Things to Do in Akihabara: Awesome Activities in Japan's Nerdiest Neighborhood
Akihabara is a place not to be missed when visiting Tokyo. Here are some of the top spots and activities you can do on your visit.
Visiting the Japanese city of Tokyo for the very first time feels a lot like being a kid walking into a candy store; you don’t know where to go first! Should you visit Imperial Palace for a glimpse of an emperor’s home, or should you opt for a day of hardcore shopping over at Shibuya, Harajuku, or Ginza? The possibilities are endless and sometimes it can get a little overwhelming.
In this article, we’ll be exploring a part of Tokyo known around the world as “geek central." Yep, I’m talking about the district of Akihabara. Akihabara is known around the word as Japan’s most popular tech and otaku haven. You’ll find store after store selling very reasonable computer parts, gadgets, accessories, and so much more. Besides the tech, Akihabara has been more popular in recent years for its otaku culture. Otaku is a collective term used to describe hardcore fans of Japanese anime and the local gaming culture.
Just a short walk on Akihabara’s main street—Chuo Dori—will prove just how anime-obsessed this place is. If New York has gigantic billboards of A-list Hollywood celebs endorsing products, then Akihabara is steeped in 2D anime and game characters!
Let’s explore a little bit more of what Akihabara has to offer. Below are my top recommended activities and spots to visit to get a real feel for this one-of-a-kind destination.
1. Chuo Dori
You don’t have to walk into the stores to find something interesting in Akihabara—just walking through its main street will give you enough to look at. Chuo Dori is Akihabara's main street, and this is where most of the district’s most popular attractions can be found. There are a lot of stores around this area, from large retail shops to small gadget stalls. Along the street, you’ll find cute girls dressed up in costumes handing out flyers and packed tissue to passers-by in an attempt to lure them in one of the shops or cafes. It’s a pretty common sight in this area, and if you’re lucky, you might even find a cosplayer walking about. Looking up, you’ll find massive advertisement billboards and tarpaulins depicting famous anime characters. You’ll just know you’re in Akihabara when you see more ads with anime endorsers than there are human endorsers.
Another interesting thing to look out for along Chuo Dori are the unusual vending machines. Granted, Japan has a vending machine for practically everything, but the ones in Akihabara are particularly interesting. At some point, there were even rumors about a vending machine that sells used women’s underwear! While the rumor isn’t exactly accurate, they do in fact have vending machines within the district that sell women’s underwear that “appear” to be used—not “actually” used. Shopkeepers claim that they did have used underwear for sale around 10 to 15 years ago, but have since stopped due to laws prohibiting the encouragement of underage girls selling their unmentionables to strangers.
2. Don Quijote Akihabara
While Akihabara isn’t the only place you’ll find a Don Quixote branch, the one here is unique enough to warrant a visit. Don Quijote Akihabara is the largest of all the Don Quixote branches all over the country. For those of you who don’t know, Don Quixote is a local chain of stores in Japan that’s a lot like dollar stores in the U.D.
Unlike dollar stores, though, Don Quijote (or DonKi) sells almost everything (and I mean everything). You can find hair tools, bags, schoolgirl costumes, sanitary pads, instant noodles, and sometimes even a small motorcycle; you name it, they have it! The whole thing is eight floors high and is packed full of stuff that’ll make any shopaholic go nuts. Within the building, you’ll also find a maid café and AKB48 Café, which we’ll be discussing later on.
The massive store is divided into sections: foodstuff, cosmetics, toiletries, accessories, etc., making the whole thing a lot easier to navigate. For visiting tourists, DonKi is an excellent place to do some souvenir shopping. The items are all sold at a bargain price, plus the store waives the 8% tax for tourists who present their passport upon payment.
3. Maid Cafe
Did you ever dream of having your own cute Japanese maid in a French maid outfit, serving you sweets and calling you “Master”? Then this is one place you really shouldn’t miss when visiting Akihabara. By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all about the notorious Maid Cafes that have sprouted all over Japan and have now crawled its way through Asia. Maid Cafes serves the usual treats any other café in the country would. The only difference is that you get to eat your meal while being served by an adorable Japanese girl in a French maid outfit.
Maid Cafés are all the rage in Akihabara. You’ll find girls wearing cute outfits standing around the streets handing out flyers to direct customers to their café. Customers would usually have to pay either a floor charge or purchase food and drinks within a minimum amount to be able to stay and enjoy the service of the lovely maids. Frequent visitors to maid cafés usually have their favorite maid and would visit to enjoy their company more than the food.
