Monday, 14 April 2008

Day 5 Part 1 - Akihabara (秋葉原)

The morning was spent exploring Geektown, also known as Akihabara (秋葉原). The characters 秋葉原 means "Autumn leaves meadow" but these days Akihabara is anything but a meadow, and autumn leaves are more likely found as a desktop wallpaper on a computer monitor than on the streets.

Most visitors to Asian cities are familiar with the concept of a shopping centre or a street that specialises in selling electrical goods - these days even Sydney has one - Capitol Square.

But Japan invented the concept of Denki-Gai (電器街) - Akihabara is an entire suburb full of stores that specialise in electrical goods. These days, of course, it's not just limited to computers, cameras, mobile phones, home entertainment ... there are also stores that sell music and movies, anime merchandise, and apparently a few "maid cafes" as well. In short, any item that could potentially interest a young nerd, or an otaku.

We caught the JR Chuou Line to Akihabara - it was the most direct way of getting there:

On leaving the station, we were a bit disorientated. This doesn't look all that impressive:

But then we realised it was just a side street and we soon found outselves on the main street - Chuou Doori (中央通り):

It was another rainy day, so we popped into a manga store, which also specialised in selling "costumes" (including various versions of French maid outfits!). The manga collection in the front of the store was pretty ordinary, but the goods became weirder and kinkier (へんたい) towards the back of the shop:

CLUB SEGA has nine floors or arcade machines:

And this is the corner of Chuou Doori and Sotobori Doori (外堀通り), featuring several large stores, including Ishimaru and LAOX (both are so large their goods are spread over several buildings - each specialising in a specific category):

Another picture of the intersection:

Big Apple is a huge pachinko parlour (pachinko is a weird arcade game featuring lots of tiny balls):

GAME Taito Station is another building full of arcade games:

And this building contains a store called - believe it of not - Don Quixote - apparently it's a department store for a wide variety of interesting things, including a very comprehensive adult toys section:

Although a lot of Akihabara stores cater to domestic purchasers, we also noticed lots of "duty free" stores targeted at foreigners, which sell "international" versions of cameras and computers with English manuals and worldwide warranty:

We saw some tourists posing for photographs with a group of "pink Lolitas" (I won't show you their faces, but suffice to say they weren't as pretty as they look from behind):

MOS Burger is a fast food chain selling burgers with a difference - the buns are made of rice - apparently a lot of Westerners love it. We considered going in, but frankly I didn't think the menu sounded all that enticing and I'm not a huge burger fan. We ended up having lunch in a tiny upstairs cafe - it was cheap, because it was hidden in a small alley. I've finally figured out that prices tend to be cheaper in stores away from the main streets and if it involves climbing stairs or taking elevators.

After lunch, we saw quite a few stores selling Gashapons - these are coin operated vending machines that sells small cute trinkets. As can be seen in the photo, sometimes the machines are also called "capsule station":

The name "Gashapon" is onomatopoetic - "gasha" is the sound that the machine makes as it swallows your coin, and "pon" is the sound of the toy being ejected into the collection receptacle.

We also saw lots of "grab a plush toy" machines, here's a few featuring Rilakkumas:

We also ventured into a store near the station called Kotobukiya - they sell model kits but also have a nice Ghibli collection:

We bought quite a few additional Ghibli trinkets to complete our collection of Ghibli related souvenirs. I didn't buy a lot of electronic stuff here, but I later found out that the prices were slightly cheaper here than in the same stores in Shinjuku so perhaps I should have.

Map of area:

View Larger Map

Full album on Picasa:
[2008-04-14] Japan - Akihabara

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