Fans of Japanese modern culture must have heard of Akihabara. This district in Tokyo used to be the electronic central of Japan, and has since turned into shopping heaven for geek hobbies like manga and video games, as well as more “otaku” interests such as idol and certain genres of anime. For hardcore fans, you will find the best items to add to your collection for cheap prices here; for others, the concentrated level of geek hobbies here and some unique shops (for both new and used) are eye-opening. Regardless of which you are, there are certainly limitless things for you to see and experience in Akihabara.
1. Visit a Maid Café
Maid cafes are a phenomenon that shocked the country (and the world) for its idea when it was first introduced, but has since been accepted as a unique offering from Japan, and particularly in Akihabara. Visit one of these cafes to hear “welcome back, my master” upon entering from the many cute girls dressed in maid outfits. The best food choice is definitely the cliché of ordering the omelette-rice and getting your name written on it in ketchup! These cute maids are also around to socialize with. Visit the place enough and you can even have a photo taken with your favourite maid as a momento.
Akihabara offers many themed maid cafes, and ladies may prefer the similar Butler café instead. This is definitely one of the most unique experiences to see for yourself!
Photo: chinnian on Flickr
2. Browse Anime DVD & Manga Stores
The anime of Akihabara is closely tied with anime and manga, thanks to the concentrated amount of shops dedicated to the merchandise. Visit one of the anime DVD and/or manga shops and you will find yourself surrounded by the digital and printed arts. There are many shops selling the latest publications on the market, and there are just as many used shops recycling the classics and rare finds. If there is a manga or anime series that you want to buy and bring home, whether it's just one book/DVD or the whole series, Akihabara has you covered!
Photo: Danny Choo, from Wikimedia
3. Shop Big at the Major Electronics Shops
If you’re looking to bring home the latest electronic products on the market, visit one of the many huge electronics shops such as Yodabashi Camera or LABI. Each of these massive multi-floor stores will take you a long time to go through, with each level dedicated to certain products. Feel free to ask the staff for assistance or advice, as there are staff who speak multiple languages who can explain to you about the newest camera or the $1000 rice cooker, helping you to make the best purchase decision.
Photo: Rs1421, from Wikimedia
4. Hunt down Retro Games at Super Potato
Super Potato is the paradise for retro gamers. Their huge collections of second-hand old games, starting from all the way back from the Nintendo Famicom to the Dreamcast era are all priced very reasonably. If you have been searching for a childhood classic to re-experience or a niche title to fill your video game collection, this multi-floor shop will be your best bet for your retro-game hunt. Many gamers also visit it as a gaming museum, to look through the many generations of games and the few extremely rare items available to purchase too. 1990 Nintendo World Championships Gold Edition, anyone?
Photo: IQRemix on Flickr
5. Geek out at the Gundam Café (and its Washroom)
Anyone fond of this mecha-anime franchise from 1979 to present must give this café a visit. The theme runs through every aspect of the designs of this place. From the menu to every inch of decoration on the wall, it calls back to different series fans can joyfully recognize. For example, the Char’s Zaku beef curry that is 3 times spicier, or the carbonara spaghetti titled “Mission Accepted”, quoting Heero from Gundam Wing. There are tons of smart references to characters and scenes for fans to discover and celebrate.
Also, a big MUST is a visit to the Gundam toilet in the café. Close the door, press the “light button” and…… I’m not going to spoil the surprise but that was the single most incredible washroom experience I’ve ever had.
Photo: Toru Watanabe on Flickr
6. Shop for Anime Merchandise at Collectable Goods Shops
We all know that one of the major components of an anime or manga series is the huge amount of merchandise released along or after the series. No worries, because this is Akihabara we are talking about and they have it covered too! Many of the shops sell the goods right beside the DVDs or manga, and even more shops exclusively deal with these merchandises. Posters, T-shirts, phone straps, coffee mugs, figures, stationery... make sure to prepare some space in your suitcase to fit them all.
Photo: Ronny Siegel, from Wikimedia
7. Win Prizes from the UFO Catchers
The UFO catcher machines in Japan are extremely fun and offer a wide array of rewards. These crane machines (and many other sorts) are only 100 to 200 yen per try, and the prizes range from merchandise from the latest anime trends to random products like a portable retro-gaming machine. Perhaps you’re interested in the gigantic pack of snacks, or you’re collecting the newest line of Pokemon plushies. However, these items are very often exclusive for UFO catchers. You can visit one of the few reseller stores in the area, but getting it from the UFO catcher after many tries will net you both the prize and the tremendous feeling of satisfaction. Check out Sega Arcade and Taito Station in Akihabara for the latest machines.
