I’ve always know that Tokyo must have an area where the anime-crazed is king. I only found out the name of the place after Kirsten Dunst released a music video for Turning Japanese, directed by McG (of Charlie’s Angels fame) and with the collaborating of one of my favorite artists Takashi Murakami. The name of the place: Akihabara.
Akihabara is known for electronics stores. Into with photography stuff? Broke your phone? This is the place to find what you need. But this is also known as the home of the otaku, a particular sub-culture (or sub-cultures) of geekdom obsessed with anime, manga, maid cafes, cat cafes, and the like. For the hobbyist and avid collector of robots, toy cars, dolls, and what-have-you, it’s all here.
So what can you spend a few hours in Akihabara on?
- Go to a themed cafe or restaurant
Akihabara probably has the biggest concentration of these types of places in Tokyo. Girls in maid costumes handing out flyers are everywhere. There was even one guy dressed like a Final Fantasy character. If you’ve always wanted to try spending time surrounded by cats or owls, or being served drinks by a maid cosplayer, this is your chance. Just don’t harass the ones handing out flyers because they tend to not like having their picture taken. You may think you’re being discrete but as soon as they sense someone’s camera is out, they cover their faces with their menuboards.
Of all the themed cafes, we ended up at the Gundam Cafe. There used to be a life-sized Gundam right by the door, but they have since moved it inside. To be honest, it’s just a normal cafe with Gundam decor, but they’ve tried to be creative with the menu by naming food and drinks after stuff from the show. You can also have a Gundam fighter’s face on the froth of your coffee.
2. Try your luck at a UFO catcher
You’d be surprised at the kind of stuff you can get from a UFO catcher in Japan. If you’re lucky or skilled enough that is. Some stuffed toys are HUGE. You can also get pretty neat action figures and dolls, beach towels, fidget spinners, food, and fan merch. The selections are so amazing, you’d be tempted to try.
3. Get yourself a cosplay costume
Most anime cosplayers make their own costumes, and in Tokyo, there are places where you can rent something for the day. But if you want to get something to take home, there are a few shops that sell them. The most common of course are maid, nurse, and schoolgirl. There are also some costumes for guys. Tip: a store called Gee Store has quite the selection, but if you don’t mind going inside an adult store, the top floor of M’s has some costumes at the back (behind all the lingerie; this would be the roleplay section).
4. Play games
Every place that isn’t a UFO catcher place or a gachapon place is an arcade. Although more often that not, they would all be in one building. One of the most recognizable buildings in Akihabara is the Sega building after all. My favorite is Taito Station, and I can waste hours playing Taiko no Tatsujin (that Japanese drum game) and/or Mario Kart. There’s almost always a fighting game floor, a musical instruments floor, and (this is the first time I’ve seen it) an idol game floor, featuring games where you manage girl bands and it’s surprisingly played mostly by guys from what I saw.
5. Spend hours at Mandarake and geek out
Mandarake is a chain that sells used collectibles. Anime. Manga (including dojinshi or fan-made manga). Robots. Toy cars. Dolls. And other random geekery. If you’re into any of that, then you can spend hours here. Of course, all of these things are sold virtually everywhere in Akihabara, but if you have limited time, Mandarake is a one-stop shop.
6. Search for the gachapon of your dreams
These are literally everywhere in Akihabra. Everywhere. Gachapon or gacha, for short, is what’s known as capsule toys in English. Every character imaginable has a gacha. Japanese boy bands have gacha. Bread (a very weird Japanese quirk is bread merchandise) has gacha. Cats. Tourist sites. Literally everything. It feels like I looked at every single one in search of the one to buy (I had a limited budget for random crap). I finally got a Gundam gacha for my brother before the day was through. I know someone who hoarded A LOT of these things during her trip to Japan. It can be quite addicting.
If you’ve always been curious about the otaku culture of Japan, Akihabara is the most central place to get it. It’s just north of Tokyo Station, before you reach Ueno.
Akihabara is noisy, crowded, and chaotic. It’s also very very colorful. The neon lights of Ginza, Shinjuku and Shibuya have their appeal, and Akihabara’s neon lights have their own. It’s just as fascinating at night as the other places. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a passing MariCar tour or the “real-life Mario Kart” when we were there, which was very fitting.