Tamiya HQ
If you can’t make it out to a model kit factory (if you do, just make sure they still have tours! many don’t anymore) then popping into Tamiya HQ in Shimbashi is -almost- the next best thing. Its essentially a store but don’t let that discourage you, their range is extensive covering thousands of their latest model kits, paints and building materials on the ground floor; an RC haven in the basement and a social build event space upstairs. The street level also has a solid selection of built kits on display and a generous helping of branded merchandise including clothing, stickers and nicknacks. The longer night hours (10pm) during the week (and 6pm on weekends) are useful for planning your days when you lose track of time!

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Diver City Plaza

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Diver what? Located in Tokyo bay, Koto, its not exactly a place that comes up in the Tokyo “must see’s ” list and if youre only going for the shopping you may even miss the best (and biggest) attraction, a 1:1 scale Gundam robot! Those that aren’t interested in all things anime/manga are probably already rolling their eyes but trust me when we tell you its as awe inspiring as the Eiffel Tower (and almost as big!…almost :p). The real treat is making your way there after dark when it puts on a light and sound show complete with accompanying movie, CO2 bursts and a bit of movement! Yes movement, sadly not in the walk around, baritone voice, making girls swoon Optimus Prime kinda way but we’d like to think that if Japan did come under attack Pacific Rim style they’d already have a substitute Jaeger secretly ready to lay it down 😉

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Best thing is, the full length show runs hourly and there are teaser previews on the half hour. Times are displayed on a sign. There is also a merch demountable office at its feet with a modest selection of Gundam related items and Gunpla kits. Most however are available at countless other stores (and at better prices depending where you look) so you can give your carrying arms a break and just enjoy the show. Here, you can also buy tickets to the small “Gundam Front” exhibit which houses some scaled real life props from the series and other points of interest.

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Photo Tip:  As you can see from the photos, this guy is huge, so an ultra wide angle (around 12mm on crop, 20mm on fx) is a must.  A mid zoom will help get some close up details.  A tripod is handy but not a must unless you decide to shoot some night city scapes, not much on this side of the bay however.

Afterwards head inside for some food and shopping. If, like us, you got a bit carried away and watched the full show twice before you realise the shops close at 9, you don’t need to worry, just head up to the top level. Thanks to Round 1 – very similar to Timezone in Australia with arcade games, claw machines (skill (aka patience) testers), bowling and karaoke – shops stay open a bit later on this level with a selection of international fast food and local restaurants. We were looking at a menu only to realise the place had closed, but of course, in true Japanese hospitality, the owner came out and asked if we wanted a table and that it was no problem to cook us something. How could we say no? The bento set was delish btw 😉 We also now find it very difficult to go back to fried items sitting on the plate instead of on a mini rack to stay crispy!

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Travel Tip: There are a few ways to Diver City from Tokyo station but there is no direct route so you will need to change trains and do a bit of walking between stations.  Allow about 30min all up and remember to keep some change on you for the local trains that don’t accept the JR passes.  Full list in english on the Diver City webpage.

Next up we hit the shinkansen early for a day trip to Yokohama, you know, the place where all those tyres come from :p

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Aki’ba, THE geek mecca (and mecha!) of the world. We covered a few spots on our last visit but its one of those places that you can continually go back to and not only find something new every time but you’ll never cover all of it! It’s a bit hard to reference each store, especially when a lot of them don’t even seem to have any obvious naming (having rubbish Japanese reading skills doesn’t help!) but know that if you work your way north from the station keeping within a block or two of the main drag you cant go too wrong. The best part is uncovering hidden treasures in stores that, at first glance, don’t look like they’d have what youre looking for.

A couple of our fave stops include:
The Gundam Café – exactly what it says on the box. A café celebrating all that’s Gundam with Gundam referenced food and drinks and nifty décor. Also a good place to grab a couple café related souvenirs – mugs, biscuits etc. as well as a small selection of Gunpla. Next door is AKB48, the girl band, the theatre, the hourly shows. Sick of waiting years to see your fave act or missing them because they didn’t come to your city? AKB48 has you covered where you can go to them and see them play any day of the year and even in different parts of the country on the same day! How is this possible? Well having 48 members (now into the hundreds!) helps. Though if you’re not a tweenage girl or business man it may not be your cup of Miso.

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Mandarake – Big black building. Toys. Cosplay. Old, new. Lots. If you’ve read any of our posts about Japan previously, you’ll know how much we champion this place, go there.

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Gashapon store – A whole shop just for gashapon! While the thrill of the hunt is always fun, I’m finding I’m more inclined to just pay a slight premium to get the “discovered” pieces and either cherry pick or buy the whole collection that someone else has taken the time to collate. If this sounds like you as well, the rear of the store and upstairs has display cases and shelves full of the ones you’ve been chasing, didn’t know existed or have been out of production for years.

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Sega – There are plenty of multi storey gaming buildings but none stand out quite like Seee-gahh (cue sparkly shine). Many hours and thousands of Yen can be spent without blinking an eye. But of course if you cant master the “giant metal nail punching holes in the paper” or “push the pig through the bars” technique, there’s always the cop out of simply finding a store that stocks the prize you’re after and buying it 😉

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Super Potato – Wall to wall retro console gaming, even if you’re not after a cartridge or console there’s plenty of items that would make great wall/desktop display pieces.

