Next set of stops were all along the main street of Akihabara. Shops till you drop. Seriously – I spent almost a whole day here and felt like I didn’t even scratch the surface properly.
Since I don’t read Japanese, I started culling the manga stores – thought I did drop into one or two just to see how amazing they were. Yep – floor to ceiling, wall to wall. I think it would take a lifetime just to read what was in one of these stores.
Onwards. Store after store. You would certainly find interesting things – like R/C Toilet seats and pretty bunny hockey masks.
There were plenty of new/used DVD/Blu-ray stores and found a few amazing gems. OMG – almost bought these. They had a few copies of the limited edition Blu-ray Cowboy Bebop series that had never been released in the US. Yeah, and the price really is 18,900 yen – or about $190. They also had Macross Plus and Gunbuster! on blu-ray – also never released in the US. Ugh – it was so painful to see all these great anime series and not be able to justify the price. I also had to remind myself these were mostly region coded for Japan and they were usually subtitled in Japanese and Chinese only. Still, I did pick up a copy of Only Yesterday on blu-ray. I had to mail it back to myself, so we’ll see how that works out when it gets here.
Other shops sold new and used console games. Nothing too new there, except for the fact many had a whole floor was dedicated to PC dating simulators. These are fairly popular with women. These games usually depict scenarios of high school or other situations in which you interact with other characters getting points for getting on dates with the right characters and performing dating tasks. It was actually amazing to see that there were literally HUNDREDS of these games. The fact many stores had a whole floor to them was surprising. Guess it’s a genre of PC gaming I never knew was so popular in Japan.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t put any pics of that up, because the other half of the most stores that had the dating simulators held Eroge games. Often they were mixed on same floor. (Eroge games are near, to fully, pornographic).
After wandering down the main street and killing hours of wide-eyed wonder, I started returning to my starting point via the next block over. This was less flashy, but no less awesome. There was a larger cross-section of stores. But up first is one of the first must-hit of the stores.
This black obelisk is Mandarake and well known must-hit spot. They have over 7 floors of geekery. The shop is primarily known for collectable and rare toys, but also have anime, manga, collectable card series, and movies.
How about these? Original boxed Star Wars and Transformers toys. Original Akira promotional kits, etc. If you have a fond childhood toy memory – they have one of them there somewhere. It was amazing – but do have to admit some of the prices weren’t the best. You can find slightly better prices on eBay or Yahoo Japan auctions for more common items, but they do have some one of a kind and extremely rare items that likely will never be found anywhere else.
Another thing you’ll notice right away is that the used items are in absolutely amazing condition. The Japanese grade used items and an item needs to be exactly as good as new to get an A grade. Amazingly enough, things that would qualify as A grade here probably wouldn’t even hit a B in Japan. You rarely even see a C – people simply don’t want them. Collectors here take amazing care of their items. If you want absolutely pristine collectables – Japan is the place to go.
I walked a bit further down the street and low-and-behold, a PC shop! I had passed several small computer parts stores along the way, but this was different. This was more of a glitzy retail store that had fancy, fully-built PC’s. This is somewhat surprising considering the fact many consider PC gaming in Japan to be a nitch market. G-Tune, however, is apparently a growing brand in Japan as I had seen ads for them several other places during my travels as well.
They had fully spec’ed out systems that were clearly well-thought out configurations. They were clearly focusing on the gamer market with these rigs. For about $1200, you got a fully loaded PC with a slick looking case/keyboard/mouse. While a bit high, the prices were in the range of what one would expect for a higher-end ‘premium’ line like this.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact the Japanese are notorious about adopting the latest technology – almost none of the systems had Windows 8 on them. They came with Windows 7 by default, with an option to buy Windows 8. May people have panned Windows 8 a terrible desktop OS, and apparently the Japanese gamer’s market agrees.
Next down the road is the amazing Super Potato. Down this innocent looking hallway is a gateway to amazing things.
Floor after floor of amazing retro gaming goods. If one is careful, they can find some amazing items, deals, and take them back to the US. I found an original copy of Rez for Dreamcast for $20. You need to be a bit careful because Super Potato has become a little more known to the tourist crowd so the prices aren’t necessarily the best. Still, amazing stuff.
Next major hit down the road was an unexpected gem – Kotobukiya.
The first floor had some pretty standard Anime stuff – cutesy dolls, emoticon chocolates/candies, and man-shaped sleeping pillows….er…what?
The second floor was amazing models and kits. Kotobukiya apparently has a whole line of it’s own model kits (order-able overseas by the way). I have to admit these were pretty amazing.
The third floor got a little weirder with dolls. One sub-genre of Otaku culture is dolls. This floor had clothes, mannequins, wigs, and everything you’d need to make hyper-realistic dolls. While I recognized the craftsmanship, the dolls themselves kinda creeped me out.
On my way back, I found some of the very old roots of Akihabara’s past: actual electronics. Down a very narrow opening between two buildings, and directly under the train lines, I found this little maze of electronics dealers. Store after tiny store – most specializing in something very specific. Vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors, switches, surveillance cameras, multi-band radios, led lights. You name it – it was there somewhere (well, I didn’t see any Nixie tubes, but they were probably there somewhere).
Finally, before hitting the train, I decide to stop by two famous eateries of Akihabara. AKB48 and the Gundam Cafe. AKB48 is a cafe dedicated to the girl-band by the same name. This throng of fans was waiting outside for their dinnertime opening. I however, was interested in the Gundam cafe.
When I, I was told drinks were on, but food service hadn’t started yet. In about 10 minutes it would, however. This was fine by me as I grabbed one of their signature Gundam drinks and found a table to rest my weary bones.
This one was themed after a particular gundam wing that I forgot. It was very good and refreshing after that day of walking.
As I’m sitting there, it suddenly hits the dinner hour and this happens. The lighting in the whole place turns blue, and I can now order some food. I got a bowl of classic Gundam aka White Mobile Suit.Notice the shaped noodles? Crazy.
I also meet an interesting local guy who I had a great friendly conversation with. Turns out he works on his own video encoding system and was taking a break while his machines crunched on a batch of video processing. We talked of the differences between being ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Otaku and the different kinds of Otaku. He was a little older, and was ‘hard Otaku’ on Ultraman, Thunderbirds, and geekery of that era. I said I was more of a soft anime Otaku fan and we talked about some series we both liked. Very enjoyable dinner and we traded making paper cranes for each other. Turns out, I seem to make them very differently than the way Japanese do. Interesting.
After that, I’m completely shot. I head back to my hotel and wonder over the hoards of things I saw – knowing that I’m likely going to have to come back some day…