Why Akihabara Is An Otaku Paradise
October 3rd, 2011
10:38 AM ET

Why Akihabara Is An Otaku Paradise

At some point in the career of every otaku - whether newly budding, coming into their own or full blown obsessee - a deliciously foreign sounding place comes into conversation.

In fact, I recall my own experience with this fabled word.

Sitting with a group of like-minded geeks, we talked about anime we had just seen for the first time (Vampire Princess Miyu! OMG!) and what we were hoping for from our favorite anime studios. And some kid piped up and said that there was a place in Japan that he dreamt of going to because it was the coolest place in the world for people who loved anime.

And that place was called Akihabara.

Also called Akihabara Electric Town or  shortened to Akiba by local Tokyoites, this shopping district is a favorite subject for photographers due to its vivid color palette. At night, the area becomes a neon wonderland. In fact, it has inspired many films and novels - Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" is set in a universe that very much resembles a post-apocalyptic Akiba.

This district sits a few steps away from the train station and is easy enough for tourists to find, as long as they know to ride the Yamanote line.

So, Akiba is eye-catching, and easy to find. But the main reason this shopping district is like mecca for an otaku with interests in anime, manga, electronics, video games, collectibles and more is because it has so much to offer that caters directly to those niches (or has rather, since about 1994.)

Not only are there plenty of shops that sell new items, but a little exploration can lead determined explorers to smaller retailers that sell used items as well. This means that you have a chance to find that very rare video game or that collectible figure that went out of print years ago, and likely at a very good price. That treasure hunting gene activates, and the hunt is on!

Of course, for some, it's not about the hunt.

Anime goods retailer Animate is a huge chain in Japan, boasting 38 stores, and  Akiba has one with many floors to explore. Within, the walls are papered with 2D characters from a multitude of popular shows, and you can purchase every type of goods you can possibly imagine related to the shows and characters that are big or have been in the past. They also have an online shop, but it doesn't hold a candle of the experience of being in the store itself, which is an sensory overload of epic proportions for any anime fan.

While most otaku will be wowed by the sheer quantity of goods available to them throughout Akiba, there is another heaven to cross the doors of if they have a love of videogames.

Located on a side street which requires a bit of searching to come aross, Super Potato is a retro gaming shop that boasts three floors and row after row of immaculately kept retro games and consoles. If you want to find a copy of that ultra rare Super Nintendo game that you've never been able to find in the states, in all likelihood you can find it here. Luckily, the experience of exploring the store has been documented by many news outlets, so if you can't make it there, at least you can scrutinize the pictures and imagine yourself in digital bliss.

Super Potato is far from the only game in town  - in fact, exploring the winding back streets of Akiba can result in great rewards.

"My favorite game store in Akihabara is Retro Game Camp, located in the main street of the area," says Guan van Zoggel, a writer and Japanese studies major at Leiden University.

"It differs with more popular stores, such as Super Potato, in that literally every nook and cranny is crammed with games. The Retro Game Camp store is relatively small and therefore messy, so it can be difficult to find a particular game. But isn't rummaging through a box of 16-bit games and discovering the game you've been looking for a game in itself?"

Akiba offers thrills outside the walls of its shops, too. Another frequent sight on the streets, especially on weekends, is young girls in maid costumes trying to interest customers in visiting the cafes they work for, which are called "maid cafes."

Considered a "cosplay restaurant," customers can order a variety of drinks and desserts and can pay extra to have their photo taken with the maid.

In recent years, "butler cafes" have also begun to pop-up as well, which work around the same concept but staff young, good looking boys instead. Both maids and butlers are fetishized in anime culture. These costumes are considered sexually attractive to some, and merely aesthetically pleasing to others.

For any visitor, a visit to the Akiba district can be a fantastic new adventure rich with never before seen sights and sounds. However, for an otaku, it's easy to see why the pleasures of Akiba could be compared to approaching the shining gates of a blissful heaven.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. John

    I was just there last week! I am an Otaku fan, and have to say that it is worth going to once in your life if you have ever been to an Anime Convention! It was very interesting to see all this anime surrounded by a business district. Some of your famous Graphic Card and Micro-Embedded Controller Companies have office sites in this area as well.
    The Arcades are like NONE OTHER, 8 stories high each one, with anything from the latest Online Multiplayer (Border patrol) type games with a joystick in the left hand and a mouse for the right, to Virtual Reality Gundam Fighter games!!!

