Akihabara is probably what most people have in mind when you say Tokyo: colourful high rise buildings, anime, high tech gadgets and an overall sense of outlandishness surrounding you. It would be a shame to think that these stereotypes are all there is to the city, as Tokyo is probably one of the most multi-dimensional locations I’ve been able to visit. That being said, no trip to the Japanese capital would be complete without venturing to the craziness of Akihabara.
It’s impossible to walk through Akihabara and not notice one of its anime shops – these are multi-level buildings, where each floor offers slightly different assortment related to the anime phenomena. For instance, you’ll have a floor dedicated to manga, another one specialising in anime figures, another one with anime series DVDs, and the list goes on… every so often you may come across something delightfully odd like somewhat creepy porcelain anime dolls, a human-sized robot or a cuddle pillow with a well endowed anime lady on it.
Akihabara has the reputation of being heaven for otaku, the Japanese term for geeks. The odd thing however is, that while being geeky is currently very hip in the west, the term otaku apparently carries a negative connotation. Sure, I do not claim to comprehend that the innocent-faced anime characters are often highly sexualised, but it seems a bit of a shame that while anime enthusiasts have Akihabara as their playground, their very existence is mocked.
I do wish that I had a better knowledge of anime and manga series prior to visiting Akihabara, as encountering familiar series merchandise really adds to the experience and allows you to share the excitement of the local anime pros around you. I revelled in coming across several Sailor Moon figures on every corner, and even ended up making a cheeky purchase of one.
Aside from anime merchandise, Akihabara is the place where you can find any gadget imaginable. I cannot claim to have even the faintest idea of the purpose of most of them, however my software developer boyfriend was like a kid in a candy shop when we were browsing the tiny techy shops.
Unlike the anime stores, tech shops are typically small, mainly consisting of specialised stalls, each targeting a specific niche. I am confident that those who have the technical know how would be able to get all the parts necessary for building your own computer here. If you’re more like me and would prefer to get your machine in one piece, you may be more impressed by the amazing vintage finds, such as one of the first Macintosh machines.
I have no better way of describing a maid cafe than as a completely out of this world experience. For those not familiar with the term, maid cafes are a type of cosplay restaurant where you are served by girls in french maid outfits and take part in games and all sorts of behaviour that’s considered kawaii (cute).
There is plethora of maid cafes throughout Akihabara, but the two where the staff also speaks a bit of English (allowing non-Japanese speakers tojoin in on the fun) are @home and maidreamin. We visited the latter.
The full meal deal for ¥2,500 (approximately £15 or $20) will get you a drink, an omelette (complete with a ketchup drawing of your choice) or a sundae shaped like a cute animal, and last but not least a photo opp with one of the maids (you get to choose any maid of your liking, but we felt going for the one that served us was most appropriate).
There is also an additional fee per person per hour, which may differ depending on the particular establishment. I have read opinions calling this a rip-off, but personally I think it’s fair to pay for entertainment at a place where the food itself is only secondary. Maid cafes are all about the atmosphere.
While having our meal, we were asked to start our orders with “meow meow“ and perform several kawaii gestures when our food and drinks were delivered. At one point, everyone in the establishment was given glow sticks and one of the maids leapt on stage and enthusiastically danced away. Everyone around us seemed to be acting as if nothing out of the ordinary, and we were thoroughly enjoying not knowing what to expect next. My advice would be going into a maid cafe with a completely open mind and play along – you’ll have an unforgettable afternoon.
Take the Hibiya line on the underground to the Akihabara station (H15). The station is not directly in the midst of all the action, but if you follow the crowd you should bump into the anime shops and arcades soon enough.