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Akihabara: Then and Now

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Electric Town, anime, maid cafes and more make Akihabara an Insta-worthy place to visit in Tokyo.

For decades, Tokyo’s Akihabara has been famous—in Japan and globally—as the place to find the latest must-have electrical and electronic gadgets. Today, the district is also a mecca for enthusiasts of anime, manga and related otaku culture. It’s a great place to explore, shop and take in some unique aspects of Japanese popular culture.

The rise of Akihabara

During Japan’s high-growth era, from the 1950s to the late 1980s, Akihabara became the district where Japanese electrical goods manufacturers showcased their latest time-saving and feature-leaden products. It became a major shopping centre for household goods, resulting in its nickname, Akihabara Electric Town.

Mass production and fierce competition brought great innovation in all kinds of consumer products, from washing machines, fridges and hairdryers to cameras, watches, TVs, cordless phones and much more. Demand for these goods, not only in Japan but worldwide, made Japanese companies, such as Sony, Hitachi, Sanyo and Sharp, into household names.

In those days, Akihabara’s main thoroughfare (Chuo Dori) was lined with shops (some as big as department stores) blazoned with bold and colourful signs offering vast ranges of the latest gear at big discounts. The side streets were another world of myriad tiny specialty businesses selling small electronic parts and gadgets of every kind. It was a paradise for geeks who had the know-how to repair or build their own electronics.

Anime, manga and video games

Today, Akihabara has significantly changed. If there is one thing Akihabara knows how to do, it's how to reinvent itself! The district now has a vibrant mix of commercial businesses, shops, eateries and corporate offices.

In addition to consumer and electronic businesses, there is a colourful otaku sub-culture centred around anime, manga, cosplay and maid cafés catering mainly to the zealous devotees of these sub-culture communities. You will find specialized shops selling all kinds of wares, from manga collectibles, cosplay outfits and retro video games to classic TV character figurines, Hello Kitty souvenirs and all kinds of kitsch.

Akihabara is somewhere to be fascinated by a multitude of sights and sounds. Explore, even a little, and your curiosity will be piqued. Visit with an open mind and enjoy a peculiar and fascinating experience unique to Japan.

Getting there

Akihabara has a bustling train station as it’s an important commuter interchange on the JR and Hibiya Metro lines. It’s just two stops from Tokyo Station on the JR Yamanote line. For more about the district, visit the Official Tokyo Travel Guide’s Akihabara page.

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