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Robot Robot – Thankfully this was one of those times judging a shop by its name paid off! With no street frontage and only a sign to go by, it was always going to be a gamble but the trip up the elevator was worth it not just for Robot squared with its extensive range of Hot Toys style high end collector products with leanings towards horror movies and gore in general …and vagina-like monsters (why are they always vagina-like??)  but for the smaller accompanying stores on the same floor with a great selection of new and used toys and collectibles. Want to see a fair chunk of Coca Cola’s history as a yoyo? Yep, you see that here too!

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Of course there’s also the plethora of electronics stores like LAOX which really need no description, if it’s a new gadget, they’ll more than likely have it. Pricing is however average or slightly better with greater bargains to be had online but finding a JDM only model or colour can be worth it.

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We stumbled across a “Rollertarg” a bit further down so lunch was an easy choice :) continue walking and you will end up in Ueno. However, unlike last time the market gods were not kind to us and a lot of stores that we previously come across had moved on, though its always a good place to walk through, you’ll never know what you’ll find and the nearby park is more than worth the trip.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

Kichijoji

In true Japanese fashion of revamping and renewing just about everything every couple years, Kichijoji had copped a bit of a touch up in parts and is in the process in others. Our main reason for coming out this way last time, Skit, had also changed or more precisely, moved a couple blocks away – actually not too long after we were there. Their new store now sports a street shop front and actually looks more like a store than a hoarder’s cluttered apartment! But never fear, Its still wall to wall, floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers of all kinds from super rare to garden variety and brand new to turning-to-dust just minus the creepy slum factor.

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I struck it lucky last time with a pair of Baltimore AF1’s in mint condition and as it turns out, that same strike of lightning struck again years later for the same pair but $20 cheaper! Perfect timing since the previous pair are on their way out.

Shopping tip: The website is still the best place to start with a mostly up to date inventory of stock and prices for a pre-visit recon mission. You can also check out stock in their other stores to see if its worth the trip out to them.

LA Avenue aka Napsize was another great place for us to stop last time but it too had moved, all the way to Harajuku! So the only other place left that sparked our interest was one that was missed the first time round, PX Megastore. There’s a few reviews online that speak rather highly of the place but unfortunately, to us it seemed a bit junky, kind of like rocking up to a garage sale a day later, its all been picked through, the half decent stuff is gone and you’re left with stuff you could easily do without. Its not a complete loss though, there is a large range of new and (mostly) used brand name street wear including sneakers, G Shocks, endless amounts of Supreme branded items and a huge selection of clothing, a lot of which can be viewed on their website. There’s also racks of clothing and sneaker basket bins at clearance prices at the front.

Prices were very hit and miss, more along the lines of miss which didn’t help, but if you like a rummage sale in a bad-part-of-town discount store feel and are in the market for some vintage street wear then its worth the several blocks walk from the station.  You may however have better luck at one of their other stores.


Nakano

From a tourist’s point of view, Nakano for all points and purposes is just Nakano Broadway mall, which is pretty much all there is at this small station but if you want a toy, electronics, games and anime mecca outside of Aki’ba then this is the perfect stop. In fact, you wouldn’t feel too bad if you had to miss out on the latter after spending a fair portion of the day here.

Travel tip: take the north exit from the station and its just across the awning covered street.

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The first section of the mall is actually Nakano Sun mall, over 200m of branded shops and restaurants in a similar vein to the B grade retailers from your regular Westfield. Uniqlo is there for some well priced basic clothing along with a range of mobile phone and small electronic shops. Continue along till you reach the escalators, this will take you up to level 3 and is where the fun begins!

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So in the vein of Aki’ba its an anime and toy heaven and judging from the number of Mandarake stores it really should’ve just been called the Manadarake centre, seriously there’s more than 12! Some aren’t branded or are focused on only one type of product but the price tags all have the name. So basically if you want any kind of model kit, anime figure, manga book, RC toy or general electronics, you’ll be hard pressed to not find it here. The catch slight however is a fair portion of the items are used or of vintage status which is a blessing and a curse for some (actually if you’re looking for latest and greatest this is probably not the best place to start). There are also a large number of gashapon hoarding stores (basically they collect (possibly by buy, sell, trade) pretty much every gashapon “prize” new and old and individually package them) so if you’re after that chaser you’ve spent forever looking for, more than likely they’ll have it here, usually at a premium. Its better than having to pour money into a machine on a prayer but granted its not nearly as much fun.

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The stores themselves are reminiscent of the multi level bargain market style buildings in China, no real décor or order other than shelves to hold stock, usually floor to ceiling. It took me hours to get to the point but eventually they did start to all blend together, only the odd few with something different to sell (or a big strip of mech-waste bolted to the store front) stood out. But again, if you have the time and love the hunt there’s plenty of treasures to be found.

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Stairs take you to adjacent levels with more of the same with a change in ratio of cutesy clothing shops to toys and vice versa.