    October 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  2. AS

    I was there November 2010 and I have to say I was expecting more than what I found. There where other areas in Tokyo with better stores and more charisma than this district by far. I blame the internet and how easy you can find everything you want online (Ebay) for some of the lost charm. I think if I went there in the early 90's it would had been a completely different experience. Now most, if not all, of the stuff I saw there I knew I could find online. I might have seen 2 girls dressed as maids and that was it. If you are into toys and collectibles, Hong Kong is the way to go.

    October 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  3. Honeychan

    I was in Akiba twice in 2001, and even 10 years ago it was starting to slide downhill. Yes, you could find rare otaku things in hole-in-the-wall shops, but you'd -pay- for it. Seeing all the Asian electronics the US would never get made us green with envy, too! We cosplayed at TGS, and had a BLAST. I shudder to think how much Akiba, no all of Japan's otaku scene must be now. I really dislike all the "moe" aspect, they have forsaken great storytelling for selling mass amounts of crap plastered with cute girls.

    October 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  4. KajinPL

    This quite an interesting read. *sigh* One day maybe.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  5. Evan

    It is the anime industry's catering to otaku types that has led to a huge drop in anime quality. All the great stuff that was coming out has decreased in favor of niche "moe" garbage.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  6. Conroy-VA

    Wow. When I die, can I be buried in Akiba?

    October 4, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  7. Hiro

    It's Shinto's shrine to schlock consumerism Japanese style. Basho probably couldn't even muster up the disgust to compose a sarcastic haiku about it.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  8. magnavox

    Nice read!

    I have been to Akihabara on several occasions,
    and upon each consequent visit, I felt like the place has lost some of its character.

    A friend and co-worker of mine is going this month, and I was worried that he may not find much left of it.
    So I find encouragement in your words, Colette, to see there is still life to this place.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  9. Ishmoo

    Wow, So far, there are only 5 of us "Otaku" types on CNN. Maybe i should be surprised that there are that many.

    October 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Jan

      I am astonished and gratified to find stories on anime from CNN. I have been an anime fan for many years. I usually don't bother to tell people about it as most have no idea what I'm talking about and usually think of anime as cartoons. (Hellsing is NOT a cartoon!!) I got my youngest daughter interested and now she attends cons and cosplays upon occasion. She has related to me the sad fact that most con attendees (in her experience) are very young and have rarely to never watched an anime, but are mainly gamers. I consider myself a geek, as I am an older female with a "weird" interest. I do not consider myself an otaku as I am quite aware of reality and really have no interest in cosplay and am not especially obsessive about anime. I am picky about the anime I watch (HATE DBZ). It seems to me that most true anime fans are quiet about it and don't regularly interact with each other. Of course, I live in the South, so that may well be a regional thing. I have never found another fan in my age group.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:05 am |
      • KajinPL

        Considering that DBZ is one of the first few anime I've watched I can't take anymore of it. lOl It has become like the "Star Wars" of the anime genre based on how many times it's been recycled and it's never-ending popularity.

        October 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
      • Flora

        WHAT?? How can you go to an anime con and NOT WATCH ANIME?! There's plenty of gaming cons, go to one of those! But I agree, the next generation of otaku are going to have to swim through a lot of moe-laden crud before they see anything truly good (not that I have anything against moe). And I've seen plenty of older otaku at cons here in the south, they just bring their kids and pretend they aren't the ones who are interested. 🙂

        October 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  10. sybaris

    USED to go there for great deals. It's a zoo now and not worth the effort if you don't live close.

    October 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  11. Bill Gibbons

    Akihabara has reinvented itself. I lived in Tokyo in the 80's and it was the place to go for all the latest in electronics – stereo sets, the brand new Compact Disc players, etc. The yen was 250 to the dollar so you not only got equipment that might not
    ever make it to the U.S. but you got it at a good price and tax-free. It was magical then as now but perhaps to a different audience.

    October 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  12. A

    Crowded and touristy. Go to Nakano Broadway instead.

    October 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  13. Richard

    Been there, and it's everything they say and more. Never saw so much anime, manga, and other merchandise in one place, and at such depth and variety.

    October 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm |