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Aki’ba, THE geek mecca (and mecha!) of the world. We covered a few spots on our last visit but its one of those places that you can continually go back to and not only find something new every time but you’ll never cover all of it! It’s a bit hard to reference each store, especially when a lot of them don’t even seem to have any obvious naming (having rubbish Japanese reading skills doesn’t help!) but know that if you work your way north from the station keeping within a block or two of the main drag you cant go too wrong. The best part is uncovering hidden treasures in stores that, at first glance, don’t look like they’d have what youre looking for.

A couple of our fave stops include:
The Gundam Café – exactly what it says on the box. A café celebrating all that’s Gundam with Gundam referenced food and drinks and nifty décor. Also a good place to grab a couple café related souvenirs – mugs, biscuits etc. as well as a small selection of Gunpla. Next door is AKB48, the girl band, the theatre, the hourly shows. Sick of waiting years to see your fave act or missing them because they didn’t come to your city? AKB48 has you covered where you can go to them and see them play any day of the year and even in different parts of the country on the same day! How is this possible? Well having 48 members (now into the hundreds!) helps. Though if you’re not a tweenage girl or business man it may not be your cup of Miso.

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Mandarake – Big black building. Toys. Cosplay. Old, new. Lots. If you’ve read any of our posts about Japan previously, you’ll know how much we champion this place, go there.

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Gashapon store – A whole shop just for gashapon! While the thrill of the hunt is always fun, I’m finding I’m more inclined to just pay a slight premium to get the “discovered” pieces and either cherry pick or buy the whole collection that someone else has taken the time to collate. If this sounds like you as well, the rear of the store and upstairs has display cases and shelves full of the ones you’ve been chasing, didn’t know existed or have been out of production for years.

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Sega – There are plenty of multi storey gaming buildings but none stand out quite like Seee-gahh (cue sparkly shine). Many hours and thousands of Yen can be spent without blinking an eye. But of course if you cant master the “giant metal nail punching holes in the paper” or “push the pig through the bars” technique, there’s always the cop out of simply finding a store that stocks the prize you’re after and buying it 😉

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Super Potato – Wall to wall retro console gaming, even if you’re not after a cartridge or console there’s plenty of items that would make great wall/desktop display pieces.

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Robot Robot – Thankfully this was one of those times judging a shop by its name paid off! With no street frontage and only a sign to go by, it was always going to be a gamble but the trip up the elevator was worth it not just for Robot squared with its extensive range of Hot Toys style high end collector products with leanings towards horror movies and gore in general …and vagina-like monsters (why are they always vagina-like??)  but for the smaller accompanying stores on the same floor with a great selection of new and used toys and collectibles. Want to see a fair chunk of Coca Cola’s history as a yoyo? Yep, you see that here too!

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Of course there’s also the plethora of electronics stores like LAOX which really need no description, if it’s a new gadget, they’ll more than likely have it. Pricing is however average or slightly better with greater bargains to be had online but finding a JDM only model or colour can be worth it.

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We stumbled across a “Rollertarg” a bit further down so lunch was an easy choice :) continue walking and you will end up in Ueno. However, unlike last time the market gods were not kind to us and a lot of stores that we previously come across had moved on, though its always a good place to walk through, you’ll never know what you’ll find and the nearby park is more than worth the trip.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

Kichijoji

In true Japanese fashion of revamping and renewing just about everything every couple years, Kichijoji had copped a bit of a touch up in parts and is in the process in others. Our main reason for coming out this way last time, Skit, had also changed or more precisely, moved a couple blocks away – actually not too long after we were there. Their new store now sports a street shop front and actually looks more like a store than a hoarder’s cluttered apartment! But never fear, Its still wall to wall, floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers of all kinds from super rare to garden variety and brand new to turning-to-dust just minus the creepy slum factor.

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I struck it lucky last time with a pair of Baltimore AF1’s in mint condition and as it turns out, that same strike of lightning struck again years later for the same pair but $20 cheaper! Perfect timing since the previous pair are on their way out.

Shopping tip: The website is still the best place to start with a mostly up to date inventory of stock and prices for a pre-visit recon mission. You can also check out stock in their other stores to see if its worth the trip out to them.

