People asked us where we went other than Disneyland and we said Akihabara and Ikebukuro, and then they asked what those words meant. We told them Akihabara is where you find all the high-tech electronic stuff and Ikebukuro is kind of a shopping district, and they were like, "Yeah, but what does that mean?" If you want to get technical, Akihabara means "field of autumn leaves," but anyone who's been to Akihabara could probably tell you that you wouldn't find a field of autumn leaves there. And I'm too tired to make sense of the Ikebukuro kanji right now.
Anyway, on Saturday, we met up with Clay in the hotel lobby and then took a taxi to Akihabara. It was raining already, so the first order of business was to find a place to get umbrellas, but it was kind of early and most of the shops weren't open yet, so we took shelter in Akihabara station, or somewhere that looked like that's probably where it was. We waited for a while until more shops were open and set out again. It didn't take too long to find a convenience store where Clay bought a couple of umbrellas (he already had one, so we only needed two).
And then it was time to figure out where we wanted to go. This is where we discover how bad we are as tourists, because we had no idea. Well, we did have one idea, and that was Animate. But Clay hadn't been to Akihabara much before, so nobody really knew where to find it. Fortunately, Clay was able to use his cell phone to get directions, and after a bunch of wandering (including passing by the same guy handing out packs of tissue several times; I got a bunch, because I know what it's like to have to stand around handing out fliers, and wanting to just get rid of all of them), eventually we found it.
The whole excursion actually reminded us of one time loooooong long ago when we were just getting started on the whole "anime" thing, and we went wandering with some people around Little Tokyo in search of Sailor Moon merchandise. That's why we keep saying that Tokyo really reminds us of Los Angeles, but I wonder if the fact that we were in Little Tokyo affected that. We have been to the Garment District and Olvera Street, too, so we don't think so.
The main difference between Akihabara and Los Angeles, though, is that the buildings are all squished together. (Also, because of that, the streets are narrower and you don't have to worry about cars so much.) And the stores are all very tiny width- and depth-wise, but they're built very tall, so you're constantly going up and down stairs. I remember when our whole family would watch Mom playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and we all commented on how nice it was for Dracula to build his castle in two dimensions. After going to Japan, the idea doesn't seem so strange.
Having so many floors, however, makes it easy to organize all the merchandise. At Animate, for example, there were about two floors for manga, two floors for merchandise-y type stuff ("goods"), and a floor for CDs and a floor for DVDs. We are very terrible at buying things, though. Usually even if we do find something we want enough to buy, we like to put it back on the shelf for a while to see how much we really want it. So we didn't really look at the manga much, because we figured if there was anything we really wanted, we could just buy it from Kinokuniya when we got home. (Incidentally, for those of you who requested manga, that's what we still plan to do. But we're not sure if we can get Ookami Shounen, because we only found one Kinokuniya on the West Coast that had it, and they sent us our order minus Ookami Shounen. That particular store also did not have Saiyuki Gaiden 3, so we still have to order that from somewhere.)
The only other specific request we had was for a Nabari no Ou business card case, so we made it our mission to find it. (Oh wait, we had a request for a video game too, but we forgot all about it when we were in the one place that probably would have had it. D'oh! Sorry Kat!) We wandered around the goods floors in search of it, and discussed with Clay our inability to buy souvenirs for people because we're always second-guessing what they would like, only I couldn't explain it that well because I was still having a hard time with Japanese (how do you say "second-guess" in Japanese, anyway?). And in the end, we failed in our Nabari Quest. Alas.
We left Animate, and, since it was next door, went into Toranoana, a store that specializes in manga, but more in doujinshi. But we didn't check it out much, because there were only two floors that didn't have "adult" stuff, and we didn't want to look at the adult stuff. But that's when I remembered that Akihabara has something called the Tokyo Anime Center. So off we went in search of it!
The Tokyo Anime Center is kind of like... an anime gift shop with museum-like qualities. They had those things that I can't ever remember what they're called but would know the word if I heard it (I think) where it's round and has a series of drawings on the inside wall, and you spin it around and look through the slits and it looks like it's moving, and the different version where instead of looking through slits you look at the mirror set up in the center. And there were statues of various anime characters, like Rei from Evangelion and Nadja from Ashita no Nadja. They also had some places set up to try the new Pokemon games that were coming out (we saw a demonstration by Ships on that show with Kouichi Yamadera). And they had pictures of the winners of the Seiyuu Awards, and autographs posted on the walls. So many autographs! Tetsuya Kakihara wrote something in German on his!
After we looked around for a while, I noticed a sign for the Afreco Taiken. I keep forgetting what afreco is short for (we looked it up just now and it's "after recording"), but I knew that this meant "voice acting experience." At the side of the Anime Center, there was a big glass window that looked in on a recording booth. I don't know if they use it to actually record stuff (they were advertising a radio show, so we think they probably do), but on normal days, they use it for the Afreco Taiken. I decided that, since we were there being tourists, we might as well go for it. They had a few scenes to choose from--I think two from Evangelion, one from an anime called Sasuke, and three from Pokemon. If we'd gone with Evangelion, we wouldn't have been able to get a souvenir DVD of the experience, and we aren't familiar with Sasuke at all, so we went with a Team Rocket scene from Pokemon. But someone had just barely beaten us to it, and so we had to come back later to do the actual thing. In the meantime, we went to a cafe and got some food.
