In the higher parts of town where the tsunami didn’t hit, the earthquake still did a lot of damage to many buildings.
With the streets cleared of rubble by the government workers, abandoned buildings and infrastructure created an eerie post-apocalytic vibe.
Nuka Cola side quest
Another classic post-apocalytic image omnipresent in Tomioka was that of the dilapidated vending machine. A friend of mine is a big fan of the Fallout game series, so I made finding a real-life Nuka Cola a priority.
Unfortunately most machines were either all locked up (I wasn’t going to break in, I’m an explorer not a vandal)…
…or already ransacked.
Even the front can sections had been broken into in this machine.
There is a highway running through Tomioka with some traffic heading through town to Iwaki, the power plants, and the next town Namie.
But the commercial centres of town remained shuttered.
A grocery store remains boarded up, almost fully stocked.
This dressmaking shop evidently closed quite quickly.
This poster was advertising a festival to be held in April 2011. It presumably never went ahead due to the March 2011 evacuation orders.
This restaurant is in hindsight grimly named アトム (Atom).
This service station has stood up to the elements surprisingly well.
Inside is pristine
But this external basin is caked with grit.
The signage has collapsed on the reverse however.
Pachinko Grand Hall
I spied this building on the way in, and it turned out to be the main event of the trip. A crumbling local casino at the top of the hill.
Several walls have collapsed.
As has the sign.
As well as pachinko, the place featured a halloween themed Karaoke bar.
Inside is a moment in time, frozen.
Pachinko balls (the equivalent of gambling chips) have fallen to the floor and remained there for over six years.
Products like chewing tobacco remain in their racks.
Apart from items that presumably fell in the earthquakes, shelves remain undisturbed.
A kitchen deserted.
Even in an abandoned wasteland, you still have video games in Japan. Puyo Puyo for Windows XP!
And you can never escape from the omnipresent Hello Kitty.
On the way upstairs there was a commercial kitchen.
The second floor waiting room.
With a shelf full of reading material.
My quest to find a Nuka Cola continued, but these machines were empty.
The new view from the second floor bathroom was… something.
The karaoke rooms.
Heading through the back to get to the final floor, apparently there was a Sauna (セウナ)?
Right at the top, the ceiling was collapsing, parts literally fell just as I walked past this section.
The roof seemed stable enough however.
Heading down via the external spiral staircase.
One last look on the ground floor led to Nuka Cola success! I found some mini bottles in a small refrigerator. Use by date: 19 May 2011…
Probably the saddest scene was right up the top of the town. This was a new estate – six years ago.
Brand new homes completed or half finished. The town was clearly growing, and people were starting their lives here.
But now the houses sit abandoned amidst overgrown weeds.
There was a similar scene closer to the coast. This half-built wooden house was never finished and has since been beaten by weather – but the metal and glass door/window fittings remain pristine.
This old man is one of the handful of residents who had returned to the area as of July/August. He was out walking his little dog and heading to the town’s single shop.
What would a post-apocayptic scene be without some creepy abandoned institutions? Tomioka delivers with an abandoned school.
On the right is a kindergarten.
It’s all been kept in pretty good condition internally, seemingly with plans for the population to return in the future.
Across the road, a middle/high school.
It was getting dark and the final shuttle was leaving, so it was farewell to Tomioka, Iwaki and the rest of this area of Fukushima. If I ever return I imagine it will be very different.
One day in late July 2017 I decided to get back into the urban spelunking game, with a trip out to the abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone. Since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns, the Japanese government has slowly been reopening areas closer to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and while it remains tricky, a lot of areas can now be visited legally and (mostly) safely.
The trip started with a train from Tokyo to the nearest city Iwaki (いわきし Iwaki-shi).
From there it was a slow train to the coastal outskirts of Fukushima Prefecture.
Nearly at the end of the line was the first sight of something soon to be common – stockpiles of large black bags of radiation-contaminated soil. All soil is being tested inside the entire disaster area, and any found to be contaminated is being removed and shipped out for storage.
Tatsuta Station (たつた)
Tatsuta isn’t a town from what I can tell, just a station. It’s on the edge of the evacuation zone and was partially destroyed and shut down following the 2011 disaster. The station reopened in 2014 as a rail terminus. Trains still do not go any further in.
A new station structure was being built/rennovated, presumably with plans to eventually restore the train line to isolated towns like Tomioka and Namie.
This area is far enough inland that the tsunami didn’t hit, and it’s toward the edge of the exclusion zone, but was nonetheless evacuated 2011-2014 and has remained mostly abandoned.
Businesses sat empty, and there were no people around at all, apart from the two other people who were on the train.
Another soon to be common sight – geiger counters. Most areas now read at levels ‘safe for long term habitation’.
