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14 May 2017 @ 10:57 pm
Yamatour 2017 - Tokyo, Japan (2017)  
When superfan Tim Eldred announced Yamatour 2017 on the Facebook group I jumped at the chance, as his detailed coverage of previous editions had been so enticing. The plan that eventually evolved wasn't so much a group tour as a set of individual tourists who coalesced at certain key points, most notably the movie's premiere on Saturday, 25 February 2017 -- a date with the minor drawback that it's hardly the best season to see Tokyo, and indeed, the weather was usually cold, overcast, windy and drizzling.

This would be my fourth trip to Japan (August 2007 Worldcon, September 2014 Hal-Con, October 2015 in a four-country trip) and Tim's tenth. Tim's priority has been to build a complete set of Yamato artifacts, but I'm more of an experiential traveler. When planning a vacation, I will whenever practical pick a new airline and new layover airports; on the ground, I seek out museums but am always ready for serendipity to be my guide, and my shopping goals are picture postcards, Christmas gifts and samples of modular building toys. To misquote the second Doctor, "I am not a fan of Space Battleship Yamato. I am a fan of a much wider academy, of which Yamato is only a part."

(Background: The anime TV series Uchuu Senkan Yamato (1974) and its sequels are largely responsible for inspiring anime fandom in Japan, and its U.S. adaptation Star Blazers (1980) similarly excited American fans. In 2012 it was rebooted as Space Battleship Yamato 2199, and it's now getting a second season, Space Battleship Yamato 2202: Soldiers of Love. Tim Eldred, comic book artist and now a director at Disney Television Animation, has for the past decade authored a fan site, Cosmo DNA, and moderated an associated Facebook group.)

The following account is written in present tense for simplicity and immediacy. There are 15 images, which you may click to open at a larger size. I include daily cross-references to Tim's accounts on Cosmo DNA.

Sunday through Wednesday via the international date line

Due to high winds at Narita my arriving flight is delayed by five hours (fig. 1), which ultimately leads to overnighting at the airport (me and several hundred other people) and a Tuesday-morning check-in at Hotel Mystays Premier Omori in Shingawa, a southern ward of Tokyo. That afternoon (sunny but cold and very windy) I'm able to see the National Museum of Nature and Science, then wander south from Ueno to Akihabara via the 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan art street, and return to Shinagawa and dinner at Freshness Burger. The next day I take a chance on the weather (sunny turning overcast and again, windy) at Tokyo DisneySea, widely considered the best of the Disney parks among afficionados, but also the most crowded.

Fig. 1. From the seatback panel on my JAL flight: Hold, hold again, approach and abort, approach and abort again, divert to Nagoya. A flight path like a novelty paperclip rarely bodes well for ground conditions. The turbulence forced many of the passengers to their emesis bags, but not me -- I sat very still and pretended I was a Veritech pilot executing high-gee maneuvers.

Thursday, 23 February

See also Tim Eldred's coverage at Cosmo DNA of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

I start Thursday by taking the Tsukuba Express from Akihabara to the science city of Tsukuba to see the Tsukuba Space Center and the Tsukuba Expo Center (science museum), then return to Asakusa, where I encounter a team from TV Asahi looking for tourists to interview -- very gratifying, as my plan had been to seek such an opportunity in Ginza during the weekend. (Spoiler: I'll visit Ginza on Sunday and TV crews will be nowhere in evidence.)

The plan coordinated on Facebook calls for the first meeting of the Yamatour crew to be Thursday night at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, followed by dinner at a German restaurant. For me, this is a straight shot from one end of the Ginza subway line to the other. (Stations G19 to G13 are enrobed in white renovation plastic, part of the refurbishment for the 2020 Summer Olympics.) Upon arriving I'm able to find a window overlooking the Hachiko plaza, but am briefly stymied in finding an exit to it; an all-too-common contingency with the Escherian twists of Tokyo station architecture. Outside I meet Tim, who's chatting with our local guide Sonchiri HA, and a pair from Australia, Daniel George and John-Paul Goodwin, who are suffering the effects of relocating from summer to winter. The rest of the party soon joins us, including Walter Amos, with whom I've shared a Star Blazers panel at the Philcon SF convention.

