What To Do In Akihabara – The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

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Akihabara (秋葉原), officially known as Akihabara Denki Gai (Akihabara Electric Town), is located in central Tokyo. Locals and fans fondly call it Akiba. It is famous for being the haven of otaku culture. Many shops here sell a wide range of anime, manga, games, and electronic goods.

More than the inexpensive electronics and otaku merchandise, though, there are more things to do and places to visit in Akiba. Whether you’re a loud and proud otaku or you’re just curious, let’s investigate this world-famous shopping district.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

The History of Akihbara

Before we go into the nitty-gritty of things, let’s take a quick look at how Akihabara came to be known as Electric Town.

The district was known as Akibagahara (秋葉ヶ原) before the name was shortened to the current name. Both names come from Akiba (秋葉), a deity who controlled fire. A shrine was built for Akiba after a fire razed the area in 1869. The shrine was moved to a different district when the construction of Akihabara Station began.

After World War II, the area became a shopping center for very cheap household appliances and a black-market for electronics. Thus, it was nicknamed Denki Gai (Electric Town).

When inexpensive household appliances and electronics became common in the 1980’s, shops in Akihabara began to focus on computers. This was a time when computers were used only by hobbyists and specialists, i.e., the nerds. It was not long before shopkeepers latched onto games and other nerd niches like anime and manga.

The district has been undergoing major developments since then. The JR Akihabara Station was expanded to accommodate more train lines and more visitors. New buildings have been built, including the sprawling Yodobashi Camera Akihabara.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

How To Get There

You have several options to go to Akihabara. If you’re on the JR Yamanote or Keihin Tohoku Tokyo Station, take a train north to Akihabara Station. The JR Yamanote line from Shibuya also goes straight to Akihabara. From Shinjuku Station on the JR Chuo Line, take a train to Ochanomizu Station and then transfer to the JR Sobu Line to Akihabara.

If you’re coming from Ginza or Roppongi, use the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line. From Asakusa, take the Tsukuba Express Line straight to Akihabara. Be careful, though, because the station of this line does not go through the main JR Akihabara Station. Be sure that you take the Denki Gai (Electric Town) exit when you get out of the station.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

What To Do In Akihabara

Shop For Electronics

You have hundreds of electronics shops to choose from. This is Electric Town after all. You can get the latest models of computers, cellphones, cameras, electronic parts, and home appliances for low, low prices. If you’re really strapped for cash, some stores also sell second-hand stuff.

As stated above, the Yodobashi Camera is the biggest structure in Akiba today. It’s a sprawling 9-story mall complex. The stores in the mall sell more than just cameras. Need a rice cooker? How about new beauty products? Electronics with international models? Want headphones? Try out hundreds of electronics before you buy the one you want. Yodobashi has it all for you. You can easily spend a whole day exploring this building.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

If you’re looking for Japanese parts for ‘80s or ‘90s electronics then go to Beep. This small store has everything you need to modify your arcade machine or customize your joystick or circuit board. Think customized retro games.

Radio Kaikan (Center) is an iconic landmark in the district. Its 8-story building was built in 1962. It was the first high-rise structure in Akiba. Its original shops sold electronics. When otaku culture became popular, shops selling such goods flocked to the building. In 2010, the structural integrity of the building was questioned. So, it was closed in 2011. Renovations finished in 2014 with two floors added, which means more stores.

Sofmap has six stores across Akiba, each of which specializes in one type of product like cellphones, Apple products, second-hand electronics, or games. Across the street from the JR Akihabara Station and you will find Yamada Denki. It offers PCs, accessories, and household electronics.

If you have a lot of time to spare and are feeling adventurous, try to look for specially-marked bins that some stalls put out. These bins contain very cheap electronics. But you will have to dig through lots of junk to get a good one that might actually still work.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Shop Thousands of Otaku Merchandise

From anime to manga to video games, you’ll be able to get various merchandise of all shapes and sizes in Akihabara. If you’ve read or watched or played it, the store will have what you want.

