As you walk through the station exit, your eyes are met with an array of themed shops that immediately set the tone. The largest stores can be found around the station as well as those offering tax free shopping for foreign tourists (who merely need to produce their passport) staffed with polyglot salespersons. When you look at the rows of shops selling miscellaneous articles, you may even mistake your surroundings for a Hong-Kong market.
On Akihabara’s main street you will also find the Sega Club, a major four-story arcade venue. Fight games are just as popular as ever and it is even possible to challenge a player in the middle of a game by taking the cabinet opposite him/her. It is to be noted that, as often in Japan, smoking is allowed in game arcades.
Take a plunge beneath the surface
In Akihabara’s side streets, there are a lot of lower-profile stores where you can often get better deals. However, in many Akihabara stores (like, for example, Super Potato, a retro video game retailer highly popular with tourists), prices have been allowed to soar since the change of millennium and the drastic rise in the number of visitors. When we first went in 2003, you could actually find good bargains, but this is hardly true today…
Some people are of the opinion that Akihabara does not hit the mark anymore, especially due to the flow of foreign tourists which partly accounts for rising prices, but also because several iconic stores have closed down. The upper floors of buildings are often worth a visit as verticality reigns supreme in the district.
It is probably after nightfall that Akihabara is the most appealing. The atmosphere is suffused with the brightness of artificial lighting and pervaded with the sounds of thousands of noises rising from game consoles such as the endlessly repeated “irasshaimase!” (Welcome!), creating a unique environment. Be warned however: despite the district’s myriad dazzling lights and its crowd-drawing clamor, most stores close for the night on the stroke of seven when neon lights go off and megaphones go quiet until the next morning and the beginning of new hard day’s work.
The items sold in Akihabara traditionally cover a large quality range. Akiba, which is short for Akihabara, remains nonetheless a must-see place for the world’s otaku in love with popular Japanese culture.
How to get to Akihabara
Akihabara Station is on the Yamanote JR train line that goes around Tokyo
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Shops generally open from 10am to 8pm
The main street is pedestrian only on Sundays from 1pm to 5pm
How long / when to visit
Depending on your degree of otaku, count one hour to a full day!