Japan // Tokyo //

Akihabara

Some 500m southeast of Kanda Myōjin, a blaze of adverts and a cacophony of competing audio systems announce Akihabara (秋葉原). Akiba, as it’s popularly known, is Tokyo’s foremost discount shopping area for electrical and electronic goods of all kinds, hence it’s also known as the city’s “Electric Town”. These days it’s also “the” destination for anime and manga fans and the spawning ground for the decidedly surreal “maids’ cafés”.

Inside the Akihabara Crossfield complex is the Tokyo Anime Center, which has small displays on recent anime but is really little more than a glorified shop selling anime-related goods.

Today’s electronic stores are direct descendants of a postwar black market in radios and radio parts that took place beneath the train tracks around Akihabara Station. You can recapture some of the atmosphere in the narrow passages under the tracks just west of the station in the tiny stalls of Tōkyō Radio Depāto (東京ラジオデパート) – four floors stuffed with plugs, wires, boards and tools for making or repairing audio-visual equipment.

Contemporary art is also starting to find its way into Akiba. On a side street off Chūō-dōri, you’ll find the landscaped entrance to a new art complex, 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Based inside a renovated junior high school, the centre hosts close to twenty galleries, with a revolving mix of exhibitions, interactive installations, and workshops.