A Step By Step Guide to Strolling through a Realistic Cyberpunk City
If you’ve ever wondered about cyberpunk travel destinations, then you’ve gotta take the cyberdelic pilgrimage to Akihabara (Akiba for short). The cross section of Tokyo is just like walking through Night City from Cyberpunk 2077 but without all the violence, mech enhancements and futuristic fascism.
The Average Consumer in Akihabara
If you’re looking to get anything mainstream in Akihabara, the two electronic giants of Japan are where you start; Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera. In particular, Yodobashi has its flagship store right outside of the main station. That should always be the first port of call.
Despite what you might expect, you’ll want to walk away from the Electric Town gate and instead go towards the Showa-dori gate from the station.
For today, we’ll be on this side of the station, surrounded by skyscrapers and storefronts. Once you leave the station, turn left and you’ll find a small covered street. Food stands are on your left, and a small, unassuming entrance to Yodobashi on your right. Head on in.
The Japanese Electronic Giant Yodobashi Camera
The flagship store for Yodobashi Camera has nine floors full of brand name electronics and parts, as well as miscellaneous goods. The entire floor guide can be found here. It might surprise you to notice how each ascension seems to take you further and further away from a conventional electronics store. From relatively straightforward tech like smartphones and laptops, you’ll walk through coffee makers, card games and even clothing much like a department store in the West. This is a common trend in Japanese stores, even those that “specialize” as Yodobashi claims to.
For all that, the floors are large enough to have a massive range. At last count, Yodobashi Akiba had over 290 different headphone options available, with high end options and brand names crammed next to cheap 290 yen travel earbuds. Brand names vary, but ultimately any well-known brand is available. Yet on the whole, Yodobashi favours western brands in its technology. The largest displays of tablets belong to Apple and Microsoft with Huawei and other Asian brands occupying smaller studios.
“But Shyam,” I hear you say, “I’m here for Japanese brands. Why would I want to buy the same stuff I could buy at home?”
Don’t worry, that’s what the other one is for.
Bic Camera has More Japanese Brands than Yodobashi
If you leave Yodobashi by the main doors and turn right, then turn left at the first junction you approach, a brisk five minute walk will see you to Bic Camera, the other electronics giant in Japan. This time, you’re looking for the large, white skyscraper, with Bic emblazoned in Red along the side – Bic Camera’s flagship Akihabara store.
Bic is significantly smaller than Yodobashi here, only having 7 floors. But unlike the competition, Bic chooses to focus much more directly on electronics.
While Bic does still have small sections dedicated to food, souvenirs and non-electrical appliances, the store is decidedly about electronics. Outside of a small selection of instruments and peripherals to appliances, there is nothing at Bic Camera that won’t need a battery or power outlet.
If you’re in the market for Japanese brands, this is where you want to go. Corresponding to the more limited space, Bic has a slightly smaller range of products.However, approximately 75% of those products are Japanese brands, with the remainder being the largest western brands for that product. A small downside is perhaps the tighter price ranges you’ll encounter. Bic has much fewer budget options and tends more towards higher-end brands. But overall, Bic offers reasonable value for money if you are looking for a specific Japanese brand.
However, both Bic and Yodobashi are directed at consumers hunting unused and up-to-date electronics. They are not much use if you’re in the market for something from a few years back or want to skim your expenses by buying pre-owned. For that, we have two more stores run by the same overarching company – Book Off and Hard Off.
Book Off and Hard Off are Great Alternatives
The “Off” brand is Japan’s answer to second-hand stores from the West. With a strong recycling culture already in place, the business expanded to the point where it is a byword for second-hand shopping. Each “Off” store specializes in a category of products. Book Off covers entertainment. Hard Off covers appliances.
There are still others you might encounter. Mode Off has second hand clothing and Hobby Off is for anime, manga and related products.
However, For consumer electronics Book Off and Hard Off will have you covered between them.
