Fake Real Geek Girl

You’ve heard about Fake Geek Girls, right?  Terrible, conniving women who spend time and money on costumes and merch, studying a fandom, not to mention paying for hotels and convention memberships, all so they can PRETEND TO BE FANS, to LURE INNOCENT YOUNG GEEK MEN into their TRAP.  Said trap being, as far as I can tell, that they don’t want to have sex with the men who desire yet hate them.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.  But the idea is out there — not just being perpetuated by actualfax journalists and industry professionals, but lurking on Tumblr, Reddit and 4Chan.  There are no female geeks.  They’re just pretending.  Women are cheerleaders, which is the female equivalent of the jock, and the jock is evil.  Also, high school: never actually ended.

(I’m not the only one who has that nightmare, right?  I’ve had so many dreams where I somehow forgot to complete my science class that I have trouble remembering that not only did I finish science, but I came fourth in my grade.  Which isn’t all that impressive, because it was multistrand science, and also I missed, like, a term due to illness that I never made up, so actually, it wasn’t so much that I was good at it, as I was just in a really average grade.)

Now, I’m a Real Geek Girl.  I even have the business cards to prove it!

(…Well, minicards.  I felt like a wanker as I ordered them, but every time I go to a con, I find myself wishing I had something to hand out with my Twitter and blog addresses on it.  And you can also put text on the back.  So I have Real Geek Girl cards.  Or I will when they arrive.)

I’ve been a Trekkie since I was ten.  I have childhood memories of Doctor Who.  I started my first fan fiction when I was 12.  I’m helping to run a science fiction convention, for heaven’s sake!

Doth the lady protest too much?

Well, yeah.

I love Voyager, the wrong version of Star Trek.  (It’s full of women, you know.)  As a child, it was Sylvester McCoy’s era of Doctor Who that I watched (it was full of women, you know), and as an adult, it was New Who (it marginalises men!) that made me fall in love with the series and seek out Classic Who again.  Just like my subconscious thinks I’m a fake high school graduate, my jerkbrain thinks I’m an imposter.

Fandom loves a hierarchy, especially if it can put women close to the bottom.  (Along with other marginalised groups, of course, and I don’t mean to dismiss or erase the experiences of genderqueer fans and fans of colour.  But at the same time, I can’t talk about their experiences either.)

She’s not really a fan.  She’s fannish, but she shouldn’t be.  She’s a fan, but look what she’s into.  

A few years ago, when I worked at Borders, a customer annoyed me so much that I turned our exchange into a crude comic.

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(Actual fact: there is a rare flower that blooms whenever the “City of Death” score is played.)

(Incidentally, I actually do have a chin.)

This isn’t just the fannish patriarchy.  The female-dominated end of fandom has its own internal hierarchy, with fic writers, vidders and cosplayers at the top, artists in the middle (“Anyone can draw!”) and lurkers — consumers, our own audience — at the bottom.

(For some ranting on the subject, come to the Lurker Panel at Continuum this year!  And if you’re wondering if it was a challenge to round up a panel’s worth of lurkers and persuade them to speak in public, you’d be quite correct.)

And crossing gender barriers is the idea that you’re not a “real” fan if you only like one era, or one spin-off, or you got into it because you like an actor.  There’s a reason Laura Mead’s essay in Chicks Unravel Time, “David Tennant’s Bum”, got so much attention from reviewers — she was proudly proclaiming that she was the Wrong Type Of Fan.

(The fact that her essay was also an exploration of the ways the Tenth Doctor represented a different kind of masculinity in his heroism seemed to go unnoticed — it’s not a new thing to say about the Doctor, but it has traditionally come bundled with baggage about asexuality, ie, he’s not a traditionally masculine hero and he wouldn’t touch anything so disgusting as a woman.)

I have this theory that, aside from the human love of constructing hierarchies, there’s a strong element of insecurity at work.

I mean, I don’t give credence to the stereotype of the nerd with no social skills, who lives with his parents in a room full of action figures, but I think a lot of us had a hard time in high school.  Bullies will latch on to anything that makes a person stand out, and only the very self-confident can keep that from touching them.

(And that self-confidence is what makes those kids popular.  Not that I could see it when I was a bad tempered 15 year old who hated everything and everyone but especially the popular kids.  But looking back, they were just as weird and awkward as everyone else, they just pretended they didn’t care.  I should have spent less time hating them and more time trying to cultivate that independence.)

When I was 11 and 12, some girls in my class used to slam me against a brick wall and shout, “BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!”

Those girls?  My best friends.  You know, when they weren’t bullying me, or belittling me for liking things they didn’t enjoy, or using me as the butt of their jokes…

I did eventually figure out that actually they weren’t my friends at all, but even now, I sometimes find that I tolerate poor treatment from people just because they say they’re my friend, and I get very, very defensive if people tease me about the stuff I’m into.

And it’s that defensiveness that creates these toxic hierarchies, these cultures of exclusion.  If what I like becomes popular, there won’t be room for me.  If there are new people coming into my fandom, I need to establish myself at the top of the peak, because what if they turn out to be really popular?

And then, sometimes, that gets tied up with the misogyny that permeates our society.  It’s a mixture of fear, male entitlement, and the psychological scars of adolescence.

Or maybe I’m just extrapolating from my own experience to the entire human race, which is probably a bad idea, but I feel like there might be a grain of truthiness somewhere.

