I visited Tōkyō again in the second full week of June 2023 with a group of 11 friends. Some went to Kyōtō on a day trip, I did not and stayed in the capital city for the full week. I have been here before when I studied at Sophia University for a semester in the Summer.

I host some of the pictures from this trip in a gallery on a separate site.

Walking in Akihabara near Tokyo Leisure Land

I loved walking with friends around my favorite city in the world. We did a lot of stuff, including many tourist-y things I did not do when I lived here such as actually going up the Skytree and visiting the huge Gundam statue in Odaiba.


We landed a bit after noon at Haneda about 18 hours after our plane departed Raleigh-Durham International Airport, with one stop in Detroit interrupting those 18 hours.

Mediterranean grille Mezza in the DTW airport. The catch is that there is no Mediterranean food served before noon; breakfast meal is pictured above; the above subjects are not actors; they are real people attempting to enjoy breakfast in an airport

Interestingly the airport fare machine was not selling new IC cards, more on that in a moment. Currency was exchanged, tickets were bought and I loaded up my PASMO card I still had from my last time here with some yen which I also kept from then. Considering macroeconomic inflation and the weakening of the yen against the US dollar since 2018 this was one of my worst performing investments, but hey, holding 20,000 yen for 5 years was worth not having to wait in line to exchange currency at the airport. I gave those who needed cash some money and we were off.

From the airport we took the monorail north, transferring at Hanamatsuchō, and exiting the train at Ueno station. On the way north I recognized many of the roads from playing Shutoko Revival Project for Assetto Corsa, not something I noticed my first trip here because I didn't care much for cars then.

When we needed to interface with people, for example at the hotel or navigating customs, I was glad to be able to use my Japanese wherever I could despite only intaking Japanese casually since the end of 2021. The language skill you need for everyday conversations is much, much lower than what you need to learn at a university.

Later that day I accompanied some of us headed to a street festival. One of the many celebrating the longevity of Tōkyō's shrines, this one took place along a street in Ueno-okachimachi. That afternoon was slightly rainy but the street was still quite busy.

7-11 right off the festival street in Ueno-okachimachi

After this Bakesta and I wandered around Ueno and eventually went to try to buy a PASMO card from the Ueno metro station. Unfortunately sales of anonymous PASMO passes were temporarily restricted from June 8 2023 onward. We arrived on June 11, only 3 days after this bullshit started.

We wandered into the train office and asked what the fuck was going on. Luckily the train office was not closed but filled with office workers and consequently reeked of tobacco. With regard to public offices I had gotten used to this smell at the Taitō city ward office. The nice guys in that railway office told us the best way to get around is to use the phone app. I found out later that Apple is the only manufacturer who provides the special hardware for interacting with Japanese IC card readers, and only in their models since 2018. Obviously Japanese domestic phones have this hardware too but none of us had one. But considering we were tourists, our best option, they said, was to buy the PASMO Passport. These IC cards can only be used on railways for 21 days; I have no idea how the e-money works after 21 days; after that period all fare remaining on the IC card is forfeit. This proposition seemed reasonable given the circumstances around unregistered cards so Bakesta got a new PASMO Passport IC card. Over the next 2 days I bought PASMO Passports for about everyone in our group because IC cards are strictly better than buying paper tickets. It became a little joke with the guys behind the counter because they recognized me after the second time, as you needed everyone physically present who was buying a pass.

That night we both went to Akihabara and bounced in and out of my favorite arcades. HEY!, Tōkyō Leisure Land, and the new GiGo arcades that replaced the Sega buildings (RIP). We were both exhuasted quite early owing to the fact we were operating on such little sleep so we kicked it back to the hotel near Ueno station well before the last train that night.

The next morning it was straight to Yoshinoya because fuck it I wanted that ねぎ玉牛丼. It's not great but goddamn it's quick and it's a savory breakfast. This was Monday morning so the inside of that Yoshinoya was hectic with the dawn of a new workweek.

Negitama Gyūdon is the king of beef bowl

After Yoshinoya it was more wandering around Ueno park.

Then we visited Yasukuni shrine. My fiancé wanted to visit a “big gate” and, as a consequence of wandering this city for a few months, I knew the biggest gate here. It's a bit weird to be walking as foreigners around such a controversial point in Japanese history but I'm not one to pass up the biggest gate in the city for something like feeling out-of-place.

After this a smaller group of us wandered north to Asakusa, my favorite tourist-y spot in Taitō and conveniently close to our Ueno hotel. We visited the apartment where I lived for some time too, nobody was as touched by this small neighborhood as I was.

We ended that day in Akihabara again, of course, albeit with a larger group of people than just me and Bakesta.

I spend most of the next day buying dōjin at various book shops. Rāmen at a novel crowded joint in Ueno for dinner.

That night a small group of us ventured all the way out to Shinjuku because I saw a flyer for a DJ associated with Denonbu/電音部 playing at a new Namco arcade there. The fact Namco brands its own arcades now is quite novel after SEGA dumped their arcade locations on GiGo. Anyhow there were no interesting cabinets at this arcade at all, you could hardly call it an arcade, but the music and atmosphere was otherworldly.

That, mind you, is someone filleting a tuna in front of a crowd, while someone cues music in front of 2 analog decks, 2 CDJs and a mixer. A tuna. I have no idea what was going on nor, honestly, do I want to know. This was not the DJ we were looking for however. She was on the third floor (below) in the arcade proper:

The floor was packed. The girls guarding the floor had long ago stopped letting people onto the dancefloor for free and now the entry price was one drink stub. This was an atrocity. Bakesta and I went back downstairs and outside to catch our breath and rest on the steps in front of Kabukichō tower. We sat for a few minutes. Those minutes felt to me like hours as I became tangled up in the lives of people living their every day here. The plaza was lively. The people wandering in front of us were very near our age, give or take a few years. The people here made up the youngest crowd I'd seen from Tōkyō nightlife. Even Akihabara was old by comparison.

The girl sitting in front of us with dyed red hair, streaks of brown peaking from her scalp, industrial piercings through her ears and boots nearly up to her knees looked up towards the tip of the spire of the APA hotel to our left. Her voice carried but was blurred amid the echo carried by the plaza steps. She took a slug from a tall can next to her backpack; I did the same a few seconds later.

There, Bakesta and I, speaking English loudly among ourselves, stirred the attention of a pleasant man. He has lived in Japan for something like 13 years, an American expat. He afforded us sage-like advice for much of the night that we sat on those steps, not moving except to look up and down and left and right around the plaza. Then he left as suddenly as he appeared.

We made our way to Shinjuku station to scurry home before the last train that night as did much of the crowd from Kabukichō.

[to be continued…]