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Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric) April 27, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nb

Akihabara is an area that is being transformed from a small centre with hundreds of small or tiny shops into a place that has tall buildings with large corporations controlling the area.  While it is true that things are changing, you can still see some of the craziness and the strangeness of this area if you know where to look.

For those wanting to see anime, anime figures, manga, and toys, heading to the northern area, near Suehirocho Station is your best bet.  There are several shops in the area that sell these goods.  There are also several located throughout the Akihabara area.  The most famous style of shop is the “glass” shop.  This shop can range in size.  It can be as small as a single room, to one occupying an entire building.  When you enter the shop, you will be met with various glass boxes.  Inside each box, there are various figures on display.  You can buy anything that is located within theses boxes, unless they are for display only.  The key is to find out which box the stuff you want is in, and ask one of the staff to help you.  The interesting part of this is that while you might think of this as a stand alone shop, it isn’t.  Each glass box is usually a different shop.  Many people will rent out one of the boxes to either display their goods, or to sell their goods.  It can range from internet companies needing a physical location for some of their items, to regular people wanting to make a few bucks with the stuff they have collected over the years.  It is a very different concept to the traditional shop that is common in almost every other area of the world.

Another thing to look for in Akihabara is the vending machines.  Due to the nature of the area, vending machines are very prevalent.  In every corner, on every street, you will be able to find a vending machine.  While this is also true of most areas of Tokyo, it is special in Akihabara.  They specialize in unique vending machines.  The standard machines that sell drinks of all types are, of course, common, but they also have machines that sell food.  You can buy hot noodles in a can.  These can be very popular, and it even comes with its own plastic fork.  You could also purchase Oden, which is various vegetables in a broth.  I would liken it to a stew, but it’s very different in taste.  Oden is typically found in convenience stores, but there are restaurants that specialize in it as well.  Meat is not typically found, aside from sausages.  While less common, spaghetti can be found, and it is very possible to find anime drinks.  These tend to be your average drink, but with an anime character on the cover.  Do be aware that prices can be jacked up, depending on where you are and what you buy.

Maids are an Akihabara specialty.  When you exit the station on the east side, and all along Chuo-dori, you are more than likely to run into several maids, especially on the weekend.  If you venture to the east side of Chuo-dori, you will find a lot of different maids looking to take you to their shop.  This is a relatively recent trend that has changed since I first visited.  When I first came, maid cafes were starting to become very popular.  You would see various Japanese women, sometimes European as well, dressed in a French style maid outfit.  They would almost cry to get you into their café.  It was all part of their act.  Today, you can find the strangest fetishes regarding maids.  The typical maid café charges a sitting fee on top of a mandatory drink.  One drink is usually good for about 1 hour.  This may change depending on the café.  You are then treated to a dose of acting from all of the maids in the café.  They tend to talk to you as if you are their master, at all times.  They act very cutesy and they play games with you.  Sometimes, there is a stage where they will play games with the entire café.  If you want to have a picture with one of the maids, or play a private game at your table, you will have to pay extra.  You can even buy one of the maid outfits if you really wanted to.  The man target for this is the men, not the women.  Today, they have added a plethora of different theme cafes.  This can range from a maid café where men dress as maids, but it’s relatively the same thing.  You can also see cafes where the girls are dressed more like a school girl, or even a moody school girl that will treat you like dirt, but cry and apologize when you leave.  I have seen various maid style cafes on TV, but I have never personally been to one.  I have seen their prices and can’t imagine entering one based on the prices.  If you really want to check it out, go ahead, but be sure you know how much it costs.  It could be as much as 4000 Yen for just one hour.  The safest place to visit a maid café might be on top of Don Quijote.

