Also known as the Electric Town, Akihabara is Tokyo’s otaku cultural centre, the prime location for finding electronics, video games and lots of manga.
Having seen Shinjuku, together with Japan’s red district, I didn’t think Akihabara has anything up its sleeve that could possibly shock me. I was wrong. Akihabara most certainly made an impression. Join me on a darker journey around my Tokyo itinerary.
Akihabara became popular after the world war, where this was a prime spot for black market electronic items.
Did you know? Akihabara was not named after anime or manga, but after a shrine, Akiba. Akiba is a firefighting shrine which was built after a devastating fire in 1869.
When I first heard the story behind the name of the district, I couldn't help but see a paradox in all of it: Tokyo’s craziest and most decadent district is named after a fire-controlling deity, where spirituality has no or very little context.
It was in Akihabara where I encountered the first maid cafe and the first pachinko parlour. As I reached the Akihabara station, I stopped to buy some amazing crazy pancakes and cute cat shaped doughnuts. As soon as I left the subway station, I stepped into a world of colour, electric madness and neon chaos. I visited Akihabara twice during my stay in Japan.
I made sure to plan both visits after nightfall to fully enjoy the vibrancy of the place.
The most overwhelming part in Akihabara was the massive displays of anime and manga characters which were predominant all around the district. I learned soon enough that Akihabara is a place full of stores specialising in figurines, games and all sort of vintage anime collectables.
During my wander, I have been approached by girls dressed like cute lolitas, trying to get me to visit their maid cafes. These establishments are supposedly innocent enough, where waitresses dress like maids and beloved anime characters. Men are only allowed to talk to these girls and no physical contact is permitted.
I think it’s fair to say that no other country does weird better than Japan. Home to crazy cultural phenomena, it’s also the place where things can go a little batshit crazy. In Akihabara, you can immerse yourself in a seven-floor sex goods shop called M’s. If you have the time and you truly want to experience the absolute weirdest part of Japan, then blend in until you find the right locals who apparently take you underground, to Akihabara’s most abnormal maid cafe which is meant to serve real drinking breast milk!
Keen to explore everything that Akihabara has to offer, I entered a manga kissa, which resembled an internet cafe with rows over rows of comic books and DVDs. I loved exploring Don Quixote, a massive discount store spread over several stories, which sells everything, from cheap sweets, to fancy dress costumes. I got so absorbed by all the items I found around, I lost track of time. In the end, I bought a very nice souvenir to remind myself of some of Japan's most unconventional parts: a talking fridge penguin. Every time I open my fridge, my lovely penguin talks at me and asks me about my day. Sometimes it sings and it even complains if I leave the fridge door open for too long.
From manga to lolitas, from cute cat doughnuts to real breast milk, Akihabara is a strange place. Some will definitely appreciate it, whilst others might be a little alarmed by the cultural difference and strong allowances, not so common anywhere else.
But, since you are in Japan, I believe you should embrace the bizarre and just go with it. Another odd thing I found, was a 18+ section in one of the electronic shops. Intrigued, I checked it out, just to realise the section in question is dedicated exclusively to selling anime porn and erotic video games. By that point, I was also surrounded by indecent posters of manga characters showing off their drawn private parts. Poor Sailor Moon...
Overall, Akihabara made me feel that it is just as decadent as Japan’s red district. Perhaps not as obvious, but certainly very cleverly explicit and provocative. Did I like Akihabara? Not at first, but after a few hours walking around, I sort of got used to it.
In all honesty, seeing a lot of almost undressed innocent looking (drawn) girls can raise a lot of eyebrows and even pose some questions. However, if you keep an open mind and lose yourself to the experience, you will find Akihabara as interesting and cool as many other districts in Japan.
Have you been to Akihabara? Are you a manga or anime fan? Let me know in the comment section bellow. In the meantime, read more about how to spend 2 weeks in Japan.