Located in central Tokyo on the eastern side of Chiyoda-ku and on the intersection of Chuo-dori and Kanda Myojin-dori roads, the Akihabara district, or Akiba as the locals call it, is internationally famous as the ‘go to’ place for electrical and electronic appliances.
In recent years Akihabara has perhaps become even more famous as a mecca for fans of anime and manga. Akihabara is the centre of Japan’s otaku culture and has attracted many otaku from all around the world for a full cultural immersion in their obsessions with anime and manga.
In the late 19th century, Akihabara Station became a major freight transit point, from which the district grew and developed into a futuristic area specialising in electrical appliances. Further into the 20th century, the focus in Akihabara shifted from household electrical goods to catering to specialists and hobbyists. That shift brought a wave of otaku into the district and laid the foundations for the Akihabara we know today.
To fully enjoy Akihabara, it may take more than a leisurely afternoon stroll along its streets. It is important to understand what Akihabara has to offer.
One of the more distinctive features of the area is the multitude of billboards and neon and digital signs featuring images of anime and game characters. Besides electronics and mainstream anime, amateur manga, or doujinshi, are allowed to be freely distributed on the streets. The authors of doujinshi self-publish, printing and distributing their work in hopes of gaining a passionate audience in the otaku world.
O kaerinasai, goshujin-sama! One of the top attractions in Akihabara is the maid café. Maid, or cosplay cafés, which are plentiful in the area, are themed restaurants where customers are served by waitresses dressed as French maids.
Some of the more popular have a long wait time, but it is worth it! Well-known examples are @Home Cafe and Maidreamin, both of which have English speaking maids and menus written in English.
On arrival at a maid café, the lovely maids greet male customers with the honorific expression, goshujin-sama (Master), and females with hime-sama (Princess), or ojou- sama (Mistress). Menus offered have combo package options, which may include meals and a commemorative photo. Some cafés invite customers to play games with the maids to win café original memorabilia.
The experience of attending a session at a maid or cosplay café is quite unique. Maids
draw cute, or kawaii images of bears and other characters onto customer drinks with caramel sauce, or serve adorably decorated sundaes quite unlike those in other, ordinary cafés.
A KB48 is a Japanese idol girl group with many popular hits, named after Akihabara, where the group’s theatre is located. A café and shops specialising in AKB48 memorabilia are also to be found in the district. The café serves food inspired by the group and has a theatre where members perform daily at scheduled times. Reservations are required to view the performances!
What is most unique about AKB48 is the idol group’s concept of teams. Each team has a different image and member line up is subject to change. Daily performances are possible because AKB48 teams rotate, with different teams performing simultaneously at more than one event.
R adio Kaikan is the place to go to source the latest and greatest electrical goods, as well as antique electronics and hard to find parts. This ten-storey specialist hobby store caters to a wide range of interests, from anime to electronics, and houses more than 30 stores for all your hobby needs. On the ground floor you will also find a shop selling only-in-Japan themed snacks and drinks.
G amers carries a wide range of anime and manga related goods,including DVDs and games. Be sure to pick up some figurines! Other similar shops include Super Potato and Mandarake.
Interested in figurines, action figures and other collectibles? Kotobukiya is a store specialising in plastic figurines of Japanese anime characters, as well as internationally renowned action figures.
J ust a short walk from the electronics district is the Kanda Myojin Shrine. As with most shrines, visitors are able to purchase omamori lucky charms. The charm offered at Kanda Myojin pays homage to the shrine’s proximity to Electronic Town; it is a take-home omamori that looks like a RAM card.
Kanda Shrine is very popular with business owners. The shrine houses Daikoku and Ebisu, who are two of the Seven Gods of Fortune, with responsibility for wealth and business respectively.
G achapon, or gacha-gacha machine, are vending machines that dispense capsules containing various memorabilia and trinkets. Save your coins and pick up a few capsules for yourself, or as gifts for friends!
Prices range from 100 to 600 yen. Each machine has a theme and offers a random prize. Some feature popular anime characters among their figurines, while the offerings of others can be quite practical, such as drink-coasters, or decorative mini plastic plants.
V ending machines are commonplace across Japan, and buying from a vending machine is one of the “to do” things when visiting. Akihabara is no different.
Besides beverages such as coffee, soda and juice, vending machines also dispense corn soup and custard puddings in easy-to-open cans. Some of the more unique offerings in Akihabara include oden, and ramen noodles in a can.
The most fascinating thing about vending machines in Japan is the ability to serve hot food. Cans are dispensed hot and their contents may be consumed immediately. At 320 yen a can, it is a fun, economical and unique way to enjoy street food.
C osplay is an integral part of Akihabara’s culture. Here you may be able to pick up ready-made costumes and accessories, and may encounter people dressed
up as part of a promotion, or simply to express their personal style.
COSPA Gee! is the shop for clothing and merchandise to enhance your cosplay experience. Here you will also find anime and manga related items.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to travel to Akihabara is by train, as the district has its own station where several lines converge. JR Yamanote Line is a circle line that links up the majority of the most popular spots in Tokyo, including Akihabara. Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line runs through Roppongi, Ginza and Tsukiji before arriving at Akihabara. Other lines running through Akihabara include the JR Keihin- Tohoku Line and the JR Chuo-Sobu Line. On arrival, exit through the Electric Town exit, which is the closest to Don Quijote Akihabara and Radio Kaikan, around which most of the popular shops and cafes are located. Another handy exit is onto Showa-dori road leading to Yodobashi Camera, a massive department store that offers a one-stop centre for all possible electronic needs. The Akihabara store is a branch of the Shinjuku-based electronic discount giant, and also offers duty free items.