DIY Outlet Shopping at Akihabara
September 26, 2010 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Insiders Tour of Akihabara. The guys over at toykohackerspace provide us with a guide to the ultimate in geek shopping; whether it's custom CNC'ed radio enclosures, every tweezer imaginable, or you just want to buy a robot, Akihabara is the place to be. [via /.]

Don't forget to visit Super Potato!
posted by Mach5 (20 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Tweezers are really awesome and useful. They don't get enough respect.
posted by fuq at 9:17 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know, right? You're all "Pff, I'll just use tongs, bro," and then one day you really need to tweeze something little, and the realization of your terrible mistake is just some crazy King Lear shit right there.
posted by No-sword at 10:45 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah man, there goes the afternoon. This looks really fascinating!

I clicked the Super Potato link first (With a name like that, who wouldn't?), and that place is like Aladdin's cave. So many wonderful old game machines. But where was the original 8-bit stuff of childhood? Then the narrator casually walked by the bag with an Atari 2600 in it, and I cheered. It looks like they literally have everything in there.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:51 AM on September 26, 2010

When I was a kid Radio Shack was the kind of cool the store in the first video is except in a smaller mall sized community store way. They used to sell small pieces of magic.

Is there any place like this in London that sells all the funky enclosures and stuff?
posted by srboisvert at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2010

Not to be all "foreigners ruin everything" but to some extent, yeah. I was there the other day, and it was fascinating a) how many foreigners were there, and how much was aimed at them, and b) how few Japanese people were there, compared with a couple years ago. There are a large variety of reasons for this. One of the main ones is the sanitation/gentrification of the area. Just like Roppongi (Roppongi Hills and the surrounding area) and Harajuku/Omotesando (Omotesando Hills/high end brand goods), the long term plan for the area is high rise buildings, condos, and businesses that fit in those 30-40 story buildings. Rents are rising, and a lot of places aren't renewing their leases. The relaxation of rules on building sizes near stations led to the monstrous Yodobashi Camera (which I'll admit to frequenting, because damn, it's convenient), which is essentially Wal-marting the area. In order to keep the streets and sidewalks clear for commerce, live performances are banned, and the bands/groups that used to put on performances looking to be discovered now, essentially, need to be discovered so they can perform in the shiny new performance hall "set aside" for that purpose. This leads us to "talent" agencies essentially setting up their own space for their own manufactured hellishness (AKB 48, aside from being goddamn everywhere, and talentless, has a theater in Akihabara, and performs there constantly, when they're not on every TV show in existence, of course).

That, and the maid boom? Mostly foreigner driven at this point. Three or four years ago, only the most intrepid of maids was trying to get foreigners to come to their place. The last time I was there, the number of maids/maid cafes had exploded, and nearly all of them were working, tout like, with large signs in English (and Chinese), advertising their cafes. For the most part, the people they were agressively approaching/haranguing were white foreigners.

And yeah, the business that's filling in the cracks when the electronic stores shut down? Porn. It's always been there, but usually in backstreets, and kind of sort of hard to find. It's everywhere now, and again, shocking in how readily accesible to foreigners (signs in quite explicit English advertising what the store sells, etc.). Then again, when Kabuki-cho got "cleaned up" the stores had to go somewhere.

Obviously this happens for a reason, and the reason is money. Westerners chasing the Akihabara image are keeping the maid cafe alive. Recently, NHK and other channels have focused on the relaxed visa rules with China, and how Chinese tourists come to Akihabara looking to buy electronics (heavy emphasis on buying the most expensive brand, and Japanese brands only at that), which, of course, has led to a lot of shops changing their approach and selling to the people who actually buy things.

It's still a fun place to go, but evidently so is Times Square, and for years I've heard New Yorkers complaining about how it's not like it used to be.

Sorry for the hipster-esque "it used to be better" rant, but I just got woken up at 3am by a 4.5 earthquake. Tends to remove your positive side. And yes, woken at 3am, I checked MeFi. I need help.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

It's still a fun place to go, but evidently so is Times Square, and for years I've heard New Yorkers complaining about how it's not like it used to be.

