Bryan Martin B. Zialcita
December 26, 2016     |    

Tokyo Watch Hunt

The quest for Japan's hidden treasures

A few months ago, I finally crossed out one item from my bucket list – going to Japan. Turning back the clock some 20+ years ago, I can still remember how fascinated I was with Japanese culture and history. Through anime-tinted eyes, I saw Japan as the ultimate haven for all geeks such as myself.

And so here I was – now nearing 40, and have yet to set foot in the Land of the Rising Sun. I’ve already met the love of my life, currently have 2 amazing children, yet still that longing to visit every nerd’s paradise has never left me. However, this year was different. I was now a bona fide watch geek: I wanted to visit the home of Seiko, Orient and Citizen. And yes – scoring tickets to Tokyo from a seat sale some months ago sealed the deal. I was finally going to Japan.

Going to Japan for the first time was an amazing experience. Here I am at the Nonomiya Shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu.

As much as I wanted to make watches the heart of this trip, this was mainly about me and my wife exploring Japan together for our 5th wedding anniversary. Despite this epiphany, I gamely said yes when a couple of friends asked me to look for 4 watches: a Seiko Nano Universe Limited Edition (LE), a Grand Seiko Quartz LE with a beautiful burgundy dial (SBGV027), and the 2 Seiko Presage LE Chronographs launched at Baselworld earlier this year. The first one had a wonderfully crafted enamel dial (SRQ019/ SARK001), while the second one had a breathtaking urushi black lacquer dial (SRQ021/ SARK003).

After months of anticipation, we finally set foot in Narita Airport. As we made our way towards the immigration section, I was transfixed by what I saw: a huge poster of Grand Seiko that seemed to personally welcome me to Japan. In hindsight, it must have been a foreshadowing of what was to come.

After checking-in at our apartment in Ueno, we spent the rest of the day getting the lay of the land. At the very first building we entered, I immediately headed for the watch section. Yes – I finally got to see Grand Seikos on display. There were some very beautiful pieces, but none of them was what I was looking for. This set the tone for the rest of our trip.

Our second day was a bit more successful. After a quick visit to the nearby Tokyo National Museum, we decided to explore Akihabara – the heartland of toys and anime – the rest of the day. After moving aimlessly from one building to the next, we eventually found ourselves at the Yodobashi Camera store at Akihabara. I was blown away by the sheer number of exquisite watches on display there. More importantly, this was the first store that had the gorgeous Presage Urushi Chronograph in my list. To my dismay, it was way over budget. I wound up buying an Orient Star Retrograde for myself, as this would be perfect for my own humble collection.

This ridiculously hard to find limited edition Grand Seiko quartz utilizes the legendary 9F movement which is accurate to +/- 10 seconds A YEAR.

This Grand Seiko poster in Narita Airport set the tone for our entire trip.
Nothing could be more perfect than strolling around the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove with a beautiful lady.

The following day, my search led us to the Yodobashi store at Ueno. Here, I was fortunate enough to purchase 2 Orient Disks that were available only in Japan. Aside from this, I saw a brown dial Grand Seiko Quartz that was beautiful enough to make my heart skip a beat. The rest of the day went by like a blur as we resumed the tourist trail.

The next day, my wife and I took the bullet train to Kyoto. We arrived shortly after 2 pm, and rushed to do some quick sight-seeing at nearby tourist attractions. As luck would have it, the Kyoto branch of Yodobashi was right in front of us when we finally decided to do some shopping. As per usual, I worked my way towards the watch section, and lo and behold – I finally saw for the first time the Presage Enamel Chronograph. Unfortunately, this particular piece was also priced above our budget.

Akihabara is every otaku's paradise. How can any self-respecting nerd not have a picture taken at the Gundam Cafe?
A trip to Tokyo is never complete without experiencing the Shibuya crossing.

After striking out again at Yodobashi, I decided to look for a Nano Universe branch in the hopes of securing one of their Seiko Limited Edition watches. After asking around, my wife and I finally found a small branch of this clothing store tucked inside a building some minutes away. After a cursory glance, I realized that the specific watch I was looking for was not available. What they did have was a single piece of an equally attractive, newly released model. This being the case, I decided to just buy it, and ticked off 1 out of the 4 watches in my list.

As we boarded the Shinkansen one last time, we bid goodbye to Kyoto and readied ourselves for the final stage of our journey – spending our last full day in Japan at Narita City. After seeing how massive Tokyo was, and the allure of ancient Japan right beside very modern buildings in Kyoto, Narita seemed like a quaint – almost backwards – city.

As we passed through a number of buildings, I came across a small, nondescript watch store. After many days of searching, I came face-to-face with all 3 remaining watches in my list: the elusive Burgundy Grand Seiko Quartz, the Presage Urushi Chronograph, and the Presage Enamel Chronograph. And all 3 of these fell within our budget. Trying to look nonchalant, I told the manager that I would buy all 3 pieces there and then. She blinked in surprise, and repeated: “All three?” It took all of my willpower to contain my excitement and said, “Yes, all three.” After overcoming her initial shock, the manager got help from one of her staff to wrap up all of the watches and processed the transaction. As I watched both of them efficiently doing their work, I couldn’t help but think that it was nothing short of divine providence that would put all 3 of these pieces together for me on my very last day in Japan. As the manager handed me all 3 boxes, she said to me: “Domo Arigatou Gozaimashita,” and bowed deeply to me as I replied my thanks and walked away.

A trip to the Senso-ji Temple and the nearby Asakusa Shrine seemed appropriate given how difficult it was to find those 4 watches. I needed all the help I could get.
Probably the main reason I was able to do some serious sightseeing outside of a watch store was my wife. Here she is also enjoying the sights of Asakusa.


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