Part One: Akihabara, Tokyo
The land of the rising sun, the home of Anime, a Mecca for video games, birthplace of brilliant food – no matter who you are, Japan is a must do trip for many. In our Explore Japan mini-series, we’re going to visit our recommended geekiest spots in the country and share some of our tips to help you plan your journey of a lifetime.
First of all, let’s start with the most geekiest district in Japan and that’s Akihabara, Tokyo. Below you can check out the map and directions to get to Akihabara. Just situated north of the main Tokyo train station on the Yamanote Line. It’s fairly easy to access with it’s JR train station located pretty much next to it.
The Gundam Cafe
The first thing you should do when you get off the train is to visit the Gundam Cafe – located near the exit of the station. If you don’t know what Gundam is, it’s basically a really popular anime featuring mech robots and the cafe is built surrounding the theme. Here you can pick up Gundam themed food, drinks and even merchandise. Even if you don’t know Gundam, this cafe is a pretty cool spot to start off your day exploring Akihabara.
Tip: Gundam Cafe has a pretty cool toilet. Flush and you’ll find out why.
While lacking in Australia (almost non-existent) – Arcades are still big in Japan with Akihabara being one of the best spots to check them out. Directly opposite of the Gundam Cafe, you can spot a multi-story red building with the words SEGA on the wall. There’s a few in the area but this is one of the best if you want to easily have a quick wander through. Prepare your wallets however as the building is home to levels of UFO catchers which can easily take your YEN away.
UFO Catchers are quite the novelty in the arcades with prizes usually being some unreleased anime/gaming merchandise like figurines or plushies to umm.. food. Yes food prizes. I totally wanted a tube of Pringles chips once. In the upper levels, you’ll find your traditional arcade machines like light gun shooters and cabinets.
It’s a great place for people watching as well – with some casual competition happening in the latest fighting game.
Tip: Don’t waste too much money here.
If you’re after some videogame and anime goodies then you’re in the right place. Akihabara has plenty and when I mean plenty – it would literally take you the 1-2 days to cover all the shops. If you’re after anime goods, check out shops like Animate and Kotobukiya where they sell things like figurines and other merchandise. For anime style clothing, check out Cospa where they sell official licensed wear. If you want department store style shopping, the massive Yodobashi building also carries a wide range of the latest anime goods.
If you don’t mind 2nd hand goods (don’t worry Japanese people look after their goods) – Akihabara has plenty of shops that offer lots of pre-owned items. You’re guaranteed to find a bargain if you look at used items. It’s hard to recommend shops that offer pre-owned items as most of them are really well priced and plentiful if you just browse around looking for deals first.
For video game shopping, it works the same way as anime goods. Major retailer chains like Yodobashi and Sofmap are more like your JB HIFI of Japan. They carry new games if you’re after the latest. Prices are pretty much market averages here. Yodobashi also does Tax Free for purchases over 10,000 YEN which something to take advantage of. This includes video games.
There’s a few shops in Akihabara that offer 2nd hand games, if you’re after classic Nintendo games – the best spot to check this out is Super Potato. It has plenty of retro games available without the ridicolous price you’ll find on eBay. You can pick really well priced refurbished consoles here like the Gamecube for around $50 AUD.
Tip: Shop around and check out the 2nd hand shops for REALLY good deals.
When you walk around Akihabara, you’ll notice a large contingent of girls in maid costumes handing out pamphlets on the streets. These girls work at Maid Cafes, a themed cafe where you can enjoy a coffee and snack (maybe full meals) served by waitresses in costume. The best one to visit is Maid Dreaming where its more tourist friendly.
While it sounds somewhat suss, Maid Cafes are pretty much a novelty and a tourist attraction and something I recommend doing once in Japan. Before you enter, take note there’s two prices you have to pay: the table charge which is calculated in hour blocks plus the food/drinks you order. Maid Dreaming does courses where you get a meal/dessert, drink plus a photo opportunity with your chosen maid.
Tip: Go in a group so the table charge is split.
Kanda Myojin Shrine
Break away from the otakuness to visit something ‘traditional’ – a shrine situated close by is probably one of the well ‘funniest’ places to visit. The Kanda Myojin shrine is a place where the priests bless upcoming IT ventures from companies for good luck. You can also buy a take home charm for your electronic device because who needs firewalls and anti-viruses when you have the blessing from the priests.
Akihabara is one place where if you geek out, you’ll tend to spend lots of money. It’s an ideal stop for the end of your trip just in case you want to splurge on all them model kits or video games. I wrote this article based on 4 days in Akihabara scouring every nook and cranny of this district. If you don’t want to spend money, it’s not a bad stop for a day to check out the scene and window shop.
Part 2 of Explore Japan will take us to the other various spots around Tokyo for your geek pilgrimage before we head out south to the Kansai region.