The abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone part 1

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.

Business sit empty, and there are 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.

The whole front of the kitchen had collapsed in

Various stored possessions abandoned
The outside sign is falling apart

Coming in Part 2 – the main streets of Tomioka, a Pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and probably the saddest part: abandoned newly built homes.

Advertisements

Pre-WW2 Nintendo Hanafuda (花札) – cards and gambling kit

This is my oldest Nintendo item, a set of original Nintendo Hanafuda. I’m not sure of the exact date of manufacture, the seller said the kit was ‘pre-war’. Given the superb condition it seems likely it is from quite late in that prescribed period.

The set is contained in an unassuming wooden box.

In which fit the gambling paraphernalia and cards.

I don’t think the non-card items are Nintendo made, but the kit is clearly built around the box of Nintendo cards and it all fits together very neatly.

Various chips for gambling.

Under the main card box is a tray of other gambling related items.

The card with the woman on it says 百本 or something like ‘a hundred points’.

The small Hanafuda box itself is where we can see the original Nintendo branding.

任天堂 – Nin Ten Do – in the original kanji logo.

The lid lifts off to reveal the beautiful Hanafuda (花札) – literally ‘flower cards’.

The cards themselves are quite beautiful and well made.

These three cards are branded. The left card has the Nintendo Playing Card logo, and the middle is branded with 任天堂 Nin Ten Do.

You can see the matching logo on the plaques at Nintendo’s old HQ in Kyoto.

The same logo is on the door on the right!

The whole kit.

Famulator (ファミレータ) Famicom clone (+mod to fix the audio)

I’ve always been fascinated by Famiclones.

The first Famiclones were straight pirated Famicom hardware clones, but by the 90s this had been consolidated down to single chip designs, usually referred to as NOAC – NES on a chip. While NOACs lose accuracy, they can be produced very cheaply and thus proliferated as the gaming machine of choice throughout copyright-infrinegment playgrounds like Eastern Europe, South America and greater Asia throughout the 90s. If you take pirate consoles into account, the Famicom is surely by far the highest selling system of all time. There’s a decent number of Famiclone models documented here.

Famiclones had a second life in Japan after Nintendo’s patent on the hardware expired in 2003. Due to the vast majority of Famicoms in Japan being RF-only, there was a market for a cheap AV Famicom as the retro boom began. One I’ve always wanted to get my hands is was the Famulator, released in early 2008, and I finally grabbed one recently.

Famulator_8811

Famulator_8813

One reason is simply the name Famulator, which is too cute, but the tasteful design, of course evoking the original Famicom, sets it apart from your average junk looking Famiclone.

Famulator_8814   Famulator_8818

And it’s tiny, barely bigger than a Famicom cart, and less than half the size of the original. Kawaii as hell. The controller, which connects via standard Famiclone DB9 connector, is also quote excellent, there’s very low travel on the buttons, giving it a Game Boy Advance SP feel.

Famulator_8820

It’s great looking and plays well, and is a pretty decent NOAC Famicom. There is one catch. The earliest release of the Famulator overamplifies the the sound, leading to peaking levels and distortion. And the expansion audio is not connected, so Famicom Disk and other expansion audio games are missing the extra sound channels. Luckily I found quite an easy fix for both on this Japanese website.

The audio can be fixed simply by chopping off the transistor at the position marked Q2, and soldering the right two leftover legs together. It worked perfectly and the regular audio was fixed.

Famulator_8665

To add support for expansion audio, you can simply insert connections for pins 45 and 46 to the circuit at positive leg of the capacitor at C9.

Of course with plenty of real Famicom hardware around it’s not like this will get a lot of play time, but it’s a cool little toy to have, and yet another part of the rich tapestry of Famicom history.

Famulator_8675

Famulator_8671

 

Rollergames – NES

Rollergames belongs to an interesting sub-category: Japanese developed games unreleased in their homeland.

Rollergames.001

Why does this sometimes happen? Perhaps the domestic market for that type of game had dried up during its development, but the game was still suitable for western release. Or the Japanese version was cancelled at the last minute because of a clash in release schedules.

But sometimes games were specifically developed for western markets, often based on a western-only licenced property. Such as Rollergames.

Rollergames_2290

These games are interesting because they offer an insight into how Japanese publishers viewed American audiences. In Rollergames case, it appears Konami management showed the developers the source material, and said ‘make an action adventure game from this’.

Rollergames is based on a professional wrestling-esque dramatised fictional version of roller derby. Apparently it was a big deal for its single season in the US, but non-Americans would just assume it was a purely original Konami title, particularly given the arcade-style content.

Rollergames.006 Rollergames.004

The gameplay is a unique mixture of beat-em-up and action platformer. Taking some cues from Double Dragon and Konami’s own Ninja Turtles games, and combining that with speedy momentum-based movement, isometric platforming, and Konami’s own brand of tricks and traps. Ultimately I’d describe it as a beat-em-up action platformer on wheels.

Rollergames.024 Rollergames.015

I consider it the sister game to another Konami release heavily adapted from an external source: Bad n Rad: Skate or Die on the Game Boy. Similarly based on an existing property (in this case Electronic Arts’ sub-standard Skate or Die series of games, which Konami published on the NES), like Rollergames it deviated from its source material so much as to be basically a unique property. Bad n’ Rad is a sort of racing action platformer, and has a very similar setting and feel to Rollergames. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had designers in common.