Books read in March 2013

The Dust Bowl Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan History
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen with annotations by David M. Shapard Classic
The Death Maze Ariana Franklin Crime
Relics of the Dead Ariana Franklin Crime
Eleanor of Aquitaine: by the wrath of God, Queen of England Alison Weir History
The Assassin’s Prayer Ariana Franklin Crime
The Shattering Karen Healey YA NZ
Gilt Katherine Longshore YA
Thus Was Adonis Murdered Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Shortest Way to Hades Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Sirens Sang of Murder Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Sybil in her Grave Sarah Caudwell Crime
When We Wake Karen Healey YA NZ
The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino Crime

Oh sure, this month the copy and paste will work!  How I love the capriciousness of WordPress!

Anyway, 14 books this morning, the year’s maximum so far, and achieved primarily because travel is a great opportunity for reading.  Highlights, lowlights, lights:

The Dust Bowl is a tie-in to a documentary of the same name, and it’s a compelling, thorough history of the United States’ greatest man-made disaster (so far).  What made it notable for me was that I didn’t know the dust bowl was caused by unsustainable agricultural methods coupled with a land boom — I had always been told it was a natural event.

I read the first of Ariana Franklin’s medieval forensic mysteries last month, and it had me eye-rolling quite a bit, but I was also keen to see what happened next.

What happened next was that I eyerolled even more, while nursing increasing contempt for most of the male characters and a good portion of the women.  By the end of the fourth book, I would have given up on the series all together, except the author’s death brought it to a merciful end anyway.

I was particularly troubled by Franklin’s portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine as a complete ninny, so I picked up Alison Weir’s biography.  I instantly found what must be Franklin’s major source for the series — some descriptions of historical figures were almost word for word — but finished it thinking that, yes, Franklin got Eleanor badly wrong.  She was a complex woman, of course, and not always likable even after one takes into account the misogyny of the men who documented her life, but she was never stupid.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore is a YA novel covering the reign and execution of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.  Catherine’s a difficult figure, on account of how she was stupid.  Granted, she was very young — in her teens — when Henry married her, but she only had to put up with him for a few years, and then she’d have been a rich and powerful widow.  Instead, she had blatant affairs, and then it came out she had been the opposite of a chaste maiden before her marriage, and off came her head.

Gilt covers this period from the POV of Kitty, one of Catherine’s friends and ladies in waiting, and it nicely captures Catherine’s selfishness, the danger and glamour of Tudor court life, and the rape culture that surrounded it.  Longshore also makes Catherine quite likable, to an extent, without losing sight of her failings.  It was an easy read, but a good one.

I didn’t intentionally set out to read all of Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar fics, but I started one, and found that I couldn’t stop until I’d read the lot.

This is a British series about a legal historian and a quintet (sometimes a quartet) of barristers who solve mysteries.  The Wikipedia page compares it to Enid Blyton, and seems to imply some level of immaturity and a lack of profundity.  THAT IS A LIE.  I mean, yes, it’s about as deep as a puddle, but it’s also terribly entertaining and funny (if you like that sort of thing), and if you can picture Enid Blyton writing about kinky sex, murder and international tax planning, you should probably come hang out with me so we can be best friends.

…I should say that persons whose taste for social justice outweighs their sense of irony should probably steer clear of the series, because once you’ve categorised murder as an inconvenience to probate courts and Just Not Cricket, nothing else seems very serious either.  So you have the description of Julia looking “slightly disheveled, like one of Priam’s daughters after an unusually trying rape”, and Professor Tamar’s concern that Cantrip’s educational background puts him at a disadvantage in the company of others, ie, he went to Cambridge, poor boy.  So don’t come complaining to me about how Caudwell needs to be called out on her privilege.

With the release of Karen Healey’s When We Wake, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t read The Shattering, her last book.  TERRIBLE OVERSIGHT.  But now I’ve read both, so that’s okay.

Reading Healey can be a bit disconcerting — we’re about the same age, we both live in the Southern Hemisphere, we read the same blogs — oh yeah, and we have mutual friends.  But she doesn’t know me at all.

Nevertheless, because I read her blog and follow her Tumblr, it can be quite difficult to separate Healey’s voice from those of her characters.  For one thing, I can often go through her writing and link ideas back to YA discussions and blog posts.  I guess you might say I can see her thought processes a bit too clearly.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed these two books.  The Shattering is set in New Zealand, and although I found it highly predictable, it was a good, compelling read.

When We Wake was even better — set in Melbourne of the 21st and 22nd centuries, the Australian society of the future neatly and depressingly extrapolated from the current day.

Tegan is accidentally shot, and when she wakes up, a hundred years have passed, and she’s the guinea pig in a project to revive cryogenically frozen soldiers.  Australia is now a world superpower, with gay marriage, religious tolerance — oh, and a strict policy of no migrants.  Ever.  And refugee camps in the north.  

Tegan’s an instant celebrity, but aside from the culture shock and the trauma of waking up and finding everyone she loves has died, there’s the minor problem of the fringe groups targeting her.  And the conspiracy.  Yeah, almost forgot about that.

When We Wake was a thoroughly good read, and I wouldn’t have put it down even if I hadn’t been on a plane, but fair warning: I kind of sobbed through the last third.  The flight attendants were a little concerned.

Finally, The Devotion of Suspect X is a translation of a Japanese bestseller, which is in turn part of a series, which has been turned into a drama, which I belatedly realised I started watching last year.

I didn’t much care for the TV series, because the female lead was basically an idiot, which made it hard to watch.  In the novel, both main characters are men, but that means the main female characters are kind of passive and a bit dull.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story itself very much.  I was less enchanted by the translation, which was quite clumsy in places, and, for example, referred to kanji as “Chinese characters”.

My last days in Tokyo

The Skytree is the tallest structure in Tokyo.  It’s a combination TV transmitter and shopping mall, shopping (Omo tells me) being the national pasttime in Japan.  It probably comes from having only one football code.

