You’ve finally settled down in your nice Tokyo hotel. The flight was long, but you expected as much. You’re an anime fan. In fact, your love for anime is what drove you to fly to Japan in the first place. Tomorrow is your first real day to experience Tokyo, and you need to draw up some kind of plan. Considering that you’re a fan, you naturally want to hit up the otaku hot-spots first. But you have no idea where to start!
Be lost no more, my wayward friend, for I have prepared for you a nice rundown of all the big-deal otaku hot-spots in Japan. That is, all the places I visited in my time there. This is by no means an in-depth, complete, or comprehensive guide, but I hope it’ll work as a good starting point for someone who has no idea what to expect when they first set foot in any of these places.
If you’re a hip ‘n’ happenin’ fan who’s all up in the latest modern visual culture and happens to have a taste for all manner of merch ranging from classy to downright deviant, then Akihabara is the place for you! Akiba (as abbreviated by the locals) is a little slice of Tokyo filled with geek shops running the gamut from old-school electronics joints to otaku superstores like Tora no Ana and Gamers. If I had to pick one thing I like about Akiba, it has to be ease with which one can find what they want. Things thought to be long sold out on both American and Japanese digital storefronts can be found with relative ease, and if you happen to want something new as well, there’s a 99.9% chance it’s in Akiba. You may not be able to find killer deals, but if you’re living in the country for some time, you’ll be saving a lot on international shipping in the long run.
In addition to being a giant otaku shopping mall, Akiba is home to a number of other fine establishments which will also steal your money, but not give you much to show for it! Maid cafes (I’m sure you’ve heard of them. If not, the name tells you all you need to know.) and other otaku dining setups (Gundam Bar) provide one with an atmosphere detached from reality in which to dine, complete with an expensive price tag and mediocre food! C’mon, it’s not like you went there to eat. If you want actual food, there’s a bunch of cheap eats around to satisfy a variety of cravings be it Japanese curry, beef bowls, ramen, donuts, Indian food or kebabs (made by real Turkish people, too.) Arcades are a big thing in ol’ AKB as well. While there are your typical Pachinko/Slot joints, but there are a lot of real arcades with a bunch of cool dude games like Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna (you know, the one where you ACTUALLY PILOT THE GUNDAM!) as well as places that specialize in old school titles. However, some of the best stuff is the stuff that won’t cost you a single yen. At any given time, there will be some store or showroom displaying prints of a famous illustrator’s work. Oh, you can buy those too, but they cost more money than I think I’ve ever had in my bank account.
Whether you enjoy loitering around in tiny electronic shops with low ceilings or shops with shelves stuffed full of used artbooks, Akiba has it all. That said, if you’re an older fan who is slightly out of the fandom, Akiba may not be for you. In fact, you may just find it gross, what with all the large banners of school girls in blue swimsuits all over. Another sad thing about Akiba is that, simply put, the golden age is over. After an influx of tourists due to the Densha Otoko craze, along with cop crackdowns on public performances, Kato’s massacre was the nail in the coffin and completely killed the street culture there. Akiba’s still really cool–especially if you’re a newcomer like I once was–but I, along with others, hope the revolution will happen again, and life will once again be restored into the otaku center of the world.
Hidden away at the end of Sunshine Mall, Nakano Broadway–located in Tokyo’s Nakano ward–is another hotbed of Otaku action that not many people know about. Akiba’s world-renowned name and reputation has, over the years, attracted a lot of tourists and as a result the area has softened up. Nakano, however, remains unsullied, even though it’s hidden in plain sight! The first floor of Nakano is populated mainly by normal shops–clothing stores, restaurants, and some arcades. However, starting on the second floor and up (Remember, take the stairs–the escalator will take you up to the third floor.) is where Nakano’s true colours shine brightly.
Nakano is primarily home to the otaku used goods superstore MANDARAKE which has its shops peppered throughout the building, each specializing in specific types of otaku merchandise such as DVDs or CDs, doujinshi, manga, model trains, old books, vintage toys and random crap from the Showa Era. Ever wanted those old metal “tobacco” signs from years past? A Tetsujin 28 chair? A giant statue of Kitarou from Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou? You can find that and more at Nakano Broadway!
As you’ve probably gathered, Nakano skews more towards the tastes of old timers and more alternative fans. Between the other shops in the building and Mandarake, old manga, alternative manga, movie posters, and long out of print books about any manner of strange otaku subject are the name of the game here. However, there are things for new fans as well! Nakano is a great place to stock up on old issues of Megami, Newtype or Animage that you may have missed. They also keep good archives of choice manga anthologies. And whether you’re an old school fan or a new school fan, it’s pretty easy to pick up random things like scripts, setting books, lineart and cels from your favourite shows.
Between all the anime-specific stuff, there’s also a number of stores that cater to the tastes of more mainstream nerds as well. In addition to finding unique anime memorabilia, there are stores which specialize in selling posters and programs books from movies–American and otherwise–that have premiered in Japanese cinemas over the years, along with lots of general DVD and music shops. There are some shops that boast a nice selection of killer t-shirts, as well. Nakano does have some food establishments (and a very shady maid massage parlor) but I haven’t been to any of them, so I am unable to comment. There is some great Indian food to be had in Sunshine Mall though, not to mention a staggering number of themed bars within walking distance from Broadway.
While not really as hip ‘n’ with it as Akiba, Nakano is a more chilled out alternative to the otaku shopping spree. It’s a bit grungier and dirtier, but it’s 100% pure as far as otaku spirit goes.
Otome Road is another burgeoning center for nerd activity, but instead of otaku being the prime target, Otome Road–as per its name–targets girl fans, or fujoshi. Otome Road is home to a wide variety of shops that specialize in selling books, games and anime about dudes gettin’ rude. Me being a straight male has not really explored the depths of Otome Road, so all I can tell you is what my friend told me about the Mandarake there: “Don’t go into that one, it’ll make you gay.”
However, hidden between all of the comics with no climax, no point or no meaning, lies treasure. There are actually a lot of stores that cater to male otaku, such as a fairly powerful Tora no Ana and and most dangerous Lashinbang. In Otome Road I found a lot of things that I just couldn’t find in Akiba, or I found things going for a lot cheaper than in other places. My friend bought a Touhou mahjong set for around 30,000 yen in Otome Road. While that may sound like a lot, it was 20,000 yen cheaper than what they were selling it for in Nakano Broadway.
Otome Road hasn’t really developed a distinct atmosphere like Akiba or Nakano yet, or I may just be unable to notice it because I’m male. If you’re a chick with a hankering for BL, you most certainly won’t be disappointed with Otome Road.
Den Den Town
Located in Osaka’s Nipponbashi shopping district, Den Den Town is Osaka’s answer to Akihabara. Unfortunately, I only ever made one trip down to Osaka during my time in Japan, and spent not more than a few hours in Den Den Town. Honestly, you’ll extract more by reading its Wikipedia entry than reading whatever I have to say about it, but I will say that the K-Books down there did have a bunch of doujin by now famous manga-ka that I couldn’t really find around Tokyo, so that’s worth something, right? I’m mainly just including it on this list to let people know that it exists.
It’s 10pm. All the shops have closed down, even the monstrous Tora no Ana. You’re tried between all the train hopping you did around Tokyo with your bags full of who knows what. You need to relax. My suggestion? Showa-themed bar in Nakano. There’s no better way to close off a day of debauchery than with a mountain of raw meat and a tall glass of Hoppy.
Hope you had fun!!