|Akihabara: The City of Otaku|
Akihabara: The City of Otaku
Where would you most like to go if you went on a trip to Japan? As a Japanese person, I had thought that most people who want to visit Japan would be interested in the traditional city of Kyoto. But I was wrong. According to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Tokyo records the biggest number of overseas tourists of all prefectures in Japan. I suppose in a way it's not surprising that Tokyo is the most attractive place for tourists; it is, after all, the capital of Japan. So then question is what do people want to see in Tokyo? Well, there is one particular part of Tokyo that has seen tourist numbers triple in the past five years: Akihabara, located in the heart of the city.
Metamorphosing from the City of Electronics to the City of Otaku
Akihabara is now known as 'The City of Otaku', not only by the Japanese but amongst foreigners too. The city, however, used to be known in Japan as 'The City of Electronics'. It still has an aspect of electronics even now. One of the most striking things about the area when you first get off the train at Akihabara are the huge electronics department stores and countless small shops that line the streets. People come from outside of Tokyo to buy electronics because they can usually buy them cheaper than where they live. And it's probably no exaggeration to say that if you can't the electronics item that you want in Akihabara, you won't find it anywhere else.
Nowadays, a lot of people who love (some are even addicted to) anime, manga and games also flood Akihabara to get hold of their favourite stuff. With the appearance of video games in the late 1980s, many stores switched their primary business from electronics to games. Additionally, the spread of computers and the internet increased the number of fans of anime, manga and games, and this prompted stores to respond to growing demand. As a result, people now perceive Akihabara as the city to go for products related to anime, manga and games, even thought there are still many stores that specialise in electronics.
So why did Akihabara become so attractive those who love anime, manga and games? That’s because it’s a place for 'Otaku'. The word 'Otaku' originally meant 'geek' or 'someone addicted to something'; it doesn't have to anime, manga or games. If you are a big fan of music, for example, you could be called a music otaku - and electronics geeks are otaku, too. Akihabara used to be known as the place where you could buy any electronics you might want, as well as electronic parts and components only used - or required - by electronics otaku. So Akihabara has always been known as a city filled with stores selling very specific products. In the 2000s, the number of people into anime, manga and games increased significantly in Japan,and these people started coming to the so-called ‘City of Otaku’ to get their hands on maniac goods related to their favourite brand or character. This is what let the media to start introducing Akihabara as a city popular with fans of anime, manga and games. And it’s why Akihabara is perceived today as a Mecca for otaku people into anime, manga and games.
What to See
I think maybe you will be more interested in what you can do in Akihabara than the history of the city. So I'd like to recommend some places you should check out when you make it to Akihabara.
One of the things people associate Akihabara with is the maid cafe phenomenon. What makes them different from other cafes? Well, you will enjoy great hospitality from the many 'maids' working in the cafe. In Japan, you may feel you are treated to excellent hospitality in restaurants, hotels and even in the airplane on the way there. But a maid cafe is a whole new experience. When you get in to the cafe, the maids will welcome you and say "Okaerinasaimase, Goshujinsama!"(Welcome home, my master!) as if you are entering your own home.
You can play games with the maids and take photos with them (although this sometimes costs money). And when you leave the cafe, the maids will see you off,saying "Itterasshaimase, Goshujinsama!" (Have a nice day, my master!)
What about some fun for the girls? Don’t worry ladies, you can go to a shitsuji cafe (Butler Cafe),where butlers (hopefully a bit younger than your stereotypical upstairs-downstairs butler) welcome you with great hospitality as if you are a princess. There's even a shitsuji cafe which has butlers from many countries like England, Germany and France. So even if you’re not a Japanese speaker, you could enjoy a chat with the butlers; that probably won’t happen in most maid or shitsuji cafes unless you can speak some Japanese.
Akihabara is still a huge city of electronics even though now it's perceived as the city of anime, manga and games. You can get lost quite easily in the maze of electronics stores when you try to go there. You'll find many huge department stores which sell only electronics, even through just one alone probably sells everything you need, one hundred times over. Since many non-Japanese have been visiting Akihabara recently, they've normally got staff who can speak English, Chinese, Korean and some other languages. If you are a fan of Japanese electronics, you could buy them much cheaper than in your own country and get a tax refund, too.
Walking along streets, you will find many small stores which sell various kind of electronics. They sell junk, security equipment, computer components and anything and everything associated with electronics.
You’ll find every kind of anime, manga and games in Akihabara but unfortunately they are all in Japanese. You could, however, enjoy looking around the shops to find your favourite toys or clothes. If you like figures of anime, manga and games characters, this town could be heaven on earth for you. You'll be able to buy all figures you want in Akihabara, and what’s more they'll be much cheaper than in your own country. I can absolutely guarantee you will be able to find figures of your favourite characters.
You'll also find many shops selling cosplay clothes and can get well-made cosplay clothes of your favourite character. If you are a cosplayer who enjoys making cosplay clothes by yourself, you could just learn by looking at the clothes made by professionals and trying them on for inspiration for your own cosplay clothes.
If you get hungry, you could have ramen, a kind of Japanese noodle which has its origins in China. Akihabara is also a city where many ramen restaurants gather and compete with each other to serve the ultimate ramen, to the extent that this city may also be the best place to come if you're a ramen otaku. My recommendation is Tsuke-men, a kind of ramen where the noodles are separated from soup. There are quite a lot of ramen restaurants in Akihabara and each one has a different and distinct taste. So it may be interesting to go on a bit of a ramen quest to find your favourite. Ramen aren’t too expensive either, so you’ll have more money left to spend on whatever your otaku obsession is.
Support for Non-Japanese Tourists
The electronics department stores will have English speakers available to help you, and you will find many websites of maid cafes and hobby stores that are translated into English. This means you can check the menu of the maid cafe on the website before you go.
In the Akihabara tourist information centre, staff dressed as maids will be able to give you an English map which tells you the locations of transportation, the police, and public toilets, as well as maid cafes, hobby stores and other places you would like to go.
Akihabara is one of the cities you can't miss when you visit Japan. I recommend you to make enough space in your suitcase so that you won't have trouble with packing when you buy more stuff than you expected.
Since joining HYPER JAPAN as a staff member, Wataru has been writing and editing for the HYPER JAPAN website, in his main areas of interest, anime and manga, to play his part in seeing Japanese pop culture become more accessible and better loved in the UK.