There are also little electronic stores that sell bits and pieces of computers and radios etc. and vintage consoles and games. I’m not too sure on how they go with haggling but a couple stores automatically gave discounts for multi buys, one even slipped in an extra game cartridge with a wink and a “shhh”! Nice one! 😀 FYI, Fonzy’s “eeyyy” finger guns have the same “you’re awesome!” translation in Japanese as well 😉

Travel Tip: stores open till around 7 but many begin closing from 5 or 6.

The supermarket on the lower level is a good spot to grab some supplies of fresh fruit and veg and snacks before heading back to the station.

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Part of the haul ;)

Part of the haul ;)

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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If you don’t know what Studio Ghibli is, stop reading and head down to your video store and at the VERY least hire out Ponyo. Its one of the most readily available works and is easily digestable with some big name Hollywood actors lending their voices to the characters. For the uninitiated it’s a good place to start for a peak into the world of the creations from co founder, animator and director, Hayao Miyazaki and Japanese anime in general (that doesn’t involve Mecha or demon tentacle rape).

Yes it’s a kids cartoon but it and the Studio Ghibli philosophy of wide eye wonder and innocence is something many would say is missing from today’s society. Where Disney portrays a lot of things happen by magic, the SG way of things is much more whimsical in a simple acceptance that there are many worlds and realms within our own and characters from each interact freely.

This simplicity and untainted wonder can be traced directly back to what some might say “eccentricities” of Hayao Miyazaki. Very much a traditionalist in the art of animation with most bar a couple of his recent works being all drawn, coloured and animated by hand and he has on many occasions voiced his displeasure with technology, not owning a computer or DVD player and even going as far as saying people using iPads are making masturbation gestures (though isnt that just Apple users in general? 😉 ). This rejection of technology is imposed at the museum where absolutely no photos are permitted. Some (including myself at first) will think this is a bit of a jip feeling like you’re back in an 80’s theme park without film and stuck having to resort to buying your overpriced memories from the giftshop! As true as that may be it adds to the wonderment and for once in a long time (apart from those nights where you’re too drunk to take photos (or ones worth keeping)) many will not have a minute by minute running commentary of their outing and will have to rely on their other body’s sensors not the one in their camera. So this reduces our usual story by pictures account of events but it just means you’ll have to go experience it for yourself 😉

Travel Tip: All tickets are prepaid and are limited to a certain number each day to maximise your experience and comfort (if only all tourist spots did this!). For international tourists, the best way to secure a ticket is to purchase them through authorised dealers/travel agents in your home country, they are also available via some convenience stores in Japan but this choice would be for those with a flexible schedule. Tickets go on sale 3 months in advance so you have plenty of time to plan your stay if you’re on a tight schedule like we were. In Brisbane we used H.I.S. travel in the city.

Getting there:

The website suggests a couple different ways of getting there, namely shuttle bus, but we recommend leaving your hotel a little earlier, catching the train to Kichijoji station and walking. Head south out of the station, through some lanes of boutique stores and follow the signs to Inokashira park (a highlight from our previous visit, with a rather different look in the summer), then on to the museum. The walk takes about 30-45min which includes regular stopping for photos through out the park but once you hit the major road it’s a straight run to the unmissable destination.

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Unmissable in the sense that…well, it’s a castle! Despite this, with help from plenty of wall crawling natural follage, it blends well into the surrounding cityscape bar the pseudo ticket booth manned by everyone’s favourite keeper of the forest, Totoro. Its not until you head inside does it feel like you’re truly stepping into one of his films. Descending a grand stair case like royalty lands you on the ground floor which houses a cinema and an open floor where you can see up three stories to skylights and a ceiling fan made of airplane wings.

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Rooms branch off from the center with one housing a selection of basic animation techniques. A large carosel houses a fully detailed scene with Totoro figures sequenced like stop motion but more like a flip book where the preceding “frame” is a short distance behind the current. The characters come to life as the wheel spun and a strobe flickered. These types basic principles and methods used in animation are displayed in varying forms of timed live “shows” and hands on exhibits as you work your way up to the top level.

Here you’ll see a re-creation of several of his work areas, which looked pretty much like a fair portion of his house. Anyone who’s dabbled in anything artistic in the way of painting or drawing would instantly recognise the chaotic yet “I know exactly where that is” layout of clutter over desks and shelves. An airbrush sits at the ready like a six shooter, sketches with annotations, scrawls and correction sit to the side of a current half completed work, piles of loose pages are on top of sketch books propped up on big jars full of pencils which have been sharpened down to a “roach” sized nubbin in amongst ash trays full of butts surrounded by shelves of coloured paints of all kinds of mediums while every last inch of wall and shelf space is covered with all matter of completed works, art, figures, toys and other kinds of inspiration. The room exhibit themselves being a work of art… in a haphazard Hoarders TV show kind of way. All that was missing was a framed “Bless this mess” cross-stitching to tie it all in together 😉

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Also on this level you’ll find the kids play room with a third scale Cat Bus and Soot sprites! (only for kids tho ): ). Before you get too bummed about that or embarrass yourself by yelling “My turn! My turn!” before pushing them out of the way, head out the door and climb the spiral stairs to the roof to visit another friend you might know from Castle in the Sky. Hes sneakily hiding amongst the trees (quite a feat considering his size) and is barely visible from the ground. Grab a photo of him by himself then get the person behind you to take one of you together. It was pretty much an unspoken production line for those waiting. People behind would shoot for those in front, it worked out quite well and the line moved quickly for the most part. Note: the path behind the sculpture goes no where.

