From Japan: Nintendo Tokyo

Today, Nintendo opened their first shop in Japan (and second in the world, after Nintendo NYC). Named Nintendo Tokyo, the shop is located on 6F of Shibuya PARCO, which is about a six minute walk from Shibuya Station.

Conveniently located between Pokemon Center Shibuya, and Capcom Store Tokyo, Nintendo Tokyo offers a variety of merchandise all related to your favorite Nintendo characters.

The shop is spacious and well-lit, with four large figures of Nintendo characters to designate each area of the store: Super Mario, Link, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, and the orange-haired Inkling Girl from Splatoon.

These products range from collectible plush toys and stationary, to T-shirts and hoodies. As well as designer watches and neckties, Splatoon “finger boards,” cups, plates, chopsticks, iPhone cases, pajamas, pillows, and even Link whisky glasses. Needless to say, there’s something for all ages.

The front of the store showcases the products exclusive to Nintendo Tokyo, which include red or grey T-shirts for 4,800 yen (US$45) small pillows, tote bags, and tins of cookies, each displaying the four characters you see as large figures in the store.

At the back is an “eraser buffet,” where customers can select a glass jar for 400 yen (about US$3.50) and fill it with tiny erasers carved to resemble their favorite Nintendo characters. Each jar holds about eight or nine erasers.

And yes, there are games. Specifically, only games for the Nintendo Switch, with a selection of about 15 of their most recent titles. Nintendo Tokyo also sells multi-colored Switch controllers, as well as other accessories such as AC adapters and wires.

Unlike some of the other game-themed shops you might find in other parts of Japan, Nintendo Tokyo doesn’t offer a café, events, or any other experiences beyond trying out a Switch game on one of their four TV screens. It’s simply a shop for Nintendo fans. Yet the merchandise is plentiful, and the prices are – for the most part – quite reasonable. Definitely a place to visit, for Nintendo fans of all ages.

Written by Damon Finos

Cosplayers Take A Walk In The Park

Tsuruma Park, located in the city of Nagoya, was once a popular locale for O-bon dances, bird watching, and performing morning exorcises.  Though in the last few years, the park has attracted a new breed of visitors: Cosplayers.

If we look at the reasons why this new fad has sprung, we may wonder why Tsuruma Park hadn’t been used for cosplayers sooner.

For one thing, we’ve got the World Cosplay Summit which began in 2003, and has since been held annually in Nagoya; a week-long event where people dress-up as their favorite anime and video game characters, marching in a parade and holding a championship to vote on the best outfit.

Then, we’ve got Tsuruma Park nearby, a large open space which features a mixture of both old and modern Western and Japanese-style buildings.  A perfect location for a photo shoot, just waiting for the right models.

Cosplayers Take A Walk In The Park

Then one day, it finally happened.  Word got around of Tsuruma Park’s ideal background for picture taking, and what began as an event surrounding the World Cosplay Summit, has now become a summer-long fad.  Wearing a mecha outfit?  Try posing in front of the Civic Assembly Hall and water fountain.  Dressed as the ninja Kazumi from Dead Or Alive?  Why not use the Japanese garden?  “It’s boring to take photos on the concrete streets,” says one cosplayer.

And besides, considering all the effort these fans and otaku put into creating their costumes, why wear them only during the World Cosplay Summit and Tokyo Game Show?  The summer may be hot and humid, but dressing up as your favorite anime and video game character while posing in Tsuruma Park is cool!  (Well, interesting at least)

written by Damon Finos

From Japan: The Sakura Are In Bloom!

Spring is a busy but exciting time here in Japan.  For businesses, it marks the end of one fiscal year and the start of the next, which means lots of yearly reports and auditing to do.  Companies are saying farewell to retirees, and hiring new recruits ripe from University, while students are starting their next school year.  And in terms of weather, the frigid winds of Winter have finally come to pass, allowing people to escape their homes and enjoy going for a walk or bike ride under the warm sun – before the Summer’s humidity sets in.

The newspapers may report when Spring has officially arrived, but no one really believes it until they see the cherry blossoms in bloom.  The sakura seem to be the symbol of Spring, a sign in Japan that life is beginning anew.

SakuraHow do Japanese celebrate this festive moment of the year?  By drinking!

Friends often gather for hanami, which directly translates as “flower viewing.”  Much like a picnic, people gather in a park filled with sakura trees, lay out a tarp, and feast on snacks and chug down beer and other alcoholic beverages, all within the beautiful view of the cherry blossoms.  But since the sakura only stay in bloom for a week or two, the parks can get pretty crowded – even on weekdays.  If the hanamiis organized by a company, usually they hand one of the new recruits their first assignment – sit on a tarp in the park all day, holding their spot.

If you can’t find a descent space among the noisy crowds, you may want instead to have a yozakura party, which literally translates as “evening sakura,” a hanami party in the evening.  Maybe it’s a bit harder to appreciate the view of cherry blossoms in the dark, but hey, as long as there’s beer…

But is drinking really that much more important than the sakura themselves?

