Get ready to level up.
Much has been said about Tokyo’s futuristic, video-game-like appearance. From the skyscrapers covered with flashing billboards to superfast bullet trains, everywhere in Japan’s capital city just seems to be lightyears ahead. But few neighborhoods live up to the promise quite like Akihabara. From its brightly colored buildings to costumed-tourists whipping through the main drag on go-carts, there’s a sense that you’ve stepped into a real-life video game. Here are a few ways to embrace the vibe and make the most of your 64-bit trip.
See the Past and the Future at Radio Kaikan
A quick history lesson: post-World War Two, a black market sprung up around Akihabara, where you could get anything. By 1930, the central trade became household electronics, and the nickname Electric Town was officially minted. Today you can buy electronics in just about any building in the neighborhood, but Radio Kaikan—a 10-floor shopping center built in 1957 and then rebuilt in 2011—is still considered to be ground zero, a place where you can score earbuds in addition to anime, model making supplies, and a much-needed break at one of the restaurants.
Get Your Game on at Super Potato
Luigi, Yoshi, Pikachu, Zelda—you’ll find all your video game pals at Super Potato, Akihabara’s one-stop-shop for all things games, gaming consoles, and themed merch to go along with it all. (Nintendo-themed playing cards? Why not?) Take your time digging through their well-ordered shelves to find just the right version of Mario Party, or feel free to just sit in shock for a moment or two when you realize you could have sold your childhood Gameboy for double what you paid for it.
Grub Out at the Gundam Café
Tokyo is rich with theme cafes. But none embody the spirit of the neighborhood quite like Gundam Café, which takes all its décor and food direction from the famous anime character. Watch clips of the titular 1980s TV show while chowing down on everything from noodles to parfait—each with a suitably poetic menu description.
Try Your Luck at Claw Games
The Japanese play claw games like it’s a national sport—and if you’re clever, you can grab, pull, and flip your way to some impressive stuffed animals, dolls, and even candy for only ¥100 a turn. While Akihabara is lined with multiple claw game dens, beginners should always stick to the machines closer to the door, where higher percentage plays assure you’re more likely to walk away with a prize.
Get a Gacha Surprise
Games of skill and chance not your thing? Try a gacha machine. Find these toy-dispensing machines outside of nearly every shop in the area. (The name comes from the sound the machine makes with the nob is turned.) Famous artists and cartoon franchises have all had their hands in Japan’s favorite toy dispensing system. But there’s a catch—you can’t control which toy you receive from the machine’s selection. So, while there is a tiny element of risk, it’s likely to end well.
Bless Your iPhone at Kanda Myojin
The greater Tokyo area hosts over 2,000 temples and shrines, all devoted to a different facet of life. It makes sense, of course, that Kanda Myojin, located in the heart of Electronic Town, holds regular electronics blessings, to protect your game systems, computers, and phones against breakage. Once you’ve paid your respects, buy a charm for your phone, or an ema—a small wooden prayer board on which you can write your prayers or wishes and leave them displayed at the temple until they come through. Naturally, given their target audience, many of the emas at Kanda Myojin feature an assortment of anime babes.
Find Your Heart’s Desire at Don Quijote
Doing Target one weirder is Don Quijote, Tokyo’s ultimate superstore, where across multiple levels you can find everything from shower shoes to high-end jewelry to a rainbow of Kit-Kat flavors. (Pro-tip: Grab the Kit-Kats, they’re flipping delicious.) It isn’t so much the variety as the quantity that’s equal parts eye-catching and noteworthy. If it’s not here, trust us—you can do without.
Fall in Love (or Find the Next Best Thing) With Love Merci
Ready to get really in touch? Slip through the bright pink doors of Love Merci, the area’s largest “adult entertainment” store, where across five floors they’ll have whatever suits your fancy, be it lace, plastic, or something plucked directly from the uncanny valley. Look, laugh, or grab yourself a special treat—no judgment here. Just beware ladies: the top two floors are men only.
Go on Walkabout
It’s true some of the attractions in Akihabara can skew a bit…er, for mature eyes only. (Sup, Maid Cafes?) But on Sundays, from October through March, 1 pm-6 pm, the main drag is closed to car traffic. Join the throngs of friends and families all vying for a surreal selfie against the rows of multi-colored buildings.
In Japan, it’s rare that there’s a city, neighborhood, or even business that doesn’t have some kind of mascot. (To stay updated, follow Mondo Mascots.) Akihabara’s spokesperson of choice is Chiitan, a klutzy otter “fairy baby” with a pink turtle for a hat. She often makes an appearance in the city, so keep your eyes open. Even if you don’t get to see her in the flesh (Fur? Felt?) There’s usually a representation hiding out somewhere, in everything from claw game prizes to snacks.