Heading west, we join the crowd at Shibuya's famous scramble crossing, then turn to climb Dogenzaka Street -- past the Under Armour and other name-brand megastores, past Mos Burger, past the archway to Love Hotel Hill, past the fugu restaurant with the giant fish head. At the summit we find Frankenstein, which is all about the German meats and beers but not, despite the name, the bolt-necked monster. It's a small place, about eight meters square and seating 30, and we have the private room -- or rather, elevated platform. Walter explains the intricacies of sausage and schnitzel on the menu, and we wave over the dirndl-clad waitress. I have a simple smoked sausage and ginger ale, so splitting the check equally produces inequities in some corners -- our subsequent meals are more careful. This almost makes me appreciate the idea of small-payment smartphone apps.

Fig. 2. Exterior signage at Frankenstein.

Fig. 3. Part of the group at our elevated table. Left to right: John-Paul Goodwin, Daniel George, Walter Amos, Tim Eldred, Kiyoko AYUKAWA.

Friday, 24 February

See also Tim Eldred's coverage of Friday.

Several of the Yamatour members had arranged a trip south to Kamakura. Given my hotel's location I'm halfway there, but after four days I need a vacation from Tokyo public transit, and I've already seen the place (in 2012, during my Hal-Con trip). Instead, I catch up with my blogging (see previous entries here on Lexomatic), wander around Shinagawa (it's flat and has a gratifyingly square street grid), and test my tourist wifi app -- plans for dinner at Newtype Shinjuku are necessarily nebulous until the Kamakura contingent returns, so I will need updates while in transit, and I've picked public wifi rather than renting a wifi hotspot or smartphone.

The exits at Shinjuku station are numbered, but only on some maps and some archways. Our rendezvous point is a lion statue outside -- or (as I find more useful) at the Lumine Est department store, as the statue is visible only after you're outside (fig. 4). Waiting inside (out of the wind), Ayukawa-san (an American expat and teacher at an international school) and I have a fascinating conversation about linguistics and economics. For example, the Japanese interjection "are?" seems equivalent to the English "huh?" but it's actually a slurred form of "aru," the verb "to have," which might more literally be translated as "what is it?"

Halfway between the station and restaurant is the Shinjuku Piccadilly multiplex where we'll see the movie the next day. The first goal is to familiarize everyone with the route so we can find it independently, and the second is to take some group pictures with the 1/100-scale promotional model of the titular space battleship while the place is quiet (fig. 5 and 6).

Fig. 4. A lion emerging from a pyramid? That's just crazy-talk!

Fig. 5. Left to right: Daniel George, Walter Amos, Bryan Powell, Ed Sandford, Tim Eldred (beret), Kiyoko AYUKAWA, John-Paul Goodwin. I'm taking the photo from the stairs.

Fig. 6. Left to right: Tim Eldred, John-Paul Goodwin, BBY-01 Yamato, Bryan Powell.

The Subculture Bar NewType Shinjuku is northeast of the station, past Kabuki-cho and near Golden Gai. It has a sidewalk sign (fig. 7) written in English, which makes me wonder if we're not the only foreign fans to know of the place. Like Frankenstein it's small (in Tokyo, "tiny" is an izakaya that fits four, and that while standing), with a bar and a quartet of four-seat tables, and is crammed with (to quote Moe Szyslak) "all kinds of crazy crap on the walls" -- in this case, of the sci fi variety (a five-foot Gundam in the window, a Gundam Dendrobium hanging from the ceiling, and many many posters).

The bar is offering a special "collaboration menu" with four entrees and eight drinks named after Yamato characters (fig. 8). Most of us pick the curry, Tim has the mackerel, and nobody is brave enough to try the bright green spaghetti. I ask Tim what he does as a director for Disney Television Animation, and Ayukawa-san explains the process of acquiring Japanese citizenship and picking a Japanese name and kanji thereof; she then pulls out her phone to "sunoru" us -- that is, to use the photo app "Snow" which adds cute animal features to human faces -- which is what all the cool kids are doing these days, apparently.

Nobody is interested in -- or possibly, we're too distracted and cramped to think about -- the rack of cosplay jackets (fig. 9), the machine that customizes Yamato stickers (fig. 10), or getting a photo with the one waitress who is topically dressed in a yellow Yuki-type uniform. A second waitress comes round to offer a raffle for a special event the next night -- or so we eventually figure out. After some confusion, Ayukawa-san is able to translate, and apologizes with the idiom "watashi no atama wa fuwa-fuwa desu," or "my brain [lit.: head] is fluffy."