  • Don Quijote (Donki to locals) is a discount store chain that has a wide range of cheap goodies. The Akiba branch is famous for having items that can only be found there.
  • Animate is said to be Japan’s largest shop chain specializing in anime. It’s got almost 120 branches across the country.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo
  • Mandarake is also a big name among otaku. The main stores are in Nakano but Akiba has some cool stores as well. This place sells a wide range of first-hand and second-hand goods. Each store specializes in one type of merchandise like manga, anime cells, retro games, figurines, posters, and CDs.
  • Akihabara Gamers at the Takarada Building is another specialty store that sells a lot of anime-related merchandise. If you’re a voice actor fan, the store has some goods on certain actors. It also has a museum that has special exhibits, a large collection of anime, and key anime frames.
  • Kotobukiya Akihabara has three floors of anime and manga figurines. Some of the goods are rare collectibles.
  • If you want to be surrounded by anime, anime, and more anime then go to Akihabara UDX in Akihabara Crossfield. This building has shops, restaurants, and a theater. Some screens scattered in the building announce the latest anime info. Tokyo Anime Center, located on the fourth floor, sells anime merchandise.
  • Volks Akihabara Hobby Tengoku (Paradise) has 7 stories of all types of figurines that are an otaku’s dream come true.
  • Otachu Akihabara is a bargain paradise for trading cards, games, consoles, figurines, and other merchandise.
  • Tsukumo Robot Kingdom sells—what else—robots! Only, some otaku like to use the term mecha (giant robots). This specialty store can be found on the second floor of Tsukumo Pasocon Honten II. If you want a ready-made robot or a model you can complete yourself, you’ll find them here.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo
  • If you’re into retro games, drop by Super Potato. This store has oldies but goodies going back to the days of 8-bit gaming. It has game cartridges and other game accessories. You’ll probably be able to find almost every game system ever created.
  • Laox has its main store in Akiba. This branch has the most tax-free game-related products you can get from this chain.
  • If you’re into cosplay (costume play), COSPA is the brand you might want to look for. It sells cosplay apparel and miscellaneous goods. The company runs the Gee! Store in Akiba. You’ll find racks of costumes for that next cosplay event you’ve been planning to attend.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Eat and Drink at a Themed Café

The Japanese term moe is usually attached to something cute in an adult sort of way. But it can also describe something you’re infatuated with or have a crush on. This term is closely associated with one of Akiba’s top attractions: the maid café.

The maid café originated in Akihabara. You can’t miss them. They usually have waitresses dressed up in frilly French maid costumes walking nearby. They do this to promote their cafés and attract customers. They call customers goshujin-sama (master). Some wear headbands with cat ears.

  • Cure Maid Café is the first one, established in March 2001.
  • The majority of these cafés only have Japanese-speaking servers, but some like @Home Cafe have “maids” who speak in English. 
  • Maid Café Maidreamin has its main store in Akihabara. But it has even expanded overseas.
  • Mononopu has “maids” wearing stylized Sengoku costumes.

If you don’t want (or can’t find the nerve) to enter a maid café, then try going to other themed cafés to satisfy your inner otaku.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo
  • The Gundam Café is all about Mobile Suit Gundam. This manga and anime series about robots has been gaining fans since 1979. The café has Gundam everywhere, from the decorations to the dishes (they have boba milk tea with Gundam foam art). There’s even a gift shop that sells souvenirs. You can’t miss this café when you take the Electric Town exit at the JR Akihabara Station.
  • The AKB48 Café is next door. AKB48 is a unique girl band that began in 2005. It’s actually made up of different teams of girl groups. The producer wanted a girl idol group that could hold performances and “concerts” daily at the AKB48 theater. They sing, dance, and meet-and-greets with fans. As of December last year, there were 134 members. The AKB48 Café has all the things you would want if you’re a fan. Indulge in AKB48 cutesy food while looking at AKB48 merchandise.

