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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 (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping] September 29, 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 (Harajuku) [Part I – Shrines, People, and Shopping]” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gb

Harajuku is a place where you can see almost everything Tokyo has to offer in a small compact area.  You will be able to see the old Japan, namely Meji Jingu, one of the quietest and biggest shrines in Tokyo.  You can also see almost every type of fashion that Japanese boys and girls love.  You have the goth lolitas, cheap and trendy, hip hop, and expensive and glamorous.  Harajuku was popularized in Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” album that was released in 2004.  This included four back up dancers of Japanese descent who dressed in a stylized Harajuku style.  While their style is far from what you’ll see in Harajuku itself, Harajuku’s fashion can easily be said to be the inspiration to the Harajuku Girls fashion.

If you head to Harajuku, I’d recommend going early and having a nice walk around Meiji Jingu.  It is a long walk from the station to the main temple, but it’s much better in the morning when it isn’t too hot.  The opposite can also be said about the temple in the winter time.  Going in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer might be better.  It’s best to avoid this temple in the rain.  I will write about Meiji Jingu in greater detail in a future post.

Most people who visit Harajuku go for one major reason.  They want to see all of the goth lolitas.  Several years ago, there were lots of people in Harajuku that dressed up in gothic style clothes, or even as lolitas.  It’s not uncommon to see people in maid outfits as well.  If you do a search for Japanese Punk, or Goth music, you can see a sampling of what some people wear in Harajuku.  By and far, the biggest name in Japanese Punk, although you could say glam rock or “visual-kei” is Gakt.  He is a very eccentric man who is a bit of a narcissist.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many people dressed up in Harajuku.  I’m guessing that the police have cracked down and forced them to find a new place to hang out.  They may have also been pushed out by the tourists and their inability to just enjoy themselves.  I would imagine that there are still many of them hanging about around 5pm on weekdays, and in the afternoons on the weekend.  You may even be lucky to find a few people with signs promoting “Free Hugs”.  This was a popular thing to do for these kids a few years ago, and a few people still do it.  Today, I tend to notice more foreign people dressed up as goth lolitas rather than Japanese people.  If you are still interested in looking for these people, the best place to see them is on a small bridge leading to Meiji Jingu.  If you don’t see many people, aside from the tourists, you came at the wrong time, or the wrong day.  Diligence is very important if you must see them.

The most famous street in Harajuku is Takeshita Street.  It’s located in front of the Takeshita Exit from the station.  This street is about 400 metres and closed to all traffic.  At all times of the day, this street is crowded.  On weekends, you’ll be lucky to move up or down the street without breathing down someone’s neck.  It’s a very hectic street that isn’t for the light hearted.  However, this is the centre of the teenage fashion in Harajuku.  You’ll be able to see everything from maid outfits, to S&M style clothing, and even some cosplay outfits.  One of the more famous things to do is to line up and buy a crepe.  Being the teen heaven that it is, crepes are the perfect date food, or just a nice desert with friends.  It’s far from the French version of crepes.  These crepes are a little heavier, rolled with lots of cream and stuffed with a few pieces of fruit.  You can also buy savoury crepes with ham, lettuce, or even cheese.  If teen fashion isn’t really your thing, but finding a good deal is, look north along Takeshita Street and somewhere along the middle of the street, you’ll find Togo Shrine.  This shrine, in and of itself, isn’t that important.  However, if you are there on first Sunday of the month, it’s worth a short visit to see the flea market.  It is famously known for selling antique furniture, but you can also find a lot of interesting old things that aren’t priced at flea market prices.  Do feel free to bargain, but don’t expect them to do too much.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (About Meiji Shrine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harajuku_Girls (Information about Harajuku Girls)

This is Part I of a II part series.  For more on Harajuku, continue reading 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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