A View of Old Akihabara

| #akihabara | #Editorial | #Japan | #japan | #photos | #Social Studies |

Things change. Nothing stands still, no matter what we’d prefer. What seems to be a static, ordered existence is constantly in flux and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s all going to rise and fall in the blink of an eye.

I’m trying to remain philosophical about it, but the truth is sometimes things change and I don’t like it and it makes me sad.

Akihabara is a district in a ward of Tokyo. It’s been more important in my orbits than its size would suggest. It’s only a handful of city blocks in size, but it was a hub for video games, computers, home electronics and electronic components since the second world war. I’ve been shopping there since 1995. For the longest time it was cramped, dirty, and crammed full of goodies. I bought my first minidisc player there. I bought capacitors to repair my computer, joystick parts for arcade games, and all manner of video game trinkets.

But it’s almost all gone. The empty lot used as a skate park is now a high-rise office building. Most of the component sellers under the train station have packed up. Almost all of the computer stores are gone. Chains with four or five locations in Akihabara alone, each specializing in one very specific area, now have only one, or none. The sidewalk stalls hawking counterfeit Famicom multi carts, the foreign looking man with hundreds of cameras of dubious origin, the video game hacking specialists, all gone.

In its place is a new, clean Akihabara that caters to a new, more profitable sort of nerd. Super Potato is one of what seems like only two remaining retro-gaming shops, and they’re constantly out of stock, with empty shelves and echoes of incredibly high prices where endless piles of 16 bit games used to be. Manga shops and Anime shops and AKB-48, an insanely exploitative group of teenage idols. This is what Akihabara is now, and while I’m sure it appeals to someone, it doesn’t appeal to me.

I wish I’d taken more photos. I never really liked pulling my camera out in public spaces, and I regret every urge I ignored, because my archives have damnably few images from the good old days, and that makes me doubly sad.

But, for what it’s worth, here are some photos from Akihabara in 2004 and 2007.



That large building on the left is Aso Bit City, before it became the Don Quixote megastore, and home of AKB-48. (Modern View)


The Taito S@Y arcade has become the GAME Taito Station arcade. The Satou Musen shop on its left has become a second building expansion of the Toranoana Manga store whose sign you can see on the left edge. Yamagiwa has become Sofmap, one of the only old shops that’s still apparently thriving. (Modern View)


A glimpse inside the doorway of Super Potato when it first opened.


The original Sofmap shop, featuring Sega’s Sakura Taisen and playable games on the sidewalk. On the left, you can see Sofmap location -13-. In the modern view you can see that entire line of small shops on the left has been replaced by a massive black building.


Sega’s GiGO is still there. (Modern View)


This guy selling bootleg GBA carts on a foldup table: gone.


Messe Sanoh has become Trader. (Modern View)



The Marutsu component store is still there, but the sign is English now. The blue building behind it is now a 4-car parking lot, and it looks like the construction of that large black building has just begun in the background. (Modern View)


This is the construction yard of that black building, behind which you can see the old Taito arcade, along with both the old and new-since-2004 Toranoana manga shop. (Modern View)


The view towards Super Potato, on the left. The shop on the right used to be a computer and other electronics shop. It’s now full of cafes and anime goods.


DosPara (DOS Paradise) was one of my favourite shops for PC gear. This whole street was full of new and used and weird parts sellers. They’re mostly gone now. In the modern view you can see DosPara right before they cut their store down by 50%, ditching all the neat stuff for the popular (ie: boring) items.


It’s as if there was a directive to make the whole place boring. Two Top was an awesome PC parts shop, full of high-end parts and systems. It’s now a generic PC dealer called (I am not kidding) Buy More. Two Top still exists, but not in Akihabara. OverTop is also gone.


From the other side. You can see the Buy More sign in the modern view. This SofMap location has become a Trader.


Facing Don Quixote. (Modern View)


I bought a bunch of games and joysticks from this Messe Sanoh. It’s now a phone and tablet dealer. Same blue awning though. (Modern View)


To my surprise, Liberty is still around, though I think they closed their other shop. Two doors down though two smaller buildings have been replaced with a taller shiny one featuring a Carl’s Jr. In the modern view check out the Meat Winery. Hahaha, Japan.


Not much has changed here. Pachinko & Slot has become AKB-48. (Modern View)


Massive crowd in front of Taito’s S@Y arcade. Modern View)


That Sharp dealer specializing in laptops is now another iphone dealer. Construction on the black tower has just begun. (modern view)



Not much has changed here. (Modern View)


The view near the train station, after they cleaned it up but before it became a row of concrete and glass stores.


I wonder what became of this wannabe band.


As for the sidewalk sellers selling all kinds of stuff?

You’d better believe they’re gone too.




The main reason I go back now is for the ramen. Guy at my favourite shop still remembers me (fondly, near as I can tell) 11 years after I left Japan.

[ Sep 5 2016 ]



Sep 6 2016

I was back in Japan last month (Aug 2016). I needed some connectors, and while I didn’t expect much, I did find what I wanted under the Akihabara trains, in what was left of the component vendors down there.

The shop that had what I wanted wasn’t staffed, the operator had ducked out for lunch, and the guy in the next stall chatted with me a bit while I waited for the first guy to return.

It was my first real conversation with anyone in Japan, near enough. My Japanese skills are really poor. But we had a surprisingly fruitful chat, covering a fair amount of territory (He lives in the same prefecture I did, rides the same brand of bike) including the new Akihabara.

He was probably in his sixties, and I regret not asking him how long he’d operated there. He agrees that Chinese tools aren’t very good, and we both agreed that stuff made in Japan or Taiwan was a much better purchase. He doesn’t mind the influx of foreigners. He asked me what I thought of AKB-48 and I just sort of shook my head at him with a pained expression and he was quite happy that we agreed on that too.

I lamented the lack of component shops in the new Akihabara, and he pointed across the road where a larger multi-story building used to host a whole bunch more similar shops. Alas, I told him, that place sucks now too. He nodded his head, a bit sadly I thought.

I bought some nice (made in Japan!) tools from him. Quality tools made to a really high standard for the same price as shitty Chinese bargain tools in Australia. His neighbor returned, and I bought a weighty little bag of connectors from him as well.

I look forward to shopping there again next year, when I’m in Akihabara again.

If he’s still there.


Sep 6 2016

My biggest non-photo-takin’ regret is the awesome component vendors underneath the tracks. They had tiny little shops set up in a pair of tiny alleys, filled with tiny little parts all organized in tiny little boxes. Every single one of these vendors was more knowledgeable and had more depth and breadth of stock than any Australian vendor. Compare any of these shops to, for example, the best JayCar… Thanks to Geir Bjerke for the images.



Got something to add?

Your Comment