Another set of Tokyo photos pulled out from the personal archives, but this time with a bit of a personal twist: these were all taken from places you can visit to varying extents in Shin Megami Tensei IV. SMTIV is a really neat game narratively speaking since, as someone who’s lived in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, there are certain elements of added depth that come with the game’s proceedings. What might be just innocuous lines characters utter about the state of the world to English-only players, for instance, are actually at times sly, but damning critiques of contemporary Japanese society, while places that just look like the wreckage of popular tourist spots to outsiders are, for people like me, beautifully stylized ruins of what was formerly home. SMTIV’s depiction of Tokyo is hardly accurate on a geographic level, especially in the areas you can actually explore on-foot, but there’s still so much care that’s been put into making the city recognizable in all the right places that I find myself occasionally getting lost in distant memories as I eke out an existence among demons and an equally ferocious bunch of surviving humans.
Anyway, a brief breakdown of the photos is in order, starting from the top. I’ll include details of where to find these spots both in the real Tokyo and, at least relatively speaking, within SMTIV, as well as a bit of commentary about the game’s depiction of each location. I have much more to say about what SMTIV’s plot and sense of setting mean to me as a Japanese speaker and former/future resident, but I hope these little bits will provide a bit of insight for English-only players into what’s going through the minds of Japanese counterparts playing the game.
Photo 1: Bentendo
Real Life Location: Shinobazu Pond, Ueno Park, Ueno
SMTIV Location: Shinobazu Pond, Ueno
Shinobazu Pond, and Bentendo with it, were among the first parts of the new Tokyo to be promoted by Atlus after the game’s initial reveal. It’s not particularly hard to see why; Shinobazu Pond is a major landmark within Tokyo’s Ueno Park and Bentendo makes for a pleasant architectural compliment to the surrounding water and flora. It’s hardly the only temple to adopt that sort of aesthetic motif, but it remains striking in part because of how urbanized the surrounding city is. SMTIV’s depiction of it is as such a pretty straightforward interpretation. There’s a lot less walking to do in order to reach Bentendo itself, but the circular layout is true to the spirit of how the park around it is constructed in reality. It’s therefore a pretty fitting place to introduce the conflict between nature and urbanization that underscores demon-human relations in the game to varying degrees.
Photo 2: Meiji Jingu
Real Life Location: Meiji Jingu, Shibuya
SMTIV Location: Meiji Shrine, South of Shinjuku
As sacred Shinto ground dedicated to preserving the legacy of Emperor Meiji, Meiji Jingu is one of the most beautiful parks you could ever hope to visit in Japan, its old trees rivaling some of the local buildings in height. When viewed from up high, it becomes apparent just how actively curated the local nature is in an effort to ensure that modernization and progress don’t erase critical aspects of historical Japanese identity. In SMTIV, unfortunately, it can’t be explored, relegated to a mere meeting place with demon NPCs set to a generic park backdrop. It’s worth noting, though, that all those trees are still somehow alive and well, despite the lengthy period of demon presence within Tokyo at that point. (The game gives specific figures if you talk to some NPCs, but I’ll stay hush-hush on that to avoid spoilers.) Again, considering how seemingly proactive some of the demons are about their relationship to nature and their displeasure at humanity’s treatment of it, this might very well be a deliberate symbolic choice on Atlus’ part.
Photo 3: Senso-ji
Real Life Location: Asakusa
SMTIV Location: Asakusa
As home to one of Japan’s most famous outdoor vending streets by way of Nakamise-dori, Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple that can’t be missed one way or another. If the crowds somehow don’t catch your attention, then the giant lanterns and statues of Buddhist deities guarding the entrance most certainly will. Like Meiji Jingu, Senso-ji isn’t an area in the game you can explore, with Asakusa itself being little more than a district you’ll regularly pass through early on in the game on your way to more important spots. Still, it’s worth mentioning since most all of Asakusa, from the market street to Senso-ji, have their own indescribably unique vibe that you can’t get elsewhere in Tokyo. It somehow manages to be a very lively, yet homely area in its own way and seeing all of that seemingly disappear in SMTIV is nothing short of eerie if you have that previous familiarity with it.
