As an anime fan, Akihabara is probably the number one place in Tokyo that I looked forward to the most during all my trips to Japan. I still remember the first time I took my first steps into the Mecca of all things anime: A bright and sunny day in spring with the songs of Love Live! blaring out of every corner of the iconic Sega game center. It felt so much like home, only that this home of mine have anime stores in them. Blocks and blocks of them line up side by side down chuo-doori(中央通り) as far as the eyes can see. And then it dawns on you at just how much of a task it would take for you to find everything you need. Just to be clear, it took 2 whole days for me to cover the main streets of Akihabara, and I still continue to find new places to go to every subsequent time I went back. And what better way to spread the love than writing an article of some of the must-go places in Akihabara.
Pretty much the poster boy of all anime stores you can ever imagine. Animate is one of, if not the biggest anime retail franchise in Japan, so much so that there is probably one, if not a few branches in all 47 prefectures of Japan. Animate essentially sells all official anime goods that is made directly by the main manufacturers of their respective anime series. The store in Akiba consists of 7 (SEVEN) floors of pure anime goodness. Each floor is categorized by the different products that they are selling like, manga, games, Blu-ray/DVDs and official merchandise. The top floor is usually reserved for special events like a mini-exhibition to promote a certain anime series that is currently on-air during that particular season. If you're especially lucky, you may even find yourself face-to-face with a seiyuu(声優) or voice actor who is there to promote for the anime series on that particular day.
Gamers is another retail chain that is really similar to Animate. Like Animate, what Gamers sell also include manga and character goods, but what ultimately differentiates them is that Gamers is more focused on the audio-visual as well as trading card games. In Gamers, they have dedicated floors for audio visuals of anime series, games(both general and adult ones), タレント(Literally means talent. Individuals who not only voice acts but also sings and does live events etc.), and also a floor for TCG. It is very easy to put them as direct substitutes to Animate, but they are actually both under the same parent company and provides different 特典(Tokuten, or exclusive items that are bundled under certain products) for their products, so be sure to take a look at items that are sold at both stores before deciding to purchase your them.
Unlike the previous 2 stores, Kotobukiya dives into more specialized categories. This store is more focused on figure, plastic models, character goods of game series, as well as western pop culture goods from series like Star Wars, DC and Marvel. More well-informed people will know that what Kotobukiya truly specialized in is their character figures. If you have any figures of our favourite characters that is made by Kotobukiya, rest assured the product and it's details are of guaranteed top quality. Though it may look like it costs more than the others, it's definitely worth every penny.
Sofmap may not be an immediate choice of place to go to when you think of anime goods since it's main floors consists more of electronics like audio-visual goods, phones and game consoles, but make your way higher up the floors and it turns into a different world. What makes Sofmap an ideal place to shop for anime goods is that they have not 1, not 2, not even 3, but FOUR retail spaces just on the main streets of Akiba itself. The niche of it's business is also to sell second-hand goods as well. Most people will start to shun these second-hand products once you brought it up, especially when you're a tourist. "I have all the spending money I need, why should I bother with them?" you may ask, but this is where it is important to know that not all anime goods can be bought straight-out first-hand. In Japan, there is something that is called an Ichiban Kuji which is basically a lottery game where you pay a set amount of fee and you draw out a ticket that indicates the tier of the prize that you will get. The items can range from simple key straps or mugs to the top prize of an exclusive figure that you can only get from the lottery. Some times, people will sell to places like Sofmap to gain a profit, and this is where others may get lucky when they find them in the store. Furthermore, second-hand goods sold in these places are graded by how well-preserved they are before retailers set their own price on it, so it is guaranteed value for money.
As stated earlier, the concept of second-hand selling is really common in the trading of anime goods, so much so that retailers actually doesn't even need to physically sell the goods for themselves, and Anime Plaza is one such outlet. Instead, what they do is open up the retail space that they have to everyone who is interested in selling off these goods for themselves. All they do is rent out glass display cases for a daily set fee to potential sellers to showcase the items they have to buyers with the prices the sellers set for each of of their items. If anybody decides to pick up anything, all that is needed is to get a slip from the counter stuff and fill up a form about which case and which item they would like into it and make a payment.
Tokyo Anime Center is an odd one. It's focus was never really on the retail side of things, rather, it's more of an exhibition space for anime related corporations like production studios and TCG manufacturers to showcase some of their exhibits like costumes, storyboards and the likes. Though that may be the case, it's still a place I find myself going to all the time just for the constant change in exhibitions on display. At a corner of this space is a shop that sells anime merchandise according to their production company, and most of the time, it includes books that illustrates the making of each of the respective anime series. As someone who loves illustrations, this is one of the reasons why I always spend a bit of time in Tokyo Anime Center.
Finding this place is easy. All you have to do is to head up to the bridge level of UDX building and take the obvious looooooong escalator inside it.
These are just a few places I go to when it comes to official merchandise. However, Akihabara is way more than just what official anime goods has to offer. Another facet of Japanese anime is the world of the doujinshi(同人誌), or fan-artists and publications. Doujinshis make up just as large a part of Akihabara as the official works that they parodied after and honestly, I could name the same amount of stores that sells them as the ones that came out of this article, however, we will have to leave that for another time. What are some other retail stores in Akihabara that you go to get your anime fix? Leave a comment below and share your favourite haunts with us too!