Akihabara (JR Akihabara Station, second stop from Tokyo Station on the JR Yamanote Line) is Tokyo’s “Electric Town.” Arguably the world's largest and most famous electronics district, Akihabara is a mecca for Otaku — a kind of geek that is particularly into anime and computer games. Some are also into “Cosplay.” There are many anime related stores where you can find animation figures, costumes and manga. It is a good place to get electronic products at reduced prices. The street in front of the station is dotted with stores offering almost every kind of electric and electronic device imaginable, including a lot of stuff you won't see in your home country. Most of stuff has been marked down 20 percent or more.
Akihabara is more than a tourist trap or shopping area. It' is a cultural hub. The otaku mecca changed from an electronic district to a software town and is now one of Japan’s leading pop-culture district. It is ground zero for otaku (nerd) culture. It is chock-a-block with small but influential, back-alley anime and manga stores and maid cafes. Within a several block area there are over 80 maid cafes.
On Sundays and holidays some of Akihabara’s streets are closed to traffic. In recent years these areas have attracted “cosplay” performers---people who dress up like manga and anime characters and put on street performances. Some regard the performances as a nuisance because they disrupt the flow of shoppers and there has been some effort to control them. One woman was arrested for putting in a show that climaxed with exposing her underwear. On weekend nights large crowds gather on the east side of JR Akihabara Station to see live street performance of bands and dance groups.
In January 2011, the vehicle-free pedestrian zone in Akihabara that was the site of the 2008 mass murder was re-opened. The street had been a car-free zone since 1973 on Sundays and holidays. In July 2010 all of Akihabara’s promenades reopened. In 2010, a number of duty-free shops were opened to lure foreign customers. Chinese-owned Laox runs the largest duty-free electronic store, followed by Softmap. Store clerks have been hired that speak Chinese, Korean and English . Poster saying say “Welcome” in Chinese hang from the walls of some stores. The Best Shops of Akihabara---Guide to Japanese Subculture by Toshimichi Nozoe is available for ¥1,000 by download at http://www.akibaguidebook.com
Websites: Akihabara Tourism Organization akihabara-japan.com ; Akihabara News akihabaranews.com ; JNTO web magazine jw-webmagazine.com/akihabara-area-ultimate-guide ; Go Tokyo gotokyo.org ; otaku story in the Washington Post Washington Post ;
History of Akihabara and Rise an Otaku Mecca
Akihabara got its start as a center of black market activities after World War II. In the 1950s and 60s it was known as the place to buy radios and appliances. In the 1990s it became known for personal computers Over the years a number of shops that specialized in video and computer games and manga- and anime-related products opened up and these have attracted otaku. `
Singer-songwriter Haruko Momoi, a longtime Akihabara-goer, told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "Wandering around the streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya by yourself is lonesome. But everyone in Akihabara is alone. So, I didn't feel lonely at all," said singer-songwriter Haruko Momoi, a longtime Akihabara-goer, as she recalls her middle and high school years. "They have specific motives to come here, and video game stores were like salons.” [Source: Takamasa Sakurai, Daily Yomiuri, February 3, 2012]
Asked when Akihabara starting becoming an otaku haven, Momoi said: "In the mid-1990s, a leading video game company began selling a kind of game called 'Bishojo [beautiful girls] Game.' I think that was the turning point. Konami [Digital Entertainment] released a dating simulation computer game Tokimeki Memorial [Heartbeat Memorial] and that is almost surely the origin of the 'moe' concept. Since then, a lot of people have come to Akihabara to buy software and other items, and the area has gradually become a software town. Akihabara was like unmarked, virgin soil with stores enjoying friendly rivalries.
Back then, male visitors dominated, but the number of female visitors has increased thanks to the opening of anime shops such as Animate Ltd. Girls working at Akihabara’s maid cafes, symbols of the area, are frequent visitors to Harajuku. They scrutinize clothing magazines and shops in this fashion mecca on weekends. Their preferences seem to match the maid costumes and culture. "Akihabara and Harajuku are getting closer. Akihabara-goers used to have a deep-rooted complex about Harajuku. But thanks to girls working at maid cafes, the wall between the two is getting lower," Momoi agrees. In Japan, Lolita fashion fans used to hate being identified with cosplayers. But teenage girls today say they like both.
