If you find yourself in Tokyo in the company of geeks, you’ll wind up in Akihabara. Our sons, Max and Patrick, and Max’s partner Aubrie are geeks. Going to Akihabara was a no-brainer. Of course, Mom knows her sons and daughter-in-law. I had booked an apartment just a short walk from this geek’s Mecca.
Max and Aubrie know Akihabara and navigated the mayhem with aplomb. Patrick, Ken and I gawped like children at a Christmas parade, dazzled by the colours, the lights and the crowds.
The sidewalks are full of people come to enjoy the energizing atmosphere. They shop, they eat, they hang out. On weekends, the cosplayers turn up in their elaborate outfits that honour their favourite action figures or anime characters, or with creations of their own invention. I was looking forward to seeing them but it was cold on Sunday and we only saw three girls dressed in cheerleader outfits quickly making their way through the crowd.
The biggest buildings house massive electronics stores. We visited one where I estimated there were more than 1,000 different types of ear buds and ear phones to choose from – aisles and aisles of them, in every price range from a couple of bucks to several thousand. Ken also ascended to geek heaven when he discovered the sound systems on sale at the same store. From affordable to top of the line, everything was there to examine.
Elsewhere up and down the streets there are smaller electronics shops, gaming stores and toy stores with new and used wares, anime shops, book stores offering innocent and not-so-innocent selections, quirky cafés where you can sit with cats or owls or pygmy hedgehogs and multi-storied arcades tempting you with their flashing lights and loud soundtracks.
We dropped by arcades where each of the five or six floors is dedicated to a particular type of game: for example shooting games, rhythm games, or digger machines (my favourite). The walls display advertisements for events celebrating the launch of new games and judging by the number of people there, they’re probably well attended.
Later, Max led us down a warren of alleys to a seven-story second-hand toy store. Here too each floor has a specialty – card games, superhero action figures, anime characters, model kits. Large glass displays contain old plastic monsters from long-ago TV shows. I imagine every over-fifty guy in Japan had a bunch of these that he outgrew and threw away. Now, they’re collectables, even the one with the nose chewed off.