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Getting Around Electric Town & Unique Japanese Software

(MW Tokyo) Notes From The Henna Gaijin - Getting Around Electric Town & Unique Japanese Software

by , 2:20 PM EST, February 1st, 2001

Welcome back to the third in a series of articles about traveling to MACWORLD Conference & Expo/Tokyo 2001 for about the same cost as going to MacWorld Expo San Francisco, and having a great time doing it. In this article, we will cover the basics of getting around Tokyo, Akihabara (Tokyo's "Electric Town") and some unique software that you'll only likely find in Japan.

January 31, 2001

JR Lines

With a population of 29.5 million people, you have an awfully large city to explore while visiting Tokyo. You can get around by bus, taxi, train and subway and get just about anyplace you'd want to go. I recommend though that you rely on the legendary train and subway systems as they are always on time and are not subject to road congestion.

You can get a rail pass for getting around on the train, however you really need to weigh in on how much time you want to spend on the train. The lowest priced one is 20,000 yen (about $175) for five days for someone over the age of 25. This is a great value if you are spending your vacation in Japan and want to see it all by rail. You can find more information on the JR East Rail Pass information at their Web site.

Apple Computer's Troy Dawson recommends this wonderful, full color English rail map in PDF format (1.3 MB).

I'm going to refer to this map in what follows, so I recommend you download it.

If you are staying in the Makuhari area as I recommended, zoom in to #28 on the subway map. See Kaihin-Makuhari? That is the station on the Makuhari map. Your line is the JR Keiyo line. It connects the Makuhari area with "downtown" Tokyo.

Zoom into the map where it says Tokyo. You thought the whole city was Tokyo, right? Right. But this is Tokyo railway station and it ties together the city. Locate the Yamanote Line (it is the pale green one on the map). This rail line is a great circular railway line that connects a lot of great stops, including our snapshot location for today, Akihabara.

So if you are coming from Makuhari, jump on the Keiyo line at Keihin-Makuhari and ride it in to Tokyo Station. Then get on the Yamanote Line for Akihabara.

Tokyo Metro

Now I'm going to mess with you even more. In addition to the train, there is also a subway system. And the subway system gets within spitting distance of the train, so if you can't get someplace on the train, you can almost certainly get there on the subway. Check our this great English guide.

We will go into some other less geek-oriented places to visit in Tokyo in the next part of Notes from the Henna Gaijin. If you can't wait, take a look at this beautiful spot.


This part of Tokyo, called Akiba from the Edo period, was long (and still may be) the Mecca of Apple executives visiting Japan during the late 80's and early 90's. They would dip into the many consumer electronics and computer shops and think wishful thoughts about how they could replace all the local brands with Apple branded products. At the time, the computer industry in Japan was dominated by NEC. NEC was cut down to size during the "Price Wars" initiated by Compaq during the early 90's. NEC is still the BIG computer company in Japan, it just doesn't dominate the market completely like it once did. Anyway, Akihabara is heaven to the techno-geek, and there is a lot to love as a Mac user as well.

By the way, it isn't marked on the map, but you may find a set of queer little underbuilding passages full of small electronics vendors, fairly near the station. This used to be THE place to get all sorts of semi-illegal electronics, like copy-protection breakers for VCRs. There isn't an electronic part you cannot buy here - I don't think I've seen so many miniature cameras and spy systems all crammed into one place.

Akihabara Home Page

This site is managed by an organization of local merchants. They list some of the duty free shops and travel information in English. Unfortunately the English part is very weak compared with the Japanese site, and it is on the Japanese site that there is this wonderful map.

So what's here for the Mac-oriented?

Sofmap Mac

I didn't visit this one last year. Sofmap is a national store chain and also has a booming catalog and online business. Troy says "this place has 7 floors of hobby goodness." They also have Sofmap Mac Collection. Here's the location.


This store is extremely vertical, and you need to go way, way up to reach the Mac floors. You'll be interested in looking at all the cool flat TVs and DVD-RAM recorders that are now old news in Japan but are just starting to reach the US. You may find yourself seduced by some of the latest Sony Vaios along the way. You've been warned.

