Located in Tokyo, Akihabara is considered a prime destination for otaku (anime culture enthusiasts) and casual tourists alike. Known also by its nicknames “Akiba” and “Electric Town,” Akihabara is a truly unique district with an atmosphere and character all its own, beloved throughout the world for its large selection of electronics, games, and anime-related culture. We at LIVE JAPAN must admit that we are quite the otaku ourselves! As avid gamers and anime fans, we were certainly no strangers to Akihabara culture. However, there are some things about Akiba that never cease to amaze, no matter how many times we visit. From exciting game centers to kawaii maid cafes, let’s take a look at ten things in Akihabara that you have to see to believe!
1. Numerous Anime, Game, and Manga Shops
Akihabara is a paradise for all types of otaku; it’s the place where gamers, anime fanatics, tech lovers, and pop idol fans can geek out to their fandom of choice. Anime and manga culture in particular contributes to a significant part of the Akiba atmosphere. The streets are dotted with shops selling anime-related goods, manga, and games. It is especially known for its many retro game shops selling used games from days past. The Tokyo Anime Center features various anime-related exhibitions from popular series.
Of course, there are plenty of manga to be found, both new and old. If you don’t necessarily want to purchase any books to take home, you can always stop by one of the many manga kissa, or manga cafes, to read as many as you wish for however long you pay for. You really don’t have to know the Japanese language to enjoy visiting the cafes. Real manga otaku can enjoy seeing authentic Japanese up close, and even if manga is not your preferred fandom, the cafes are a great place to relax, offering semi-private rooms with internet access and typically a free drink bar (we recommend the neon green colored melon soda!).
If you’re excited to get your hands on some otaku goodies, there’s no shortage of shops selling figurines, posters, and other memorabilia. We recommend that hardcore otaku consider our picks that are considered to be local favorites. Mandarake is an excellent choice for character figurines and other anime related merchandise, while Toranora is a great choice for obscure manga titles you might not easily find elsewhere. For retro gamers, look no further than BEEP, for old school games that will give you a blast to the past!
2. The World’s Largest Electronics Shop
As soon as you arrive, you can see Akihabara’s numerous electronics shops for which the area is so famous. They are plentiful; it seems you can’t throw a stone without encountering one of these businesses, whether it be a small store featuring vintage items, a duty-free shop, or one with exclusive items. If you have an eye for gadgets, then the so-called Akihabara Electric Town (Akihabara Denki Gai) is sure to be right up your alley!
In addition to being known as having one of the largest number of electronics shops in one area, Akihabara is also home to the largest electronics shop in the world! Directly connected to Akihabara Station, the legendary Yodobashi Akiba stands nine floors tall, with the first six being devoted exclusively to computers, cameras, AV devices, and other electronics, as well as toys, video games, and bicycles. The seventh floor includes casual fashion, shoes, CDs and DVDs, books, eyeglasses, accessories, and a travel agency. Hungry shoppers can simply visit Yodobashi’s eighth floor to find the largest restaurant floor in Akihabara – 30 restaurants offering various styles of cuisine! The most unusual thing about this electronics store, however, is that the top floor features not only a golf goods shop, but an actual golf practice range and also a batting center. Whether you want to shop for gadgets, buy some clothes, enjoy a meal, or practice your golf swing, Yodobashi Akiba has you covered!
3. Maid Cafes
Akihabara is the birthplace of the “maid cafe” (also known as meido kissaten or meido kissa), where cute, costumed waitresses charm their customers by singing songs, dancing, and playing games with them. While the concept may seem odd to those who have never seen such a restaurant, the spirit of these cafes is all in good, clean fun. Both men and women are welcome to enjoy the novelty of chanting a magical incantation while getting their drink mixed or a ketchup character drawn on their omelette.
While the trend first appeared in the early 2000s, there seem to be more maid cafes than ever before, and the sheer variety among them is staggering! While Akihabara is still home to many classic-style maid cafes, a number of them are specially themed. There are maid cafes with themes such as military, pirate, ninja, and even ones devoted to cross-dressing. With so many to choose from, visitors wanting to relax in one of these kawaii cafes can find the perfect match for them. LIVE JAPAN has visited both Maid Cafe Mai:lish and @ home café and we must say both were equal parts fun and adorable, so do stop by to either!
4. Otaku Strolling: Alone, But Not Lonely
No friends? No problem! One of the things we love about Japan, and particularly Akihabara, is that is not uncommon to go out to eat, visit game centers, or even do karaoke completely alone. In fact, you’ll find many people in Akihabara having solitary adventures, quietly enjoying their day. One activity that is perfect for the otaku singleton is taking an anime pilgrimage. In fact, LIVE JAPAN has designed a Love Live! anime pilgrimage that takes place in Akihabara! There are quite a few anime that have used Akihabara as a backdrop, so why not see the actual sites of your favorite series in person?
Some would say that the inherent shyness exhibited in Japanese otaku culture has shaped the Akihabara atmosphere that allows people the freedom and comfort to do their own thing, without feeling out of place. This is one place that proves that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lonely!
5. Gigantic Game Centers
Akihabara is known for its massive, multi-storied game centers around just about every corner. From retro titles to the newest releases, with a selection that touches just about any genre, there are games for anyone who has ever enjoyed playing. Gamers can find fighting, rhythm, simulation games, and others. These arcades do not only offer video games, but other amusements as well. It’s typical for game centers to have an entire floor dedicated entirely to photo booths known as purikura (some offering free cosplay outfits to borrow!), and another exclusively for crane games that offer players a chance to win prizes. We recommend checking out TAITO STATION for a multiple floors of fun that you won’t want to step away from! Whether young or old, with a group or spending time alone, visitors to Akihabara should not miss checking out one of the area’s most fun ways to pass the time!