When I first came to Japan, Akihabara was only half as busy, but twice as strange.  In the last few years, the Mayor of Taito-ku, the name of the district Akihabara lies in, decided to clamp down on the strange people.  Several new buildings have popped up to act as an IT hub for Tokyo, and the police have done everything in their power to stop any performance that is done on the street.  While there is a good reason for this, they have decided that Akihabara’s original character of craziness has to go, and that it’s better to be a boring town like every other district of Tokyo.  On the weekends, you might be able to see a couple of “crazy” performers.  They tend to be men, and they tend to dress up as female anime characters.  Nowadays, they probably just walk around.  If they stop, the police will probably talk to them.  If they play loud music, the police will move them along.  If they dance to the music, the police will arrest them.  While this may seem strange and a little heavy handed, there is a main reason to this.  In the last couple years, some girls began to dress as maids, or other characters with a very short skirt; stand on a railing, and let people take pictures of them.  In essence, they let dirty men take photos up their skirts.  Thankfully, this has pretty much stopped, but the days when a tourist could walk along Chuo-dori, see someone dancing, take pictures, and say Tokyo is strange is long gone.  If you came to Akihabara looking for cheap electronics and hundreds of little shops, you will be disappointed.  If you came looking for a cool subculture, you will find something, but probably not exactly what you were looking for.  Either way, I still recommend visiting Akihabara.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Civilized and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Civilized) April 20, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:   Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Civilized)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-n9

Akihabara Electric Town is a well known tourist spot in Tokyo.  Its claim to fame would have to be the electronics shops, comic book shops, and video game shops.  The area is best understood when you look at the station itself.  There are two major train lines that form a cross.  This is the starting point for almost every visitor to Akihabara.  Looking at the map, you can see that most of the shops are located to the north-west of the station.  The south-west corner is still a good place to visit, and the east has recently grown in popularity.  The main street, Chuo-dori, is sometimes closed to allow people to walk freely, and to reduce crowding, but due to an attack that killed several people, this may not be happening anymore.  Thankfully, this area is still relatively safe.  There is no need to really worry about getting injured or having your money stolen, but as with any place in the world, just be careful.

The east side of the station has only one point of interest, Yodobashi Camera.  This is a large electronics retailer that opened in 2005.  It is their largest single building shop with 7 floors of electronics goodness.  There is also a restaurant floor and a golf centre with its own driving range on top of the main electronics floors.  It is very easy to spend a full day in this shop, hence the caveat to be aware of time.  The main floor comprises mostly of mobile goods, such as mobile phones and netbooks.  For most people, heading up is your best bet.  If there is anything you ever wanted, this is the place to go.  They can do duty free for many items, but be aware, that as with most shops, you usually have to spend over 10,000 Yen in order to get a reduction in taxes.  People must also be aware that almost all products sold will be geared towards Japanese people.  Finding goods with English menus will be difficult, if not impossible for many items.  Warranties are also limited to Japan, but this shouldn’t discourage you from purchasing something.  You can always find good things here.  For those looking for a great deal on a new camera, or PC parts, you may be in for a sad surprise.  Prices are not cheaper here.  Yodobashi is a major electronics retailer, so they do not always provide the cheapest prices, and you can always visit one of the other branches or even the other shops to get a comparable price.

On the west side of the station, you will find the true heart of Akihabara.  This is where the original Electric Town was located.  Unfortunately, due to the arrival of Yodobashi Camera, things have changed.  Many, if not all, of the small shops that used to occupy the central Electric Town has left.  Under the railway tracks, the ones that head east and west have almost all left.  The area is also undergoing renovations to “modernize” the area and bring about a cleaner feel.  When I first arrived in Japan, I was able to walk through the tight cramped corridors under the station and buy almost any piece of electronic hardware I wanted.  Switches, lights, cables, batteries and anything that used a battery was sold.  The prices weren’t extremely cheap, but very reasonable.  You could walk into the area, spend 20 minutes shopping, and have everything you needed to build your own radio or more if you had the talent.  Today, we can only see shops such as Laox and Ishimaru.  They are the last famous electronics shops in the area.  If you do go to Akihabara, you can usually skip both Laox and Ishimaru as they generally have the same electronics.  However, if you enjoy manga and anime, these shops do have various character goods for sale.  You can also head to Radio Kaikan which is the main centre for anime goods.  All of these shops are located between the station and Chuo-dori.

