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Plus Alpha: 24 hours in Japan

Plus Alpha is a weekly column that explores life in Japan from the perspective of American expatriate and game-industry veteran Jarik Sikat. Having worked in numerous areas of the game industry since 1994, Sikat relocated to Japan in 2010. 

Think fast: If you had 24 hours in Japan, what do you do?

It’s finally 2012 and I’ve been in Japan for one full calendar year. Although I arrived here in the spring of 2010, making it from one New Year’s to the next feels like a milestone to me. Reflecting on the past 12 months, I’ve noticed a change that has subtly been taking place.

To better explain this, we have to go all the way back to 1996, and my very first visit to Japan. Back then, I worked for a small Japanese-owned publisher with offices just outside of Chicago. At the time, they had just nine employees, with only me assigned to development. Twice a year, they would send me to Tokyo.

On that first trip, taking the first few steps out of Shibuya station was like time-traveling into the future. Everything, from the bright neon lights, jumbo screens and oddly-dressed girls to the videogame music (from a game that I had worked on) blaring from public speakers, was new, bizarre and overwhelming – exactly like you’d expect.

It could have been the jetlag, the sheer excitement of a dream come true, the overstimulation of the senses or the disorienting feeling of drowning in an endless tide of people who (at the time) all looked the same, or a combination of all of the above, but I could hardly breathe – or wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face.

Before each trip, you’d find me poring over guidebooks, magazines and websites with a certain fervor planning out exactly what I’d be doing with each moment of free time. Maps and train routes in hand, I’d head for places like Nakano Broadway, a haven for otaku culture, or to a restaurant frequented by my favorite “manga ka” (a manga artist or creator) on the off-chance she’d be spotted. I’d get there, no matter the distance, time or cost.

Let’s fast-forward to 2011.

Early that year, I realized my dream of snowboarding in Nagano, former host city to the ‘98 Winter Olympics (no relation to Nakano Broadway in Tokyo), yet somewhere between learning about radiation exposure and the difference between millisieverts and becquerels, cramming for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), getting married and yearning for day-to-day life to resemble some normalcy. That’s exactly what happened.

It’s been nearly two years since I was last in the US. Some of the things that were so mind-blowing and fascinating about Japan are starting to feel commonplace, and I’m having a serious love-hate relationship with that.

Take for example, the bank of vending machines I pass by each day without a second thought. Posted on one of them is an ad with Tommy Lee Jones (who’s a spokesmodel for BOSS, a popular brand of canned coffee). When family and friends would come to visit, they would stop dead in their tracks to snap a picture, because it was Tommy Lee Jones… pitching coffee! My wife, however, is more impressed that the BOSS coffee guy is going to be in a new movie with Will Smith next summer. Somehow, I feel trapped in the middle.

I still pinch myself to make sure that each day isn’t a dream. The constant grappling with different aspects of the culture and lifestyle still continues, but 2012 should be an interesting year for both gaming and popular culture here. There’s still so much more to see, and a lot more to share.

But let’s say you had 24 hours in Japan. What would you do? What would you want to see? Would you hang out at one of Tokyo’s retro-gaming bars? Visit a “mangakissa” (24-hour manga and internet café)? Go to a concert? Try to conquer Japan’s record-setting roller coasters? What are you curious about? Leave a comment, and if it’s legal, perhaps I’ll check it out for you in an upcoming column.

Jarik Sikat has worked in the videogame industry in areas ranging from localization and product development to public relations and marketing. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Newtype USA.

21 comments

  • n00b - January 4, 2012 12:19 p.m.

    First i would spend a few hours at that taito arcade where a lot of top street fighter players hang out. Then if possible i would go to a Hatsune Miku concert
  • mothbanquet - January 4, 2012 9:54 a.m.

    I'd go into every convenience store in giddy anticipation of the tune from Shenmue's Tomato stores coming on.
  • Squander - January 4, 2012 11:14 a.m.

    (^.^)b
  • Squander - January 4, 2012 4:39 a.m.

