Akihabara - Stuff You Can Buy and See in Tokyo's Wacky Electronics Town
Unlike many cities, Tokyo doesn't really have a city centre as such. Instead there are a number of different districts, each with their own distinct identities.
One of my favourite districts of Tokyo is Akihabara - the so-called Electric Town. It's a place to visit if you want to buy the latest electronic gadgets, cameras, computers, mobile phones and other paraphernalia.
Over the last few years a whole culture has grown up around Akihabara. The place started off as a place for geeks to buy computer components and peripherals. Gradually related shops began to open, so the geeks found that they were able to buy other stuff they were likely to be interested in, like anime, computer games and idol books. Now the place has much more of a carnival atmosphere it has become a must visit for foreign visitors to Tokyo, so there are also plenty of shops selling souvenirs and wacky things to take home and amaze your friends.
Japanese geeks are termed "otaku". The term is used with affection, and it's important to remember that Japanese technology is a big earner for the country. Japanese geek goods are valued the world over, and websites that showcase Japanese otaku culture like DannyChoo.com get millions of visitors a year. With the unstoppable rise of the Internet and popularity of mobile phones, geeks are taking over the world.
Akihabara's not just for guys either - Japanese women love their mobile phones as they're great for keeping in touch with their friends, doing a spot of online shopping etc. Schoolgirls are particularly fond of their mobile phones, and it's not unusual to see a Japanese schoolgirl talking on a mobile phone that has a huge teddy bear plushie attached to it - sometimes the bear is larger than the phone itself!
If you're visiting Akihabara, you'll find that there's usually something wacky going on. Most things happen outside Akihabara station's Electric Town exit. If you don't live in Japan, then a good place to buy cool Japanese goods is the TokyoToys online store.
Akihabara's Maid Culture
The first Maid Cafe opened in Akihabara in 1999, and since then the craze for all things maid related has shown no signs of dying out. Maid culture is here to stay!
There are numerous maid cafes in Akihabara. The waitresses dress up in various maid outfits and act cute while serving their (mostly) male customers. I guess this is modern geisha culture for the 21st century. Like geishas, this is purely innocent fun - there are other areas in Tokyo where more sexy activities take place!
Maid cosplay costumes vary, but they are usually variations on the English Victorian maid outfit. Add on a pair of cute shoes, sexy long socks and (bizzarely) a set of cat's ears and the look is complete. There are shops that sell these costumes should you want to take things a stage further and set up your own maid cafe in the comfort of your own home.
By the way, the girls dressed as maids might look photogenic and you might not be able to resist taking a photo. Sadly they really dislike being photographed, so enjoy the atmosphere and put that camera away!
On the other hand, promotional girls who are there to promote a new computer game, anime, gadget or something are usually OK, and in many cases actually love striking up a pose. Often they are professional models so they really know how to strike up a memorable pose.
Akihabara is on the JR Yamanote line that encircles central Tokyo, so it's reachable from Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and the other popular areas. It's also on the Chuo line that runs between Shinjuku and Chiba.
While I hope you like my photos of Akihabara, the photos alone can't do the place justice - it's a place that has to be visited. The whole of Japan smells of delicious cooking, and Akihabara is no exception. It's also one of the noisiest places in Tokyo, which isn't exactly the quietest city on the planet. There are loads of people outside their stores shouting out the latest offers. Amusement arcades and DVD stores are particularly noisy.
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