From Bic Camera, double back towards the junction. But this time, head straight at the lights until you reach the next corner that leads to a road. Turn left there and you should see a street jam-packed with small restaurants and shops as well as a bridge. Walk towards and under that, then look to your left once you’re past the bridge. Tucked away inside a recessed entrance you should see a bright orange sign that says “Book Off” in blue lettering.
Inside, you’ll have four floors of books, CD’s, games and consoles, as well as odd bits of technology such as DSLR’s, Laptops and even small home appliances. Again, Book Off isn’t the place to go if you want something extremely specific. They probably just won’t have it. But if you’re in the market to shop around and compromise, then before you drop a fistful of cash on something at Bic or Yodobashi, give Book Off a quick look to see if they have something comparable at a good price.
As stated before, Book Off is also excellent if you’re searching for something older. In their gaming software, they have games ranging from the latest Playstation and Xbox games to retro games for the Sega Saturn. In their music sections, you can find CD’s dating from the 1970s and earlier if you’re lucky. The Hard Off website does also have a search function that will let you hunt for specific items, but on the whole, it’s probably more worth your time to pop into the larger shops in Tokyo, as the search function is limited to Japanese, and also uses vague descriptions that make it hard to find anything useful.
A word of caution, though. Even though this guide is only about Akihabara, there is a likelihood that anything really collectible will go quickly. Akihabara’s reputation as a tech center works for and against you. Anyone with half a mind to pass something rare off will immediately head here. But the second it’s on the shelves, it will be seen by people with an eye for the rare. Akihabara’s Book Off also has slightly elevated prices, although nothing too drastic. So if possible, I’d suggest checking out the branches in Ueno and Nippori if you’re passing through.
That about wraps things up for our mainstream consumers. There’s a good chance anything you came to Japan looking for will be in one of those three buildings.
Akihabara is a Great Resource in for Custom Computer Creation
One noticeable exception readers might have noticed so far was that of PC’s. This is perhaps where Akihabara truly shows why it is considered the Tech center of Japan. Computers are a contentious topic in Akiba since both those seeking something boxed and ready to go, as well as those looking for parts and pieces to customize or design, will inevitably come to visit. Because of this, if you come here seeking, be prepared for two different worlds.
The first is the one left out of our previous article. Computers for consumers, who want nothing more than to pick a very limited number of specifications, want to be handed a box containing what they asked for. In addition to the premade computers and laptops, each sells a variety of parts.Yodobashi has a slightly larger and more varied selection that Bic, owing to the larger store area.
English is a hit and miss affair with the staff, but they should be willing to call for an English speaking staff member of reasonable fluency for any basic inquiries. More complicated ones, however, such as questions of compatibility or life cycles, will likely fly over their head even in Japanese. It would be advisable to know that going in.
The Camouflaged Dell Store
If you’d like just a little more complexity and choice, upon leaving Akihabara station’s Electric Town, turn right. You’ll be facing an intersection into a main road. On the right hand corner, you’ll see an Alienware store. Despite the banners and artwork, this is actually a Dell store. Much like Dell’s online stores, the staff will help you choose and select specific parts. You can customize your processor, graphics card, monitor. Really, any relatively well known computer part is up for customization.
This gives the store a slight edge over the larger electronics stores in terms of freedom, and a healthy cadre of English-speaking staff doesn’t hurt either. If you’re not completely sure what you’re doing, but want some room to maneuver, pay them a visit.
But what if you do know exactly what you want, to the model number? You don’t want something put together by someone else. You want the freedom to make those choices for yourself? If this is you, then you could probably wander the main street of Akiba and not catch a hint of a store that could help you. In true keeping with Cyberpunk itself, you’ll find what you’re looking for in back alleys and underground. If you know what you’re looking for, be ready to hunt. The Akihabara you’re looking for is a rabbit warren.