It was a grey, rainy day, and also it costs an exorbitant sum of money to ascend to the top, so we stuck to shopping.  Well, shopping and navigating crowds.  They go together.  Birthday presents were purchased for certain people, and I was quite excited to find the Japanese translations of the Harry Potter novels and Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign.

Why are the picture-inserting options for iPad versus browser so completely different?  It’s messing with the look of my blog, man!

Anyway, the Potter covers are simple and photographic, whereas the Bujold covers — Japanese translations of western books are usually split into two volumes — are illustrative.  They bear almost no resemblance to the actual text, yet are somehow more accurate than the American covers, and about eighty times more attractive.  Nicely done, Japanese publishers, nicely done.

MORE SAKURA! MORE!

The next day, Thursday, I had breakfast with a friend, and we found our way to a bookstore in Shibuya that also contained a reading area — like a library — plus a cafe, a konbini, a high-end stationery section… it was heaven.  Although I did make the mistake of trying a 25,000 yen pen, and now I can’t get it out of my head…

Afterwards I met up with Omo and Z, and we went to the Mucha exhibit in Roppongi.  It felt a bit silly, seeing a western artist in Japan, but hey, you take your opportunities where you can get them.  And if I’d had more time, I would have gone to the National Museum of Western Art as well.  (They have a Sally Morgan!)

The exhibit was amazing, and completely transcended the need for English labels.  It was also very crowded, but we kind of expected that.  Well, I did.  Except for the throngs in the gift shop — those were terrifying.

Nevertheless, I managed to find something appealing.  I really enjoy Japan’s approach to creating merchandise for high art.

Friday … I left.

Though not before we ate a dodgy breakfast at the airport that made us all unwell.  Having recovered from that — thank heavens! — I bid farewell to Omo and Z, and set off for home.

The trip home was fairly uneventful, although if I ever have to spend four hours at Hong Kong again, I’m going to budget for a visit to an airport lounge.  Because wow, did I have a headache.  And then we had our bags checked as we were boarding the plane — the signs told us we had Australian Customs and Border Security to thank for this — and passengers were forbidden to bring their own water onto the flight.  I almost had to throw out my water bottle, which made me rather cross, as it cost $20.  Plus, I have chronic dry mouth and throat — it comes with the rheumatoid arthritis — so I actually need that litre of water.  Fortunately the flight attendants refilled my bottle after I boarded, so all that was really achieved was a waste of water.

Some hours later, I got home, and I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of the last two days sleeping.  At first I thought it was just post-travel exhaustion, but I’m beginning to worry the small child behind me with the terrible cough was contagious…

Hugo nominations!

I’m back in Australia, and some time in the next couple of days I’ll get around to blogging about my last few days in Japan.

But at this moment, I want to jump streams and casually mention that Chicks Unravel Time has been nominated for a Hugo Award!

We’re nominated for Best Related Work, and there’s some stiff competition.  For one thing, we’re up against Chicks Dig Comics, which is from the same publisher, has some overlap in contributors, and is probably an excellent book in its own right.  (I haven’t read it, which is shameful, but have you seen my to-read pile?  I’ll get to it some time in 2015, I’m sure.)

Catching up

Ooops! Sort of fell off the blogging wagon there!

You see, we were meant to go to Odaiba on Saturday, but Omo was feeling under the weather, so I went to Shibuya by myself. Then, Sunday, we were planning to go to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, but I woke up with a terrible cold, so I slept all morning and then we went to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku. Monday, we did get out to the ramen museum, but it was not at all as advertised (ie, awesome) so that was a disappointment. Tuesday … Tuesday was yesterday, right? Z rejoined us after her trip south, and we visited Akihabara and Harajuku, before going to a cherry blossom party in the evening with Omo’s flatmates and their friends.

There! All caught up!

FINE. DETAILS.

Shibuya

I don’t know if Shibuya actually reminded me of New York, or if I was just in a similar mood because I was by myself. It’s certainly busy and urban, surrounded by skyscrapers and the giant LCD screens that lead people to compare the Shibuya scramble to Times Square.

But I didn’t much care for Times Square — it was almost shocking in its dirtiness and chaos, especially since I had just come from Central Park — whereas I quite liked Shibuya. Tokyo is a very clean city in general, but it was particularly noticeable in such a busy place. With no garbage bins. (Following the sarin attack on the subway in the … ’90s? Bins sort of vanished from the Japanese landscape. They’re around, but rare, and will often take only one kind of garbage, eg, cans but not paper. People just carry their rubbish until they find a bin, which is very civilised, but I do seem to be finding a lot of wrappers in my handbag of an evening.)

My first stop in Shibuya was the Tobacco & Salt Museum. And don’t give me that funny look. I really like history, especially the history of commodities, especially if it’s only 100 yen to get into the museum.

And, considering it had barely any English at all, I really liked the Tobacco & Salt Museum! Especially the tobacco levels. Sorry, salt, but I’m just not that into you. Whereas I find smoking quite interesting in theory — it’s only in practice, where you get the horrible smells and the passive smoking and the burned bits in your clothes from other people’s flying cigarette ash that I start thinking it should be banned forever, or at least taxed into non-existence.

Like I said, there was very little English, but I found the exhibits fairly self-explanatory. The early smuggling of tobacco into Japan! The widespread adoption of tobacco use in the Meiji Era! The twentieth century: 100 years of cigarette packaging! Pipes!