New York had this kind of concentrated business district once, that would probably be even more like that now, and it was called Radio Row. It grew up very near Tesla's workshop and laboratory building, about six blocks of small highly-specialized electronic parts stores. That entire commercial zone, almost exclusively, was taken under public domain to build the World Trade Centers.

A few stragglers were still around the periphery, during the time I've been here. One had a big sidewalk overhang sign, two stories tall, saying BLAN ELECTRONICS. It was open for retail business with a cash register and a waiting area, and a six story warren of little cataloged drawers. BLAN ELECTRONICS specialized in one thing, electro-magnetic relays, of every known size and type. In glass cases out front, they did have some showy, colorful, emergency shutdown buttons -- but only because those controlled relay breakers.

If you weren't looking for a relay, you were just lost.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:35 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

I snorted at the thought of a "tweezer" video - and then I watched it and it showed all the varieties of tools (as well as tweezers) and if you are in any way a person who loves to browse through the tool section in hardware stores (though really, you only went to the store to pick up one thing, but the tool aisle was there and you were really just cutting through it on your way elsewhere, really!) you will enjoy this. Dammit now I want to go solder something, and I know we're probably out of solder.

Also I'd love to find a place like this for tools near me - and yet I also fear finding a place like this.

Oh and also - in praise of tweezers - sometimes only a really perfectly shaped pair of tweezers is going to help you if you're trying to weld a tiny detail of metal onto a small but slightly larger tiny bit of metal. And it helps to have long enough tweezers so that you don't (easily) burn yourself. Or melt the tweezers.

(Now I must go watch the rest of the links - and yes, there goes my afternoon too.)
posted by batgrlHG at 4:55 PM on September 26, 2010

Akihabara has for years been a place really close to my heart. A 15-minute bike ride from my house, it's a place I've been to so many times over the past 15 years, for this cable, that gadget and whatever else. But I've watched in dismay the enormous changes the neighborhood has undergone in these last few years. All those huge, shiny glass-and-steel towers that they plotzed into the area are a huge bummer. There's like, what, 5 or 6 of 'em, they went up overnight! They've ruined the feel and the scale of the place.

The station building, which used to house two floors of funky old eateries (cheap and good food on the go) has been renovated, the eateries long gone, of course. Just the other day I saw the new station facade for the first time, and, surprise surprise, it's completely hideous. The manga/anime/whatever porn shops are everywhere: they seem like the main industry of the area now... sigh. I'm just hoping the little "Rajio City" (or "Rajio Depaato", I can never remember which) that sits next to the station can hold on. It's pretty much the last stand for the old Akihabara.

Here's some of my shots of electronic components on sale from the little stalls that comprise Rajio City.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 PM on September 26, 2010

Ah, now I remember, thanks to the notes I'd written on the photos... it's "Rajio Stoa" (Radio Store). Great place.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2010

Hell, they used to have a basketball court/open sports field (which means, in central tokyo, a concrete surface on which sports can be played) next to the station. Of course, Joni Mitchell didn't realize she was singing about Akihabara, but it's been gone for about 7 years now, and in it's place is a multistory parking garage.

It's still cool, and it's still fun, but it has changed a lot. If you want a decent day walk in Tokyo, by all means, start in Akihabara, look around, then follow the Yamanote Line tracks north. It'll take about ten minutes before you get to Okachimachi station, and if you keep going north, you'll get to Ameyoko, which is usually packed with tourists, but still a pretty lively place (and you can get some decent stuff pretty cheap, if you look for it). Keep going north, up to the front of Ueno station (you can go to Ueno park another time, it is pretty nice). Turn right, and skirt along the massive rotary in front of the station until you can take the first main street going east.

Keep walking east until you get to the building with the giant chef's head on top. This is Kappabashi-dori, and if you like food (plastic sushi), or cooking (more cooking tools than you can shake a fry pan at) this is the street for you. Little chopstick holders made from bamboo in the shape of little tiny crabs. Plastic food. Paper lanterns, cloth curtains for th doorways of restaurants. If you keep going far enough, you'll find a glass front shop with old style saloon doors, and inside, they sell all kinds of knives. If the owner is there, he'll stamp your name (in katakana or kanji) into the side of your knife purchases with a hammer and a little metal chisel, for free.

