Affectionately known as Akiba, this mecca of electronics and otaku culture has plenty to offer for a weekend hangout, even if you’re not a manga geek.
If you’re looking to buy the latest tech, rare vintage gear, or secondhand electronics then you’ve come to the right place. The megalithic Yodobashi Camera looms large right outside Akihabara Station, and is a one-stop shop for every technophile’s needs. Essentially an electronics playground, you can try everything from cameras to VR headsets to 100-inch 8K TVs to headphones that would impress even the most discerning of audiophiles. And if you can’t find what you want there, check out some of the smaller shops such as LABI or Onoden. For second-hand goods, Sofmap is the place. If you’re into building your own electronics, you can’t miss the Electric Town “underground” under the Sobu line train tracks. In this cramped maze-like series of tunnels, you’ll find a cornucopia of components like transistors, vacuum tubes, LED diodes … You name it, they’ve got it!
Akihabara is not known for culinary extravagance, but there are a number of unique and varied eateries in the area. On the north side of the station, tucked under the Yamanote line train tracks, is the Chabara market, offering snacks and souvenirs from all over Japan. At one end of the market is Kuramoto Stand, a café and sake brewery hailing from Niigata Prefecture, and serving food and drinks all made from a byproduct of sake brewing called sakekasu. There’s a healthy dose of sake on the menu as well!
Scattered about Akihabara are other must-try locales such as Chiocciol @ Pizzeria, a pretty authentic Italian restaurant with a warm atmosphere. Or if you want to do as the Japanese do, head over to Kanda Shokudo, an old school cafeteria frequented by salarymen and college students alike – don’t feel intimidated by the Japanese-only menu! Looking for a huge helping of noodles? Head to Yarou Ramen (“Rascal Ramen”) and end your meal there with their soft-serve ice cream. There’s also Ohno Roast Beef. Prepare yourself for a literal mountain of meat – a rice bowl with roast beef fashioned into a little Mount Fuji, topped with an egg yolk. After all that food, a good place to take it easy is the 1/3 Café & Bar – they have free Wi-Fi and a BYO policy for food and drinks.
Of course, a day in Akihabara would not be complete without a foray into Akiba culture. A good place to start is Mandarake, a geek’s palace spanning eight floors of manga, anime, figurines, classic video games, and other collectibles – they even have a small collection of Western comics. There is also the aptly named Akiba Culture Zone, a megastore of similar repute as Mandarake. Just don’t be surprised by some of the less-than-family-friendly material – leave the kids at home!
Beyond figurines, manga, and anime, there are some other oddities and specialties that are unique to Akihabara. Card World Akiba (Suzuki Bldg, 1-3-7 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku) is a treasure trove of trading cards from series of all kinds, including ones that made it big in the Western world. The Dragon Quest-themed Lawson convenience store (3-1-10 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku) sells blue slime plushies in all sizes. On the same street, one can find vending machines stocked with canned oden, an unusual sight, even in Tokyo. Finally, you’ve surely heard of maid cafés, but maybe you want a maid massage? If so, there’s Momi Neko. Prefer ninjas? Check out ninja-themed café Shinobazu. Prefer soldiers? At Anikara Hero karaoke you can sing your heart out while being cheered on by staff in army outfits.
If none of that was odd enough, the Akihabara Don Quijote is stocked with a plethora of toys, souvenirs, and cosplay costumes. You can also find stores with “bedroom goods.” If that’s your thing, head to Love Merci in the heart of the neighborhood. After all that weirdness, cleanse mind and spirit at the nearby Kanda Myojin, a flamboyant Shinto shrine. Here, you’ll be met with one last dose of Akiba when you spot prayer plaques (ema) adorned with hand-drawn anime figures.
Lukasz Palka is the co-founder of EYExplore, www.eyexplore.com