First, let me admit that I’m something of a Luddite. I grew up with a black & white television long after it was normal, and also a rotary telephone. These technological deprivations were a badge of honor I carried into adulthood – my first cell phone was in 2004. So it’s ironic that I was approached by an electronics company to promote its business in Japan (this is where I disclose I received a modest fee for this post.)
This brings us to Akihabara 秋葉原.
The Akihabara neighborhood around JR Akihabara Station (also referred to as ‘Akiba’) is famous for being a mecca of manga, anime, and electronics. Being both a Luddite and not particularly interested in anime, etc., I rarely venture into Akihabara. The closest I like to get is the old Manseibashi Station, a jewel of a building that has been renovated and turned into a mixed-use shopping and dining facility named mAAch Ecute.
Akihabara, as seen from Manseibashi
Part of why I avoid Akihabara is that I don’t know where to go. There are many stores with many floors and it all seems so vast and confusing, like the enormous Yodobashi Camera or the multi-story ‘Anime Plaza’ in the picture below:
Besides the large stores, Akihabara is littered with hundreds of shops that carry items from gaming accessories and mobile phones to novelty items and obscure electrical components. If you’re interested in technology and hardware, you may love Akihabara, but you may also find it something of a maze. Remember, also, to keep in mind the voltage differences in any electrical components, as they might not work outside Japan.
As much fun as it may be to explore store after store, if you’re looking for a specific item, it may be easier to shop online via sites such as RS Components アールエスコンポーネンツ株式会社. RS Components sells a vast array of electronic components, measurement equipment, engineering tools and other products (they are the world’s largest distributor of electronics and maintenance products). Here is a page from their website, taken at random. I honestly don’t know what any of this stuff is.
Here’s another page. Again, I have no idea what this stuff is, but it’s fun to peer into a world I know nothing about.
Of course, there are some things you can’t experience over the internet, which brings us back to Akihabara…
One thing you can only do in person is visit an Akihabara maid cafe. The concept is that the waitresses dress as maids and treat their guests as they would a ‘master’. It’s not quite as creepy as it sounds, but I don’t have any interest in doing it again. It is, however, one of those “only in Japan” experiences that first-time visitors to Japan seem to enjoy.
Other places in Akihabara that may be of interest are Mandarake, an eight-story complex devoted to all things anime and manga. There are also a number of major arcade game centers in Akihabara that are enjoyable for playing or just watching (I watched someone play one of those drumming games for thirty minutes); there are also obscure Japanese arcade games that will probably never travel outside Japan, such as dog walking simulators.
When you’ve had enough of Akihabara, cross the Kanda River and enjoy a beer at Hitachino Brewing Lab, inside the old Manseibashi station. This is something I can recommend any day of the year.
P.S. – I just found out that Akihabara used to be called ‘Akihababa’ in English:
Seen also in the label of this aerial photo (source: Monash University):
- Why is “Akihabara” shortened to “Akiba?” The historical reason may surprise you
- Photography: Welcome to Tokyo’s Akihabara Electric Town, with the craziest gadget stores you’ll ever see
- A catalogue of success: How RS Components has grown to become a global distribution power