There did come a point where I was basically wandering around quoting Mad Men under my breath, and thinking I totally need to rewatch that episode where Burt Cooper wants Sterling Cooper to take on Japanese clients, and Roger has his racist post-WW2 outburst, and Don stands around looking manly and thinking manly thoughts. But hey, it’s a good show.

The museum’s fourth level was devoted to an exhibit of art depicting the use of tobacco. It had a few really amazing paintings, and lots of really mediocre ones, which (of course) were the ones being sold in postcard form. Such is life.

After the museum I stumbled across a book/DVD/CD store — Japanese retailers are big into integrated entertainment — where I had a good time looking at Japanese releases of Western movies and TV. Sad fact: Japan has Torchwood all the way up to “Miracle Day”, but the most recent Doctor Who I could find was from 2006. Maybe “Doomsday” scared them off. Likewise, I couldn’t find any Avatar: The last Airbender, which has aired here, but wasn’t hugely successful. Probably because the Japanese went, “Wow, America, you can do anime now. That’s so cute.” Which is fair, but when I think of the missed opportunities for merch, I get sad.

I was pretty hungry after that, but where to eat? I was in one of the great shopping districts of Tokyo, and where there’s shops, there’s food.

Only, lots of it was Italian food, which tends to be pretty heavy on the cheese and cream. And I found I wasn’t quite brave enough to venture into a cafe without a single Japanese speaker to help me out.

So I wound up getting lunch from a konbini, a convenience store. This consisted of two kinds of onigiri, rice balls wrapped in seaweed with fish in the middle, a bottle of orange juice and a can of Red Bull. (I felt oddly tired by this time, for reasons that became apparent later.) Total cost: about 500 yen. Everyone who said food was prohibitively expensive in Japan was probably trying to buy melons or something.

(Don’t buy melons in Japan. Strawberries are another thing that are supposed to be hugely expensive, and I did see them going for 600 yen a half-punnet in Shibuya, but out in Katsushika, where I’m staying, I’ve been buying whole punnets for 280 yen, which is about what I’d expect to pay in Australia.)

I tried to shop for clothes after lunch, but I just couldn’t. I stuck my nose into Shibuya 109, which is supposed to be aimed at women in their early 30s, but there was nothing at all that appealed to me.

Omo later explained that Shibuya 109 — and Shibuya in general — is dominated by gyaru stores. Gyaru is a Japanese style that’s hyper-feminine — false eyelashes, false nails, the highest possible heels — but which emphasises sexiness over being kawaii — cute. It’s amazingly cool to look at, but doesn’t suit me in the least.

(I find myself constantly on the verge of thinking that Japan values the floral, pasteltastic kind of femininity, but I think that’s a selection bias at work. Omo’s house is amazingly pretty — there’s floral wallpaper, the doors and skirting boards are pink, it’s all women with no men allowed — and my first thought when I walked in was, “Oh wow, I’m not remotely feminine enough to stay here!” And since that moment, I’ve been noticing the femme displays in department stores and so forth.)

Anyway, I had a browse at Forever 21 — which is a gyaru brand as well — but nothing fit. That’s the other problem with clothes shopping in Japan: in Australia, I’m completely average, and it’s only the inability of designers to cater for women with hips and bellies and breasts that makes it hard for me to find clothes. In Japan, I’m a fair bit rounder than the average, and lots of stores don’t stock anything higher than an L or XL. Forever 21 started at XXS and ran all the way up to M.

I did buy jewellery, though. Earrings and a necklace, but the necklace is already broken. Oh well!

Finally, I realised that there was a Loft in Shibuya. Loft seems to sell everything from homewares to gifts, but I’m especially in love with their stationery section. Japanese stationery is just really, really good, okay?

Problem was, I couldn’t seem to find the store. You’d think it would be hard, misplacing a six-storey department store, but apparently I managed it. I’m not saying that I wandered around in circles for an hour before I finally found Loft, but it was a fair while.

Luckily, within Loft, I found the greatest invention ever.

A cocktail bar.

In a stationery/homewares/make-up/gift shop.

It was amazing. I really don’t understand why this isn’t a universal practice.

I had a nice sit, and ate a refreshing salad — my konbini lunch was a few hours in the past by then — and drank something green with gin in it.

It was lovely.

Then I bought some gifts, and some stationery, and made my way back to Katsushika. Where I basically collapsed, because it turned out I was so tired because I was coming down with a cold. Or rather, I had been fighting a cold since I got off the plane at Haneda Airport, and it was finally making its move.

So I ate a punnet of strawberries — full of vitamin C, you know — and drank some more orange juice, and went to bed.

Only I didn’t sleep so well, and when I woke up, Omo and I agreed that there was no way I was going to Yokohama, so I might as well go back to sleep.

Which I did. And it was great.

I felt much better after that, so Omo and I got dressed and headed into Shinjuku for the afternoon.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is another major shopping district. It’s also home to Kinokuniya, a major Japanese book chain. They have a store in Sydney, and when the day comes that they finally open in Melbourne, I will have to seriously consider returning to retail. The Shinjuku store is the main one — the mothership.

Of course, its selection of English novels was limited, but I was mostly there to look at English translations of Japanese novels, and they had plenty of those. I bought two more crime novels, and gave serious thought to a few books that I think my brother might enjoy, except they were all giant hardcovers. Sorry, little brother, but your birthday present will be from Japan via BookDepository.

I was also tempted by a book that claimed to be a collection of Japanese science-fiction, except that most of the contributors were American. Nice try? Cementing my decision, I noticed that one of the contributors is the author of this post, which I found shockingly UScentric and generally dubious even before I went to Japan. Although Omo’s rage blackouts as I read it to her later were pretty funny.

