Akihabara —also known as Akihabara Electric Town or simply Akiba, for short—is a central Tokyo district famous for its shops selling electronics of all sorts. In the history of Tokyo, it was after World War II that the district became famous for its electronic products because of the post-war black market and the location of the first school of electrical manufacturing. More recently, Akihabara has become a popular center for devotees of gaming and video games, manga (comic books), and the animation (anime) culture. The Japanese term to refer to these devotees is otaku. An otaku is loosely what an American might call a geek or a nerd.
In addition to shopping in Akihabara for the traditional electronics, there are now many shops selling game, comic, and anime related items. There are even role playing cafes called cosplay (meaning costume play) where the waitresses are dressed as well known anime characters. You can also find comic cafes that serve tea and allow fans to read comics, use the Internet, and watch animation videos. A newer trend is the proliferation of “maid cafes,” where the waitresses are dressed in the stereotypical French maid outfit. There are also “butler cafes” that cater to female patrons. The cafes, costumed staff, and otaku patrons have become Akihabara attractions in their own right. While there is, of course, some pornography and prostitution as there is in any large city, the rules for proper behavior in the mainstream cafes are fairly strict.
There are other Akihabara Electric Town attractions and events. On Sundays, the main street is reserved for pedestrians only, and becomes a sort of street festival with cosplayers in costumes and local bands entertaining the crowds. There are other dining spots in addition to the special interest cafes, including a rather surprising number specializing in the kinds of curry dishes brought from India to Europe during colonial times. You can also find American fast food joints, noodle shops, and sushi bars. All districts of Tokyo have shrines and temples, and Akihabara is no exception. You are apt to see a traditional Shinto shrine set incongruously on a busy shopping street, and the district’s temple is of classic design, with a gilt-laden room and a lovely formal garden with prayer notes festooning its trees.
There are some caveats that the average United States tourist shopping in Akihabara for electronics should heed. If you plan to take use your purchase at home, be aware that many of the devices have voltage and other technical specifications making them suitable only for use in Japan. However, there are many Akihabara stores marketing directly to the Western tourist, and there are even duty free stores where you can purchase items that can be brought home free of duty. A passport is required, and your purchase generally must total at least 10,000 yen. If you are bringing a substantial amount of purchases back home, you should ensure you have the receipts for all items. Additionally, be aware that there is plenty of electronic junk mixed in with good bargains, so you should have at least some expertise in what it is you’re looking to buy if you don’t want to get ripped off. Shopping in Akihabara will reward you with everything from vacuum cleaners and iPods to DVD players and video games.
Akihabara Electric Town is located in the Chiyoda Ward in the heart of central Tokyo. It is well serviced by train and subway transportation, and its new station is state of the art. It is located a bit to the southwest of Ueno Park with its many prestigious museums, and to the northeast of the park grounds in which the magnificent Imperial Palace is set.