4. Yodobashi Camera Akihabara
Contrary to its name, Yodobashi Camera is not exclusive to selling cameras. Yodobashi Camera is yet another local store chain that specializes in gadgets and gizmos. Naturally, given Akihabara’s reputation as a tech center, Yodobashi would build their largest and most extensive branch right here. The store sells anything tech—from laptops to high-end headphones and accessories. Much like DonKi, the store also honors the 8% tax waive for tourists making a minimum purchase of 10,000 yen.
Now that we've delved a little bit into Akihabara's techie side, let’s move on to major Otaku haunts. Mandarake claims to be the largest store selling everything otaku, from manga to figurines. The place specializes in second-hand goods and holds every kind of otaku collectible. They hold regular auctions in-store to sell off some of the more rare and valuable pieces to die-hard fans.
If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by the vastness of the store, their highly trained international staff is more than happy to assist anybody looking for something specific or just browsing. Besides having a physical store in Akihabara, Mandrake also has an online store that ships worldwide.
6. AKB48 Cafe
Wow, this place has a lot of cafés, huh? AKB48 is another special café within Akihabara with a very particular clientele. AKB48 is an immensely popular girl group in Japan with 48 members (yep, you read right) and hails from right here in Akihabara—hence the “AKB.” AKB48 café holds regular performances by some of the members and fans would come in to have a bite to eat and to be entertained by their favorite idols.
The AKB48 Café is located on the 8th floor of Akihabara’s Don Quixote building and requires you to shell out 3,000 yen to gain entrance.
7. Super Potato
Despite the adorable yet slightly weird name, this place does not sell potatoes. They do, however, sell something slightly better than that: video games! Super Potato is a haven for hard core gamers looking for a one-stop-shop for everything gaming related. They have a selection of new games, old games, and games you've already forgotten but have always loved. This one of a kind store in Akihabara is mostly known for their retro and classic gaming section. They have everything from the first few Super Mario and Zelda games ever made to the more modern Metal Gear franchise. The store also carries several gaming fan goods such as character figurines and other gaming themed items.
If it so happens that you do have an old game or console you want to play but are lacking some spare parts, Super Potato also has you covered. Besides selling age-old classic games, they also sell the equipment necessary to run it. On one of the floors, they even have a small collection of retro coin slot games available for purchase or sampling. Of course, given that we are in Japan, most if not all the equipment are Japanese versions. Rest assured though that you can ask any of the staff if the part you are buying will be compatible with any console or equipment you already have. All of these, plus the feeling of being surrounded by decades worth of games, makes Super Potato a must-visit for game lovers, kids, and kids at heart.
8. Kanda Myojin
Going along with the techie theme the whole district of Akihabara has been known for, Kanda Myojin Temple has been dubbed the “geekiest” temple ever by visitors and locals due to its location and the kind of wishes people can make when they visit. At first glance, Kanda Myojin may look like your average Japanese temple, but take a quick look around the souvenir and omamori store and you’ll find what sets this temple apart.
First off, the omamori (or good luck charm) given by the temple is made to look like computer chips! Yes, techie good luck charms are for protecting your computers, laptops, smartphones, etc. from hackers and people of ill intent. It’s like a diving anti-virus for your computer that comes in physical form. Besides the quirky charms, Kanda Myojin is a popular temple for those who want to wish for success in business and other tech-related ventures. There’s even word that some people come to have their computers blessed in the temple before they use them!
9. Gundam Cafe
Okay, this is the last café on this list—I swear. We’re all pretty much aware of the local fascination with robots and futuristic tech, so couple that in with an animated sensation and you’ll have the Gundam fandom. Gundam is a revolutionary anime franchise that has set the tone for the mecha anime genre. It has a massive worldwide fan base and has garnered a near-cult following within its native country.
Inside the café, you’ll find various Gundam themed decoration, food, and drinks. Take note, the establishment is quite popular, so expect to find a seriously LONG line outside on holidays and weekends. Gundam Café is only one of the many places in Japan that pays homage to the popular anime series. Another Gundam-themed attraction can be found in Odaiba, Gundam Front Tokyo, where visitors can find a massive, life-sized Gundam statue.
There’s so much to see and do in Akihabara, not just for otaku and tech enthusiasts, but for people of varying interests as well. Prepare yourself for a one-of-a-kind experience just by walking around and browsing at the many stores. When visiting Akihabara, it’s good to keep an open mind and an adventurous attitude for you to be able to enjoy fully the unique experiences this district in Tokyo has to offer.
For otakus and techies, this is a must-stop when in Tokyo! Now that you know about these places, plan yourself a killer itinerary and enjoy your day in Akihabara.
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