In all my time in Tokyo I had only been once to Akihabara – the far away ( from me), “Electronics city” of hightech gadgets, and the painfully shy men who love them. Originally famous as an electronics retail centre, the area has recently bloomed into something quite different – the Ground Zero for Japan’s otaku (nerd) culture , with its penchant for video games of elementary school-looking girls with huge breasts, and colorful polyester outfits, and its disturbing social implications.
Clearly, it was time I gave it another look.
The area has been, tragically, in focus lately with a murder rampage a few weeks ago. A shy, socially-inept man working in a dead-end job and angry over his inability to find a girlfriend, drove a truck into a crowd waiting at the main intersection, and hacked to death survivors with a knife.
A few days later, a similar copycat crime was foiled when police (acting on “intuition”) stopped another man and found him carrying a 12cm blade.
Naturally the events have lead many here to wonder how much the introverted, tech-obsessed but human-interraction-poor lifestyle that Akihabara represents, played a part in the crimes.
The most shocking and unexpected sight in the neighborhood was a makeshift, rainsodden shrine to the victims, where wellwishers had left flowers, streamers of paper cranes or little offerings at the site of the crime . Here, someone left a manga comic book for the dead:
I was surprised by Akihabara. It was so big – block after block of shops towering buildings and bright flashing lights. Girls in maid uniforms were handing out flyers in the streets, and more surprisingly, the murmur of multiple languages was all around. Tourists flock to the area. Signs in English and Korean and Spanishs announced “great duty free deals” and shop clerks even addresed me in English. In this way, it felt more international than Shinjuku or Shibuya – a true globalised world hub.
First stop was “Radio Hall”, a six-storey mall of action figures, software, consumer electronics, manga stores and a huge, creepy top floor doll store selling little plastic figures in shrine-like reverence. Middleaged women, who looked like adulthood had brought them nothing but disappointment, circulated dreamily while sweaty men in caps and wifebeaters scurried down the aisles.
Even creepier was that you could buy the body parts separately – not only their wigs and clothes, but little plastic bags full of hands, or different faces.
Around the corner, there was also a “robot store” (one of the Tsukumo stores, but be careful as there are several branches in Akihabara and only one sells robots), with a stage where little robots played pianos or kicked goals into nets, or (as I watched on a giant video screen), wrestled each other with surprisingly fluid moves while their Korean masters looked on through gritted teeth, willing on their little metal warriors. The “Pleo” – a toy dinosaur robot “grazing” in a plexiglass “enclosure” – looked right at me as I walked in.
This one looks familiar. Was it in a movie?
Also in Akihabara I found a takeway crepe shop with (real, non-robot) penguins in the window!