BNR1 BNR2

Rollergames has a setting and story that takes the basic branding and teams from the (nominally) sports-based show, and throws them into a standard videogame fictional world. Bad guy has taken the head of the league hostage etc, pick a Rollergames team and set out over a variety of themed stages to defeat bad guy.

You pick a team at the start of each round.

Rollergames.008

T-birds – Chunky fat dudes (I’ve now learned based on a particular fan favourite character)

Rollergames.303

Hot Flash – Pink clad females

Rollergames.031

Rockers – Axl Rose lookalikes

Rollergames.011

T-birds guy is slow to accelerate but powerful, Hot Flash girl is fast but weak, and Rockers dude is the Goldilocks selection. I always choose Hot Flash because quicker control is more valuable in platforming (which are the most difficult parts of the game), and who can resist 80s chicks in hot pink?

Most stages are centred around an evil team, with a set theme and featuring the team leader as the end boss. Main levels are broken in two, and you get an energy bar refill at a mid-stage checkpoint. They’re a mix of platforming, beat em up, and traps.

Rollergames.009 Rollergames.027

Rollergames.046

The alternate stages are constantly moving highway stages, where a variety of traps appear to try and stop you making it to the next stage. These are very similar to the skateboarding levels in Konami’s Turtles games.

Rollergames.059

Rollergames.040

Rollergames.102

The beat em up elements feel a lot like Turtles. Fast and smooth, but relatively loose and forgiving hit detection. Once you work out the exact angle to attack enemies from, you feel pretty powerful.

Bosses are atypically well designed for a beat-em-up. They follow unique patters of attack, more like a good action platformer boss than your typical ‘big brute’ fighter boss. While they are cheap at times, you can see how you could technically not take a hit with a perfect run. More variety than normal is afforded by the premise, so not all bosses are just guys to beat up.

Rollergames.112

Rollergames.057

The platforming has two things going against it. The isometric-ish/3D movement (sometimes referred to as ‘belt scrolling’ because you can move up and down the ‘belt’ with perspective at an angle) makes judging jump distances much more difficult than in a standard 2D space.

You are also on wheels, and have momentum to deal with. In a sense the whole game plays similarly to an ice world in a Mario game, all slip and slide. Combine the perspective with the momentum and it’s a recipe for frustration for those without quick fingers. Add to this banked surfaces (which feature heavily in a later stage) and speed and this becomes a tough game to beat.

Rollergames.113

Rollergames.053

But it’s not unfair or impossible. It will require level memorisation and quick reflexes, but all traps are passable every time.

Rollergames.117

Presentation wise, it’s classic high-quality Konami. The graphics are fantastic, Konami’s trademark ‘faceless’ characters are big and well defined. Detailed colourful environments, a rock solid engine with basically no sprite flicker, and some excellent parallax effects on the highway stages mean this is a top-shelf NES game graphically.
Sound effects are good standard NES stuff, and the accompaniment is a series of excellent catchy tunes (by one of the Castlevania series’ composers) which perfectly match the solid game mechanics. The music also has a very ‘Konami Turtles’ feel.
Rollergames is a hidden gem on the NES.

Rollergames_2292 Rollergames_2297

Rollergames_2302 Rollergames_2293

Rollergames.001 Rollergames.002

Rollergames.041 Rollergames.042

Rollergames.025 Rollergames.027

Rollergames.044 Rollergames.057

Rollergames.054 Rollergames.110

Rollergames.114 Rollergames.106

The best arcade in Japan – Kowloon Walled City at Kawasaki

Kowloon Walled City was a lawless mini-city built just outside of Hong Kong.

Kowloon1

Established on a legal ‘no-man’s land’ and unpoliced by either Britain or China, it thrived and became an amazing mass of humanity.

Kowloon2

bloodsport
You might know it was the place the Kumite was held…

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.

Kowloon_1 Kowloon_3 Kowloon_5

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.

KowloonJapan_1

KowloonJapan_2
The entrance looks right out of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman:

Inside you have to walk past pretend drug dens and prostitutes

KowloonJapan_3

KowloonJapan_4

Until it opens up into a re-creation of the bustling city courtyards

KowloonJapan_5

KowloonJapan_6

That just happens to have an old-school video arcade inside!

KowloonJapan_10

KowloonJapan_11
Everything from Taito’s original three screen Darius
KowloonJapan_12
To a sit-down Outrun cabinet
KowloonJapan_13
To more recent offerings like Nintendo and Namco’s Mario Kart Arcade

Even the bathrooms match the theme

KowloonJapan_15
I’m assured the ladies was much nicer!

Upstairs there’s a weird renaissance theme, and classy layout for various parlour games

KowloonJapan_16 KowloonJapan_17 KowloonJapan_18

KowloonJapan_19
And of course, Pachinko and crane games.

Well worth the trip out to Kawasaki!

More photos:

  KowloonJapan_8 KowloonJapan_20KowloonJapan_9726KowloonJapan_9741KowloonJapan_9769 KowloonJapan_9795KowloonJapan_9801 KowloonJapan_9781KowloonJapan_9813 KowloonJapan_9824 KowloonJapan_9830 KowloonJapan_9836 KowloonJapan_9837 KowloonJapan_9841KowloonJapan_9725 KowloonJapan_9751 KowloonJapan21 KowloonJapan_9727KowloonJapan_9742 KowloonJapan_14