Akihabara Maid Cafes
Role-playing cafes for men are popular in Tokyo. Most have waitresses dressed as French maids and target otaku — geeky fans of manga and anime. The trend reportedly began in the 1990s with a “love simulation” game in which players tried to win a date a with a waitress dressed in a maid costume." Some anthropologists say that one reason role-playing and dressing up are so popular in Japan is because they allow people to briefly escape the extreme social control and rigid norms of everyday life.
In Akihabara there are over 80 maid cafes packed into a few block area and girls in maid costumes are frequently seem on the streets handing out fliers. The first maid cafes opened in Akihabara in 2000 and the popularity gained momentum after they were mentioned in the popular film Densha Otaku. Today there are so many and the competition is so stiff that its said you have to be special to survive.
The cafes where young girls dress up like English or French maids are relatively harmless Most of the time the girls are simply waitresses. They don't even pour drinks or flatter customers like hostesses do. Many of the clients are otaku, Many of the girls are cosplay fans. In Akibara district there are maid cafes, maid bars, maid game center, and foot massage centers and oxygen salons with girls in maid costumes. The firm Candy Fruit rents out pairs of girls in maid outfits to do “entertainment housekeeping." It charges ¥30,000 to send two girls and a chaperon to a customers house for two hours of chatting and cleaning.
Maids at cafes often greet otaku regulars with the greeting oakari (“Welcome Home”). The founder of maid training academy told otaku scholar Patrick Galbraith, “In a world where communication is getting ever weaker the relations between and intimacy established between maid and customer are crucial." Roles are reversed at the Newtype café in Akihabara where young men and pretty boys dress up in maid costumes and serve young women or male customers dressed in drag themselves. To work there the boys have to be cute.
In June 2008, a 25-year-old temporary auto factory worker, Tomohiro Kato, went on a carefully planned rampage, killing seven people’six men and one woman ages 19 to 74---and injuring 10, in the busy Akiharbara shopping district of Tokyo. Dressed in a pale suit, he drove 95 kilometers from his home and plowed a rented two-ton truck into a crowd and then leaped out and began stabbing bystanders. Afterwards Kato confessed to police he wanted to kill as many people as possible.
Of the 17 that were killed or injured, five were struck by the truck and 12 were stabbed. Kato purposely drove the truck through a pedestrian crossing as people were crossing, trying to kill as many people as possible that way. The truck was traveling 40 to 50 kilometers per hour in a zigzag pattern tp avoid other vehicles. Kato drove around the area for 20 minutes before beginning the attack apparently trying to get the timing right for plowing into the intersection. Three of the five people he hit died.
Kato stopped the truck about 70 meters from the intersection and got out and ran back to the intersection with the a double edge combat knife in his hand, stabbing 12 people in the crowded intersection within one minute. As he ran from the truck he stabbed three people. In the intersection about 100 people were milling around. There he stabbed five people, three of them in the back. One of the victims was a policeman who was assisting victims hit by the truck.
Pedestrians initially thought only traffic accident had taken place. When they realized that a man with a knife was running amok they began to scatter. At this point in the attack Kato stabbed three of the fleeing people in the back.
The entire Akihabara rampage unfolded in less than two minutes. It resulted in the highest death toll for an attack of this kind in postwar history. The Washington Post described the scene as looking like a war zone with “puddles of blood and random shoes on the pavement.” Some of the victims did not even know they had been stabbed. The double edged knife Kato used made it easy for him to thrust deeply and withdraw the blade and repeatedly stab in this way with a minimum effort. One victim whose liver was penetrated by the knife died four hours after the attack in a hospital.
About five minutes after the attack began police officers from a local koban surrounded Kato in a back alley about 50 meters from the intersection. The policeman who first confronted Kato did so with a police baton. Kato managed to slash the policeman’s protective vest three time before the policeman pulled out his gun. At that point Kato dropped his knife. His face was covered with blood.
