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4) Marvel at Otaku Central
Akihabara's Famous Electric Town
Akihabara (秋葉原) — also referred to as "Akihabara Electric Town" (秋葉原電気街) and commonly abbreviated as just Akiba (秋葉) — has been the place to buy electronics and tech gear in Tokyo for decades. After WWII, Akiba first became known as a place to buy and sell radio equipment and evolved along with technology itself to sell home appliances and stereo equipment starting in the 1960s and 1970s, gaming consoles and computer parts starting in the 1980s and 1990s, and notebooks and mobile devices ever since.
Alongside the tech hardware, a culture centered around anime, manga, video games, movies, figurines, and plenty of adult video; also emerged in Akiba. Those interested in this culture sometimes are referred to as otaku (おたく). Although the full definition is complicated and subject to interpretation, otaku originally was used derogatorily much like nerd or geek in English, but more recently it often has been embraced for self-identification; and the definition even has been expanded to include those with a detailed interest in just about any hobby.
Unsurprisingly, because we now live in a world where nearly everyone carries a pocket computer — considered decidedly nerdy by most of the global population 15 or 20 years ago — technology and Akiba's audience alike has become more mainstream in recent years.
Tech gear in Japan usually is just as expensive, if not more so, than in most other countries. Consequently, price alone is unlikely to be a reason to buy in Akiba. Additionally, be sure to verify compatibility with your home electrical system and network standards as well as confirm warranty availability should you decide to buy any hardware in Japan.
Many of the large stores on the main street of Chuo Dori (中央通り) and around the Akihabara JR and metro station are mainstream chains. These include the Sofmap computer reseller (which has multiple locations in the district), and the originally tech-centric — but now largely mainstream — duty-free department stores Laox, Yamada LABI, and Yodobashi Akiba.
A Yodobashi store is a good option for a foreigner to buy a data SIM card if you need to buy one in person. It's definitely a better deal to buy a SIM from Yodobashi than buying one at any of Tokyo's airports, but it is much more convenient to buy a Japanese SIM card (if you have an unlocked mobile) or rent a pocket Wi-Fi router in advance of your visit.
Seven Otaku Culture Selections
Because hardware prices tend not to be lower in Akiba than they are at home for most foreigners, it is the otaku culture more than the technology itself that attracts most visitors these days.
Here are seven otaku stores in Akiba that are well known by those in the scene and organized in the order of a convenient walk on the travelgasm.com map below:
- Akihabara Radio Kaikan (秋葉原ラジオ会館) - As the name implies, this highrise once was a warren of shops selling radio parts. Opened in 1949 and sadly closed in its original incarnation in 2013, it has been reborn as a smaller series of stores that mostly sell anime and collectibles.
- Gamers (ゲーマーズ) - Right outside Akihabara Station — with inventory targeted primarily to guys — Gamers has anime, manga, video games, books, magazines, and souvenirs.
- Kotobukiya (コトブキヤ) - A famous manufacturer and reseller of figurines and other collectibles. This shop boasts five stories worth of their products.
- Super Potato (スーパーポテト) - Practically a museum as well as a store, Super Potato specializes in retro video games from the 1980s and 1990s.
- @Home Cafe - In recent years, Akiba has become oversaturated with "maid cafes," where young women dress in French-inspired maid costumes and serve coffee and simple meals. Cure Maid Cafe is considered widely to be the original, but tourists tend to prefer one of the @Home locations because English-speaking servers are available.
- Mandarake (まんだらけ) - A chain with several locations that sell used anime, manga, figurines, and other otaku collectibles. The Akiba location occupies an entire eight-story building.
- Animate (アニメイト) - With more than 100 stores in Japan, this is the largest retailer of anime and manga in the country.
Definitely, be sure to explore the gritty back alleys on foot because this is where small shops tend to be located, but what is likely to be a nearly comprehensive list of shops in Akiba also is available in Japanese for your review in advance, too. You very well may discover your own favorite gems.
Akiba typically isn't known as a dining destination, but if a maid cafe isn't your vibe (they're definitely priced for tourists, if nothing else), there still are at least dozens of other options available in the immediate vicinity of Electric Town. Three restaurants well-regarded by locals include Torioukeisuke (鶏王けいすけ) for ramen noodles, Alba Curry (アルバカレー) for Japanese curry rice, and the locally famous Marugo (丸五) for Japanese-style breaded pork.
In terms of its walking environment, Akiba could be better, but we've highlighted the locations of the seven otaku selections and provided a logical route between two metro stations on the map below.
How to Get Here: Although you also can go to Akihabara via JR, our preferred option is to take the metro. Take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line (Silver) to Akihabara Station. Take Exit 3, turn left, and go around the JR station through the East-West passage to the heart of Electric Town. You can leave the same way, but if you want to follow our suggested walk, it leaves via Suehirocho Station, Exit 1, on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line (Orange). You also can reverse this route easily if it is more convenient for you.
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