Return to Japan 2013: July 17 – The highs and lows of Akihabara


The Wife and I woke up refreshed in our tiny, tiny hotel room in Tokyo. We then went through the difficult dance of moving around the hotel room without bumping into each other. The room was so small that one of us had to get on the bed to let the other walk past. The good news was that this hotel had an 11:00am check out time, unlike the unreasonable 10:00am that I had experienced while extremely hung over a few days ago in Koriyama.

Our hotel featured a breakfast buffet that had both Japanese and “Western” options. We got to choose from noodles, fish, rice (of course), bread, eggs, toast, hash browns and other goodies. Travel tip: always stay at a hotel with a breakfast option. Nothing beats checking out full of breakfast and ready to go.

From the hotel we went back to Akihabara. Both of us being slightly geeky, we always had fun exploring Akihabara. The main streets contain non stop video game, comic, model and anime stores (and porn). You can also find game centers, karaoke, duty free shops with export model gadgets, porn, books, CDs, restaurants, costume shops, and porn. The side streets get closer to Akihabara’s history: electronic component stores. If you need a fan for an old computer or an obscure cable to connect two devices, you are guaranteed to be able to find it somewhere.

Another popular attraction in Akihabara is maid cafes. A maid cafe is a uniquely Japanese invention born in Akihabara. Waitresses dressed in anime maid costumes serve you food and drinks and treat you like the “master” of a mansion. Naturally the food and drinks are slightly more expensive than other places. During our walk through Akihabara we found “maids” handing out brochures promoting their cafes at most major intersections. The Wife had been to a maid cafe before while chaperoning Canadian high school students on a trip to Osaka. I had never been before, and was not really interested. To me the whole idea sounds like a hostess bar, but cuter. Having someone serve me drinks and treat me too nice because it’s their job is still a bit strange for me. I do not, however, have any objections to The Wife buying an anime maid costume.

Most of the stores in Akihabara are tall and narrow, with different products on each floor. There are usually very narrow stairs or a tiny escalator to travel between floors. We spent a lot of time in one particular used game and movie store, just wandering around. One floor was full of classic video games and systems. I nearly bought a used Super Famicom and games, but then considered carrying it around in my backpack for the rest of the day. The next time I live in Japan I will have to get one. The TV floor had DVDs of all kinds of old anime and live action TV shows. I watched in amazement as a small TV showed the opening theme from Himitsu Sentai Go Ranger. Stop what you are doing and click on the link. DO IT NOW!

The computer game floor had a small selection of English language games, which are very hard to find in Japan. As someone who lived in Japan for 3 years who likes computer games, I loved hunting through the game stores until I found the few that sold English games. It was like an epic geeky treasure hunt. The rest of the floor was full of porn games. Some brilliant sales person had set up a display full of Tenga masturbation toys in the middle of the porn game section. I have seen a lot of game stores in Akihabara with a lot of dirty games, and I have seen stores that sell solo sex toys for guys, but have never seen a store that made the obvious connection between the two products and offered them for sale in the same place before. Genius!

The movie floor is where we found the dark side of Akihabara. In addition to the regular movies and porn movies, we found a section of bathing suit model DVDs. These movies feature no nudity, just female models wearing bathing suits and frolicking around. Normally this would not be terribly creepy, until we noticed that the girls on the package looked a little too young. I was able to read the Japanese on one of the covers and found that it proudly proclaimed that the model was 14 years old. I pointed this out to The Wife, who showed me that the next DVD featured a 12 year old model. We quickly walked away from that part of the store, disgusted and feeling wrong. Keep in mind – we were in a major, reputable store on one of the main streets. Worse things exist out there should a person want to look for them.

I didn’t write this blog post to promote debate on any moral or legal issues that exist with this material. No matter where you are from, Japan probably has different laws than your country. Nothing you can buy in a major store in Akiba is illegal in Japan. Whether or not you find it ammoral is entirely up to you. Personally, I would like to see stricter laws in Japan, but as a person with exactly zero political power in Japan, I can’t do very much about it other than blogging.

We left the game store and moved on to much more pleasant things – lunch. We ate at Becker’s Burgers, which is notable for serving what is possibly Japan’s only attempt at poutine. Proper poutine has thick fries covered in gravy with cheese curds. Becker’s poutine has shoestring fries with a gravy like sauce and shredded cheese. It doesn’t compare to the real thing, but does fill the void as a comfort food for a homesick Canadian. Across from Becker’s was a t-shirt store. The front window featured a shirt that said (in Japanese): “Seriously, I want to quit my job”. I was going to buy it and wear it upon my return to Canada on casual Fridays. I changed my mind at the last minute, just in case someone at the office did figure out the meaning. My boss does have a good sense of humour, but it is never a good idea to push your luck.

Overall, Akihabara is a fun place for anyone visiting Japan that is interested in games, anime, movies, electronics and any manner of “geek stuff”. Be aware, you may run into some unpleasant things for sale, but that hopefully won’t detract too much from the overall experience. If you are really concerned or on a tight schedule, stick to the giant Yodobashi Camera next to the station. You can get a sample of all the good stuff that Akihabara has to offer in one massive store. I do wish you the best of luck getting that stupid song out of your head. You have been warned.

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