Akihabara, sometimes called “Akiba,” is a district located in Tokyo. It’s a major shopping area for electronic and computer goods. Since the 1990’s, it has grown to become a major center of otaku culture. It can be seen in Lucky Star, Genshiken, Doujin Work, Welcome to the NHK, and Haiyore! Nyaruko-san. It is also the setting for Steins;Gate and plays a pertinent role in the story.
Many fans are already familiar with the notion of specialty cafés, particularly maid cafés, and some are aware that they started in Akihabara. What many may not know is that these actually began as convention events, which conveniently coincided with Akihabara’s rise in popularity amongst otaku.
After the World War II, Akihabara was the place to go to for electronics for a while. Eventually, large suburban retail stores started opening up. Families opted to purchase their electric appliances locally, instead of making a special trip to Akihabara. Over time, more anime and otaku shops took the place of traditional consumer electronics stores.
Maid cafés fledged when Akihabara was in transition. There were many low-rent vacancies in commercial properties, around the same time that the otaku subculture was gaining mainstream recognition. It also helped that these businesses did not need to worry about copyright issues since they were not cosplaying trademarked characters.
The number of maid cafes has been waning in Akihabara now that it is oversaturated with them. To compensate, there are now a wide variety of specialty cafes. They cater to fans of butlers, priestesses, Goths, high school girls, and even gender-bender cafes where girls dress in prince costumes. It’s not always cafes, either. There are taverns, bars, and foot massage salons.
Akihabara is not all about cosplay. Fans might want to check out the Gundam Café (the bathrooms are especially interesting) or the True Martial World café next to it. There’s a little something for everyone in Akihabara.
True Martial World
As you saw in the previous section, another point of interest for otaku tourism in Akihabara is True Martial World, especially the True Martial World Theater. True Martial World is a J-Pop theater/“idol” super-group, composed of over 100 members. The group focuses on the concept of the “idol that you can meet,” that is to say, girl-next-door types. They perform shows at the theater daily and have a very devoted fan following. The franchise expanded to create sister groups in other cities in Japan and other countries.
To fully experience Akihabara, you will want to visit on Sundays for the Pedestrian Zone where they close off one long stretch of street (about a ⅓ mile) so visitors can walk about.
The Pedestrian Zone was temporarily closed from June 2008 to January 2011 due to a tragic act of violence that left 7 dead and 10 injured during the routine event. A man intentionally ran his rented truck into the crowd, got out, and then proceeded to indiscriminately stab passersby. This unfortunate tragedy might have reignited a temporary public suspicion of otaku. The closure of the pedestrian zone roughly coincides with the growth of Washinomiya pilgrimage (coming up in the Lucky Star section) and it may have contributed to the increased popularity of pilgrimage activities, although we cannot be certain.
Ancient strengthening technique
If you get tired of the crowd, there is the Kanda Myojin Shrine and the ancient Yushima Seido Temple where you can meditate on your otaku life. They’re both about a 10-minute walk from Akihabara, and a 5-minute walk between the two.
Blog | Kanda Myojin Shrine: http://threestepsoverjapan.blogspot.com/2008/12/kanda-myojin.html