LA Avenue aka Napsize was another great place for us to stop last time but it too had moved, all the way to Harajuku! So the only other place left that sparked our interest was one that was missed the first time round, PX Megastore. There’s a few reviews online that speak rather highly of the place but unfortunately, to us it seemed a bit junky, kind of like rocking up to a garage sale a day later, its all been picked through, the half decent stuff is gone and you’re left with stuff you could easily do without. Its not a complete loss though, there is a large range of new and (mostly) used brand name street wear including sneakers, G Shocks, endless amounts of Supreme branded items and a huge selection of clothing, a lot of which can be viewed on their website. There’s also racks of clothing and sneaker basket bins at clearance prices at the front.

Prices were very hit and miss, more along the lines of miss which didn’t help, but if you like a rummage sale in a bad-part-of-town discount store feel and are in the market for some vintage street wear then its worth the several blocks walk from the station.  You may however have better luck at one of their other stores.


Nakano

From a tourist’s point of view, Nakano for all points and purposes is just Nakano Broadway mall, which is pretty much all there is at this small station but if you want a toy, electronics, games and anime mecca outside of Aki’ba then this is the perfect stop. In fact, you wouldn’t feel too bad if you had to miss out on the latter after spending a fair portion of the day here.

Travel tip: take the north exit from the station and its just across the awning covered street.

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The first section of the mall is actually Nakano Sun mall, over 200m of branded shops and restaurants in a similar vein to the B grade retailers from your regular Westfield. Uniqlo is there for some well priced basic clothing along with a range of mobile phone and small electronic shops. Continue along till you reach the escalators, this will take you up to level 3 and is where the fun begins!

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So in the vein of Aki’ba its an anime and toy heaven and judging from the number of Mandarake stores it really should’ve just been called the Manadarake centre, seriously there’s more than 12! Some aren’t branded or are focused on only one type of product but the price tags all have the name. So basically if you want any kind of model kit, anime figure, manga book, RC toy or general electronics, you’ll be hard pressed to not find it here. The catch slight however is a fair portion of the items are used or of vintage status which is a blessing and a curse for some (actually if you’re looking for latest and greatest this is probably not the best place to start). There are also a large number of gashapon hoarding stores (basically they collect (possibly by buy, sell, trade) pretty much every gashapon “prize” new and old and individually package them) so if you’re after that chaser you’ve spent forever looking for, more than likely they’ll have it here, usually at a premium. Its better than having to pour money into a machine on a prayer but granted its not nearly as much fun.

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The stores themselves are reminiscent of the multi level bargain market style buildings in China, no real décor or order other than shelves to hold stock, usually floor to ceiling. It took me hours to get to the point but eventually they did start to all blend together, only the odd few with something different to sell (or a big strip of mech-waste bolted to the store front) stood out. But again, if you have the time and love the hunt there’s plenty of treasures to be found.

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Stairs take you to adjacent levels with more of the same with a change in ratio of cutesy clothing shops to toys and vice versa.

There are also little electronic stores that sell bits and pieces of computers and radios etc. and vintage consoles and games. I’m not too sure on how they go with haggling but a couple stores automatically gave discounts for multi buys, one even slipped in an extra game cartridge with a wink and a “shhh”! Nice one! 😀 FYI, Fonzy’s “eeyyy” finger guns have the same “you’re awesome!” translation in Japanese as well 😉

Travel Tip: stores open till around 7 but many begin closing from 5 or 6.

The supermarket on the lower level is a good spot to grab some supplies of fresh fruit and veg and snacks before heading back to the station.

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Part of the haul ;)

Part of the haul ;)

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

04.28.2010

Akihabara, Tokyo

No trip to Japan would be complete without a (rather big) glimpse of what makes the country tick… and whirl, and buzz. Electronics! And there’s no better place to get your geek on than Tokyo’s CPU, Akihabara aka Akiba aka Electric town. Just picture Jaycar or Dick Smith times a million and you’re getting close. Any kind of premade electronic product EVER from radios, to game consoles, to cameras and computers to the components used to make them, replacement parts, capacitors, inductors, circuitry, you name it, if its powered by electricity, you’ll find it here… somewhere.

The station is only about 1km from Ueno, so it’s an easy walk or a couple minute train ride.

