Pachinko is an interesting concept. Essentially, it is a Japanese slot machine that involves spending money to by miniature steel balls that fall down a machine (like Plinko on Price is Right). Then you win something or don’t. The goal of the game is to jam as much cash into the machine as possible without thinking about it. Many of the places which house these machines are several stories high and sound like your standing next to a very loud power generator. I’m sure the effect is intentional because you literally can’t think about anything in one of these places- it is total fight or flight- you either want to sit down in front of a game out of pure exhaustion or get the hell out as quickly as you can. I saw a bunch of elderly Japanese chain smoking while I was walking through here. Also, people literally had large bucket full of steel balls in stacks on stacks on stacks. Since the steel balls are essentially the equivalent of a casino chip, my assumption was that these people had several hundred dollars behind them, floating in a pool of noise, looking for their next big score. Of course, casinos weren’t the only place to find people chain smoking and playing Pachinko, which leads to my next topic…
Remember the 90s, when you could go to a shopping mall that had people in it and play video games with other people on large machines that you had to stand up to play? Remember the satisfaction of literally killing someone after thwomping their ass in Mortal Kombat or accidentally walking off the edge in Virtua Fighter because the 3D fighting concept was still brand new and the range of motion was total shit? Well, in Japan, arcades are still a big hit! Needless to say, arcades have changed a little since the 90s or perhaps they’ve always been different in Japan, but the layout is a little something like this:
1. 1st (ground) floor (there’s almost always more than one floor): grabber machines. You know, the things with the claws that don’t grab for shit but for some reason you can’t help but to keep mindlessly cramming money into the machine so that you can win that stuffed bear you’re going to give to your girlfriend only so the two of you can break up next week and it can be discarded with the rest of the garbage people ought to just throw away at Goodwill? Yea, the first floor is always these in many varieties, but essentially the same concept. Also, gumball machines full of plastic toys. Imagine rows and rows and rows of McDonalds toys that cost you $1-5 USD each. Every character family has a set and each set consists of about five different characters. If you keep plugging in 500 yen coins, who knows, maybe you’ll eventually get the whole set!
2. 2nd floor: varies, but I’ll give you two examples
3. 3rd floor:
4. 4th floor:
5. 5th floor:
Theft in Japan is not really a thing. Seriously, you can pretty much leave your wallet on the table and no one’s gonna give a shit. Japan has 3 times less property theft than the USA! Most of the bikes I saw there didn’t even have locks. Most simply have this little ring that goes around the back tire that you can lock when you want to go into places. However, a lot of people don’t even lock that. In other words, Pee-wee’s bike never would have been stolen had he only lived in Japan. Not to mention, given the easy access to arcades, smoking, and sex dolls- he’d probably have a great time in the country in general.
A huge Hi-Fi industry
The Hi-Fi market is huge in Japan which is why laserdiscs, mini LP sleeves, Super High Material (SHM) CDs, and vinyl has a large market in the country.
Trash cans or ‘bins’ as my European friends call them:
Need to throw something away? Well, I hope you don’t mind holding onto it for another hour because you’re probably not going to find a trash can anytime soon. While I was in Japan, it was literally frustrating to locate a trash can because there weren’t any. So many times I wanted to throw my stuff on the ground out of spite, but I didn’t. The streets in Japan are mostly very clean. Once you get out of the big cities, sure, you start to see some trash, but for the most part they got their trash on fleek.
No soap in public restrooms:
You read correctly. I’m not sure why, but I guess the Japanese don’t really believe in soap. This was another thing that was frustrating about my journey- no soap in the bathrooms makes me crabby!
Spot-on public transport:
And I mean spot-on. Trains are almost always perfectly on-time. In addition, if you are not sure which ticket to purchase, it’s no big deal because they have pay centers at the end of almost every train station so that you adjust your fare after the train ride! Riding the trains here was easy since all you have to do is purchase the cheapest ticket to get on the train and then you can adjust your fare when you get off- no fines involved! You can go for JR Pass, which you can only purchase at select locations in your home country prior to arriving in Japan; however, it’s super expensive to take between major cities and almost every major city has a private bus line that runs between then for 3-5 times less money. This only backfired on me one time, which leads me to…
No one accepts credit cards!
Ok, so maybe there is a bit of hyperbole there. Surely some businesses accept them, but almost all of them do not. Have a 10,000 yen piece and owe 100 yen (100 yen ~$1.00USD), no problem- everyone has cash; even when you pay bus fare. Let me put this into perspective, if you get on a bus in Japan and owe the bus driver $0.50, you can hand them a $100 dollar bill and they will give you $99.50 in cash, no questions asked, and it’s totally acceptable. To finish my backfire story from earlier, I need to first discuss…
Everybody trusts you!
