Sunday, March 18, 2007

Let's All Go to Akiba! (Akihabara, New Year's Day 2007)

Back when Japanese electronics were cheap and inferior, foreigners- servicemen and tourists- coming to Japan latched onto Akihabara in Tokyo as a place to pick up bargains. Tiny transistor radios and 35 mm cameras at low, low prices. This was probably also due to better exchange rates.

Akihabara in the afternoon
sunshine of a January day...

Akihabara became known as Electronics Town, and there are still signs that well tell you this at the station. Unfortunately, all the theft-like bargains are pretty much a thing of the past because Japanese electronics are expensive and superior. Now Japan's power-nerds and uber-hobbyists are transforming Electronics Town at lightning magical school girl speed into Geek Town.

More Akihabara. Most of those
tall buildings either sell video
games or electronic entertainment...
or both.

Akihabara still has lots of camera, computer and home electronics stores to keep the techiest of techno-mages in happyland for a lifetime, but the streets and sidewalks are increasingly the domain of the meido... the maid cafe girl in her gothi-loli maid outfit of black and white with lacy pinafores and over the knee socks. The pudgy faced guy on the prowl for anime-inspired plastic statues. And the overwhelmed parents indulging their hyper-genki kids on booster packs for the collectible card games that kids obsess over these days.

Occasionally, these trucks would
roll through, covered with colorful
advertising for what I'm
guessing are cd soundtracks for
anime or video games.

The otaku has long been seen as disturbed and disturbing. Outside of normal society and polite conversation. There were some pervo sex crime cases in the 90s perpetrated by members of this group and believe me... people here tend to have long memories for that kind of thing and are none too shy about generalizing based on them.

These people are thronging
around the open front of an
electronics shop. Staff members
were out front, hawking bargains
and special prices... but the prices
weren't really all that cheap!

So for American manga and anime fans who think it's cute to call themselves otaku, my Japanese students have a question for you:


But the akiba-kei? Now that's a different story.

The guy in the orange parka
is a store employee out on the
street, trying to drum up business.
And succeeding mightily! The
giant head in the foreground belongs
to some poor guy who's still half-blinded
by my flash going off in his peripheral

Action games are still all the rage
in video game arcades across
Japan. This guy's going to town
on a game my friend T loves to play...
you pound those toms while popular
songs play and you score points based
on how well you time your beat. I'm
guessing this guy was fairly good at it,
or else this is a local favorite machine,
because there was quite a large crowd
watching him.

Increasingly finding acceptance in Japanese society, the akiba-kei hobby consumers you'll see in Akihabara have gone from being seen as creepy and possibly deviant to being viewed as softer, and cuddlier. This is thanks to recent positive portrayals in the media and TV dramas extolling their more positive side- that is, if you're a young woman sick of stylish young men who'll only do you wrong then maybe you should consider dating a nerd who will be eternally grateful for your having merely spoken to him.

Across the street from a gigantic
Sega shop. Video games! Video
game systems! Orange!

Yeah, they're still seen as weird. Only it's a nicer weird.

Because I didn't do my homework beforehand, I didn't get to go into any of the hobby shops, other than the large Animate. Animate is a national chain of manga and manga-drawing supplies stores. There's a small one in the basement at Zaza that could fit in its entirety on just one floor of the Akiba Animate.

The Akihabara Animate building.
From collectible card games to
schoolgirl cosplay outfits, you can
find all sorts of crazy, groovy stuff

If you wanna dress like a
Japanese high school girl, here's
your chance! Actually, with all the
high school girl anime characters,
these uniforms are popular with
cosplayers around the world. This
may be an exact replica of a costume
worn by some anime or manga

I bought a guidebook to all the craziest toy stores in Akihabara recently, so the next time I go there, I'll be ready to rock. T wants to go with me and check out the maid cafes. I doubt we'll go in schoolgirl uniforms but we probably will play the tom-drum action game!

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