The area located between Chuo-dori and Akihabara Station is a very safe place for tourists.  You don’t have to worry too much about speaking Japanese, and the staff is generally friendly.  As you head farther away from the station, further east and further north, you will find the shops will speak less and less English.  The area bounded by Chuo-dori, the JR tracks, and Suehirocho Station in the north, is a very interesting area where you can somewhat experience the old style of Akihabara.  The area near the JR tracks still has a foreigner friendly feel, but one block north will present you with shops that can sell almost anything.  If you are looking for PC parts, this is the area for you.  You can see all of the various peripherals that you could imagine, but do be aware that many of them can also be found around the world.  Then, you have Mandrake.  This is a big black building that can be easy to find if you know where to look.  It’s the only big black building in the area.  This is similar to the same shop that is located in Nakano.  They specialize in the second hand trade of anime and game goods.  You can find various old video games, anime characters, videos, and costumes.  It can be a little scary if you venture into the wrong floor.

With all of this information, you could spend an entire day shopping in Akihabara.  It’s a nice place, but everything mentioned so far is quite tame.  In my next post, I will talk about the eccentricities of Akihabara and a little about the changes that have been happening over the last few years.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Eccentric and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Nippori) December 22, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Nippori)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-iQ

Nippori is an overlooked area of Tokyo.  Most people who do venture to this area will more than likely pass straight through it.  It can be considered a focal gateway to Saitama, a residential city to the north of Tokyo.  There really isn’t much for the regular tourist, but there area a couple of interesting things to see and do that could warrant a visit.  The first would be the Fabric Town, and the other would be the Yanaka Cemetery.  The other main reason to visit Nippori is to head to Narita Airport.  It’s a popular transfer point for those on the west side of Tokyo who want to save some money by taking the Keisei Skyliner instead of the Narita Express.

The first thing to do in Nippori, would depend on your purpose.  If you want to see the cemetery, I’d recommend heading there first.  It’s a large area with a long history.  If you head to the southern exit, you will be near the central entrance of the cemetery.  From here, it’s a short walk up the hill to reach Tennoji Temple.  This is a nice little temple with a seated Buddha inside.  It’s actually a bit of a surprise as the outside appears somewhat modern and inside is a quaint little Buddhist Temple.  It’s a nice place to go and relax for a few minutes, but the temple itself is pretty small.  From there, you can head straight into the centre of the cemetery.  The entire cemetery is lined with cherry trees.  It is very beautiful in the spring as the entire area is bathed in pink from the cherry blossoms.  In the autumn, it’s the same, but with colourful leaves.  Yanaka Cemetery is also one of the most famous cemeteries in Japan with various writers, poets, politicians, and scholars.

Fabric town is located on the opposite side of Nippori Station.  It’s a short walk from the station, and a little difficult to find.  Look around the main entrance of the station, where all the taxis park, and you’ll find a few signs pointing you in the general direction.  You have to walk past a major street before you enter Fabric Town.  While it is called Fabric Town, it’s more or less of a street.  There are very few shops located off the street that sell fabric, so don’t worry about venturing off the main street.  Here, if you love to buy fabric of any type, this is the place to be.  You can find various patterns, colours, thread, accessories, and so on.  The fabric can come in silk, polyester, cotton, and even leather.  If you love arts and crafts, enjoy sewing, or just looking for a good costume idea, this is a great place to get started.  Metres of fabric can start at 100 yen each.  Often, there are spools of fabric just sitting in bins in front of each shop inviting you to enter.  Once inside, you’ll have to decide what you want, how much you are willing to spend, and how to bring it home.  Husbands beware, if your wife loves sewing and crafts, you might want to drop her off and head over to Ueno for a little shopping, or even Akihabara to look at more electronics.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to see or do around the station.  There are a few shops to visit, some izakayas and restaurants, but other than that, it’s a pretty boring place.  The only interesting shop would be the Edwin store.  They have a large shop located in front of the station where you can buy all of their latest jeans.  Edwin is a Japanese jean maker whose headquarters are located at the end of Fabric Town.  It is akin to Evisu jeans, although Edwin is not as big, nor as popular as Evisu.  Either way, happy shopping.

Nippori Information:

Nippori (An article about an area that I barely visited in Nippori): http://www.nihonsun.com/2009/06/01/nippori-shopping-street-a-shotengai-worth-a-visit/
Nippori:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippori_Station
Yanaka Cemetery:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanaka_Cemetery
Fabric Town Blog Post:  http://www.askingfortrouble.org/crafts/2007/11/02/tokyo-shopping-guide-tomato/
Edwin Jeans:  http://www.edwin.co.jp/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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