Sunday, November 18, 2007

[LivefromTokyo] Wednesday & Thursday Roundup: Akihabara and Nakano (again)

Akihabara / Toy's Golden Age / Liberty Hobby:

Although I've been to Akihabara a number of times in the past, my objectives on this visit were Akihabara Mandarake and Toy's Golden Age.

A note for anyone visiting Japan soon: Mandarake is no longer at its old location in Akihabara. In fact, I suspect that it is not in the area at all. The entire block in which was formerly home to Mandarake is now cordoned off by a big, white construction fence- oh and the buildings were completely demolished. The various signs along the fence gave no indication as to where the store may have relocated to, and the construction guard told us that it was on the other side of the block (he was wrong). So, where is the Akihabara Mandarake? I don't know, and apparently nobody there does either.

A long walk down Chuo Doori brought me to Toy's Golden Age- probably the toy store furthest from Akihabara station. While there was an excellent selection of vintage toys- and a healthy assortment of trading figures, mecha, tokusatsu and sentai goodies- the prices are just reasonable and there was nothing drool-inducing for me. A solid toy store, but I think Moja-Q and Liberty are much more interesting stops overall. Incidentally, I just bought a Bear Model Pinya from Toy's; it is sort of a strange experience to visit the brick-and-mortar location of a Yahoo Japan auction store. I'm sure this experience will repeat itself when I visit Super7 one day- and see my hold box.

Right next door to Toy's is Liberty's hobby location. Now, Tokyo Underground really downplays the significance of this store- labeling it a stockhouse of new and semi-new items at fair to high prices. This is really not the case, and I would go so far as to say that Liberty was one of the best overall toy stores that I have visited in Tokyo. Except when I was robbed of my Magnemo Machine-Saurer. I'll get to that soon.

On the first floor is the GOOD stuff, all in glass cases and very neatly arranged. Probably the polar opposite of Moja-Q. At first glance, I dismissed it as merely a display of the latest and greatest- but, BUT, if you look very closely, there is vintage stuff in abundance, with some very desirable pieces at solid prices. A whole row of cases is filled with Transformers, Machine Robo, Microman and Diaclone vintage items- on the tops of the cases are 5-10 year old mecha toys. I guess they were not case-worthy. Amazingly, they had carded versions of the original 3 Armored Core for just a bit above original retail- the Zio-Matrix core is pretty rare and can fetch high prices on-card. Also of interest was a row of old Virtual-On toys (the fragile ones made by Kaiyodo). I would have probably bought a few of them, if I didn't already have the entire Armored Core toy line in duplicate. Heheh.

Now, on my first pass by the Microman case, I saw a boxed Magnemo Machine-Saurer sitting at the bottom of the case for JPY 10,000. This is low for that piece, almost too low. I pondered picking it up as I circled the last row of cases. But when I came back to that case, IT WAS GONE? WTFFFF. I looked up at the counter, and there was some Japanese dude opening the box and inspecting the pieces. I tried to watch him without being obvious, so I could get an idea of how complete the toy was without going through the brain damage of counting each missile myself. But, dammit, wouldn't you know it? He bought it. The lesson of the day was, if you see it, want it and can afford it, BUY IT NOW.

The upper levels of the store have floors dedicated to sentai, Kamen Rider, general tokusatsu and some kaiju; Gundam and assorted mecha toys and trading figures; girly-stuff; American toys (again, some amazing things from back in the day- who knew?) and other varied trading figures and urban vinyl. All-in-all, this is a very satisfying store to browse, and I think I must have spent an hour or more in there. But I'm still bitter about the Machine-Saurer. Robbed, I tells ya.

On the way back to the station, I made the obligatory stop in Rajio Kaikan. Volks has a new storefront, which was completely renovated since the last time I was there in 2005. There are beautiful displays of completed models along the walls, including mecha figures of their new Total Eclipse line. I will have to pick up the two that are being released at the end of this month- the articulation, construction and paint applications on these figures are just incredible. Pretty much the closest thing you can have to a pre-built, professionally airbrushed model kit.

re:Nakano / Moja-Q / Nakano Broadway:

On my third pass by Moja-Q the gates of heaven finally opened; I walked up the stairs to the store and noticed that the door was ajar. Joy!

