The Fairly Reasonable
​Price of Luck
     The start of the New Year is the biggest shopping holiday in Japan. It would be very comparative to Thanksgiving weekend back in America. But unlike the chaos and bloodshed of Black Friday, Japan has civility, class and lucky bags. Lucky bags are a New Year’s tradition where one buys a bag full of various items from a shop with no knowledge of what’s inside. The mystery treasure inside will generally be worth more than the purchase price of the bag. I got a bit of an early start on the Second, knowing it would be the first day all stores would be open. I eventually decided that if I was going to buy lucky bags, it was going to be in the promised land of Akihabara. I went about this is in a fairly meticulous manner. The first step was reconnaissance. I went into stores that I had visited in the past, perusing the levels of bags available. Along the main strip, everything was fairly uniform among the shops. They were even using the same labels to describe their content, even if the stores were unrelated. Going off of the beaten path was garnering some more intriguing options. Pricing on many were between 2000¥ and 5000¥ (about $20-$30 back in America). The most expensive were at the computer shops and one higher end anime collectables shop. They had lucky boxes well exceeding the 100,000¥ (so over a $1000) price point. Then there was Mulan, a kind of catch all otaku shop. They had some higher end bags in the 10,000¥ to 20,000¥ range (I have faith you can do the math at this point). What caught my eye were the 2000¥ and 3000¥ bags. I had a gut feeling that they had some quality items within.
    I didn’t pounce immediately though. If I had learned anything over the last few days, and buying similar lucky bags at conventions, it was wait for Sarah. I was having good luck, but combining that with the powers of Haruhi was unstoppable force. Not long into the day, I would be joined by my friend and the hunt was on. We both had a feeling toward the 3000¥ bags. She looked over the selection, every now and then picking up one to feel its weight. Eventually, she stopped above a winner. I picked up the bag and gave it a massage. It wasn’t the heaviest, but it had some solid objects inside. So I forked over my cash and made off with my mysterious treasure. The next store was not too far away, in the same building that housed the Cowboy Bebop café among other shops. The bags that had screamed to me here were giant bags full of Gunpla. My back catalog of kits to build is now much longer. Again, Haruhi’s divining powers picked a winner. Two of the kits were limited editions from Gundam Front and the other was a smaller kit of a Gundam I’ve wanted to build for a while.
    I was content with my purchases at that point. I had a good amount of treasure and could transport the haul back home without too much worry. So we wandered around a bit more, seeing if Sarah could find anything that caught her eye.  We wandered the back street and happened upon another Mulan. The stands of bags outside the store stopped us dead in our tracks. Many of the bags were based on one anime or another. Sarah was drawn by a bag full of items from reverse harem shows, which she purchased. But the piece de resistance were these gigantic golden bags. This was visual marketing in its purest form. Sarah went to lift one and let out a gasp at how heavy it was. I then gave it a go and her reaction was warranted. These may have been a bit more expensive than my other two bags (the price escapes me at the time), but this had promise. While there were a few similar bags, one bag in particular was screaming at both of us. The bright gold color of the bag may have helped. I finally decided, it was meant to be and purchased it. I would find out soon after, I had made off like a bandit. A brand new video game, a wireless charger for my iPhone, a cd/dvd collectors set of some idol group I need to give a chance, some Bluetooth headphones and a plate for Japanese curry rice with a dam in the middle that slowly releases the curry into the rice. I was definitely experiencing the lucky side of lucky bags. We then had lunch at the Gundam Café there in Akihabara. It may not have a giant mech out front, but the interior still gets me to geek out. Later that evening, we met a friend that Haruhi had made during the trip in Ikebukuro for dinner at Hanbey and some Sega arcade fun. That thou, is an entirely different story.
    Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. It was the final day of my vacation. I had a work meeting the next day back in Kofu, so I had booked passage on the last bus back that night. Sarah had a flight back to America the next day, so the timing worked out fairly well. We decided to meet up in Harajuku. I had gotten an early start as I had to check out of my hotel. I stored my belongings in a locker at Shinjuku Station, where I would later catch my bus. As I got to Harajuku first, I thought this the perfect time to hit the one shop I wanted to see.
    In an underground mall, a few blocks away from the ever popular Takeshita Street, is a store called Piledriver. The significance of this store to me, and many here at No Sell Entertainment, is that it is owned by Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki-sama is a giant name in the world of professional wrestling, especially in Japan. In his 40 year career as a wrestler (And as a MMA fighter. The man is a legitimate badass.), he has been known for his heavy strikes, submission prowess and his finishing move, the Gotch Style Piledriver. But while he is the vicious, violent leader of Suzuki-Gun in New Japan Pro Wrestling; he also runs his own clothing shop in one of the trendiest spots in the world. I had been wanting a sweatshirt from there for quite some time, so I decided to stop in and try my luck.
