I wake up on my first full day in Japan a bit less groggy from the night before – but the jet-lag is certainly there. What to see first? Well, it wasn’t much of a choice for me – off to Akihabara! Akihabara is the world-famous electronics, gaming, and anime district. It got it’s start after WW 2 as a home electronics, radio, and post-war black market section of town. It’s most recently turned into a cultural mecca for Otaku pursuits such as gaming, anime, manga, and toys.
Despite being still pretty beat up from the travel, I got started early. A bit too early in fact. When I figured out the city rail system (using my trusty new Japanese enabled phone) I found myself there and almost all the shops were closed. Most of them didn’t open till 10am. But I walked around as I killed the last 30 minutes before they opened and grabbed a bite of breakfast to eat. At 10am, everything started to open.
First to open was famed Yodobashi Camera. The name is a misnomer, because it’s a HUGE store with all things electronics: tv’s, computers, cameras, DVD/CD’s, video gaming, bikes, toys, PC’s, networking equipment, washing machines, etc. In short, it had everything. If you want a peak into what Japanese electronics and home goods look like – this is a great way to see them. I actually needed a few things I forgot: a LAN cable since the wireless in my hotel room was terrible and a mini tripod since my cheap $9 little one didn’t survive the trip very well (or, pretty much not at all).
I checked out a ton of different departments – computers, cameras, DVD’s and CD’s, home appliances, toys, TV’s, etc. I finally got to computer components for my LAN cable. I browsed the PC parts section for fun. I was surprised to find prices for computer components were very similar to what you’d find on Newegg (within 5% or so). For a retail store in downtown Tokyo, I was pretty impressed. Not only that – but they had a GREAT selection of everything they had as well. They didn’t just have ethernet cables, they have every length from 1′ to 50′. Flat-style, round-style, every color, different levels of connector quality, every color in the rainbow, CAT 3 through CAT not-even-out-in-the-US. They had that kind of selection for everything: cameras, TV’s, electronics, etc. In fact, I found a multifunction internal USB 3.0 + card reader that was WAY better than any I’d seen in the states. So I bought it for only $20 when I knew similar to even lesser models were going for $50 in the US.
One of the more interesting points that I noticed is that Blu-ray movies were terribly expensive in Japan. While a DVD version of a more recent movie might run you 2,000 Yen ($20), the Blu-ray version might run 6,500 Yen or more ($65). Here in the states the blu-ray version might only be an extra $10 more.
I blew a good hour and a half in Yodobashi then head back out to the rest of Akihabara.
Next stop: gachapon!
Gachapon are fun little toys distributed in plastic balls from vending machines. The word gachapon is Japanese onomatopoeia made up of two sounds: “gacha” for the sound of turning of a crank on a toy vending machine, and “pon” for the sound of the toy capsule dropping into the receptacle. It is used to describe both the machines themselves and the toys obtained from them.
Gachapon Kaikan is probably the largest and most well known of these in Akihabara. It has well over 400 machines carrying toys of all types. You bring (or change) in a ton of 100Yen (~$1 usd) coins and get to work. You’ll find all kinds of toys here – from fake tiny plastic food, realistic looking animals, anime characters such as Evangelion, and some completely what-the-heck-is-this stuff. You simply plunk in your coins and start cranking. Prices range from 100Yen to 500Yen per machine with the majority in the 200-400Yen range ($2-$4USD). So, it’s not for the cheap of heart. I think I blew about $20-30 here but it was an absolute blast. Far, far better quality than the toys you get from the grocery store machines in the states when I was a kid.
For those with less adventuresome spirits but a collectors heart – there is also the option to go to the front counter and buy a bag that contains all the toys for a small premium above the per-unit price. For those wishing to get a whole set without getting 5 of the same thing – this is cool. There are also some rental display cases here from people selling their extras as well.
But onward – more Akihabara to explore!