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Tokyo – Akihabara (Redux) March 20, 2012

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 (Redux)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Na

I have previously written about Akihabara and focused a lot on what is available in the area.  2 years ago, I moved to Kinshicho which is just a few stations away from Akihabara.  I have had a chance to learn more and more about Akihabara as well as understand the area in a different light.  In the past 2 years since my original post about Akihabara many things have changed, yet many things have remained the same.  It is still a mecca for geeks and electronics lovers everywhere and it continues to evolve with time.

Akihabara will always be a mecca for geeks, even though the current mayor of the district is trying to push them out.  There are several new large buildings that focus more on businesses, but a lot of the side streets are still filled with great little shops to “get your geek on”.  A lot of the really old shops that added character to Akihabara have closed down and new larger versions have recently popped up.  While the character of Akihabara is modernizing, it is modernizing in a good way for tourists now.  A lot of the new buildings are occupied by various larger model and anime shops.  The older buildings were a bit of a hazard due to their age and lack of upkeep which created a dingy look.  While the gentrification of Akihabara is continuing, in my opinion, the original culture is trying to fight on.  While many of the porn shops and shady cafes are gone, many of the original electronics and shops are consolidating into larger outlets.  Some of the large buildings with dozens of micro shops are rebuilding in smaller and taller buildings.  The variety of stores appears to be improving a bit and tourist friendly big box retailers are moving in slowly.  Like the stories in many manga or anime, the geeks may have been knocked down but they still try to maintain their own culture within Akihabara.

Akihabara is quickly becoming known for AKB48.  AKB48 is a huge all girl pop idol group that was born in 2005.  The founder of AKB48 wanted to create “an idol you can meet” situation when he created AKB48.  AKB48 stands for AKihaBara 48.  Originally, he envisioned 48 girls in the group.  At times, there were less than 48 but due to the popularity of the group it now stands at over 50.  The group has become so popular that they spawned sister groups across Japan as well as one group in Indonesia and another one being developed in Taiwan.  AKB48 is also one of the most recognized and top selling groups in Japan.  The group started off very humbly and in the past 3 years have exploded beyond their imaginations.  They are seen on TV at almost all hours of the day.  The most popular girls are on primetime TV while the B and C list tend to dominate late night TV with cutesy programs.  They tend to promote the fact that they are young, and at ages ranging from 13 to 29, they play the part very well.  In the beginning, many thought of the group as a type of soft kiddie porn due to the way they dance and dress.  Today, they are now part of Japanese pop culture and integral in how Japan is viewed from outside.  It is unlikely that they will go away soon and they will continue to expand.  From what started out as a single theatre has now grown to include a new venue where you can eat at their cafe, see their museum, buy fan items, and watch past concerts in a new small theatre.

Themes are a new trend in Akihabara.  A Gundam Cafe had opened since my last post about Akihabara.  It is a very popular cafe where fanatics of Gundam can enjoy a Gundam themed coffee.  In fact, all of the food and drinks come with a Gundam theme.  The cutlery, dishes, and even tables have Gundam themes.  When entering the washroom, you will be greeted by the most famous Gundam of all.  You don’t have to wait in line to enjoy the food as you can purchase some items at the store.  The store itself is pretty small with only a few, yet exclusive, items for sale.  While the Gundam Cafe itself is pretty popular, there are other theme attractions in Akihabara.  I mentioned that maid cafes are popular, and they continue to be so.  Maid cafes come in all shapes and sizes with various costumes.  If you aren’t happy with the French maid, or the Japanese style maid, you can always go to one where the girls dress in other costumes.  They are harder to find and just as expensive as a normal maid cafe but they tend to be very popular.

An often overlooked area of Akihabara, even by me, is the Kanda Myojin.  It is a very important shrine in Tokyo.  It is one of the 10 most important shrines in Tokyo.  They were selected by a past emperor of Japan and it is considered a small pilgrimage to visit all 10.  Kanda Myojin is one of the ten but it is a little off the beaten path.  It is located roughly an equal distance from Akihabara Station and Ochanomizu Station.  It is a little easier to reach from Akihabara but you must pass through a small residential and business district.  Most of Akihabara is centred on Chuo-dori and Kanda Myojin is about 5 minutes from Chuo-dori.  It is also easy to be lost on the way to Kanda Myojin but once you are there, you are rewarded with one of the nicer gems of the city.  Kanda Myojin is actually more well-known among locals as being a popular place for weddings.  It is a little expensive but compared to Meiji Jingu, nowhere near as expensive.  There are a few various sculptures in the area and it is worth a visit if you are living in Tokyo, but in reality, if you are pressed for time, don’t bother with it.  Just enjoy yourself in Akihabara and think about doing a pilgrimage in the future.

Akihabara continues to evolve with the atmosphere has changed only a little in the past 2 years.  It will take a lot more time to know whether or not the area will completely lose the atmosphere that once inhabited the area.  It is not the same as before but it isn’t completely different either.  You can still find almost everything you can imagine and the area is upgrading the buildings slowly.  The old run down stores that looked like they would crumble in a serious earthquake are, for the most part, gone.  They have been replaced by several new buildings that have been repopulated by shops that are similar to the original shops in the area.  It definitely feels cleaner but at the same time, some of the character of the old dingy shops is gone.  In fact, some of the small shops have probably closed for good due to the economy and the changes in Akihabara.  I doubt all of them will go away but I feel that things can never return to the technological and otaku heave it once was.

