If there’s one thing that Japan is known for overseas aside from sushi (寿司), it’s the otaku (オタク) culture. Not familiar with the word otaku? Think manga (漫画), anime (アニメ), cosplay (コスプレ) and themed cafés. While Tokyo (東京) is most certainly not short of any of this, the number one spot for getting your geek on is hands down Akihabara (秋葉原).
In juxtaposition to Tokyo’s old town, just a stone throw’s away, Akihabara is the height of modernity and Japanese pop culture. Originally gaining the nickname “Electric Town (エレクトリック・タウン)” from its electronic stores that started opening following WW2, it is now hard to find a street in Akihabara that doesn’t house a several-storey electronic store, anime-related shop or maid café.
With an abundance of wacky things to do and see around Akihabara, here are 15 fun things to get you started.
Why would anyone get on the bus when you can discover Akihabara by go-kart? Drive around Tokyo in a little red go-kart and if you feel like going all out, you can even take your pick of a cosplay outfit to put on before you go. It doesn’t get much better than holiday snaps of Little Bo Peep or Mario go-karting around Tokyo.
The go-karts can be hired for up to five hours so explore as much of Tokyo as you like from the comfort of your seat. Be warned that you will need a Japanese driving license or international driving license to hire a go-kart.
Ever wanted to experience a video game but in real life? Akihabara has all the answers. Dress up in camouflage, grab your BB bullet guns and get ready to run! This survival game takes place in an indoor playing field with lots of places to hide.
All instructed in English, you will be briefed on the aim of the game and then sent off to put your game skills to the test. As long as you’re not in a big group, you will be playing with locals and there’s no better way to make friends than a bit of healthy competition.
If there’s one type of Japanese themed café you’ve heard about, it is most probably the maid café. Hosted by girls dressed in maid outfits, customers are often looked after by one maid during their stay and served up cute food and drinks all with a big cheesy smile.
Maidreamin (めいどりーみん) is one of Akihabara’s most popular cafés where you can see the waitresses in cosplay posing as popular anime characters. Contrary to popular belief, maid cafés are no longer only frequented by men but are relatively innocent establishments that are also open to women, groups of friends, families and children.
While Akihabara is synonymous with anime culture, that doesn’t mean the area doesn’t have more to offer. Head off the main streets to find one-off shops, handmade crafts and other beautiful areas within walking distance from Akihabara.
If you’re a fan of photography, exploring Akihabara with a pro photographer is bound to inspire you. With the skill of looking at things from a unique perspective, you can see another side of Akihabara as well as discovering surrounding areas Ryogoku (両国), Kuramae (蔵前) and the Tokyo Sky Tree (東京スカイツリー).
Being geeky doesn’t have to be limited to cartoons and maid outfits. Add a new theme into the mix with Akihabara’s train-themed restaurant. Take a seat at a table reminiscent of those from the bullet trains while you are served by staff in train conductor outfits.
The food is a work of art with omelettes shaped into train carriages, seaweed as train windows and salad for the scenery. Drinks also follow the railway theme with a variety of cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Litte TGV (リトル ティージーブイ) restaurant is open for dinner every evening Tuesday – Sunday, as well as for lunch on weekends. As the restaurant is a popular eating spot, it’s best to book to avoid disappointment.
There aren’t many Akihabara experiences more authentic than going to a maid café. But having a tour around Akihabara with a maid is one of the best ways to discover the ins and outs and secret corners of the district.
If a quick chat with a maid in a café isn’t enough, why not meet up with a maid that doubles up as a guide? You will, of course, get a trip to a maid café as well as a tour of the streets and shops. Speaking a range of languages, be sure to make the most of your tour by asking any questions. The maid guides are knowledgeable about Tokyo, otaku culture and experiences dressing up as a maid so you’re sure to hear some fascinating stories. All the maids are extremely friendly so won’t just be your guide for the day but your friend for the day.
The tours go three times a day and are incredibly popular so be sure to book soon!
There are certain places that every otaku wants to hang out in Tokyo. Two of the all-time favourite spots are Akihabara and Nakano (中野). Whether you want to browse the anime, manga, games, figurines or fancy dress, these two areas will undoubtedly have something you’re looking for. Or, in the case that you’re not interested in buying something specific, you’ll still likely be amazed by the range of goods and the skill and detail that goes into making them.