Photo 4: Akihabara
Real Life Location: (See above)
SMTIV Location: (See above)
I include this picture mostly to give people a small idea of what sort of pop cultural zeitgeit Persona 4 forcibly became between 2011 and 2012 thanks to that 1, 2, 3 punch of Persona 4 Golden, the anime adaptation, and
the theatrical adaptation Perofella all the other ways it was merchandised to high hell, but I imagine most readers already know about Akihabara to some degree. It originally started off as an electronics district, something that lasted well into the 80s, then shifted into a major hub for game culture, and has more recently become either your most favorite/reviled place for moe, maid cafes, and the like, with games and electronics now being a very secondary sideshow. Again, not another place you can actually explore to any significant degree outside of traversing the world map. However, I include it on the list because a few of SMTIV’s NPCs spill out the story of its demise on no uncertain terms, saying it became the smoldering crater you find it to be in the game due to some bouts of urban warfare. Very few other areas in the game are actually destroyed to such a drastic degree, which I find to be morbidly humorous. I can’t help but wonder if some of the designers at Atlus aren’t fond of what actual Akihabara has become. It’s certainly different even compared to when I first visited it almost five years ago, at the very least.
Photo 5: Hachiko Statue
Real Life Location: Outside Shibuya Station by Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya
SMTIV Location: Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya
This and Akihabara are the two locations out of this set I’d expect a lot of players who have never visited Japan to potentially recognize at a glance. Made famous in Western gaming circles by way of games like The World Ends With You, the Hachiko statue is iconic in large part because of the dog behind it. I won’t go into it here because it’s become pretty famous even outside of Japan in recent years, but that Wikipedia link should tell you everything you’d like to know should you somehow be unaware. Anyway, the statue is a popular meeting point in the actual Tokyo, its place next to Shibuya Crossing so recognizable that the two together probably make for the city’s most widely known destination spot altogether. In SMTIV, the Hachiko statue is properly modeled, but siphoned off to somewhat obscure corner of the first map when you enter the area. It does play a role in triggering a pretty fitting sidequest that also involves demonic dogs, but is otherwise a pretty innocuous landmark, simply standing guard quietly over its little spot in Shibuya as it does in the real world. Hachiko also made an appearance in Nocturne in that game’s rendition of Shibuya in a similarly low-key capacity; he can also be found in the first area and is in pretty plain sight, but can otherwise be missed relatively easily if you’re not scouring about for treasure and NPCs to chat with.
Photo 6: Shibuya Crossing
Real Life Location: Directly outside Shibuya Station, Shibuya
SMTIV Location: Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya
I wanted to split off Shibuya Crossing from Hachiko since SMTIV’s handling of it is geographically pretty interesting. In the actual Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing is, as many of you probably know, among the busiest crosswalks on the entire planet, paying host to many thousands of people roaming about Shibuya at most any given time until pretty much the trains shut down late at night. Miracles are constantly abound with the place since not only is it possible to somehow find your way through those crowds, but they also properly dissipate in time to actually let traffic go through. SMTIV takes some pretty major liberties in recreating it. Although the diagonally oriented crosswalking paint that conjoins the train station to various adjacent streets remains present in the game, the 109 Building, which isn’t depicted in the photo, isn’t at all next to crosswalk as it is in real life, instead down the street on another map. When considering that the building is also renamed to the 108 Building, I wonder if recreating the area in that fine of a detail would have caused weird legal headaches with local businesses. To be certain, the Hachiko statue is also not in its “proper” place, either, although it’s otherwise much closer to its actual location near the crossing than the 109 Building is.
Photo 7: Fuji TV
Real Life Location: Odaiba
SMTIV Location: Fusa TV, Daiba
Fuji TV is one of the major networks in Japan, with its headquarters being a prominent tourist attraction when life-sized Gundams aren’t stealing the show elsewhere on the island. The architecture should make the reason pretty obvious; the central sphere stands in distinct contrast to the polygonal nature of the rest of the structure. It’s possible to get tours inside the place, including the sphere itself, although I happened to come during the one point where it was actually undergoing maintenance, so your guess is as good as mine as to what the innards are actually like. Regardless, although Fuji TV in its rebranded form is technically yet another location you can’t actually intimately explore in SMTIV, it, along with Tokyo Tower and Meiji Jingu, are among the few major landmarks that still get their own unique models on the overworld. The game version lacks the iconic sphere, but it’s still otherwise located on a relatively remote island and that name of Fusa TV all but confirms the original source inspiration. At least you can raid the place for rare relics to sell back as a consolation prize for not being able to do much else with it.
Given that these photos are a year old, I don’t think I have any more taken in areas that show up to any degree in SMTIV. Still, hopefully my little bits of commentary on the similarities and differences between Atlus’ recreations and the actual things proves to be a little elucidating on how people like myself who have lived in Tokyo react to their depictions while playing through the game. I still have a whole host of other things I’d love to say about how that game speaks to me as someone bilingual in Japanese, but we’ll save that for another post.