Tokyo Travels Part 23: Ometesando and Shibuya Redux

Note:  This is the latest in a series of posts about a trip The GF and I took to Tokyo in May, 2010.  More posts are available here.

It’s tough to take in the sights and sounds of Tokyo in just one exposure -- even if that exposure is to just a small part of the city. One day we decided to head back to Harajuku and to Shibuya during the day on a quest -- a quest for squished pennies.
You may have seen these machines at tourist stops around the country. You put in two quarters and a penny, and then you turn a crank. As you turn the crank, the machine flattens and elongates a penny and imprints a design. You get your now fancy penny back, and the machine keeps the quarters. There are websites that track these machines and a surprisingly large and passionate web community surrounding them. It’s a fairly inexpensive souvenir; the GF has been collecting them for years.

Of course in Tokyo, they don’t use pennies. Or quarters for that matter. The machines come preloaded with copper blanks, so all you need to supply is 100 Yen. Armed with a list of locations, we set off to find the machines.

First we headed to Omotesando-dori in the Harajuku neighborhood to visit Kiddyland, a seven floor toy store known around the world. They have an entire floor dedicated to Peanuts merchandise and another dedicated to Sanrio. It’s a pretty amazing place. A couple months after we got back, they closed the store for remodelling and expect to reopen in 1.5 years. The idea of a store planning to close for a year and half and then reopen is something I have trouble wrapping my head around.


The Omotesando Hills shopping center is across the street from Kiddyland. It’s a high-end mall, surrounded by dozens of high-end, stand-alone retailers. We wandered the narrow streets off the main road and peeked in the windows. We walked through the Tumi store and fortunately did not buy anything. I liked the location of the Tumi store, though. It was just off the main strip on a quieter street.

The wandering itself wasn’t all that pleasant. We were there in mid-May and it was warming up. It was humid. And then the humidity hit 100% and it started to drizzle. So now we were damp and warm and starting to feel a little moldy.

Our next quest was to find the Marimekko store. They don’t have a squished penny machine, but they do have some cool designs (or so I’m told). The GF is a big fan of this Finnish brand and they have stores all over the world.

The challenge was finding this location. This was the only major navigation challenge the two of us encountered on the trip (I did get myself temporarily misplaced in Ebisu, but that’s another story). Google maps wasn’t much help, and neither was the Marimekko site. It listed the address, but the map function didn’t work. And and as I understand it, many Tokyo denizens have trouble decoding local address, so I had little-to-no-chance. I led the GF up and down roads and across boulevards in what I guessed was the appropriate direction. I was usually wrong. I finally found a few directions in an article about the opening that were published a couple years earlier. 
Here's the location, in case you're looking for it:

View Harajuku And Shibuya By Day in a larger map

We got there, walked around a bit, and were distinctly underwhelmed. It mostly had stuff the GF had already seen online and elsewhere. I’m sure we would have been more pleased if it hadn’t taken so much work on our part to find it. I can’t fault them for that; that’s just one of the risks inherent in travel.

We had planned to find a nice ramen place for lunch and headed into the Omotedano Hills Mall.

Ahhhhhhhh. Air conditioning.

When we got there, we decided it was bit too warm for Ramen, and opted for Gelato instead. That turned out to be an excellent choice.

Sufficiently chilled and sugared up, we headed out on the next quest -- the squished penny machines at the Disney store in Shibuya.

We headed down Meiji-Dori. Here is the map of the day’s wanderings (including the train ride from the hotel).

We found the Disney store with no problem and the people couldn’t have been nicer. The first penny machine was right inside the door, and as soon as one of the reps saw us using it, she immediately pointed out the other machine they had, too. She was also more than happy to make change for us. And then we had one of those encounters we would have throughout the week.

She asked where we were from.

“Seattle,” I said.

“Ahh,” she said. “Ichiro”


We wandered more though the streets, visited Tower Records, crossed the street at the Shibuya, and had coffee at the safest and perhaps busiest Starbucks in the world.

This visit to a Starbucks had the distinction of being the most expensive one I’ve had. It’s that combination of Starbucks expensive coffee and Tokyo’s expensive prices.

