Saturday, November 17, 2007

Great Article on Akihabara...

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.


Nenena said...

I don't mean to mock, but I'm always a little surprised when other people are surprised at the epic amounts of pornography in Akihabara. I mean, I've only been there three times in my entire life, and I couldn't take two steps without being smacked in the face with something explicit. The last time I was in Akihabara I went specifically to buy doujinshi porn. (And I got a nice haul!)

Hmm, maybe it depends on where you go? Like if you stick to the electronics shops versus stepping into the alleys. But even in the giant corporate megastores (Yodobashi, Sega, Gamers, Toranoana, Kotobukiya) I found tons of porn. Or maybe men and women have different visual filters for porn? I mean, to me, a PVC figure of a naked woman with soft squeezable breasts and an optional teeny dildo that you can stick inside of her counts as something pornographic. It's not the same as an actual dildo, but it's still a "sex toy" nonetheless. And you could find figures like that (as well as the standard porno DVDs, manga, and books) in any of the major stores.

Joel Bryan said...

Really? That's hilarious! I didn't look for anything like that, but I just skimmed over a lot of stuff because I was only there for a couple of hours. I did one walk-through of a really large "adult" store but since it's been almost 11 months I can't really remember what I saw there now. It's all a blur of lace and cheap nylon at this point.

Even the CompMart here has a selection of male-oriented "dating simulations," and if I spent time thinking about them I'd probably classify a number of them (all perhaps?) as pornographic in nature, so it's not really a surprise I suppose.

What I want to know is... where are the really big toy stores with the 1/6th scale action figures and crazy stuff like that. I went into a couple of animation shops and was kinda disappointed in the wares. Even the cosplay goods seemed kinda skimpy. Where are the really over the top shops?

Nenena said...

LIBERTY. Liberty is the store that you're looking for. And there's not just one of them - there are eight Liberty stores (conveniently named Liberty #1, Liberty #2, etc.) in the main Akihabara area. The #8 store is my favorite. It's nothing but eight solid floors of figures and models. And they have lots of crazy 1/4 and 1/2 scale models, too.

The Kotobukiya store has some crazy stuff, like a 1/100th scale Eva Unit 01 (which is as big as a person, mind you). But it's not nearly as big as any one of the Liberty stores, let alone all eight of them put together.

Joel Bryan said...

Oh cool! Thanks! It may be a while before I get back to Tokyo but I'll keep that Liberty place in mind. It sounds like that's the one.

I have a magazine guide to Akihabara, but since I bought it here of course it's in Japanese. Which I can't read yet. Although the little maps should be helpful.

Oh... I did find a crazy little doll shop in Ikebukuro where customizers could find plenty of parts for making whoever they want. But it's not wild enough to recommend anyone make a special trip there.