Finally, I bought a Japanese magazine about Sherlock Holmes. No, I don’t read Japanese, but I really liked the illustrations.

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(There was also a big feature on Sherlock, but, you know, *snore*)

We wound up eating at an “Irish” pub, partially because I was sick and wanted comfort food, but also because I was on the verge of a blood sugar low, and that seemed like the most appealing place. Bit embarrassing, but they did an excellent gin and tonic, so stop judging me.

Then Omo took me to a gothic lolita department store. IT WAS AMAZING.

So you don’t get the wrong idea, department stores in Japan aren’t vast buildings housing a single company that sells lots of goods, but narrow skyscrapers that hold lots of businesses. In this case, all the businesses were related to the gothic lolita subculture. Most sold clothes and accessories, but there was a wig shop, a store that sold anime merch, and more.

Now, I, obviously, am not a lolita, but I really like the aesthetic, while recognising that it is not remotely for me at all. But occasionally I have yearnings, especially if you put a really well-cut steampunk suit in front of me.

The Shinyokohama Raumen Museum

The ramen museum gets talked up a lot on blogs and in travel books, and it’s supposed to be a blast. And it probably is, if you read Japanese.

If you’re monolingual, you get a rather claustrophobic walk through an indoor recreation of 1958 Tokyo — much smaller than the photos suggested — and an abbreviated ramen menu. Which is fair enough — it’s a bit rude to expect a country to cater to me linguistically — but it was a bit of a hike to get to Shin-Yokohama, and the ramen wasn’t even that good.

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I must say, though, I liked the bit in the pamphlet about how the museum’s creator loved his home town and had a passion for ramen, so he created a ramen museum in the city of his birth. More people should do that. I’m not just saying that ‘cos I love museums, honest.

Akihabara and Harajuku, followed by a picnic under the cherry trees

Omo and I had no particular plans for Tuesday, save that Z was getting back from Kansai in the early afternoon, and Omo wanted to play the taiko game. You know the traditional Japanese drums? There’s an arcade game where the drums are simulated, like Guitar Hero only more banging things, and Omo’s quite good. Well, she’d want to be — last week she played so intensely, her hands started bleeding.

Akihabara is where technology … happens, or so I am given to understand, and there were arcades on every corner. I mean, literally, every corner.

So we didn’t have any trouble finding the game, only there were these two guys playing it already. One was just in practice mode. The other was … well, he brought his own sticks. And he had a bag stretched over the game’s drum for some reason. And he was very, very good.

So we slunk away and had lunch. I ate the greatest hamburger of my entire life, so well done, Akihabara. Then we found a bookstore — it’s a sickness, it really is — and eventually went back and finally played the game.

I suck quite badly, but I think I just need practice. No one’s hands bled this time.

Game completed, we met up with Z and decided that Akihabara was a bit of a bust. Lots of sex shops. Lots of computer stores. I saw a young man coming out of an arcade wearing traditional Japanese clothing — hakama and a kimono — and a bowler hat. I was torn between being super impressed at his dapperness, and wondering if this was the Akihabara equivalent of a fedora-wearing neckbeard.

We decided to go to Harajuku. Ah, Harajuku, where the young folks where the street styles, etc. Not on a Tuesday afternoon, apparently. I mean, there were teenagers, and they were wearing cool clothes, but the famous outlandishness of the Harajuku scene was not in evidence. Which is probably good, because one wouldn’t like to be staring at innocent people like they were exhibits in a zoo, but also a bit disappointing, because SPECTACLE.

Instead, we were off to go stare at innocent boy bands like they were exhibits in a zoo. Well, Omo and Z did. I had a look around, then waited outside with my book. Not, I add, because I was bored or sulky or passive-aggressively hurrying them along! I’m just not really into boy bands, even when I enjoy their music, and it was a really good book.

Harakuku, it turns out, has a lot of stores selling boy band merch. One was at the bottom of a very steep, narrow, scary staircase.

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I stand by my decision to stay out on the street. I’d already tripped on one flight of stairs for the day.

Also, loitering out the front, I got to see a young Japanese woman, aged about 20 (I’d guess) pause in the middle of the entrance, throw her arms and gaze upwards and cry, “Oppa!”

“Oppa” is a Korean honoriffic meaning “big brother”. K-pop fans address their idols as “oppa”, except me and Omo, ‘cos we’re not Korean and most of those boys are younger than us. But it’s not an unusual thing to hear in the vicinity of a boy band store.

What was unusual was that the woman was addressing SexyZone, a Japanese band. And SexyZone are … I think the oldest is 16? One was born in 2000, which means he’s much too young to be in a group with that name. Suffice to say, it’s a bit odd that the woman was addressing them as “oppa”. But I stood where she stood and looked where she looked, and I can’t think who else she was referring to.

(Speaking of “oppa”, and Korean honoriffics, for lack of anything better to do, I once watched the Korean dub of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and there was a lovely bit of characterisation where Katara addressed Sokka as “oppa”, but Azula disrespectfully addressed Zuko by his name. It was a very neat thing, and something you can’t quite convey in English, even with Azula’s use of diminutive nicknames for Zuko.)

I was still meditating on this incident — okay, fine, I was tweeting about it — when the owner of the shop came out and yelled at me to move on. It was mostly in Japanese, but I got the gist, and I found it very strange. But Z and Omo emerged a few minutes later, saying he had kicked out all the customers who were browsing, saying that anyone who wasn’t definitely going to buy something had to leave. I still found it strange, but I suppose I’d been in Japan for 10 days, and bad customer service was bound to happen at some point.

We visited one more idol store, and Omo found something rather special, but I’ll let her blog about that.

