Food everywhere, six-story book stores, multi-level shops, ramen and host clubs for days, After wandering around Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens at full Hanami in a state of bewildered dazzlement, I found myself wandering around Shinjuku the city.
Shinjuku looks a lot like you might imagine, like a concept-art vision of Blade Runner where the artist busted out the Good Watercolors. It’s more adult than Harajuku but still pretty Hello Kitty, with surprises like DVD stores and Mexican Food Casa Tequila as well as old standbys like an H&M where you could buy shirts with Garfield on them. Shinjuku only has everything.
While most of Shinjuku sparkled with a kind of jammed hypercompetitive bravado (Visit our ramen shop, see the Robot Restaurant! Godzilla! Movies!) graffiti and trash floated around in a couple alleys or places you weren’t supposed to notice. I liked this a lot about Shinjuku - the little punkass things in the city felt like hanging out with the goth girl who knits a sweater during the high school musical. When there’s so much panache and light and brigades of masterfully-produced Host Club trucks rolling by you, observing the graffiti feels so sweet. Getting a seat at a 6-person ramen shop feels like winning the lottery.
In buildings like the Taito Game tower above, you could play Pachinko or beefy arcade games the likes of which have never crossed the Pacific and never need to, it would all be just too much. Arcades were also packed full of claw machines, more than you could ever imagine, each claw machine containing just about anything - Sword Art Online figurines, Cup Noodles, Every Pokemon.
I’ve only been in Vegas once, during a layover on the way back to Texas after Thanksgiving. In what seemed like a more-hungover-than-usual terminal of the Vegas Airport, I tried some slot machines out with my husband Marc, mostly because they were themed after Dolly Parton. For a while I seemed to be winning, I actually was not sure what Dolly Parton was trying to communicate to me. Whatever she did, it all seemed good!
The Dolly Parton slots in Vegas - ahem the Vegas airport - are a bit like arcades in Shinjuku: I had no idea what I was doing but it was pretty fun! What’s ten dollars down the drain for some cool animations?
For every claw machine I tried and where I spent 10,000 yen at ineffective, frustrated grasping, I ended up spying the same stuffed animal in a shop for around 15,000 yen (about 15 or 20 bucks, not bad). All I could think was that when people go into these claw machine joints, they are remarkably okay with the thrill of the chase. Hopefully they aren’t addictive, gambling spirits, but surely, when the prizes are this cute, addiction happens. Otherwise how could there be so many damn claw machines when the logical, 15000 yen Neon Genesis Evangelion figurine can just be obtained online?
I gave it a shot. My arrhythmic heart chugged faster as I maneuvered the claw well enough to grab a Vaporeon, only to feel a brick of disappointment hit my ego when the machine inevitably flubbed the smiling stuffed creature at the last moment. Shinjuku arcade claw machines are a lot like working with computers. The machine just sort of tries its best given input, but you also know there’s a human somewhere in there who made the machine the right mix of perfect-yet-imperfect.
After the arcades I went to a bookstore in the Shinjuku Toho Building (of Godzilla-looming fame), where the bookstore became like a strange dream and the bookstore just kept going. It had not one, not two, but six floors of books, and there were so many people in the bookstore - people of all ages.
They had a pretty cool selection of computer science / programming magazines too! I definitely texted and slacked this one to a few friends back home:
In a half-real state of jetlag back in the States after my trip to Japan, I flipped through my photos while taking the Yellow Line over the Potomac to my office in Virginia. I’d taken so many shots on my poor withering iPhone 6 that I couldn’t download any new apps or conduct Evil Tests, my favorite career task when I am not on vacation. Clip Studio Paint was also crying out like a wounded antelope, wailing for More Space on my iPad, and since losing my artwork would make me jump in the Potomac, I shuffled, migrated, and sluiced all of my Japan photos off my iCloud account like my life depended on it. Shortly after this I ran out of storage space in my Gmail account, which was never intended to be Dropbox, but hey, free things have their limits.
So I had a lot of photos. While organizing the photos at Starbucks later that day, I realized that while in Shinjuku I had apparently been wandering around in circles for an entire day and deep into the night, the photo at the top of this blog being nearly the same place as this photo below, with the bright pink sign on the left standing out like a bookmark in transcontinental time.