    I'm Austrian but lived and studied in Tokyo (Sophia University) the last 2 years - if I could reduce my whole stay to a minimum of 24 hours then guys I'd propose following schedule for you guys: - Travel to Japan in mid-April (Sakura) or September (Hanabi Fireworks) but not in Summer or Winter - start in Shibuya and stroll to Harajuku/Omotesando and make your prayers at the Meiji Shrine --> hop in the Yamanote Line and jump off in Shinjuku --> ckeck out Don Quixote, take a stroll in Shinjuku Park and walk to Yotsuya Station - hop in the Chuo Line towards.... --> ... Akihabara oh yeah! --> after that you might consider one of the following: - Ginza for Glamour - Suidobashi for RollerCoaster Action at Tokyo Dome --> spend the Nightlife either in Roppongi (visit Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills) or in Shibuya - however, be aware that Roppongi at night is a nasty rat-hole however Club Vanity is one hell of an awesome club! enjoy!
  • Squander - January 4, 2012 4:47 a.m.

    and hell: do yourself a favour and check out the Business-district in the depths of Shinjuku and round the experience up with a drink at Park Hyatts New York Grill Bar - For accommodation I highly recommend Tokyu Stay Hotel in Yotsuya - reasonable, clean and beautiful view over shinjukus skyline
  • mothbanquet - January 4, 2012 9:55 a.m.

    Thanks for the tips!
  • CancerMan - January 4, 2012 3:50 a.m.

    A trip to Japan is definitely on my bucket list. I'd like to go with a friend and see/do everything I could. Can't even imagine what it would be like though.
  • v8ninety - January 4, 2012 2:15 a.m.

    Lucky enough to have been to Tokyo about 5 times for work now and am still amazed by this city, some highlights for me were. - Akihbara at weekend when the road is closed and filled with manga characters - Tokyo Tower - Temple at Asakusa - Asahi Beer building @ Asakusa (look up an image) - Fuji TV building(look up an image) - Odaiba Isalnd by rainbow bridge - Roppongi (I believe this stands for "three golden trees" what a beautiful name for such a den of iniquity) - The 'Hob Goblin' pub in Roppongi - Sumo - Japanese Taxis (they have a weirdness which you can't explain but must be experienced) - Japanese toilets (ditto taxis) - Yes vending machines - A separate 'Stomach of Cow' section on the menu 1st thru 4th Enjoy
  • taokaka - January 4, 2012 12:38 a.m.

    If I had 24 hours in Japan I'd spend it all figuring out how to get more time in Japan, but if that plan failed I would visit akihabara and shibuya (I would try and use the game map from TWEWY for a laugh)
  • Cyberninja - January 3, 2012 8:03 p.m.

    if i had 24 hours i would go to a japanese anime con to see how it would be different then AX11
  • meagaman45 - January 3, 2012 7:29 p.m.

    if i had friends with me or a girlfriend :'( ive heared karyoky (parden the spelling) whould be cool.
  • soren7550 - January 3, 2012 6:36 p.m.

    God, I don't know. I'd think that I would have a sensory overload and die if I was to go to Japan (then again, the same could be said about NYC and I'm fine). Anyway, what would I want to do? Probably everything that's been said in this article series and then some. But something that hasn't been said (as far as I can recall anyway), I'd want to go to a con. The cosplays would be so awesome to see, and let's face it, I'm a sucker for cons (conventions, not the felons).
  • Romkslrqusz - January 3, 2012 5:31 p.m.

    Every time I read Plus Alpha, it makes me want to go to Japan more and more.
  • Daruniah - January 3, 2012 5:15 p.m.

    Get a rickshaw ride in Asakysa!
  • sleepyMexican45 - January 3, 2012 5:04 p.m.

    "Profession" suggests RPG. A Hitman RPG would be incredible, and a great chance to flesh out the story.
  • sleepyMexican45 - January 3, 2012 5:05 p.m.

    *article skip*
  • profile0000 - January 3, 2012 5:02 p.m.

    On my list of places to go before I die. Looking forward to whenever the hell that will be.
  • ZuzuPachulia - January 3, 2012 4:03 p.m.

    i don't know, but hopefully i'll find out when i get to go there in about a year!
  • garnsr - January 3, 2012 4:03 p.m.

    Wait, Jarik's a guy? The picture always looked like a woman to me, but his mention of a wife made me wonder, and I guess it does say "his work" at the bottom. Huh. I spent some time just wandering around Tokyo, and it's amazing the places you'll come across banks of vending machines, in the middle of houses, in the middle of seemingly empty areas. It's hard to go thirsty in Tokyo, but you have to carry around tons of heavy coins, since the smallest bill they have is about equivalent to $10. They do that in a lot of countries, and the US is talking about getting rid of smaller bills for coins, but it always seemed like too damn many coins to me.
  • CancerMan - January 4, 2012 3:45 a.m.

    Haha, took me a couple articles to figure that out too.

Showing 1-20 of 21 comments

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