Finally, if you’re chasing refreshments, there is a coffee shop and restaurant on site however the restaurant had a long queue the whole time we were there and getting a table inside or out was pretty much impossible. Better to just pack some snacks and pop into one of the restaurants back towards Kichijoji station.

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That pretty much wraps it up, though you could easily go here 10 times and spot something new each time in the restrooms alone! (seriously check them out) The best part is that its not just a collage or library of the studio’s work but a homage to the art of traditional animation, the man behind it and the inspiration he and his work has had on numerous movies and big Hollywood animators.

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Travel tip: Like most museums, your outing can take anywhere from a couple hours to the better part of a day if you choose to read all the info plaques and watch whatever is screening in the cinema but generally budgeting half a day including the walk out and back is enough time to get you back to Kichijoji station for a late lunch.

Travel tip: While there are literally hundreds of choices to eat, we found a chain store (only because we ended up seeing the same restaurant everywhere) that had the perfect balance of variety and value for money. Not having any skills in reading Japanese we aptly named the place “Rollertarg”. Why? Because the first symbol in its name looked like a rollerskate, very similar to the Chinese character “ma” for horse and about ¾ along there was a red target just like the logo for… Target. Ingenious! Yea we thought so too 😉 It was quite distinctive and made it easy for many last minute decision makings through out our trip. You want value? Try this on for size – 2x Miso soups, a meat and vegetable dish, a fried rice dish and a side of Gyozas …for around $14AU! Yep we were completely stuffed after that effort and no Cat Bus anywhere to be seen to chauffer us around! But it was welcoming to have the strain was on our bellies and not our wallets! Note: this particular restaurant (and many others in Japan) allow smoking. Its usually in a separate section or designated tables but this place had it after a certain time in the evening.

So with the extra Yen we saved burning a hole in our pockets we waddled off for a wander around Kichijoji.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

09.25.2012

A couple weeks back the Brisbane Table Tennis Centre once again became home for the QMHE – Qld Model Hobbies Expo, a weekend of scale model displays, workshops and competitions.

Being our first time out, we weren’t too sure what to expect but definitely weren’t disappointed with hundreds of builds on display from the basic kit projects to ultra realistic reproductions. Subjects covered the usual military, automotive and flying machines and on to fictional spacecraft, anime mecha warriors reenacted movie scenes to the straight up weird.

Retailers were also out in force selling all the staples along with some very specific items, you know its serious business when there’s a store pretty much only selling tiny metal facades for those wanting that final touch of authenticity. Unfortunately a lot of places were selling full blown RRP (and then some) but there were the odd jewels of exhibition specials and paints at “I’ll take two!” kind of prices.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a couple hours with a lot of very passionate builders only too happy to gush about their latest creation.

Complete QMHE photos gallery here

Japantown - Peace Pagoda

Japantown is a short bus ride from from Union Square, catching just about any bus on Geary St. will get you there. Arriving earlier in the morning will give you free run of the place, even though it didn’t seem to get very busy. The “town” is based around a couple shopping centers sharing the Peace Plaza, an open area with the unmissable Peace Pagoda. Surrounding blocks house smaller businesses mostly restaurants and eateries, but having just had a big breakfast there was only one thing on our minds… TOYS!

It is definitely one of the best spots in SF for anime and collectible vinyl figures, I will just list the major ones but in general, the place isn’t -that- big and can easily done in a couple hours of slow browsing.

Japan Video and Auto Freak

Japan Video – as the name suggests, lots of dvd movies and animated series, plenty of JDM stuff for sale and rental. Small selection of toys but a healthy range of plush items.

Auto Freak – if you need to “Asian” up your car or if you want it to look like an EKKA showbag exploded on/in it then look no further this is the place with all manner of novelty knick knacks to do just that. Pedals, gauges, neon, covers, stickers, air fresheners, tissue box covers… you get the idea. They also have a range of die cast model cars and sponsored and novelty race/drift inspired shirts.

Amiko

Amiko – complete cuteness overload in this store with a fair portion of it dedicated to child and baby wear. Small range of men’s tees but the rest is all girls or kids. A few plushes but focus more on practical items based on popular characters like Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Domo-Kun etc.

JPNToys

JPNToys – much more along the lines of a traditional collector toys store with all the staples – blind boxes, vinyl figures, action figures (Revoltech, Figma, Transformers), plushes and plenty of themed tee’s. Prices were pretty average, but there was a small clearance section and selected items on sale so resistance was futile when it came to a Gloomy bear wall clock for $18US.

Moritaya

Moritaya – another explosion of plush with extra Rilakkuma and Pickachu and adaption of these characters to accessories like pens and keychains and household items. They also stock a selection of imported make up.