Okay, that’s not it. Sure I had a Matcha Latte and the GF had an Iced Latte, but what probably put it over the top was the snacks. And the snacks for later. Okay, and maybe the souvenir mugs. Afterall, we needed our toys.

Afterwards, we headed back out to the muggy streets, turned a corner passed a significantly strong and yet limited zone of “fragrant” storm related air as people walked past. We continued to be amazed by the sights and sounds, and after 25 feet, no longer the smells as we plied the narrow streets. After almost succumbing to the allure of the Outback Steakhouse (we resisted) we headed back to the train station to see Hachiko.

2010-05-17 Shibuya (70).DNG

Back at the hotel, and back in the airconditioning (Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh) we caught some rest and began to record the day’s adventures.


Municipal Wi-Fi is a bad idea

Every now and then a city will announce plans to provide free Internet access points around the city, and there will often be praise from the hi-tech community.  Or a state will move to ban such initiatives and heaps of scorn will be heaved on top of them and the local cable and DSL provides.  That's a mistake.

While I realize folk love to hate their cable companies (often with good reason) and the woeful state of broadband in this country, having the cities provide the access is worse idea.

Once municipal broadband is wide spread and available at no additionl cost than the taxes people are already paying, then the rational, individual decision is to stop paying Comcast or someone else for Internet access.  With enough people doing that, residential broadband from private companies will eventually go away.

That may be fine, assuming the municipalities allow free and open Internet access, but I'm not convinced they will. There are many great things on the net, but there are many foul ones as well.  We already see debates in favor of blocking undesirable websites at libraries and schools.  Will a vocal minority really allow the city to make such content available in homes?

Obviously the first target will be block already illegal or obscene content. I can't imagine many city councils will oppose a determined group of citizens who want to prohibit the city from "supplying" child pornography.  You can already imagine the campaign ads.

So what's next? Should the city be in the business of sending regular pornography into homes? Can't children see it then? Is that how we want to use tax money?

Porn is an easy target for those who want to restrict access to content. And a city blocking such content from it's own service may not be in the business of censorship.  After all, it's not like their banning the content.  They're simply choosing not carry it on a municipal service.

So what's next?  In many places, it's probably hate speech.  Should the city be facilitating content that is racist or misogynistic?

There are extremes on both the right and left of our political landscape that would like to see certain content go away.

Many would argue that the city should block sites that enable violence -- perhaps content related to building explosives and fighting a government force.  But what about sites that promote non-violent political unrest?

At this point I think it's safe to say that no city would ban a legitimate new site's content from it's service.  But then who is determining  the legitimacy of a new site?  I think CNN and Fox would be safe from calls to ban it from the city's service, but what about Al Jazeera?

In the recent uprisings in the middle east, one of the first things dictators try to do it cut off 'net access for the people. Can we count on local governments there to not do that if pressed?

The Internet is a powerful tool because of both the good stuff and bad stuff that's on it.  And I trust the users of the Internet, and, yes, many of the private party ISPs out there, to deliver a free 'net experience much more than I trust a city council trying to stand up to a vocal group of citizens barking their vocal call to, "Think of the children!"


Eddie Rabbit meets Anime

My friend Trina posted this video on Facebook. It's anime girls dancing to Eddie Rabbit's "I Love a Rainy Night."  It makes a lot more sense that you would think.

The first 20 seconds or so is a bit jumpy but then it smooths out. Link directly to the video: http://youtu.be/qvE892xEDn0


Shatner-Palooza: Searching for Major Tom

While everyone can surely agree that "Has Been" by William Shatner (earlier comments here, here, and here) is one of the best albums of the 21st Century (oh, calm down, I said one of the best), many have asked what he can do to follow that up.  Well, the answer is he can go find Major Tom.

Major Tom was a great song, and more recently represented a poor marketing decision by Lincoln. But it does have a certain melodramatic element that lends itself to Shatnerness.

Shatner's new album is due out later this year and will feature covers of popular space related ( or quasi-space-related) songs.  Among the songs he plans to cover are:

  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Iron Man
  • Walking on the Moon
  • Major Tom


of course...

the one song that started it all...

and made us love and hate the man at the same time...

bringing silliness and awesomeness to its epic confluecne


You can see the full track list here and read more about it here.

Thanks for the link, Britt!