Akihabara (秋葉原)  is Tokyo's "Electric Town", located on the eastern side of the central Chiyoda ward. The area houses thousands of shops selling every technological gadget you can imagine, from computers to gaming consoles and vacuums to DVDs, at reasonable prices. This area is also known as the "Gamer's Mecca" and has in recent times become strongly identified with anime/manga (cartoon) subculture, with the legions of otaku geeks traipsing down on weekends known as Akiba-kei.
Akihabara is centered around Akihabara Station, located on the JR Yamanote, Keihin-Tohoku, and Chuo Local lines. Just take the conveniently labeled "Akihabara Electric Town" exit to be dropped into the middle of the action.
Getting to Akihabara by subway is also quite easy; travel to Akihabara Station by the Hibiya line (H15), or Suehirocho Station by the Ginza line (G14). The Toei Shinjuku line is also a 10 minute walk to Akihabara from the Iwamotocho Station (S08)
There is no direct connection to the airports, but it's readily reached from Narita Airport with a brief connection on the Yamanote, either from Nippori for the Keisei Skyliner (55 minutes, ¥2550) or from Tokyo via the Narita Express (75 minutes, ¥2940). Taking the often-crowded Keisei limited express (tokkyu) increases travel time to 90 minutes, but lowers the fare to ¥1150. In the evening, Access Tokkyu commuter trains between Narita Airport and Nippori shave 20 minutes off of the overall travel time against a ¥200 additional fare.
You can also use the Keisei limited express from Narita Airport to Funabashi, then walk to the JR Funabashi station and take a Sobu Line local train to Akihabara (90 minutes, ¥1100).
For Haneda Airport, the Yamanote will also take you to Hamamatsucho; transfer there to the airport-bound Tokyo Monorail (40 minutes, ¥620).
See & Do
Akihabara is all about shopping. One of its few sights, the Transportation Museum, has closed and was reopened in Saitama as the Railway Museum in October 2007.
- Tokyo Animation Center, ☎ . 11AM-7PM. A centerpiece of the area, offering up information, showings, demonstrations, and events centered around animation and gaming. It can be found by exiting the station towards 'Electric town' and heading out the right side of the station. It is the furthest of the two large modern skyscrapers in your immediate eyeline.In the recording studio, visitors can experience a post-recording on certain days. Free.
- On Sundays, the main thoroughfare Chūō-dōri is closed to vehicles, and it turns into an unofficial stage for cosplayers (people dressed up as anime characters) and local bands to strut their stuff. Sadly, this is not as populated as it once was following a bizarre 2008 incident where a knife-wielding lunatic went around stabbing people at random, but the cosplayers are slowly returning.
Akihabara is also perhaps the last stronghold in the world for classic arcade gaming. Although arcades are still everywhere in Japan, and more so in Tokyo, the concentration (and skill of play) is especially high in Akihabara. The huge towers of Sega, Taito, and others can't be missed, but places like "Hey Arcade" (on Chūō-dōri) have entire floors dedicated to shooting games (think Galaga) and fighting games (think Tekken). Recommended for a nostalgic trip back to the eighties, and to check out the pros.
On a more classic note, Akihabara also has its own temple site, to the left off of Chūō-dōri as you walk towards Ueno. It is mostly noteworthy for the festival it organizes around May. On this occasion, a massive shrine is traditionally carried through the streets of Akihabara, providing an interesting contrast with all the high-tech to say the least.
Sprawled in every direction off the main street Chūō-dōri (中央通り) are more smaller streets with even more electronics stores. Note that the further from the main street you get the better the prices - but the more you stray, the less foreigner-friendly the shops are. The Internet has taken a big bite out of business though, and some specialist shops, like the legendary two-floor electronic components warren of Radio Store, have now shut their doors and moved online. (Its competitors Radio Center and Radio Depart remain alive, for time being.)
On Sunday afternoons, the main street is blocked to vehicle traffic and the area becomes a bit of a flea market - you can walk freely along the main avenue and many small vendors set up tables on the side streets. You can't miss the street performers; everything from maid-fetish karaoke to Incan music can be heard on a good Sunday.
Though battery-powered electronics are basically the same world-wide, AC-powered electronics designed for the Japanese market use 100 volts, so "native" Japanese electronics may require a step-down transformer outside Japan. Even the U.S. standard 110V voltage is too high for many devices. Also, the majority of these products have no international warranty, and are labeled and documented only in Japanese. Head for the many duty-free shops to find export models, but note that they are priced at a premium.
Larger shops can arrange sales tax exemptions for purchases of over ¥10000, saving you 5%. Unlike most countries, in Japan the tax is waived immediately, so there is no need to run through complicated reclaiming hoops. However, you will have to show your passport and you're supposed to clear your purchase through customs at the airport on the way out, although there is zero enforcement of this. Many shops take credit cards, but some may charge you a small percentage added to the transaction. This is technically not allowed, and some credit card agents will reimburse the charge if properly reported.
