The Electric City of Everything

September 3rd, 2017

Akihabara. The words I write today will never do this city justice as it's one of the first indescribable places I've ever been to. Every niche interest, every hobby, every sick fantasy, and every brightly colored slender girl you could imagine, all contained within a few city blocks. Akihabara is the "otaku" culture super city. "Otaku," meaning young people that are obsessed with technology and facets of popular culture. It is the be-all-to-end-all city for electronic goods, video game arcades, hobby goods, Anime, and basically anything you could possibly think of. It was awesome and a bit shocking to say the least.

I start my day off with a quick bit of writing as I do now, and once finished, decided to go for an early morning walk. It was about 7:00 AM, so still plenty early to watch Tokyo wake up. I found a vending machine serving iced aluminum bottles of coffee, I sat on a bench near the street, and then I just watched the world go by. Tokyo is gorgeous and serine in the mornings on clear days. There was something about how the sun diffused through the light cloud cover and the feeling of the air that just made it seem so calm and peaceful. That's one thing that I find interesting about Tokyo: you can always find large swaths of quiet, peaceful areas. After finishing my coffee, breakfast came from the local kombini near my hotel. It was onigiri (rice ball covered in nigiri wrap) with a tuna fish stuffing. It was 102 yen, or about 90 cents and it was delicious! I wish convenience stores in America were this good.

Some of the various arcades, shops, and manga cafes you'll find in Akiba.

After breakfast, it was time to visit The Electric City. My hotel sits just south of Akihabara, so I decide to just walk there. After crossing the bridge over the Kanda river, I arrived at Akihabara station. Immediately after emerging from the bottom path of the station, you are enveloped by a sea of tall, colorful buildings filled to the brim with stuff. I mean, wall-to-wall, fire-hazard-level filled with just about anything you could possibly imagine. It was a sight to behold... but, what to visit first? I decided to visit a small drug store to pick up some sunscreen as the sun was getting pretty intense. This is actually the first time I had to bust out Google Translate, as I had no idea what the word for "sunscreen" was. I pull aside an attendant and show her my phone. "Sunu-screena?" she asks, puzzled. She then motions over her eyes pretending to, well, screen the sun with something like a visor or hat. I motion back with rubbing my arm. "Ah!" she says as she directs me to a tiny display of sunscreen. 1600 (~$15) yen for 25 mL of sunscreen... guh. But I need it or I will die, so fine.

It was about 9:00 AM at this point, still a little too early for the relatively late-starting Japan. Most shops opened at 10:00 AM, so I decided to scope out a little cafe where I could relax for a little bit. What happened next, in retrospect was a tad bit rude on my part, but I'm still learning how the culture works, so it was no big deal. Unlike in American coffee shops where you can sit without buying anything for a little while, you are required to buy something if you'd like to stay at a Japanese cafe. After about 10 minutes of sitting with no drink in my hand, I was approached by a server and was requested to buy something or beat it. A little embarrassing, but whatever. I bought a little iced latte and decided to wait out the next 30 minutes or so in the shop.   

If only this was an In-N-Out

9:50 AM. I leave the coffee shop and begin walking down the streets of Akihabara. Strangely enough, I stumble across a Carls Jr. (AKA Hardees) with a sign out front that reads "Taste of California" with hamburgers all over it. Funny as that was, I really hope the locals don't associate California with the taste of Carls Jr. I continued walking down the streets and found several closed shops with enormous lines forming outside of them. I suppose an idol group was visiting or there were some anime voice talents doing meet-and-greets. What ever was happening, it was attracting quite the crowd! Further still I wander with no real goal in mind, I just wanted to find a place that was open! I listen to the locals on the bikes as they pass "おはよう!" (O-hai-o, good morning) say the bikers as they pass crowds of people waiting at the stop lights.

Let it all out with this table-flipping game.

Finally, it was 10:10 AM and nearly all of the shops were fully opened. I first visited the large, red Sega main arcade. The first floor was entirely dedicated to games of skill, mostly UFO catchers with lots of stuffed prizes that need to be caught or knocked from a deceivingly stable mount hook. The next floor contained rhythm games where the players must time their inputs to match falling notes on the screen. Watching the dedicated Japanese rhythm game players was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. They have superhuman speed and accuracy. I have no idea how they process such a huge barrage of information so quickly and with such precision. The mind boggles. I proceed up one more flight of stairs to find a game that have actually heard of before and always wanted to try. The Table Flipping Game. You play the role of a disgruntled father with anger issues. You are seated with your wife and two kids at the dinner table and must listen to them talk about their day, all the while you're stewing with anger. SLAM! You physically hit the table controller in the center of the arcade cabinet. This draws shocked looks from your family - they continue to talk. SLAM SLAM! They look at you, concerned. Then, the best part of the whole game. Your opportunity to physically flip the table across the room and try to destroy as much of the environment as you can with it. I decked the wife in the face and exploded the virtual television as my table's path of destruction carved through our lovely dinner setting. Crude and violent? Yes. Satisfying and hilarious? You bet. 

One floor of many inside of Bic Camera.

After my romp through the world of virtual domestic violence, I decided to switch gears a little and explore the non-video game section of the town a little. I left the arcade and wandered down the street aways before seeing a large tower with a man shouting towards the streets promoting a store-giveaway and touting a Nintendo Switch. This store was Bic Camera, a multi-level mega store filled to the brim with just about any cool gadget you could think of. The first floor contained super market goods and was mainly filled with people looking to pick up a quick snack or some up market toiletries. The next few floors were stuffed with thousands upon thousands of electronic doo-dads and gizmos all basking in the unique hyper florescent glow of the extremely bright store lighting. Drones of every size, digital cameras, stationary, cellphones, televisions, appliances, software packages, ANYTHING you could possibly think of having to do with electronics or office goods was inside of that building.

