One district of Tokyo we knew couldn’t be missed is Akihabara, also known as Electric Town, or just Akiba for short. According to Wikipedia, Akihabara (秋葉原) means “Field of Autumn Leaves.” I am not sure what that means, or where the name comes from, but I did understand what Wikipedia said next: “Akihabara is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, games and otaku goods, including new and used items.”
This description is so succinct that I just had to use it here. Akiba is indeed the district to visit for electronics and electrical components, computers and their various parts and accessories, anime and manga, video games of all eras, and other otaku goods.
Otaku is a japanese word that has become a slang term for people with obsessive interests. This usually means anime and manga, or video games, but also other obsessive pursuits. For example, pretty much the first thing we ran into after getting off the train was a seven-story fetish shop.
Akihabara became a prominent go-to place for electrical supplies as early as the 1930s, and for video games starting in the 80s, with personal computers and anime following close behind in the 90s. Unsurprisingly, information about when porn manga and maid cafes joined the fray wasn’t readily available on WIkipedia, but let’s just take a leap and assume it was the 90s, too.
Though not as abundant as in the past, the electrical components that gave Akiba the nickname of Electric Town can still be found, along with consumer electronics of all types. We bought an adaptor for our room for the USD equivalent of $3.
There are both chain and mom-n-pop used video game stores and arcades in abundance. It is very clear that the japanese have done a far better job of preserving the history of gaming than americans have. Older consoles and games are everywhere, and much cheaper than the american equivalents as a result.
We ogled numerous still-sealed first generation video games, collectors editions, guides, soundtracks, controllers, etc. A lot to appreciate, but not much to buy if you don’t understand japanese. It was fun nonetheless.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was how seamlessly video games turn into porn. Let me try to explain that. In the Trader, the bottom floor is modern games and consoles, new and used. For every floor you ascend, the video games get older. The top floor is the PC games floor. In the Trader that made the biggest impression on me, the floor plan for each level was basically a large room lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves, with three or four aisles formed by more shelving units jammed with video games.
Now on the PC gaming floor, basically the right-hand wall was modern stuff such as Call of Duty along with retro PC games. The other three walls, and all of the the aisle shelves housed pornographic PC games. Since the 7-11 nearest to our hotel had nude-y mags just hanging out next to the J-pop magazines, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.
Speaking of porn, we went into an infamous manga shop – Comic Toranoana – with several floors of pornographic mangas. Like the Trader has video games that got older as you went up levels, the manga got more adult as you ascended the stairs. I thought it was a nice touch that there were two floors “for the ladies.”
According to our traveling companions, things in Comic Toranoana were much more tame than in the past – and that seems to be saying something, based on that I saw. That is to say, what I saw was most definitely quite explicit, but I didn’t see the sorts of disturbing or violent materials that used to be there. (This may be due in part to recent obscenity trials resulting in heavy fines for authors and publishers.)
After oogling in the manga store like the american tourists we were, we moved on to consumer electronics stores, keeping an eye out for oddities and knockoffs.
We enjoyed wandering around Akiba so much that we went twice. It’s definitely a must-do for its Times Square-esque qualities. It’s a very bright and vibrant area with a lot to see, do, and eat. You don’t have to go to a Maid cafe or visit the risque floors of the shops if you don’t want to, so I’d still say it’s a great place for anyone to go have a good time! If you enjoy comics, manga, figurines, or video games at all you would be remiss to miss out on Akihabara.