The first obvious places are the larger stores as you walk out of the station’s west exit (follow the signs to “Electric town”) being the multiple LAOX and Sofmap stores. These have an army of staff which are helpful and speak quite good English (some stores even have Caucasian staff) and also have duty free. They have similar style layouts, with a level dedicated to a certain type of product eg. Cameras, computers, watches, home goods etc. and a big index sign on the ground level will help you save precious shopping minutes 😉

While you will more than likely find what you’re looking for in these shops, nothing can prepare you for the onslaught from the mothership on Akiba station’s north east, that being the Akihabara Yodobashi Center.

Yodabashi camera store, Akihabara, Tokyo

Eleven floors of every model of every colour of every electronic item release in the last 5years (or there abouts). They even have sporting goods, toys and a floor of restaurants. I’d say its like Harvey Normal times 1000 but Yodobashi actually has good service and good prices (yea, I went there). Speaking of prices, while they are very competitive to the local AU market, they’re very similar to online (overseas) prices so you may want to save yourself some import fees when coming back through customs by not going all out on big ticket items. In saying that, being able to handle and eyeball similar products for a hands on, real life comparison, is indispensable.

After we surfaced from a sea of electric razors and toothbrushes, we headed to Super Potato (I know, right!). They specialise in retro gaming. Forget about your wifi enabled, pizza ordering, “I’m in a rap video” gaming consoles, its back to the roots with the 3 commandments. Shooting, driving, and jumping and maybe even all three! So basically anything prior to the Playstation 1, wall to floor to ceiling of games and consoles. Since very few cartridge games were reissued, they’re mostly all originals but are all still in good to mint condition.

Super Potato, Akihabara,Tokyo

Atari, Nintendo, Mega Drive, Master System to the ill fated Saturn, Dreamcast and Game Cube are all covered as well as plenty of domestic market releases that never saw the light on the world stage and a bunch of quirky little handheld games and mini consoles. Just remember when buying any mains powered devices from overseas, that it will work on your local voltage supply, if not you will need to purchase a separate power transformer. Anything powered by batteries is fine since DC current is universal.

Back out on the main drag amongst the cosplay girls handing out flyers, you’ll see more “Pichinko” (or “Taito”), no not something Elliot from Scrubs would say, but gaming houses filled with slot machines. Half a block away you’ll hear the deafening wave of bells and whistles as the automatic doors open and close. There are also plenty of gaming places dedicated to claw machines, but these are the same the world over. Only enough tension in the claw to give the prize the gentlest nudge of hope so you continue to funnel in your coins. You seriously have more hope getting a prize from a wishing well, so you’re better off just buying one from a toy store.

What’s that? Toy store? You thought I forgot didn’t you? Not at all! A couple blocks north of the station is another Mandarake store. Multiple levels include buying on the ground floor for those with a bit of buyers’ remorse, cosplay and 2 levels of figures and collectibles. They also have items for the die hard fans, like the actual helmets used in filming Power Rangers and uniforms from local productions.

Mandarake, Akihabara, Tokyo

Over near Yodobashi there is another large toy store called Animate. Unfortunately during another “can’t see the forest for the trees” slash “damn you google maps” moment we couldn’t find it but later discovered it in the background of one of our photos! Anyway, what you need to do is get to this store on a Sunday, when they close off a lane and its filled with performers and cosplayers.

Finally if you’re having withdrawals from sneakers or music, there’s still a few ABC Marts and a Music Vox to appease that hunger, otherwise its Gashapon time!

About 2 blocks north of Mandarake off the main street in a small side lane is a dirty yellow signed store that houses a ground floor of Gashapon and 2 upper levels of toys, figures and collectibles. What is Gashapon? You’ll know them as the gumball style machines at the exit of supermarkets that you nagged your mum for change so you could get a toy in a capsule when you were little. The difference here is the toys aren’t a poorly moulded ring, necklace or keyring, they’re highly detailed and painted quality pvc items. Best thing of all, you no longer need to nag your mum, you can buy as many as you want!

Choose anything from your favourite shows/games like Mario, Star Wars and anime characters to the weird and wonderful of light up poo keyrings, telescopic cat paw pointing wands, tote bags, countless mobile phone trinkets and for the (not so) mature crowd, the X rated figures in various states of undress and positions that will have even Paris Hilton taking notes.

