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JapanaTour: Akihabara part one

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Welcome back to JapanaTour, the series of articles that makes me spend more time thinking of a witty opening line than actually writing meaningful words!

This week, it seems I have the daunting task of describing Akihabara, the place I imagine the majority of you will want to head straight for on a trip to Japan. Of course, being the otaku paradise that it is, we'll have to split this up somewhat. For this instalment, we'll be taking a brief glance at what Akihabara is all about, as well as some of the places you can visit. We'll return in the future to check out the arcades, eateries and everything else I've missed. If there's something you want me to talk about specifically, let me know in the comments. Besides that, it's time to jump!

It can get busy, but that just adds to the whole experience!

It seems that Japan just can't catch a break, with early Akihabara not being an exception. Way back in 1869, the area which would later become the famous electric town was engulfed in a blaze, absolutely decimating everything in the surrounding area. It wouldn't be until 1936 that Akihabara would become renown for it's electrical supplies. It seems that being an electric town isn't all plain sailing, as Akihabara was constantly competing with Nipponbashi in Osaka to be recognised as the best place for electrical goods. Strange considering the distance between the two, but it only made the places improve quicker. Skip forward to the 90's, where the video game boom started to take over Akihabara, introducing these strange creatures known as otaku. The games helped usher in anime goods and other related merchandise, such as manga, dojinshi and cosplay. That is the extremely concise, otaku-biased overview of the history of Akihabara!

Fun fact time!

Did you know that Akihabara literally means 'field of Autumn leaves'? A little ironic really!

Remember in last weeks post I said that travel was simple? Well, so is getting to Akihabara! While there are many lines that pass through Akihabara, you will be able to reach it via the Yamanote line regardless of if you are in Shinjuku or Tokyo Station. Tokyo gets the better end of the bargain being so close!

  • From JR Shinjuku Station (approximately 18 minutes via the Yamanote line)
  • From JR Tōkyō Station (approximately 3 minutes via the Yamanote line)

When you arrive, you will want to look for the 'Akihabara Electric Town' exit. It might be worth writing that one down, in case you forget or something. You'll know you are going the right way when you start bumping into anime and video game posters everywhere! When you emerge from the station, you'll be greeted with a view similar to this:

And then you realise Akihabara is in front of you. You won't remember much after that as you ride the adrenalin.

Aside from the huge variety of different otaku-centric shops, it is worth checking out the Tokyo Anime Centre while you are in the area. You'll find it tucked away on the fourth floor of the UDX building, which you may or may not find with the following shoddy directions! As you head out of Akihabara station towards the electric town exit, take the right exit. Now stop and take a look into the distance, you'll see some modern looking skyscrapers. You want to head towards the one that is the second closest to you. Ignore the closest one! The Tokyo Animation Centre has a lot of information, showings and exhibits for both Japanese and Western visitors alike, but best of all you can sometimes witness some recording sessions! Did I mention it was free? They also sell souvenirs and other merchandise if you feel guilty for not paying!  

If, for some bizarre reason, you only have one day to visit Akihabara, be sure to aim for a Sunday! Every Sunday, the roads that travel through the electric town are closed off, so cosplayers, street performers and who knows what else descend! It's certainly a spectacle, plus the bonus of not having to watch out for passing cars while skipping gleefully down the pavements with bags full of nendoroids also has its benefits. Remember to bring your camera, but be considerate! 

Fun fact time!

Did you know that even though I'm not focusing on them, there are indeed a huge amount of electrical goods shops? They're not all otaku related, but if you love building computers or fancy having one built for you, this is a good place to go!

Akihabara is full of what you could call 'general' stores. They sell a little bit of everything, but of course I'm limiting the products to otaku goods, so I'm not about to start listing why Lawson is awesome. There are two major shops that fall into this category, and those are Animate and Gamers. Anime, manga, video games, merchandise. If you're after something that has just recently come out, these are the places to check out. They have about 7 or so different floors, which may sound rather spacious, but you'll be sharing the space with a lot of other customers. It may sound silly, but if you have a fear of crowds, being cramped or anything like that, it's worth assessing the situation a little first! 

