The previous three days drifted along to the tune of uneventful. Today a sign in my hostel says, “Soba Party Today, come and enjoy Japanese noodles!” There is also a list of local artists that will be here to teach various arts and crafts. Free food and free crafts, excellent.
Outside it is a blistering 36°C. I take the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to Ginza. Ginza is a massive shopping district and fashion area. The kind of place you only drive through if you have an Aston Martin or a Bentley. If there is a Tokyo edition of the board game Monopoly, Ginza would be Mayfair. There is an array of well dressed people, expensive fashion boutiques, and all of the high-priced big brand stores. But I’m not here for all that…
My first stop in Ginza is the rather difficult to find Vanilla Gallery. Hidden away on basement floor two of a rather uninteresting building, it plays host to the Fourth Artificial Otome Expo; a Love Dolls exhibition. I shyly pay my ¥1000 entry fee to a young women, and shuffle through the gallery trying to avoid eye contact with the other customers, and the dolls.
The dolls are made of silicon, are hauntingly childlike, and can be customised to the finest detail; every part of a doll can be ‘made to order’. Also in the exhibition is the mold that creates these dolls, a sign says, “Crystal craftsmanship to build the doll up to a perfect.”
The Vanilla Gallery is small, the exhibition is in just two little rooms. Orient Industry has been making these luxury Love Dolls for thirty seven years, or so a video of the production process tells me. They also claim to make the most luxurious and expensive dolls; probably why they chose Ginza to showcase their creations. There is one doll that you can touch, “Feel her soft realistic skin,” a sign says. I pass on the touching.
I once saw a television interview with a Japanese man who said that he doesn’t want his wife to know about his collection of Love Dolls, so he rents a second apartment just for his dolls. I stay for no longer than five minutes. The life-size realistic looking dolls scare me. Their stillness makes me think of the dead.
Next in Ginza I head to the nearby ‘Hello Kitty Toy Park’. Here there are so many toys, games, key rings, plates, umbrellas, everything you can imagine features Hello Kitty. Five floors of toys, two floors of restaurants, a theatre, and a small theme park. I have never seen so many pussies in one day. I don’t know which is more embarrassing, going to a Love Doll exhibition or entering a Hello Kitty store. Inside the store I see a policeman on his break, inspecting the Hello Kitty toys.
Next, I head in the direction of the Police Museum. On the way I see a huge Yamaha store, and decide to play on some very expensive looking pianos for a while. I also see the Pachinko Museum. A sign outside says, “We can teach you the basics about Pachinko.” It is adults only, but free. I head inside to find that they have forgotten the museum aspect. It is just a regular Pachinko parlor. “More enjoy more happy,” a sign outside tells me as I leave.
The Police Museum doesn’t seem to exist. The building that it is inside is under heavy construction and gated off. A shame, I was looking forward to doing something normal today. I see a sign for the nearby Kyōbashi Station; lucky for me I know this station is on the Ginza Line, so I take the train back to Asakusa.
Back at the hostel I watch the news. A company called Shin-shin foods has decided to stop its one-hundred year long pickle production, and has converted its headquarters into a capsule hotel. I learn about a process called muon tomography, cosmic rays that detect radiation. Twenty-nine cats have mysteriously been found dead in Ota Ward, police think it was poison. The usual nonsense. I do some writing before heading out for a Shiatsu massage.
The place I go to was recommended to me by a friend. When I enter the building the woman looks shocked to see me. I don’t think the place gets many overseas visitors. I mention that I know her friend and the tension in the room instantly fades away. After my thirty minute massage, the tension in my shoulders also fades away. The man that performed the massage offers me a fifty percent discount, just ¥1500. I actually don’t think this is fair on him, the massage was good. I compromise and tell him to keep the ¥500 change, he does. So much for not tipping in Japan. He thanks me and gives me a points card; I am nine more massages away from a free one hour session.
Back at the hostel the soba party is just starting. Soba are Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. This is actually my favorite type of noodle. There are stalls selling badges made from Instagram photographs. You can send them six of your photographs and they make them into high quality badges or magnets. I consider sending them my six photographs of love dolls, but don’t. There is also a store where you can rent a Kimono or a Yukata. The word Kimono inventively translates as ‘thing to wear’.
There is of course plenty of free food. Plates piled high with ice cold soba noodles. Tiny plastic bowls are filled with sauce and a selection of toppings are available. I eat my noodles with spring onion and seaweed. Delicious. There is also free rice wine to drink. When all the free saké has been consumed, I head to the hostel bar for more free drinks. The night crawls along. I eat soba noodles in the lounge and get considerably less sober at the bar. The night ends and I crawl to my room.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit a Super Yosakoi dance festival, and enjoy a firework display by clicking here.
Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.