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One thousand sumimasens, two hundred train stations, and sixteen pineapple pies for the Beagle Boys later, I made my escape from the island of Honshu. There's much more to tell, but now, pictures.

Setagaya ward, view from my hotel on the first morning.

Hippie van in Shimokitazawa.

From the second day on, I stayed in the Ohara district, also in Setagaya on the west side of urban Tokyo. My guest house was five minutes walk from Sasazuka Station and ten minutes from the hip neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. In theory. In practice, Ohara is a maze you could get lost in forever. :p Most maps for tourists only cover central Tokyo, leaving out Setagaya completely... despite that, it's actually the largest ward in the city, which can lead to fun times if you don't have GPS. I knew enough Japanese to get directions (more or less), and everyone was really helpful, but consider yourself warned!

The guest house was a funky place, to be sure, with closet-sized bathrooms, old and sometimes unreliable utilities, layers of dust and grime, and toenail clippings where you wouldn't expect toenail clippings to be. I needed to buy my own towel, and most of my own silverware. Despite that, it had the necessary creature comforts, quiet and privacy inside my room, and I came to enjoy its secluded atmosphere. On the days it rained, the rain sounded awesome, and I was often visited by ladybugs and tiny jumping spiders. Sometimes, a lizard would crawl between the sliding glass panels of the window looking for food.

Black metal, pink flowers.

Anecdote: I was in an arcade, and saw a young man playing a rhythm game. His shirt had demons on it and the words "Listen to the voice of Hell" written in a bloody font. Over his shoulder, he carried a tote bag with drawings of cute kitties and the words "I am a cat lover." There were also stickers of anime girls on the bag. Needless to say, I approve.

More Shimokita.

Coin laundry. The poster says something about calling the police if you see anyone stealing from the machines. Just say no to knocking over laundromats, kids.

Mosque in Setagaya.

Shibuya architecture. Taken on my quest for a towel.

A taste of Shibuya at night.

Shinjuku skyscrapers (and Cocoon Tower in the second image)

Shinjuku Station is NUTS. The busiest train station in the world, and possibly the most convoluted, with countless transfer gates, platforms distributed across multiple labyrinthine levels, and many possible exits, as well as a multitude of underground shopping streets and malls. It's a city in itself, and must have been an influence on dungeon crawler RPGs. To make things worse, my trip happened to coincide with Golden Week, Japan's biggest national holiday. Underground, the heat of so many bodies packed together had me sweating like I was in a jungle. Still, there were moments of relief: like this exit, which led to an unexpected green park.

Mysterious underground pond and door.

Getting lost in Shinjuku led to meeting a couple of British guys outside a guitar store, which led to a spontaneous trip here:

Akihabara! The land of otaku, where men are nerds, women are maids, and Dracula will sell you a miserable pile of smartphone accessories.

After hitting up the smokiest game centers and browsing adult video stores for the lulz, it was time for a change of mood, so I split and headed to Ikebukuro in search of Akiba's femme counterpart, Otome Road.

"Zebra" has to be the coolest looking love hotel I've seen. I want to get busy inside a stereo too.

This random find had my favorite lobby in Tokyo:

At which point my camera died. You can see more (and better) images of this very trippy building here: http://tokyoscum.blogspot.hk/2012/09/von-jour-caux-philosophers-stone.html

Ikebukuro has a thriving arcade scene, and is packed with comfy-looking manga and Internet cafes (and at least one porn Internet cafe... sasuga Tokyo.) Eventually I found Otome Road, and bought so much yuri at the Animate store. ^^ The new issue of Yuri Hime, the first issue of Galette, the first volume of After Hours, and books by Tamamusi, Ohsawa Yayoi, and Kuzushiro. All are in raw Japanese, of course; I can't read them yet, but I'm working on that.

For 80s/90s video game fans, Ikebu has a Super Potato. It's smaller than the one in Akihabara, but either way, if you're in the area then this half shop, half museum of old games -- packed floor to rafter with merchandise, memorabilia, collages, and original art by the staff -- is not to be missed.

On the second visit to Shibuya (record-buying spree), things really started to heat up; even more so than Akihabara, Shibuya felt like one big adult theme park. You can also see the tiny park where I caught my breath. Tokyo is full of small peaceful spaces in the middle of everything.

Gundam pods at a game center in Shinjuku.

Random scenery around Takadanobaba, Shinjuku.

Skyscraper in Roppongi district.

The real-life Amber Teahouse? Maybe. ^^

Inside the Pink Cow restaurant and bar, where a monthly vegan buffet was being held. The place was ran by an American ex-pat, attracted a mixed crowd of Japanese and non-Japanese, and was thoroughly bilingual. gochisosama!

After the first party of the night, it was off to Suginami ward and Koenji Station, to find the true underground. Koenji Cave.

It looks normal so far, doesn't it? You can't see it from the street, but head down an unmarked staircase, past some telling flyers, and through a door (with the warning hentai camera sees all, 25 hours a day written above) and you will find this fluorescent wonderland.

Back above ground, I visited the Gojira bar. Which was also full of Ultraman, Astro Boy, and other staples of old Japanese TV. "Godzilla and Ultraman... that's Japan", the proprietor told me. "We all grew up watching."

Suginami ward during the day.

I came back to Koenji several times, and stayed through the night twice. Meunota restaurant, with its forest atmosphere, musical instruments decorating the walls, and shelves of literature and manga to peruse, was extremely cool, but often closed for events! A good plan B was the nearby Indian restaurant, Khana, which at 1050jpy (about $9.50), offered one of the cheapest vegan dinner sets in Tokyo.

A word of caution: all trains in Tokyo stop by 1AM (in some stations, by midnight) and don't start again until 5. This is great for ravers, clubbers and bar-hoppers, and the businesses of all-night convenience stores and manga cafes, but you definitely need to take it into account if you're going to be out late at night. The good news is that, at all other hours, there will always be a train every 5-10 minutes.

On another day, I took a trip to Nakano Broadway to do some digging in its enormous network of Mandarake stores and haunt the local arcades. It was a good place to watch people compete at fighting games; like Magicians Dead, an arena game with some of the coolest play mechanics I've seen. Draw a circle with your finger, and your character draws a magical circle; make a fist and you pick up an object; open your fist and you throw that object, ect.

Magicians Dead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Yd1s3rlfEs

Compared to other otaku hangouts, Nakano Broadway felt the most "Japanese". Squat toilets in the bathrooms, basement grocery vendors, little English to be found, and the kind of post-space-age, retro-futuristic decor that I associate with Japanese malls. I was taken back to childhood memories of Yaohan Plaza. Even if you hate shopping malls, you should give it a try to experience a completely different culture.

Short walking video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB57j-WrU3o

Actually good pictures here: http://likeafishinwater.com/2014/06/03/nakano-sun-mall-shotengai/

Roppongi Hills. Because every mall should have a giant-ass spider guarding it.

Sterile and ultra-pricey, Roppongi Hills was not exactly my favorite. I'll give it points for looking pretty and for a good view of Tokyo Tower. And that spider.

Unintentionally honest kombucha ad. :P

A vegan's survival guide to Japanese food is on my to-do list. Staying vegan in Japan is tough. It's not as bleak as you might think, but the differences in the way that food is prepared and processed mean that there's a considerable learning curve.

To be continued...
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