K-Books are also a good store to check out. While you could take a guess as to what they sell by their name, they also sell dojinshi that you may not necessarily find elsewhere. They sell the usual merchandise as well, on a lesser scale, but also carry a lot more adult themed items. Just remember that before you end up with more than you bargained for! This is where you'll be able to pick up your Gundam hugging pillows though. 

(Disclaimer: K-Books, Akihabara and Japan may not have Gundam hugging pillows)

You also get to see fun(ny?) things like this! Saw this on the way back from eating at the Gundam cafe!

For the duelists amongst us, there is a haven known as Yellow Submarine. Other than having a damn awesome name, they sell a lot of different types of trading cards. Of course, this may not be appealing to you if you don't want to spend the time to work out the rules via google translate, but you can in some instances find English language games. The popular card game Weiss Schwarz even released a Disgaea themed English language deck, so that is a start if you fancy getting into that game! I picked a set up myself for about ¥500. Bargain!

However, this isn't all that there is to this place. I mentioned them back in the Nakano article, but Yellow Submarine has a few floors dedicated to housing glass cabinets that people can rent and sell their anime related goods. These are great for finding some rarities, as well as the occasional bargain. It's always worth shopping around though, you will usually find things like arcade-exclusive figures cheaper elsewhere. There is also the massive 8-storey Mandarake to invade! DVDs, video games, figurines, gachapon, cosplay. Mandarake sell the lot! Just remember it's all second hand, and while it's not usually a problem, you may find boxes a little scuffed and potentially pieces missing from sets. Be sure to check the box covers for additional stickers, as while you may not understand what is missing, you will know that something is missing and you can continue to shop around. This is only the case with a few items, but it is worth keeping in mind!

Fun fact time!

Did you know that Akihabara is packed full of duty free shops? If you are worried about getting lynched by customs on the trip back, it could be worth checking these out when hunting for souvenirs! 

"But Chris, I'm not that kind of otaku! I just love playing video games!"

Well now, do I have something that'll give you an appetite! It's a Super Potato! Rather this one is a shop, not one of those newfangled vegetable things. If retro gaming is something you are interested in, then this is going to be heaven! Super Potato has about three floors dedicated to consoles dating further back than the Famicom and all the way up to the Playstation 1. They sell a ridiculous number of games, some extremely rare, but mostly at great prices. Hardware and software, they have got you covered! If you want some game related merchandise, this is also a good place to browse, though it does seem to be mostly Nintendo items. On the top floor is where things get interesting! There are loads of retro gaming cabinets, complete with a vending machine, a manga corner and of course, the throne made from famicom games. Sitting in that thing is a highlight in itself! Unfortunately on my last trip in August the throne was actually broken, but I don't doubt they will fix it up soon enough. 

The last place that I'll be talking about in the first part of what seems to be an up-and-coming epic is the fantastic Gachapon Kaikan. On the ground floor you will be greeted by walls of gachapon machines, all of them tempting you to continually feed the change machine with your ¥1000 notes. They aren't all anime related though, with a lot of them to do with superhero shows, tv personalities and just plain odd things. They even have a dark corner at the back for... you know... more detailed gachapon. On the next few floors they sell a lot of anime related merchandise like t-shirts, figures and other things. At the very top is another glass cabinet sales area, in case Yellow Submarine wasn't enough for you! 

That brings us to a close, so I hope you enjoyed this quick look into the world of Akihabara and its electric glory. If you want to write about your experiences, have any further questions or even have some tips of your own, leave them in the comments below! 


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Chris Walden
Chris WaldenContributor   gamer profile

Some say that he can breathe Some say that he can jump over a All we know is that he's Brittanian, and that we are all He's on Twitter though: more + disclosures


 



Filed under... #Akihabara #Japanator Original #JapanaTour #top stories #Travel guide

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