If you have found yourself reading this article, the chances are you are a fan of anime, pop culture, or just want to know more about the beautiful, bustling, electric city - Akihabara. Thankfully, I spent nearly three weeks living here so I hope I can be of assistance to you all. Taking your first steps from the Electric City exit from the train station, the only word that can describe this experience is breathtaking. Immediately your senses are attacked by loud Japanese anime music, your eyes dazzled by beaming displays of billboards, your nose wafting a fresh batch of Pablo Mini Cheese Tarts, whilst your body feels small, surrounded by a mountain of skyscrapers. This is a moment all tourists, guests and locals will remember for the rest of their lives- but navigating this huge city is no easy task and it can be easily be neglected, even possible to fully take away the true Akiba experience without proper guidance. Thankfully, I have some tips and tricks to help you maximise your experience in this city, whether you are a buzzing anime enthusiast or a potential wanderlust tourist.
1. Visit this city on a Sunday
Whether you are recovering from a night out in Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku, or just excited to visit a new city for a nice change of pace, Sunday is the perfect day. Popularly known for their huge options of eight-storey department stores full of Anime figurines and Otaku-like collectibles, Akihabara also boasts a culture of friendship, freedom, peace and family-fun. What is less known about Akiba is the presence of a flea market, which opens every Sunday from 10am to 5pm. These markets consist of shop owners showcasing their products such as Anime figurines, pillows, accessories, tupperware, anything and everything you will be able to find at these stalls. Located only 2 minutes away from Akihabara Station, this marketplace is the perfect chance to snatch yourself bargains, especially on Anime-related products that are significantly cheaper than those held within the skyscraper-like department stores.
Once you finish browsing this market, head over to the main street in Akihabara where you will experience something like none other. On Sunday's, this main road is closed to traffic, allowing pedestrians to lull and stroll on these roads. I suggest you stand in the middle of it all, taking in your surroundings, the people, smells, sounds, sights and just remember this moment- it is something that will remain with you for the rest of your life.
2. Do not shop at the department / consignment stores close to the station (Unless you are willing to pay a premium price!)
When exiting the station, you are blessed with a huge variety of Anime figurines, collectibles, and merchandise on display at these department stores. These stores boast up to 9 flights of products, each with varying goods, prices and services to cater to your hobbies or interests. Although a very good experience to window shop, you will soon notice that the pricing for many products and items that you want are extremely high. Because of their convenient location, tourists often do not opt to search further in the city for such merchandise, and are eluded into purchasing these highly priced items due to not knowing any better! Thankfully, I was your scapegoat in this regard. Apart from the aforementioned Sunday markets, there exist similar department stores such as: Akiba Centre and Mandarake- offering the same products for a fraction of the price. Stores around those shops I found held more exclusive products, all the while being much cheaper than their touristy counterparts. Hence I advise you to take your time and look further than what is convenient.
3. Eat at restaurants with your own will
Although this tip may seem like common sense at first glance, until you experience the heckling in some areas of Akiba, you will understand and take pride in this tip. Towards the Eastern region of Akihabara, many young, businessmen-like people stand dispersed in front of restaurants, asking (sometimes pleading) that you try their restaurant, offering you a "special discount". With an amalgamation of fear and curiosity, sometimes their persuasion is enough to lure you into a building where you take a creaky elevator up to the 5th Floor and are forced to pay huge amounts for a small amount of food. When questioning the high cost, the receptionist will tell you that it is the cost of accomodating the table, or a myriad of other reasons. My lesson here- choose where you want to eat. Not where a stranger with a dashing haircut and a suit tells you to. This will save you in the long run financially and more!
4. Avoid Westernised Franchises or Food Outlets
Continuing the theme of food, there exist a few American Burger chains in Akihabara, offering a subpar experience of what American fast food chains are like. Having tried many over the course of my stay, there was not a time where I was satisfied. Coming from Australia, I expected similar if not greater taste and quality in these meals but was left severely disappointed. Hence unless you are really craving something that is not Japanese cuisine, opting for this solution is something I would advise against, especially when you can purchase a much higher quality meal that tastes better and is more value for money within a few metres walking distance at a local restaurant! Don't be deceived by those billboards and flyers, they look nowhere near as good as they do in the pictures!
5. Talk to people
I know I know, how can I talk to people when they cannot understand me! It's strange that in our current society, rare is the thought or sight of seeing strangers connect and discuss their lives together. Whilst in this beautiful city, I would come across many tourists who spoke English, some with Australian accents like myself. The amount of people who are just like you- travelling, wanderlust, in awe, or searching for something is too high to neglect, hence I advise striking a conversation with someone who speaks your language. For instance, my cousin and I were in a department store searching for a particular figurine when we heard a pair of friends speaking to each other in English searching for a particular product called a Zoid (Robotic beast-like machine figurine). We approached them and began to talk, offering them advice on where we found ours and in return, they showed us where we could find our products also. After that, we agreed to having dinner together where we learnt many things from each other, sharing travel experiences so far in our journey of Japan and genuinely enjoying the company of fellow tourists. The feeling of meeting new people, making new friends in particular and just taking your time to learn from others experiences and go out of your way to befriend others is just something that has to be done in this city, let alone any other city you go to! To this day, we still keep in touch with these guys and hope to meet them on our next venture.
Hence I leave you with my 5 Tips and Tricks when visiting Akihabara- the city I called home and the place where I made the most fond memories whilst in Japan.