     My luck had started early, as the store was open earlier than usual because of the shopping holiday. As I made my way into the cramped shop, I saw Suzuki-sama taking a picture with another fan. I respectfully greeted him and the other shop workers as I starting looking at the sweatshirts. The largest they had was what they called a 2XL. I was still very suspicious looking at the garment as Japanese sizing and I have a rocky relationship. I want the clothing to fit and the clothing laughs. Suzuki-sama asks me if I liked what I saw. I replied that while the sweatshirt was perfect, I was concerned about the size. He then untied the sweatshirt he had tied around his waist and told me to try it on. It was the largest size they carried. As I thanked him for the opportunity, I slipped on the sweatshirt. Or at least, I tried to. While length was not an issue, the ever continuing truth that I have the broadest shoulders on the island became apparent once again. I thanked him once again and returned his sweatshirt. Over the next few minutes, we had a nice conversation about life in Japan. I tried to work in what Japanese I could. His English is actually fairly good. With as many shows he works overseas, I shouldn’t have been surprised. In the end I decided to buy a hat with one of his designs on it. It was adjustable, but it was the only thing I could make fit. I thanked him and the crew for the experience before asking if I could get a photo with Suzuki-sama. I thanked him once again after and headed off to meet Haruhi. They say that you should never meet your heroes. I have to say, between this and meeting Jack Nicklaus, I am two for two on good experiences.
    I met up with Sarah, and after a quick jaunt through Harajuku that included Ice Cream that looked like cute animals, we didn’t really have a set plan for the day. So we jumped on the Yamanote Line until we could think of something. As we almost made a full lap around Tokyo, Sarah suggested we visit the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. I don’t go to enough museums for someone fascinated with history and culture. We were greeted by a taiko drum performance in front of the main building. We first went through the international exhibit which housed artifacts from all over Asia. A very interesting exhibit, from the Buddhist statues of China to an Egyptian mummy.
    The main building was what I was looking forward to the most. The collection here included national treasures and property of the royal family. There were statues and paintings of international renown. Tools and burial idols that date back to the earliest people on the islands. There were rooms displaying the legendary blades and armor that shaped japan during the time of the Samurai. Poems and epitaphs that depicted the history of the Japanese language. One painting I must have looked at for five minutes depicted the persecution of Christians in Japan in the 1800’s. Another stark reminder that, not too long ago, I wouldn’t have been welcomed in this country. There were paintings and art pieces I had seen online and in books for years, right in front of me. It was another reminder of how blessed I truly am to have this experience.
    As we bid farewell to the museum, we also would soon say the same to each other. We caught the train back to Shinjuku, where I would soon catch the bus back to my small, mountain town. We made a stop at the Don Quixote housed a block or two from the station. I wanted to pick up as many Kit-Kat varieties as I could to send back to my No Sell family (took me a while to send it, but it worked out in the end). As the time drew near, we both came to the realization that we hadn’t eaten anything since that ice cream several hours ago. Luckily, there is a Shake Shack very close to the station. I had seen it a few times, but had never given it a shot. I almost always happen upon it right after downing a giant plate of Go! Go! Curry. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but it was worth every yen at that moment. I had forgotten how long it had been since I had a good burger and milkshake. Honestly, it’s the little things like that you miss when you live here. That, family, good peanut butter and clothing that actually fits in store.
    Finally, we headed back to the station. I got my things out of the locker and we said our goodbyes. It’s always tough seeing a friend off, knowing that it’s going to be awhile until you meet again. The next day, Sarah was on a plane back to America. I made my way to Kofu and a work meeting that was the textbook definition of pointless. Granted that meeting probably saved me a good amount of money. See, that day was Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome. I probably would have tried to get a ticket to the show. Not to mention, that’s two more days in the hotel. So, the meeting was probably for the best. Shortly after, it was back to the daily routine. But it was different this time. I now had this epic adventure to draw energy and inspiration from. A couple of weeks into the new term, I was to teach a special observation class. This is a special class, observed by the rest of the faculty to assess how we can better approach English classes. I had already done this a few times, but there was a new wrinkle thrown into this class. I would be teaching a sixth grade class with a teacher from the nearby Junior High School. The previous three observation classes had been with the younger teachers in the school, providing an assessment of their in class skills. In a meeting just before the class was to happen, I was asked to make flash cards for some adjectives (wonderful, exciting, fantastic, etc). I sat there, wondering how to make something that would get these feelings across on a piece of paper. There really isn’t a universal sign for fantastic and I doubted references to the ninth Doctor or mid 90’s NBA commercials would be understood by anyone but me. Sitting at home that night, an epiphany struck. I grabbed my MacBook and started importing my vacation photos over and using them in my flash cards. I mean, what better personifies “cool” then the Dekkai Sensei, rocking a Timbers jacket, striking a Captain Morgan pose while on the Flying Nimbus.
​There really isn’t a universal sign for fantastic and I doubted references to the ninth Doctor or mid 90’s NBA commercials would be understood by anyone but me.
Jeff Maack