For some, sure.  And there’s even a Japanese proverb to describe such people: “hana yori dango,” which translates as “dumplings over flowers,” meaning such individuals care more about the eating and drinking than the event of admiring the cherry blossoms themselves.

SakuraBut whether you’re there to view the flowers or simply drink with your buddies, having a good time is always the priority.


written by Damon Finos

From Japan: Waikiki and the Japanese Tourists

Back in the 1980′s, the Japanese economy was booming.  With all this money and looking for ways to spend it, many turned away from the local hot spring resorts and began experiencing travels abroad.  While neighbouring countries such as Korea and China were popular choices for a holiday, Hawaii dominated – beautiful resorts, safe, and only a 7 hour plane ride away.  And Waikiki, located on the South shore of O’ahu, became a prime target for Japanese tourists, with its white sandy beaches and shopping districts conveniently placed nearby.

Over time, things continued running in a cycle.  More Japanese tourists visited Waikiki, so the local shops catered to their tastes and studied the language, which only brought in more tourists.  Now, the rumour in Japan is that “you don’t need to speak English if you visit Waikiki.”

I recently returned from a holiday in Hawaii, which included a 5-day stay in Waikiki, and found this rumour to be 100% true.  From bus drivers to restaurant waitresses, I heard “Irashaimase” and “Arigatou gozaimasu” and “Ki o tsukete kudasai.”  I, of course, was spoken to in English.  But my girlfriend, whose English ability is rather limited, felt confident to roam around the city on her own, using Japanese to order and buy things, while I stayed by the pool and played video games.

And it’s not just the language.  The stores themselves are obviously catering to Japanese women, who are more prone to travel overseas than men (I don’t know the exact statistics, but my guess would be 8-1).  Louis Vuitton, Coach, Prada, Gucci, and about a million cosmetic stores.  I even found a Book-Off, a Japanese shop which buys and sells used books, games and DVDs.  The lady at the counter who sold me some games spoke very little English.

Japanese touristsDue to part of my Italian background and having been depraved of real Italian food for so long, I was anxious to sink my teeth into some veal fried in tomato sauce, or feast on a huge plate of ravioli or lasagna.  We went to an “Italian” restaurant in Waikiki, but unfortunately the menu was just like those here in Japan – paper-thin crusted pizza with corn toppings, and bowls of spaghetti served with tuna.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Waikiki.  The beach, though crowded, was beautiful with waters as warm as a pool.  I even managed to find a Gamestop and make the owners happy with my vast number of Xbox game purchases.  And riding that helicopter over the volcano was pretty cool!

If you’re Japanese and looking to travel abroad, but worried about the language barrier, then Waikiki’s the place for you.  and if you’re North American who wants to experience Japan but worried about the problems with communication, then Waikiki’s the place for you.

It’s like Shibuya with a beach.


written by Damon Finos

From Japan: Who Are These “Otaku”?

In past blogs, you probably heard us refer to certain individuals as otaku.  Who are these people, anyway?  Well, it’s a difficult term to translate.  If you look up the word in a Japanese-English dictionary, you’ll find a variety of expressions like “geek,” “nerd,” or even “trekkie,” which gives you some idea.  Though that’s not a clear-cut translation.

In a nutshell, otaku are people with an obsessive hobby.  The word itself is derived from “o” which is originally an honorific term, and “taku” meaning either “home” or “family.”  The term was meant to be uncomplimentary, insinuating these people never go out and socialize, but instead spend all their time at home with their hobby.  Even today, there is a general sense of negativity towards the otaku, with few exceptions.

So, what are they obsessed over?

OtakuA traditional otaku is obsessed with anime, manga and video games.  Though recently, the term geemaa (gamer) has surfaced, separating video games and leaving only the anime and manga part.  So, a stereotypical otaku spends their time at home in a bedroom filled with female anime character posters and figures, watching anime or reading comics, and only going outside to read more comics at a “manga cafe” or spend time with a few other otaku friends, shopping in places like Akihabara.  They normally don’t care about fashion, wear a bandana over their head (usually with anime characters on them) and carry backpacks to fill with whatever manga or anime items they’ve purchased.  They don’t make eye contact, lack social skills, and prefer to be alone with their hobby.  This, of course, is the stereotype.  However, you’d be surprised when wandering around in Akihabara, how many people you see who fit this description to a T.

Over the years, there have been other “types” of otaku.  There’s the densha otaku (train otaku) who love standing around stations and taking pictures of trains as

they go by.  The aidoru otaku (idol otaku) or now more commonly called wota for short, are obsessed with Japanese idols, like AKB48 or Miku Hatsune.  And recently, the rekijo (shortened form of “history” and “women”) can be seen at popular historical sites, taking pictures and copying down notes on famous Japanese Shogun and Samurai.  But despite this variety, when someone announces they’ve spotted an otaku lurking about, it usually means they’re obsessed with anime and manga.

So maybe they’re not the most stylish people, or lack a set number of friends on their Facebook accounts, but they’re happy with their obsessions.  And maybe that’s what life is all about.