Akihabara, the Electric Town. This is the crown jewel for anime, manga, game, and tech fans in Tokyo. Located only a scant 5-10 minutes from Asakusa, the famous temple district in Tokyo, this place has absolutely anything you could ever want, and there’s so much to see it took two trips to see everything I wanted to (or at least had time to). Akihabara has an interesting little history. It started out in post-war Japan as a district for black market radio parts (according to the Lonely Planet guidebook), and soon became a place for good, affordable electronics and appliances. Now, Akihabara is a technological giant with plenty to offer in a wide variety of areas, some affordable, and some high priced. This depends on the shop you go to, of course.
For instance, I visited a store called Labi, an outlet for the electronics chain Yamada Denki, which had all the latest in standard and high-end electronics. On the first floor they had your average small stuff: music players, cameras, cell phones, that sort of thing, all of it slick and high-end, stylish and efficient. Some of it was pricey, and some was very affordable. I myself got a nice pair of noise canceling headphones made by Victor, the Japanese branch of JVC. They actually send out a high pitch frequency to eliminate outside noise. The next floor up had a wealth of computers, mostly netbooks and laptops. The newest Fujitsu Lifebook was on display, a variant which was so small it was about the size of a PSP. Not joking. These were also shiny, nice-looking machines, and a good deal more expensive. The floors go on from there, up to standard computers and computer accessories. The most impressive machine I found was a computer with a terabyte of storage space, a high-res HD monitor, and the computer itself built into said monitor. The price? Over $2000 American. Japan takes its computers very seriously.
Beyond the standard electronics department stores was a series of stalls that sold parts and tools. This area was for anyone passionate about building electronics, and they had everything you could possibly want or need. Soldering irons, wires, cables, LEDs, plugs, sockets, you name it, they had it, and all at decent prices. It was quite fascinating to see just how expansive this section of Akihabara is, and it shows just how entrenched this section of Tokyo is into tech and electronics.
Now for the part everyone’s been waiting for: the otaku side of Akiba. This area is famous in Japanese culture for being a haven for otaku goods of all sorts, from anime and manga to video games and other merchandise. I’d visited Akihabara during a school trip to Japan 5 years ago, but I never got to truly explore. This time, I had a whole day planned to get in the thick of it, and it was a mind-blowing experience. First off, I’ll mention Gamers, the store made famous by its mascot, Dejiko of Digi Charat fame. This massive store is split into several floors. There’s one for manga, two or three for anime DVDs, one for games, one for models, and even one for hug pillows. Yes, there’s a hug pillows floor, with a myriad of cute anime girl pillowcases. No, I did not purchase one.
Every floor has rows and rows of merchandise with a register on each floor, some Jpop or Hatsune Miku song playing, and, in some cases, an anime playing on a television screen. To catalog everything at Gamers would be impossible, because there’s just so much there.
My next stop was Kotobukiya, a collectibles store right near Gamers. This was a smaller store with only one floor, but it was densely packed with anime collectibles all the same. It primarily consisted of figures, models, statues, and plushies, and it was a little more refined and easier to navigate. I myself picked up a pair of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure figures, and was highly tempted to get a lighter that was actually a full-sized model of a Colt Python magnum revolver.
My travels eventually led me to various arcades, such as Club Sega. Japanese arcades are intense, and much grander than those found in America. Rows and rows of compact, well placed machines allow you to fight head to head against some truly excellent fighters. It was a much different setup, as each machine had a stool in front of it and they weren’t full sized arcade cabinets. Fighters, shooters, and just about any kind of game was there, not to mention the UFO catchers. Never before had I seen an arcade with so much going on in it, at least not in the US. I got to play Gundam vs. Gundam Next (the lateset Gundam action/fighter game) while I was over there, which actually has a Japanese PSP release with some extra features and mobile suits. I also tried out some new Time Crisis-esque games, as well as a fun scrolling shooter game called Death Smile, which stars Gothic Lolita-style characters flying around a city in chaos.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things I saw in Akiba was one of the infamous maid cafes. There are tons of cute cosplayers standing on street corners handing out maps that lead to where the cafes are. Following the directions on one such flyer, I discovered the cafe, Mai Dreaming. A maid approached me and asked if I was there for the cafe, to which I responded that I was. She led me down an alley to an elevator, where she called up through the intercom. At this point, I was surprised about just how shady it seemed, but when I walked in I was greeted by several cute maids and a warm, well-lit atmosphere. I sat down and ordered a melon soda float, which was absolutely delicious, and it was delivered interestingly enough by a blonde German girl named Angeline, who was just as pretty as the other maids. She was for those who prefer an English speaker, or at least for those who have a penchant for blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls. After I had a spirited conversation in Japanese (and some English) with a fellow sitting next to me, I left the cafe in a good mood.
I headed back to the train station after that, as it was time to return to my hotel. My day in Akihabara was certainly a memorable one, and I hope to return soon, but more adventures awaited me on my trip to Japan.