Doing Akihabara

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2000

by Tanya Clark

Take a deep breath. OK, let's go:

The best way to get there is definitely by train or subway. (Cab fares are outrageous -- especially if you're silly enough to try in the afternoon or evening, when the roads are packed with delivery vans and nearly every other conveyance ever invented -- including the odd rickshaw.)

So take the train to Akihabara station, where signs to the "electronic village" greet you (well, you kind of have to keep an eye peeled for them, especially those in English, but they're there, really).

Use those or grab the nearest friendly looking passerby to help guide you through the maze of steps and corridors that make up Akihabara station. Eventually you'll find yourself being pushed through the ticket gates and out into the "experience." Invariably, there will be young women and men standing just at the gates, dressed in some outlandish costumes, handing out freebies for one of the latest electronic gadgets.

From there you can go left or right, but head up -- toward the main drag of Akihabara. On your way you will already have passed your first dozen or so shops, their ground floors open to the street and their displays crammed with the latest trendy products -- racks of the latest in cell phones, dozens of MD players, digital cameras, portable keyboards for sending email on your cell phone, PDAs, and peripherals. The stores' upper floors are crammed with stereos, household equipment, computers, printers and any other kind of digital equipment. But skip these stores (if you can resist).

Certainly don't buy anything -- although it never hurts to know what they're charging, these places are usually at the upper end of the price range. After you drag yourself back to the mission (we're comparison-shopping here), you'll find yourself looking up and down a six-lane road. On every side for as far as the eye can see are shops peddling electronics. And every lane peeling off this super-road houses even more acres of floor space dedicated to the electronics freaks of the world. Seventh heaven.

The excitement is palpable. Lights flash. Noises pound out of stores trying to attract your attention. Neon blazes. Pouring off the road crossing in front of you will be hordes of people -- many lugging their latest boxed buys -- a Vaio notebook, an Apple G4, an $80 scanner, a Casio PDA, an i-mode cell phone It's enough to make a sane person plunge into the nearest store, whip out the credit card, and buy up the lot. Don't! Keep on going: Cross the main street and plunge deep into the back roads.

There you'll find every kind of computer store imaginable. And the deeper you go, the greater the discounts. The only real catch is making sure you know exactly what you're paying for (unscrupulous operators do exist). And you will be back!

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