I once rode a train for over an hour on a 120 yen ticket. When I got off, they told me I owed another 800 yen or so. I only had 500 yen on me and they cannot accept my card. I asked if there were any ATMs nearby and they told me yes, but that they were on the other side of the gate that I was paying to get through to leave the train station. I asked if it was acceptable that I cross the gate to go to the ATM area and return to pay. They told me yes. Mind you, the ATM area is about 50 meters away, around a corner, and completely out of sight from the gate. Not only this, but none of the ATMs in this room worked with my international card so I actually had to leave the train station, go over to an adjacent shopping mall, use the 7-Eleven ATM in the mall, and then return to the station to pay the rest of my ticket. And I did! But this also leads me into the next topic…
They are everywhere, everywhere and they have pretty decent food if you are on a budget. And, they accept credit cards. And their ATMs always worked with my debit card. 7-Elevens are important if you are staying in a hostel without a kitchen which oh my…
Hostels here have terrible kitchens so you eat out a lot!
Almost all of them do not contain a stove. Some have hot plates, which are an acceptable alternative I guess. I even stayed at a hostel that refused to let guests into the kitchen. Most people here, in the cities, eat out since produce is so expensive at the supermarket anyway, but really quickly, let’s go back to…
The ATM thing!
Japan makes so much cutting edge technology. They literally lead the world in electronics production and exportation. Why do so few companies invest in machines that allow you to pay with a card? Don’t tell me it’s an inconvenience because let me tell you- having someone walk thirty minutes to an adjacent shopping mall to withdraw 10,000 yen so they can pay you 800 is really inconvenient. I spent 30 minutes of my life getting money so JR (Japanese Railway) didn’t have to pay a $0.29 transaction fee? End rant on said transaction fee.
Video Games! and Tokyo Gameshow 2016
So, Japan is pretty much the birthplace of the video game and while I was here, one of the hostels I was staying had had an aftermarket Famicom (NES) with a bunch of games including Rockman 1-6. Seeing this was like a childhood dream come true; however, so was attending Tokyo Gameshow which totally happened by coincidence because I met some dudes from New York in the same hostel that were going and tagged along with them. Tokyo Game show you ask? It’s an annual video game show in Japan which shows off the latest and greatest in video games (PS: it’s all about the new Biohazard, competitive online video game channels, and VR) and cosplay. Which brings me to…
Cosplay culture in Japan is really, really [weird] different:
In the USA, well, in Phoenix, AZ USA, if you go to a comic book or video game convention people may dress up like their favorite character and wear a silly costume they made on a shoe string budget or wear some super badass thing they spent the last five years assembling. Then, at the convention, they’ll walk around and people will ask to take pictures with them. It’s a place where children and adults alike can live their phantasy of seeing Spiderman fight Godzilla in the middle of a convention center. Or better yet, a place where people can ponder why they have never seen Batman and the Burger King in the same place at the same time… WAIT A MINUTE!!!
But in Japan, at least at Tokyo Gameshow, things were much different. Most of the general attendees were not in cosplay. The few that were had clearly put a lot of effort into their costumes. But, the most disturbing for me was the ‘cosplay area’. I’m going to describe the ‘cosplay area’ in as plain of English as I can. The ‘cosplay area’ is where hyper-fetishized Japanese women go to be completely surrounded by men with professional camera equipment to have their picture taken. Note, you are not allowed to have your picture taken with the women. Instead, men stand in line and wait so that they can, one by one, take professional photographs of the fetishized women without talking to them. Upon seeing this, I honestly felt uncomfortable so I left. I understand, it’s perhaps a little culturally biased of me to feel this way, but something about it just didn’t sit right with me.
Crazy Nights and Kobe Beef!!!
So now, let me tell you about Kobe beef and a crazy couple of nights on the town. (By the way, I had sushi in Japan. It was phenomenal, but nothing you can’t enjoy at an expensive sushi restaurant in San Francisco, California or even Scottsdale, Arizona.) Remember Hiro, from Dublin? Well, it ends up that the trip he had planned to visit California was cancelled so he is going to be in Kobe while I am in town. Expecting to do little more than hang out split the cost of a Kobe beef dinner, I send Hiro a message on my phone and we make plans to spend a night on the town. Little did I know that Hiro runs a super lucrative private counselling business for children with Autism. Having had a few conversations with him about the matter, I really gathered the sense that he wants to do everything he can to help these children and also that he wished Japanese culture would do more to confront the major mental health issues that persist within the country. Japan has the highest rate of Autism is the world.
Hiro also knows how to have a good time. After talking a bit about his practice, this night turned into an all-expenses paid tour of Kobe including Kobe beef, local whiskey, wine, you name it. He even had one of the servers bring a wine from Napa Valley so I could feel a little closer to home. He brought along a colleague whom also working with children with Autism. She liked to draw and decided to start drawing cartoons based off of the topics we started to talk about after having a few drinks including: