Your Guide to Japan's Electronic Mega-Stores

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Most folks interested in Japan know about Akihabara "Electric Town," which emerged as the hub of all electronics shopping in Japan.  Cameras, appliances, televisions, video games--you could find it all in Akihabara.  But what if I told you that you didn't have to travel to Akihabara to find all of that?  What if I told you that there were stores that bring the spirit of Akihabara to all areas in Japan?  Those stores are known in Japan as Kadenryōhanten (家電量販店; electronics retail mega-stores) and in this article, I'll introduce you to the four biggest ones you'll encounter during your journeys in Japan.
Although electronics stores are not unique to Japan, Japanese electronics stores are certainly unique among the lot because of the variety of goods offered, competitive pricing, and (often) Duty Free shopping.  The model for these stores emerged in two major centers in Japan: Akihabara in Tokyo and Nippon-Bashi in Osaka.  It was there that people came from far and wide to satisfy their major electronics needs.  At first, there many small specialty stores that offered specific goods like just televisions or household appliances, but as certain retailers started to take off, they began selling other types of wares.  Eventually, large electronics mega-stores emerged and expanded beyond the confines of the Electronics districts.  Four in particular have become mainstays all across Japan.
Photo Courtesy of Panamorio (http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/70286249.jpg)

The Stores

The largest electrical stores in Japan are ranked as follows:

1) Yamada Denki (most recognizable stores are Yamada Denki and Labi)
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2) Bic Camera (which now owns Kojima, which used to be a competitor)
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3) Yodobashi Camera
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4) K's Denki
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While they all are their own companies, the only major difference you'll find between them are sale prices and promotions, because they all tend to offer similar goods at equally competitive prices.  Here is a list of some of the top items you'll find at these massive electronics stores:

Cameras

Japan is known for its high quality cameras (Nikon, Fujifilm, Canon, etc.).  Each of the major electronics retailers will offer a variety of makes and models, and most will have a small display for you to snap a few pics and sample some of the most popular products.
 

Televisions

While most travelers probably are not looking for a television while journeying in Japan, if you happen to be one of the few who are, look no further than these electronics mega-stores.  They are always having some promotion on one brand or another, so if you are flexible on make and model, you can probably find a good TV at a steal.

Phones & Accessories

Unless you are among those who know how to jailbreak a phone for use on different cellular networks, you may not be interested in the phones themselves, but these stores do tend to offer a wide variety of options.  More impressive than the phone selection, however, is the phone accessories department, which offers rows and rows of options for a variety of makes and models.

Computers & Accessories

Of course, computers in these major electronics stores are primarily sold to satisfy a domestic audience, but if you are interested in a laptop with a Japanese keyboard (great if you study and/or work in Japanese), the prices are as good as they come.  Of course, there are also a lot of computer accessories available.  My favorite thing about Japanese computer accessories is that they are typically more compact than their western counterparts, which is convenient if you do not have a lot of room to spare in your home.

Appliances

You may not think that you want or need to purchase appliances when you travel to Japan, but some of the most convenient appliances available have their origins here.  My personal favorites are the rice cookers and water boiler, which have both become permanent fixtures on our kitchen counter.  Another great option is the convertible electric hot pot, which can be used for tabletop barbeque, sukiyaki, or shabu shabu!

Video Games

For all the gamers out there, these electronics mega-stores are your best stop for finding new release games and consoles, particularly for those which may be tougher to find back in your home countries (so if the Nintendo Switch is sold out or marked up in price back home, fear not!).  This is also true of elusive Japan-only titles that you have been desiring for your home collection--stop by these major retailers and you'll have a good shot of finding it (or they'll find you another one of their stores that has it in stock for you).

Toys

Before video games took over the recreational side of Akihabara's market, electric/mechanical toys were popular products.  The same is true of today, and that is represented in the big electronics stores.  Now, you can find everything from kids learning toys to remote control cars to action figures and models.

Music / Stereo Equipment

You will not find acoustic instruments in any of these big retailers, but if it's something for music that requires electricity, they're likely to have it.  Stereos, amplifiers, mixers, and electric instruments (namely pianos) are all for sale.

Timepieces

Not all of these electronic stores will offer wrist watches, but when they do, you can find a great assortment of domestic brands like Seiko, Citizen, and (my favorite) Casio ProTrek.  What all of the stores will offer, however, is wall and alarm clocks.  The Alarm clocks actually make great souvenirs or gifts, because they offer some unique versions in the shapes of your favorite anime or videogame characters!

Assorted Items

These stores will also offer myriad other items depending on location.  I have seen everything from makeup to furniture to toothbrushes to air conditioning units to shaved ice makers (see pic below)!  Keep in mind that the stores in city centers will cater more towards travelers and single shoppers, while stores in suburban or rural areas will offer more products necessary for daily life (appliances, kitchenware, light fixtures, etc.).
 

Where to find these stores:

You can usually find at least one of the four franchise stores in city centers, but for ease of reference, here are the websites with all of the store locations by company:

A few extra tips:

- Don't think that you have to lug everything back with you on the trains.  Many of the stores will offer shipping services that can deliver to wherever, even hotels.
- Don't assume that every one of these stores will be Duty Free, but be sure to bring your foreign passport with you and ask the staff when you are checking out.
- Don't assume that the store will ONLY offer electrical goods.  As I said, depending on location, the stores will offer myriad other items, so don't be bashful--head on it and check it out.
- Do bring your credit/debit cards.  Fortunately, these stores will take most major credit cards, so don't feel like you need to bring tons of cash with you to buy that gaming console you've been wanting.
Well, there you have it: your guide to Japan's electronics mega-stores.   They truly are microcosms of all that the traditional Electric Towns of Japan used to be, so zehi, check them out! 

Mike B