Katachi

Katachi – this store had a lot of different bits and pieces but focused mainly on Japanese ornaments and souvenirs in the way of Kimono wearing dolls, framed artwork, lanterns and replica and full sized Samurai swords. There’s also a good selection of chef knives and pocket/hunting knives. This was also one of the few places we saw in SF that stocked Toki Doki shirts.

Kinokuniya bookstore – is huge. Not just Japanese/Asian related either, there’s plenty of quirky arts and craft and cooking books. Downstairs has Manga galore, a huge range and more than likely the ability to chase after selected titles/issues for you. Ample stationary and a small selection of toys and clothing as well. The website is just as extensive with many country specific variations, Australia included.

Japantown Collectibles

Japantown Collectibles – definitely saving the best for last with this one, easily my fave store in SF. It’s an unfortunately small store crammed wall to wall, floor to ceiling with figures, models and collectibles. With the hoarding style of display it was both exciting to be hunting round for treasure and frustrating that a lot you couldn’t get to and while helpful, asking the staff every time you wanted a price or closer inspection got tiring rather quickly. Never the less the range of model car kits was enough for me to not walk out empty handed, sadly most items went begging due to the size of their packaging and the dwindling size of my luggage space!

Next up, we head to THE bighouse, the Rock… Alcatraz.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Japantown is pretty much an outdoor mall (Japanese Village Plaza) and its surrounding streets. The plaza has a good mix of the stores you’d expect. Sanrio (Hello Kitty), traditional style souvenirs and apparel, authentic cuisines, bakeries and grocery markets. Sneakers are covered with Footland Sports. They stock a good range of current items including colourways and styles that you’d expect from a much larger store. Very few of the items have prices, when asked, they’re all around standard RRP but with a “I give you a special price” post-fix, so there’s a bit of bargaining to had if you’re purchasing a few items. There’s also a sale wall at the back with old season stock.

Sanrio - Japantown LA

Outside the mall the sneaker fun continues with RIF LA, the downtown consignment answer to West Hollywood’s Flightclub. Similar range, though the prices were higher. As with any bricks and mortar store, the benefit would be being able to go in, handle the shoe and try it on rather than taking your chances on ebay and the like.

RIF LA

On the northern side of the plaza is easily one of LA biggest and best anime stores, Anime Jungle (second store on the southern side). Huge selection of Manga, cosplay outfits, Gundam model kits, tees and anime related merch. The store itself isn’t very obvious with “Cure shop” on its front window but its unmistakable once you walk in.

Anime Jungle

A block to the west you have Weller Court, a small mall with a nature strip and Japanese gardens, perfect for taking a rest from all that walking! The last stop is Q Pop, a mid size store with a good selection of vinyl collectibles, clothing and books. It differs from the usual with a more advent guarde approach to the clothing and artworks, a bit more twisted and a little less cute, there’s also a selection of finer arts like paintings and sculptures. They of course still have the cheek squeezing super cute stuff if that’s more to your liking.

Q Pop LA

Q Pop LA

Next up, we ditch the shopping bags and hit up a string of sight seeing and entertainment!

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

Before embarking on our trip, we didn’t hear the end of how trashy LA is and how much better NYC was, but I’ve always chosen 2pac over Jigga :p
I guess it’s the same as what most Brisbane people think of the Gold Coast, but like the GC, if you avoid the touristy/trashy areas you can appreciate the laidback lifestyle and friendly locals. It also helps if you don’t stay in Hollywood or downtown LA, so what better place to stay than Santa Monica.

The trade off for choosing any hotel in a coastal area is usually distance to beach/view versus cost. We found that unless you were within a block or 2 of the ocean it was pointless spending the extra to wake up with sand in your teeth. If you planning on spending more time in your hotel room than outside, then the extra money will be worth it, but you also have to ask yourself why are you wasting your holiday in doors 😉

The happy medium is finding a nice hotel within a short walk of the beach, enter Double Trees, Santa Monica. This is a well known hotel chain in America (they have the one right in the middle of Times Square NYC) and for the average traveler facilities are quite luxurious. Price is a little more than what you would pay for similar places on the Hollywood side of the Pacific Coast Hwy but being on 4th street its only a 10-15min walk to the beach and 3rd street Promenade, which brings us to the shopping.

Shopping

3rd street Promenade is very much the Queen Street mall of Santa Monica minus the Myer Center. Chain clothing stores, eateries and plenty of boutique stores, everything you’d expect from a buzzing commercial hub. This is also where you’d go to catch a bus to downtown.

Nike SB Greenbay Packers

Sneakers are covered with Adidas, Footlocker, Skechers and Puma. Special point of interest is CCS which stocks a leaning towards skate wear, so plenty of Nike SB’s and Dunks along with the usual skate and skate inspired footwear brands, but is one of the few places I saw in LA that sold Nike SB apparel (tees and hoodies).

Journey has less “sport” brands but plenty of Chuck Taylors/One star Converse and Doc Martins also deserves a quick look in.

