Words: Charlene Lim
Akihabara, a district full of bright lights and culture. On the surface it looks like a busy city full of life and adventure, with its own culture and social group. Underneath it all, it has a history so deep it took over a century to develop into the place it is today.
This is one of the top cities to visit when in Tokyo. Located in central Tokyo, it is most accessible by train as the district has its own station where several lines converge. For tourists, Akihabara has many sights and wonders that are uniquely Japanese. The experience is quite unlike any other city, some may love it whilst others may not. It is quite a strange and unique city. To truly grasp the Akihabara experience may take a few good days.
Looking around, you will be sure to notice a large number of electronic goods stores. If you have a penchant for gadgets, be it the latest and greatest or just something cute or practical, there is something in store for everyone.
Akihabara houses many shops that offer a wide variety of otaku goods. On top of anime and manga offerings, there are also stores that specialise in action figures and other collectibles. There are also shops that specialise in gachapon vending machines – vending machines that dispense capsules containing memorabilia and trinkets that may make unique gifts and are collectible as well.
Fancy being treated to a unique café experience? There are many maid and cosplay cafés unique to Akihabara. At these cafés, you will be treated to adorably decorated meals and served by staff dressed in French maid outfits or your favourite anime character. If you are looking for a quick snack instead, like most of Japan, Akihabara is no stranger to the vending machine. In Akihabara, you may find vending machines that dispense ramen noodles and oden in a can as well!
We also must not forget the history of Akihabara. Another unique experience is a visit to a shrine. The Kanda Myojin shrine is a short walk from the electronics district. It is a beautiful Shinto shrine that has been rebuilt and restored many times due to fire and earthquake damage. Being located so close to Akihabara Electric Town, it has become the shrine where blessing ceremonies are held particularly for technology ventures. The shrine also sells omamori (take-home charms) in the shape of a computer chip to protect the user from harm.
Akihabara has managed to give its own twist to commonplace Japanese culture and items, making it one of the more unique places to visit in Japan. It’s a must-go spot!
AKIHABARA HAS MANAGED TO GIVE ITS OWN TWIST TO COMMONPLACE JAPANESE CULTURE AND ITEMS, MAKING IT ONE OF THE MORE UNIQUE PLACES TO VISIT IN JAPAN. IT’S A MUST-GO SPOT!
A SHORT HISTORY OF AKIHABARA
The Akihabara we know today is nothing like how it was in the 1800s. It was not always fancy lights and maid cafés. What we see today is a direct result of everything it has gone through.
Back in 1869, a massive fire broke out in the city, reducing the land to nothing. To prevent further mishaps, the Meiji government erected a small shrine named “Chinka-Sha”, also known as the “Extinguisher Shrine”, as a ward. The citizens at that time mistook the structure as a shrine for a fire-quelling deity named Akiba, and thus, the area became known as Akiba no Hara.
Sometime in the early 1900s, a careless typing mistake resulted in the name of the town we know and love today, Akihabara.
By 1935, this area had become a fruit and vegetable market. Other merchandise such as lumber also made its way here. This resulted in an influx of people. The technology also brought in the first otaku – train enthusiasts.
In the 1940s after the war, the area became popular for the trade of electronic parts. It was frequented by students from the nearby Tokyo Denki University who specialised in radio parts. Second hand goods and electronics can be found in abundance in Akihabara.
By 1962, the iconic seven story building, Radio Kaikan, was ready and it historically housed various popular items in Akihabara and, more recently, a large variety of otaku goods. During this time, there was a boom in electronic sales for household white goods resulting in the sale of various such items as well.
In the 1980s, the move from consumer white goods to computer products can be seen in Akihabara. White goods were now readily available from suburban chain stores, leading to the change in the demographics in the area. During this time, Radio Kaikan carried computers, parts and games, including doujinshi (self-published manga) and doujin-sofuto (selfpublished video games).
By 1994, sales of computers over took consumer white goods. With computers, came video games and manga, and this movement started building the foundations of the otaku subculture in Akihabara.
In 1996, Toranoana Inc was established. This store originally started off specialising in used doujinshi. However, due to the anime boom at the time, it started extending its range of products to include character goods as well. Today, it is the centre for manga and related merchandise.
“Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama!” – “Welcome home, master!”, a typical welcoming phrase that you will hear upon entering a maid café, a type of establishment that started in the early 2000s and gained popularity over the years. This style of café features “maids” – waitresses dressed in French maid outfits, serving cute themed food in a café setting. Akihabara still boasts a wide variety of maid and cosplay cafés with various themes.
Today, Akihabara is a mecca for otaku. What is an otaku? An otaku is someone with a strong interest (to the point of obsession) in their chosen subject. In modern terms, it is mostly associated with anime and manga fandom. Akihabara has developed over the years to cater for the growing and evolving otaku lifestyle. It is a place where you can get computer parts and collectibles to build your hobby, or just sit back and enjoy what the city has to offer.