Akiba in an Hour


A text conversation between my wife and I:

Me: “Is it ok if I quickly stop by Akiba on my way home? I won’t be late.”
Wife: “OK.”
Hmm, that’s a very short yet very loaded yes. Yes it’s ok, though I’d prefer it if you came straight home after work. Now I’m feeling guilty, but I really want to go to Akiba. Time for some reassurance.
Me: “I won’t stay long. Be back by 7pm at the latest (kissing smiley face).”
Now I’ve shot myself in the foot. There’s no way I can visit all the shops I’d like and be back home by 7pm. I’m still feeling guilty, though.
Me: “Do you want me to pick up anything?”
Wife: “No I’m ok.”
Well that’s a fucking relief, as I’m already pushed for time. That gives me a little under an hour to do the main stops. Let’s do this.
Me: “Love you xxx.”
Wife: “Get donuts.”

I visit Akihabara, Tokyo’s home of all things video games (and electronics and anime), once or twice a month. I don’t have the free time that I used to, so my visits involve rushing around like a madman, trying to make the required stops before heading home.

As you may have heard a million times already, Akiba isn’t what it used to be. The old shops are disappearing and retro stock is dwindling. The glory days of boxes full of discounted games and consoles, cartons of dead stock and even free, junk games are now but a memory. There are far too many tourists gawking at maids and putting their sticky hands all over pristine retro games, and I have zero patience with the mannerless and hopeless men-children who gather around the anime shops. Yet I still love Akihabara. It’s my place, and I find few things more relaxing than hunting for bargains old and new.

I visit whenever I can, and have settled on a time-is-of-the-essence route that allows me to visit the best shops and be back home in time for dinner and daddy-duties.

It looks a bit like this.

5.15pm: I arrive in Akihabara, after a hard day’s work. I’m not looking for anything in particular, just hoping to find something cheap and interesting.

5.20: My first stop is Super Potato. It’s gotten a bad rep over the years as an overpriced tourist trap. That reputation is partially deserved, but you can still find a bargain if you know what you’re looking for. On my most recent trip I bought Phantasy Star Collection and Thunderstorm/Road Blaster on the Saturn for a couple hundred yen below the usual asking price.

Super Potato is one of the few shops that has remained unchanged since I first started frequenting Akiba, over a decade ago. Most of my old favourite stores are long gone or have abandoned the retro side of their business, but in SP I’m on very familiar ground.

5.30: I’m heading towards Traders. If I have time, I’ll consider tackling Mandarake, a temple to all things geek and unsavoury. But it takes fucking ages to scale the external staircase all the way to the games floor, and takes even longer to wait for the elevator. I don’t have time for stairs.

Traders is one of the few places that still has a junk section for retro games. Untested and unguaranteed, it’s a great place to pick up mid-tier titles for a fraction of their usual cost. I think the staff recognise me now, the cheapskate who only ever buys junk, though they still feel the need to scream “no guarantee!” In katakana English each time I pay. “Wakarimashita” I shout, confidently. I’m not new to this son, I think to myself, unable to say it in Japanese.

5.45: Need to keep moving. I’m doing my best to avoid pamphlet givers, maids and tourists wanting directions. I’ll observe a moments silence as I pass by the café just beyond Traders, to mourn one of my old, favourite game shops that was located a couple of floors up. It disappeared years ago, but lives on in my heart.

I’d love to visit Friends, but it’s at the wrong end of Akiba. A mom-and-pops store that has an interesting and reasonably priced selection, it’s one of the few surviving retro-only shops. I will have time, however, to stop by Beep. Part museum, part shop, this basement space is filled to the rafters with old games, hardware, arcade boards and all sorts of paraphernalia. It’s just a shame that it always seems to be closed! Surugaya is equally stacked, and has regular opening hours, but is far too expensive. I’ll probably have a look, once I discover that Beep’s closed again.

5.50: Time to turn around and head back to the station. On the way, I’ll drop by Sofmap to check some current gen goodies, used and new. I don’t spend money here like I used to, but it’s still a must-visit, despite the ground floor’s transformation into a toiletries and appliances store.

6.05: And my final stop is Book-Off. The most hit-and-miss shop in all of Akiba, I’ll find sod all for months on end, only to walk in one day and find the most bargainous of bargains. Recent purchases have included a near pristine Dreamcast for half the expected price, and a CIB white Saturn at a similarly steep discount.

6.10: And now to sprint to the subterranean Tsukuba Express station to catch the train home.

6.15: Made it! And I’d wager that I’m the only person on the train carrying a Densha de Go controller.

Shit, I forgot the donuts!

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