Eternal Summer: Tokyo – Art, Games & Food

'Eternal Summer' is a series of articles about the promise and reality of Japan, home of aesthetic. Each article is accompanied by a specially compiled playlist which you can listen to while reading.

The build-up to the departure date of my trip to Japan was rapidly approaching. I could barely contain my excitement. My first time in Japan, a place I had dreamed of visiting ever since I was a little kid.  Video game heaven. Pokémon HQ. Food. I couldn’t wait.

I arrived at Fukuoka in the late afternoon, where my friend was eagerly awaiting in the arrivals hall.  Having not seen each other since he had left the United States many months earlier, we were eager to catch up and get out and explore.

We spent the first few days of our trip hanging out in the Fukuoka area, getting acclimated to the culture and just enjoying each other’s company.  We were also waiting for a typhoon to pass but nevertheless enjoying ourselves.

We eventually arrived in Tokyo late in the evening after a day of touring Kyoto and a trip on the Shinkansen bullet train.  Tokyo is everything that you imagine it is and then some.  The city is massive, the crowds are immense, and everything around you is just begging you to interact with it. 

My first day was filled with art.  I started my day at the Hotel Gajoen Tokyo, where I was given a private tour of the property.  The Gajoen is a small, beautiful hotel that features original art throughout the property, and was even the inspiration for some of the architecture in Hayao Miyazaki’s films.

Following the Gajoen was the Yayoi Kusama Museum, an amazing experience from one of Japan’s most well-known artists. A mix of paintings, sculpture, and fully immersive works are a must-see if you are an art lover visiting Tokyo.

Finally, we visited the Mori Digital Art Museum, which offers a spectacular interactive experience that one can easily get lost in.  Our original plan was to spend an hour or so exploring the museum, however, 4 hours later we were still discovering new areas of the exhibition.

One of my favorite parts of Japan, even more so than crazy video games and beautiful artwork, is the food.  Japanese food is somehow both simple and complex at the same time. Unique flavors and preparations dazzle your palate as you feast on the different offerings.  We ate a lot of gyoza while in Japan, and we kept eating more of it whenever it was offered.  Kakekomi Gyoza, located in Shinjuku, offers a variety of gyoza that was simply delicious.  Traditional Japanese styling offers a great atmosphere to enjoy great food before heading out to enjoy the Shinjuku nightlife.  Ramen, karaage, and of course sushi are plentiful and delicious, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. 

During my research into this trip, I knew that a stop that we absolutely had to make was Akhiabara.  If Japan is the home of video games and anime, Akhiabara is Mecca.  Anything you can imagine, it is there.  Multi-story arcades, amazing electronic shops, and every anime collectable that you can imagine.  But I didn’t want to just see games that were like what we could play in the US; I wanted something different.  I wanted something uniquely Japan.  And I knew exactly what it was. Cho Chabudai Gaeshi. 

Cho Chabudai Gaeshi, or “Super Table-Flip” in English, is a simple arcade game.  You are a man who is sitting at the dinner table.  Your wife is annoying you.  Your kid isn’t paying attention and playing video games at the table.  You are getting annoyed.  So very annoyed.  Annoyed to the point where you can’t take it anymore.  You flip the table in anger.  And then you assess the damage.  The goal of the game is to inflict as much damage as possible.  To do so, you grab hold of a plastic table that is on a hinge attached to the arcade unit, and you fling the tabletop up as hard as you can.  You then watch the screen as the table flies, everything on top of it scatters throughout the room, and the damage total builds up.  Your score is based on how much damage you do.  It is, quite simply, a ridiculous game. Borderline offensive even.  But I had to play it. 

There was just one problem: there aren’t many of them left.  While arcades are still very prevalent in Japan, this game is not, with only a handful of them scattered throughout the country.  I had heard that there was still one in Akihabara, and I was determined to find it. 

Arriving in Akhibara was quite interesting.  I already had a feel for what Tokyo was like and was used to being surrounded by the culture, however Akihabara kind of just throws it all in your face.  Huge stores featuring anime models and collectables. Vintage electronics shops. Arcades. Maid Cafes. Cat Cafes. It was almost as if the city was just shoving Japan in your face as you walked down the street, and it was amazing.  A Ferrari Testarossa rolled past us as we walked out of one shop, a sight that would be incredibly rare anywhere else in the country, yet it felt totally appropriate here. 

After wandering around for a bit, shopping for some vintage games and admiring the surroundings, it was time to find what I was looking for: Cho Chabudai Gaeshi.  I did a quick google search and found an old forum that said the last they saw one was in a specific Sega arcade on the 5th floor.  So off we went.  Straight to the 5th floor, and… nothing.  Nowhere to be found.  Not to give up easily, we kept looking.  After maybe 15 minutes of wandering around, tucked away in the corner on the 3rd floor, we found it.  Just another game amongst the hundreds of others, as if it was no big deal.  But for me, this was almost worth the trip alone. 

Apparently, the game had just broken not too long before we got there, as a staff member of the arcade has finishing up working on it and the game was coming back to life.  There was one person that was patiently waiting to play before us, but I knew my moment was coming.

Finally, I got to play the most ridiculous game I have ever encountered:

Now I don’t speak Japanese, but I do believe that, at that point in time, I got the high score for that machine, which means that I can say that I have the high score on an arcade game in Tokyo.  I don’t care that the game was just unplugged and probably had all the previous scores wiped out, but for a brief moment in time, I had the high score.

Tokyo is an amazing city that has something for everyone, be it food, art, or culture.  It is a place that you can return to time and time again and not see the same thing twice.  My advice for visiting is this: see what you can, enjoy what you see, and don’t dwell on what you don’t.  Just look forward to seeing it on your next visit, because you finally experience Tokyo, you won’t be able to never return.

Rich Siegel is the podcast lead over at Private Suite Magazine and specializes in travel to Asia for his day job.

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