In all my prior visits to Tokyo I somehow managed to never visit the Akihabara neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure why; after all, I’m a fan of electronics and random markets, preferably with small, crowded alleys full of random stuff. And Akihabara has plenty of all that stuff, plus lots of other shops to explore. Fortunately, my most recent trip gave me the opportunity to right this wrong.
We didn’t stray too far from the train station in exploring the area. Part of that was trying to not get lost (I did have a flight to catch not too much later) but much of it was because we didn’t need to in order to explore pretty much all the neighborhood has to offer. Right next to the train station is the warren of tiny shops, creating a maze of diodes, transistors, switches and just about everything else electronics junkies could want. Think of it like a super-sized version of the back section of a Radio Shack. There is one of everything there, including a lot of things you probably didn’t even know you needed. It took a lot of self control but I managed to not buy anything as I toured.
After the market area we aimed for Super Potato, one of the more famous shops in the neighborhood.
Super Potato is packed floor-to-ceiling with classic gaming goods. It is a chain of stores but the Akihabara location is the most famous and, once you find it and ride the elevator up to find the shop, it is pretty easy to understand why. The store covers three floors, all crammed with vintage goods. We started at the top and worked our way down; floor number 5 was the arcade. The dozen or so machines in the room leave it too small be a top-notch arcade. Unless, of course, playing 80s and 90s-era games is your thing. Here it is all about the vintage, not modern games. For a couple of minutes we played Varth, a 1992 game I’d never seen before with a decidedly 8-bit feel.
The lower floors are where the shopping really happens, whether it be for games, consoles or merchandise. There was a stack of 30+ GameCubes tucked in one corner. The shelves were filled with cartridges for everything from the Nintendo Family Computer (known as the original NES in the USA) to GameBoy to Nintendo 64, with plenty of other systems and eras mixed in. They had consoles for sale, too. I think a working GameBoy was going for JPY 7900, around $80. It seems that just about anything game related which was ever sold in Japan is available on floors three and four of the shop. Thousands of titles stocked the shelves; each game looking for a new home.
After visiting Super Potato it was on to the Hirose Entertainment Yard, known by the acronym HEY. This was another multi-story affair but quite a different experience from Super Potato. The floors were much larger and there was virtually nothing retail about the place; it was all about the modern games and the people who play them. Many of the guides we read suggested that HEY was one of the sites where we could find locals who are expert gamers. We went searching for such, in addition to dropping more than a couple of our own JPY100 (~$1) coins into the machines.
It was roughly noon on a Wednesday; that’s probably not prime gaming hours, but we found a few guys playing at HEY. Watching them was impressive. They barely moved, intently focused on the screen with their eyes darting back and forth but their bodies perfectly still. Their fingers tapped away at the buttons and the joystick moved but barely any other motion. It was somewhat surreal. Compare that to our play, where body english was a big part of our efforts. Then again, these guys got a lot more play time for their Yen so maybe there is something to it.
And then, alas, it was time for me to head off to the airport. Like many of my trips this was a quick one and I didn’t have time to explore more. No maid café nor cat café visit this time around; maybe next time. Also on the list for next time is a visit to the animation museum in the neighborhood. I actually really want to see that, unlike the cafés.
Here are some of the resources I used in researching the visit:
- http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html (very useful map!)
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