Akihabara is a ward in Tokyo I have barely scratched the surface of, and now it's looking like this surface is simultaneously not worth scratching and also potentially disturbing if scratched. My first (so far) visit came during my New Year's jaunt. For years, I'd heard of Akihabara as "Electronic Town," the place to get all those wonky digital gadgets Japan is famous for.
In fact, the Akihabara Station features signs in English directing the tech-hungry consumotourist towards "Electronic Town." But once there, it's not all that exciting. Prices are nothing special. Maybe back in the 50s when Japanese-made goods were considered shoddy but attractive due to their transistorized size and cheapness, Akihabara was the place to find bargains. These days, it's like a place with 100 Besuto Buyus in a row.
As long as I've been here, students have told me about Akihabara's transformation into a mecca for otaku, or in English... geeks. Toy geeks, comics geeks, animation geeks, video game geeks, maid cafe geeks. While the term otaku has a somewhat negative connotation (having a member involved in a horrific murder can do that for your tribe), recent years have seen the rise of the "akiba-kei," a softer more accessible form. A lovable sort of geek that a woman sick of macho business-oriented ordinary guys might possibly date, if only she could wean him from his maid cafe obsession.
But will this be a short-lived iteration? I have no idea. I was only just reading about it in an article called "Akihabara's Awful Truths." The truths? Apparently, the akiba-kei is being driven from his Akihabara lair by encroaching corporatism. And also that Akihabara is also a center for pornography. Which comes as an unpleasant surprise to me; but then, I didn't really get to explore it all that much and I was in search of funky animation and comics related merchandise, not double-sided dildos and pictures of naked kids.
The article's by Patrick Macias, who knows more about modern Japanese pop culture than I ever will... and it makes me jealous. Well, I'm assuming he does, because not only did he write this very fascinating article, he also co-authored one of my favorite books, the concise, informative and very witty Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno. His blog is also a must-read.