A Guide to Akihabara: Classic Spots and Hidden Gems in Tokyo's Electric Town
Any fan of Japanese culture, whether that be anime, manga, games, or even music, has heard of Akihabara, an area of Tokyo known as a veritable mecca of “Cool Japan”. From electronic appliances to computer parts, video games, manga, and more, Akihabara has it all! Today we will be looking at a selection of places in Akihabara, some well-known and others more obscure, to help give you a well-rounded tour to Tokyo’s most famous pop culture center.
Jan 20 2020 (May 28 2020)
Welcome to Akiba
Stepping out for the first time from Yamanote Station onto the streets of Akibabara, or Akiba for short, can be an overwhelming experience. With its neon lights, the whirring clamor of video arcades, and street vendors vying to hawk their good or services (some even dressed in maid outfits!), Akihabara is a microcosm of shopping and otaku culture that's sure to capture your imagination.
Nicknamed the “electric town”, Akihabara got its moniker from the various radio parts vendors, camera shops, and electronic appliance stores that set up shop after WW2. Not long after that, computer and otaku-related stores joined the mix, giving the area the unique atmosphere it's known for today.
Points of Interest on Akihabara's Main Street
While there is a lot to see and do on Akihabara's main street, Chuo-dori, the real charm of Akihabara awaits if you are willing to venture off the beaten path. The back streets of Akiba play host to some of the most intriguing places in town, where hunters of rare anime, manga, and video game goods can get lost in the hodgepodge of cluttered alleys and underground shops. There are so many of these hole-in-the-wall treasure troves, you could spend days trying to unearth them all. Today we will be looking at a handful of these spots that will hopefully meet all your otaku desires. Before we get into the lesser-known locations around Akihabara, though, it's worth introducing the popular spots first. After all, they're popular for a reason!
BOOKOFF Akihabara Ekimae Store
BOOKOFF is a nationwide chain that mainly deals in used books and manga, and also offers a selection of used DVDs, CDs, video games, and more. Used items in Japan are usually in quite good condition, so BOOKOFF is a great way to hunt down something you're looking for and save a few yen. The Akihabara location is particularly worth visiting due to its large selection of used electronics in addition to printed media. Try wandering through the many shelves until you find something that strikes your fancy!
Yodobashi Camera Multimedia Akiba Store
Yodobashi Camera is a chain that mainly stocks electronics of all kinds. The store in Akihabara is particularly well known for its size; with 8 floors and a basement level stocked with everything from computers to vacuums, HD TVs, and even fax machines (yes, those still exist in Japan!), it is a great place to get souvenirs and new high-tech electronics to bring back home and impress your friends. If you're not interested in electronics, they also stock popular cosmetics, delicious snacks, and even children's toys, making it an amazing one-stop shop for any of your shopping needs. If you show your passport with a tourist visa, you can enjoy duty-free purchases as well!
SEGA arcades are present throughout Japan, and there are multiple complexes found along the main street of Akiba. Perhaps the most impressive is the SEGA Akihabara 1st location, which was the original SEGA arcade in Akihabara. Claw machines, rhythm and beat games, and everything from retro video game corners to Japan's latest and greatest arcade fare can be found here. You can spend hours trying your hand at all the games here, but it can be just as entertaining to glimpse the hardcore gamers in their element.
It should be noted that smoking is allowed indoors on some of the floors, so be prepared for potential culture shock if you're from a country where indoor smoking is banned. In addition, snapping a photo is allowed, but taking videos within the arcade is prohibited, so please be mindful of the rules. Some popular games even require you to sign a form and wait in line for your turn, so if you see a crowd of people, look out for a sign up form nearby.
@home cafe Akihabara Main Store
Akiba is known for its maid cafes, which are a type of cosplay cafe where entertainers play the role of a maids as they serve food, chat, and even play games with customers. @home cafe is arguably one of the best places to get a premium maid cafe experience in Akihabara. This cafe is an established name in the industry and offers a high level of service with an overload of cuteness! Food and drinks are available here at a reasonable price, and special services such as taking a photo with a maid or playing a game are also available for a 500 yen surcharge.
If you'd like to read up on a selection of other maid cafes in Akihabara, please check out our article rounding up the most famous maid cafes in Akihabara!
Now that we’ve covered some of the more well-known spots in Akihabara, let’s take a look at a few locations that you might not as easily discover on your own!
Super Potato Akihabara Branch
Any fan of retro video games will surely be enchanted the moment they step into Super Potato. This used video game shop has three floors of software and hardware, including rare and limited edition items from the likes of Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and more. On the top floor is a retro video game arcade where you can revisit an age gone by awash in the beeps and bloops of childhood memories.
Mandarake Complex Akihabara Branch
Mandarake has a number of locations across Tokyo, but the Akihabara branch, with its imposing, all-black exterior, is perhaps the most impressive. This location features eight floors full of antique toys, independently published manga, video games, and more.
As we mentioned above, buying used goods in Japan is usually an affordable way to get a hold of rare items, and Mandarake caters to both this bargain-hunting crowd and the hardcore collectors who are willing to drop a considerable sum for the rarest items to complete their collection. Walking the jam-packed aisles of Mandarake is an adventure in itself, and around every corner is a new oddity or surprise waiting to be discovered.
Rare Vending Machine Corner
At first glance, this innocuous little street filled with vending machines may not seem so special. However, if you take a closer look at what's actually being sold, you will understand why this corner of Akihabara has generated a bit of buzz in the past. A standard selection of drinks are sold next to stag beetles, batteries, bells, and other things that don't start with the letter B! If you'd like to read up on this oddity and other bizarre vending machines across Japan, please have a look at our roundup of 10 off-the-wall vending machines in Japan!
HOBBY STATION Akihabara Main Branch
From Pokemon to Yugioh, Magic the Gathering, and Super Dragon Ball Heroes, HOBBY STATION specializes in both classic trading cards and new up-and-coming games. Even if you're not a fan of card games, checking out the rows of beautifully-arranged glass display cases and rifling through the singles card boxes can be a fun way to spend some time. Who knows, you might even walk out with a new hobby!
Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan
Gachapon is the Japanese name for vending machines that dispense capsule toys. You'll find these vending machines all throughout Japan, but particularly so in Akihabara. One location in particular, Gachapon Kaikan, or Gachapon Hall, is known as the holy land for gacha enthusiasts. Gachapon Kaikan has been in operation for over a decade, and the whole store is packed with gacha machines sure to meet everyone’s tastes. From cute and wacky to cool and handy, the collectibles available in these are machines make for great souvenirs for yourself or friends back home.
Even with all the locations mentioned in today’s list, there are still many more stores and surprises waiting for you all over the streets of Akihabara. If you are a fan of otaku culture, you may find yourself coming back again and again during your stay in Japan.
If you’d like to learn more about Akihabara cafes and izakaya, please check out our article rounding up some of Akihabara's most unique cafes. If you're looking for accommodation in the Akihabara area, we also have a list of our favorite budget-friendly picks!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.