I felt really bad about being so unadventurous about food, but I was still low on SP. We did, however, manage to try some melon honey bread. We decided that melon bread is fine, but there's too much ooze if they add honey.
Clay had picked up an anime fan oriented map of Akihabara at the Tokyo Anime Center, so we were able to check it out and decided to head for the Cospa store. But on our way there, we spotted Mandarake, so we checked them out first. We looked around and climbed a bunch of stairs. Oh! And one of the cashier girls was dressed like Asuka from Evangelion in school uniform. We did see a few other cosplayers roaming the streets, but it was raining, so there weren't many. I decided that Cospa is a confusing place because I don't know what they really want to call themselves, but they had a bunch of anime apparel type stuff (including costumes, of course). We bought an OMNI tote bag♥
After that we wandered around some more, but there wasn't anything that caught any of our interests (low SP probably had a lot to do with that, and Clay seemed pretty shy, too), so we went to a cafe in the same building as the anime center, so we could sit down while we waited for our Afreco Taiken appointment. We had some organic vanilla ice cream and talked about random things, like how nobody really knows the literal meaning of "dou itashimashite."
We went back to the Tokyo Anime Center. The group in front of us hadn't finished yet, but the guy played the scene we had chosen so we could practice while we waited our turn. Finally our turn came, and it was pretty awesome. We had to take off our shoes and put on slippers to go into the recording booth. The guy there talked to us for a while about what we think of Japan, and how there's no other place in Japan like Akihabara, and how American dub voice actors all sound the same (something he brought up before us, but which we agreed with). Then he started explaining how it all works. He explained the microphones and the... guard thingie (I remembered all these terms when we got back to the hotel... I think) that filters out the poofing sounds from breathing too heavily. He showed us how close to stand to the mic, and how to hold the script up so we could read it and watch the film at the same time to match the lip flaps and everything. He said that we would have three practice runs, and then we'd do the real thing. In the rehearsal, he wouldn't be playing any sound, but the real thing would have all the other characters, the sound effects, and the music, so don't be too surprised.
Oh right, we had to choose characters, too. Athena and I have cosplayed Team Rocket, so naturally Athena was Jessy and I was James. He asked who would be Meowth and we said we hadn't decided yet. (Clay didn't want to participate.) He said well the lines aren't in there unless somebody plays him, so we had to pick somebody, so I was Meowth. And then he went into the control room (I guess?) and we put on our headphones and got started. It was really neat, because he'd talk to us from the other room, and we'd hear it through the headphones! At least, I think it was cool.
He started out by playing a message from Professor Oak (he's like, "Uh... I don't know if he has a different name in America, but here's a message from Ookido-hakase.") After each rehearsal, he'd give us tips on how to improve. He corrected our intonation on a couple of lines, and I got told not to hurry too much. I have that problem a lot, actually, so I was amused. I had a really hard time reading the script and watching the film at the same time. I am so bad at multi-tasking. Fortunately, I think the final recording went pretty well. They told us the whole thing takes about an hour and a half, and after the first group took so long, we believe it, but for us it went by really short. Clay said it was because we were just that good, but we think he skipped over some of the explanation and was less particular about things because we're not native Japanese speakers. (He even said he wouldn't get too technical because he figured we wouldn't understand it, and he was probably right.)
When we were done recording, we kept talking for a while about what we like to see in anime. We like interesting stories and characters. I mentioned that I'd read a book on Disney animation that said the best animation can't save a bad story, and how I really think that's true. And the guy said something about how it's important for anime to be good graphically, too. He also talked about how he wants to keep supporting anime, but more and more of it is getting to be chuuto-hanpa (which means they're not really trying very hard to make it good).
We looked around a little more while we waited for them to burn the DVD, and Clay asked us if wanted any souvenirs, and then he ended up buying us some caramels and a pack of Seiyuu Award postcards (featuring Mamoru Miyano). Then they gave us our DVD, and we headed for a taxi, because it was time for Clay to go to work. He had already been kind enough to offer to stay so we wouldn't have to find our own way back to the hotel, so I was glad we finished the Afreco Taiken so quickly. When we got back to the hotel, we thanked him for everything (he was really very gentlemanly), and he went off to work. Then we went back to our room and watched Star Trek dubbed into Japanese. It was the episode with two Captain Kirks. That was actually the first time we'd seen any of the original Star Trek.
We spent the rest of the day watching TV, even though it had finally cleared up and was really nice out. But we were pretty tired after three days of lots and lots of walking, so we were okay with it.
And hey, I actually finished before our ride to FHE got here! Today I'm thankful for afreco taikens, souvenir DVDs, friendly pen pals, getting to wander around Akihabara, and getting to see Star Trek dubbed into Japanese.