Laox Mac

This building on the map is just left of the number "11". This store is Mac heaven. The entire building is devoted to the Mac, beginning with a huge number of Mac related magazines and books on the bottom floor, all the way up to the top where they keep some of the more interesting software titles. Check out their home page.

Looking for Lunch in Akihabara

Troy says "There's also a REALLY good soba place that always has long lines (that's how you can tell a good restaurant in Japan). It's right next to Two-Top, another do-it-yourself PC shop, on the street after the corner bank (there's only one bank in Akihabara, so it's something of a landmark)." Troy lived in Tokyo for about eight years, so you know he knows his soba. Soba, by the way, is a Japanese buckwheat noodle, and not related to ramen. I usually only take half a day in Akihabara, and save lunch for another location.

Software You Just Don't See in the US

Although US Mac titles are popular in most countries, there are local products which are completely oriented towards an individual culture, or at least the tastes of that culture. Japan is no exception. You will see these on the floor of MacWorld as well as in Akihabara.

Hagaki Software

You won't see much of it after the holiday, but the Japanese send loads of post cards for New Year's. Don't forget that Japan is not a "Christian" society, and the New Year's holiday tradition has a spiritual and family quality akin to the biggest of family holidays elsewhere. The post card tradition though, is reasonably modern, but universally practiced. Each year, as the animal of the year changes on the Chinese calendar, new updates of software comes out for turning your color printer into a post card creator. This industry is so big, that every major software vendor in Japan has their own hagaki software, from Microsoft-Japan to Disney-Japan.


Shade is a powerful 3D rendering and animation package from Expression Tools, a Japanese software vendor. There are versions of Shade for beginners, starting at around $100, to Shade Professional around $1,200. The professional version is a lot like a cross between Hash Animation:Master and some high end CAD package, with an extensible scripting environment and SDK. It is available for Macintosh and Windows.

Phone Toys

Weird little software packages for creating tiny pictures and sounds that you can send to your pals using your telephone. Yes, there are people who buy this.

Post Pet

Sony's Post Pet is a cultural icon with greater staying power than Pokemon or Power Rangers. Visit the official web site (in English!) but put on a pair of sunglasses first.


Do you think spending a few hundred dollars for a quality Adobe PostScript font is over the top? What about paying thousands just for one font? The Japanese language has thousands of Chinese characters (Kanji) in addition to two sound based systems. Fonts are considered a type of artwork and are usually owned by font houses. The biggest is Morisawa.

IME Software

The input manager is a little pop up bar on the Japanese version of operating systems where Japanese writers can pick different Kanji based on the sounds they have typed in. The problem is, most operating systems, MacOS included, come with fairly stupid IME that usually guess wrong about proper Japanese usage. This has created an amazing sub-industry in Japan that you can only appreciate if you have to work on a Japanese computer.

Something you are burning to know about MACWORLD Conference & Expo/Tokyo 2001 or traveling there? Let me know at and I'll put it into the next update. If you have something to contribute, hey, send me a note. We have plenty of space bar just for you :)

Notes From The Henna Gaijin comes to us courtesy of where this series is being written by Lynn Fredricks, the President of Proactive International. Lynn is the former International Sales Manager for Now Software, one-time makers of Now Up-to-Date and Contact and Now Utilities (both since acquired by PowerOn Software), and later at Qualcomm's Eudora division.. You can find more information on the Henna Gaijin at Japanware Web site.

Other Columns From This Series

(MW Tokyo) Notes From The Henna Gaijin - Final Notes Before The Show
February 19th

Notes From The Henna Gaijin - More Travel Guide & Advance MACWORLD Tokyo Product Announcements
February 8th

Notes From The Henna Gaijin - Getting Around Electric Town & Unique Japanese Software.
February 1st

Notes From The Henna Gaijin - Getting There, Avoiding Disaster & Having Fun At The Same Time.
January 31st

Notes From The Henna Gaijin - MACWORLD Tokyo Basics
Janaury 30th

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