Akihabara, or Akiba for short, is Tokyo’s Electrics Town, and, if you haven’t been to the city, it is almost definitely what you imagine when you think of Tokyo. We spent a day exploring, and here are my top tips on what you can see and do there.
We started the day with a jelly coffee, because why wouldn’t you? Well, I wouldn’t again, because I didn’t like it, but you might. It’s always good to try new things!
Our first stop was a huge building filled with arcade games. The ground floor was dedicated to grabber machines, which we failed to win anything from, but on another floor we found a Mario Kart game, which I amazingly came second at (I am notoriously bad at Mario Kart, so this was a delightful turn of events).
We also tried to get our heads around Pachinko, but the parlour we visited was so loud and so smokey that we quickly gave up. Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, so you win tokens or prizes from the Pachinko parlour, which you can then exchange for cash at a separate premises. Apparently this somehow makes it ok.
Yodobashi Akiba is a gigantic electronics shop, which also, and oddly, sells some beauty products. There was something for everyone in our group here – Ben took time to look at lenses for his camera, Paul started his search for a Tamagotchi, and Jamie and I poked around the beauty aisles. We also spent quite a long time in the massage chairs which were set up for demonstrations before we got on our way again. Side note: this is where you can buy a crazy Japanese toilet.
We also visited Gachapon Kaikan, a shop dedicated to vending machines selling all kinds of toys in capsules. I obviously had to try one and got a lucky cat. Upstairs was a cosplay shop, which was interesting, and another shop selling barbie-sized dolls, which was pretty seedy. None of these shops sold Tamagotchis, much to Paul’s dismay.
Before Akiba became the geek paradise it is today, it was the place to come for parts for home built computers, a wander through Akihabara Radio Center, located under the railway tracks, revealed this to still be the case. Despite the mountains of random small electronics on offer, there still weren’t any Tamagotchis.
Shopping and Arcades
Later in the day we popped into Super Potato Retro-kan, which as the name suggests, has a focus on retro video games. It’s a great way to relive a slice of your childhood for a couple of hours. You can buy old consoles and games, along with merchandise from years gone by (excluding Tamagotchis), and the top floor has an arcade for you to while away some time.
While walking around we were waylaid by a girl dressed as a maid. We’d wanted to try a maid cafe, and so we allowed ourselves to be led into Maidreamin, the strangest experience of our lives. I still feel a bit weird about it now.
I hadn’t really read up about the cafes before, so I was expecting something old fashioned with wenches or something. The reality was veeeery different. Filled with young women dressed in french maid costumes, it was decorated as if Hello Kitty had vomited all over a 50s diner.
The whole thing was very formulaic and we felt quite sold to throughout. There’s a cover charge when you come in (500 yen each – understandable I suppose, keeps the gawkers out), then there were formulas for certain food, which got you certain gifts. A magic candle came out to bless our food, and when we decided to only have drinks, it was whipped away again. That made me feel sad. I should have had the floating bear in a curry pool after all.
I was cheered up when our highballs were accompanied by a song which we had to help with, but then they came round and tried to sell us some souvenirs we didn’t want. When a middle aged man ordered a menu which included a dance, they tried to sell us some glow sticks. The dance included a song which we all had to join in with – there were set hand movements and maracas were provided. Given the language barriers, it was pretty shambolic. The man seemed happy enough and the maids loved it, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
Sadly you’re not allowed to take pictures in there, so you’ll just have to take my word for it, or even better, go and experience it for yourself!