Fig. 7. Sidewalk sandwich sign with the be-tentacled Koro-Sensei from Assassination Classroom.

Fig. 8. Laminated collaboration menu, standard menu, space curry, and pink non-alcoholic drink.

Fig. 9. Rack of costumes, including Attack on Titan, Macross Frontier, and Yamato.

Fig. 10. Sticker machine ("siiru no kikai", I guess?).

On our hike back to Shinjuku station, Tim is diligent to point out landmarks, since we'll be converging separately on Piccadilly the next morning. We stop there a second time to see if the special souvenir merchandise in the gift shop is visible, but it's still draped.

Saturday, 25 February

See also Tim Eldred's coverage of Saturday.

The screening is at 11:00 am and I'm running a few minutes late. I've picked an alternate train route and have forgotten how long it takes to descend five levels to the departing platform. This train deposits me at Shinjuku station -- but at the south end, not the north end that I'm familiar with, and a quick look at the map shows no obvious connection between the two. Instead of the questionable subterranean labyrinth, I head to the certainty of the street grid, trusting my sense of direction and Tim's landmarks. Above ground, the day is sunny.

Arriving at Piccadilly I discover that the ticket floor is packed, and realize that Tim hadn't briefed us on how to get to the theater itself. There aren't a lot of options, though, and the Comic Con-density crowd slows me just a little in finding the ticket-takers, who hand me a souvenir packet (fig. 11) and wave me to the escalators. This being Tokyo, the multiplex is vertical, and it takes me a moment to decipher my ticket and to realize that the objets d'art on the walls actually mark the numbered theaters on each floor. I find my way with no further consternation, and my seat fortunately requires stepping over only two other spectators. It's a lot warmer than an American theater would be, and I shrug out of my sweater while the trailers roll. There's a pleasing symmetry to my presence during the first chapter of Yamato 2199 in 2012, while in Yokohama for Hal-Con, a small SF convention run by the same crew that organized the 2007 Worldcon.

Fig. 11. Left to right: Xebec manilla envelope that contains replica genga (key frame with coded colors) of Okita and line art of the Yamato; picture postcards from Newtype Shinjuku.

This cinematic premiere edition of the first two TV episodes (of 26) is for the Japanese audience, so naturally it's not subtitled. This is no obstacle to comprehension during action scenes, but the nuances of Zordar's voiceover and of the talking-head political skullduggery are another matter. The Yamatour crew, including several members with a better-than-average grasp of spoken Japanese, discuss the fine points over the next several events. Cosmo DNA provides a synopsis and discussion of Chapter 1.

The exiting crowd is practically funereal, which means they really liked it. Outside the theater we're joined by three female American expats and Brad Lucido. The next tour activity is lunch at Marugo, a tonkatsu place in Akihabara. To get there, I suggest an alternative to the Yamanote line.

Given the weather, none of us object to queuing (fig. 12). I find that the ladies have interesting insights regarding the opprobrium surrounding Carl Macek's adaptation of Robotech. At the time, there existed American fans who were already familiar with (and, seemingly, felt an ownership of) its three components (Superdimension Fortress Macross, Superdimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA) and saw their fusion as a bad translation. (I point out that he wasn't translating three series -- he was repurposing footage for a completely new story. It would be another five years before Haim Saban made it more obvious with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers but -- nobody recognized the distinction at the time?) Moreover, Macek had elicited endorsements based only on the first few episodes of the project, so the final result felt like a betrayal. (Aha. Emotions.)

The English-language menu is prefaced:
On behalf of myself and the staff, welcome to Marugo. My name is Takayoshi TAKEUCHI, and I am the owner of this restaurant. I have been refining my skills for the last 40 years. Our cooking style is very rare in Japan nowadays and requires years of training. The technique we use is known as "low temperature frying". We hope you will enjoy our delicate Japanese cuisine. Finally, I wish you a pleasant stay in Japan and hope you will gather many fine memories.

Fig. 12. Given the limited interiors of Japanese restaurants, the usual practice is to queue outside.

Fig. 13. Our second-floor table is a section of a huge tree, with a faux charcoal grill in the center, and the pothook overhead, with a wooden fish-shaped decoration. Clockwise from left: Brad Lucido, Daniel George, Phillip Thorne, John-Paul Goodwin (obscured), Ed Sandford, Tim Eldred. The rest of our party is at the table in the background.

The next scheduled event will be a dinner excursion to Sengawa in western Tokyo for Yakitori Yamato, a restaurant owned by executive producer Shoji NISHIZAKI. I beg off, in part because my vacationing stomach can manage only one large meal a day, and in part because Tim chooses to remind us that "they use EVERY part of the chicken." I split from the tour and eventually return to Piccadilly to see if the crowd at the gift shop has cleared out. It has, along with all of the merch I had any interest in buying. In the adjacent Book-Off second-hand store I find a pile of Macross items.

Sunday, 26 February

See also Tim Eldred's coverage at Cosmo DNA.

Today's main event, for some of us, is a doujinshi event called Torilozi 13. Held at Tokyo Writing Instruments Con??? Hall, Torilozi is the same idea as Comiket -- an informal weekend market for fan-art and other fan-created crafts that is tolerated by the IP owners -- but much smaller. There are eight fandoms contributing, in the form of numbered minicons called Yamaket 9 (Yamato), All Hail Cybertron 5 (Transformers), Chaos_Gate_Notes_Nain 9 (products of 5pb. Inc.), and others. Tim has been collecting Yamato doujin for years via Yahoo! Japan auctions and is excited to obtain first-hand copies.

My planned route is stymied because (so I discover) on Sunday it skips a transfer station; but like Perl programming, with Tokyo rail there's always more than one way. I arrive at Asakusabashi station (A16) and find Tim, Daniel and John-Paul waiting outside, bewildered by the Tokyo Marathon. Crossing the street means beneath the street through a fortuitously-placed station entrance. On the way to the venue, they explain that my absence from dinner meant that NISHIZAKI-san himself was able to join them to answer fannish questions.

At the venue we meet Brad Lucido again and Gwyn Campbell, a notable in Macross fandom. Inside, windows overlook the river and admit a cool breeze unless you're standing beneath the heating register, and hot starchy food is being served up just like every school fair you've seen in anime.

While Tim and the others stick to the floor with Yamaket 9, carefully inspecting each circle's wares and asking questions (we learn that there's a special official marking for "spoiler-free"), I head off to explore the other offerings. The Transformers circles, I discover, are mostly female and mostly produce adult ("R-18") works -- which is bit mind-boggling; you can create romantic pairings of alien robots, sure, but where does the pornographic imagery come from? Never mind; I don't want to know. I find two artists producing perfectly acceptable art featuring characters from Prime, Robots in Disguise, and the IDW comics (fig. 14). The IDW-original character Tarn, leader of the Decepticon Justice Division, is apparently very popular; around the room are four copies of a third-party toy (R-19 Kultur from Mastermind Creations), and a cosplayer (fig. 15).

Fig. 14. Left to right: Event directory (22pp), Transformers fanart book Wreckers with food by Grill (18 pp), Naoto Tsushima Works #4 (24pp), Garuman Gamiras Empire / Boraa Federation Republic of Baath (4pp), another "cosmo warship mechnic illustrations" book (12 pp) from the same artist (website, Pixiv), and a two-sided plastic keychain (IDW Rodimus).

Fig. 15. Female cosplayer as Tarn, who (I shall assume) has a good reason to be manifesting as a humaniform holomatter avatar. She's not holding the mask on -- that's one of Tarn's signature mannerisms.

We head north two stops on the Asakusa subway line to stop A18 (tip: despite what the maps indicate, its entrance is quite some distance from G19 the Ginza line) -- Tim et al want to ride the Himiko water bus (part of the Tokyo Cruise line) designed by Yamato and Harlock artist Leiji MATSUMOTO, but since I did that in 2015, I've got alternate plans: Senso-ji in daylight, Skytree and more particularly Chiba Institute of Technology's Tokyo Skytree Town Campus, then Ginza and the Tokyu Hands in Yurakucho. We split up. Tim's adventures continue on Monday.

I finish the day at the coin-op laundry near my hotel to prepare for the next step of my vacation, to Taiwan.
Current Location: Tokyo, Japan