Live in Tokyo!


AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Tokyo Game Show is upon us – just one of the many gaming conventions that I find myself swept up in every year – and to commemorate this harrowing experience I decided to tell you all of a trip I took two years ago, a trip that found me among the crowds of the Makuhari Messe itself. An autobiographical excerpt from my time in Japan, back when I wrote video-game orientated articles instead of short stories. This is half-old, half-new, edited of course for BPD and familiar in style to the wonderful book I’m reading at the moment – Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein – read it. Anyway, Game on.

In 2008 I spent the last few months of the year in Japan, fulfilling a dream I’d harboured for a long time. My infatuation demanded I go, so powerful was this love affair I had with the culture, the language and – yes, cliché and trés lame as it is – the anime, manga, hentai, sailor-fuku, ramen, futons, and all other weeaboo-centric obsessions and oddities. But there, at the heart of it all, was the video game.

If Japan is our hub, Akihabara our Mecca, then Tokyo Game Show is the ultimate gamers pilgrimage. It is a trip all of us wish to undertake at some point or another in our lives, and mine was afforded to me by sheer chance. I had not arranged my trip to the east with the hopes of attending. In fact, I was so caught up in the rest of Japan, so immersed in the country that I was oblivious to TGS until a week before the event. My friend – who was to join me a painful four days after the Makuhari Messe convention complex closed its doors – told me of his incredible disappointment that he would miss the game show to be hosted within, assuming I was already aware and fully booked. I was not, but I soon would be.

So it was with great excitement that I woke up at 6am on the morning of October 9th, crept out of my Nagoya-based apartment so as not to wake my sleeping flat-mate and hopped aboard a Tokyo-bound shinkansen. I quickly navigated the intricate subway system to Chiba via the Keiyo line, and then zeroed in on Mihama-ku. The train that took me there quickly filled, station by station, with obvious brothers in arms. It was relieving, as diffident as I was towards my navigational skills, to know I was going the right way. From the station I simply followed the ever-burgeoning crowd to my destination.

To say the convention complex was pretty big would be like saying Azeroth is pretty big. I bought my 2,000¥ ($20/£15 approx.) ticket and joined the gargantuan queue. I was hot and already feeling slightly sick – a couple of days later I would come down with a hell of a fever that would have me house-bound for nearly a week – but I was determined. The queue grew longer behind me, and the minutes passed slowly away. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was something I would get used to during that day.

10am finally rolled around and we were allowed to move. The snaking trail our queue formed circled the complex in its entirety, and the walk took ten minutes from the Queue Here start point to the doors of the giant Convention Hall 1. To their credit, the organizers had done something fairly monumental. Of the thousands of people being herded into the same place, the queue never stopped, never slowed. It was the most orderly I’d even seen the human race in such numbers.

Inside however, the reality hit, and it hit hard. It was a cramped, dark, loud and sweaty experience. Mammoth displays towered over me, blasting me repeatedly with intense trailers and dizzying visuals. My senses were assaulted from all sides. The air pumped around me and I was jostled to and fro with the waves of people heading to the Squeenix booth, no, the Capcom booth, wait, the Sony booth. It made it painfully obvious why the Los-Angeles-based E3 shut their doors to the public a while back, and what a relief it must have been for the industry and press alike when it did.

Simply to get out of the madness I hopped into the first line I saw – luckily, it was for a title I had a genuine interest in. It was Resident Evil 5 – interest is putting it lightly. I stood in that line for 2 hours next to a Japanese teen named Yoshi, who was surprisingly amiable and whose English was far more competent than my Japanese. We stood under a giant monitor replaying the same Ninja Blade trailer over and over, ad infinitum. We talked about how much we loved Resident Evil 4. We compared our favourite games of all time. We poured over our convention maps and decided on which booths we would visit next. Yoshi was super pumped about Star Ocean 4 – a game I would go on to purchase and despise the following year. Finally we reached the front of the queue. We played, side by side, for ten minutes. I got slapped in the face by disappointment. I would later grow to love the game, but at the time I was heartbroken about Capcom’s evident direction for the series.

The rest of the day saw me avoiding such lines for bigger titles. Instead I talked with the English cosplayers outside, I argued with a developer from The Behemoth game studio over their awful Castle Crashers servers and made small talk with booth babes in broken Japanese. I played lesser known titles I would never have given a chance under usual circumstances and stood in crowds oohing and aahing and sugoi-ing over the latest announcements. I watched famous game types prance around on stage. I ate overpriced food in the restaurant and drank a lot of water because I was becoming incredibly dehydrated.

I left that afternoon full, for better or worse, of Tokyo Game Show, and decided against returning for day two. I’d had enough. I was frazzled. It was hard work. On the way back to the train station I saw a band – nano.RIPE – performing in the street – live in Tokyo! – plugged in and rocking out. Now this was busking I could appreciate. I stopped and listened for a couple of songs, happy to appease the exhaustion that racked my quickly deteriorating body – the fever was strong in me now. I liked them a lot and bought a CD – something unheard of to me at the time. Truth be told I was worried I would forget their existence by the time I collapsed through my front door back in Nagoya.

It was their first album and they were still at this point fairly small-time. I still have it in the rack next to me. In the two years since then they’ve come a long way, with a fairly large discography and a dedicated fanbase. They appeared in my life for one day only and managed to calm down the infused Tokyo-rush that had been wearing me down since the morning. Japan never stands still for long and it’s heart, Tokyo, is a city that never stops. It pushes you forever forwards with itself, racing you to the next shade of sky where every neon advertisement stutters into life with a buzz. But there, in between it all, beneath the train tracks overhead and beside the steady stream of salarymen on their way home from work, unintelligible music stopped me and soothed me and for that I am grateful.

~ by Joseph Blame on September 16, 2010.

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