Tag: Tokyo

Cats In Games: Yakuza Kiwami 2

I’d been playing Yakuza Kiwami 2 for only a few minutes when I stopped and did a double-take.

My in-game character was standing in the exact same spot I’d been standing in real life six months ago, in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.

Here’s Karaoke Kan on that street corner in the game:

Shinjuku in Yakuza Kiwami 2
Shinjuku in Yakuza Kiwami 2.

And the same corner in real life:

Karaoke club in Shinjuku, Tokyo

The game’s recreation of Tokyo is impressive, featuring a replica of the Shinjuku district that feels alive, buzzing with activity and undiscovered adventures.

Here’s Shinjuku’s Don Quijote in the game alongside the real one in Tokyo:

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Don Quijote in Shinjuku.

Japan is arguably the most cat-friendly country in the world, with cat imagery everywhere, cats as pop culture icons, pet parents pushing their coddled kitties in designer strollers on the streets of Tokyo, and entire islands populated almost exclusively by cats.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before the game brought a cat into the mix, and it didn’t disappoint. In one scene, a character asks you to find his dear little girl who has been kidnapped, and you’re under the impression you’re searching for his daughter — right up until you find the kidnappers, give ’em a good old Yakuza beatdown, and realize your acquaintance’s “little girl” is actually a cat:

A cat in Yakuza Kiwami 2
A cat in Yakuza Kiwami 2.

The game, which is little-known in the US but hugely popular in Japan, also features a, shall we say, less amiable encounter with cats:

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Now would be a good time to run!

Asakusa: The Market Temple

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:13-16

Growing up Catholic, I heard the story of Jesus furiously expelling the money-changers and merchants from the temple at least a few times a year in church gospels.

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“Christ casts out the money-changers” by Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch.

The message was clear: Houses of worship are supposedly to be solemn and hushed places where people can speak to God in peace.

Sensō-ji temple is quite the opposite.

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Sellers hawk overpriced gifts for tourists en route to Sensō-ji temple.

Sensō-ji is not only Japan’s oldest temple, it’s one of the most-visited spiritual sites in the world, with an estimated 30 million annual visitors.

It’s also one of Tokyo’s most-accessible shrines, just a short walk from a subway stop in Asakusa. All that foot traffic makes it irresistible for local merchants, who sell everything from traditional lanterns to t-shirts, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and hats.

On the day I visited a steady rain hadn’t put a dent in the mixed crowd of locals and tourists.

A giant lantern hangs beneath the temple gate, which was rebuilt in 1960 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. While most of the structures at Sensō-ji are reproductions, the area has been a religious site for more than 1,000 years.

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The temple grounds are a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.

 

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A shopping mall featuring eateries, gift shops and a sword smith.

Shinjuku: Godzilla, Government, Shopping and Sex Clubs

“Hey man!”

I turn to look. This is the first bit of English I’ve heard all evening, and sure enough it’s directed at me, the blue-eyed, red-brown-haired, bearded ‘Merican who couldn’t blend into the crowd if I had a human-size Cuisinart.

“Come check it out,” says the speaker, a sharply-dressed guy in his 30s, gesturing toward a drinking establishment just off one of Shinjuku’s busiest streets. “I’ve got the girl of your dreams inside. You like Japanese women?”

“We’re good,” my brother says.

The salesman ignores him, singing his pitch like an R&B ballad.

“You like Japanese women, man? I know you do. We got Japanese women waiting to meet American guys.”

Shinjuku at night
Shinjuku at night.

My trust in my brother is absolute, this bar dude is acting sketchy as hell, and I’m not that much of an idiot, so I take my bro’s cue and follow him toward the intersection.

“What was that all about?”

The guy who approached us was an extortionist, my brother explained. They’ll invite you into the club, let you order a few drinks but neglect to tell you the drinks are 10,000 yen each, or about $90 USD. If you refuse to pay they’ll call Tokyo police, who will take the word of a local business owner over the word of a tourist in what they see as a legitimate dispute.

“Or they’ll spike your drink,” my brother said, “take all your cash and run your credit cards to the limit.”

Shinjuku at night
In Shinjuku even the side streets are illuminated.

Japan’s not the kind of place where you worry about pickpockets or getting jumped by local thugs, but it’s a mistake to assume crime doesn’t exist here.

Tokyo may be one of the world’s safest cities, a place where you can leave your door unlocked or leave your bike unattended while confident no one will steal it, yet tourists are universal easy prey.

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While walking through Shinjuku’s busy streets I was reminded of an interview with the great novelist David Mitchell, who spent several years in Japan teaching English before returning to the UK.

