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Akihabara

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The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world’s first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn’t like Akihabara all that much.

Akihabara Tokyo

Akihabara was Tokyo’s original “Electronics Town,” where, in the post-war years, people could buy the newest household gadgets. It was also the first area in the city to embrace computing and so it became known as a place with a futuristic outlook. The young, geeky gamers of Tokyo congregated in Akihabara’s bars and cafes, and it developed into a natural center of otaku culture.

Otaku is a tricky term, which I’m not sure I fully understand. Basically, it’s the Japanese version of “ultra-geek,” referring to people who are maniacally obsessed with things like manga or cosplay. Like “geek,” otaku is a traditionally negative term which has come to be embraced by its community. Today, a large percentage of Japanese self-identify as otaku.

Whatever it is, we saw otaku culture at its strongest in Akihabara. We walked through the arcades where guys were playing insane games involving digitally-imprinted playing cards. We squeezed into stores to look at ridiculously expensive anime figurines, and marveled over the people actually buying them. We explored comic shops which spanned seven floors. We ambled down the streets, dazed, politely shaking our heads to every maid that tried to win our attention. Far quicker than than we had anticipated, we’d had enough: Akihabara is not for us.

I don’t know what went wrong! I consider myself rather geeky… I enjoy the occasional role-playing game, and could list off a dozen members of the Green Lantern Corps without blinking. But I’ve always kept my geekiest impulses under control, afraid what might happen should the flood gates open. In Akihabara, confronted with truly unrestrained geekery, I had solid proof that moderation is the best policy.

Akihabara Tokyo

There’s something cute about a maid cafe. There’s nothing cute about dozens of maid cafes. And there’s something downright creepy about hundreds of young girls dressed in suggestive costumes standing around on street corners. Same with the collectible card stores… who doesn’t like card games? They’re fun. But try visiting one of these shops where literally hundreds of various Magic-type card-battle games are sold. Where people will spend a fortune on a single rare card. There’s little joy to be found here, just obsession. After Akihabara, I wanted to grab a fishing pole and go sit on a lake. I wanted to spit in the dirt, and rub mud on my face.

Still, it’s a crazy area and maybe on a different day we would have enjoyed it. At any rate, Akihabara is worth seeing, and if you’re in the market for cheap electronics (or comics or games or maids), it’s probably the best place to go in Tokyo.

Location of Akihabara Station on our Map

Buy Crazy Stuff From Japan Here

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June 22, 2014 at 3:49 pm Comments (0)

Our Favorite Shibuya Sights

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We spent many entertaining evenings in Shibuya, which has become one of the most exciting areas in Tokyo. There are so many bars, shops and things to do here, that it would be hopeless to attempt listing them all. But here were a few of our personal favorites.

Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street

Perhaps the best way to approach Shibuya is along Cat Street, by way of Omotesando. This curvy lane follows the old path of the Shibuya River, and brings you past loads of cool designer stores, vintage clothing shops, and cozy cafes. It’s is one of the most popular areas among the young and hip of Tokyo, and serves as a relatively laid-back introduction to the craziness you’re about to experience in Shibuya. [Location]

Shibuya Goat Cafe
Sakuragaoka – Goat Cafe

Found on the quieter southern side of the tracks, Sakuragaoka has won fame not for its food or drinks, but for its doormen. In a cage outside the cafe are two braying goats. Sweet-tempered Sakura is white, while boisterous Chocolat has a brown coat. You can pet Sakura without fear, but take care if attempting to touch Chocolat; that feisty beast will head-bash anyone who gets too close. The goats are fun, but our favorite part of this cafe was its familiar atmosphere and excellent food. [Location]

Photo Boxes

Yes, fine, the most important thing is inner beauty. Blah blah, now shut up and get out of the way, so I can get inside this photo box and show you what real beauty looks like.

You can find Fashion Photo Booths all over Tokyo, but for some reason it took a trip to Shibuya before we felt brave (or drunk) enough to step inside one. Want freakishly huge eyes like a Disney character? Want smoother, lighter skin like the finest porcelain? Want your wrinkles to vanish along with the last of your self-regard? Then these photo booths are for you. Results can range from terrifying to hilarious. But probably not beautiful.

Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei Automated Sushi

Sit down in front of a terminal at Uobei, and scroll through the options. Tuna nigiri, that sounds good. Salmon with mayo? Yes please. And a tempura shrimp roll for only ¥108? That’s crazy, I’ll take it. Selections made, you press “go.” A couple minutes later, a tray with three plates zips out along a magnetic belt, stationing itself in front of you. You grab the plates, press a button and zip, the tray flies off, back in the opposite direction.

Ostensibly prepared by humans, the sushi at Uobei is delicious and fun, but will make connoisseurs turn up their nose. One offering, for example, is cheeseburger sushi. Yes, we ordered it. Yes, we loved it. Though Uobei forces you to miss out on the human engagement which makes experiencing a foreign culture so rewarding, sometimes it’s nice to just look at color pictures of food, press buttons, and eat in blissful peace, no talking required. [Location]

Karaoke Tokyo

(With our friends from Chic Soufflé and Not Hemingway’s Spain)

Karaoke

You’re in Tokyo, so you’re doing karaoke. No, that’s not a suggestion, nor is it a threat. Just a simple declaration of fact. You’re in Tokyo, so you’re doing karaoke. Grab your friends, have some drinks, and relax. This isn’t American-style karaoke, where you’re asked to bleat in front of a huge crowd of strangers. In Japan, you rent a room, and the only people who will ever hear you are those you trust.

We thought that in Shibuya, karaoke might be too expensive, or that we’d have to wait in a long line. But in fact, this turned out to be the best place for it. There are a lot of halls, and maybe because they’re forced to compete, they’re cheap. You normally rent a room for an hour at a time, and the price includes all the drinks you want. The machines can be switched to English, and the song selection is excellent. Kanye West? Guns n’ Roses? System of a Down? 99 Luftballons? Shibuya’s karaoke halls have you covered. But as for your friends’ ears… they’ll have to cover those, themselves.

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Maidreamin’

We sat down at our table in this below-ground restaurant in Shibuya, and were instantly made dizzy by the pixellated decor. Maidreamin’ is a cafe that takes its inspiration from the 8-bit world of Mario Brothers. I don’t remember any flirty french maids in the video game, but perhaps they were on Level Eleven.

We leaned back in our chairs and allowed ourselves to be entertained by a super-sweet cadre of hostesses who brought us food, served us beer, blew us kisses, taught us cutesy-pie songs, and even danced to ear-splitting J-Pop on a tiny stage in the middle of the cafe. It was a bizarre, very Tokyo-ish evening out and even though our personal tastes run more toward butlers, we had a great time. [Location]

Tokyo Tower Framed Photo

More Photos from Cat Street
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More Photos from the Goat Cafe
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Another Beauty Box Photo
Beauty Booth
More Photos from Uobei Automated Sushi Restaurant
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A Couple More Karaoke Photos
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Another Pic from Maidreamin’
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Random Shibuya Pictures
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June 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm Comments (2)
Akihabara The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world's first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn't like Akihabara all that much.
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