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

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 (Ginza – Part II) March 24, 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 (Ginza – Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8a

Exploring the North-East section of Ginza is probably the better area in terms of shopping for high end goods, but for reasonably price goods, the South-West area is better.  The South area is filled with reasonably priced bars and restaurants, but they may not always be friendly to foreigners.  To experience the standing bar experience, many foreign people go to the 300 bar.  It’s a nice place, but very smoky and a minimum 2 drink buy.  I tend to avoid it, but when friends really want to go, I don’t always have a choice.  This area also has a few karaoke bars to have a little fun.  On Chuo-dori, you can head to Matsuzakaya which is a department store that caters to older women.  You will also run into Zara and the first H&M store in Japan.  You can also check out the “Lion” pub.  They have two locations on this side of Chuo-dori.  It’s a nice place that gives you a “European” feel, but to be honest, it isn’t worth it on a holiday, but if you want to go, it’s very popular for Japanese people.

The West area continues to Ginza tradition of expensive shops.  You will find many good, but expensive restaurants in this area.  Along Chuo-dori, the most notable shop is Uniqlo.  It’s a famous Japanese brand that promotes a simple, no brand style.  The clothes are very cheap and generally of good quality.  This shop also has a few Ginza exclusives to attract more people into the shop.  There are also a few specialty shops selling traditional Japanese items.  Along Harumi-dori, you will see Giorgio Armani and the Sony Building.  The Sony Building is very popular for tourists.  You will be able to see the latest gadgets that Sony has to offer.  They do sell most of the products and a few overseas models, but it’s just a fun place to play with all the cool toys.  Sometimes they even offer special exhibitions for art.  The basement has various goods within Plaza.  Plaza is Sony’s own convenience store that sells many foreign goods.  If you are also looking for cheap food in Ginza, going across the street to the Mosaic building, you’ll find reasonably price restaurants in the basement.

While Ginza is a wonderful place to look and shop, due to the price of the products, it’s more of a tourist area and for people with money.  If you continue south-west, you’ll reach Shinbashi, which has many cheap places to eat and drink.  Going north, you’ll reach Yurakucho, which offers cheaper shopping and a few electronic shops.  Due to the increase of tourists in the area, I am noticing less people heading to Ginza for shopping, but if you are out to see people, it’s a great way to see the stylish side of Tokyo.

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 (Ginza – Part I) March 17, 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 (Ginza – Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-88

Continuing on my Tokyo series, here, I’ll talk about the very famous district of Ginza.  Ginza is famous for being an upscale shopping district in Japan.  It’s is always compared to 5th Avenue in New York, Oxford Street in London, and Champs Elysees in Paris.  The shopping is top notch with the biggest name brands located within this small area.  To give you an idea, you can walk the perimeter of Ginza in about two hours.  Ginza is bounded by an elevated highway, which makes it easy to know when you leave Ginza.  While the south-east border has an underground highway, it’s still easy to tell the border as there is a huge street to cross.  The heart of Ginza has to be 4-chome (yon-chome).  Whenever you see pictures of Ginza, you are probably seeing 4-chome, or a picture very close to it.  Taking the train to Ginza is also relatively easy.  Finding 4-chome is also easy, but you can easily get lost at the same time.  Thankfully, there are several maps in the underground area of the station, but once you find it, it’s easy to explore Ginza.

4-chome, as I said is the most famous intersection in Ginza.  Running north-east to south-west is Chuo-dori.  It’s the main strip for Ginza.  On weekends and national holidays, the street is usually closed to traffic to allow pedestrians a wide space to enjoy their shopping.  Many local merchants also set out tables and chairs so you can have a nice rest in the sun, if it’s sunny.  Running north-west to south-east is Harumi-dori.  It’s a very busy street with relatively fewer things to see, but still a good destination.

On the North corner of 4-chome is the department store Wako.  It’s famous for its high prices and extreme luxury.  It’s a nice place to take a quick look at things you could never afford, unless you are very rich.  For something reasonable, exploring into the North, you’ll find Printemps which is a popular department store for younger women.  The entire North side of 4-chome is full of expensive luxury shops that have both no name shops and brand name shops.  It’s a wonderful area to just walk around and explore the many different shops.  There are also several mid range to expensive restaurants in the area.  Notable shops include Gucci and Emilio Pucci on Harumi-dori, and Kimuraya (bread shop), Chanel, Cartier and Apple.

The East side of Ginza 4-chome is probably the most popular, in terms of shopping.  On the corner, you have the Mitsukoshi department store.  Next door, you have the Matsuya Ginza department store.  Both are relatively the same, in terms of what they offer.  They both have large underground food shops where you can buy a lot of delicious Japanese and foreign foods.  It’s a must see for most people.  Behind Matsuya Ginza, you’ll also find the first Starbucks in Japan.  It’s a relatively small building, but the coffee is cheap for the Ginza area.  If you continue past Matsuya, you will run into Bvlgari, Tiffany & Co., and a large stationary shop called Itoya.  You can find almost any type of pen, pencil, or even painting accessories.  It’s a must see if you like stationary.  Travelling south-east into Higashi Ginza (East Ginza), you’ll reach the Kabukiza.  It’s a famous kabuki theatre.  Kabuki is an old style of theatre that is akin to the old Shakespearean theatre of England.  It’s an all male cast and tickets for the upper deck are relatively cheap.  You can even rent headsets that will give you information as to what is happening.  I hear it’s a wonderful place to visit on a lazy afternoon, but if you don’t have the time, it’s probably nothing you’ll cry about.

This is the end of Part I of this two part series. The second part is available at PART II.

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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