If you have watch anime, read manga or light novels, then you will almost of certainly heard of Akihabara. After WWII, Akihabara had the nickname ‘Electric Town’ and was known as the place go for cheap electronics. To this day, you can still find cheap electronics, but now it is most well known for all things otaku. Yodobashi Camera, the 8 stories tall electronics mega store, to the maid cafe’s and even a small, hole in the wall retro gaming store called Friends. Akiba, as the natives call it, has it all.
Akiba is packed with a bunch of very interesting stores that are too numerous to list in one post. So in regards to that, I will be splitting this into at least 3 different posts. This first post is going to do a general overview of Akihabara with a few, umm.. side dishes, yeah that it, side dishes. The 2nd post is going to cover Electronic & Anime stores and the 3rd will cover Game Stores and Japanese Arcades, something that you will have to see to believe.
When you get to Akihabara Station for the first time you are going to want to take the West exit. Connected by a footbridge is Akihabara Crossfield, a complex consisting of 2 high-rises called UDX, and Daibiru. You are going to want to aim for the Tokyo Anime Center, which is it’s on the 4th floor of the UDX building. Not because the Tokyo Anime Center is particularly good to see, by all accounts it is a small office space converted into a rather bland Anime museum but because connected to it is the Anime Information Center which holds a free English map of Akiba with a block by block breakdown of the stores. Armed with that you should be able to find your away around and not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stores and activities to do on this street.
It used to be tough to locate normal food establishments in Akiba, you either had to go to a themed cafe or settle for the small, hole in the wall establishments. Not anymore, with the first 3 floors of UDX being devoted to restaurants. The Daibiru high-rise is an IT center so pay it no mind.
Akiba is the birthplace of the Maid Cafe and while their popularity has waned, the best ones are still going strong. Maid Cafe’s are where you get served by women dressed up in maid outfits. The food you can order ranges from okay to delicious, though it will have special names based on the theme the Maid Cafe is running. You can also request or order a special ‘blessing’ based on the theme of the cafe. Maid Cafe’s offer a service where you can pay for a picture with a maid. Personal pictures are forbidden in a Maid Cafe. Be aware that some Maid Cafe’s have a cover charge.
Continuing on with the cafe theme, there are 2 landmarks in Akihabara, Gundam Cafe and AKB48 Cafe and Shop. Gundam is a massive franchise in Japan and the Gundam Cafe has become a landmark destination in Akiba. The cafe serves Gundam themed food, has waiter’s or waitress’s dressed up as characters of the series, they even give you salutes when taking your order and you can also buy Gundam themed kitchenware & utensils.
Right next to it is the AKB48 Cafe and Store, named after the AKB48 idol group based in Akihabara. AKB48 is a massive and popular idol group that currently has 121 active members and they have daily shows on the 8th floor of the discount mega store, Don Quijote. Yep, you heard that right, their home base is a discount store. Since 2012, all AKB48 releases have reached over 1 million in sales. The cafe is covered in AKB48 memorabilia and it plays AKB48 concerts on the TV. The food is again themed and is rated from so-so to good.
Legend has it that Akihabara was named after a shrine, but the shrine is apparently no more due to the station being built over it, don’t worry about it though, Kanda Myojin Shrine has you covered. It’s an 800-year-old shrine that takes its proximity to Akiba seriously and besides being very beautiful, it will offer to protect your electronic devices from evil for only $7.32. The charms are designed to look like computer hardware and come in 3 distinct varieties. A wallet card, a strip for the computer and a thumbnail-sized for handheld devices. One of the most famous sights at Kanda Myojin Shrine is the ema board prayer area. It’s become a tradition where aspiring manga and anime artists make an ema board showcasing their talents while praying for good luck in the upcoming year.
Akihabara is a place much like the Las Vegas strip, except it has a distinct anime and manga theme. Depending on the weather, time and various other factors you will see people in outfits handing out flyers, cosplay players strutting their stuff, impromptu street concerts and various other events happening daily. On the weekends, they get so busy that they even block off the streets from vehicles so the pedestrians can have free reign.
Next time on the internet otaku, Electronic, and Anime Stores, oh my!!