Tokyo Area Guide: Akihabara 秋葉原
Akihabara, often shortened to "Akiba," is the undisputed electronics and camera capital of Japan. The few blocks around Akihabara Station are a mass of shops selling the full range of electronic and electric goods, computer games, and home appliances, from brand new audiophile, ultra high-end to second-hand bargain bin.
Keep an eye out for the many tax-free shops in the area. As well as for the cameras, computers, TVs and mobile phones, Akihabara is also a treasure trove of manga, games, toys, anime, and anime DVDs. Akihabara attracts hordes of those fascinated by amine and manga culture: the otaku, or, nerds.
Akihabara was once known as Aioi, during the Edo period (1603-1868) and, as the area where mainly lower-class samurai lived, was known for regular fires and brawls.
A shrine to Akiba-daigongen, the Buddhist deity who supposedly guarded against fires, was set up in 1870. The district name Aioi was replaced in common parlance by the name of the shrine. The word 'hara,' or "plain," was altered, and the pronunciation somewhat corrupted to "Akihabara." When the area's first railway station was built in 1890, it was called Akihabara, thus cementing the change of name.
Akihabara had had numerous electrical appliance dealers even before the Pacific War. However, after the war it became a center for unregulated dealing in radio components. This evolved into legitimate business - not just in radio parts, but in all kinds of electrical appliances and devices. In the 1980s this came to include electronic goods. At around the same time, Akihabara also become known as a hangout for Tokyo's otaku (nerds) and the distinctive comic, anime and game-based culture they developed.
Akihabara Video Guide
Akihabara offers both spacious, convenient, department store-style shopping and out-of-the-way, rabbit-warren-type shopping. But whichever suits you, Akihabara is the number one place in Tokyo for computers, computer games, software, computer accessories, mobile phones, electronic parts, and electric appliances.
Chuo-dori is Akihabara's main shopping street, which runs all the way south through east Tokyo down to Nihonbashi and Ginza. Chuo-dori, especially around Akihabara station, is dominated by major stores, many of which have multiple premises in the area, each dedicated to a different kind of product. The streets off Chuo-dori are generally for smaller, more specialized stores, and are where you will find the best bargains - if you are prepared to hunt.
Akihabara is the best place in Tokyo for computer games and gaming accessories. Computer game and video game stores abound, both as big, department-type stores and as tiny, what often look like fly-by-night-type stores, many of them obscurely tucked away on top or basement floors.
Akihabara also has branches of the major camera retailers here - although purchasing a camera in Tokyo is much the same experience at any camera store in the city, and you will not necessarily get a better deal in Akihabara.
Akihabara is also full of stores selling cell phones, televisions, household appliances, and even used goods.
Akihabara has duty-free stores for the foreign shopper. At some large establishments, like Sofmap and Laox, purchases of over 100,000 yen qualify for duty-free status.
Read more about Akihabara shopping
Akihabara's modern-day identity owes more to its recent than ancient history: as the home of the Japanese nerd, or otaku.
"Otaku" in Japanese refers to anyone unusually enthusiastic about and focused on a particular thing or topic. However, otaku is usually used in the context of those with a love and exhaustive knowledge of comic books, or novels in pictures, i.e. manga, and animated cartoons or computer graphics, i.e. anime, and the characters portrayed in them.
There is no end of stores in Akihabara that stock comics, anime, manga, video games, figurines, toys, books, posters and anime-related DVDs and CDs, fancy dress costumes of manga characters, and enough manga/anime-themed trinkets to sink a ship. Animate is one particularly large, multi-floor emporium of otaku goods and publications.
But being an otaku isn't all about trailing store aisles. There are plenty of manga cafes, "manga kissa," where you can surf the internet, browse the manga library, and, of course have a coffee.
There are even manga kissa that are open around the clock, and where you can stay if you missed the last train home from Akihabara.
Then there are the kosupure ("cosplay", or "costume play") cafes where fantasies of various genres, cultures, and historical periods (and uniquely weird pastiches of them) are catered to by maids dressed in and sporting the appropriate attire and attitude.
The dainty helpings served by that maid in the frilly pinafore may still leave you peckish. Typical of anywhere in Japan that teens frequent, there is no shortage of crepe shops along main Chuo-dori street. For 300 to 500 yen you can take you pick from a crepe menu offering dessert-inspired crepes filled with the puddingy, creamy, and chocolatey, or even sturdy ham-and-cheese crepes that will leave you feeling like you just dined out.
Akihabara station also has a lot of Japanese and Western fast food spots serving raamen, yakitori, yakiniku, soba, hamburgers, etc.
The Tsukuba Express train connects Tokyo with the Tsukuba City, a "science city" in Ibaraki Prefecture north-east of Tokyo with numerous universities and museums. From Akihabara to Tsukuba takes just over 50 minutes and costs 1,150 yen one-way.
Hotels in Akihabara
Akihabara has ample accommodation facilities. The following is a representative cross-selection of the many hotels available in Akihabara.
Remm Akihabara Hotel is an attractive, new, medium-class hotel that, being virtually in the same building as Akihabara station, is the most central accommodation available in Akihabara.
Akihabara Washington Hotel is a 369-room hotel adjacent to Akihabara Station, also medium-class.
Hotel Livemax Akihabara is a tiny 17-room hotel for the budget traveler, about 200 meters east of Akihabara station.
Dormy Inn Akihabara Hotel is less than 1km north of Akihabara Station. Dormy Inn is stylish, comfortable, reasonably priced and well located.
Akihabara is accessible from Akihabara Station on the JR Yamanote Line, the JR Keihin-Tohoku line, the JR Sobu line, the Hibiya Subway line, and the Tsukuba Express line.
The Tsukuba Express line terminates in Akihabara, and links central Tokyo with Tsukuba City in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Yanagimori Shrine is a picturesque Shinto shrine across the Kanda River, just south of Akihabara Station.
by Sheila Cancino