6. B-Grade Cuisine: Ramen, Curry, and Takoyaki
Did you know that Akihabara is known among Tokyoites for its “B-grade cuisine”? This food genre, known as B-kyū gurume in Japanese, refers to a food that is typically cheap, but very delicious! We can’t get enough of it! The term has been around since the 80s, but has received a surge of popularity over the past decade as more and more people have become interested in the concept of celebrating otherwise “ordinary” foods. Some of the dishes that fall under the umbrella of B-grade cuisine include Japanese-style curry and rice, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, along with several Japanese noodle dishes, such as ramen, yakisoba, and udon.
While everyone has their own opinions on what is the tastiest B-grade food, for beginners, we recommend ramen. However, with the overwhelming ramen selection available in Akiba, we’d suggest newbies start off with a shoyu (soy sauce) based ramen bowl for a basic introduction to real Japanese ramen, which you can find at Ramen Tenjinshita Daiki. If you already consider yourself a ramen maniac, however, try the savory tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen at Tanaka Sobaten, or if you are really daring, the Italian-fusion shio (salt) ramen at Motenashi Kuroki.
In addition to shops where you can sit down for a bowl of ramen or curry, there are also food stands selling kebab, takoyaki, onigiri, and other grab-and-go options if you want to eat in a hurry. The prices are about as cheap as you can get for some incredibly tasty food. Akihabara is one of the best places in Tokyo to try out many kinds of B-grade food, so make sure to bring your appetite!
7. The Most Unusual Vending Machines
Japan is known for their large number of vending machines, and Akihabara is where you find some of the most unusual! Not simply a means of buying a drink or a snack, Akihabara’s vending machines dispense all sorts of things! For food items, adzuki bean soup, canned ramen, and the area’s most famous, canned oden have all been featured in these machines.
However, possibly the most iconic vending machines in Akiba are those that dispense gashapon (also called gachapon), which are small capsule toys. In fact, there is an entire hall in Akihabara that houses various gashapon machines containing toys, phone accessories, and other mini-sized novelty items. Many of these feature familiar figures from anime, games, and other characters from Japanese pop culture. We still can’t help walking past without getting at least one gashapon to add to the collection, especially since the merchandise in constantly changing with season-limited items. There is a wide variety of prices and quality, so anyone can find the the perfect vending machine to suit their tastes!
8. Otaku Style
Otaku that want to take their fandom to the next level have the chance to transform into the characters they love! Akihabara is not only a place to buy anime-related goods, but a place where you can live out your otaku dreams by trying out some of your favorite anime fashions.
Take a visit to cosplay studio, Studio Crown, visited by everyone from first-timers to dedicated cosplayers, for a costume and makeup experience. After help from professionals who will get you into character from head to toe, take part in your very own photoshoot where you are the main character! Check out LIVE JAPAN’S visit to see how it’s done: [MOVIE] Achieve Your Cosplay Dreams at Cosplay Studio Crown!
Those who are daring enough to make a bigger change to their look may want to make an appointment at the world’s first anime-themed hair salon, OFF-KAi!!. The salon specializes in the vibrant colors and flashy styles that are emblematic of the characters found in anime and manga. Not only can you get an impressive new style, but you can read manga and listen to anime and game music while undergoing the process! And off course, we couldn’t miss the chance to visit OFF-KAi!! to become one of our favorite fiercest anime characters: [MOVIE] OFF-KAi!!: A Hair Salon for Anime Fans
And if you are looking to add just a little otaku style into your life, Akihabara even has a nail salon that specializes in anime and other character art! Just stop by Nail Salon Venusrico and tell them which character you want to bling out your nails with!
9. Kawaii and “Moe” Culture
The concepts of “kawaii,” and specifically “moe” go hand in hand with otaku culture, so it’s only natural that there is an undercurrent of cuteness flowing through Akihabara’s streets. While “kawaii,” Japan’s word for “cute,” has already entered the international lexicon, the word “moe” is considerably less well-known. Moe, being a slang term, can be somewhat difficult to define, but many would say that it refers to the feeling of love and adoration that burns within one’s heart for someone. It is said to be at least somewhat related to the Japanese word moeru, which means “to burn.” And among the otaku community, that special someone usually takes the form of an anime, manga, or game character. Likewise, a very cute and lovable character may be called the moe type.
In Akihabara, these moe characters can be found decorating storefronts, game centers, pachinko parlors, and just about anywhere you can imagine. To witness a real-life examples of the moe power of Akiba, one need only to visit one of the aforementioned maid cafes, or buy a ticket to one of the many idol performances given daily to see girls who exemplify the spirit of moe culture. Visitors can also find plenty of cute souvenirs to take home, from figurines to cookies printed with moe characters. Insider tip: if you want to become a bit more moe yourself, pick up one of the many kawaii pairs of stockings from knee-high specialist Zettai Ryouiki. For many visitors, the fiery-sweet touches of kawaii and moe throughout Akihabara bring a little bit of magic to an otherwise ordinary day.
10. Shops that Sell Ninja and Samurai Weapons
While anime, electronics, and other items from modern culture are among the most popular shopping items in the area, there are some shops that take a more traditional approach. Shops specializing in replica weapons and armor are some of the best hidden gems in Akihabara. Take home the spirit of the samurai with a katana, or buy a shuriken for the ninja-lover in your life! There are not only traditional Japanese battle goods, but futuristic and medieval themed items as well. If you are a fan of Japanese history, or old samurai films, a replica piece of Japanese weaponry just might be the perfect souvenir to commemorate your trip to Japan!
Are you ready for the Otaku experience of a lifetime?
We hope you found our tips helpful and that you feel ready to live out your otaku Akiba dreams! Are you an otaku who has visited Akihabara? What was your favorite moment?
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