*As of December 2019, AKB48 Café has ceased operations as they look to relocate due to construction around Akihabara Station. More details can be found here

  • The Eorzea Café is all about Final Fantasy. The game inspires the café’s menu, decorations, staff uniforms, souvenir shop, and gaming stations. You need to book in advance but the site is in Japanese. If you go there without a reservation, you’ll be told what time you can come back. When you’re inside, all orders are done by tablet. If you want your dessert to come later, order it after you’ve eaten your mains. You’ll also get to choose which FF coaster design you can use.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo
  • Going back into cutesy stuff, if you’re into animals, Akiba Fukurou and Owl No Mori Café (Forest of Owl) are owl-themed cafés. Get to play with owls while you eat and drink. You need to make a reservation if you want to go to Akiba Fukurou. This system ensures that the owls are not overwhelmed by customers. A staff member is also always on hand to supervise the handling of the owls. At the Owl No Mori, you will get instructions in both Japanese and English on how to handle the owls. Signs show which owls allow petting and which ones don’t like it.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Enter The Virtual World

  • Virtual reality (VR) is fast becoming an attraction in Japan. At Akiba, the VR Ninja Dojo offers training for ninja-wannabes. Players train in full ninja costumes and are taught by ninja masters. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to handle a sword, throw shuriken (ninja stars), and explore the hidden secrets of ninjutsu (mystical ninja arts), here’s your chance. When you’ve whopped your VR enemy, you’ll get a scroll as proof of your successful training.
  • At the Studio Crown you can cosplay and get a studio portrait for it. The studio offers photography plans that include costumes, makeup, and props. Book a reservation here.
  • If you want to feel like a character from a post-apocalyptic manga or anime, then take part in a survival game. The Asobiba Akihabara Field allows players to wear combat gear and use airsoft guns to “kill” the “enemies.” The playing field is indoors but you’ll feel like you’re in a forest. The best thing is you don’t have to have experience in such a game to join. The organizers will teach you how to use the equipment and the rules of the game for free.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Play At The Arcade Center

Arcades and game centers line up the streets of Akiba, especially those near the JR Akihabara Station. Just go through the Electric Town exit and you’ll see and hear the beeping game stations. The games range from classic claw games (aka UFO catchers aka crane games) to the newest arcade games.

There are four buildings for Club SEGA’s Akihabara branch. The first building has UFO catchers and video games. The second is where you’ll find SEGA’s latest and most popular games. The third has VR games. And the final one contains retro games and crane games.

Even if you’re not into games, there’s plenty to watch. Lots of battles are done everywhere. You can also watch hardcore gamers banging at drums, dancing to the tune of Dance Dance Revolution, or racing against each other virtually. Tokyo Leisure Land is dedicated to music games with instruments that even beginner gamers can use.

Even if you’re not into games, there’s plenty to watch. Lots of battles are done everywhere. You can also watch hardcore gamers banging at drums, dancing to the tune of Dance Dance Revolution, or racing against each other virtually. Tokyo Leisure Land is dedicated to music games with instruments that even beginner gamers can use.

There is also plenty of gachapon (capsule toy) in the area. Gachapon is like a vending machine. But instead of dropping a drink or candy bar, it drops small prizes, which are usually in small egg-shaped containers. The Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan (Capsule Toy Center) is a whole store lined from floor to ceiling with capsule toy machines.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Get Off The Beaten Path

Akihabara is known for inexpensive and mass-produced merchandise. But if you want something a bit more original, then head out to 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan under the elevated train tracks between JR Akihabara and JR Okachimachi Stations. This alley contains artisanal shops selling one-of-a-kind souvenirs and Food.

If you’re at least 18 years old, dare to enter M’s. This infamous 7-story store sells “inappropriate” products like sexy costumes, racy doujinshi, lingerie, and other sex-related goods. One day I stumbled in here on accident, but got a good laugh.

Instead of going to a maid café, get a maid massage. Cutie Relax offers services like reflexology for hands or feet, body massages, and detox foot baths. You can chat (in a combination of Japanese and English) with your maid masseuse about the latest manga while she pampers you.

