By Allie Tan
Home to familiar faces and to the new, people walking through for the 100th time and people walking through for the first time, Akihabara is a cauldron of color, excitement and noise, with stretches of roads lined with electronics, anime and manga stores. It is known to be the heart of otaku culture in Japan, where locals, coupled with people from various parts of the globe, all form together to embark on a pilgrimage to this Anime Mecca, circulating the stores as if to be cleansed by the manga spirits.
It is a place where everyone seems to be content, with newcomers looking around in awe trying to bottle up some of Tokyo’s magic to hold with them forever, to the local anime fans looking pleased to be surrounded by everything so close to their hearts. I myself walked through with my left hand clutching my laptop and my camera slung over my right shoulder, so I looked at home with my electronic surroundings. All I needed was a T-shirt with an intricately drawn girl with big eyes and I would have been like a chameleon, really camouflaging into the background and becoming another piece of the Akihabara anime puzzle.
This is a very special place in Tokyo, which is why it is so visited by people from all over the world. Tall buildings with colorful anime and manga pictures peering down at passersby, shops each with their own identity playing funky music, electronic stores with floors full of goods, girls dressed as maids lining the streets and handing out flyers, and announcements made in Chinese and Korean all fuse together to provide an experience that simply cant be repeated outside of the streets of Akihabara.
If you are a fan of anime and manga then this place will be a paradise for you. I am not a diehard fan; if you asked me to name a load of anime shows I would not be able to. However, I have always loved the artwork. It is probably my favorite style of drawing and I have always watched it here and there. One particular shop blew me away; you weren’t allowed to take pictures in there but that didn’t really matter. Once in there it didn’t bother me not to be able to look at the pictures through the eye of a camera, as my eyes alone were fixated on beautiful anime drawings. I got one little souvenir, a folder with a cute girl outside a café under an umbrella, superbly designed and a bargain for just ¥300. Some of the drawings were absolutely sensational, priced at ¥3000 onwards, as I wished money wasn't an option and that I could buy them all and have a anime-style room in my house.
A few of my friends love anime and I know that they would completely be under the Akihabara spell; it would be hard to pull them away from this place and snap them out of their trance. However, If you are unlike my friends and not a fan of anime, this special culture of Japan is still something you have to witness when in Tokyo. You also never know; Akihabara has a special power and presence that might transform you into a fan once spending a few hours in its colorful streets. There are also many arcade games where you can win cute little cuddly toys, so it is a place where so much light-hearted fun can take place.
Electronics stores are also the other reason to go here, with a pure abundance of electrical goods. There are stores upon stores, floors upon floors, so you can really spend a long time here. These are the best places to shop for laptops, phones, cameras etc., as you have so many options and different places to compare products and prices to. Therefore it is advisable to look at them all, spend a long time soaking everything up and then get the best deal, because prices usually vary from store to store in places like this. It is very much like Hong Kong in this way.
To complement the unique experience of shopping for electronic goods and witnessing anime culture at its finest, Akihabara provides distinctive dining opportunities. It is home to the famous maid cafés in Japan. When walking the streets you will see many girls dressed as maids, some more eccentrically than others, handing out flyers and trying to lure people into their dream-like worlds for an eating experience in another reality. When inside it is relaxed and carefree fun, and is a way of immersing yourself into this anime style of culture.
If the crazy experience of eating in a maid café isn’t for you, it’s not a problem, as there are plenty of ‘normal’ places to eat. Akihabara has many restaurants, cafes, bars and small eateries that offer plenty of dining choices.
This is a magical place, a one-off place, somewhere you have got to visit when in Tokyo. It is fun in the day, then flamboyant and busy at night, so anytime is a great time to go. Jump off at Akihabara Station and thrust yourself into this incredible place!
In association with HK Express – sponsors of our 2015 JapanTravel.com Photojournalist Program
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I graduated from University of Hertfordshire in the UK in 2014, with a 2:1 in Mass Communications. I have since worked in China for a Media and PR Company as a writer and photographer and also as a foreign editor for a English website for the expatriate community in Guangzhou. I am a big fan of the East in many ways, and have always dreamed of coming to Japan. I look forward to exploring this beautiful and unique country over the years to come!