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.
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