Holiday, Photography, Travel

Japan Day 16: Tokyo, Akihabara (11/04/2015)

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For the next couple of days we are staying in Tokyo’s “Electric Town” Akihabara. This area is famous for its stores full of cheap electronics and anime and manga merchandise. Being a fan of all of these things I was pretty excited about staying in this area for a couple of days. I didn’t take any pictures today so the pictures below are all stolen from the internet (labelled OK for reuse).

We started off by heading back to the station and heading through it to leave by the “Electric Town” exit. It isn’t necessary to go through the station but the hotel is so close and everything is well signposted from the station.

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The interior of a typical Akihabara shop.

We visited many different shops selling a bewildering array of anime and manga merchandise. There were all sorts of things available from t-shirts and other clothing to games and key chains and cuddly toys. The most prevalent items available though were models of characters from books and shows. We wandered around floor after floor in building after building stuffed to the ceiling with glass cases and shelves full of figures of all shapes and sizes. Walkways provided for inconvenient humans between the shelves were often barely wide enough for a single person to walk without brushing the shelves.

As with most places in Tokyo, many of the shops do not have traditional street level shop fronts. Many involve going up to the second or third floor of a building or down into a basement. Some we had to go outside on the fire escape to go from one floor to the next. All are decorated with a prolific assortment of posters, paintings, leaflets etc. plastered onto every available wall space.

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An example of the kind of thing you can buy in every other shop.

Although these are definitely shops, a lot of them have assembled models in display cases for you to look at and the staff will fetch you a boxed one if you want to buy it. This makes them great for people like me who want to peer at all the pretty models but don’t necessarily want to buy anything. There are all sorts of styles of model available here, from the incredibly detailed and accurate representations, to cute re-interpretations of well known characters and of course, the inevitable perverted interpretations. As well as characters there are kits to build vehicles and of course giant robots. One multi-storey shop we went in had an entire floor dedicated to DIY Gundam models.

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A typical display of assembled, posed models

Despite the wide variety of anime and manga out there, we noticed that a lot of the shops had the same characters from the same shows in pride of place. Perhaps it is because of my limited ability to recognise characters but we saw a lot of School Idol Project, K-On, Attack on Titan and Naruto. I was very pleased to see the K-On models as I really like that show and I very nearly bought some but was put off by the space they would take up in my luggage. I was tempted by some Gunslinger Girl figures too. Despite all the temptations though I came away empty handed. Next time I’m taking an empty suitcase with me!

After lunch we headed over to Nakano to visit Mandrake (apparently pronounced “Mandala-K”), a shop the guide book recommends visiting which sells everything from CDs, DVDs and manga to toys, models and memorabilia. This shop was very hard to find as it is inside a labyrinthine shopping co-operative, the Nakano Broadway, and is actually a large number smaller shops each specialising in a particular aspect. These shops were small and more chaotic than the ones we had been to in the morning but otherwise quite similar. The Broadway has a store guide which they publish in English which was very useful in finding the stores once we had managed to find a copy.

A Mandarake shop in Broadway selling Gundam models
A Mandarake shop in Broadway selling Gundam models

As we had taken a long time wandering round to find Mandrake, we didn’t have a lot of time before we had to head off to find Bingoya, a traditional craft shop. Bingoya was very easy to find, even in the gathering gloom. It is a short walk from the train station in what feels like a quiet, sleepy corner of the city. There are 5 floors of traditional paper, wood, glass, pottery and cloth products here. The store is both large and intimate at the same time. For the most part each floor contains a particular type of product and is staffed by people who know those products. This was the only place we actually bought anything today, getting some souvenirs for ourselves and some presents for the folks back home.

Later on we headed back out to Akihabara to have a look at the bright lights. We seemed to be a bit late though and there weren’t many people around. The lights didn’t seem very impressive either but that may have been because we have spent such a long time in Tokyo that we are used to neon everywhere.

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Akihabara at night.
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