Day 13 - Akihabara (Ali)
written by Ali

And so the fateful day of Geek Destiny finally arrived. For better or for worse, we were headed to "Electric Town," Akihabara, the legendary home of Tokyo's otaku culture.

We got off to a pretty good start. Only a block or two away from the subway we ran into one larger branches of Tora no Ana, a sort of doujinshi and manga superstore catering to a variety of tastes. Nearly all of it was ridiculous giant-breasted gang-bang cum-shot porn, but let it never be said that such things are BORING by any means. Not what I'm after, particularly, but they made excellent presents to bring back home for my soon-to-be-horrified friends. I was particularly impressed with one of the top floors, which housed a few dozen titles carefully mounted in glass cases and labeled with prices upwards of ¥15000 (about $150).

After that initial pitstop, however, things didn't go quite as I'd planned them.

Several difficulties stood between me and my goal of merchandising bliss. A major roadblock was the fact that our much relied-upon guidebook was woefully out of date, and many of the stores we had planned on visiting no longer existed or had moved to different locations. This resulted in several misadventures involving Akihabara's wealth of hardcore pornography shops. (A word from the wise: when the elevator doors open on a view of a giant screen TV, and said TV is currently displaying a woman's private bits covered in some unknown person's chunky blood ...stay on the elevator.) My personal favorite where the floors and floors of private video booths. Fastidiously clean? Yes. Still creepy as all hell? HELL YES.

Another was that my applicable Japanese was pretty much limited to, "Sumimasen, Hagane no Renkin Jutsushi doujinshi wa doku desu ka?" -- "Where is the Fullmetal Alchemist doujunshi?" You'd think this would be enough, but as it turns out the answers to such questions are often more complicated than a finger point. If I was lucky, those complications would take the form of an obviously negative response, indicating that they didn't have said item in stock. If I was extremely UNlucky, I would spend the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out what was being said.

And finally, it really seemed to me that the specific businesses in Akihabara weren't the only things that had changed. After a day at Mandarake, I was expecting to find more of the same. But while there were countless shops hawking DVDs and video games, very few of them had anything remotely resembling a Naruto headband or a Fullmetal Alchemist coffee mug.

Of course, putting these small disappointments aside, there were plenty of awesome things to look at in Akihabara. I'm going to let Scott describe them, as I was too busy with my woeful search for UFO catcher plushies to pay much attention, but it was definitely intriguing.

Near the end of the day, however, salvation and glory arrived in the form of Animate -- which was, quite naturally, about a block away from where we'd exited the subway several hours ago,

I tell you, this place was awesome. The huge selection of anime and manga was a given, but there were also entire floors of nothing but character goods -- the mugs and phone covers and stickers and keychains that I so desperately wished to waste my money on. There was even a section for doujinshi supplies, including inks and pens and brushes and markers and an impressive collection of screen tones. Huzzah!

My downfall was the muchly-coveted Fullmetal Alchemist pocket watch.

There was a photo of it next to the register. This photo had a PRICE on it. And dammit, I wanted one.

Alas. Remember the bit about simple questions not having simple answers?

Thankfully, the girl at the register was ridiculously kind and understanding, and after several minutes of failed explanations was brilliant enough to pull up a japanese-to-english translator online, type in what she wanted to say, and then write the resulting sentence onto a bit of paper.

Not-so-thankfully, said sentence was along the lines of, "Sorry, we're only taking pre-orders, and we don't ship overseas."


And so, with my wallet quite a bit lighter and my arms laden with packages, I told Scott that I was satisfied with my Consumerism Safari and was ready to return to our Ryokan with the day's spoils.

After unloading our bags in the room and recovering somewhat from the afternoon's exertions, we headed back out again for our last night on the town! Since we hadn't yet started in on our packing, we couldn't really do anything extravagant, but that was just fine with us. The thing I craved, right then, was sushi. And sushi we had!

I have to say, there are few things in this world as satisfying as high-quality conveyer belt sushi (or "electric sushi," which is what I usually call it.) The plates are color-coded according to price; there are tiny little drawers with different kinds of tea and little spigots of hot water at your seat; the sushi chefs are happy to make something for you if you don't see it meandering past; and there's the constant excitement of trying to guess what that pink stuff covered in caviar might be. An added bonus: the waitress had a special machine that scanned our stacks of plates and dumped the results onto a little chip which could be read by the cash register. So awesome!

We then returned to our room and packed. And packed. And PACKED. Then went to sleep. Then woke up. THEN PACKED SOME MORE.

The madness of it all is, frankly, staggering. ;}

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