If you’re into cars, go to the UDX Parking Garage. The bottom floor of the garage is practically a museum of different types of cars. If you’re lucky, you can see a Delorean beside a Rolls Royce and other luxury cars parked there. Note though that those cars belong to somebody. You can look but you can’t touch.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Nearby Spots To Visit

mAAch ecute Kanda Manseibashi is a shopping mall located at the old Manseibashi Station on the Chuo Line. The Station was closed down in 1943. This quaint, red-brick structure spanning from Ochanomizu Station to Kanda Station now has stores, restaurants, and souvenir stalls. If you’re into craft beer, organic coffee, and pop-up cafés then be sure to visit this unique mall near Akihabara. For some history, check out the scale-model diorama of what the station and the area looked like in the past.

If you’re looking for old and new Japanese books, go to Jimbocho. It’s a whole neighborhood of bookstores within Kanda, which is the district adjacent to Akihabara. It’s also called Tokyo’s Book Town. There are about 160 to 200 bookstores here. You’ll find vintage magazines and authentic Edo-period woodblock prints beside second-hand books and erotic magazines. You can read our article here about Jimbocho.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Also, during fall, the Kanda Old Book Festival is held. Bookshelves are lined up on the sidewalks. There are also special events like a book sale of rare and valuable books and a library seal workshop. For this year, the festival will be held from Oct 25th-Nov 4th.

A trip to Japan would not be complete without a visit to a shrine or temple. Near Akiba, you’ll find Kanda Myojin, Yushima Seido, and Yanagimori Jinja. Kanda Myojin is around 1300 years old. The deities of the shrine are said to be protecting the whole of Tokyo. Since it’s near Akihabara, the shrine has also adapted to modern life. For those who watch the anime Love Live! School Idol Project, you know that the idols would run up and down the stairs of the Kanda Shrine to improve their stamina. Because of this, the shrine now sells ema (wooden plaques where you can write your prayers or wishes) in the image of the characters from the anime.

Gamers also go there to pray for high scores before they do battle. Some buy talismans to prevent computer viruses from invading their gadgets. Many professionals from the information technology (IT) go to the shrine to ask for blessings for their projects.

If you walk to the right of Kanda Myojin while facing Akihabara, you’ll find Yushima Seido. It’s a Confucian temple famous for being a training school during the Edo period (1603-1868). If you want some peace and serenity after the lights of Electric Town, the temple’s grounds are free for you to walk through.

Walk across a footbridge over the Kanda River from Akihabara and you’ll find Yanagimori Jinja (Willow Forest Shrine). Locals call this o-tanuki-sama because of the numerous tanuki (raccoon) statues on the grounds. The tanuki is said to have shape-shifting ability. But the Shrine is actually dedicated to the goddess Inari, a fox deity.

What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Travel Tips for Traveling in Akihabara

A trip to Akihabara can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you navigate those seemingly endless stores.

  • Don’t buy the first thing you see. Prices can change even though the products are from a store with the same name or owner. Also, if you buy lots of stuff, you’ll have more chances of getting a big discount.
  • Because Akihabara is a tourist trap, try to go to the northern part of the district (towards Ginza). Many shops there offer better deals.
  • Take note that some of the things being sold are designed for use in Japan only. So always check the voltage, warranty, and technical specifications before you make your purchase. If you really want that gizmo, try to ask if there are international models available.
  • Show your passport at check-out if you spend at least ¥10,000 so the VAT can be removed from your purchase.
  • If you’re okay with crowds, then shop on a Sunday. Every Sunday (except when it’s not raining), Chuo Street is closed to car traffic and becomes a pedestrian mall from 1:00-6:00 p.m. (until 5:00 p.m. from October until March).
  • If you’ve run out of money, go to Adores. This shop is a money exchange store, game center, and karaoke parlor all rolled into one.
What To Do In Akihabara - The Anime And Otaku World of Tokyo

Ready To Be Overwhelmed?

The moment you get off the train at the station, you will already feel the energy that goes through Akihabara. Take a deep breath and enjoy getting lost in Electric Town.

Do you have a favorite spot in Akiba that I didn’t mention? Share it in the comments section.

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