My new dwelling places is just a short jaunt from Akihabara, the otaku capital of the world. Even though I’m only lightly otaku, I am nevertheless overjoyed that such an eccentric part of town is within walking distance. My two latest excursions to Akiba, as it is affectionately abbreviated, were first to introduce a newcomer to the stranger side of Japanese culture and second to accompany my roommates to a maid cafe.
This is Paige, one of the other kindergarten teachers at my school. Paige is always up for an adventure, so on our day off, I played her tour guide to the various absurdities of Akiba. First stop, Electric Town. Want to build your own radio, computer or other gadget? This is your mecca. The environs of Akihabara Station are a maze of shops even smaller than my apartment that sell all the bits and pieces of electronic equipment. Entire stores are dedicated to wires, light bulbs, or even on/off switches. Most of the merchandise in most of the stores is completely unfamiliar to me. Does anyone know what these little metal and plastic bits are?
Next up, figures. Figure collecting in Japan began in earnest in the 1970s with the release of the anime Mobile Suit Gundam. Before that, models of popular cartoon characters were available, but they were shoddily made and therefore usually used only as kids’ toys. Gundam’s creators, however, released merchandise that was high-quality and highly detailed, which appealed to hardcore aficionados- the very first otaku. Obsessed fans began voracious buying the miniature mechanical suits, and figure-making became big business for the anime producers, a trend which continues to this day. Figures can cost hundreds of dollars and range from a few inches tall to just over a foot in height. I want this one:
Here are some more:
Since Gundam first aired some 40 years ago, it’s become a classic and holds a lot of draw from the old and young alike. Akihabara hosts a Gundam-themed restaurant that always boasts a queue. Next door, another Japanese pop culture franchise recently opened a cafe. Remember in the 90s when factory-made boy bands and girl groups were all the rage? That trend never faded in Japan, thus the popularity of AKB 48, a Japanese pop group comprised of 50 some odd female performers in their upper-teens to early twenties. Paige and I visited the cafe and were amazed by AKB’s music videos that were absolutely farcical and probably should have been satire, but were unfortunately for real.
Inside the cafe:
And some more Akiba nuttiness: