Welcome to the Electric Town.
September 15, 2003 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to the Electric Town. Akihabara, a shopping district in Japan filled with electronics at duty free prices, can seem a bit imposing. You may never visit it yourself, but others have, and oh, the toys.
posted by moz (25 comments total)
Best experienced at dusk.
posted by shoepal at 10:56 AM on September 15, 2003

Been there. It's not all that. Save your money for Pachinko.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2003

Yeah, it's great and all, but not the mecca it's made out to be.

Though I did buy my first Mac there. I guess that's notable.

Better to hit Shinjuku or Shibuya after dark...especially if you want that "I'm Rick Deckard" moment....
posted by Dantien at 11:07 AM on September 15, 2003

I've been there too. Would one of those store owners please, please commit yourself to being the low-cost leader? There's not a good deal to be found. Everybody selling the same stuff at the same price. It is quite a feast for the senses, though.
posted by vito90 at 11:07 AM on September 15, 2003

I don't consider teenage gasbags with bullhorns much of a feast for my senses. :)
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2003

Vito90, supposedly there is a section of Tokyo where you can get the same stuff as in Akihabara, but cheaper.
posted by shoepal at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2003

It's a great place to get really small accessories for those really small laptops that you seldom see in the states (except at Dynamism.com). Even back in 1999 they had (almost) credit card sized 2m ham transceivers. But nothing's cheap, as other's have noted.
posted by tommasz at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2003

shoepal...supposedly?...c'mon now don't hold out on me. I'm heading to Japan in two weeks and I suppose I might want to take a trip to this supposed place. Is there a secret bow I need to know?
posted by vito90 at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2003

vito90, I've been told by several tokyo residents that they would never dream of buying their "toys" in Akihabara. I never managed to find the secret "electronic district" but it is said to exist (I'm thinking it's not so much a district, as a few shops that don't price fix, and likely don't offer any sort of warranty/guarantee. In fact, they may not even deal with Gaijin. Probably similar to the hawaiian Kamaaina discount). I will ping some folks and see if I can get you some directions or at the very least some bowing instructions.
posted by shoepal at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2003

The thing I remember from when I was a young 'un in Japan was the sheer number of stalls, many not much wider than the person behind them, selling pretty much any electric or electronic gizmo you could imagine and many you couldn't - single transistors and resistors, LEDs, sundry types of electric motors, stand-alone chips; this of course alongside the more standard "toys" you would expect to see. I don't remember what the prices were like, but they were definitely cheaper than if you bought the same thing at the Seiyu store.

And, also from what I remember, price-fixing has been a fixture (pun not intended) on the Japanese consumer market since, well, forever. It's only been in the last ten years or so (roughly since the beginning of their current economic crisis) that the concept of true discount stores has caught on (or, more likely, been allowed to catch on).

Those that are currently more in touch with Japan than I am are free to correct me on this.
posted by deadcowdan at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2003

I second Dantien's vote for Shinjuku.

Beginning in Shinjuku Station, follow the signs to the "West Exit". Using the pedestrian walkway that runs along the front of Odakyu Halc department store, make your way towards Fuji Bank. The streets behind the bank are where you'll likely find the best electronics and photographic equipment buys in Tokyo.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2003

OK, good, thanks for the tip. Now where do I go to find weed, guns, and women?
posted by vito90 at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2003

When I lived in Japan I used to do tons of comparison shopping between Akihabara and the cheaper parts of Nagoya (mainly the Kamimaezu-Ossu Kannon area). There were plenty of times when Akihabara came out cheaper for things like electronic dictionaries or mini-disc players.

However, if the prices in Akihabara are too high the smart thing to do is shop at used electronics stores like Hard-off. The one thing Akihabara is great for is the incredible selection, as long as you have the cash to cover it.
posted by Alison at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2003

Maybe I have an unhealthy attraction to ceramics, but for me, the most exciting genre shopping district in Tokyo was Kappabashi, the restaurant supply district.

Block after block of shops selling beautiful Japanese pottery for absurdly low prices. Plus, plastic food.
posted by jeffj at 1:16 PM on September 15, 2003

Speaking of interesting districts, there is a road (district?) between Ueno station and Asakusa that is wall to wall Butudan shops. It's a very strange area. Further down the road towards Asakusa is a (niimi) building where one corner appears to be constructed of giant stacked tea/coffee cups. Nearby is another building (niimi) with a giant chef head on the roof. I assume this is kappabashi. I *heart* tokyo.
posted by shoepal at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2003

Yeah jeffj, I loved me some Kappabashi too although I persuaded my partner that we didn't need to buy an entire set of lovely bowls to add to our luggage for our flight home. We did get ourselves a noren curtain though, which has been great since it keeps the heat in our kitchen from spilling out into the rest of our place.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:13 PM on September 15, 2003

I agree that Akihabara is an expensive place to buy electronics, but it's great if you're looking for used CDs and video games. There are no less than six Liberty stores in Akihabara, and all of them have some pretty good deals on used CDs and games. If you visit them, be sure to check outside - in good weather, they put out some super-discount bins. There are a few other CD stores in the same neighborhood, and plenty of other places to buy games, but Liberty was far-and-away my favorite. They've got a big, varied selection and reasonable prices. If you can find a Book-Off, though, that's even better... mmm, 100 yen manga!

