Thursday, February 22, 2018


Setagaya lies on the south-western side of Tokyo and is probably a bit off the beaten track for most tourists, but I took a trip over there to visit Gotokuji (豪徳寺) [often referred to by the redundant title of Gotokuji Temple].

Gotokuji is purported to be the birthplace of the maneki neko (招き猫), but I haven't really looked into how far back this claim dates to. The story follows the general storyline of many maneki neko narratives, with a cat who lived in the temple beckoning a passing lord (in this case Ii Naotaka) to take shelter in the temple during a rainstorm. After entering the temple, the tree under which the lord was originally sheltering is struck by lightning, resulting in the lord becoming a benefactor of the temple out of gratitude for his good fortune. Eventually, statues of the cat are sold as good luck charms for people who believed in the magical powers of the cat.

I probably let my imagination carry me away after reading blog posts about there being thousands of cat statues at the temple, so I was a bit confused when I arrived to find not a single maneki neko in sight.

The statues are actually located to one side of a shrine within the temple.

The maneki neko are on the left side of this shrine.

Some other interesting things I saw around Gotokuji Station included the local tram in maneki neko livery to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the old Tamagawa Line.

Setagaya Line Tram

A business in the educational services industry called リライフ (which I will transcribe as ReLIFE).

ReLIFE on the 3rd floor to the left.

After visiting Gotokuji, we stopped by Shimokitazawa (aka Shimokita), a bohemian neighborhood that some people liken to Koenji or UraHara.

We only spent a couple of hours walking around, but it seemed like an interesting area. I didn't see any places selling toys or figures, but there were a couple of arcade centers. There are supposed to be many theaters and live houses in the area as well. It would probably be nice to visit during the summer, particularly during the Shimokitazawa Music Festival.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Suginami and Nakano

I visited Suginami primarily to look around Asagaya where the story in the anime New Game! takes place. Leaving the station through the south exit (recognizable by the nearby Starbucks), we headed left to the Pearl Center shotengai and followed the path of the shopping arcade southward.

Pearl Center viewed from Asagaya Station

It was just before dinner time, and there were many people out walking their dogs and doing some shopping.

Eventually we came to a branch in the road. The uncovered portion of the arcade is Minami Asagaya Suzuran Street, while the covered part branches off to the right. Both streets will take you near the new-AD building, just different sides.

We continued down Suzurandori because it seemed this was the route that was typically used in the anime. Most of the businesses were closed up for the night (being primarily clothing stores), and it seemed the area was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Asasuzu, the street mascot

At the end of the path and to the right was the new-AD building, which served as the model for the Eagle Jump building in the anime.

I visited again a few days later to take some photos during the day. I noticed a relocation sign on the front door. I wonder if an actual game company would ever consider moving into the building?

Later in the evening, we wandered around the northeast side of Asagaya station. Along the tracks is Star Road (スターロード), a narrow road lined with small bars and restaurants. The slightly seedy atmosphere was a bit evocative of Dokudami Tenement except without the 80s fashions.

The next stop was Koenji to the east, known for its used clothing stores. However, I was there to find the new location of Giant Hobby, which had moved away from Nakano Broadway some years ago. To get to the new location, exit Koenji Station through the south exit, and go down about two streets until you see the Now or Never used clothing store, then turn right.

The ИoN store viewed facing northward

The street is quite narrow, but you should be able to see their sign near the second story level off to the left.

Finally was a visit of Nakano Broadway. I didn't see too much of a difference overall in the place since my last visit. Some of the specialty stores that were present before (such as Giant Hobby) were gone, but I'm pretty sure most of the anime related stores remained the same. There did seem to be a dearth of Nendoroid Petit figures, but there was still plenty to look at.

An interesting exhibit showing production art and a couple of giant mascot dolls from Takashi Murakami's uncompleted 6HP (Six Hearts Princess) was being held in Nakano Broadway.

Two art books were being sold at the exhibit. I purchased the one covering the mechanical design from the anime. There was another book on the character design, but it was not as interesting to me.

Pink or Black? Which do you like?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Washinomiya Shrine

One of the traditional otaku pilgrimage spots has been Washinomiya Jinja in Saitama, because of its connection to the anime Lucky Star (being the model for the fictional Takanomiya Shrine).

The location is about an hour away from Ueno, and we paid a visit on a particularly gusty morning that was quite chilly.

We took the JR Utsunomiya Line to Higashi-Washinomiya Station which was kind of a mistake because I didn't realize we should have transferred over to the Tobu Isesaki Line at Kuki Station and got off at Washinomiya Station instead.

In any event, we needed to take the bus from Higashi-Washinomiya Station over to the shrine, but the buses were running on a limited schedule due to the New Year's holiday.

The bus stop is a short distance away from the station. Just head out diagonally to the right from the station and take a right turn at the street just in front of the Shingaku building.

Keep walking, and eventually you will get to the Nishi Owa bus stop.

We got off at the Washinomiya Shrine Entrance bus stop, and had to walk toward the highway, and around the block to get to the shrine itself.

The road to the shrine is fairly recognizable by the street lamps with banners featuring the Hiiragi sisters on them. I actually didn't notice them at first because it was so windy that most of the banners were all twisted up so you couldn't really see what was on them.

At the end of the street, turn right, and there is the shrine.

To the right of the torii gate is the Ootori teashop.

The path up to the shrine was lined with yatai selling food and snacks. One or two them had a bit of Lucky Star art used as decoration.

Because the temple was in full use and many areas had limited access, it was difficult to get good pictures of the actual shrine itself.

We bought a hamaya sold by the shrine, though it was the least expensive type, so it did not have a bulb at the tip like the larger and more expensive arrows which resembled kaburaya.

Afterwards, we had some snacks from the food stalls, and explored the grounds of the shrine.

One of the major attractions for a lot of people were the Lucky Star themed ema on display.

A small wooded area around the main shrine area housed a couple of lesser shrines.

It was a bit jarring coming to the end of some of the paths in the wooded area and finding yourself in a parking lot or somebody's backyard.

On the return walk, we found a bus stop that was very close to the front of the shrine, but there was no service to that particular stop on the day we were there, so we had to walk back where we were initially dropped off to take the bus back to the station.

Bus stop to return to station

If I come back to Saitama again, it's not going to be in winter. There are a number of other places in the region that I wanted to visit, but the short days coupled with the freezing wind pretty much encouraged us to make way back to Ueno as quickly as possible.

Monday, January 1, 2018

あけおめ 2018

Since I was in Tokyo during New Year's Eve, I figured that I would participate in hatsumode (初詣) at Kanda Myojin.

We arrived at about 21:30 and it was a balmy 3°C. A line already formed from the shrine and down the street.

I bought some amazake to warm us up from the Meishu Center next to the shrine. This branch of the sake promotion chain just opened up over the summer.

When the countdown to the new year was completed, the crowd began to move, and everyone filed into the grounds of shrine.

Unsurprisingly, there were many Love Live fans in the crowd. Some were readily identifiable by the jumbo nesoberi plush dolls they carried, while others were more low key, but I could overhear them talking about their favorite Love Live characters.

The crowd outside the shrine was even larger by the time we left.

On the walk back to the JR station, Akihabara's Chuo-dori was lined with itasha. I'm not sure if this is a regular weekend event, or if the owners were there for hatsumode.