Akihabara is often the first port of call for the Western otaku in search of genuine Japanese geek goodies. Everything from Gundam kits to limited edition figurines are available – all you need is the cash to buy them, and unlimited patience to help you find what you want.
I won’t lie. Akiba (Akihabara) is a pain in the arse. It’s noisy, smelly, overcrowded at all times of the day, and with floor-to-ceiling junk in every shop you enter. You can spend a whole week here and not find anything you want, or you can be here two hours and stumble across things you didn’t even know you wanted but have to have. Shops here have exclusive licenses to sell items which you genuinely cannot find anywhere else in the country, from Copic markers specifically designed for modelmakers in Yodobashi Camera to Ghibli merchandise that only Kotobukiya Akiba has. It’s impossible to list every single limited edition item, or every shop which has access to such things. You’re just going to have to gird your loins and do it the hard way: explore.
If you’ve come to Japan because you’re otaku and shopping is high on your agenda, you can’t miss Akiba. Of course, you can’t miss a few other places either, but those are covered in other posts. Bear in mind, though, that your favourite anime or manga might be old news in Japan – even the ones you might think are massively popular might be difficult to find merchandise for, buried under the layers of newer stuff for newer series. What you’ll find easily all depends on what’s hot right this instant. Unless it’s One Piece. One Piece always seems to be hot.
I’ll be honest. For my geek shopping I actually don’t like Akiba very much. I dislike heavy crowds, I am uncomfortable in cramped spaces (I’m 6ft tall and mildly claustrophobic), I don’t like loud noises, and I am bordering on OCD when it comes to cleanliness. Akiba is rammed with pedestrians, has tiny stores with narrow aisles, deafens you with the competing electronics stores who have speakers out on the street and in the shops cranked up to 11 with enthusiastic salespeople trying to out-shout each other for your love, and is a bit grubby.
Yodobashi Camera is worth going for, and I usually do. Kotobukiya is also excellent, especially if you’re a figurine collector. If you are morbidly curious about budget goods chain Don Quijote, Akiba’s store is massive, and home to AKB48 who perform daily on the 8th floor. And there’s the excellent CoCo Curry House, but there are branches of those all over Japan.
Here are some useful links to kick-start your Akiba shopping frenzy:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html – A very good guide to Akiba on Japan Guide.
http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara – A handy guide from WikiTravel.
If you want a more sedate shopping experience, visit Nakano Broadway.