During my anime-loving phase in college, my dream was to fly to Japan and visit Akihabara Electric Town, the mecca of all things otaku. I would have given anything to visit Akiba.
Now, I’ve seen Akiba with my own eyes. My diagnosis: very scary.
It is very clear the district exists to serve a very imbalanced, socially-inept subculture within Japan. It’s one thing for a young kid or anti-social teenager to love anime. It becomes scary is when you see overweight, jobless, 30-somethings ogling loli anime and buying porn by the bucket-load!
I consider myself a lover of games and anime. But I certainly don’t love games and anime this much. You can see all of my photos here.
There was a building marked AV. When I went inside, I discovered that it was filled shelf to shelf with pornography. Japanese pornography (or AV) basically consists of a lot of whining and pixelated body parts gyrating. I could not believe that such a basic concept could spawn an eight-story department store! As I climbed the stairs, the content of the videos became more and more disturbing. One floor was dedicated completely to tentacles. Another was dedicated to the new budding subgenre: elder porn.
Pornography is everywhere in Akiba. Every bookstore or figurine shop has a little section in the back dedicated to adult magazines and DVDs. Some shops also sell authentic uniforms worn by idols in specific videos (autographed).
My classmate Ken told me that Akiba started off as a small neighborhood dedicated to radio-lovers. We visited some of the older shops on the southern part of town. You can still buy old radio components! As Akiba’s presence grew, it became a hub for all electronic products. According to Ken, there is a saying that if you cannot find an electronic in Akihabara, it doesn’t exist.
There are also a number of ‘maid cafes’ in Akiba. The concept is simple. Nerds want to talk to girls. Girls don’t want to talk to nerds. Therefore, these nerds spend money to talk to girls who dress up as maids and have mastered the art of boosting men’s egos. “Welcome to my cafe, master!”
After you visit a maid cafe, you receive an Owner’s Card. Essentially, the card certifies you as a ‘master,’ who is served by a maid. If you visit a maid three times, you ‘level up!’ It’s an ingenious way to use game elements to encourage return business. Many otaku fall in love with maids and come back day after day to spend money and talk to them.
Some may see maids as fancy waitresses. However, I actually find a lot of similarities between maids and maiko/geisha. On a physical level, both maids and geisha speak using cutesy voices and wear fancy costumes designed to entice men. Functionally, both maids and geisha build men’s egos through the art of conversation. Geisha are keepers of Japanese culture through traditional song, poetry, and dance. Maids are keepers of Japanese pop culture through the singing of J-Pop songs and discussion of anime. Let’s face it. Maids are geisha for nerds.
Lest you think Akiba is one big dude-fest, I also saw a large number of female otaku wandering the streets. Akiba caters to all genders. Instead of visiting maid cafes, girls can visit butler cafes and get served by good-looking European men.
I will probably return to Akiba in the far future. But for now, I think I’ve enough exposure to otaku to last me a few years.