For toys, figures and games you can’t go past Puzzle Zoo. They stock a big range of commercial action figures, collectibles and anime. They also cover those little mind game puzzles and quirky toys (unlink the rings, roll the ball bearing thru the wood maze anyone?) similar to what you’d find at National Geographic stores. They’re also big on souvenir and personalised gifts, license plates, mugs etc.

If you need to take a break, grab a Wetzel Pretzel, pull up a bench and watch one of the many street performers that frequent the area. Anything from breakdance routines to juggling. If the pretzel wasn’t enough there’s plenty of places you can grab an “English” pub style lunch and a pint.

Hang around the promenade long enough re: till the sun sets and you will see the street lit up like it was Christmas!

3rd Street Promenade

Lastly for the music heads that want to get their fingers dusty, head in about 1km on Wilshire Blvd from 3rd St Promenade for Second Spin. One of several stores in LA that has a vast collection of new and used music and dvd’s, records and cd’s. Prices are very reasonable and there are usually deals if you spend a certain amount or for multiple items. The stores also carry different stock than the website. I thought I could save on postage by ordering online then collecting from the store but their online stock comes from a separate warehouse and is subsequently sent from there. Turns out this was a good thing since I ended up ordering over 70 albums :p

Boardwalk/Venice Beach
Big multi-nat corp shopping not your thing? Then its time to mosey on down the boardwalk. It, like most of LA is pretty flat so walking is a breeze. If you want to get around a bit quicker (and don’t have too much to carry) then hiring a bicycle is the way to go.

Starting at the Santa Monica Pier end we chose to follow Ocean Front Walk down and then come back via the boardwalk. There’s not much to start with but once you get about 1/3 of the way towards Venice Beach, it quickly becomes cluttered with market stalls, tourist shops and a slow meandering Ekka style crowd. The markets themselves stock all the usual things you’d expect to see, from hand crafted jewellery and ornaments to the “hand painted” clichés of LA and movie stars. I say “hand painted”, because a lot of the stuff is made to look that way and could very well be, but its mass produced so you’ll see the same “original” pieces over and over again. Also be on guard for anyone approaching you trying to sweet talk you into buying a product or service, they will literally tell you anything to part you from your lucrative tourist dollars!

For a change of pace, head in land two blocks to Main st. This has more of a James st. in New Farm feel with a plethora of boutique shops, designer and quaint indies. For sneakers, Undefeated is the spot, yes the one and the same from the episode of Entourage when Turtle is trying to track down his Fujiyama customs and Vince is pipped by the late DJ AM at this store. Check out the clearance section near the register for some bargains.

Undefeated Santa Monica

Clothing wise there’s plenty of vintage stores but a must see for a nostalgic moment is the ZJ Boarding House shop, better known as Zephyr Skate. Pretty much the birth of skateboarding and further made famous by the movie Lords of Dogtown. Since 2007 it has been officially listed as a LA landmark. Even though the store is now a shallow existence of its former self (looks like every other mass produced surf/skate shop out there) it is still owned by the same people that rebirthed it back in 1988 even if Heath Ledger isn’t drunk off his tits throwing surfboards off the roof 😉

ZJ Boarding House

Further towards Venice Beach there are a couple sport stores but none I found of much interest.

Next up, the cheapest and possibly the best thing to do at the beaches… sight seeing! 😉

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

If you missed the first part of our LA adventures, check them out here

Sunset Blvd

Keep on cruisin down Melrose and you’ll come across a skate shop – few less cliché skate items/brands and a few Nike SB items; Fat Beats for your hiphop music needs; forget trying to find the Footlocker, its gone but is still listed in directory searches; plenty of little boutique clothing and jewellery stores; then a few metres right, into N Fuller Av is JapanLA. As the name suggests, they stock cutsie Japanese inspired fashion, mostly Tokidoki but with more variety and generous sale items. There’s even boxes of clearance items at the back, hello Gloomy Bear figures for $7. The staff are very friendly and very easy on the eyes 😉 They also stock Mr. Egg and Mr. Toast! ^__^
Shopping in between season means you get winter bargains like Tokidoki hoodies for $30-40US. Winner!

The vinyl obsession continues a couple doors down with Munky King. This store is set up more like an art gallery than a retail store. Minimal lush fittings and an art space towards the rear of the store. They stock a big range of the usual Kidrobot and associate style vinyls as well as a few other more obscure designs and artists. There’s also a small selection of apparel. Definitely the place to visit if you’re getting sick of Dunnys or Labbits.

On the subject of vinyls and similar toys/action figures, be ready to pull them out of your carry on at American customs, especially those with small parts like Revoltech figures. Thanks to the unusual shapes and small parts, under the x-ray machine they tend to come up as “unknown”.

The shops start to thin off after this, but hook a left into La Brea for a couple of LA’s colourful landmarks. First is Pink’s Hot Dogs, no, not the singer but just as famous with many celebrities choosing to pop in for a quick bite and also being featured in many movies and TV shows. We weren’t disappointed when we walked passed and saw a banner “Pink’s welcomes David Hassellhoff“. Sure enough, The Hoff was there slingin dogs to a line half way down the block. Though a long line up is hardly out of the norm and is classed as part of its charm. We didn’t have time to sample the cuisine but all reports say its worth the wait.