This is probably the narrowest store that you will ever visit (maybe not if you live in Japan). If you have a backpack, shopping bags, unsightly back growths or a greater-than-38 size waist, it is recommended that you leave those outside with non-toy-buying friends. It's not really that the store is that small, as much as it is packed to the gills with every sort of toy issued prior to 1990. TO THE RIGHT, we have cases packed with newer kaiju (and some neo-kaiju!), Microman, Diaclone, Transformers, and all other manners of super robot and die-cast insanity. I saw no less than 3 BOXED Metroplexeses Tetris-stacked into the corner of the store. The most amazing part of this store, however, is that his robot prices seem to have stopped in the mid-90s. Boxed Transformers were going for a little under $70, which is ridiculous given the prices that those things fetch on auction sites. Alas, there was nothing I was searching for (no boxed Build-Gattai, Computron or King Poseidon).

The proprietor of Moja-Q is sort of given a tiny selling-cave to the left of the door. Given that no other human being walked through those doors for the entire time that I was in there, it became a little uncomfortable to be in a 100 square foot store with a strange, silent man. (Do not look him directly in the eyes, else you will be transformed into a small, vinyl flying-pose figure.) Speaking of flying-pose figures, the case directly in front of the register is filled with a couple hundred tokusatsu and kaijin mini figures. Amazing. I even saw a couple of the ultra-rare and ultra-expensive Barom-One toys in that case. The fish kaijin figure was really beautiful, but I couldn't blow $350 on a mini-figure.

The store curves back in an L-shape, and in the armpit of the "L," a dark case houses a small army of loose die-cast and robot toys. Interesting, but nothing extremely desirable. Finally, the tip of the "L" holds the gold; vintage vinyl ecstasy. I can't remember the names of all of the toys that were in the case, but it was among the best, if not THE best assortment of vintage vinyl that I saw on this trip. I was tempted by a well-priced Thunder-gei, but decided against it. All around the vinyl, the owner had piled all sorts of toys from various years- it was as if he ran out of space on the shelves, but didn't stop buying. Old model kits covered the tops of all of the cabinets.

Of all the stores in Tokyo, Moja-Q was without a doubt the most impressive toy store that I have ever seen bar-none. It had the killer combination of great prices, crowded vintage store aesthetic, and a ridiculous selection of toys that covered up the floors, walls and ceilings like kudzu on a vacant field. Creepy glasses-dude, I salute you.


Ok, so I went back to Robot Robot. The first time I went there, there was a big, juicy Shikaruna -Koubo Marine Kong sitting in its front case. When I came back today, it was freakin' gone. Bastards! However, I did pick up two old Ark vinyl toys in its case for about $35 a pop. Score.

Robot Robot is a bit odd in the sense that it has three locations, only one of which is manned. The manned front is a store that sells primarily 90s American toys. While this theme may seem sort of ho-hum in a location packed with vintage Japanese toys, it was sort of cool to walk through a store where the shelves looked JUST LIKE the Kay-Bee Toys from when I was 10. Carded Ninja Turtles, vintage My Little Pony- I think they even had those terrible Crash Test Dummy and COPS toys that nobody bought. So that's where they all went! The other two are smaller satellite shops that have vintage stuff.

The last time I went back to Nakano Broadway, I guess a couple of stores had opened, when they were closed the first time around. Bow Wow is definitely worth a gander, as it has a small arc of cube-shelves packed with the newest show releases at only slightly-elevated prices.


So that's about it for my whirlwind trip to Japan- while it was short, it was nice to get away from the office. I think I managed to pack in my stops pretty well, too. Sorry there were not more 'weird food' or 'Engrish' photos, as people seem wont to take when they are abroad in Asian countries.

Keep watching for one more entry on Tokyo...

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