As the massive geeks that we are, it was obvious to us that our first destination in Japan had to be Akihabara, Electric Town. After World War 2, in the shadow of a weak Japanese government, Akihabara rose as a prominent merchant district, and became home to Tokyo’s black market. Eventually, it became the home for all electronic goods (you can still find tunnels of kiosks below the railway tracks where the owners sell nothing but capacitors, switches and other computing parts) and, more recently, it has become the centre of Tokyo’s Otaku culture.
Anime, videogames, music… If it’s collectible, you’ll find it in Akiba. Entire multilevel department stores where each floor is dedicated to a different type of geekery: collectible figurines, card games, anime, J-Idol music, videogames, military memorabilia, dolls, construction kits, you name it.
Fortunately, Akihabara was very close to Ayase, a few stops and a single change on the metro got us there in less than twenty minutes. On surfacing, the grey skies and threat of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits. We were in the home of geek culture.
We found some of the world’s rarest trading cards on sale for nearly £100,000; we found figurines from our favourite videogames and anime; we found everything we could ever have dreamed for to feed our inner geek. I picked up a Japanese copy of a videogame that I wanted that wasn’t out in the UK yet, and a construction kit to build a tank from another of my favourite videogames. Dan and Lee both picked up some figurines and manga.
We had considered grabbing lunch in a Maid Cafe, an establishment where one pays a table fee in addition to the meal, in order to have cute Japanese girls (usually dressed as maids, or with cat ears etc) wait upon you and have proper conversations beyond what we would expect from a waitress. This sounds sexual and creepy but it’s not meant to be, it’s just a part of the culture and a sort of strange roleplay situation. Since we barely spoke any Japanese, we decided against it and instead opted for lunch in a little corner cafe. We placed our order with a vending machine by the door (paying with my metro card was a novelty), sat down and ate ramen and katsu curry.
Arcades are something that, here in the UK, are sadly dying out completely. Gone are the days of pumping coins into the nearest Street Fighter machine. In Akiba, not so at all. We got to play games like Tekken 7 and Dissidea that aren’t even out in the UK yet, alongside classic rhythm game machines like Project Diva Arcade. The thunderous roar of arcade machines is something I’ve dearly missed, and I could have spent days, and tens of thousands of yen in those places.
Eventually, long after the sun had set, we perched our weary feet outside Cafe Excelsior with strawberry and banana smoothies. We sat crowd watching whilst we used our guide books and the WiFi box to make further plans, before heading back to Ayase to rest.