By this time it was getting dark, so we made our way to Ueno Station to meet Omo’s flatmates for the hanami — the cherry blossom viewing party.

Hanami

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I’m not a very aesthetically sophisticated person, and I’m not good at sitting still and contemplating things. I really like Tokyo’s sakura, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sit under one and view it for more than a few minutes.

Luckily, it turns out that Japanese festivals are a lot like the ones in Australia — an excellent excuse to eat food and drink a lot in the company of friends. The Japanese versions are just prettier, that’s all.

So we sat under the trees, about half a dozen of us, and ate bento and drank … let’s see, there were two kinds of wine, sake, shochu and … maybe there was a third kind of wine. Yes, there was!

I only tried one of each drink — unlike a certain friend who was given a whole cup of shochu, drank it and then regailed us with her feelings about idol groups — because I didn’t want to seem like an Aussie yobbo, and also I hadn’t brought any alcohol myself. (Not that a certain friend seemed like an Aussie yobbo! Her Japanese got better with every drink. It was terrifying and amazing.) But it was a very pleasant night.

And I am, in fact, quite fond of looking at sakura. Tokyo’s landscape is dominated by mid-twentieth century high density housing, and it would seem quite bleak and utilitarian if there weren’t so many trees. And it’s really amazing to be sitting on the train, looking out at a predominantely grey landscape, and then there’s an explosion of pink and white as you pass a cherry tree. Probably even more amazing if this is coming at the end of a northern hemisphere winter. I’m team cherry blossom, me.

I started this post in the morning, and now a day has passed, and I’ve done all kinds of things in the meantime, but I’m much too tired to blog about it now. Stay tuned for a SkyTree adventure (today), my last day in Tokyo (tomorrow), and some kind of post about the bicycles of Tokyo. But not just yet, because right now, I really need to eat some mochi and read my book.

Roppongi and Ueno Zoo (but first, a correction!)

The bit where apparently I was wrong

Omo says that Horrible Racist French Guy was in fact not the man making a fuss in the Toy Story line. I maintain that he was, because he seemed so hostile towards us specifically, but I have to confess that all middle aged white men look alike I’m really bad with faces and mostly tell people apart by their hair — and whatever else, both men had short, grey hair.

So, apologies for being (potentially) misleading, and for ruining a great story by being (probably) wrong and stuff.

Roppongi

Roppongi is a posh neighbourhood where lots of foreigners live, and there are nightclubs and expensive shops and stuff. Not the sort of place I’d usually go, but Z has left us for Osaka and Omo had a job interview in the area, so we figured we’d take a look.

We went via Tokyo Station. That place is enormous. Like, there are Australian towns smaller than Tokyo Station. And there’s a whole strip with character shops and boutiques associated with TV networks, music, etc. It was pretty cool, but I had low blood sugar and was therefore being a brat. Omo called me on it, got some food into me, and I felt much better, only embarrassed about my attitude. THE MORAL IS, EAT WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY, LIZ, GOD!

Anyway, I’m not really into Japanese pop culture, but Omo got me into this amazing drama called SPEC, about a by-the-book cop who is assigned to work with an eccentric genius as they investigate supernatural crimes. It’s pretty amazing, not least because said eccentric genius is a woman (which doesn’t happen enough in TV, imho), and she really is quite mad, and they have this brilliant chemistry.

So we visited the TBS Store, and I broke out of my bad mood long enough to buy some SPEC postcards. There were stickers, too, and I’d really like one for my bike, but there were no designs I liked enough for that. Likewise, as much as I kind of do want a cushion shaped like a giant gyoza, I’m not sure I can justify spending 2,800 yen on it and then schlepping it home.

Tokyo Station and interview out of the way, bad mood smothered in fried chicken and “condiment sauce” — soy vinegar, if you were wondering — we headed for Roppongi.

We really didn’t leave the vicinity of the station, but it seems like an okay sort of area. I’m not really into nightclubs or expensive boutiques, but there was a bookstore that sold some English titles, and I had a good time exploring their range of English translations of Japanese novels.

We also poked our noses into a cinema — something about not understanding the language makes movie posters look really, really cool, regardless of how cheesy/terrible they may in fact be (see also the many ads for Bollywood productions around my neighbourhood at home) — and skirted past the Mori Art Museum, which is a gallery of modern art.

I’d have liked to have a look at the gallery itself, but it was late in the day, and my feet were already killing me. I wonder if it’s possible to have a holiday that doesn’t kill my feet? Anyway, we compromised with a visit to the gallery shop, and I bought some Mucha postcards — there’s an exhibition on, which I’m hoping to get to when Z returns from Osaka — and some odds and ends.

Yesterday’s haul:

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Ueno Zoo

I really like Ueno. It’s busy, colourful, full of interesting and varied shops, and there’s a whopping great park in the middle.

Also, it’s cherry blossom season! Which means you can buy delicious sakura flavoured treats, and everywhere you look there are beautiful pink trees!

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On the other hand, Ueno Park was incredibly crowded. I’d read about Japanese families picnicking under the cherry blossoms, but I didn’t realise that everyone else would be sort of milling around on the paths, stopping without warning to take pictures, and generally being … you know, a crowd. The energy was lovely, but I find it hard work, dealing with crowds.

The eastern side of the zoo was also crowded, but it was less extreme. Omo and I spent the next four or so hours wandering and taking photos of animals.

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I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the zoo. Some enclosures were lovely and big, and contained animals that seemed pretty chill. Others were quite small and old-looking, and the animals were just pacing back and forth. The small mammals enclosure smelled quite bad.

On the other hand, I don’t know much about zoos or wild animals, so I’m in no position to judge. I might cycle to the Melbourne Zoo when I get home, and compare. Or something.