Also keep an eye out for used (中古 chūko) electronics stores, which offer pre-owned computers, mp3 players, PDAs and other hardware at rock-bottom prices.
- LaOX Duty Free, 1-15-3 Soto-Kanda (on Chuo-dori, close to JR Akihabara station), ☎ . M-Th 10AM-8PM, F-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su/Holiday 10AM-8PM. LaOX Duty Free specializes in export products and has multilingual staff on hand.
- ONODEN Tax-Free Department, 1-2-7 Soto-Kanda (on Chuo-dori, close to JR Akihabara station, Electric Town exit), ☎ . 10AM-8PM daily. ONODEN specializes in overseas electronics. Multilingual staff.
- Radio Center (ラジオセンター), 1-14-2 Soto-Kanda (take JR Akihabara Electric Town exit, then turn right). Radio Center is an unbelievable two-floor warren of tiny shops, each specializing in (for example) LEDs, voltage meters, ceramic capacitors or miniature cameras. Heaven for the do-it-yourself electronics aficionado, and these days a flashback to the Akiba of yesteryear.
- Yodobashi Akiba (at JR Akihabara Showa-dori Exit), ☎ . 9:30AM-10PM daily. Electronics giant Yodobashi's massive 9-story flagship store selling anything that beeps or clicks, from PCs to games to cameras. Many languages spoken, tax-free and credit cards no problem, and their famous Gold Point Card system gets you credit worth 10% of your purchase, usable for two years starting the next day. Unfortunately you need to choose between points or tax-free.
Anime and Manga
Some of Akihabara's largest anime-goods stores can be found along Chūō-dōri. Just head for the street from JR Akihabara Station and walk north.
- Animate (アニメイト) (On Chūō-dōri, located right next to Comic Toranoana), ☎ . 10AM-9PM. Seven floors - plus one basement level - of pure otaku goodness. From DVDs and manga to character goods and games, the variety of merchandise on offer is mind-bogglingly vast and will make anime/manga fans wish they were made of money.
- Comic Toranoana (コミックとらのあな) (On Chūō-dōri, located right next to Animate), ☎ . 10AM-10PM. Looking for dōjinshi? This is the place to head for.
- Book-Off (Across from the large electronic building). About 8 or 9 floors of all books. The thing that sets this book-off apart from others though is that the top two floors are dedicated exclusively to manga. There is a small section for dōjinshi as well but selection is limited. ¥105 and up.
- Mandarake (Across Chūō-dōri). An 8-floor second-hand shop dealing manga, dōjinshi, video games, toys, and collector's items. (floor guide)
- K-Books (Kei Books) (Across from Mandarake, has a huge sign, can't miss it.). Only two floors. First floor is half adult manga/hentai while the second floor is half dojinshi. There is plenty of space though to browse around and they have tons of doujinshi there. Some cheap figures and a whole row of shelves dedicated to body pillow cases. If you want regular manga they have that on both floors as well. This store only recently opened. ¥105 and up.
The first rule is pretty obvious, don't buy what you want as soon as you see it, chances are that another store will have it cheaper, sometimes up to half the price. Unfortunately it is not as simple as it getting cheaper the further you go from the station. There is an interesting dynamic where things sometimes get cheaper the further you climb the stairs. Due to a lack of standardization it would seem, you can also find the same item in the same shop for multiple prices. Naturally, be careful as if the price is very low you may have walked into a 2nd hand or a cast offs store.
Besides electronics, Akihabara also has a great number of specialty hobbyist stores, ranging from anime and manga to collectible toys to military and railway fandom.
- Don Quixote (ドン・キホーテ), 4-3-3 Sotokanda (Chuo-dori). Japanese discount store chain offering an incredibly wide range of items at low prices, from snack food to clothing to gag gifts. The Akihabara outlet also has well-stocked costume and adult toy departments to cater to the local crowd. About half way up as well there is an arcade. If you want to play rhythm based games like DDR or Jubeat it has the cheapest machines in town. Located also at the top floor of Don Quijote is the theatre of AKB48. AKB48 is a home-grown, all-girl idol group started in 2005 and is now quite popular in Japan. They perform 6 days a week. If you are into J-pop music and cute girls all rolled into one (and are lucky enough to win the ticket lottery), don't miss this. ¥3000 for men, ¥2000 for women.
- Weiss Blau Residenz Bukiya (ヴァイスブラウレジデンツ直営店 武器屋), Takara Bldg 402, Soto-Kanda 1-5-7, ☎ . Th-Tu 11AM-7PM. The shop of choice for the historical military buff, with everything from Spartan helmets to Celtic longswords, Napoleon-era uniforms and tons and tons of Japanese weaponry across the ages. They're all replicas, but prices vary widely depending on how close to the real thing you want it.
