One good thing about Akihabara is that most of the shops are concentrated in a relatively small area west of the station and even the farthest ones can be reached on foot in 5–10 minutes. Chuo-dori (the main avenue) is home to many of the bigger stores. You can use it as your main reference point and branch off to the backstreets on either side in order to explore the smaller, niche shops. Be prepared for a tremendous visual and aural overload, with garishly colored giant billboards, neon lights and loud music assaulting you from every direction.
TRADING CARD GAMES
Trading card games (TCG) (also called collectible card games) are big in Japan and their popularity goes well beyond the usual world-famous titles (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic: The Gathering, etc.) to include many anime-based games. The main TCG-selling chains (Yellow Submarine, Amenity Dream, and Big Magic) have many branches around Tokyo and are pretty similar. They sell both sets and singles, with sets collected in binders and rare and/or popular cards displayed in showcases. They even have quite a few English cards as apparently some Japanese players prefer to use them. If you are looking for something in particular, you can make a list and give it to the staff. Just be warned that on average, singles in Japan tend to cost more than in other countries. One more tip on TCG is good manners: You will rarely see the Japanese trade cards inside shops, and actually there are some that explicitly forbid trading on the premises.
Many TCG shops have tables to play games, and on their websites you can find information on upcoming tournaments. Most of them are small events. Signing up is quite cheap and if you do well you can get some cool prizes like deck boxes, card sleeves and binders. Obviously almost all participants are Japanese, but don’t worry, because they are very welcoming and curious about foreign players, and even if you don’t speak Japanese, card language is rarely a problem. For more information on playing in Japan (especially Pokemon) check out Finnish champion Esa Juntunen’s blog (thedeckout. blogspot.jp)
TCG stores in Tokyo are typically close to each other, so if you don’t like the prices or selection at one store you can always try another one nearby. One of the more convenient places is Radio Kaikan in Akihabara. The 10-story building houses six shops including Yellow Submarine (sixth floor) and Big Magic (ninth). And if that’s not enough, in the building in front of Radio Kaikan there’s another shop, Cardkingdom.
KANDA MYOJIN SHRINE
Looking for that elusive manga or retro game is akin to a treasure hunt. If you are superstitious and need some help from heaven, you may want to pay a visit to this beautiful shrine, one of the oldest in Tokyo, only a seven-minute walk from the station. Due to the shrine’s close proximity to the Electric Town, IT companies have come to revere the place and regularly seek out its protection by attending blessing ceremonies there. Individuals can get their share of good luck by buying their high-techomamori (charm) for 800 yen. It comes in three parts: a credit card-sized card, a sticker-like strip for your PC and a thumbnail-sized sticker for your cell phone.
Kanda Myojin is one of the two main non-otaku attractions of the area (the other one is Mansei-bashi, the bridge on the south side that hundreds of years ago marked one of the entrances to the city) and it’s a wonderful example of Shinto architecture. If you happen to be in Tokyo on the weekend closest to May 15 of an odd-numbered year, don’t miss the Kanda Festival, in which two hundred portable shrines are carried through the surrounding streets.
Opening times daily 18:00–22:50 (Mon–Fri), 17:00–22:50 (weekends & holidays)
AKB84 have gone global, but there are still plenty of aspiring idols out there and this is one of the best places to check them out. It is on this cramped stage, by the way, that rising stars Denpagumi.inc had their start. The place is also famous for the rabid otaku fans who invariably launch themselves into frantic otagei cheering and dancing routines. The stage is on the 1F (500 yen cover charge including one drink) while the upper floors house a bar.
Game Bar A-Button
Opening times 20:00–4:00. Usually closed on Mon (check their Twitter to make sure)
If you spent the whole day hunting for retro games, you’ll end up hungry, thirsty AND feeling like actually playing some of that stuff. So what better idea than paying a visit to this off-the-beaten-path bar? A favorite among both fans and game industry insiders, this place is full of games and consoles waiting for you. They even have an impressive collection of classic controllers. Booze is prized around 500–600 yen. The place is quite small so if you plan to go with a big group of people you’d better call in advance (03-5856-5475). Ah, and of course you must be over 20.
Pasela Akiba Showa-dori-kan
Opening times daily 12:00–5:00 (Mon– Thu), 12:00–7:00 (Fri), 11:00–7:00 Sat), 11:00–5:00 (Sun & holidays)
If you are into singing, this collection of karaoke rooms is hard to beat. Each room is the result of a collaboration with a different anime or video game producer and is decorated accordingly. Some of the more popular rooms are devoted to samurai-themed game and anime seriesSengoku Basara, fantasyRPG Monster Hunter, and evenEvangelion.
Akiba Daisuki Festival
Twice a year Akiba celebrates all the things it’s famous for (i.e. electronics and all things otaku) with a series of maid and idol live performances and other assorted events, including a cosplay get-together, a model train exhibition, and a gunplay-building workshop. And if at the end of the day you still have some energy left, you can even try their earthquake simulation vehicle.
In the beginning there was Denpa!!!, a trailblazing event that in 2007 mixed anime and fashion with live music. Its effect on the people who attended was such that many of them were inspired to start similar projects. Today more than ever music and dance are an important part of otaku culture and AniCrush!!!’s stated goal is to introduce as many people as possible to so-called anikura (anime song club music). This event was created in 2013 by French-American expat Xavier Bensky following the International Akiba Pop Party J-Geek series of music events promoted by producer Saeki Kenzo. Since then the number of both artists and fans attending these afternoon parties has steadily grown, making it one of the more exciting events in the sometimes reclusive anikura scene. An ever-changing lineup of guest DJs and VJs plus their regular crew of music spinners (among them idol Momochi Minami and kaxtupe of CharaAni fame) alternate anison, vocaloid, game music and J-pop tunes for the joy of both hardcore wotagei-dancing anikura fans and non-Japanese enthusiasts who make up about 20 percent of the attendees. The place where all the fun takes place is Akiba club MOGRA which, by the way, hosts a number of otaku-oriented DJ nights like Anison Matrix so you may want to check their website for upcoming events.
Mottainai Flea Market
Hardcore otaku-good hunters who are not satisfied with just prowling Akiba’s shops or want to find the ultimate bargain may want to try the local flea market, part of the Mottainai recycling campaign that was inspired by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Maathai. The market takes place every month and has a lot more to offer than just toys and figures.
While coming to Tokyo in summer should be avoided because of the intense heat and high humidity, if you decide to come in August you will at least have a chance to see the traditional uchimizu water sprinkling routine done by scores of Akiba maids. Uchimizu is the local way to deal with the midsummer heat. People gather in the street armed with buckets. When the sprinkled water evaporates, it cools down the immediate area. Every year the Uchimizukko event takes place on a different day in August (around 10:30–11:00).