Akihabara was once considered the home of obsessed anime fans and dubious electronic dealers, but how have things changed! Akihabara is now known as the epicenter of Cool Japan, the creative center where fans from around the world gather to enjoy the latest trends in anime, manga, figures and everything to do with otaku culture, as well as the latest electronic gadgets.
Whether you are a newbie, or a seasoned otaku fan, check some of these places out to get a feel for Akihabara’s vibrant culture.
A good place to get started is the Tokyo Anime Center, located on the fourth floor of the UDX building. It plays home to a rotating set of exhibitions, and they keep one of the best event calendars in the area. They also print an English map to guide you around Akihabara, but be careful: the English map is not updated as often as the Japanese one, and you might end up missing out on the latest stores, or chasing ones that no longer exist. If in doubt, ask the English-speaking staff.
On Sundays, the main road is closed to traffic, and Akihabara takes on a new spirit. Expect to see bands, aspiring idols and maids on the road, as well as thousands of people browsing through the latest in pop culture.
If you’re looking for figures, then the Raido Kaikan building is where you want to be. It has long been an epicenter of Otaku fandom, and houses stores such as Kotobukiya or Kaiyo-do. Some of the highlights are the figures by Ghibli (Hayao Miyazaki’s movie studio, which produced hits such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro).
Akihabara is of course also known for electronics, and there are several duty-free shops selling the latest gadgets. Be careful to make sure that the products can withstand the voltage in your home country. Some of the main duty-free shops are Laox and Onoden.
Yodobashi Camera also offers duty-free shopping, and it is one of the largest electronic stores in Tokyo. If you can’t find it here, chances are you will not find it anywhere else either. Allow yourself plenty of time to browse the eight floors of this massive store.
Akihabara has also become famous because of maid cafes. The best way to understand what these places are all about is to drop by for a drink and observe first-hand the action.
Maid cafes are all about moe, which is the word used to describe otaku fantasy, and maid cafes are trying to bring the concept into reality. One of the friendliest places for maid beginners is the @home cafe, where the atmosphere is cheery and full of energy. Pinafore is another famous cafe, home to the popular drama Densha Otoko, while Cure cafe is considered to be the original maid cafe.
For a different experience, head to Nagomi, where the maids act the role of younger sister, or Royal Milk, where you can get a massage. Be careful with maid hair salons though; the maids are not hair stylists, and the whole point is that your haircut will look amateur (but fans appreciate the care the maid offers them).
Akihabara is also home to some world-class gamers, and you can catch them at one of several arcade centers that line up the main road. Some players are known to draw incredible crowds, and they even appear on television specials, showing their skills. Some places include Sega Gigo, Club Sega or Taito Hey .
Of course Akihabara is not the only place to appreciate Japan’s pop culture. Other places include the Ghibli Museum or some areas around East Ikebukuro, where maid cafes and big manga stores cater to similar tastes than Akihabara.