Akiba-tan. Your virtual assistant. Many stores in Akihabara feature anime girls as mascots or assistants.

Up a few floors, you will find a fairly impressive collection of drones and other remote-controlled vehicles. The atmosphere of the store was distinctly Japanese, as every few minutes a short happy jingle of singing girls touted the store slogan and name. Further still, the store offers a virtual assistant to help you shop in the form of a pink-haired anime girl and her telephone-shaped companion. I could only imagine the reception of American shoppers should they see any store in the states that showcased anime girls as store assistants. 

The largest set of quad-copters I have ever seen.

The display of drones was very impressive. These things were massive. Some of them were taller than me length-wise. After a bit more perusing, I decided to head to a shop that I've heard so many cool things about. Super Potato. A shop that specializes in selling like-new vintage video game consoles, games, and accessories. Super Potato is tucked away inside of a nondescript hallway and up a flight of steep, narrow stairs. Through the hallways, posters of Kirby and other video game characters are plastered floor-to-ceiling and at the end of the path, a doorway to vintage gaming heaven. 

After Super Potato, I wanted to explore another arcade. There was just so many of them, so I wanted to see the variety of different games they offered. Much to my surprise, your choices of games are pretty much identical regardless of which arcade you chose to play in. The format seems to be skill catchers, rhythm games, fighters, and a couple specialty titles scattered about. One such specialty game that I found was in a large red building called, um, "Game." On the basement level of Game, there was a full-sized set of Mario Kart cabinets that actually let you drive the carts with real steering wheels with restive feedback and pedals. It was so much more fun than the home console versions, but MUCH much more difficult as the AI is ruthless. Still managed to eek out first place though ;)

Mario Kart arcade cabinets

A typical anime outlet store complete with yellow Gachapon machines.

After a bit more gaming, I felt that I was satiated and decided to move on and walk the streets a little more. It still seems odd to me that there exists a place that is completely dominated by anime absolutely everywhere. Most shops have no bare walls, instead, anime promotional material is densely posted filling up absolutely any possible blank space on the wall. It really is a surreal sight to behold and one that you would never seen in America. You could hear the voice actors of anime girls blaring through nearly every store. 

Another common thing to see are the Gachapon machines. These a little capsule dispensers that release random trinkets and toys relating to what ever franchise they're representing. Toy vending machines are something we do have in America, but not nearly to this magnitude. They're absolutely everywhere - there are even entire streets dedicated to these Gachapon machines vending anything between anime figures to underwear. Yes, I did find a panty vending machine. Those are real apparently. Japan is weird. 

A bit more wandering later, and I was starving. It was time to find some lunch. Originally, I wanted to finally try some authentic Japanese sushi. After a bit of searching, I found a place near me that looked awesome. Walking... Walking... Walking... finally, here it is! Sushi Tomi, a little non-descript shop in the middle of a desolate ally.

The hearty ka-chunk of trains passing overhead aptly describes the soundscape for Tokyo.

I step up to the sliding door, give it a pull and... locked. Locked? It's lunch time! Okay, fine, I'll search up another sushi joint. Closed. All of them. How odd. Reason? It was Sunday. As it turns out, Sushi shops are usually closed on Sunday and Monday. Reason being, the fishermen take Sunday off and because of that, there is no fish to purchase on Monday. Guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday before I can get some authentic sushi.. aww. 

Okay, plan B. Wander the streets and eat anything that looks good. After a little bit of searching, I found a little diner-esque restaurant and decided to give it a shot. Here is where I made another foreigner mistake. Many restaurants in Japan have different setups and rules. Once I found a seat, I sat down and was quickly approached by a confused server. "Can I help you?" she says. "おすすめ" (recommendations?) I ask. "uhh.." she replies. Uh oh.. what did I do.. I hope I didn't accidentally mispronounce that and have it mean something completely different. The server realizes that I'm not familiar with the operating procedures and leads me to a refrigerated cabinet with lots of premade fresh foods. Oh.. I'm supposed to pick up what I want and they'll prepare it for me. Whups.

I picked some Tuna shashimi, a whole roasted fish fillet, and a bowl of rice. It was pretty good, but I could definitely tell that it wasn't the highest quality food. More akin to fast food. At least it was pretty cheap and filling.

After lunch, I was pretty tired. I went back to my hotel room and rested for a bit, indulging on the absurdity that is Japanese public television. After that, I walked back down to Akiba and explored a little more, checking out a couple more shops and arcades. I did this for a couple hours or so, and then went back to my hotel to shower up and search for dinner. It's funny. I could be so drop-dead tired while in the hotel room, but as soon as I force myself up, lace up the shoes, and get walking outside, I'm suddenly instantly recharged and can easily walk for miles. I guess that's just the inherent energy of the area and the promise of discovering something new and exciting is a constant motivator. After a bit of random wandering in the pursuit of something to eat, I found myself back in Akihabara yet again. It's so close by and there are so many places to eat there! I stumbled across a Soba noodle shop that also used a ticket vending machine type system. I ordered Soba noodle soup with a large panko-friend shrimp in it. It was incredibly delicious.

They really know how to make a good bowl of noodles in the City of Everything.

Akihabara at night. The soba shop I visited is on the bottom right with the red awning under the huge anime banner

Posted in Japan 2017.