Just Play: When You’re Missing Japan…

This just in: Some things are different in other places. Some things are the same. Some things are kind of both. Here are a few of the things that are “so Japan” and their sneaky US counterparts. It normal to wish you were in Japan. Next time you feel that sad longing, just reach for this handy list of things to scratch the itch. Be sure to write in and let us know how this post was exactly what was needed and saved you thousands of dollars in travel costs. (Click linky text throughout the post for more on the subject from blog posts I enjoyed!)

Longing for a Japanese Toy Vending Machine Binge? Just Head to Target.

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Vending machines in the Shibuya Tower Records.

In Japan, a few spare coins can easily be handed in to an automatic machine in exchange for a pocket sized dose of hope, excitement, and possibly WTF. Extensive arrays of vending machines selling serieses of collectible toys/mini figures are easy to find just outside shops, or in the entryways to shops and arcades. Select a theme you like, and pray for the figure you were hoping for – dogs in food, cats in sushi, naked ladies in sushi, animals in gas masks – there’s something for everyone. Anime and video game liscensed collections are also offered. Or collect all six poses of tree frogs, or boozey women to hang from the edge of glasses at your next dinner party.

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Dogs in pies! Dogs in buns! Of course we all know you really want the weenie dog in bacon..


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Tokyo toy machine haul!


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Papers from the things I got from Japanese toy vending machines..

While in the US, you may be tempted to head to a 50 cent vending machine in a shop entry way to get your novelty fix. While such machines may offer a dose of WTF (I salute you, “Homies” coin machine from Taco Bell…) they usually only exist in set of one or two, and are often filled with disappointing caloric substances like gum or candy. Sometimes you just need to believe in a dazzling array of possibilities. For this, check Target. Some of them now have an endcap (near the toys) reserved for nothing but blind boxes (or perhaps more properly, blind bags. There are no dogs or ladies or cats in sushi, but you can buy Star Wars, Marvel, or Five Nights at Freddies.

Blind box end cap.
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Creepy surprises for you or someone you love!


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This set must have been cool.


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I only have a general suspicion what a backpack hanger is, but it still doesn’t approach the WTF level of Japanese vending.


What about those arcades?

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Hey kid, you wanna play a video game?

The giant, multi-story arcades of Tokyo are either the perfect date night that I would want to do over and over and would possibly make me forget alcohol if I could just access them all the time.. or a novelty experience that Thom enjoyed enough once but is secretly relieved I can’t inflict upon him every Thursday through Saturday and also Tuesdays. I don’t know which is more satisfying – ascending floor by floor through the wonderland, or failing repeatedly at rhythm games. Then there’s the “no stray dudes allowed” puri kura sections full of photobooths with mandatory filters to make you #kawaiiasfuck.

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The first floor is usually claw machines. These Snoopys need liberated!


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Gunslinger Stratos – its a shooter, but with more guns.


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See those baskets? They’re for your stuff!


I do not think Thom understands this game. (Somewhere in Shinjuku..)

Dallas, to my knowledge, does not have any arcades with multiple staircases. However, it does have Free Play Arcade (more properly located in Richardson but belonging to the Dallas agglomeration). There are other arcade bars, both in town and in other cities, but Free Play’s novelty is that its more like an arcade that serves a bit of beer than a bar with arcade machines. Its $10 to get in, and all the machines are (que Captain Obvious) set to free play. Its small – one room – but there’s just about every classic machine you remember never having enough quarters for as a child, and they are all in good working order. There’s also beer, and also that weird game where you pour Budwiesers that probably exists in a legal gray area now. Decent, cheap sandwiches are also present.

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The name says it.


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Playing coop poorly; accusing each other of loot stealing probably.


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Saturday night at Free Play.


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A slower night in Free Play; Thom runs to his favorite mmachine. #ThomDoingThings
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An arcade to ourselves.

Looking for a mode of transportation that’s fast, economical, futuristic, and called a train? Amtrak is.. well.. one of those things…

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Shinkansen arriving at Shiroishizao Station.

Shinkansen, as the bullet trains are more properly called, go nearly every where you’d need to go in Japan. They’re fast, offer many choices of departure time, and are basically awesome in every way. The seats are comfortable! The stations are interesting and full of new snacks to try! They have scenic views! You can drink beer on them! They go by really really fast! They have never had an accident that killed a passenger! They can take you from Tokyo to Kyoto in under three hours… or you can take six hours and make the same trip in a car. For visitors to Japan, the JR rail pass makes shinkansen even more easy and economical.

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Tired and off of planes.


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The scenery blurring between Tokyo and Kyoto.



Alternately, you could get your rail trip jam packed with more hours per mile on Amtrak! While its a little bit of a splurge, for only a bit more than the cost of a plane ticket, you can sometimes get DAYS of train travel time on Amtrak for a journey of the same distance. I once took the Texas Eagle from Dallas to Austin and I can certify that it is a much more genteel way to travel. Texas Eagle gives right-of-way to freight trains, and will politely stop and wait for them to use the tracks before it moves along. In my case, I got two bonus hours of train ride, bringing my trip to eight hours instead of the advertised six! (For perspective, its a three hour drive.) Slowness, unreliable schedules, and sarcasm aside, the Texas Eagle was an enjoyable trip and worth doing if you have no need or desire to be anywhere on time. It is very comfortable, has a full service dining car and even sleepers and showers, and seeing all of the little old Texan towns with their mainstreets bowing down to the railroad tracks is worth doing once. Side note: I also saw, but failed to photograph, a man taking a nap while his donkey wandered loose nearby.

Texas out the Amtrak window.


Hint: Photo is not blurry because anything was moving fast.


Scenes from the ride.


Stopped in the station.


That was a fair bit of hair colors ago; and in about my 7th hour on the train.


Toy camera effect going on out the window of Texas Eagle; time possibly standing still somewhere in Texas.

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