Akihabara Electric Town is the home of Japanese anime and electronics. This area in Tokyo, Japan is crammed with stores specializing in anime, manga, maid cafes, retro video games, figurines, and other collectibles. It is a mecca for the otaku culture. Otaku translates generously as “big fan.” The not so generous translation is “geek.”
Akihabara Electric Town occupies an area just outside the northwest exit of JR Akihabara Station.
The plaza at this exit was the meeting point for a Tokyo Localized free walking tour of Akihabara and other sights in central Tokyo in early April 2019. Akihabara Station has many exits and I took the wrong one.
In this day and age, many would have pulled out their trusty cell phone and pinpointed their relative position with an app. Not this old timer. I asked for directions.
That could have been a big problem because I speak only a few words of Japanese and conversational English is not widely spoken even though the language barrier is seems to be coming down. Fortunately, I remembered the exit was near the AKB48 café and shop.
AKB48, Japan’s most popular idol group, gets its name from having 48 core members and being based in Akihabara district. Getting directions was a simple matter of approaching males under 30 and saying “AKB48.” A few words and hand gestures led me to the tour meeting spot.
The AKB48 café closed on December 31, 2019 as a result of planned renovations to the commercial area surrounding Akihabara Station. The café may reopen in a different location at a later date. The Gundam Café, which is dedicated to a Japanese media franchise based on fictional giant military robots, has expanded to fill the void.
Here’s an AKB48 video for music lover and otakus.
I met the tour just as it was departing. These are a few photos of Akihabara.
Sega had five Ge-Sen arcades in Akihabara in 2019. They have been closing one after another since the pandemic. Ge-Sen No. 4 remains open, I believe.
The iconic Onoden Akihabara Main Store and Loax Main Stores are located at the end of the street. Onoden has been selling electronics here for 50 years. Loax has a concierge who provides information in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Sightseeing maps are available. They will even show you the way to any tourist spot you wish to visit.
The Adores karaoke arcade occupied a prime spot on Akihabara’s main street until it also closed in 2020.
Akihabara Gamers Store is located right outside Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit. The seven-story store carries mainly anime, and voice actor merchandise that range from magazines, DVDs, and CDs to character goods. The entrance to Gamers store is hidden behind the street display of anime products below.
An important part of the culture of Akihabara are the maid cafés. There are dozens. In these cafés, waitresses (no waiters) dressed in maid costumes behave more like servants than waitresses. The maids treat customers as masters and mistresses in a private home.
Maids stand outside and entice customers to enter. Not much enticement is necessary as maid cafés appear to be hugely popular.
The tour did not provide time to browse the stores and cafés. Later I did take a look in a similar multi-story anime store in Shibuya. The range of products related to anime, manga and other similar characters is mindboggling.
This tour of Akihabara coincided with the only time I’ve been in Japan during sakura (cherry blossom) season. The almost spiritual effect the sakura have on the people matched the assumptions I had about the nation’s ancient and conservative culture. The otaku culture of Akihabara seemed to be completely incongruous with historical Japan. How both are compatible in the same culture is a mystery I haven’t figured out. I think that is a good reason to return.