Big in Japan #3: Akihabara
Posted 22 Sep 2019 at 19:14 by Dennis Tummers
If you are interested in anime, figurines, games, retro goods or a mix of these topics and you ask around where to go in Tokyo, then one place is guaranteed to pop up: Akihabara! This neon-lit, shop-filled area is famed to have everything to please the otaku in you. But before I will dive into the specialist shops that you can find here, I first have to make my way past a couple of big department stores crammed with electronic goods. Let’s go there first shall we?
Getting there and the big electronics stores
From Tokyo Station it is only a couple of minutes with the JR rail to Akihabara Station, but the area is quite big so you can go to Okachimachi Station as well. What is referred to as Akihabara is actually a bigger area around the station, stretching mostly north-west from the station. Don’t be frightened that you can’t find it: you will know you set foot in Akihabara by the change in scenery. Bright windows filled with your favourite anime characters will show the way, and if not the numerous girls dressed in maid costumes will give it away! These ladies have one job: get you into one of the many maid cafés that Akihabara has. If that is not your fancy fear not, there is also the Gundam Café to go to for a coffee to oil your inner mech.
I know Shibuya is the most famous crossing in Tokyo, but this one impressed me more!
You know you have arrived in the heart of Akihabara when you stand on the above pictured crossing, gawking at the giant billboards promoting the newest games (including Nintendo’s Dragalia Lost). Seeing this makes you understand why this area is nicknamed Electric Town. But before diving into the many specialized shops that Akihabara has, let’s quickly turn to the right and enter the multistory electronics shop Bic Camera.
Japan has a number of big chains that cater to all your professional or hobby needs. As a music lover, I was delighted seeing that there were multistory shops focussed on selling albums: Tower Records is a good example. Trying to buy physical music in Europe gets more and more difficult and I’m mostly getting my fix from small record shops or the internet. But in Japan there are the megastores with whole floors dedicated to J-Pop, K-Pop and Metal.
For electronics the aforementioned Bic Camera is a great stop (although Yodobashi Camera is also worth mentioning). You will find one in a lot of cities, but the one in Akihabara (called Bic Camera AKIBA) impressed me the most. You will find all your electronic needs there, from cameras to drones to laptops to those interesting Japanese toilets. And of course there is the toy and games department! If you need to stock up on accessories for your Nintendo Switch it is a good stop, as it has a lot of official and unofficial accessories and an impressive collection of physical games. If you like to collect those, you can find a lot of games that never made it to the West, or that only released here as a digital download. I picked up Okami HD for example, which has a Japanese cover but can be played 100% in English. Handy! The boxes there show what languages a game supports.
Another multistory shop worth checking: Book Off for all your books, manga, DVDs and games!
Shop until you drop
Setting foot in Akihabara is slightly overwhelming, as there are so many shops, all with their own specialty. I only had half a day, so decisions had to be made. Therefore I skipped the shops that sell figurines, anime and manga and instead blitzed my way through a number of retro-gaming and gaming stores.
Super Potato is a famous one, although it is said that because due to its popularity, prices have risen quite a bit over the past couple of years. Still, it is worth shuffling through several floors filled with retro gaming goodness. Famicoms, Super Famicoms, PlayStations, everything can be found here, as well as some more modern pieces and merchandise. The top floor has a small arcade with some classic games set up.
Mandarake is also a popular choice, and has a lot of retro stuff, including a big collection of toys and other collectibles. They don’t have a lot of gaming goods though, but if you are looking for vintage toys, robots or cards this is worth a stop.
It's even prettier when the dusk takes over and the lights shine brighter.
And then this last shop I found by sheer coincidence. Forum member will’ recommended me Retro, and described it as “this is a doorway going downstairs, they're usually playing Zelda music outside. Best selection of retro stuff now”. I was already on my way back to the train station when I heard the 8-bit soundtrack of The Legend Of Zelda coming from a small radio. Led by the music I descended the small set of stairs into Retro Game Camp, and it is a charming shop indeed. There are piles of old Famicoms, Game Boys and a great collection of games to go with it.
And this is just a selection of everything that Akihabara has to offer. It is impossible to name it all, and I only visited the tip of the iceberg in half the day I had. The fact that a place like this exists in the world fills me with joy, and I hope one day I can go back to beautiful Electric Town. On the other hand, internet has made the world a whole lot smaller. Second-hand retro gear may be a bit harder to get, but thanks to global shipping I can order the newest Japan-only games from the comfort of my own home. It makes going through the rows of games in a Japanese department store a little bit less special.
Still, the whole vibe of Akihabara (and Japan in general!) is magical, and you can feel how the culture there is infused with the brands we love here in the West. Especially the ones we love on a Nintendo website and forum! I cannot recommend going to Japan enough, not only for the techy side but also for the friendly people, the culture, the food and the temples.
Arigatō for reading! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask them on our forum, or you are also welcome to share your own experiences. Say ōnara!