. I think he might have meant SF2 as a whole, but nonetheless, it’s certainly left its mark. I feel honored that I am able to be a part of something that runs so deep and has touched so many peoples’ lives, how ever trivial or important. Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t get drunk or high with other people at social get-togethers. But, to me, it just seems like a petty way to relate to people. However, when you play a game with someone, you can challenge them in a more engaging ways. To be fair, most people at that restaurant were hammered so it’s probably just me. I know what I like.
When it was time to go, in both bar instances, I didn’t have to pay anything thanks to my gracious hosts. Just as things were wrapping up, Pony unbuttoned his own shirt to show off his (surprisingly) hairy chest. I think it was HaruKING who said, at that point, real Zangief! Sometime during that night I asked Shu who he thought was the weirdest ST player and I thought he might say Kotaka Shoten, but he replied pretty quickly with HaruKING. I couldn’t really disagree with that since I told Shu HaruKING reminded me of Takamura from Hajime no Ippo, who is always making dick jokes and such.
Outside, as we said goodbye, Hanayama (fierce Ryu) said that I got the Japanese treatment. And Mattsun told me, Nice guts! in reference to constantly walking up with Dee Jay to stay in his face. I guess Isaji’s tenacious Cammy rubbed off on me there. I think it had to have been about 5, 6… (7?) Around the time when we finally called it quits. I took the train back to Kiba, exhausted. But ready to get up around 10 or 12 to cap off my last full (intentional) day in Japan and see what Mikado is like on Freeplay Wednesdays.
The last day was not as eventful, to be honest, but I have a lot of other insights to get off my chest. So tune in next time for the final installment of my first trip to Japan.