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Video guides to Akihabara (Tokyo area with tons of computer/electronic shops) (tokyohackerspace.org)
59 points by nfriedly on Sept 26, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

I went to Akihabara on a visit to Tokyo a few years back... I have to say I was pretty unimpressed.

Visiting Japan is a mind-blowing experience but once you have got over the crazy ways they do retail in general, Akihabara itself doesn't have much to offer IMHO.

The few unusual stores that are there are the ones the guide shows, like the discount test equipment/oscilloscope store (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGPddaXFkXU). Sure they are kind of cool but most of it is just regular electronics at prices that were not competitive.

The internet really changed things - Akihabara was the place to buy unusual and rare electronics but the chances are you can buy anything you see in Akihabara in the US via the Internet, at a cheaper price point. I'm sure you can buy those second-hand oscilloscopes at similar discount prices via specialized online retailers.

Do check out the video of the labyrinth 'department stores', which are buildings full of small vendors (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKmwIBfT5U4). I used to visit buildings like that in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that were several levels just full of pirated software - all dark and full of neon, it was like something out of Blade Runner.

Roll-up shutters to lock-up style units with all this software on the wall - patrons would just pick off the wall the names of the software they wanted (Windows, MS Office, Photoshop, etc) and some kid would run off and bring them the disks at $1 a pop. Every now and again one of these units would be selling noodles or soup or pot-stickers.

But again, the Internet has disrupted that market and you don't see them as much (http://ahcheo.blogspot.com/2009/06/todays-imbi-plaza.html) - I guess because if you are interested in obtaining pirated software you can do it via Bit Torrent.

Speaking of fake stuff, check out the "Mac Store" in Akihabara: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotben/53700249/

This photo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotben/53699076/, also reminded me that if you do visit Akihabara go at night, when all the neon is lit!

Akihabara is more interesting if you're an anime geek as well as an electronics shopper. It's also really nice, coming from a part of the US that has essentially no electronics retail specialists left (Newegg.com is really good, let's face it), to be able to buy things like my new Fujifilm 3D camera after actually trying them out and browse around in retail stores.

Also, good advice in any part of Tokyo is to look up -- often, the ground-level stores are just the beginning of what's available.

That Apple has a store in Ginza but not Akihabara says a lot I think.

Anyway, I've been taking friends from the US who visit me to Akiba for a while now and I have always given these disclaimers before going:

1.) In general, things will not be cheaper. This isn't Hong Kong. Here's the main reason why: http://www.x-rates.com/d/JPY/USD/graph120.html

2.) Prepare to enter a world where the average consumer who is shopping there cares a lot about things you don't care at all about. Like Anime, plastic figurines and Nintendo Wii games.

3.) Any cool software or hardware that requires software will probably not be localized to english. Windows rules here and Microsoft makes a special version of windows for the japanese market. Maybe it's gotten better with windows vista or 7, I really don't know. That sweet netbook will be awesome for a Japanese person but you're about to enter a world of pain. Here's an example:


I had a friend visiting last week and he really wanted to buy a cool USB microscope that we saw there. I had to warn him that it might be impossible to get the drivers installed properly.

Another friend wanted to buy the new Jumbo sized Nintendo DS before it was released in the US but we asked the sales rep and he said there was no way to switch the UI to english. No sale.

4.) The main reason to visit Akihabara is if you are interested in Japanese otaku culture and want to understand it more. It's a trip. I recommend it. But don't go expecting to get a bunch of shit to bring home with you.

> Windows rules here and Microsoft makes a special version of windows for the japanese market. Maybe it's gotten better with windows vista or 7, I really don't know.

I don't know about XP, but with 7 (Ultimate, at least) there definitely isn't a "special version of Windows for the Japanese market". Japanese Windows is the same old Windows with a Japanese localization pack installed and enabled. You can go into the settings and change it. This is why when you install Windows 7 Ultimate, you get a ton of optional updates that are a bunch of language packs (there are ~25-30).

I haven't tried installing very many things, but from the instructions I've read, there appear to be many that won't work properly unless the locale is set to Japanese when installing and running the software.

Yes, I went to Akihabra to "buy a bunch of shit to bring home with me". That's exactly why I went. Well, and to just take in the spectacle. And yes, I'm not really into Anime and plastic figurines but capacitors and old oscilloscopes do fascinate me.

> That Apple has a store in Ginza but not Akihabara says a lot I think

Actually that Mac Store is in Akihabara (here's a video I found randomly on the net of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmmmaR5lAxY) - perhaps there is another one or it moved (that photo is from a few years ago).

> That sweet netbook will be awesome for a Japanese person but you're about to enter a world of pain

Yup, I used to own a sony vaio netbook that I bought in japan way ahead of the netbook craze, and yes all the keys were in Japanese. I managed to get it working though, but I've since moved off of Windows completely.

That "Mac Store" isn't an official Apple store at all. They just styled it to look like one. There are real Apple stores in Ginza and Shibuya.


There's also multiple smaller downtown labyrinths in downtown Riyadh, and 'computer souks' across the middle east. The first time I went to these places I was amazed and bought some really odd electronics (I bought a GSM jammer in Riyadh) but when I was back earlier this year I noticed that all of the wacky stuff was available on the Internet.

I might buy one too, for the toy value, but my mind boggles... what use is a GSM jammer?!

In a city, anyone with a web browser could do geocoding (address -> longitude/latitude) anyway.

Is there some military/criminal application? E.g. to stop automatic targeting or to hinder automatic GPS on cameras from kidnapped people?

I ended up buying it because Saudis bring mobiles into meetings. This would make a 10 minute meeting about an hour and a half long because a senior manager gets and takes a lot of calls, except when I'm in the meeting.

GSM != GPS. A GSM jammer would block phones, e.g. in restaurants, cinemas, business presentations, etc.

Sorry for wasted time. I know I have no simultaneous capacity and shouldn't read/write while distracted. :-(

I have fond memories of buying cheap laptops, modded Xboxes, and tons of DVDs for a few bucks each at Wan Chai Computer Centre in Hong Kong and Sim Lim Square in Singapore when I was on deployment in the Navy.

The logic behind the multi-floor Asian 'department stores' of many tiny, almost-identical tech shops is something I've struggled to understand. (Even beyond almost-identical, sometimes the same company has several storefronts, in the same building, on different floors.)

Among 100+ stores over 6+ levels, there may be 20+ with very similar inventories. Why does this provide a win for sellers or customers, over a smaller number over stores with larger and more unique inventories?

I don't know about Akihabara personally, but other markets in Asia (and elsewhere) allow you to haggle a bit. One easy tactic, "well the stall over around the corner said they'd sell this for $20, I'll buy it from you if you can go to $19").

When I went there in December, my distinct impression was that I would love to live near there if I was still doing ham radio. Having such a variety of shops close at hand would be fantastic. But otherwise... you can get everything online for cheaper.

Japan is played out. China is where it's at - http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=147

Japanese culture seems to have become dominated by consumption, whereas China still has a big thing for production.

Ah man, I really could have done with this in May. Oh well, was still super fun discovering it all myself (i think i went in pretty much every shop in akihabara over the course of about a week!)

Will have to visit the hacker space next time i get the funds together to visit :)

Reminds me of HuaQiangBei in Shenzhen, China. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RafPma9_t8Q&feature=fvw

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