Akihabara is known by the locals as Akiba. A kind of a holy land for the otaku creed where games, anime, manga, toys and all sorts of related merchandise get sold and traded. I won’t go into too much detail about the place’s past (for loads of glorious photos visit good old Danny Choos website: http://www.dannychoo.com/en/post/25744/History+of+Akihabara.html), in short, after WWII a black-market trade of electronic bits and radio parts made it an ideal place for students and manufacturers to build gadgets there. Eventually, things like household essentials like TVs, washing machines & refrigerators were being sold, and then later on computer hardware which attracted otaku-like men to the area… As an anime fan, it’s probably one of the first places that people recommend you go to, and for good reason! Its traditional status as the home of otaku is so set in the subcultural mind that it’s depicted as the base city for adventurers guilds in anime Log Horizon.
I might have gotten a little overexcited in the morning and woke up waaay too early :-s Back home in UK, shop opening times vary from 8am – 8pm. In Japan it’s generally from 10am – 9pm. So being the idiot I am I arrive by about 8:30 only to find a ghost town with people dashing here & there to work. Please do not make the same stupid mistake I did on your own trip!
I started off by wandering around the main street Chuo-dori to get used to the place. As well as the commercial area, there are a bunch of side streets which are easily missed if you don’t bother to venture into them. It would be a shame since there are plenty of neat little food stalls & hobby shops with things you won’t find in the big stores. The games district itself covers only a small area of Akiba, but walking around can be surprisingly tiring, especially with baggage. Make use of the coin lockers at the station by dropping off your haul from time to time, and trust me, if it means you can keep shopping without carrying around 5-7kg of baggage it’s bloody worth it!
The first thing I actually did was eat since there was nothing else to do. Grabbed a blueberry & cream crepe (which was very yummy by the way) from a convenience store and gobbled it up at the UDX Plaza.
Before coming to Japan, I’d been playing a PlayStation Vita game called Akiba’s Trip 2. The game creators used real models of the gaming district to build the in-game town and the result is pretty true to life. I tried using my memory of the game as a map which worked out pretty well actually lol xD. Granted, a lot of shops don’t exist or have now been replaced by other stores, and the game romanticizes the place but the overall feel is very accurate (actually, it’s superior to the real thing!). Here’s a comparison between reality and game:
After the crepe I still felt hungry & set out to find ramen. Unfortunately, the only places that open early are fast food chains/ franchises. So off I went to a burger joint – Becks. I had the set menu burger + drink. But since there was absolutely no English support I got a little flustered and pointed to any old random thing (felt like Tomoko from Watamote at this point), which turned out to be iced coffee -_-
As the day creeps towards 10:00 the town comes to life slowly. From the quiet hustle & bustle of traffic and salarymen to the sounds of anime music, video adverts on screen, and recorded greetings booming from store entrances.
One of the first things I noticed was how surprisingly touristy some of the electronics stores like Laox and Softmap were. There seemed to be a steady stream of coaches parked outside of these places – tourist guides dropping people off directly so that they could start spending their money en-mass on tax free electronic goods. Even the store greetings are recorded in Mandarin! The buying power of Chinese tourists will no doubt be great for the economy, but it’s also sadly a demonstration of the commercial invasion of otaku Akiba by the big corporations. The reputation of Akiba as a tourist destination draws in mainstream consumers which the government probably thinks is a positive effect of the Cool Japan movement. Sadly, otaku who used to hang out in the streets of Akiba detest the direction the area is taking and have even made protests to that end (see http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2007/09/27/general/akihabaras-awful-truths/#.VaEThvlD5TU). So don’t ever be surprised if the denizens of the town are more likely to be suits & tourists rather than geeks & cosplayers, just a fair warning… I will compare this state of affairs with my future post on Nakano Broadway.
Despite my disillusionment I still had a fun time overall, blasting my way through Radio Kaikan, Gamers, Animate, and multiple Softmap stores. Softmap is best in terms of price for toys and figures. I also visited Mandarake, which trades almost exclusively in second-hand goods; toys, CDs, DVDs and games. Perfect for those on a budget who can bear rifling through the stuff in (seriously) dingy shop floors. The fact that I did not like the place doesn’t bode well for a certain place I will visit later on…
After spending close to £500 ($750 or 95000¥), I ended up broke for the day and headed home. My foot in an aching pain due to the sheer weight of my shopping bags 😦 Though I came to revisit Akiba on my last day I never did make it to see the night view, something I regret and therefore aim to achieve on my next visit!
In the evening, I went to the One Piece Theme Park at Tokyo Tower with my sisters. Just a 5-10 minute walk from the closest train station, it really is impossible to miss unless you’re practically blind. The tower is featured in a number of anime. From what I can remember, the Clamp series Cardcaptor Sakura, X, and in more recent memory Tokyo ESP (the manga is great, not too keen on the anime adaptation).
There is a rather large number of market-stalls near the entrance, holding a mind boggling quantity of quirky souvenirs and edible goods. An ideal place to buy random crap for your colleagues and relatives back at home.
As usual when you arrive late in the day, it’s quiet. At the theme park, the entrance fee is extortionate for the unlimited attractions option (something like £20+, $31, 3800¥) which we did without – it didn’t stop us from taking part in the attractions anyway.
The whole ambiance is very well thought out and planned, with jolly music played throughout the theme park and life sized models painstakingly recreated. As to whether I recommend this place for fans of One Piece, I highly suggest going as a big group since its quite obviously tailored towards being family and kid friendly. There is an attraction based on each one of the main characters, for example, Zoro’s sword lessons, Usopp’s shooting game, Brook’s ghost tour and Chopper’s hide ‘n’ seek in the cabins of the Thousand Sunny. I don’t want to give too much away since it will spoil any surprise for would-be visitors. However, I can say I enjoyed it a lot. There are also live shows performed by the official cosplayers who I think look true to the original characters (we didn’t watch though since it was getting late).
The themed cafe downstairs is pretty standard if not costly, with things like steak, curry, spaghetti, salad etc. There’s also Franky’s bar with corn snacks, soft drinks and meat based churro-looking-things. Thankfully there’s also a food court in the building upstairs offering ramen, pizza, salads etc where we went to eat.
After eating, we headed home.
The sky finally made good on its threat to rain on us. It’s a good thing we were informed in advance by the newspapers the hotel staff kindly bring to us each morning!
As we were leaving, I noticed that the tower looked exceptionally pretty at night in the rain 😀