To each their own, but for me Tokyo will always remain the hub for all things quirky, cutting edge and extraordinary. And where do you find all that, you ask? I couldn’t think of a better neighborhood than Akihabara, a.k.a. Electric Town, – a place for geeks to share their gaming passions and indulge in their preoccupations. As overwhelming as this district might be at first sight, I don’t think a trip to Tokyo will be complete without visiting Akihabara. As soon as you step outside the train station, your senses are assaulted from all directions – speakers scream out Japanese pop, billboards blind you with its neon glow and waitresses dressed up in frilly costumes are passing out the flyers. There’s certainly a lot to take in, but it’s a cultural experience like no other. Without further adieu, here is a roundup of the best things to do in Akihabara.
Manga and Anime Central
Unleash your inner otaku (someone obsessed with video games, manga, anime, electronics and the like), since it virtually impossible to make your way through Akihabara without running into an anime shop. If you are a fan, you will definitely love browsing through numerous little shops selling the merchandise. Eight-storied Mandrake is one of the most popular shops. With each floor focusing on a different aspect of the anime genre, it is almost impossible not to find something interesting and thought-provoking. Bear in mind though, that the line between a comic book shop and an adult book store is thin at the best of times, and the top floors are typically dedicated entirely to hentai and yaoi.
As cliché as it sounds, you will inevitably be tempted to go inside one of these kitschy little cafes to see for yourself what the hype is about. While overall the experience is overrated and certainly overpriced, you do get a taste of Japan’s fetish culture and its love for cosplay. Waitresses dressed up as maid costumes adopt childish voices and cutesy gestures while entertaining their patrons. I randomly hit MaidDreamin, which also happens to be a chain with its cafes planted all over Akihabara. I got myself a cute dessert and coffee for a whopping $22 including $5 cover charge per person. One of the maids brought the order and played with me for 10 seconds in Japanese. I honestly didn’t understand a thing due to my lack of Japanese. In the end I was also allowed to come to a tiny stage to take a photo with the maid of my choice. In case you don’t feel like immersing in the kawaii world, but are still willing to visit one of the themed cafés, Gundam might be a good spot. You’ll be able to try one of the themed food like robot waffles, cakes, ice cream floats and lattes.
If I had to pick one themed café in Akihabara this would certainly be it. Thanks to Tokyoites’ obsession with animal cafés you have a chance to unleash your inner Harry Potter and play with your own owl or two. As you emerge from the elevator on the 5th floor of a random building in Akihabara, you immediately find yourself in nothing less than a tiny forest. Maple tree leaves, sound of trickling water, seasonal decorations, very dim lights and eclectic music – you know you are in for a somewhat therapeutic experience. Most importantly, a tiny room inside is filled with approximately two dozen owls of different breeds, shapes and sizes. After receiving a brief instruction from a very nice hostess at the front desk – no flash photography, no sudden movements, one free drink included in the ticket price – you are given an hour to spend with the birds. Read my full review of the place here.
While you can get virtually anything online these days, I can imagine for someone obsessed with electronics visiting a megastore like Yodobashi Akihabara can be as exhilarating as a visit to Nordstroms is for me. I don’t think there is anything that you wouldn’t be able to find in this ginormous store and it will probably take at least a day to go through all of the displays of state of the art gadgets and devices.
Streets, Shops &
Last but certainly not least, the charm of Akihabara is in its streets. Be curious. Browse the main avenue and narrow side streets to find little stores that sell all sorts of fascinating knickknacks, or play a game or two in one of the video game arcades. I also randomly came across couple of street performances. I found one of them particularly fascinating – bunch of male fans where dancing and singing their hearts out at a “concert” of this young female Japanese pop group. In reality the concert was just a DVD recording playing on a TV screens set up on the stage.
Have you ever been to Akihabara? What fascinated you most?
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