Nakano Broadway; Tokyo’s Real Otaku Meca
Nakano Broadway (Nakano Ward, JR Chuo Line Tozai Subway Line, north exit of Nakano Station) is where the real anime otaku go and hang out now that Akihabara has become too touristy. This shabby shopping arcade-mall is the home numerous anime- and manga-related stores as well as fortune tellers, the Takashi Murakami gallery, a record store devoted to progressive German and Japanese music, vintage and indie bookshops, and Tokyo’s tallest soft serve ice cream cones. Location: 5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164-0001, Tel: +81-3-3388-7004}
Tokyo’s Nakano Ward is known both in and outside Japan as an "otaku mecca," and the local government has launched various projects to support manga and anime businesses, in the hope that the area will take the lead in the field of "Cool Japan" pop culture. In 2013, the Hasegawa Machiko Art Museum opened in Tokyo. It takes the popular manga Sazae-san as its theme. [Source: Mutsuko Yamada, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 16, 2011]
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The Nakano Ward Office regards subculture as part of its local culture and has opened manga academies as well as inviting related companies to the area. Many manga and anime shops are concentrated in and around the Nakano Broadway shopping center, and the local government plans to play an active role in disseminating information overseas—all helping to nurture Japan’s emergence as a pop culture center.
“Nakano Manga Art Court opened in October 2011 after the local government donated the defunct Momogaoka Primary School as a facility to house several manga and anime academies. Amps, one of the manga and anime academies at the facility, recently began offering classes in four departments—anime, manga, illustration and action figures—and has enrolled about 130 students. The school also has an anime production agency, providing career opportunities for its graduates. Akira Natsukawa, president of Amps, said: "The local government supports us in boosting subculture in this area. I want to train capable people here who can work in the industry."
“The Nakano Ward government says it has had a positive response and plans to attract companies that use anime, manga and action figures to a lot once used by the National Police Academy, on the north side of Nakano Station. Companies targeted include a human resources agency where professional artists in the manga, anime, games, film and music fields can register, as well as a company that releases works by amateur artists. "We hope our efforts will help the growth and development of the subculture industry," a Nakano Ward government spokesperson said.”
Anime and Manga Shopping in Tokyo
Animate deals with Japanese animations and cartoons goods; videos, games, comics, CDs and more. Many stores in all parts of Japan. Tel: 03-3972-0022 (Information desk), 03-3988-1351 (Ikebukuro), 03-5458-2454 (Shibuya), 03-5209-3330 (Akihabara)
Nakano Broadway (5-minute walk from Nakano Station on the JR and subway Tozai Lines) is a shopping center with many stores specializing in animations, comics, figures, costumes for anime characters, and so forth. Tel: 03-3388-7004 URL: Website: nbw.jp
Aso Bit City (5-minute walk from Akihabara Station) is a large department store of games, books, DVDs, CDs and toys. You can experience some of the latest models of game machines, software and CDs. Hours Open: 10:00am-9:00pm Tel: 03-5298-3581
Donguri Kyowakoku sells a wide range of original character goods modeled on Hayao Miyazaki’s works. Donguri Kyowakoku means “Republic of acorns” in English. Head Office Tel: 03-5469-5700, Shops Tel: 03-5222-7871 (Tokyo Yaesu), 03-3988-8188 (Ikebukuro), 03-3570-5091 (Odaiba), 045-222-5490 (Yokohama)
Mandarake is a store of Japanese animations and cartoons, and has several shops throughout Japan. Toys, comics, zines and original drawings of televised celluloids are available. Tel: 03-3477-0777 (Shibuya), 03-3252-7007 (Akihabara), 03-3228-0007 (Nakano). mandarake.co.
Pokemon Center exclusively handles various Pokemon-related products (Pocketmonster and Pocketmonster Advanced Generation) Games, books, videos, snacks, clothes and many other products are sold.Tel: 03-6430-7733 (Hamamatsucho, Tokyo), 045-222-5533 (Yokohama), 052-264-2727 (Nagoya), 06-6346-6002 (Osaka), 092-413-5185 (Fukuoka) URL: Website: pokeMondayco.jp/gp
Ultraman World in the underground shopping complex at Tokyo Station, offers every original product of Ultraman, the alien buster, one of the most popular characters in Japan. Tel: 03-3215-0707 Hours Open: 10:00am-8:30pm
Sanrio Shop sells Hello Kitty and Sanrio charactor goods. Tel: 03-3354-3640 (Shinjuku), 03-3566-4040 (NishiGinza), 06-6258-9804 (Shinsaibashi, Osaka) Website: sanrio.co.jp
Ghibli Museum (Mitaka Station on the JR Chuo train line) is the brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator that created Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro and won an Academy Award for Spirited Away . Opened in October 2001 and built at a cost of $42 million, it is designed by Miyazaki himself and named after Miyazaki’s studio. It attracted more than one million visitors and is best described as a hands-on art museum-playground for children.
