Once all about gadgets and the latest electronics, Akihabara is now an even mix of electrical goods megastores, maid cafes and all things anime. To go with its transformation, it has a new nickname—Akiba.
Akihabara Station is on the JR Yamanote and JR Sobu lines. It can also be accessed by the Keihin Tohoku Line, TX Tsukuba Express, and Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.
Akihabara got its nickname Electric Town from the black market that sprouted there after WWII. Common items being sold at the time included wires, cables, light bulbs and other electrical bits and pieces.
The alleys and small shops that flourished in Akihabara's heyday still remain, somewhat intact, in arcades like Radio Kaikan and in a few other places mostly near the JR Sobu Line tracks.
As Japan grew more prosperous, Akihabara became a magnet for electric appliance manufacturers. The mega shops specializing in household electronics competed for Japanese customers buying their first fridges, televisions, washing machines and air conditioners.
This made Akihabara an icon of Japanese prosperity in the 1970s. But as these appliances became commonplace, Akihabara shifted gears towards calculators and watches, toys and games, and from the 1990s, computers and other technology.
While shops offering a reminder of the old Akihabara do still exist, today's Akiba is focused on otaku culture, including anime, manga, smartphones, games, maids and cosplay. Loosely translated "otaku" means "geek." But unlike the connotations "geek" has in English, "otaku" is more of a cultural identity that self-proclaimed sorts assume with pride.
Super Potato is a famous video game store that epitomizes the otaku lifestyle. It is located in a small, nondescript building near an alley where maids and other Akiba mainstays hand out leaflets.
Decked out with retro games over three floors, relive your childhood by wandering through aisles of original Nintendos (Famicon) and games, as well as games for classic consoles such as the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and the original Game Boy. It is also home to a game arcade that features, of course, games from the 1980s and 1990s.
While there are other stores that also sell retro games, they pale in comparison. In the parlance of the fans both Japanese and foreign, Super Potato is where otaku go.
Akiba is home to many maid cafes, which are essentially cosplay restaurants where waitresses dressed as maids serve their "masters," or their customers.
There is also a slew of animal cafes where you can hang out with owls, cats, otters, rabbits or hedgehogs over your afternoon cup of coffee, as well as themed cafes including a Gundam Cafe that pays homage to the beloved anime robots from the series.
Akiba is the birthplace of one of J-Pop's most prominent and lucrative girl groups, AKB48. AKB stands for "Akiba," or "Akihabara," while 48 is the number of members in the group. Unsurprisingly, Akiba is where idols—and not just AKB48—tend to hold fan meets for their mainly otaku fanbase.
These events are made far more fascinating by the light-stick waving otagei, which refers to the cheering gestures by high-spirited otaku fans.
The 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan is another world altogether in Akiba, beneath the JR Yamanote Line tracks running between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations.
Here, you will find artisan crafts from across Japan, made with such attention to detail and design that they will be difficult to find anywhere else in the world. These products include textiles, pottery, furniture, stationery, clothing and even hats.
People tend to spend a long time when they visit Akiba, often all day. Hence, there is an abundance of food options for shoppers and otaku alike.
You will be surprised by the range of eateries serving up good, inexpensive curry, ramen, or other hearty meals in Akiba; a budget gourmet's paradise for the quality, price, and sheer variety of options.