Wednesday, November 29, 2006

An Otaku’s Japan Top 10 List

Source: AsiaWeek

Japan is the ultimate pilgrimage for any fan of anime, manga (graphic novels), and Asian pop culture. After tagging along recently as a roadie in Tokyo with the Asian American band Random Ninjas, this otaku developed a quick list of the top 10 things all die-hard anime fans wish we had readily available here in the United States:

10. MOS Burger

Despite its seemingly unmarketable name, a taste of their teriyaki chicken burger just leaves you craving more, and the onion rings have a dried seafood powder on them giving them an extra special kick compared to their oilier U.S. counterparts.

9. Saizeriya

All the dishes at this Italian restaurant chain in Japan are quite tasty, and the 170 yen (about $1.50) all-you-can-drink Japanese fountain drinks can make anybody’s day. But the one dish that catches the eye is the squid pasta drenched in squid ink sauce, which leaves a lovely coating of black on your teeth. You can’t get that on Fear Factor.

8. Mister Donut

Step aside mouth-drying Winchell’s and overly sweet and greasy Krispy Kreme because the moist, delicately sweetened and delectably cream-filled delights of Mister Donut will easily win over many donut-loving hearts. Aside from being able to win strange little prizes (like a phone charm bear with donuts for ears), having a Mister Donut pastry after a hearty meal is a luxurious alternative to the often too sweet U.S. desserts. If Mister Donut opened up here with something similar to their five donuts for 500 yen (less than $5) deal, we should expect treadmill sales to rise to the occasion.

7. Denny’s

Every good American loves the 24-hour breakfast menu available at most Denny’s restaurants, but the Denny’s in Japan hold a special place in an otaku’s heart because there, one can get a big, tasty bowl of ramen. Enough said.

6. Akihabara Electric Town

This famed district is like the holy land of all people who love Japanese anime, video games and J-pop culture in general. Akihabara is where the latest electronic gadgets and gizmos alongside newly released video games and anime goods can be found in one place every day. The only equivalent we have to this in the U.S. would be a combination of San Diego’s Comicon and Los Angeles’ Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) combined into one. Even then, we’d be steps behind.

5. Arcades

OK, so we’ve got our Dave & Buster’s, Gameworks and local arcades, but can we boast electronic gaming that takes up an entire 7-story building? Such gargantuan arcades, like Club Sega, are the rule instead of the exception around the Tokyo area. Usually, an entire floor will be made up of just crane machines games — you know, that arcade game where you try to pick up prizes with that maddeningly unstable claw? In the U.S., those machines usually only have a number of nondescript plushies in them. In Japan, a gamer can win anything from a gigantic stuffed Stitch doll to a Nintendo DS game or a towel and an executive-looking wristwatch. Other floors are filled with Purikura — photo booths that print out sticker pics of you and your friends. (Purikura is a short, Japan-ized way of saying Print Club.)

4. Live street performances

The very long and wide pedestrian promenade outside the exclusive Shibuya Boxx where the Random Ninjas performed, is also a regular weekend outdoor venue with street performers bringing in their own musical equipment and makeshift stages. Large crowds of up to 500 people enjoy the rock bands, rap groups and even karaoke singers. All this on the sidewalk! Meanwhile, on Sundays in the Harajuku area, hardcore cosplay and goth abound and live performers line the streets.

3. Engrish Stuff

Just like the current trend of American kids who love to wear clothing with Asian writing on them, so do the Asians love having random English on their belongings. This linguistic phenomenon has been affectionately dubbed “Engrish,” and though there’s plenty of warped English grammar here in the U.S., when it comes to Engrish, more is always better. Imagine having “creamy colon” for a snack, “calpis” to wash down that collon, or “flesh vegetables” with a meal. Ever day can be a happy day if remember to “rock” your door.

2. Convenience Stores

Sure, we’ve got convenience stores in America, but after visiting a 7-Eleven or an AM/PM in Tokyo, you’ll be sad every time you go into one here in the States. Not only is there a different convenient store on every street corner, each store has items that we can only dream of. On top of corn dogs and hamburgers, you can get ready-to-eat Japanese/Asian items like yakitori, onigiri, fried rice, soba and sushi. True, 7-Eleven in California recently added sushi to their list of shelf items, but the taste just isn’t the same. In Japan, fast food is often good-tasting and even good for you.

1. Internet Cafés

Internet cafés in Japan are nothing like the ones in America. An Internet café in the States usually is a coffee shop with free or overly priced wireless Internet. For about four U.S. dollars an hour in Tokyo, you can get your own small private cubicle with a comfy couch or floor cushion and personal computer, free fountain drinks, a wide selection of DVDs to watch, and rows upon rows of Japanese manga (graphic novels). For a few extra yen, you can even take a shower or buy a filling meal from one of the bento (lunch box) vending machines. It’s almost like a mini hotel, a cheap place to hang out or crash when you need to for a few hours. Imagine having something like this to go to during your lunch hour. Not only can you get some decent food there, you can even take a nap, wash up and check your MySpace.

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