You can discover all the best otaku shops Tokyo has to offer with a tour of both Akihabara and Nakano with the expertise of a guide who will even take you back to your hotel afterwards.
After a hard day’s shopping and exploring, your feet are sore and you’re in need of some downtime. Why not pop along to get a massage? You can find massages for your feet, head, face, shoulders, hands or back for the perfect unwind. Add in aromatic oils or even try a traditional Japanese shiatsu (指圧) massage.
While an ear clean may not be something you’ve considered before, Akihabara is home to massage shops that specialise in ear cleaning. Preceded by a relaxing head massage, the gentle ear clean will leave you feeling clean and fresh.
Maid cafés tend to look and act like standard cafés with just one difference – the waitresses are dressed up as maids. However, if you get bored easily of usual cafés there are other activities that can be combined with a trip to these unique cafés.
Most probably not what you’d expect on a trip to a maid café, at one of Akihabara’s cafés you can have a game of Texas Holdem Poker with the maids. You will be provided with some chips on arrival but beware that gambling is illegal in Japan so you won’t be winning any real money during the game.
If you look around at the men in Japan, you’ll notice that they are often well groomed with well-kept hair and shaven faces. Want to jump on the bandwagon? Then get yourself along to Akihabara to clean yourself up.
Enjoy having your hair styled, your shoulders and hands massaged and your eyebrows trimmed, all performed by maids. Free drinks and snacks are included and you will receive a complimentary photo to remember the experience by.
After a trip to somewhere as exciting as Japan, it goes without saying that loved ones back home will be expecting to receive some exciting souvenirs. You could try to find some normal gifts to take back but if you’re planning a trip to Akihabara, why not stock up on some unique gifts that you couldn’t have found anywhere else?
Kawaii Guide offers a tour of Akihabara which will take you to hidden shops and corners that you wouldn’t stumble across yourself. Figurines, electronics and vending machines selling all sorts – Akihabara is the place to find all the weird and wonderful things Japan is known for. Since shopping is a tiring sport, you’ll also be taken along to a sushi bar to fuel yourselves for the day.
You don’t need to be a game expert to have heard of Final Fantasy (ファイナルファンタジー). The story is set in the fictional city of Gridania (グリダニア) which you can visit on your stay in Tokyo at Akihabara’s recreation of the Final Fantasy world.
Greeted into the café by famous characters from the game, you can enjoy themed food and drinks in this gamers’ paradise. Time in the café is limited to two hours and it is required to make a reservation in advance as spaces book up quickly.
A night out in Tokyo is, of course, a must but without knowing the right places it can be hard to know where to go. Many visitors to Japan will find that there’s little problem finding somewhere to eat, but where are the pubs and bars? Most drinking in Japan takes place in izakayas (居酒屋), which are traditional Japanese drinking establishments that serve up tapas-style dishes.
If you’re struggling to work out the difference between an izakaya and somebody’s basement, maybe you need some help from someone who knows what’s going on. This private pub crawl will not only take you on handpicked tours to suit your drinking desires but also give you the chance to meet a friendly local with all the inside knowledge on Tokyo.
There is no better way to appreciate the extreme contrasts of Japanese culture than by visiting two different spots in one day. After discovering the maid cafés, toy stores and robots of Akihabara, head over to the more traditional area of Kanda (神田) where you can find shrines, traditional cafés and sacred halls. If you’re there at the right time of year you can even experience the Kanda Festival (神田祭) which takes place at Kanda Shrine (神田明神) biannually in the month of May.
If you want to visit Akihabara while also getting a quick overview of the rest of Tokyo, why not take a bus tour around the some of the best sights the city has to offer? Stop off at Akihabara as well as Meiji Shrine (明治神宮), the Imperial Palace East Garden (皇居東御苑), Asakusa Kannon Temple (浅草観音寺) and even take a cruise down Sumida River (隅田川). Take the hassle out of travelling around on busy trains by popping on a bus that does the hard work for you.
If you’re arriving into Haneda Airport (羽田空港), you can be taken straight to the Akihabara area with an airport transfer shuttle service. A feast for the eyes and inner otaku, Akihabara offers at least a day of entertainment that epitomises the unique pop culture of Japan. Whether anime’s your cup of tea or not, this wacky district is a must-see and promises a good dose of the bright and colourful high-rise buildings we love Tokyo for.
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