Akihabara is in a perpetual state of change

Long ago, Akihabara gained the nickname Akihabara Electric Town. That was when the area was home to many household appliance shops. It also had electric stores that sold specialized stuff. Need a whatsit for your whatnot? You could get it there.

That’s what I remember from 1991 when I first arrived in Tokyo. But, it was also a time of transition for the area. The electronic age was starting to push many of those older shops out. I saw some of those changes.

Computer shops and others that sold specialized electronics were making inroads. Highly-focused hobby shops were doing the same. There was a lot of stuff you could only get in Akihabara. This attracted a new clientele, the otaku. Things changed again.

Akihbara maids on the street
Akihbara maids.

For me, though, it was a happening place. Glitz filled it. There were so many new things to do and experience. Akihabara was exciting. Many “only in Japan” things were there. I have so many good memories of it.

Do you know the AKB theatre building? Around 1996, it was T-Zone. T-Zone was in the same vein as Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera. I often used to look at its imported computer games. It had half of one floor filled with them. The rest of the store had things like laser-disc players and massage chairs. You could get the latest of anything there. It was a growing company.

I went there a few years later, and it was gone! Such is life in Tokyo. Here one day and gone tomorrow.

Chuo-Dori in Akihabara
Chuo-Dori on a Sunday afternoon.

Akihabara is where I bought my first computer in Japan. It was a Compaq. The store where I got it was tiny. Trying to get past other customers in the aisles was a test! It was fun shopping there, but it was a complete fail haggling with the staff. That place no longer exists.

Nowadays, Akihabara has many manga, game arcades, and duty-free shops. Then there are the pet and maid cafes. Of course, the otaku are still around! Some specialized electric shops operate, but they aren’t the stars anymore. The 2022 Akihabara is very different from the one I once knew.

Recently, I watched an Only in Japan * Go video on YouTube. John Daub, the presenter, did a live stream from around the station. The changes in the area shocked him, and he showed many places that had disappeared. A few days later, I went to Akihabara to see it myself.

Once out of the station, I went straight to the Sega Game Center Number Two building. To see it empty was a shock. Shops one, two, and three were still there. But, the company announced that it would leave the game arcade business by the end of 2020.

Well, things panned out differently. SEGA rebranded the centers. They are now called GiGO, short for Get into Gaming Oasis. I have no comment on the name.  I’ll leave that to you. By the way, the Number Two building still has no games.

GiGO number 1 game center in Akihabara
Goodby SEGA. Hello GIGO.

Other businesses have suffered too. Some have disappeared. A few premises are unoccupied. Fewer people seem to be on the streets. E-sports appears to be on the rise. Gachapon machines are throughout the area.

The maid cafes have changed. If I remember correctly, there used to be more of them. Now, they seem to have consolidated into a few chains. But as the pandemic appears to be waning in Japan, their girls are back on the streets.

Were these changes a result of the coronavirus? No, some are purely from business decisions. Things lose favor and are no longer needed. For example, the AKB48 Cafe is gone. It closed in November 2019 as a part of the company plan.

Gundam took over the cafe. Unfortunately, it is gone too. Actually, all their branches have gone. Akihabara, like everywhere else, moves with the times.

Don Quijote Store
The Don Quijote Store with the AKB48 above.

It makes me wonder about things. Will the otaku, often associated with the area, be affected? That is a possibility. Why? Over the last few years, buildings like Akihabara UDX and Akihabara Dai have appeared. They are big businesses. The corporations are moving in. People in business attire are a common sight on the streets. They might push a lot of smaller players out.

These days, a real-world place mightn’t be necessary. People communicate online. Remote work is a thing for many companies anyway.

It’ll be interesting to see how Akihabara evolves. My feeling is that it is on its last legs.  Another change is coming, but to what? I’d love to know your thoughts. What does the future hold? 

What camera gear did I use for these Akihabara photos?

  • Camera body: Fujifilm X-T3
  • Lens: Fujifilm  XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR
Japanese gachapon machines
Gachapon machines are everywhere in Akihabara.

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