Japan certainly has no shortage of places to seek out when you wish to “get your nerd on” and go shopping. Tucked away in each major city, you’re bound to find whatever obscure object of desire that haunts your dreams until it finds its way into your possession. A giant Gundam model? An anime card game? That Super Famicom version of Chrono Trigger or its fellow Squaresoft masterpieces of that day and age?
Of course, every geek worth the salt in his or her sweaty armpits knows about Akihabara in Tokyo. I’m not the biggest fan of this mythical geek heaven, even if it gets more fun once you decide to look up. The Japan savvy and those who travel outside of Tokyo’s far-reaching borders might know about Den Den Town as well, the smaller but possibly more convenient Osaka alternative.
Both are worth a visit at least once in your life, but it would not be wise to plan an entire vacation around these two large metropolitan areas. Japan is a land of many interesting cities, each with its own history, character, and, yes, nerdy shopping districts.
One such lovely city is Kobe, a place I have joyously called home for the last nine years. At 1.5 million people, it’s the sixth largest city in Japan, but I’ve not had many chances to write about it. Mostly, this is because Kobe is usually seen as a city of fashion, a city of high-end shopping, and tourism for non-Japanese visitors isn’t exactly that exciting since the city’s history is so heavily intertwined with European traders.
That and the beef!
However, it is a wonderful place to live, and most of what I love about it are smaller, personal touches like my retro-gaming hike. Nothing you’ll find in the tour guide books but enjoyable nonetheless. And yes, it also has a small nerdy town that provides a decent alternative to trekking an hour down to Osaka on a 700 yen train ticket.
I’ve already touched briefly on the Yellow Submarine hobby base found here, and the directions are similar. This “mini-Akihabara,” exotically called Center Place West Hall, can be found on the second and third floor along the Centergai Shopping Arcade in the downtown Sannomiya area.
Further back along the second floor, though, you’ll find plenty of crane game shops, arcades, anime shops, and all of the essentials to send the otaku crowd into a spending fit. I’m not up to date on all the anime that the kids are into these days, but I can pick out Jibanyan from Yo-kai Watch, Totoro, Japan’s most recognizable super hero Anpanman, and the Osomatsu-san sextuplets, a group of anime boys who are all identical except for their broad spectrum of personalities. It’s an old anime that has been rejuvenated recently, and it is everywhere!
To be honest, I don’t usually make my way down this hallway. A really solid retro-gaming shop could be found back here are one point, but it has since closed down, and its walls, once laced with the finest that the Super Famicom and PlayStation had to offer, now sadly stare back bare or covered with the latest candy-coated anime girls.
One store I do like, called Store of Collection Goods AXE, is charming in that you can find just about any toy or plastic thing there. Over the years, I’ve stumbled across plenty of old video games, but there are also odds trinkets like My Little Ponies or the Fischer Price figurines from the play set I used to have when I was about three years old.
It’s in a hallway dedicated mostly to nostalgic goods towards the back, and if Japanese kids played with it when they were younger, it’s probably back here.
It’s not until you get to the third floor that Kobe’s mini-Akihabara gets more interesting. Right at the top of the escalator are three great places for all your nerdy needs. Dospara has all the cheap computer parts, all refurbished or completely new.
The Animate Cafe is a place where you can go and hang out with your fellow otaku friends over tea or a bowl of curry and exchange your shopping goods. Mostly, this place is where girls hang out, and there is always a long line to get in. I’ve never once seen a man go inside, and the one time I worked up the courage to go in, I was told the whole place was reserved with every seat in the place empty. Oh well…
And then there is Volks, which is a much more professional hobby and model shop than anything available from downstairs. If you want to build it, it’s here. Gundams, Monster Hunter figurines, trains, jets, tanks, any kind of models you could hope for. Building models isn’t really my thing, but I do enjoy checking out all the figurines, and Volks is also the best place to go for that.
Tucked away in the back of the store are the display cases, and here is where collectors will sell their goods. Dragon Ball, One Piece, and their shonen manga ilk make up a majority of the goods back here, but other more obscure stuff also occasionally turns up. I nabbed a sick Tron Bonne figurine for just 300 yen (about$3) one time, and never regretted it. The Dragon Quest toys are also always a joy to uncover.
And, of course, you run the risk of finding some NSFW figurines either, which I won’t show you here.
This is just the top of the escalator, too. Down the hallway, you’ll find more manga and anime shops, but it is the card shops that usually beckon my call. Card Pal and Dragon Star are usually the best alternatives to Yellow Submarine if I am looking for a single. The Taito Station is also one of the biggest arcades in the area, but hardly of comparable size to the seven story behemoths you find in Akihabara or Den Den Town.
Besides that, just countless crane games, capsule machines, posters for upcoming movies and series, and model shops. If you like them, this is one of the best places to bag one of those legendary anime girl pillows.
So, yeah, Kobe has got its own little slice of nerd heaven. The shopping is not all Gucci or Prada, and unlike Den Den Town, which is a good 25 minutes from the upscale shopping district in Osaka, Kobe’s geeky shopping district is right in the middle of the busiest shopping street in the city! Drop off the significant other to let them do their thing, and escape is a mere 30 seconds away! Or, hey, bring them with you if they’re into it. Who knows?
If you’re ever in Japan, don’t hesitate to swing by Kobe. Yyou won’t find many temples, shrines, castles, or the kind of history most people come to Japan for, but it’s still a wonderful city whether you like shopping, beaches, mountains, food, or, of course, nerdy goods!