From here on you have to get a charter bus to any towns further in.
On the outskirts of the zone, the Japanese government has been building new houses for those who lost theirs in the quake and tsunami. All seem to be empty, possibly because the residents have settled elsewhere by now.
This is the road to the second nuclear plant – Fukushima Daini. It was successfully shut down after the earthquake.
The cooling tower is visible on the skyline.
The sister plant which suffered the meltdown – Fukushima Daiichi – is just south of the next town, Tomioka.
Tomioka (とみおかまち Tomioka-machi)
While tsunami debris had (mostly) been cleared from the streets, it seemed decontamination work had only just begun at Tomioka, one of the two towns closest to the meltdown. Evacuation orders were only lifted two months earlier, and there were a few hazmat-suited work crews around, and a single shop (a supermarket) had opened to service them, as well as workers continuing the long process of decommissioning the damaged Daiichi plant.
Apart from decontamination workers, the majority of the town was still abandoned.
Half-packed possessions remained just sitting around.
Structures that survived the earthquake better were being used as dumping grounds for goods and possessions from elsewhere
Houses closer to the coast in the lower part of the town suffered huge tsunami damage.
This side-of-the-road restaurant and home had been abandoned and overtaken by the elements.
I went exploring inside.
Continue reading part 2 here – featuring the main streets of Tomioka, a pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and abandoned newly built homes.
The final stop in the ‘Splatoon madness’ journey is in Nintendo’s home town, at Kyoto Aquarium. A semi-educational Splatoon-themed event called ‘Suizokukaan’ ran for summer, with a focus on squid and jellyfish exhibits.
The aquarium was outfitted with Splatoon branding throughout.
And featured special Splatoon art as temporary signs for each relevant section.
The educational info compared what’s seen in the game with the actual marine life.
And what would a tourist trap be without copious volumes of exclusive merchandise! Murch would be proud.
The aquarium itself is pretty standard stuff, but quite modern with some nice exhibits.
There are some cute Japanese touches too.
The main event is a Splatoon themed water fight for kids, in the seal pool between hourly shows. Kids get themselves a Splattershot…
And shoot water at a squid target.
It’s a competition for who can hit the highest level, green vs pink.
While parents/grandparents/people waiting for the seal show look on in various states of amusement/boredom.
The best part is the music. Tracks from the first game play while the race is on.
And right at the end they drop a waterfall on all the participants to the tune of ‘Now or Never’ – Squid Squad version.
All a very silly diversion but fun for the kids. And just shows the depth of the cultural relevance of the brand in Japan.
Splatoon 2 launched on a Friday, so most people were at work. Shops in Akihabara open at 10am, and many were ready for early buyers.
Some larger stores like Sofmap, Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera set up shopfront stalls, selling the game and related products.
There were some small lines
But there was plenty of stock to go around, so it was easy enough to get the game and related items, like Amiibo and neon green/pink joycons. If you were lucky, there were also a few of the licensed (in-game brand) Forge headsets available.
The bigger stores were very busy however – there was a 20+ minute wait at the counter at Yodobashi for example.
While the game was easy enough to obtain, it’s not so easy to get a Switch console in Japan. This is what you see in most places at the moment:
Demand is off the charts and all Switch consoles sell out instantly. Stores only get a certain allotment of consoles, and to determine which customers get a chance to buy one, they run lotteries.
Literal lotteries. Customers are asked to line up at a certain location from 8am and take a number. Later in the day, they draw numbers, and the winners now have an opportunity to buy the console.
This was the line to take a number at the Akihabara Bic Camera store.
After getting your number, you can go about you day shopping, and return for the results announcement.
The results are posted at the front of the store.
The Splatoon 2 booth was quite busy with buyers at this point, and combined with the rush to see the Switch lottery results, a crush took place.
Bad luck if you didn’t win, try again tomorrow.
Or you could buy from scalper stores for double the price!
More Splatoon store displays
After a long day of observing the craziness, I finally got home to get playing myself.
While Japan got ready to do it all again a week later for Dragon Quest XI!
While I mostly focus on retro stuff on this site, I’ve recently gotten back into modern Nintendo games. And there is nothing more modern, more Nintendo, and more Japanese than Splatoon, a game about punk-rock fashion-conscious highly evolved transforming squid children playing ink-shooting games in a post-apocalyptic future world. Oh, and it features singing idol girls and is set in a suspiciously Shinjuku/Harajuku looking city. The first Splatoon was huge in Japan, despite the fact the console it was released on, the Wii U, was not. It was a crossover cultural hit with huge merchandising success, and is easily the highest selling home console game in the current generation in Japan, selling more than even huge names on PS4 like Final Fantasy and more recently Dragon Quest.