Pink's Hotdogs on La Brea Hollywood

If you didn’t want to wait for food there’s a few fast food places including Macca’s as you head north on La Brea. Couple blocks on, you’ll also come across a Best Buy (like a cross between Office Works and Harvey Norman) and a group of shops including Target. In this centre, if you walk up the stairs to Target, there’s a landing where you have a clear view of the Hollywood sign. Perfect if you aren’t going up in the hills to check it out. Photographer’s tip: for a nice big shot of the sign – point and shoot users – you’ll need at least a 10x zoom; dslr users – 200mm is ok but 300mm if you want to fill the frame. Another photo op is available on Sunset Blvd at the intersection looking west at sunset (they don’t call it that for nothing!) against a backdrop of the clichéd palm tree lined street.

Hollywood sign

A block and a bit further you’ll come across everyone’s favourite tattooist, Kate Von D and her famous LA Ink store aka High Voltage Tattoo. If you’re familiar with the TV series, the store is just as crazy in real life with wall to wall decorations of memorabilia, varies knick knacks and art pieces. Even if you only have a passing interest in the pierced and painted, simply hanging round the store sees all matter of subjects from the quirky to the down right weird! Good luck getting an appointment on short notice tho!

If you’re Google mapping, search for “High Voltage Tattoo” which is the actual store, “LA Ink” shows up as its studio which is further down the block.

LA Ink - High Voltage Tattoo on La Brea, Hollywood

Beginning of Hollywood walk of fame

About 4 blocks after that and passing Jim Henderson’s Muppet Studio, you’ll hit Hollywood Blvd, which is the start of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and home to iconic landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe it or not and Capitol Records Tower.

Hollywood Blvd

There are also plenty of tacky tourist shops on this strip, but the pricing for the most part is reasonable and you can pick up multiple souvenir tee’s for $10US. Just check their quality first, even though the design might be the same, the consistency of the shirts tend to vary.

Hollywood Blvd

By now you’re probably just about spent but if you’ve still got a couple bucks left in your wallet and the shopping bags haven’t completely severed your fingers off, jump in a cab and head to the Beverly Center
On the cheap: find a bus that goes all the way down N La Brea to W 3rd St then get another that goes from there out to La Cienega Blvd.

The Beverly Center is probably the closest you’ll find to Brisbane’s own Myer center. Couple large higher end Department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s and then the countless specialty shops with the majority leaning towards female shoes and apparel. There is a cinema and food court on the top level but the real reason to head here is for the view. There’s an outdoor courtyard on the top level with a nice broad 180 degree view of LA.

Photographers tip: bring a tripod to set on a chair to shoot over the glass partition or a point and shoot to sit on top of one of the frame if you’re shooting at night to get pass the reflections, unless of course you carry a black bed sheet around!

LA at night - view from the Beverly Center (click for big)

In the way of sneakers you have a choice of 2 sporting stores Champs and Finish Line and 1 specialist (on the top floor level 8 ) Shiekh Shoes and Footlocker (floor 6). While only Shiekh Shoes has a selection of slightly more obscured models and colourways the real benefit is they all have a good selection of items on sale at great prices. 2 pairs of Adidas Attitudes for $50US? Don’t mind if I do! The Footlocker here is quite large as well so there’s a chance you’ll find a few extra colourways.

Useless fact: In the movie “Volcano” they have scenes when the center was still under construction.

By now, you’ll probably be as broke and broken as we were. We contemplated paying $50 for a cab back to Santa Monica but with a bus stop on the corner, we caught one up La Cienega Blvd to Santa Monica Blvd, got some booze and aspirin from the CVS drug store and then another bus all the way back out to 4th street in Santa Monica for a fraction of the cost.

Back in Santa Monica we hit the hay so we could hit boardwalk the next day.

Next up… Santa Monica and Venice Beach!
Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

Melrose Av West Hollywood +cliche' cop car

After a day stopover in Ueno, Tokyo we were on our way to Los Angeles. Crossing the International Date Line meant it was going to be the longest Saturday ever, even longer than that 3 day bender in college where I was down to drinking Vodka and cordial dregs from the night before by the end of it… but that’s another story.

It’s true what they say, “nobody walks in LA”. Simply because everything is so far apart… and to add to it, the public transport is pretty rubbish for a major city. So your best bet if you’re staying longer than a 2-3 days is to hire a car. Being the USA this can be quite cheap but remember you will need to find and pay for parking.

Since we were only there for 3 days we opted to skip the car and go with the alternatives. Coming from the airport, the easiest and quite reasonable option for door to door is to use Super Shuttle, a private shuttle bus company at pretty much every major city in the States. They’re easy to spot as you leave the terminal, big blue vans with bright yellow writing. You can just go to the stop and wait for one or pre-book, save a few bucks and guarantee yourself a seat, roughly $20-25US. Note that you will more than likely be sharing with other passengers over several pickup and drop off points so the journey can take some time. We also noticed there can be a lack of order/priority at times between the driver and the representative at the pickup point, pretty much whoever yelled/nagged or was stubborn the most got their way!