There is a large number of good eateries in Akihabara, but not much in the way of haute cuisine. Under the railway tracks around Okachimachi station (JR Yamanote line), on the East side, you will find ramen noodle bars, izakayas and the like.
- Yoshinoya (located across the road from the north exit of Yodobashi Camera). Chain fast food restaurant selling gyudon beef bowls. Meals start from around ¥300-400
- Tenya (てんや) (located a few blocks down Chuo-dori towards Metro Suehirocho), ☎ . Cheap fast-food tempura. Basic tendon bowl costs less than ¥500, a steal by any standard.
- Traveler's Dining Pushup, Akihabara 1-5 1F, ☎ . M-Sa noon-2PM, 5PM-midnight. A tiny place located in an alley right behind the Akihabara Capsule Inn, it's convenient for anyone staying there. Both Japanese and foreign food is served. The owner, Yuki, is a former backpacker and will happily give advice on choosing the right sho-chu from a selection of 60 different kinds. Try the raw octopus (tako) in tomato sauce or the kimchi risotto!
- Sushi Zanmai (すしざんまい), Yodobashi Akiba 1F/8F, ☎ . Excellent sushi at fairly reasonable prices. The first floor outlet is a traditional chef and counter operation, the eighth floor is a more foreigner-friendly "conveyor belt"-style. Plates ¥98-628, most in the ¥150-300 range.
Akihabara's latest boom is maid cafes, where pretty girls dressed up as French maids serve you drinks and dote on you, some going as far as to spoon-feed you.
- Cure Maid Cafe, Jisto Akiba 6F, 3-15-5 Sotokanda, ☎ . Daily 11AM-7PM (or later). The original and not quite as over-the-top (or expensive) as some of the competition. A long line can form on weekends. At least ¥500.
- Neko JaLaLa (ねこJaLaLa), 1F, Sotokanda 3-5-5 (8 mins from Akihabara station: on the next main road west after Chuo-doori, about 7-8 blocks north of the Chuo railway line. Look for a brown sliding door with a cat's foot), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 11AM-7PM. A recent phenomenon in Tokyo has been the rise of the 'cat cafe': you play with the shop's (very clean) cats while drinking tea. You'll be asked to remove your shoes and wash your hands on entry. You'll also be gently pressured to order one of their drinks. It's a different experience. ¥500 for first 30 minutes; ¥150 for each ten minutes; drinks ¥300 to ¥500.
- The Gravania (Just outside the electric town entrance near the closest Sega arcade.). Another simple maid cafe, but the waitresses here act like normal people. So if you want the atmosphere of a maid cafe without the cutesy service personality then its a good stop for food and drink. The set meal is actually not that bad (1000 yen). ¥800-1000.
- @home cafe (あっとほぉーむｃａｆｅ), 4F Mitsuwa Bldg, Sotokanda 1-11-4, ☎ . 11:30AM-10PM. This maid cafe has card games, drinks, food, and young women dressed up as maids to serve you. If you order an omelet, they'll draw a picture of a cute animal on the top in ketchup. In addition to this shop, there are 3 branch stores elsewhere in Akihabara. Seating ¥500; drinks ¥600; food ¥1100.
There are only a few places to sleep in Akihabara, and even Capsule Inn Akihabara closed its doors in 2009. Most visitors camp out elsewhere in the city; Ueno, in particular, offers cheap lodging and is just minutes away.
- First Cabin Akihabara, 3-38 Sakuma, Chiyoda-ku, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 17:00, check-out: 10:00. About a five-minute walk from Akihabara Station. Nice capsule hotel that's more spacious than your usual affair. Unlike other capsule hotels, the capsules are not vertically stacked, and the first class cabins have enough room to stand in and lay out your luggage. The staff speaks English well enough to check you in and respond to any special requests. Breakfast costs ¥300 and includes two rice balls (onigiri) and miso soup, and there are also vending machines in the lobby for drinks and hot meals. Singles ¥4800-5800.
- Akihabara Washington Hotel, 1-8-3 Sakuma, Chiyoda-ku, ☎ , fax: +81 3 3255-7343, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Across from Akihabara station, reopened in July 2010 after renovation. Small rooms but excellent value and extremely convenient to transportation. Singles ¥13000, Doubles/Twins ¥17000.
- Remm Akihabara Hotel, 1-6-5 Sakuma, Chiyoda-ku, ☎ . Next to the Akihabara station. Small rooms that are priced in a mid-range of hotel rates. Despite the small rooms, the hotel is very comfortable and rooms are well appointed. Singles ¥14275+, Twins ¥24350.