A wise old man famously warned ‘If you build it, nerds will come’.
Okay I lie – that’s actually a quote from the movie Benchwarmers – but in any case that must have been what they were thinking when they built Akihabara, because the nerds have been swarming there ever since. This nerd being the latest.
As a huge anime and manga fan, Akihabara was a simply unmissable spot!
Akihabara, also known as the ‘Electric Town’, is home to every aspect of otaku culture imaginable, from cartoons to comics and video games.
Akihabara also stands as the original birthplace of Maid Cafes and is the number #1 place-to-go for game arcades and Gachapons; the quirky, highly addictive capsule-toy machines that litter everywhere in Japan.
One thing I will say for arriving in Akihabara is that you can be sure of no mistake.
From the moment you arrive you are bombarded with gigantic anime advertisements, advertising the seasons biggest shows from the sides of high-rise buildings.
Maid Cafes pop up everywhere as you wander around – the maids themselves out in force, fiercely competing for punters in an array of eye-catching costumes – and catchy theme songs blare from music stores on street corners.
It’s a spectacular but utterly bewildering experience; a total blur of noise, light and colour. Akihabara is by far the maddest area of Tokyo, and the most overwhelming.
Dazed as I was by the seemingly endless sea of shops, cafes and arcades, I eventually settled on Animate as my first port of call.
Dedicated – as the name suggests – to anime goods and merchandise, this enormous store is an utter paradise for anime fanatics like myself!
Filled to the brim with comics, figures and merchandise for what seemed like every anime in existence, I probably went in to a bit of sensory overload in that store.
After hunting all over Harajuku and Shibuya for a store like this I had finally found it, and now I was there I didn’t quite know what to do with myself!
In the end I only purchased one thing from Animate; a cup bearing the illustration of a shark eating a seal – but it would be easy to spend an absolute fortune there.
Shoppers beware, Akihabara could potentially be the worst thing to ever happen to your bank account! You have been warned….
After Animate I couldn’t resist dropping in at Taito Station and the Sega Arcade to indulge my growing addiction for taiko drumming games, and for the UFO machines I still remain utterly useless with. Games arcades are a hell-of-a-lot cheaper in Japan than they are in the UK, so they really are hard to resist!
As I already mentioned in my account of Harajuku and Shibuya, gaming arcades are big business in Japan, and the arcades in Akihabara rank amongst the country’s most impressive. If you are a keen gamer then I definitely recommend visiting Taito Station – it’s going to be one of the most impressive arcades you will ever experience.
Gaming itch satisfied and starting to feel a bit peckish, I then elected to take a quick snack break to sample a traditional Japanese treat I’d always wanted to try: Taiyaki!
These giant fish-shaped pancakes are filled with everything from red-bean paste to caramel, and are ridiculously tasty! I brought a chocolate one, and it was honestly the best thing I ate in Japan! Japanese street food must rank among the best in the world (this blogger certainly thinks so), and the number of options on offer is simply staggering.
Now refueled it was time once again to continue the quest for anime merchandise! It took a while but eventually I found what I was after; a huge store dedicated to selling second-hand anime and gaming goods.
Many of these goods are unwanted gachapon or lottery prizes, which are often in excellent condition and going for a very cheap price!
For example, I got myself a brand new SuperMario Bros beach towel (a prize from a previous Nintendo goods lottery) for £6, which would normally cost around £20 on Ebay. Not bad!
Other highlights included nearly an entire floor dedicated to gacha prizes (though they unfortunately didn’t have the prizes I was after), a large corner dedicated to Studio Ghibli, as well as a handful of goods related to the mysterious ‘GranBlue Fantasy‘ I’d seen advertised in Shibuya (and should really just google at this point).
It’s also worth emphasizing that you won’t just find goods for Japanese cartoons in these stores; plenty of character goods for western cartoons can be found here too!
Peanuts, Marvel Comics and even The Moomins are HUGE in Japan, something that really surprised me. I actually think I’ve seen more Peanuts and Moomins goods in Japan than I’ve ever seen for sale in Britain!
Oh, and the Japanese are totally obsessed with Disney too – you will find Disney stuff everywhere in Japan, even drug stores!
I can’t remember the name of the specific store I visited, but places like these are everywhere in Akihabara, and are a gold-mine for bargain-hunters! So if you are heading to Akihabara on the hunt for cheap goods, these are the places to go! You will save cash, and they’re lots of fun to rummage through too!
In addition to this prize find, I also explored a bunch of colourful manga bookstores as I made my way through Akihabara – a really awesome experience! The Japanese love their comics and these beautiful bookstores are wonderfully laid out, with eye-catching displays and an abundance of vibrant colour!
Beware of the more ‘adult’ sections however. There appears to be a very laid back attitude towards the promotion and display of the ‘naughtier’ material over there, so a manga store may not be the best place to pop in for a casual browse if you have youngsters in tow. Unless you want to leave with your innocent little darling wide-eyed and full of puzzled questions.
I think I’ve perfected the art of nonchalantly strolling through aisles of porn during my time in Japan – it’s everywhere. Depending on the sort of person you are this fact could either be great, or have you reaching for your bibles.
I’m going to refrain to comment on what camp I fall in.
Anyways, the pitfalls of Japanese bookstores aside, no trip to Akihabara is complete without sampling another proud Akihabara tradition: Maid Cafes. And I knew just where I wanted to go…
The cafe I visited in Akihabara was rather different to the maid cafe I’d eaten at in Shibuya.
It took a fair bit of hunting to find it; tucked away as it was on a top floor above a huge gacha store, in one of Akihabara’s many maze-like side streets. But once there it was definitely worth the effort.
Cure Maid Cafe is not your typical maid cafe.
In place of the hyper girly, highly attentive world of Maidreamin or @Home Cafe, Cure Maid Cafe instead presents a much calmer, more prestiged atmosphere.
You’ll find no cutesy and excitable girls in short skirts and colorful accessories here.
Instead we have quiet, demure young women in Victorian maid uniforms, in a setting that is purposefully designed to recreate the Victorian era, right down to the old fashion gramophone and classical music playing in the background.
It is all rather romantic, and a very evocative experience.
While it doesn’t quite feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, it can certainly fuel the imagination and inspire many a happy daydream!
Being a customer at Cure Cafe feels a little like you’ve stepped in to the pages of to Kaoru Mori’s Emma, or maybe one of the more romantic examples of 18th century literature.
It is a pleasantly unique, soothing experience, which is a must for anyone who loves Victorian literature or historical manga.
Oh, and on a trivia note for the anime fans out there; you know the maid cafe Kotori works at in Love Live? The model for that was Cure Cafe. Pretty interesting huh?
So there, on an incredibly appropriate note, ended my first visit to Akihabara.
I unfortunately didn’t get round to visiting the district for a second time during my trip, which I regret, as there was still so much to explore!
So if you are visiting Japan in the future; whether you enjoy manga, video games or western cartoons; whether you are a casual fan or a die-hard fanatic, do not miss Akihabara! Because you can be certain to find something to delight your inner nerd, no matter what you may be in to!
Have any of you guys visited Akihabara? If so, what are your favourite things to do and see? I’d love to hear in the comments!
And if you enjoyed this post then stay tuned for the next one! You won’t want to miss where I’m heading next…..
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