Over my holiday break, I went on a three week vacation to Japan visiting well known districts: Tokyo and Hokkaido. From seeing snow falling, embracing temples and savouring cheap eats of sushi and ramen, what resonated with me the most was Akihabara, a place I considered unlike any tourist destination. Akihabara is a massive scene of geeky shopping, maid cafes and Taito game stations. It is a one stop shop for all your needs as a gamer or even, as a retro enthusiast.
I’m sure many readers have visited and seen first-hand why its special in comparison to other destinations in Japan. This might be where we reach an impasse as this is nothing new. However, we can agree as tourists visiting Akihabara multiple times, it’s never disappointing. By giving a running commentary of interesting store fronts, merchandise and activities I hope to share my experience with the niche and humble parts of Akihabara.
1. Japenese T-Shirt Corner (Touhou Project, Love Live! and Meme Apparel)
2F of the Surugaya Specialty Store, Tokyo Building 9-8 Toyo Building 3- chome, Chiyoda ku, Tokyo 101-0021
First goes to a shop I’ve discovered on my second trip around. Self explanatory title for a surprisingly to-the-point niche target shop that fills a void amongst the saturated, anime heavy merchandise stores. It’s not only a place filled with a funny mix of Japanese and English slogans printed on T-shirts, it also stocks Touhou Project, Love Live! and Osomatsu apparel.
The shop itself was small, the first floor has retro games and up a flight of stairs was about what you would picture in a decently sized TCG playing area. On some of the walls, there were mounted TVs displaying Japanese meme videos of popular anime and current affairs. My favourite display was definitely No Game No Life’s opening, poorly drawn in MS Paint.
I would recommend this shop if anyone was visiting. Its location is quite hidden and tucked away. To make it easier to find if you happen to be in Akihabara, search for “Surugaya Specialty Store” on Google Maps. Even though its exact location is unknown, it’s an easy find considering one of the owners is a meme himself – dressing head to toe in two layers of cosplay: an Attack on Titan jumpsuit mixed with another random suit.
1-8-8 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo, 101-0021 Japan, Tel: 03-5298-6300, Open 10:00 – 20:00
Kotobukiya place is a popular pick for most tourists who come overseas and shop for anime, game and franchise merchandise. Featuring four floors of assorted goods, I found myself overwhelmed and enthralled, spending countless hours browsing through their stock. When I visited, they were celebrating the 15th Anniversary for the .hack series with various goods: character acrylic stands, art books and official soundtracks.
Personally, I’ve only watched .hack//Sign and .hack//Liminality and haven’t played any of their PlayStation games. However, that did not stop me from feeling nostalgic and buying most of their specialty merchandise. Besides .hack, they had other goods such as: Persona 5, Love Live!, Monster Hunter and Kingdom Hearts to name a few. The 1st and 3rd floor are relatively similar with the 4th floor expanding to overseas collectables and model kits.
What I found great too is they restock new merchandise every few days giving the shop variety and the element of surprise; not knowing what you’ll find. Kotobukiya is definitely on my list of places to visit if I travel to Japan again!
3. Taito Station, Akihabara
4-2-2 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku Tokyo, Tel: 03-5289-8445, Open 7 days a week: 10:00 – 24:00
Me and my brother tried one claw machine game that seemed to go in our favour and we eventually managed to win a few figurines and an acrylic stand once we knew how to move the prize around. The amount of coins we inserted was equal in value with the retail price of the figurines so that was a relief (although I’m sure we overpaid one of the figurines by a large amount).
A great place to spend your time (and most of your money) in Akihabara, Taito Station loosely fits into a shopping place as a description but with the amount of money I spent at this place I beg to differ. A multi-storey arcade that spans 6 to 7 floors of various types of arcade games, from a floor dedicated to claw machines to beat games to coin lottery games. Funny thing is most claw machines aren’t rigged. Rather, you can obtain the prize just by trial and error, inserting a decent amount of coins to win.
Overall, Taito Station, Akihabara is a great place to spend time with friends and try to win prizes though claw machines.
4. ASTOP, Rental Showcase
2F Akihabara Radio Kaikan Bldg 1-15-16, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan 101-0021, Tel: 03-5256-5911, Open 10:00- 20:00
Figurines are everywhere in Akihabara and for a price, you can bring back your favourite collectables in good condition. However, the price of new figurines might not be as affordable as you might think, ranging from $40 to upwards of $150 AUD.
This is where ASTOP, Rental Showcase comes in, offering great prices on figurines that have been traded away. The condition of each figurine varies, with some only having minor scratches to others being marked down heavily for missing their original packaging and parts.
The process of purchasing a figurine at ASTOP is similar to the IKEA model when noting down what you are after. I went in and found myself getting Nagito Komaeda and filled up the cabinet number and a unique number series attached to his figurine. Bringing it to the shop assistant, they took him and since he was missing his original packaging, had to be heavily bubble wrapped and placed in a bag.
Overall, the figurine I bought costed around $85 AUD which is a steal considering it was still in great condition. This place is a great way to save yourself from spending too much money on figurines (as long as you don’t care about having original packaging). I would give this place a look when visiting Akihabara.
5. Regression from the 90’s: Consoles, Retro Games, Technology
Place 1: Super Potato Akihabara, Kitabayashi Building 3F, 4F, 5F, 1-11-2, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0021
Place 2: Retro Game Camp, Shin Suehiro Bld.C , 3-14-7, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0021
Place 3: Mandrake Complex 3-11-12 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0021
This last one on the list is more of a general observation than about a particular store. I’ve included a few suggestions on where to visit for Retro games and consoles. What’s interesting is that every two to three shops, there was bound to be a shop that specialises in old retro games and consoles. I remember the oldest consoles I’ve owned was the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2.
I find that Akihabara has a huge appreciation for old electronics and instead of recylcling them and becoming obsolete, they are able to thrive through second hand stores and their high availability in this market is surprising considering how advanced technology is at the present time.
Not only in Akihabara but in any gadget store, there is always CD players and casette players avaliable, both of which are in scarcity in Australia. I’d suggest having a roam around Akihabara beyond the recommended retro places to visit as these shops are quite plentiful.
I hope these Top 5 discoveries shine a new light on the little quirks that Akihabara contains and that you readers found my experience entertaining to say the least. Feel free to comment down below on your own personal experiences and what you took away from your visit(s) to Akihabara.