Akihabara, Tokyo: Home to arcades, cafés and electronics!
Called Akiba for short, the Akihabara district of Tokyo is known as electric town. With hundreds of shops, ranging from tiny one-man stalls specializing in particular electrical products to large chain retailers, you can find virtually anything relating to electronics - computers, cameras, audio and TVs, mobile phones, household appliances and secondhand or junk electric parts.
Starting with several retailers that opened shop in the 1930s, the area became the district for electronics. Many retailers rapidly began appearing shortly after World War II when black market started thriving in the district in the late 1940s and 50s, forming the current town look, according to Akihabara Shopping District Promotion Cooperative.
With hundreds of shops competing for your business, the electric town can offer some cheap prices.
Shopping around is always a good idea, especially in Akihabara. Dropping by multiple shops will give you a good chance to find what you’re looking for at a good price. And don’t forget, there is always room for bargaining. Don’t be afraid to ask a staffer for a discount on a price, especially if you’ve seen a cheaper price at another shop.
At the start of each new year, teens often flock to the district for their “otoshidana” shopping. With New Year’s Day gifts in hand in the form of yen from parents and relatives, the teens flood the shops looking to spend their new found money. I used to partake in this myself when I was that age. Whether it was a radio-controlled car, cassette recorder or the latest Walkman, I was sure to find it in Akihabara.
I noticed the atmosphere there changed about 20 years ago when groups of tourists from China started flocking to the large tax-free chain retailers for “bakugai,” or astonishing bulk purchase. The larger and larger crowds eventually drove me from going as often.
Despite the larger crowds these days, Akihabara is still fun nonetheless! There is more to enjoy than just a bunch of electronics.
I usually begin my stroll by walking through Radio Kaikan behind the JR Akihabara Station, the landmark of the district. Radio Kaikan features more than 30 small stores selling electronics and anime-related collectibles.
When you leave the station through the electric town exit, you are greeted by a couple of large arcades, such as Sega, Adores, Gigo and Taito Station. Akihabara is a home to game centers, or “geesen,” as well. Although a dying breed in the United States, arcades are still very alive and well in Japan, especially in Akihabara.
Enter one of them, and you will find zombie-like folks, fixated on the screens in front of them as the machines blare music and commands in the dimly lit man-made cavern. Whether they come with friends or by themselves, these gamers are alone in their own world, oblivious to their surroundings and focus only the task at hand: playing a game. The basic charge for playing a game is only 100 or 200 yen ($0.90-1.80).
These arcades are surrounded by dozens of smaller stores specializing in anime, manga, video and card games, and figures and other collectible items situated between electronics retailers.
On the street corners, you may find girls in anime-like classical formal maid attire. Akihabara accommodates numerous “maid cafés,” where waitresses called meido-san serve coffee and foods. @home Café near JR Akihabara Station is one of the most popular shops. With the admission of 700 yen, you can purchase food and drinks as you stay in the café for an hour. Welcomed with polite greeting of “Okaerinasai, goshujin sama!” (welcome back, my lord) by the “maids” (some can speak good English), they serve you with care, respectfulness and very polite language.
There are many other unique entertainment cafés in the district, such as manga cafés, popular robot animation movie cafés, cat cafés and idol cafés, as well. The wide range reflects the diversified pop culture that Akihabara offers.
To fully enjoy your tour of the district, visit Akihabara Annaijo (information center) near the station for town maps and various information before you kick off your stroll.
Akihabara Annaijo (Information Center)
Location: 1-14-7 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (one-minute from JR Akihabara Station)
Hours: Noon – 5 p.m.
Traditional tempura served hot and fresh
While being a sanctuary for electronics shops, pop culture and various unique cafés, Akihabara also offers bunch of traditional Japanese foods. Since Akihabara was located near a city gate of Edo (old Tokyo) and was a home to craftsmen, tradesmen and cooks throughout the ages, it has a tradition of offering various traditional foods.
Among numerous traditional eateries, Tempura Hisago in the Akihabara UDX Building is a popular Japanese restaurant offering tasty tempura at a reasonable price.
With a wide, well-arranged kitchen situated above the eat-in counters, the restaurant interior has a cozy and traditional atmosphere.
Watching skilled chefs frying tempura tactfully and beautifully over the counter only increases my appetite. The chefs serve the tempura fresh out of the fryer, so it’s as hot and fresh as possible. The lightly-buttered tempura has an extremely crispy texture while the ingredients are very tender and juicy. The dipping broth made from multiple dashi stocks adds a nice, sweet flavor.
I usually order Tempura Lunch Set for 1,410 yen ($12.90), made up of tempura of two shrimps, three fish and four vegetables, along with rice, miso soup, salad and pickles. This gorgeous lunch set tastes great and is very filling for the price.
You can refill rice and miso soup for free, too.
Drop by Hisago when you visit Akihabara. And, be sure to sit at the counter!
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 – 11 p.m. (Mon.-Sat.) 5 - 22 p.m. (Sun.)
Location: Akihabara UDX Building 3F, 4-14-1 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (2-minute walk from JR Akihabara Station)
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