Highlight: kookaburras in the exotic birds section. The GIANT FAT BUM of a hippopotamus (the rest of him was eating). PALLAS CATS. RED PANDAS.

Incidentally, if three Pallas cats and two red pandas disappear from Ueno Park in the next few days, I had nothing to do with it.

Food is very important to me

Dinner was vending machine gyudon and a slightly disappointing chocolate bun. I’m craving sweet food at the moment, but most Japanese desserts are cream-based. Tomorrow I shall eat another sakura and red bean bun! And maybe go in search of some mochi. Or strawberries. Everyone warned me that fruit and veg are super-expensive here, but most items seem to be roughly the same as in Australia, and I spotted some 200 yen strawberries this afternoon. Maybe it’s the end of season?

Having learned the kanji for “soy” (it looks like a latte with foam), I’ve successfully bought soy coffee from a vending machine and a konbini. GO TEAM LACTOSE INTOLERANCE!

I also tried chūhai, which is basically a flavoured shochu? I didn’t care for it, the lemon being too bitter and the other flavours I’ve tried being too sweet. Alcohol is very cheap here, but I’m the kind of party animal who’s in her pyjamas by 7.30 most nights, so I haven’t tried very much. I’d like to try umeshu, though, because I had an ume-based fruit drink last night, which I loved. (It’s that sweetness craving coming through again.)

Tomorrow we’re heading out to Odaiba, as Omo needs to visit Fuji TV for important merch-related reasons, and I just like seeing new places. STAY TUNED.

Disney Disney Disney Disney! (Part 2: DisneySea)

The hotel, again

I have only two complaints about the Disney Ambassador Hotel:

1. No wireless. Not even exorbitantly priced wireless! There was an ethernet cable, but that’s not exactly helpful for my iPad.

2. The tea in our room was instant powdered tea. The only English word on the black tea was UNSWEETENED, but there was also no sugar — or at least, there was, but it was wrapped up in the sachets of coffee. So I drank instant green tea, and it was terrible.

DisneySea

DisneySea is a separate park unique to Tokyo Disney. It has a strong nautical theme, with waterways, a lagoon and lots of boats. It’s also aimed at an older demographic, with scarier rides and beer available from many concessions.

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There’s also a bit of a steampunk aesthetic here and there.

Of course, there’s still heaps of appeal for kids, including the Mermaid Lagoon, a gorgeous indoor area with an under the sea vibe.

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A glowing sea cucumber nudibranch.

The Mermaid’s Lagoon features the kelp cups, a smaller version of the teacup ride. We thought they were identical to the teacups, but NO! These cups rely on body weight to spin, so Z and I had a very unsatisfying ride until we figured that out.

Then it was Omo and Rie’s turn! Fun fact: Omo gets motion sickness. FUNNER FACT: the cups apparently broke during their ride, so she got another go! She looked like she was having the exact opposite of fun. Meanwhile, Z and I stood on the sidelines, CONSUMED WITH ENVY.

DisneySea was even busier than Disneyland the day before — it was the day before a public holiday, so the park was full of school groups. We only managed to get one FASTPASS before they ran out — but that was for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was worth it.

Basically, Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a rollercoaster, but a fairly sedate one. OR SO IT SEEMS. You get in your cool steampunk car and travel through some amazing set pieces, with realistic insects, lava, some kind of monster, and real fire.

Then you’re plunged into darkness and emerge on the side of a mountain, where you plunge for a few seconds of SCREAMING TERROR before the ride ends.

Z and I shared our car with a bunch of teenage boys, who were trying really hard to be cool, only one of them had a very girly scream. So Z and I were like, “Oh, sugei!” which is a fairly masculine way of saying, “AWESOME!”

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Another part of the park was based on Aladdin (and Sinbad, only not the Sinbad story everyone knows?), so it was basically a Disneyfied version of a stereotypical Arabian city. But it was very pretty nonetheless, and there were magicians doing magic tricks in the Agrabah Bazaar, and there was a two-storey carousel. Now, I like carousels, but I think the one I rode in North Carolina was better. Sorry, Disney.

We accidentally wound up watching a live show, in which Mickey and Minnie and their friends/teddy bears, Duffy and ShellieMae, celebrate the advent of spring, only to be foiled by Jafar and rescued by the Genie? It was hard to tell, not just because it was in Japanese, but also I couldn’t see much.

Duffy. Let me tell you about Duffy

Duffy the Disney Bear was first created for Walt Disney World in Florida, as a special edition toy to commemorate spring. He was adopted and given a new history by Tokyo Disney — basically, Mickey was going on a trip, and Minnie gives him this bear to keep him company. Then Duffy comes to life and gets a girlfriend, ShellieMae.

Duffy is the very first Disney character who didn’t first appear in a movie or TV show. Basically, he’s a big whopping marketing ploy, with a personality exactly like Mickey’s only less interesting. He’s hugely popular in Japan, but I’m not feeling the love. At first I was just, “Meh,” because I have no emotional connection with him, but that turned to resentment as I realised Duffy was crowding out the merch that I would have found interesting. For example, there used to be a lot of Ariel and Jasmine stuff in the relevant areas, but now it’s just Duffy.

Basically, Duffy, Imma happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but Mulan is the greatest Disney princess of all time. OF ALL TIME. (Except for those others.)

(Unsurprisingly, there was no Mulan whatsoever at Tokyo Disney. But one day I’m going to go to Disney Hong Kong, and if that park isn’t swimming in Mulan merch, I’m going to have to flip a table.)