The Akihabara Underground
The first place you’ll want to check is right next to the Dell store. On that corner, a touch further back towards the station, is a card game store called Card Kingdom. The alleyway beside it has several shops built into the alley, containing computer parts by the score. Don’t expect much English here. It would be best to either learn the names of the things you’re looking for in Japanese or be able to recognize them on sight. At last count, three of the stores specialized in computer parts, and furthermore, one solely in monitors. However, this is never a static state of existence.
These stores restock haphazardly and cycle through their inventory regularly to try and ensure everything gets time on the sales floor. If you leave, in order to compare prices or double-check your specifications, it would be a good idea to take a photo of anything you might potentially purchase later in case it’s no longer on the shelf.
Akihabara is a Tech Hunting Ground
Once you’re done scanning those shops, it’s time to move to the real heart of Akihabara for creators. Exit from the same entrance you came in through, and cross the main road. If you cross as the nearest intersection, on the right, you’ll be standing between a LAOX and a SEGA arcade. Between them are some inlet roads, which you’ll want to take. Turn right at the first corner you get to. You should be looking down a street with several roads leading from it that’s crammed with restaurants, shops, and stalls shoulder to shoulder.
This maze of streets is likely the best place to find anything you’re looking for that isn’t widely available. At my last count, there were 11 stores selling computer parts, the largest on the first street on the left. For now, to demonstrate the general experience, let us use this as an example of the layout these stores will follow.
The store in question, Tsukumo PC Honten, is opposite Hinoya Curry and Dragonstar Card Shop. Both of which helpfully have their names in English for easy orientation. The storefront is deceptively normal and discreet, but the building itself is a both a tall and subterranean behemoth of four floors, brimming with products. The store specializes in Japanese parts and has rarer items that most large stores do not carry. On top of their extensive range of parts, which reviews describe as satisfying “most, if not all PC enthusiasts”.They have a small section of robots and robotic parts, as well as second hand products if you’re looking for something outdated. The staff will speak limited English, so product knowledge is a must here. Prices are far more reasonable than Bic Camera and Yodobashi. As you might expect, if you can’t find a certain part and can describe it in Japanese, the staff will be able to point you to another store nearby which might stock it.
As stated earlier, this is a general guide for most of the shops in the area – they are relatively familiar with each other, and so all will likely be able to offer an alternative store where you can find a product. Tsukumo, for its relative muted entrance, is actually perhaps one of the more noticeable stores. Smaller stalls will be tucked away in side-alleys, and under other stores or restaurants. The easiest way to find them is simply to go for a walk and keep your eyes open. There are plenty. I doubt even I’ve found them all, two years on.
In a nutshell, if the large ranges of the two biggest electronic stores in Japan don’t have you covered, a quick walk down the back-alleys and underground warehouses behind Akihabara’s well-lit streets should prove profitable indeed.
Seeking Culture in Akiba
Some of us aren’t here for branded electronics or to build a kit. Some of us are here for Akihabara, a place that has almost a legendary status in the West, for anyone interested in Japan through its media. Its name is spoken in the same breath as places like Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku as lodestones of Japanese culture. Some will come to Akihabara in search of that culture. If you’re one of them, this part of our guide is for you.
The main offerings Akihabara brings to the table in terms of culture is its emphasis on media and its peripherals.
Anime, manga, video games, and trading cards are the bread and butter of the area.
Akiba Arcades Tower Above You
If you’ve been following our guide to Akihabara through its parts, you’ll probably have seen more than your fill of mainstream video games by now. Yodobashi and Bic will stock all the latest releases, and anything older you should be able to find in Book Off. Rather, we’ll focus on the arcades and specialist shops in the area.
If you return to the Electric town intersection near the Dell Store, you should see a large Red SEGA arcade immediately across the road.
Though one of the larger ones recently closed, this arcade is one of three in the local area. It’s easily distinguishable by its large, red façade. The one slightly further down the road in particular is quite important though. It hosts VR games in the Sega VR area. If you’ve seen games such as Beat Saber that have caught your eye, you’ll definitely want to stop in here. Just make sure you don’t spend too much on the claw machines first.
You Want Anime and Manga? Akihabara Got That!
