I’ve now been in Holland for more than a week, and my gray-sky induced depression has returned. I used to think that people who were emotionally affected by the weather were just weak-minded, but having lived in a country with little-to-no-sun for two and a half years has me reconsidering. ***

So now it was Wednesday in Tokyo. I woke up, ate my breakfast with Mar and the rest, and headed up to the roof of the Ryokan to drink tea and listen to the city. I shot some pictures of my neighborhood from the perch, and the air was sweet with the smell of the ocean and dryer sheets.

I took the metro to Ueno, determined to see some nature for a change. After getting a little lost in the claustrophobic shopping streets near the station, I found my way to the park. There, I watched some sort of Shinto ceremony at the Toshogu Shrine, where a person in a mask danced slow and robotically to atonal flutes and offbeat drums. I didn’t take any pictures of this, as it seemed about as disrespectful as dropping in on the Vatican and shooting Communion.

The park was wide and elegant, with temples, canopies of green, and pools of lily pads. And though the park footprint wasn’t very big on the map, it was staggeringly large in person. I wandered around for hours, pausing only to peek over the shoulders of retired couples who were doing watercolor studies of the horizon.

I exited to go shopping under the Hibiya Line, still searching for my Backpack Of Dreams. Low and Behold, I discovered a three story shop called, "WORLD OF BAGS," where they had exactly the satchel I was looking for. And nearby was a toy store with Josh’s Ideal Spiderman Costume! Finding something through wandering is more fulfilling than any Ebay search. I marked the stores on my map, to return to if I couldn’t find stuff cheaper.

Next, I decided to walk to Akihabara, since it was another beautiful day, and kept sight of the JR Line as I ambled across the city. Eventually I was off the tourist streets, and the sight of a lone Gaijin who spoke broken Japanese meant I got to taste a free sample from every restaurant along the way.

Finally, I hit Akihabara again. Oh-Thank-God. I could live in Akiba forever. More seven-story museum/wharehouse/flea markets of anime goods, more five foot Evangelion Robots, more Gachapon stations. I snuck down the back alleys looking for Cosplay stores, and when I ended up in Porn Shops, the owners would hand me a pre-printed map of where the stores had moved to. Seemed like it was a common mistake. I bought a Naruto headband and then ate lunch at Café Mai:Lish.

Café Mai:Lish is a Cosplay café. This means that the waitresses are in character as the day’s heroine, and dressed in the appropriate costume. This isn’t Hooters, mind you; these girls are fans of the shows, and make (or purchase) their costumes in celebration of their obsessions. Wednesday’s Theme was simply Maids In Anime. My Hyper-French-Maid-waitress handed me an all-Japanese menu, and I spent the next fifteen minutes slowly reading everything before I ordered.

I ordered Chocolate Cake and Coffee.

After my healthy lunch, I shopped some more and found a tiny upstairs store that had "Squall’s Sleeping Lionheart Ring" (The Square-Enix Official Version, not some Hong Kong Internet Rip-Off) in .925 silver for 40% off the standard price. I tried it on, and when it fit, I bought it without a moment’s hesitation. Now I Am Squall!

Or maybe I’m just a bigger dork.

Thirty Minutes Later, I found Heaven within Heaven.

Still searching for Cosplay stores, I ended up in a dead-end-alley with no addresses. When I turned around, I saw a simple sign with an arrow pointing up, that read, FFXI. Anyone who has followed my LJ for the last two years knows that Final Fantasy Online (XI) has been the anchor which has kept me from going insane in lonely Amsterdam.

Bewildered and Curious, I headed up a few flights of ordinary stairs and opened a door that said, Final Fantasy Online.

Behind this door were the white walls of a 24 hour FFXI-only gaming center. A mirrored sign above the counter read "Real Vana’diel"

At the counter was a girl in FFXI costume who said in Japanese:

"Welcome Home."

I took off my shoes, walked up to the counter, and held the most nervous and excited conversation of my life. What is this place!? Can I join!? This is Amazing!! The blue-eyed girl and her colleague laughed and happily signed me up into this secret society, and then showed me around the Game Center. There were free drinks, a free soda machine and tea-maker, a full breakfast-lunch-and-dinner menu, and a Final Fantasy Library filled with Comics, Guides, and Pre-Production Art that I had never dreamed of seeing.

No Pictures Allowed in Real Vana'Diel.

Now, every character in FFXI gets a personal space called a "Mog House;" it’s where you store your unused armor, harvest plants, and collect and display rare furniture that affects your gameplay. It looks like a fantastic medieval room, and though each Mog House is personalized, the frame is similar for everyone.

In the center of Real Vana’Diel, they had a Mog House. Where you could smoke or rest or sleep if you needed a break.

I couldn’t believe this place. Tucked unremarkably in some dead-end-alley was Vana’Diel. The computers were ridiculously powerful, and ran the game at a resolution I had never witnessed. I played for a half hour, and then sat in my chair browsing books from the library.

One could live in that place. I think they even had a shower.

I left reluctantly and skipped my way through Akihabara until dinner-time.