Ghibli Museum is a unique space aimed at evoking memories of childhood and inspiring fantasy. The museum building is a maze of stairways, passages and rooms that calls to mind some of the mysterious sets from Miyazaki’s films. Inside are displays of works by Miyazaki and members his Ghibli studio staff, reproductions of animated characters and rooms and studio intended to convey the work that goes into making animated films. Sometimes his films are shown here and nowhere else. Several Miyazaki short anime films such as Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess debuted at the Ghibli Museum’s 80-seat Saturn theater. Reservations are required for these.
Margaret Talbot wrote the in The New Yorker, “From the outside, the museum resembles an oversized adobe house, with slightly melted edges; its exterior walls are painted in saltwater-taffy shades of pink, green and yellow. Inside, the museum looks like a child’s fantasy of Old Europe submitted to a rigorous Arts and Crafts sensibility...stained-glass windows cast candy colored light on white-washed walls; a spiral stairway climbs...to a rooftop garden of wild grasses, over which a hammered-metal robot soldier stands guard. In the central hall, beneath a high ceiling, a web of balconies and bridges suggests a dream vison of a 19th century factory.”
Among its notable features are reproductions of the cat-shaped bus from My Neighbor Totoro large enough to climb on; and exhibits like Where a Film Begins , depicting a room where a boy dreams up an idea for a film. The restaurant features home cooking rather than restaurant food.
Hours Open: The museum is open everyday except Tuesday from 10:00am to 6:00pm. It is also closed during the New Year’s holiday and for periodic maintenance. Admission: Admission is ¥1,000 for adults, ¥700 for middle and high school students, ¥400 for primary school students and ¥100 for pre school children and free for children under four. You must book a reserved ticket which specifies the appointed date of the reservation in advance. For ticket information, please check the official website. Website: ghibli-museum.jp/en/ticket-information Getting There: 15-minute walk or 5 minutes by bus from Mitaka Sta. on JR Chuo Line (20 minutes from Shinjuku Station). Tour: JTB (travel agency) hosts Ghibli Museum Afternoon Tour with an English-speaking guide to the museum and its vicinity every Monday, Wednesday and Friday Fee: Adults ¥6,000, Child ¥4,700 Minimum number of participants: Website: jtb-sunrisetours.jp Websites: Ghibli Museum site ghibli-museum.jp ; Photos and Background Information tautoz.com ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com, Tel: 0570-055-777 (Japanese only).
Fujiko F. Fujio Museum
Fujiko F. Fujio Museum (in Kawasaki, shuttle bus from Noborito Station on the Odakyu or JR Nanbu lines) is a museum showcasing the work of Fujiko F. Fujio, the late manga artist who created such characters as Doraemon, Perman and Obake no Q-taro. Opened in September 2011, it features about 50,000 original drawings, a desk and other items used by the artist, whose real name was Hiroshi Fujimoto, until his death in 1996. The three-story museum was constructed on the former site of the Mukogaoka Yuen amusement park in the city's Tama Ward. The park closed in 2002.
Kenichi Sato wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Original color drawings are shown in the first-floor exhibition area, featuring an entrance modeled after the “dokodemo door” in Doraemon cartoons. The second floor holds the artist's original drawings in a room softly lit to preserve the works, and visitors are sure to be enchanted by the vivid pictures of the manga stories they loved as children. His workspace is recreated faithfully, with his books and toys filling the shelves in the high-ceilinged room. These mementos show the artist's diverse and wide-ranging interests.
Visitors can also enjoy a Doraemon-shaped vending machine dispensing character goods or eat French toast shaped like "ankipan," one of Doraemon's secret items. Ankipan is bread on which a note can be written and when it is eaten, you automatically memorize the contents of the note.
