Prior to booking a hotel in Tokyo, I became well aware of how vast Tokyo was in land area. We would end up using most of our day traveling if I didn’t place us strategically within the city. With Akihabara as a focal point, I searched for reasonable lodgings nearby and developed an itinerary from there. Five days were allocated to visiting Tokyo during our 14 day visit in the country. We weren’t going to see all of Tokyo in that time but I could mix enough culture, night-life, and culinary experiences to give us a great feel for the city.
Akihabara was one of the first places we visited. Using one of two subway systems, the Toei line, it was about 20 minutes from our hotel. I had learned the night before that shops usually open at 10 am on weekdays. That fit right in with our “lazy-boy” schedule (I have to note here that prior to this trip with family, a discussion was brought up about start times for the day. By establishing a time everyone could live with, I was eliminating the typical complaining that arose among all of us. We came to a compromise. 10 am was acceptable by everyone).
Missing “rush hour”, we emerged from the subway tunnels to a plethora of sights and sounds. Music pulsated over loud speakers, filling the streets with a kind of night club vibe. Bright colored buildings were decorated with doe-eyed characters from popular Animes. The clanging sound of arcade and video games flowed out into the streets from gaming centers where doors were pulled back, disappearing into the walls. The whole feel of the area was charged with energy and I couldn’t help but feel pumped up with enthusiasm.
As we walked along a side street patterned in cobble stone grey, an arcade appeared to our left. Stairs descended into darkness and lured my game crazed kids. I followed with a reluctant curiosity. Set up in a basement, this arcade had rows of video game machines that reminded me of the video slots in Vegas. The bulky casings of the machines were rimmed with neon colors of blue, purple and green. Scenes of the game storylines flashed from the screens as we walked by. Most of the machines were occupied by young adults. In a corner, my kids found a Pokemon game and immediately figured out the currency and began to play. Apparently, games had no language barriers.
I wandered around the building while they played. Going back upstairs, I found another set of stairs and began to climb the narrow passage. On the second floor was a Maid Café. This was another “must-do” while we were in Tokyo.
Maid Cafés are a popular cosplay diner/bar. Posted all over the internet as an experience you should try while in Akihabara, I was very curious about this “pop-culture” trend gaining momentum in Tokyo. A cover charge is paid before entering the bar. We were seated at a table and a menu listing a set of experiences is offered. We went all out and ordered the deluxe package. Treated as masters, the patrons are drawn into the fantasy world of anime. This meant a maid brought us fuzzy bunny ears to put on. Not sure why. The waitress’s English was very limited and my Japanese entailed only basic survival phrases. Possibly we were transformed into an anime character? A meal of cheese burgers, fries, and a drink, followed by a dessert was part of the package. Before we ate the Maid had us repeat a phrase(moi moi cue). Later, I learned that the words were incantations used in the world of anime to create a magical experience while eating the food (Well, something was needed because the food wasn’t anything to brag about!) A photo op with the maid was included along with a cute song and dance she performed on the club’s stage. It is an experience that should be tried at least once.
After “playing around” we got to business and started the search for the perfect anime item to buy. For my son, it was an exquisitely formed figurine as beautiful as the sculptured statues created by Praxiteles, Michelangelo, or Rodin. Walking along the main drag called Chuo Dori, my oldest son scoured the stores. There were department stores where we searched on 8 different levels. There were tiny boutiques. There were second-hand stores that reminded me of swap-meets. From figurines to books, pins, pencils, pocketbooks, DVD’s and posters, anime was imprinted on everything. Every now and then my kids were drawn into the many crane game stores that promised a chance to grab an anime stuffed character with the deposit of a coin. The streets seemed to be packed with more gaming centers than shops.
The Mandarake, Animate, Kotobukiya and Lashinbang were a few places we visited. They were well stocked with merchandise. Sega and Taito Station were the larger gaming centers packed with every game imaginable. For an Anime fan, Akihabara is truly a mecca that must be visited once in a lifetime.