Geek Out! Akihabara
Robots, wide-eyed cartoon characters, neon lights and flashing colors, video games, all things cute and kawaii… there are a lot of unique aspects to modern Japanese culture that may come to mind while you’re planning your trip. Thankfully, in Tokyo, there's a neighborhood for each of these countless subcultures!
The Akihabara district originated as a merchant district more than a century ago and post-WWII became a hub for black markets. As the economy evolved, Akihabara evolved with it: first, they sold household electronics, and then computers, walkmen, etc., and finally moved on to video games and the whole cultural universe connected to gamer culture. These days, it’s a bustling mecca for all things geeky, with many offerings totally unique to Japan, and even unique to Akihabara. What are the different things you can do there? Read on to get some ideas!
When visiting Akihabara, the main appeal for many Japanese people and international tourists alike is to go shopping. Akihabara is home to many massive specialty stores: it’s the top spot to buy electronics, anime goods like figurines or elaborate cosplay costumes, video games, and a lot more memorabilia.
Right by Akihabara Station is Yodobashi Camera Multimedia Akiba , a massive electronics store with locations all around the country. It’s filled with floors of cameras, computers, televisions, and home electronics like refrigerators. If you’re looking to buy an electronic item while you’re in Japan, this is the shop you should check out.
Another massive store in Akihabara, Mandarake Complex , focuses on all things otaku (the Japanese work for an anime geek). Originally a used book store, you can still find old books and manga (comics), but also video games, anime-related toys—both new and used—as well as dojinshi, which are fan-published manga; it's a whole world unto itself.
Honorable mention: Akihabara Gamers , for cutesy kawaii merchandise and anime goods at a discount.
The themed cafes in Akihabara may be one of this district’s most famous draws these days. Akihabara is the best place to visit a famous maid cafe, where girls dressed in over-the-top frilly maid costumes bow and greet you as if you are the lady/gentleman of the house. There’s an endless number to choose from, but we recommend Maidreamin Cafe, where the food comes in adorable shapes.
While cat cafes have long been a thing in Japan, and are still all around the country, animal cafes have branched out. In Akihabara, you can visit the owl cafe, Owl Cafe Akiba Fukuro .
If you’re a video game fan and grew up with games such as the Final Fantasy franchise, the Square Enix cafe, Final Fantasy Eorzea , is another fantastic cafe to visit, with an elaborate, themed interior and brightly-colored drinks named after characters and items in the games. Note that for this cafe, you’ll need to purchase a ticket ahead of time.
Since you’re in the gamer, geek, and otaku capital of the world, don’t forget to stop by an arcade!
We think the best gaming center in Akihabara is HEY (Hirose Entertainment Yard) , with four stories of games. Check out the upper levels for a huge array of vintage games, like an old Tetris machine, as well as more modern ones, like actual pods where you can step inside and pretend to pilot huge fighting machines. Other runners-up include Sega's several buildings of arcades (1, 3, and 4--Sega 2 closed during the pandemic), or Super Potato , which is a large video game store that has vintage games and consoles, and a vintage arcade on the top floor.
Akihabara is also home to AKB48, a massive pop idol group with more than 40 girls singing and dancing in matching costumes. Their theater is located on the 8th floor of Don Quijote , and tickets are done through a lottery via their website. This group rocked Japan’s pop culture world over the past decade and inspired other cities in Japan and all over Asia to create their own huge girl groups.
Lastly, don’t forget to try karaoke while you’re in Japan. The karaoke scene in Japan is a little different from those in western countries and caters more to introverts and small groups. You can rent a room, ranging from a solo practice room with headphones to a party room that holds your entire group of friends! In Akihabara, you’ll even have the option to rent themed rooms, like a retro Japan room or an anime-based room. Big Echo Showa Dori is the most well-known karaoke place in the neighborhood with different types of rooms, and is located just outside the train station. Akihabara has many karaoke options, but you find karaoke joints all over Japan, whether you’re in a big city or a small town.