Anime and manga we’ll tackle together, as there’s a good bit of overlap as to the key spots. The stores often cluster together. To begin then, if you’re on the station side of the intersection we started as, on your left will be a building called Akihabara Radio Kaikan. This is a fairly key stop for anyone interested in Anime goods, as well as trading cards, which we’ll get to later. The second, fourth, sixth and seventh floors all have stores full of anime figures and other goods.
The fourth floor store, AmiAmi, have rarer items that you can request to see, and a generally high level of English amongst its staff. It has a very small manga section in the upper left hand corner. Aside from that drawback, it’s probably as close to a one-stop shop as you could wish for. If not, a good look around the others in the same building should find most things you could be looking for.
If not, or you’re here for something to read, leave the Radio Kaikan building, and head back to the intersection, turning left onto the main street. Walking down it, you’ll soon reach a second intersection, which is where Bic Camera is. After this intersection, the streets on both sides of the road are crowded with dozens of small, independent stores stocking a wide selection of anime goods and manga.
A popular chain store about a 15 second walk away, on the right-hand side of the road, is Animate. This store specializes in goods from the recent anime hits, as well as having an entire floor dedicated to manga. Apart from that the best advice I can give is just to explore. An in-depth exploration of all the stores in the area could fill an entire guide in itself. But the charm of this part of Akihabara is exploring and finding what you’re looking for in the small stores scattered on and behind the main road. As a rule of thumb, if you stick between the junction with Bic Camera and the entrances to Suehirocho station, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy.
Cosplay Your Way Through Akiba
Cosplay enthusiasts should keep an eye out for the COSPA store, which is on the left side of the road. Tucked in a small alleyway, COSPA is where you can buy premade cosplay and accessories or have one commissioned. Likewise, if for those interested in an “experience” café such as maid or animal cafes, you’ll find plenty of hosts and hostesses on this road, often with the animals their café is known for. Akihabara even offers personal care in line with its culture. One of the most popular hairdressers in Japan is located here, offering haircuts and make-up sessions based on anime characters.
All You Need for Popular Trading Card Games
The final draw of Akihabara is for those interested in TCG’s, or Trading Card Games. Japan has seen a major uptick in the player base for these games in recent years, mostly due to the prevalence of online platforms to play on, as well as tie-ins to other popular culture. As such, Magic the Gathering, Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon and a raft of other card games have carved out niches in Akihabara.
To get to them, we must backtrack a little. Radio Kaikan is our first port of call, as the second, fifth and ninth floors have the stores Hobby Station, Yellow Submarine and Big Magic respectively, as well as a few smaller stores scattered throughout.
All three stores have healthy offerings of all the major TCG’s, with Yellow Submarine also stocking board games and general game supplies. The ninth floor also holds a play area, where for a small fee or an in-store purchase, players can sit down and play for an unlimited time. For most casual and semi-competitive players, the Radio Kaikan building should have everything they need. If not, or if you would like to scope out some options before committing, leave Radio Kaikan for two more options in the immediate vicinity.
Directly across from the main doors, you’ll see a small card game store with three floors called Card Kingdom. In the alleyway immediately to the right, if you walk past the Family Mart convenience store, you’ll find the six story card store Card World Akiba. Again, both hold all major TCG’s, except for Magic the Gathering for the former. There are other stores scattered throughout Akihabara, but the wide range and competitive prices of these five should have you covered. If not, then as has been the advice through this entire guide, explore!
That about sums up the main sights of Akihabara for our culturally motivated readers. In this guide, I’ve alternately described Akihabara as a cultural lodestone, the tech centre of Japan, and a consumer haven. Each description is only a small part of a much larger whole. Much like Shibuya or Harajuku, Akihabara has long since defied the labels it has been given and evolved. Anyone looking for an experience quintessentially rooted in the cutting edge of Japan can find exactly what they’re looking for. With that in mind, I hope when you finally step foot in Akiba, you find just that.
Until then, Ja ne! (じゃあね)