Going around Akihabara

Any WordPress blogger at one point in their blogging life has probably obsessed over their Site Stats. I love this part of my dashboard because I get to see Search Engine Terms and Top Posts & Pages. The second all time Search Term that has led to Slouching Somewhere is Akihabara. So to all fellow Akiba fans who stumble upon here, here’s a map my husband and I got from the time we toured Tokyo’s Electric City courtesy of a HIS Experience Japan tour. The tour by Patrick Galbraith in his Goku get-up is no longer available, but you can click on the map for an enlarged view and save it for a DIY tour. (A more detailed and exhausting tale of our day in Akihabara is here.)

The map marked with numbers on where we stopped...

1. Start at the exit of JR Akihabara Station, near Curry Kitchen Spice and Beck's Coffee Shop.

2. Go toward Akihabara Electric Wave Hall. First stop, the radio center where our guide showed us old radios and told us about the history of Akiba.

Of course all the new electronics are also found in Akiba

3. Go through an alley and enter the Radio Kaikan building (across with the K-Books sign). There you can find Kaiyodo Hobby Lobby Tokyo in the 4th floor and Volks in the 6th and 7th floor. 

Kaiyodo is supposedly the oldest store in Akihabara specializing in figurines of animé and manga characters and Volks is a showroom featuring different dolls, action figures, tool and materials. I love it that in their website they claim: Our well-trained staff will switch your "?" to "!" by offering good services. Hehe.

How about some dolls?

4 and 5. Go to the next building where there are other hobby stores and where our guide gave all of us in the group gashapon or capsule toys in vending machines.

Gashapon galore

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The Cheapskate’s Guide to Tokyo (or at least how I did it)

A couple of weeks ago, I got messages from friends who are planning to go to Japan to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom next year. One of their concerns (as it was mine) was keeping the expenses down. I wrote about seeing Kyoto on a budget for in-flight magazine, Smile, last July, and I thought it would be good idea to list down some ideas to keep costs down in Tokyo while still seeing a lot of what that huge metropolitan city has to offer. So here’s another entry, my gift to my Japan-bound friends–minus my long Japan travel tales of Days 1 to 10. 🙂

Explore the streets. No better way to witness the pulse of the Japanese capital than walk its busy (as well as its quiet) streets where you can be among the ultra-fashionable, the throngs of salarymen, or fellow tourists in awe of Tokyo. To minimize transportation costs, it’s best to explore the city per area. The extensive metro rail of the city has stops for most of the popular spots in Tokyo, anyway. And bring your most comfortable shoes!  (There were days though when I did succumb to “vanity over comfort” mentality with a pair of boots that just looked nicer. Tsk, tsk.)

Heading down Takeshita-dori. Hello, crowd.

1. Harajuku. Head down Takeshita Dori, which is just across the JR Yamanote line exit of Harajuku Station. Walk down this narrow street lined with trendy boutiques, shops where cosplayers likely shop, a 100 yen store, some restaurants and a lot of crepe stalls. Check it our during a Sunday to see Japanese teens get all dressed up. Walk further south and you’ll end up in Omotesando, where the crowd is past their adolescence and has a different kind of style–less costumey, more chic.

Akihabara in the afternoon. An even better sight in the evening!

2. Akihabara. Tokyo’s Electric Town and ground zero for geekery with all the manga and toy stores, gadgets galore, and maid cafes to gawk at. You can get out of the JR Akihabara exit and start checking out the stores from there. (Here is the very detailed Akihabara map we were given on our walking tour. Here is another one from Tokyo Tourism that might be helpful. They have 53 Ways to Explore Tokyo on Foot; most tourist spots are in areas A, B, C, and D.)

Pedestrians waiting for the green light at the Shibuya Crossing

3. Shibuya. Where you can find the tourist-draw of a crossing, that little Hachiko statue, sharply dressed young Japanese women (makes you feel you want to go back to your inn and put on something nicer) and so many department stores for a consumerist high.

An alley in the Golden Gai in Shinjuku–one of the most interesting night spots in Tokyo

4. Shinjuku. Where skyscrapers, more department stores, and night spots, including a red-light district, abound. Must check out the alleys and pubs of the Golden Gai, though a visit in one of the bars will set you back a cover charge or admission fee between Y700 to Y2000. (FYI: To fellow Pinoys, there is a bar nearby called Champion Bar and it is co-owned by a Filipino and frequented by Pinoys working in Tokyo. Our friend pointed it out to us, but we didn’t get a chance to go inside.) You can also just head to one of the big chain stores, like Takashimaya (with a large Tokyu Hands branch inside), Isetan (must stop for the basement food hall), or Yodobashi to drool over electronics.

