Prior to visiting Tokyo for the first time, I had visions of the city being stacked with row after row of tall flashy buildings. I imagined I would see hundreds of stores selling anime and electronics galore. I also thought that people would be prancing around the city dressed in cosplay.
My idea of what I thought Tokyo would be like was extremely inaccurate. When I traveled to the city, I found out that only one neighborhood was was like the one in I pictured in my head: Akihabara (秋葉原).
Occupying a small section of the Chiba neighborhood in northeastern Tokyo, Akihabara (sometimes referred to as Akiba) is full of tall colorful buildings, neon lights, anime, and cosplay. It is referred to as ‘Electric City’ because it is filled with hundreds of electronic shops. Akihabara is also home to the famous Otaku (おたく) culture.
Since I had no idea what Otaku was all about, I decided to join a tour with Context Travel to learn about the neighborhood of Akihabara and about Otaku culture.
When I arrived to the famous AKB48 Cafe outside of the Akihabara train station, I was greeted by my tour guide Thomas. Thomas started the tour by giving a brief introduction of the Akihabara neighborhood and of Otaku culture.
Thomas told us that ‘Otaku’, is a term used to describe extremely devoted (or some might say obsessed) enthusiasts of a particular thing.
People who are otaku are often seen as being socially-awkward. Most otaku are often associated with having an extreme love for manga ( Japanese comic books), and/or anime (cartoons). In addition to manga and anime lovers, there are a number of other types of Otaku including Cosplay, Game, J-Pop, and Figure.
The first otaku that we saw on the tour were AKB48 enthusiasts (J-Pop Otaku), who were lined up to meet one of the band members from the group. The enthusiasts were all decked out in AKB48 clothing and had their hair styled like some of the members too.
After looking at all of the AKB48 fans, Thomas led us through the streets of Akihabara. We walked through narrow back alleys and through passageways that housed some of the neighborhood’s oldest electronic shops. We passed through a figure otaku shop until we arrived at the famous Taito HEY arcade to witness Game Otaku.
Taito HEY is a game-lovers dream destination. As we traveled through the building’s various floors, we witnessed a number of gamers intensely involved in playing video games. In addition to the games, the arcade had a number of scantily clad figurines in suggestive poses that were encased in glass for gamers to ogle at.
We left the arcade and made our way across the street to Maidreamin, one of the city’s most popular chain maid cafes.
When we arrived to the cafe, we were handed cute little animal ears. We were then served different kinds of drinks and snacks by women dressed in maid costumes.
The cafe did not allow us to take pictures of the maids working in the cafe, but they did allow us to take picture of each other. I could not resist taking a picture of our tour guide Tom, who looked adorable in his cat ears.
As our tour was drawing to an end, we made our way over to Yodobashi Akiba, the largest electronic store in Akihabara.
Yodobashi sells almost every type of electronic good that a person might want. I immediately fell in love with this store since I am very passionate about technology.
The Geek to Chic Tour of Akihabara provided me with great background knowledge on otaku, one of the Japan’s most interesting subcultures.
One thing that I took away from this tour is that there are some aspects of the subculture that can be shocking and surprising to many people. It is important to keep an open mind when experiencing the culture and it is equally important to take the time to learn about something new.
If you are interested in learning more about Otaku culture and the neighborhood of Akihabara, check out Context Travel’s Otaku: From Geek to Chic tour.
Cost: ¥8,900 (does not include maid cafe)
FTC Disclosure: I was a guest of the Otaku: From Geek to Chic tour, however all opinions in this post are my own.