Thursday, December 04, 2008

Japan '08: Akihabara Introduction

The Akihabara district has been known since the post-war period as Tokyo's "Electric Town," and there are still plenty of places to buy consumer electronics, and even a few claustrophobic shopping arcades with tiny shops selling diodes and resistors. But in the past decade, "Akiba" has become the center of 2-dimensional culture in Japan, steadily overtaken by waves of anime shops, arcades, visual novel stalls, maid cafes and doujinshi (fan-produced work) stores. No doubt the transition from open air home appliance outlet mall to moe Märchenland has been upsetting for some, but it's made things vastly more interesting to otaku like me: I didn't even bother visiting Akihabara when I was in Tokyo ten years ago (instead doing anime shopping in Shibuya and Nakano), but I practically lived in the place this time around.

Radio Kaikan; note the billboard for Toaru Majutsu no Index, one of the better new TV anime for the autumn season.

Akiba is completely overwhelming at first, but it's easy enough to start exploring. Akihabara Channel has a nice annotated map for planning ahead of time. Take the Electric Town exit from the JR Akihabara Station, and you'll find yourself on a closed off side street. Just across the way is yellow neon sign, marking the Radio Kaikan building, which is not only a good landmark for meetings with friends, but also hosts critical shopping locations K-Books and Kotobukiya. Kotobukiya offers a relatively non-threatening mainstream anime character-goods shopping experience, while K-Books is deep otaku territory. Radio Kaikan is also the meeting place for free Akiba tours, which are offered on a somewhat irregular basis and must be booked in advance. I wanted to try the tour, but the timing never worked out.
Looking towards the Akiba Electric Town Exit, across Chuo Street; Gamers on the left and the Radio Kaikan sign peeking out on the lower right.

Just up the street and opposite Radio Kaikan is the Akihabara branch of Gamers, one of two nationwide chains specializing in official anime character-goods (their competition is Animate). There is usually an information table on the sidewalk outside of Gamers, which offers free maps in English or Japanese. Past Gamers is the main drag through Akiba, Chuo Street, along which are located doujinshi emporium Tora no Ana, Animate, and several branches of electronics/DVD/game retailer Sofmap. On the far side of Chuo Street, to the northwest of the train station, is a warren of minor streets where the bulk of the remaining Akiba attractions are located, including Mandarake, Geestore Akiba (COSPA), and dozens and dozens of smaller independent shops and maid cafes.

More Akiba fun later...

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