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Tokyo, Day 4: Akihabara, geek heaven

In my list of things to do and experience in Japan—see the cherry blossoms, go to Studio Ghibli, see Tsukiji, cross the Shibuya intersection, see the cityscape of Tokyo, check the cos players in Harajuku, ride the bullet train, walk the streets of Akihabara, sing in a karaoke box, see a geisha, eat where and what the locals eat, and get my fill of beautiful temples, shrines and castles—getting pissed drunk and waking up with the worst hangover I’ve ever had was certainly not included. (Though I should have known it would be a consequence, what with the amount of things I wanted to do.)

Prediction from the night before: your head will feel like this after all that shōchū

Every time I would lift my head in an attempt to get out of bed sent me back to horizontal position as the room felt like it was spinning. The fact that we downed more shōchū after we left the dry noodle place the night before suddenly came back to me. C wanted to show us this tiny bar a few meters away called Bar Dr. FeelGood (the name of which I only remember because of the photos), where he also knew the owner—a tall, lanky, long-haired Japanese who also played in a band and tended the bar himself.

While the bar was dimly lit, you could tell that almost every inch of the walls were covered in posters and postcards of music festivals, bands, art exhibits, different beer brands, and even tattoo places. Polaroid snapshots of people were also there somewhere. And before we really called it a night, Dr. FeelGood bartender/owner snapped a picture of us, and tacked it on his collage of a wall. So somewhere in a bar in Tokyo, there is a photo of me, my husband and C, happy, feeling good (but not for long), and far from sober. Another unexpected addition to the growing Japan list of “done that.”

When I finally managed to get out of bed without the room seeming to spin as much, I realized there was no way we were going to have enough time to check the flea market in Hanazono-jinja in Shinjuku and the cosplayers that descend Harajuku on Sundays as we have planned for the morning. (I really had an ambitious itinerary.)

We needed to have our seven-day Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) exchange orders exchanged for the actual passes in the JR Station Information Center in Shibuya for our shinkansen ride to Kyoto the next day (and more importantly, reserve seats), then head to Akihabara for a guided tour after lunch.

While I prefer to explore a place on my own, P wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tokyo’s geek center for electronics, gaming, manga and animation with a knowledgeable guide in tow. The fact that the Akihabara tour he stumbled upon online had a guide dressed as Goku (a character from the anime Dragon Ball) made him instantly book the tour.

As the Japanese are known for their punctuality, we were there in the JR Yamanote Line of Akihabara Station an hour before the designated meeting time. We had a quick lunch at a casual Japanese curry restaurant outside the station, which served the tastiest and perfect-for-the-cold-weather katsu-karē or breaded deep-fried pork cutlet with curry sauce that we’ve ever tasted. (Though our taste buds might not have been the most reliable since we gorged down the hot sticky rice, katsu and spicy curry in record time.) Once we polished off our plates and stuffed ourselves ready for the tour, we walked back to the station where we found our guide Patrick Galbraith in his Goku cosplay costume and spiky Super Saiyan hairpiece waiting for the tour group, which would be composed of a family of four from Spain, an American teenager with his mom, and a Japanese magazine crew of three.

Goku as our Akihabara tour guide

A PhD candidate at Sophia University in Tokyo, our guide tells us later on that the tour was going to be his last, because he needed to finish his studies, appropriately on otaku (“geek”) culture. And if you wanted to behold geek culture in Japan, Akihabara (or Akiba as it is often called) is the place to go to.


Walking the streets of Japan’s “Electric Town”

Though cosplayers and street performers have been banned from its streets in an apparent attempt to uphold a cleaner, more normal image (a consequence from past disreputable antics and the tragic knife attack in 2008), Akiba still house a dizzying concentration of stores and cafés catering to the otaku; because beyond its many electronic shops, it has also become a mecca of stores featuring a mind-boggling array of anime and manga goods and video games. I swear I heard my husband let out a squeal more than once, trying to contain the giddy, geeky boy inside him for finding his own little piece of heaven.

MaskRider, Ultraman and so many other anime toys. P found his geek heaven.

Seriously, I don’t know what to put as a caption for this.

We went inside several hobby stores and toy stores that held different manga and anime-themed toys of all kinds, including P’s favorite Mask Rider, Classic Ultra Man, and Gundam models. Many were for sale; some were personal collections being displayed for fellow otaku to appreciate. This included dolls in underwear or French Maid get-ups. There was a store that sold those French Maid outfits. A gallery called Art Jeuness with paintings of doe-eyed anime-looking girls in slinky outfits in exhibit. Oh, and the maid cafés.

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