The Legendary Akihabara. Center of Otaku culture. Home to maid cafes, video game shops, and cosplayers as far as the eye can see. If only that were the case, but that Akihabara sadly no longer exists.
You’d be a little disappointed to know that Akihabara is not all its cracked up to be, unless you go there during an Otaku festival when they all show up dressed for the fun. Akihabara sums up the very word “tourist trap,” offering average electronics and pop-culture stores under the guise of fame.
What once might have been a small niche area for the biggest of otakus to meet has been commercialized beyond recognition.
Not much remains but a few square blocks of shops, mostly that of used electronics, wires, and home appliances. Computer parts scatter the streets. iPhone cases hang from windows. Major manga stores which tower above offer nothing much outside of what mainstream bookstores offer, unless you are looking for a type of manga major chains refuse to stock.
Arcades now come in towering skyscrapers, where the true heart of its video game scene lies. Taito, SEGA, Namco: all the big arcade companies own a building and align their upper floors with arcades new and old alike.
From the ground floor, most of these arcades don’t seem like much as the crane games, capsule machines, and “purikura” booths, cutesy Japanese photo booths, but like most everything in Japan, your options increase exponentially when you look up.
One stereotype Akihabara has no problem living up to is maid cafes. Girls in cutesy French maid outfits align the street, using batting eyelashes and flirtatious grins to coerce you into their place of business. If yo forget your game face in Akihabara, then you are toast. No ifs, ands or buts. Meeting these maids will happen, and know exactly how to catch men off guard.
Most video game stores are what you can expect to find in any part of the city. With the exception of Super Potato, most just sell the latest games and consoles. Some might have a lingering Famicom game lying around, waiting to be purchased and keeping the guise of a Akihabara style store. Shelves in the back carry certain electronic novels and adventure games behind closed curtains.
Labi, a Japanese equivalent of Best Buy or Circuit City, has a headquarters in Akihabara, and its store is loaded with the latest smartphones from all three major Japanese carriers, KDDI au, NTT DoCoMo, and Softbank Mobile.
Akihabara is okay if you are in Japan for the first time, so don’t let my jaded cynicism get you down. If there is some kind of electronic, manga, or video game you need, it is available in Akihabara somewhere. You just need to know where to look and have the cash to pay a little extra.
Coming from Kansai though, our Den Den Town has just as much to offer in half the space, so there is no getting lost or turned around in confusing alleys.