A very pleasant sign seen in Okayama.
Just a quickie this week as generally nothing particularly interesting has gone so permit me if I may to talk about Den Den town.
Den Den town is an area in Osaka famed for its video games, electronics, manga cafes and generally it’s geek stuff. It is wall to wall robots, games, anime and manga and is generally what I thought all of Japan would be like.
This Saturday myself and Ryan hit up Den Den town and along with all of usual stops hit a few new sites.
The only site I have any photos of though is this amazing retro gaming store that we found. Purely by chance we wandered in and I entered into a kind of nerd nirvana. It was full to the brim with computer games and consoles, quite a few of them older than I am.
The floors of this place were papered with screen shots from old 8 and 32-bit game title screens. In the above pic I recognise Streets of Rage, Sailor Moon, Indiana Jones, R-Type, Lemmings, Mickey and Donald in Dreamland, Gundam, Ultraman, Rampage, Dragonlance, Tetris and Castlevania.
One of the more impressive things in here was a working original Nintendo Famicom. This was only ever released in Japan but was re-tooled to become the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Europe and the States. The NES was the first console I ever owned (and it’s still good fun) and here was its big brother for a piddling £20.00!
Pictured here is another Japanese only console, the colossal failure that was the Virtual Boy. Launched in the early 90’s in the height of the VR fad it bombed hard and is the only console Nintendo ever launched that did so in Japan. Part of the problem is that the whole gear you see before you was meant to be worn on the head. And my word is it heavy. A game boy is meant to be portable and lightweight, this needed a specialised stand to be used. The other big problem was that the system reportedly gave people huge and frequent migraines, not a big selling point. Finally the red lines it used to simulate VR were apparently quite hard to see so some of the games were simply unplayable because you spent all your time struggling to see what was happening. Nintendo themselves only ever released one game for the console and then quietly ignored it.
Still, if I wanted one here it was.
2 of the older consoles on offer. No idea about the “snoopy” but the minestorm is actually asteroids (if anyone remembers that game) that could be played at home! Imagine a world where you don’t need to go to an arcade to play videogames!
These appear to be pictures of Mario drawn in a realistic style. No idea whatsoever what is going on or what the context is but I think the spaghetti eating turtle is totemo kawaii! (very cute)
I have no idea what this is either. I just know that he’s been haunting my nightmares ever since.
However, easily the most impressive thing in the entire shop was this little guy. It’s ROB or the Robot Operating Buddy.
ROB is almost single-handedly responsible for computer games still being alive today. In 1983 there was a massive market crash in the states amongst computer games stockists due to Atari’s poor business practises. Stores in the states were not prepared to stock any new computer game consoles as they couldn’t shift the ones they had. In comes Nintendo with a product this is not a computer game, but in fact a newfangled robot toy, with an attached console that was just necessary to make the robot work. The gamble worked and shops in the states were prepared to stock ROB and the attached Nintendo Entertainment System. 2 games later (gyromite and stack ‘em) all support for ROB vanished and Nintendo started doing their real business. Getting families and shops that didn’t know they’d bought one to start buying games for computer consoles.
Poor ROB isn’t remembered much these days but he is a true hero of gaming history.
Other than the gaming store our big visit was to the Gundam shop. This was two floors containing nothing but Gundam related merchandise. Gundam shirts, toys, models, DVD’s, CD’s, games, FOOD! and most notably a giant Gundam hand thrusting through one wall.
Ryan, who approaches a religious fervour in the presence of Gundam, was happy, to say the least. I was searching for a Tequila Gundam but alas none of the ridiculous Gundam from G Gundam were in stock so I left empty handed.
Having sufficiently geeked out we headed to possibly the nerdiest place to eat on the planet. A maid café.
Japan has a big service culture and a service industry that stops at open prostitution but certainly sidles up to it. There are a lot of very, very stressed people in this country and there exist a huge variety of businesses prepared to “relieve” that stress. These range from massage parlours and spas at one end to the hostess bars at the other. Hostess bars are basically places where men come to pay to flirt with women. They go to see their favourite girl, buy her drinks, laugh with her, flirt, sing karaoke, have some dinner and a few drinks and do everything short of actual touching. I guess the closest western equivalent is an escort service except some of these guys form relationships with the hostesses that are closer than with their own wives.
Maid cafes sit comfortably in the middle of this spectrum. They are cafes catering to a very specific fetish, guys who want to see girls dressed as anime-style maids. Honestly the outfits these girls wear are outrageous. Perfectly modest from a sexual standpoint but incredibly cartoony and unreal.
Den Den town is full of Maid Cafes, most of which offer an , ahem, “refresh service” which is wonderfully vague in the details but appears to be along the lines of foot and back massages by girls dressed as cartoon characters. To each his own I guess.
Myself and Ryan were not seeking a “refresh service” (I am more than happily attached) but I didn’t want to come to Japan and pass up on seeing something so patently bizarre and with my girlfriend’s arrival due imminently I thought this might be my last chance. So we searched and searched and eventually found a place just selling food.
It was hilarious! The girls flirt with you outrageously, they called myself and Ryan “master” dropped to floor level to pour drinks and generally rushed round like we were the most important people in the world ever. I think they gave up on us a bit when they twigged that our Japanese isn’t good but they were continuously flirting with the table next to us.
And the food, well the food was pretty good actually. We both ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) plate which was huge. The table next to us ordered the “happy time surprise” which turned out to be an omelette and rice (don’t ask) on which the maids drew a little smiley face in ketchup.
I do not think there is another country on earth where grown men pay to have a woman draw a smiley face in ketchup on their food.
No pictures alas, they ban cameras and if you want a picture you have to pay to have one taken with the girls so here are some poached off the internet to give you an idea of what maid cafes are like.
I doubt I’ll be returning but I am glad I went.
Oh and one last thing. Pictured is one of the fabled beer vending machines. However more unusually the bottom row is cans of ramen! Beer and noodles in one machine, what more can a man ask for.