On top of this, Nintendo’s new system, the Switch, is also a huge hit, having been constantly sold out since launch. Recently these two things combined with the release of Splatoon 2 on Switch. And as expected, Japan has gone crazy for it.
Nintendo has gone all out with ads for the game, with many TV spots, ads running in trains…
…and standard posters around the city.
But what sets the Splatoon 2 campaign apart are these: Fashion ads for the in-game brands.
You can’t really go anywhere that sells toys or games or trinkets of any sort without coming across Splatoon merchandise. It is everywhere in all cities countrywide.
Many companies without a licence are using the ‘rainbow paint’ motif to sell their gaming wares too.
In store displays and ads
You can buy all sorts of licenced snacks and drinks
7-Eleven has a promotion to get exclusive in-game gear if you buy the game from them (they sell download code cards) or with certain product purchases.
You get a Splatoon badge and a code which can be redeemed on the Switch eShop, and the gear gets dropped off as a package in Inkopolis Square in the game.
The biggest tie-in with a store is probably Tower Records.
The initial Japanese pre-release Splatoon demo was itself a tie-in, as Tower Records sold the in-game t-shirts for the Rock vs Pop theme.
The Shibuya store in particular looks like this:
And had a performance tie in with Wet Floor, an in-game band.
While not nation wide, there is a possibly even larger Splatoon tie-in event with Kyoto Aquarium, which I’ll cover in a future article.
Outside of the known ‘game districts’ in Tokyo and Osaka, specialist video game shops are a bit harder to come by these days. You have Yodobashi and Bic Camera for new games, and all the HardOff/HouseOff/BookOff variations, but you have to look a bit harder for specialist stuff.
I’ve recently been travelling in Hokkaido, and came across this tiny slice of old-school Akiba in Sapporo – Game Shop 1983.
It’s a tiny place, packed with stuff in that haphazard ‘run by an enthusiast not a businessman’ way. The guy who runs it is nice though, and the prices are not insane.
All eras are represented, from Famicom through to modern stuff.
It’s so cramped and…unkept… it reminds me a lot of the game shops in the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong more than most Japanese shops.
In a cute touch it seems you can get a papercraft version of the shop. They were all out at this moment however.
Not much more to say about the place, but it’s worth a visit just to see this: the Dreamcast Karaoke unit version of the ‘Tower of Power’
Established on a legal ‘no-man’s land’ and unpoliced by either Britain or China, it thrived and became an amazing mass of humanity.
It was torn down in 1994, but I’ve always been fascinated by the place. I’ve been to where it once was, and all that is left is a boring park, with a few monuments like a piece of the original foundation, and a model of the old city.
What has this got to do with Japan?
It seems I wasn’t the only one who was fascinated by the walled city, as some of the interior has been re-created in Japan. It’s called the Kawasaki Warehouse, and it’s one of many amazing pet projects by Japanese designer Taishiro Hoshino.
So we got on the train out of Tokyo and headed for Kawasaki. It’s a bit of a walk, but easy to find once in the right area.
Inside you have to walk past pretend drug dens and prostitutes
Until it opens up into a re-creation of the bustling city courtyards
That just happens to have an old-school video arcade inside!
Even the bathrooms match the theme
Upstairs there’s a weird renaissance theme, and classy layout for various parlour games
I’ve been a Nintendo fan for 30 years, and I was in Kyoto for the first time. Well I had to go to Nintendo, didn’t I?
First stop was very hard to find, and Google (at least in English) was very little help. I wanted to see the oldest surviving Nintendo building, buried in the backstreets of a now largely residential area of Kyoto.
After some research (largely machine translating Japanese walking tour maps), I worked out it was somewhere near here, which was around 15 minutes walk from the apartment we were staying in.
So we set off the next morning. After a lot of wandering in the freezing cold winter air, we found it!
Built in 1933, it sits on the same land as the original headquarters from 1889. While nicely designed with lots of detailed flourishes, it’s an otherwise relatively nondescript building. Except for two plaques:
The sign references Japanese playing cards ‘Karuta’ (かるた) and western playing cards ‘Trump’ (トランプ – Toranpu)
This was their playing card factory and distribution centre before they became a larger toy company, and it has stayed in company hands.
I took a peek inside as well, it is clearly well maintained and clean, and in some form of use.
It appears to have been maintained perfectly from the 1933 until today.
The next stop would be much easier to find. It was about 40 minutes walk away through residential and industrial areas, though we stopped in at a couple of Kyoto’s famous temples along the way.
Until it appeared…
Two blocks away there is the other monolith, the new development building.
Not too much to see, you’re not allowed in either building. But they do have a nice big sign at the development centre.