An Akiba Moment
Ah, Akihabara—the electronic mecca of Japan. Techies and otaku disembark from the Akihabara train station to find themselves in the middle of a heavenly ground. Whichever way you look, there is something to do with computers, maid cafes and anime. Even the local shrine, Kanda Myojin, has become a place of electronic-related worship that attracts thousands of IT masters and internet ninjas to the grounds to pray for perpetual firewalls and unhindered data flow. For those who seek electronics and anime, Akihabara is the ultimate stop to make whilst in Japan.
One of the places you will see first will be Akihabara Radio Center between Chuo Street and the JR Akihabara Electric Town exit. This place has historic significance. Dozens of these stores have been in business since World War II, when they sold bits and pieces of radios for people to make their own sets. Now, the stores not only focus on radios but every other facet of technology as well. If you’re a DIYer or handyman, you will feel like a kid in a candy store.
Akihabara is teeming with people, no matter which way to look. If you make a left at the end of Radio Center, you will find yourself moving along a street covered in cafes of all kinds: maid, cat, manga and adult-rated. There’s also karaoke, computer and phone stores, anime and izakaya. Lights flash non-stop. I even found a flea market outside of Akihabara UDX.
So, I know you’re probably thinking: what about those maid cafes? Honestly, as any person who has lived in Japan for a good amount of time, I can say that they aren’t as amusing as you’d think. You often have a pay a cover charge that is really steep (like 3000 yen). On top of that, the food is often more for looks than for taste. You will probably leave hungry and with an empty wallet.
By all means you should take advantage of the weird attractions and oddities that you can find in Akihabara, like the 7 floor sex shop called M’s. Photography isn’t allowed in the store or else I would have definitely snapped a shot or two of the more imaginative toys the store keeps in stock. It really makes you wonder how Japan can have such low birth rates when stuff like that exists… But I digress!
There are kid-friendly toy stores too, like the one in Yodobashi Akiba, where I got lost for about 90 minutes. Yodobashi is colossal. From top to bottom, it has home appliances and technology, phones, books, CDs, toys, restaurants and even a golfing school and batter’s box. You can really find anything you’re searching for there. Plus, it is tax-free and people on Temporary Visitor visas can get an additional discount. On the dining floor is a really nice place to go instead of a maid café called The French Toast Factory.
If you lean more towards anime, the Animate in Akihabara is not as splendid as the one in Ikebukuro, but the selection is decent. Lines are also shorter. I found the layout pretty confusing, because each floor is separated into halves by the stairwells and elevators running up the center of the building. The first time I climbed to the top floor, I completely missed each floor’s second room.
Akihabara is also home to numerous model stores. You can find hobby shops that feature highly detailed figurines of characters from anime, video games and famous television shows. I mean, who doesn’t want a gold-plated Gundam model for the equivalent of $280.00?
Generally, most of these models are reasonably priced. The best place for collectibles would be Hobby Off, a store hidden by a McDonalds and 7-11, within close proximity to Yodobashi Akihabara.
The main hallway is joined to PC service shop and covered top to bottom in rare models and other anime-related paraphernalia. As I wended my way through second-hand gizmos and nostalgic trinkets, I came across a surprising addition to Hobby Off’s inventory: guns. Like M’s, taking pictures of them was forbidden; but nonetheless, Hobby Off carries guns. For models, they’re rather convincing.