The majority of Gashapon cost between 100-500Y, with dedicated stores like this one having a change machine and recycle bin for used capsules. Depending on how many you buy, it’s a good idea to bin the capsules to save luggage space.

FYI, “Gashapon” refers to “Gasha” as in the crank machine that holds the toys and “pon” the sound the capsule makes when it drops. A lot easier to say than click tic tic tac click tacka!

Gashapon

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #3 – Harajuku
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here

04.22.2010

Shibuya crosswalk, Tokyo

Just one stop from Harajuku, less than a kilometre down a gentle hill, so if youre not carrying too much shopping, its an easy walk, just follow the train line south. If you see Tower Records you’re heading in the right direction.

Coming by train to Shibuya, which lets face it, is one of those Tokyo “musts”, you get to witnessed one of the world’s busiest stations in full stride. But don’t let photos from above fool you, while yes it is busy ALL the time, once you’re in the midst of it, its no different than any other major train station round the world, even if its comparative to Grand Central, Paddington or Guangzhou Rail. Likewise for when you step out of the station and into the infamous Shibuya crosswalk aka Tokyo’s Time Square. From above it looks like ants before a storm but in reality its no different than jaywalking cross Adelaide and Edward streets in Brisbane (though if you’re going to jaywalk here, do so at your own peril!). Just get to the front before the walk signal goes then skew off on the road of the direction you want to go, sorted. A bit of extra pep in your step to keep ahead of the surging masses doesn’t go astray either.

Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya could very well be Japanese for department store since the place is littered with them. Shibuya 109 (buildings 1, 2 and 3), Parco (buildings 1 and 2), Tokyu and OIOI Marui City are the notable mentions, though the whole “suburb” is pretty much one department store with a huge variety of stores.

Some of our faves were Bic camera their website says it all, electronics galore, one of the more well known stores with English speaking staff on hand; the Disney store with its Alice in Wonderland staircase and across the road is the 500th KFC (has a plaque n all :p ).

Sneaker-wise there’s another Adidas store, the usual scattering of ABC mart’s and THE KiksTYO, not a large range of sneakers but a few rarer models and of course their famed apparel and tees. There are also a few smaller independent sneaker stores near Parco (and a TGI Fridays 😉 ).

How do you know you bought a genuine KiksTYO tee? It comes in a box ;)

For toys you’ll want to try and find Mandarake. The building isn’t very well signed but it is called BEAM, head up 3-4 blocks on the main street from the Shibuya cross walk in a north west direction and you should stumble on it. Depending on the direction you come from you might catch a glimpse of the “BEAM” on a cyclinder structure on a corner. Its in the same building as RECOfan if that helps!

Mandarake is def. targeted to an older market, mainly because of the vintage collectibles. Wall to wall glass cabinets housing vinyls and figures that either were clearly someone’s fave childhood toy or the yellowing plastic of a original sealed toy from a child with some serious self control, all sporting hefty price tags to match. On the plus side, since they do deal with a lot of used items, you can pick up current stock at a fraction of the price, if the box has been opened. Most are still in mint condition and have all their parts. There are also shelves and bins of bits and pieces and clearance items for those that don’t mind a rummage.

I walked out with a bunch of Revoltech figures, a model kit Space Cruiser Yamato aka Starblazers (one of my childhood favourites!) and of course the obligatory Transformer (and random Gashapon :p).

As mentioned RECOfan is in the same building, one of the larger music stores that also do used items and records. Roughly about 5 times the size of Rockinghorse Records in Brisbane you could easily spend a day crate digging. Good thing is the sections are well labelled in English and are alphabetically broken down into genre and artist with a fair serving of rarities and country only releases. If you don’t get your fill here, there’s also Disk Union and “Dance music records” stores with a block or so.

For some sightseeing novelty check out “Love hotel hill”, basically a small lane dedicated to the oldest profession in the world. Good for a laugh or a quickie.

If you’re hanging around into the evening and want to get your boogie on then Shibuya is also home to Womb one of Tokyo’s biggest nightclubs with matching exuberant entry fee and drink prices. Check the “Womb cruise” party in May 2010 on a boat that looks like its come straight out of the Thunderbirds!

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #3 – Harajuku
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here