Moving through Tokyo as a westerner unable to decipher Japanese writing, Mitchell noted, is like being cocooned in your own personal anti-advertising buffer. All that hiragana and katakana written in neon might as well be mood lighting — it’s there, but if you can’t understand it, it can’t invade your headspace.

Mitchell said he found that obliviousness calming and conducive to keeping to his own thoughts on writing. Being there in person and experiencing it for myself, I could appreciate his point.

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Memory Lane, also known as Piss Alley, is lined with tiny restaurants.
Shinjuku
A cook preps skewers of meat in one of Shinjuku’s narrow-alley barbecue spots on Memory Lane, which are only big enough to accommodate a few patrons at a time.
Shinjuku
Another alley leading out of Memory Lane, a narrow alley lined with tiny eateries specializing in yakitori (barbecue skewers).
Shinjuku: Memory Lane
Memory Lane is narrow, smoky and heavy with the smell of grilled meat.

Another famous feature of Shinjuku is the giant Godzilla head, which looks like the King of Monsters is looming just behind a pair of buildings overlooking the neighborhood’s central crossing.

Shinjuku’s Godzilla
Godzilla himself peeks out from behind a pair of buildings overlooking Shinjuku. Photo credit: Tokyo Creative

 

Shiba: Zōjō-ji Temple and the Last Shoguns

Near the heart of the city, under the shadow of Tokyo Tower, is Zōjō-ji Temple.

The shrine is the most important location in a 1,000-year-old sect of Buddhism as well as the burial grounds of the last shoguns. But what’s most striking about the complex is how it contrasts the old and the new — the sangedatsumon (“gate”) to Zōjō-ji, pictured above, is the oldest surviving wooden structure in Tokyo, leading to an island of tranquility amid skyscrapers, subway lines, neon signs and thousands of shops.

Zōjō-ji Temple: Detail of temple gate
The gate leading to Zōjō-ji Temple was built in 1622, making it the oldest wooden building in Tokyo proper.
Zōjō-ji Temple
Tokyo Tower looms over Zōjō-ji Temple itself, the main structure on the shrine grounds.
Zōjō-ji Temple close-up
The open door on the right side beneath the portico leads to the sanctuary, called the daiden (“great hall”) in Japanese.
Zōjō-ji Temple: Detail
A view from the portico shows an adjacent temple structure as well as skyscrapers in the background.
Zōjō-ji Temple and Tokyo Tower
Zōjō-ji Temple itself, left, flanks a smaller shrine structure with Tokyo Tower in the background.
Zōjō-ji Temple and pagoda
A pagoda with the portico of Zōjō-ji Temple in the foreground.
Zōjō-ji Temple and pagoda
A close-up of the detail and symmetry of the pagoda.
Zōjō-ji Temple: Shōgun Mausoleum
The entrance to the Shōgun mausoleum and graveyard. Six members of the Takegawa Shōgunate, the last feudal rulers in the country’s history, are buried here.
Zōjō-ji Temple
Statues of Jizō Bosatsu, a Buddhist figure designated as the guardian of children, line a quiet path behind the temple.
Temple sanctuary
Gilded ornaments surround a central statue in the daiden. Visitors can light incense and sit in quiet contemplation in the great hall.
Crow near Jizō Bosatsu statues
A crow sits on a stone wall separating the Shōgun burial ground from the path lined with Jizō Bosatsu statues.

 

 

Roppongi Hills: Tokyo From Above

Tonight we visited the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, a skyscraper with great views of the surrounding city.

The building is less than a five-minute walk from my brother’s apartment, and at 54 stories and 781 feet it’s the sixth-tallest building in Tokyo.

 

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The neon blue floors of the foreground building are hotel suites with one hell of a view of the city.

Mori Tower has a 54th floor “Sky Deck” which was closed this evening due to the weather, so the observation deck on the 52nd floor was our only choice.

It doesn’t really matter — the view is spectacular and the observation deck features a 360-degree view of the city through floor-to ceiling windows. It’s even got signs pointing out the neighborhoods you’re looking at from each angle, and a section where you can pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and look over the city.

Even from this height Tokyo extends to the horizon in every direction save for the waterfront near Haneda, an endless sprawl of shops, homes, office buildings, izakayas, plazas and parks.

All photos by Big Buddy using a Canon T3. Click on the photos for higher-resolution versions. Trust me, it’s worth it. 🙂

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A view from Mori Tower’s observation deck. Shibuya is the bright spot to the right.
Tokyo at Night
From Roppongi, Tokyo looks like an endless sprawl disappearing into the horizon.
Tokyo at Night
A view of Tokyo Tower, left, and surrounding buildings.