The K Books in Akihabara is also pretty decent, if you're looking for used and new manga. If I remember right, it's just across the street from the station entrance. Beware, the store layout is rather Escher-esque. Whatever you do, don't split up without a prearranged meeting point, because it'll take forever to find your friends again.

I think Akihabara turned out to be the second-best place for used CDs, all told... the sheer number of Disc Unions and Recofans in Shibuya makes that the best place we found. Some of the used CDs were a few hundred yen cheaper in Akihabara, though.

Anybody else have some Tokyo used CD shopping suggestions? Maybe even some easy-to-find Book Off locations? I plan to bring back even more CDs and manga, next time!
posted by vorfeed at 3:34 PM on September 15, 2003

Vorfeed, Shinjuku has a secondhand CD district with a lot of interesting little specialist shops. It's the street in the crosshairs on this map.

For buying electronics, I recommend getting the point card if you buy from the bigger chains like Yodobashi or Sakura-ya in Akihabara or West Shinjuku, which gets you a 5-10% discount.

Sofmap has cheapish second hand PCs/electronics/software.
posted by dydecker at 8:00 PM on September 15, 2003

How about a MeFi meetup in Japan between Oct. 4 and Oct. 17? How many of y'all are posting from there?

And if you're just visiting from the Family Guy thread, welcome.
posted by vito90 at 8:28 PM on September 15, 2003

Dantien and monju_bosatsu:

I agree - the best deals in town are in Shinjuku.

A while back this was actually proven by a university student who took the time to research computer/electronics prices throughout Japan. His findings showed that on average Shinjuku is cheaper than Akihabara and that Osaka (if you are in the Kansai area) is generally cheaper than Shinjuku. (Still no cure for cancer, though.)

The difference, however, is so slight that unless you plan on buying a lot it is usually better to shop at whichever is closest.

As dydecker correctly noted, getting a point card at Yodobashi is probably the best bet - Yodobashi has a great selection, low prices and they have several convenient locations. (Sorry, the last three links are in Japanese only.)

jeffj, shoepal and ursus_comiter:

Kappabashi rocks! If you plan on living in Tokyo for any length of time and want to liven up the kitchen or dinner table, it is definitely worth a visit. :)

You'll find neat stuff like garlic peelers and takoyaki molds (scroll down). (The last two links are in English.)
posted by cup at 10:28 PM on September 15, 2003

Wow, great Kappabashi link, cup. Those pictures bring back some warm fuzzy memories.

I also remember seeing those garlic peelers and having absolutely no idea what they were for. Napkin holder???

Sorry for hijacking the thread. Uh, Akihabara is cool, too!

My favourite spot in Akihabara was Aso Bit City. On my monitor right now is a serene solar-powered head bobber, which came from the fourth floor - the sight of a hundred of them happily bobbing away, both inside and outside their boxes, was too much for me to resist.
posted by jeffj at 11:16 AM on September 16, 2003

Vorfeed, Shinjuku has a secondhand CD district with a lot of interesting little specialist shops. It's the street in the crosshairs on this map.

Ah, thanks! I'll definitely put aside a day for exploring this, next time I'm in Japan. I've only been to Shinjuku once, but this looks easy enough to find - go out the West railway exit, and then go straight up the first big street west of the railway line, right? Am I reading the street name right - "Otakibashidori"? Anyway, if I get lost, I should hopefully be able to find it in relation to the Seibu, the two temples, and the Odakyu Halc. And afterwards, whatever I can't find there I can get at the huge Tower Records over by the station. ^___^ Thanks a lot for the map!
posted by vorfeed at 3:14 PM on September 16, 2003

vito90, I'm in for a Tokyo MeFi meetup. Others, please email me and I'll set up a time/ place when vito90 is here. I'll take it to MeTa.

Also, those of you who bash Akiba havent visited Kakaku.com before you went. Go to Kakaku.com, price out whatever you want, call the store in Akiba with the cheapest price, tell them to hold the item, go to Akiba, purchase desired electronics at cheap prices.

I got my Ixy S400 for 40.000 yen, which is pretty darn cheap.
posted by gen at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2003

ok, we're up on MeTa, with a few bugs but...
posted by gen at 10:53 PM on September 16, 2003

I went shopping for actual toys in Akihabara, and hit some great spots such as Aso Bit City, Gamerz, Yellow submarine and more. For Japanese Robot Toys, Akihabara is fantastic.

I also enjoyed the stalls with the used gaming systems. Complete japanese famicom and playstation systems for 3000 yen.. Games for 500 yen... sigh..

Oh, and whoever was looking for a good Book-Off - there's one in Harajuku!
posted by quibx at 6:57 AM on September 17, 2003

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