November 21, 2008
Akihabara is the biggest electronics shop district in the world and one of the most important Japanese pop culture springs. Akihabara dreamed place for gadget, technology, anime, video games, robots and manga lovers. Akihabara is where many geeks and otakus from all around the world dream to travel once in their life. Located near Tokyo station, since sixty years ago Akihabara has been known as the “Electric Town”. In the fifties Akihabara shops were selling radios, in the 60s and 70s TVs, washing machines and refrigerators, in the 80s and 90s personal computers and video games, and after 2000 also anime, manga and otaku culture in general is conquering Akihabara. Right now is the biggest electronics shop district in the world. But Akihabara is not only known because of its shops, is also a fountain of pop culture movements like Cosplay (people dressed like their manga or anime heroes), Maid Kissas, Otakus, Akiba-kei (social group who likes to spend free time in Akihabara, sometimes is translated as geek) and many others.
This is the first thing you will see if you take the “Electric Town Exit” arriving with train.
What I love about Akihabara is variety, you can find little shops selling only transistors, transformers and electronic components and walk some meters and enter Yodobashi, the biggest electronics department in the world. Little shops and huge department stores, new gadgets and cameras that are only available in Japan, video games and machines that will never be abroad, cheap second hand computer shops, old video game shops; everything mixed to attract the attention of all kinds of people.
Let’s see an overview of the different types of shops you can find in Akihabara:
–Department stores: around the station there are some huge department stores (LAOX, Ishimaru, Yodobashi, Sato Musen) filled with the newest electronic goods: TVs, cameras, video games, laptops, washing machines etc. These are the general purpose places, if you are traveling and you show your passport they will discount a 5%. Tax free!
Huge department stores are a good place to start your visit to Akihabara.
– Computer shops: in the 90s the main business in Akihabara were computers, right now is not so important but still there are many places specialized in computers. Tsukumo and Softmap are the big shops but the most interesting places to check are the little computer shops you will find just after crossing the big avenue. Second hand computers are pretty popular in Akihabara.
– Hobby stores: shops specialized in merchandising, figures and all kind of goods about anime series, films and video games. Kotobukiya and Asobit are two of the most crowded hobby stores in Akiba. If you like Gundam, Mazinger or Evangelion you should go to one of these stores.
– Manga and anime: there are also whole buildings full of manga and anime DVDs, the dream of all otakus. The most important manga stores are Mandarake and Animate, Japanimation is the main anime shop.
– Videogame shops: there are many videogame shops around Akihabara where you can buy not only the newest games in the market but also old games. For example, if you go to a shop called Superpotato you can even buy dead videogame systems like MSX, Superfamicom or Virtual Boy.
– Electronics: there are many little shops concentrated below the rail tracks where they sell electronic components, these shops form all together what is known by the Akihabara people as the Radio Center. I like to see the people selecting components in the Radio Center, how they carefully select each processor and then buy a manual about building your own humanoid robot.
Following the Electric Town exit you will end up near the entrance to Radio Center, a unique place full of really small shops selling electronic parts.
– Maid Kissas: Meido Kissas are coffee shops where ladies wearing maid clothing serve you the coffe. When you enter a Meido Kissa, many girls welcome you bowing and they utter a respect formula in Japanese, something like “Welcome back, honorable man of this home”. There are many Maid Kissas and if you want to enter one of them just accept the advice of one of the girls dressed as maids who are handing out leaflets around the station.
If you are thirsty while after buying tons of video games you should try a Maid Kissa.
If you go to Akihabara my advise is to enter one of the big department stores and buy what you are interested in, the prices and service are pretty good. Then walk around and visit the shops you are interested in, if you love manga, just go directly to Animate or Mandarake, if you prefer figures spend your time in Kotobukiya or Asobit. The big stores are huge and time goes fast while you are in, that’s why I advice you to select the places you enter during your Akihabara visit day.