Last Sunday, I went to Akihabara and I was quite a bit different from my expectations. It was crowded, noisy, and full of odd people and dancing Coke machines. Sure, it was interesting, but I thought Osaka had a much better selection of stuff. Today I changed my mind about that. While Osaka's Den-Den town had better prices by far (which is a tad unfair to say because vintage games have become a lot more popular recently), Akihabara has everything. Finding it is a bit of a challenge.
I had heard about this place called Super Potato that I just HAD to check out. I found a rough map of the area online, stared at it for a few seconds, and then off I went. That's where my adventure today began.
First off, I want to challenge a few misconceptions. Akihabara is NOT just a place to buy anime and video games. Akihabara was historically and still is a place to buy anything and everything electronic, but besides a small section near the train station, it's quite a normal neighborhood.
They even have a butcher shop:
There were a lot of completely unremarkable things around the part that all tourists go to, but I didn't take many pictures just because of how unremarkable they were. There were ramen shops, tire shops, buildings, offices, houses, convenience stores... Just normal stuff all around.
I've heard more than one person talk about the death of Akihabara and how now it's turning into just another tourist stop. Well, I have no idea what Akihabara was like before, but I'm starting to form a picture.
While wandering, I find these places underneath a train station that I can only describe as caves.
These caves all had incredibly low ceilings and were packed with as much stuff as possible. There were all these old men sitting at tables selling their goods in a space that is so small, there is no room to move and barely enough room to sit down. This was under the train tracks, so you could feel everything vibrate and there were all these godawful halogen lights throughout the place. The walls and celiling were grimy, not based on the fact that they got dirty recently, but based on the fact that they were old.
Every little shop specalized in something. I saw LED lights, capacitors, adapters, GPS systems, Walkie talkies, radios, blank circuit boards, you name it, and you can find it in these dark, dank caves. Here is a shop selling cut-your-own wire.
I wanted to take more pictures, but I really felt like an outsider, not because I'm a foreigner, but because I didn't know what most of that stuff was.
Oh, and I found a remote-controlled car hobby shop.
Another thing that I didn't notice before is there were TONS of these shops just crammed with crap. The sheer volume of stuff was amazing.
What's this that I found?
That's a portable Famicom (NES). I've seen those on the internet, but because their legal status is grey at best, I thought i could only find them on the streets of Hong Kong.
Shortly after I saw that, I stumbled upon this sign.
I had no idea that this area had so much history. Now it's just known for it's electronics and cartoons. This sign actually made me feel a tad guilty for being just another tourist.
Anyways, on to the rest of the town. I saw plenty of tables like this around:
That's either grey-market, used, or straight up bootleg software. I didn't think such things were that easily avalible here. I also saw this sign:
I'm not quite up on my knowledge of these products, but for the most part, these are all different things to play bootleg Nintendo DS games.
Anyways, this was all distracting me from my goal of finding the legendary Super Potato. So, I kept wandering. I went to this one game store (0f many) and I saw this:
Final Fight Revenge is a Sega Saturn game. I made fun of my friend for paying $70 for it because it's a really bad game. But, when I saw it for 26,040 yen (about $240), I realized the price paid by my friend was quite reasonable. The game is still terrible, though.
So, after a long time of wandering, I thought I was never going to find this magical store and I would have to find a map to take with me, not just something I saw. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it:
With a sign that small, I'm surprised anybody can find it. It's just a tiny entranceway into a tiny hall that goes to an elevator which goes to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors. The physical size of the store is quite small, actually. However, the amount of stuff they have is really overwhelming.
All those TVs were on, and all were playing sounds. The amount of 8-bit music and sound effects heard was amazing.
Here is a wall of controllers:
Some of these are normal, but some are quite rare.
Here is a rare Famciom (NES) switcher box. You can load a bunch of games in and just switch between them.
Here is a bunch of rare Sega stuff:
That Discman looking thing is actually a Sega Genesis and Sega CD combined as a portable unit. It had a sticker in French and English, so I think it was a Canadian model.
When I was a kid, I really wanted the Gameboy camera and printer set. I didn't find the printer, but there were plenty of cameras.
They were going for 200 yen (less than $2) and there were plenty of them. In my latter years, I realize that they really are just junk, but it might be cool to have one anyways. Well, I know where to find them.
I took plenty of other pictures of Super Potato, but I was trying not to be an obvious tourist jerk, so I was taking them on the sly. The third floor was a retro arcade and honestly, quite unimpressive. They did have a Street Fighter II (regular) cabinet and some guy was tearing it up, but there was nothing amazing there.
So, I left Super Potato and I found this really odd store that sells custom costumes with a woman and a sewing machine in the corner. They also had a quaint (by Akihabara standards) selection of games. But what is this that I found?
That's the Nintendo DS Game and Watch collection. The only way to get this is to be a member of Club Nintendo and reside in Japan. It was going for 2400 yen. For such a rarity, that's not very much at all.
I kept wandering, and I found this one shop that was really different than the others. It had a sliding door that you opened and shut yourself, a dark red sign out, no flashing lights, nothing to really draw you in, but in spite of that (or possibly because of that) I ventured inwards.
They had this big wall of stuff in a glass cabinet with a "Not for sale" sign on it, and one thing they had was this controller:
This is supposed to be one of the best fighting game controllers available. It's flanked on the left with a Game Axe Color, another portable Famicom/NES, and some generally just grey-market items.
Here's some more stuff. Notice the really artsy "not for sale sign".
The item above that sign is not a Playstation, but yet another NES/Famicom player, this time not portable, though.
All this stuff was really interesting, but what WAS for sale?
Software that allows you to play import or 'backup' copies of your games. Sadly, I might go there to buy some stuff, as I have lots of American PS2 games and they don't play on Japanese PS2s.
Well, I was headed out of the neighborhood, but before I left, I popped into a store I visited before. I didn't take any pictures because I didn't think it was so remarkable at the time, and JI was looking for Super Potato. This store had a lot of Famicom games, but they seemed to be stacked on the shelf with no order at all. But, when I looked up, I noticed something amazing.
That's right, the Virtual Boy. Nintendo's biggest failure. I thought about picking it up, but it was too big and the day was still young.
I left the downstairs, and I walked up a small set of stairs and to my surprise, I saw this:
A bunch of Anime wigs and who they look like.
There was another game/wig store on the second floor, and it was okay. They had a few Sega CDs...
But the most interesting thing was they had a big pile of random crap.
I think that sign is telling me that stuff isn't ready for sale yet, but I'm not quite sure (thanks, Kanji) but there was some weird stuff in this pile. I think the weirdest of all was this:
Super Game Boy controller?? The Super Game Boy was an accessory for the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) that allowed you to play Game Boy games. Those aren't rare. In fact, I own one and there's one at the dorm. But a Super Game Boy controller? I've never seen one before and I had no idea they existed. It was also quite useless,as a regular controller works just fine.
Well, that was my trip to Akihabara. I thought I should leave you with a nice spot of Engrish:
I hope you enjoyed reading it or looking at the pictures. I'll write about my evening in Shinjuku later.