Guides in maid costumes take you through the mosaic town of Akihabara
When I exited through the Electric Town exit of Akihabara Station, tour guides Catherine (English guide), Meg (Chinese guide) and Emi (Japanese guide) were waiting for me. All three were dressed like maids that had sprung from the world of anime. Standing before me were “GUNDAM Café”, an official cafe based on the popular anime series “Mobile Suit Gundam”, and “AKB48 CAFE & SHOP AKIHABARA”, which sells goods related to “AKB48″, a Japanese idol girl group that also enjoys great popularity in other Asian countries. We began a 2.5 hour-long walking tour in which we visited quintessential Akihabara spots, such as anime goods stores, Electric Town and maid cafes, together with tour guides in maid costumes accompanied by a licensed guide-interpreter.
The tour group varies each time, with a range of customers from students to families and including people from various places around the world, including Asia, Europe, and North and South America, participating in the tour. Their purposes also vary, from serious anime fans with the objective of obtaining action figures from specialized stores to more casual customers who want to see the famous “Akihabara” just once.
Akihabara Electric Town, which began as a place where street venders once dealt in radio parts, is a town that has a mosaic-like, multifaceted nature. The city has evolved while adapting itself alongside the trends of the times, such as being a Mecca of home electronic stores, a cyber town where personal computer shops come together, and an otaku sanctuary with many stores that specialize in anime and games, in addition to creating new cultures including maid cafes. The guide says, “Akihabara is a town where professionals from various fields such as hobbies, home electronics and personal computers come together, and the more you know about it, the deeper it becomes. Today, we hope you can enjoy all of Akihabara as a ‘wonderland’.”
Enjoying Electric Town and hobbies
The first place we visited was “Building 3 Akihabara Radio Kaikan” near the station square, which many tour participants said was “impressive”. The manufacturer of dolls and models, “Volks”, is located in this building. There are products related to popular games such as Dragon Quest and figures and models of popular anime series in the store. Particularly outstanding are high-end customized dolls that are about 60cm tall. Elaborate items such as various types of shoes and clothes, wigs that come in dozens of colors and types, and replaceable parts including hands, eyeglasses, swords, and guitars showcase Japanese manufacturing technology and obsession with detail.
Next, we went to “Akihabara Radio Center”, kitty-corner to “Building 3 Akihabara Radio Kaikan”. Small, stall-like electronics stores stand side by side under the elevated railway track, crammed with electronics or computer parts such as IC chips or cables. Such an overwhelming scene reminded me of the starting point of Akihabara Electric Town.
During the tour, destinations are decided upon according to the participants’ preferences. If you enjoy shopping, “Akihabara Takarada Musen Duty-Free Shop”, located behind “Akihabara Radio Center”, is recommended. “AKIHABARA Gamers”, located next-door, is an irresistible place for those who like anime or games, as the entire building is a retail space for game software, CDs, DVDs, comics and art books.
Looking at “Building 1 Akihabara Radio Kaikan” across the street, clear cases, about 40cm on each side, sit next to one another, each containing dolls of characters from anime series such as “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball” or photos of idols. This is “ASTOP”, a store in which individuals can have their collections displayed for consignment sale. Many foreigners also visit this store to find bargains. There is a direct retail store of the figurine manufacturer “KAIYODO” on the 7th floor. Just looking at life-size figurines of characters from popular anime series such as “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Fist of the North Star” is fun enough.
Building 3 Akihabara Radio Kaikan
Address:1-18-20 Soto-Kanda Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Akihabara Radio Center
Address:1-14-2 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Address:1-14-7 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Address:1-14-7 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Building 1 Akihabara Radio Kaikan
Address:1-15-4 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Experiencing a “Maid Café”, an Akihabara specialty
“Building 1 Akihabara Radio Kaikan” also faces Akihabara’s main street, “Chuo-dori”. The opposite side of the street is lined with large-scale home electronics mass retailers such as “EDION”, “Laox” and “ONODEN”. On the street behind it is “K-BOOKS”, which offers a wide selection of books related to anime and comics, and “Akiba Cultures Zone” containing “TRIO” and “TRIO+”, which deal in items and photos related to J-POP and idols. This is an area where Akihabara’s specialty, “Maid Cafes”, which have gained popularity with tour participants regardless of their nationality or gender, are concentrated. The scene of girls in colorful maid costumes passing out flyers is very festive.*
*Akihabara guides of the tour. Taking photos of maids is prohibited as a principle.
“@Home Café”, which we visited during the tour, is a long-established maid cafe that opened in 2004. We entered the cafe and were greeted by staff members in maid costumes saying, “Welcome home my masters and princesses!” In the cafe, maids will draw a picture with ketchup on your rice omelet and make cocktails in front of you. During your meal, you can play games with them (paid service), and if you are a first timer, you can take a photo with the maids. In recent years, services offered in maid cafes have diversified, including performances of shows inside cafes. In addition, forms of maid cafes have also evolved, such as “cosplay cafes”, with staff in dressed costumes of anime characters and “butler cafes”, which appeal mainly to women.
AKIBA Cultures ZONE
Address:1-7-6 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
＠Home Cafe Main Store
Address:4th-7th floors Mitsuwa bldg. 1-11-4, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Enjoy Akihabara even more with a map or a on a tour
There are many other hotspots in Akihabara, such as the “Tokyo Anime Center” inside “Akihabara UDX”, located very close to the station, and its underground parking structure is a famous spot where you can see “Itasha”, cars decorated with characters from anime, etc. In addition, the large-scale store, “Animate”, which deals in products related to anime and games, and “Asobit City”, which offers a wide selection of figurines, are also popular spots.
When participants were asked what they were planning to purchase, their answers varied from person to person, with responses such as, “I’d like to buy game software”, “I bought figurines”, or “I’d like to buy an electronic dictionary”. In a town where large signs with anime characters are found everywhere, you can feel its unique atmosphere just by walking around. The tour I participated in this time was “AKIBALAND TOURS”. Shintoukai Travel Co., Ltd., the company hosting the tour, also offers the free “Akihabara English Map”, which is helpful when visiting Akihabara on your own. Whether you want to join a tour or enjoy walking around the town by yourself is up to you. Come and experience the multifaceted appeal of this town when you visit Tokyo!