Duffy rant over

Japan is a country that really appreciates its meat, so I was able to buy a smoked turkey leg at one of the concessions.

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I felt like Henry VIII in the best possible way.

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The DisneySea landscape is dominated by Prometheus, a vast artificial volcano that erupts once a day. All fire, no lava. Alas. (It’s still spectacular!)

DisneySea also features a ~New England village and Olde New York section, both of which are charming. I particularly enjoyed the “American” performance, which involved people dressed up as hamburgers and fries singing “Yankee Doodle” and … the Spice Girls? I like to think this is Japan’s revenge on Hollywood.

It was getting quite late in the day, and we still had a long list of rides we wanted to go on, and there were no FASTPASSes to be had. Rie, Omo and I queued for two hours to ride the Tower of Terror, while Z opted out in favour of not thinking she was going to die.

I’d like to say she made the right choice — well, it was the right choice for her, and I’m not going to criticise it one bit — but I really liked Tower of Terror. Which is a bit ironic, because I was absolutely sick with fear as we got closer and closer to the front of the queue. And don’t get me wrong, the ride was indeed terrifying, but it was also really fun. (I’ve heard the Anaheim version is even scarier, though!)

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Our Tower of Terror faces. Note that Rie is doing NO HANDS. She’s well hardcore.

It was dark by the time we emerged from the Tower, and we were cold and hungry. But there was still the Toy Story ride to go! So we had dinner at one of the “American” joints, where I ate a Reuben which was perfect and amazing and lovely, even if New Yorkers would probably laugh at its modest size and lack of pickle. IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED, plus I took a gamble on the cheese and didn’t get sick. Basically, I was so tired I was saying “Ohayo” instead of “Arigato”, and I really needed that comfort food.

Thus fortified, we joined the Toy Story queue.

DisneySea closes at 10 pm. It was 8 o’clock when we hopped in line, and we were promised a two hour wait. WOULD WE MAKE IT? Yes, because they didn’t close the line until about twenty minutes later. The real question was, would our feet survive?

That question became secondary, though, because here, at the very last ride, was our old friend, Horrible Racist French Guy!

The Adventures of Horrible Racist French Guy, part 2

We were about halfway through the line when we spotted him. The line was closed, and he was with his daughter, arguing because they had hopped out of line and, because it was closed, weren’t being allowed back in.

At one point he spotted us, and his body language got even angrier. He was pointing at me, because I had earlier jumped out of the queue to run to the bathroom, and gotten back in without any problems. But here’s the difference: the queue wasn’t closed at the time! (Also, because we are grown ups, we had understood that I might not be allowed in, and made alternate plans accordingly. These alternate plans involved me sitting in a warm place with my book, so I was pretty zen.)

French Guy was all, “YOU ARE RUINING MY DAUGHTER’S DISNEY VACATION!” (we paraphrase, we were relying on body language here), and generally trying to intimidate the staff. A manager and an interpreter were called, and French Guy LEFT HIS DAUGHTER STANDING ALONE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SQUARE while he went off to try and stand over the staff. This didn’t work, because he was a few inches shorter than the shortest Japanese person present, but we were mostly appalled that he had his back turned to his daughter. Not that anything would have happened to her, because by now the entire queue was watching, plus I noticed a very discreet staff member was keeping an eye on the girl, BUT STILL.

(The daughter was pretty chill throughout. She mostly looked stoic and maybe a bit bored and embarrassed, until her dad summoned her over to explain how her vacation had been RUINED, and then she produced some crocodile tears.)

I kid you not, this went on for about an hour. I really admire the Disney staff and the way they handled it, because they were totally unfazed by his attempts at being intimidating, and the manager had obviously had training in mediation. (The interpreter mostly just radiated a desire to leave and go home.) French Guy wouldn’t back down, but the staff just would not give him his own way — well, they couldn’t. The queue was closed, the only way French Guy and his daughter could get back in was if someone gave up their place. Other people had been turned away as well, so it’s not like they could have made just one exception.

Finally, some kind of voucher was produced, and French Guy and French-American Daughter went off, somewhat mollified. It was a bit of a relief, because I had been expecting French Guy to turn violent. On the other hand, his bad behaviour was rewarded.

At last, the Toy Story ride!

Totally worth the wait and the bloody stumps my feet were turning into!

First you’re given 3D glasses, which are designed to go over regular glasses! This was so exciting, I took mine home, although I’m not sure if they’ll work in a cinema.

Glasses in hand, you go into your cart, which lurches from screen to screen. It’s like a shooting gallery, only the darts and balls you’re shooting are all illusions! And if you hit the right thing, confetti flies at you!

It was a lot like the Monsters Inc game, but far more satisfying and exciting, even though I have terrible aim.

And then we went home

I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even get excited about riding the Disney Monorail back to the station! Those three train rides back home felt much longer than the trip out on Monday morning, even with the Yamanote Line being merely busy instead of crowded.

On the very last leg, we found ourselves sharing the platform with a vast horde of drunk businessmen.

Now, contrary to stereotypes, the Japanese are incredibly ruthless when it comes to boarding trains. It’s just that they’re usually ruthless in a way that involves lots of queuing, and apologising as they elbow people in the kidneys.

Apparently that all changes after a few rounds of beer and some cigarettes, because these guys were pushing, shoving, all of that. Which isn’t that different from the trains at home, but the smell of beer and cigarette smoke was terrible. Smoking in public is quite taboo in Australia, but Japan still has indoor smoking sections in restaurants, and I really can’t get used to the smell.

Suffice to say, we were glad to get home and collapse into bed. Where I slept for ten hours, and we spent yesterday doing a lot of nothing. IT WAS GREAT.