After Kappabashi, if you keep going east (but not on that main road, here's where the back streets start to get interesting), you'll end up in Asakusa, where you can see Senso-ji, do some souvenir shopping, have some good sushi, and if you want, take pictures of the golden poop.

It's a good day long walk, if you walk slowly and take pictures. It's also a pretty nice view of north eastern Tokyo.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:34 PM on September 26, 2010

Ameyoko, which is usually packed with tourists,

Well, to be fair, it's also packed with locals. To me, I dunno, Ameyoko just doesn't feel overly touristy. There are three little shops there that are my regular destinations for Tokyo's cheapest coffee (Italian roast: 500 grams for 850 yen!), cheapest cheese (too many varieties and prices to mention) and cheapest chocolate (Cote d'OR large bars, dark, milk, etc.: 290 yen!). Ameyoko, only a 7 minute bike ride from chez flapjax, kicks total ass!

And, seconding your recommendation of Kappabashi, Ghidora. Love that place.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2010

My secret of Ameyoko, useful only for locals, I'd imagine, is the Asian market in the basement of the Ameyoko Center Building (where the road splits if you're coming from Ueno Station). Fresh lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, chiles, along with all sorts of Chinese pastes and sauces, wholesale size bags of spices, fresh meat and fish. It's kind of insane, given that Japan is in Asia, that you can find more stores for Asian ingredients in Chicago than you can in Tokyo.

I imagine you also know about Hanamasa, the wholesale shop under the Yamanote line just between Akihabara and Okachimachi? Cheap, cheap prices on pretty much everything.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:06 PM on September 26, 2010

Also I'd love to find a place like this for tools near me

You might be interested in Micro-Mark. It's mail-order of course but the catalog does a pretty good job of showing you what you're going to get, although I don't think I've used their web site.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2010

Yeah, Ghidorah, the basement Asian market is great. And yes, Hanamasa, I bought a pocket recorder from them once, although I'd forgotten about the place (including the name) until now. Cheeeeeeap!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 PM on September 26, 2010

Looks like an Ace hardware store stocked from the Techni-Tool catalog.
posted by ryanrs at 11:43 PM on September 26, 2010

cheapest cheese (too many varieties and prices to mention)

Cheese? Cheap? In Tokyo?

Where!? (Please!)
posted by woodblock100 at 12:13 AM on September 27, 2010

Not sure about the store Flapjax is talking about, but, uh, Costco. Seriously. If you're not a member, become one. The existence of Costco in Japan is one of the things that makes living in a foreign country so simple. Aside from the big old block o' cheddar, you can also find all sorts of other cheeses, from wedges of Stilton to big chunks of parmesan, fresh mozerella, all the good stuff (sadly, no provolone).

Just don't, whatever you do, go there during lunch time, or on weekends. You'll be bitter, angry, and wish death on large parts of humanity for hours afterwards if you do.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:28 AM on September 27, 2010

Nakano Broadway FTW.
posted by gen at 3:41 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

gen has a good point. Robot Robot was the highlight of Nakano for me.

On Aki: When last I was there, the place had the feel that the end was slowly approaching. A lot more ugly buildings and a alot less Kinky little shops. Instead of being Akihibara, it was being turned into just another part of Tokyo.
posted by djrock3k at 7:57 AM on September 27, 2010

Wow, this is like the "hey, who lives in Tokyo" thread.

I won't be contributing to that (mostly because I live in Fukui, out in the boonies).

In any event, though, as much as it's been pointed out that Akihabara is now basically tourism-centered, it's kind of nice to note that Osaka's equivalent, Denden Town (basically at all exits from Ebisu-cho station on the subway) is still primarily popular among locals, with no more foreigners than you'd see in most any other part of the city (with the exception of a bit south near Shin Sekai and the like, where the people are poor, the rents are cheap, and you'll find missionaries of all sorts). There's tons of porn, of course, but that just shows up anywhere in Japan that caters to nerds.

And Super Potato is from Osaka. Don't you forget it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:31 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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