If you’re on a tight budget then your only real option is to catch a bus which may not be feasible if you have to make 3 transfers and still have to hike it with all your luggage. The up side is it’s a fraction of the cost (round $5US) and you don’t need to tip the driver.

After circling LAX 3 times with a full van load we hit the motorway along with LA’s oblivious sloth-like drivers. A bit over an hour later we were at our hotel, the modestly luxurious Double Trees in Santa Monica. 4 star/3 diamond rated, short 10min walk to the beach, 15min to the pier and definitely one of the better priced hotels for the location. The big warm chocolate chip cookie on arrive was a nice touch :) Room size was more than adequate, large lounge area with kitchen space and large bedroom. Not to mention it was so good to have a shower after wearing the same clothes for more than 56hours!

I wrote a more detailed review on Tripadvisor, complete with a whinge about housekeeping taking our shoe boxes!

West Hollywood

We only really had one major day for shopping in LA so we wanted to make it count. While downtown has it perks you really cant go past the one stop shop, that is West Hollywood. If you want strictly high end designer gear than you’ll wanna keep going till you hit Hollywood for some Rodeo Drive action, otherwise this is a great place to start for modern streetwear, quirky vintage, good selection of sneakers and a generous serving of everybody’s favourite retail dish, sales!

First stop is Melrose Ave. complete with “Melrose place” (the street, which looks nothing like the show and no one actually comes back to life after they die (if only it was the same for the show)). This stretch of 10-15 blocks is great for a day, or even a half day power play shop-over.

We started down the western end at Burton/Analog. Plenty of ski, surf and skate wear, relaxed staff and even their pet dog lounging next to the counter. A little further along is Fred Segal, kind of like “Country Road” meets Roger David and Cue, mostly noted for its vine covered building and in store toilet (a godsend since there’s no public toilets that we could see till you hit La Brea Ave more than 1km away!)

Heading east you’ll hit Bape, Adidas Originals and then a little cluster of the coolest group of shops you’ll ever come across. Kidrobot, Tokidoki and Loyal army covers the Japanese inspired art, vinyl collectibles and apparel so cute you’ll leave with sore thumbs from pinching the cheeks of everything there!

Loyal Army and Kidrobot on Melrose Av

Paul Frank continues this theme with their large store. They had quite a few items on sale but on the day we were there they were also handing out scratch-it coupons where you received a mystery %-off discount. The shopping gods smile upon us that day as we scored 40% off. If we didn’t have to try and get it home, the beach cruiser bicycle would be sitting in my garage right now!

The last shop of mention in this group is one of our favourites, Johnny Cupcakes. For those that don’t know, no, unfortunately they don’t actually sell cupcakes, but they do sell cupcake related clothing and accessories in a less cutsie and more So-Cal rock kinda way and the store is set up like a 50’s bakery!

Retro ovens, display cases, fridges and even a black and white checkered floor. Most of the items are in the fridges and a café pastry style display case. Not only that Mr. Cupcake, Johnny Earle himself is quite the entrepreneur and only too happy to share his knowledge on his blog and tours business seminars to uni students and work expos. The designs range from baseball and sport themes to their classic cupcake and bones logo, all in a variety of bold and vibrant colours. What makes the designs special is they are all limited, once the batch has sold out that is it forever. Definitely one way to not be another General Universal Pants clone.

Johnny Cupcakes on Melrose Av

A couple blocks along Melrose, you’ll hit North Fairfax Av. With Flightclub LA and Supreme. Flightclub has a feel of a Hong Kong or Tokyo shoe store. 2 large walls from floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers, very impressive. They also deal in pre owned items like K-Skit but don’t opening advertise it as such, so if you’re after brand new, you might want to check first. Either way, you’re in for some bargains and maybe some rare finds. The selection is predominant Nike and Jordans with a scattering of other brands, a small rack of tees and a selection of G-Shock watches and New Era caps. I picked up 2009 Nike SB Greenbay Packers for $60US, which are more than double that to buy locally at $160AU rrp and 2009 Nike AF-1 Armed Forces Ltd Ed. for $70US.

Most of the sizes are on display but don’t hesitate to check with them, just in case

Flightclub LA

Further down Fairfax is Supreme if you have a penchant for the more designer stuff or love muppets apparel 😉

If you’re still feenin’ for sneakers, back on Melrose is Sportie LA, which is divided up into 3 separate stores, new footwear, new apparel and preowned. The new footwear store is one of the few places that focus less on Nike, in fact they don’t even have a brand listing on their site, instead they opt for Converse, Adidas, Vans, Asics, Supra and even LA Gear. Though if you’re looking for some rarities or a bargain or just something a bit different than the norm, the preowned store is the one to scope out. There are some items that have clearly been on display forever and are subsequently “shop soiled” and dusty (no shrink wrapping), but the majority of the stock is in good/mint condition. Further in to the store is all new stock, with plenty of boots and dressier shoes for the ladies.

Stay tuned for part #2 when we continue to cruise down Melrose, up La Brea to Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

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