Hours Open: 10:00am-6:00pm Closed on Tuesday, December 30 to January 3 and other scheduled dates. Each day, the entrance time is divided into a quarterly time-schedule, and visitors must enter the museum no later than one half-hour after the reservation time. Admission: Reservations are required. Admission is 1,000 yen for adults, 700 yen for middle and high school students and 500 yen for younger children four and over (those under 4 are free). You must purchase a reserved ticket which specifies the appointed date of the reservation in advance at Lawson in Japan. Tel: 0570-055245. Getting There: The Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, about 10 minutes by shuttle bus from Noborito Station on the Odakyu or JR Nanbu lines, Website: fujiko-museum.com
Suginami Animation Museum
Suginami Animation Museum (Suginami Ward, Ogikubo Station on the JR Chuo Line and the Tokyo Metro Subway Marunouchi Line) visitors a chance not only to see exhibits representing Japan’s quality anime and other visual culture but also to experience a bit of anime production by themselves through various hands-on events.
Ryuya Hara, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The ward government set up the museum in 2005 to gain greater exposure for Japanese anime at home and abroad. The ward is home to many anime production companies, such as Sunrise, which produced “Kido Senshi Gundam” (Mobile Suit Gundam) . Visitors may be first enthralled by the thick pillar at the center of the museum. It bears the images of popular anime characters such as Fukuzo Moguro, Joe Yabuki and the conductor of “Galaxy Express 999.” These images, all hand-drawn by their anime creators or professional animators, are on display along with the autographs of anime creators and voice actors. [Source: Ryuya Hara, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 13, 2014]
“The pillar at the center of the museum bears autographs and illustrations of popular manga artists. The most popular hands-on event is the chance to play a voice actor dubbing an anime. Visitors can record their own voices for an anime scene and play it back. “Honto datteba, Atomu Oni-chan!” (It’s certainly true, Atom!) . Miyu Irioka, 11, recorded herself reading the line shown on the display, performing the role of Uran, the younger sister of the protagonist of“Astro Boy.” “I just end up reading in a monotone if I don’t get in tune with the character’s feelings,” Irioka said. She repeated the line many times into the microphone until she was satisfied with the result.
“Some other hands-on events are enjoyable even for people who are not especially crazy about anime, such as “parapara anime,” a program in which your own drawings are recorded frame by frame and then played back as anime on the screen of a personal computer. Perusing panels and chronological tables depicting the history of anime is also fun. They begin with “Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki” (The story of the concierge Mukuzo Imokawa), which is said to be the oldest Japanese anime, produced in 1917. From there, the depicted history continues all the way up to the current global hit “ONE PIECE.” These displays illustrate well how anime images, which were first hand-drawn, have become the sophisticated and realistic images of today due to the development of digital technology such as computer graphics.
“Visitors can also watch past masterpieces on a large screen. “Popular anime in Japan soon become popular overseas, too,” said Rena Ishikawa, a staff member at the museum. “I’m surprised to hear foreign visitors here talk about the latest anime, such as ‘shingeki no Kyojin’ (Attack on Titan) .” The number of visitors from the United States and China is increasing, she also said.” Hours Open: 10:00am to 6:00pm (admission until 5:30pm) . Closed Mondays and during the year-end and New Year holiday season. Admission: free. Tel: (03) 3396-1510
Sanrio Puroland: Home of Hello Kitty
Sanrio Puroland (outside of Tokyo, Tama Center Station on Keio, Odakyu and Tama-monorail) is a Hello Kitty theme park that attracts 1.3 million visitors a year but still loses money. Opened in 1990, it attracts kawaii and anime fans from Japan and all over the world. At Sanrio Puroland Immerse yourself in a magical 'Yumekawaii' world; play Gudetama mini-games, get your photo taken with Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters.
Lines, is an indoor theme park where Sanrio characters welcome you. A parade and musical reviews are enjoyable. Don’t miss visiting Kitty’s house and get a character seal stuck to your cheek. Attractions and rides include: 1) My Melody & Kuromi~ Mymeroad Drive; 2) Kiki & Lala~ Twinklingtour; 3) Gudetama Land; 4) Hello Kitty’s Bell of Happiness; 5) Silhouette Art; and 6) Sanrio Character Boat Ride
Admission: Passport: Adult (over 18 years) ¥4,400, Youth (12–17 years) ¥4,000, Junior (4–11 years) ¥3,300 Hours Open: 10:00am-5:00pm (weekdays), 10:00am-6:00pm (Saturday, Sun and holidays) Please inquire opening dates and times before your visit. Tel: 042-339-1111. Getting There: five minute walk from Tama Center Station on Keio, Odakyu and Tama-monorail Website: puroland.co.jp
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, UNESCO, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020