8. Treasure-hunt for PC Parts
For the techies looking for an upgrade or a unique gadget to add to their computer system, there are multiple smaller computer shops along the many alleys of Akihabara. They sell many computer parts at cheap prices that are comparable to the quality of the products you find from the big shops. Especially if you are looking for a good gaming mouse or keyboard, search around these old-looking stores and you will find some treasures without making a hole in your wallet.
Photo: Christian Kadluba on Flickr
9. Check out the Idol Merchandise Shops
If you are a fan of Japanese idols, you MUST know about Akihabara being an excellent place for idol encounters and idol merchandise. Besides the famous AKB theatre on top of the Donki Houte building, there are other notable locations too. The AKB48 Café and Shop (right beside the Gundam café) offers food while playing concert footages. Fans of the Morning Musume and Hello!Project camp can visit the official store and purchase the latest photo sets, posters and T-shirts. There are also many resellers so you can buy photobooks and other goods at a discount, if you don’t mind them being second-hand. Visitors who don’t understand this culture will find these shops fascinating, and those who do have no reasons to not visit them. Perhaps you will discover a new favourite upon one of these visits!
10. Game with your Friends at the Arcade Centers
Sega Arcade and Taito Station offering UFO catcher machines at the first and second floor also have a wide arrange of arcade video games upstairs. These collections of older classic titles (like fighting games and shoot’em ups) and the latest rhythm game crazes will bring you and your friends gaming together in a way you can’t in your living room anymore. I mean, do you have a Gundam pilot cabin at home? They do!!!
Photo: Stéfan on Flickr
11. Eat at One of the Many Delicious Ramen Shops
When I’m roaming around Akihabara hungry (and not heading to one of the many unique cafes in the area), ramen is always my top choice. There are so many wonderful ramen shops in the area offering all genres of ramen. From the standard soup bases to some unique mixes, I have yet to visit one there that resulted in disappointment.
My personal favourites are (in no particular order):
1. Tokyo Meibutsu Abura Soba, the unique soupless ramen
2. Hakata Fuu Ryuu, which is a 500 yen tonkotsu ramen and offers two extra refill noodles for free
3. Jiro Ramen, which satisfies you with the crazy volume
Photo: 多摩に暇人 , from Wikipedia
12. Admire the Anime Decorated Cars
Hardcore fans of both cars and animes have decorated their rides with their favourite anime character(s). Their cars (named Itasha, literally translated as "painful car" for the cringe level others would feel upon spotting) are completely covered with paints and stickers to show off their fandom and devotion, and the owners often gather in Akihabara to display their cars to other fans to appreciate and take photos of/with. My favourite was seeing an ita-jitensha where the owner spent a lot of time and money decorating his bicycle! Roam around the area and you will easily spot many of these flashy decorated vehicles.
Photo: Danny Choo on Flickr
13. Shop Cheap at Donki Houte
Donki Houte (or Don Quijote) isn’t exclusive in Akihabara. In fact, this massive discounted store has branches all over Japan, but it has some great items for your time in Akihabara. This massive shop usually has 4-7 floors, selling popular products you can find in other stores too, but often at 10-30% discount here. They have a huge collection of snacks, beauty-care products and electronics stocked, as well as weirder random items like a character body-suit pajama and sexy lingerie. In particular to Akihabara culture, they have some quick and cheap cosplay options available. They also have a great selection of disposable to high-end glow sticks, perfect for those visiting an idol concert at the AKB theatre on the 8th floor of the building.
Photo: unknown from Wikimedia
14. Deck Out Your Cosplay Closet
Another huge phenomenon that came from the anime culture is cosplaying, where people replicate outfits from certain characters with extreme details and wear them. Encountering cosplayers on the street of Akihabara isn’t rare, because there are many shops selling the tools and parts (and even shops just for wigs) for recreating the looks. Some shops also sell completed outfits. If you have been searching for the outfit for your next local convention, get inspired or snatch something up the next time you’re in Akihabara.
Photo: Carter McKendry on Flickr
15. Shop and Du-Du-Du-Du-Duel at the Yellow Submarine
The Yellow Submarine game shop is a huge hobby shop those interested in toys, board games and card games must visit. Their selection of plastic models (Gundam, Mini 4WD cars, etc) is unbeatable and you can find almost any model you want here. Those who are into certain trading card game series (Yu-Gi-Oh, Duel Masters) will also find an impressive display of cards available for purchase. Many card-gamers come to trade and socialize, and the shop also hosts regular tutorials and tournaments that anyone can join. Perhaps you’d want to carry your deck with you next time when visiting Akihabara.
Photo: Timothy Tsui on Flickr