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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.

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Tokyo – Kanda, Ochanomizu, Jimbocho January 18, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Kanda, Ochanomizu, Jimbocho” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xS

 

When looking on a map of Tokyo, it is common for people to see Ueno, Akihabara, Tokyo, Shinbashi along the Yamanote line.  It is often the places in between that are overlooked.  It’s unsurprising that this small area has been skipped, even by me, for many years.  It isn’t the most interesting place to visit, and for the average tourist, there isn’t much to bring them in.  For a resident and those looking for something new in the area, this is another secret of Tokyo that deserves a look.  To get your bearings, grab a map and look for Jimbocho, Kanda, and Ochanomizu.  Draw a circle with these stations as the outer border and you have the area that I will talk about.  It is bordered by Akihabara in the north-east, Tokyo in the south, and Kudanshita in the west.  It’s a quiet area with a few universities and secrets around every corner.

Personally, I find starting at Ochanomizu to be the easiest point.  It helps that the station is located at the top of a hill too.  If you head north of the station itself, you will find yourself quickly swallowed up by Akihabara.  The train tracks provide a “natural” barrier between Akihabara and the area I’d call Ochanomizu.  Along the south, you will see a very interesting mix.  Generally, most of the buildings are smaller due to the old height restrictions of the area.  In the past, buildings were not allowed to be built too tall or else they would encroach on the Imperial Palace.  All buildings were forbidden to have views into the inner palace grounds.  This was changed in recent times as evidenced in Marunouchi these days.  Ochanomizu is on a hill that overlooks the Imperial Palace, so many of the buildings near the station, especially the old ones, are somewhat shorter.  This allows a little more light into the area compared to some areas of Tokyo.  A little south of the station stands the Holy Resurrection Cathedral.  It is a Russian Orthodox Church that was originally built in 1891 and restored after a massive earthquake in the 1920s.  The exterior is not as magnificent as a renaissance church, but it is still nice.  I hear that the inside is also interesting, but for 300 yen to enter, I wasn’t about to pay for a church when I’m in Tokyo.

If you head down the hill, you quickly reach Awajicho.  It’s a small nearly no name station, but it’s a good reference to find your bearings.  Around this station, on the main street, you will find the centre of sports goods in Tokyo.  Between Awajicho and Jimbocho, you will find dozens of different sporting goods shops.  Many are large, but most are small.  The specialty has to be skiing and snowboarding, with golfing being the second biggest.  You will find shops dedicated to skateboarding, and a few to running, but those tend to be far and few between.  If you are searching for a new pair of skiis, a new snowboard, or some new golf clubs, this is the place to be.  If you are looking for a cheap deal, you are probably not going to find it though.  While this is a place for sports goods, you are unlikely to find the best deals in the world, but to do your shopping in one specific place, this is the easiest place.

If you continue along towards Jimbocho, you will reach an area called Kanda Jimbocho, which is the old book shop capital of Tokyo.  It’s the place to be if you are looking for rare Japanese books, or first editions.  It’s a nice place to take an afternoon stroll and you will see the various scrolls and relatively unbound books.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many foreign books, so unless you are looking for Japanese books, you probably won’t be able to buy much.  For the foreign resident, this area can yield some cheap English books if you are willing to look around.  You can easily get a sense of the amount of literature in the area by the sheer number of book stores in the area.  If you are looking for magazines, you are unlikely to find it, and if you are looking for modern books, you may not find it either.  It’s definitely a place to enjoy history.  If you return towards Ochanomizu, you will also find a small area called the music instrument capital of Tokyo.  It’s a small area where you can get any musical instrument you can imagine, and I’m sure you can also get it tuned if you want.  These are all generally small shops, so the service can be spotty for foreigners without a firm grasp of Japanese.

Finally, you can head over towards Kanda station itself.  Kanda station is a small, yet very busy station.  It is here where you can find all of the small shops to eat.  It’s a typical business area where you can see various Pachinko parlors and small yakiniku shops.  It probably gets very noisy on Friday nights with various businessmen joining for a few too many drinks at the station before going home.  In the afternoon, you might be lucky to find a few coffee shops, but if you are looking for a cheap meal, you can probably find one here, compared to Otemachi in the south.  The main clientele of the area are the ordinary businessmen, so you can expect all of the shops to be geared towards these people.  Don’t expect high class in the area, but as in any other area of Tokyo, you will definitely find something high class in the area.

This region is an area that is not often in guidebooks, and there is a reason for it.  It’s a wonderful place for a stroll, and there are many places to do your shopping if you are interested in any of the main types of goods that are sold.  In my research, I have read that some of the shops may be unfriendly to foreigners, but this is probably due to the language barrier and their laziness to try to make a sale.  They more than likely cater to their core customers as any small shop would.  Trying to sell one item to a foreigner versus 50 items to a regular customer, it’s easy to see who would get more attention.  It is unfortunate, but that’s how many businesses in the world operate.  If you want to spend your money on any of the things mentioned, there are far friendlier areas to get them, and they are usually more convenient too.  The differences in prices won’t be huge either, and when you factor in the cost of transport, it can be the same price.  If anything, if you have some extra time in Tokyo, by all means, take a nice afternoon stroll from Ochanomizu to Tokyo station.  You’ll enjoy the beautiful diversity of the area, if you are careful enough to look for it.

Information:

Holy Resurrection Cathedral:

Japan Atlas:  http://web-japan.org/atlas/architecture/arc07.html

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Resurrection_Cathedral

Official Site (English):  http://www.geocities.jp/ynicojp2/english/index.html

Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.geocities.jp/ynicojp2/index.html

Area Information:

Wapedia:  http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/kanda.shtml
Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanda,_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。

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