History and Culture Course
Kanda vegetable market in Edo period
This is a picture of Kanda vegetable market nearby Akihabara in Edo era, from 1603 to 1867, when samurai and shogun ruled Japan.
As the market included merchants’ houses, it looked like a small town.
Many second-hand kimono shops were lined along the Kanda River. It was the center of fashion just like today’s Harajuku.
Those days, the principal means of distribution of goods was water transportation.
As there is the Kanda River nearby, present Akihabara area was a logistic base.
Akihabara freight station, railway and waterway in the Meiji period
In the Meiji period, the government aimed for modernization of Japan and introduced the railway system.
The railway was built from Ueno to Tohoku, the northeast region of Honshu island, in 1883.
In order to handle a lot of goods from Tohoku, Akihabara freight station was built and freight line from Ueno Station was laid to the station in 1890.
This station has become present JR Akihabara Station.
A blue line on the map is the Kanda River.
The blue square part on the right side is a basin for small ships, where now Yodobashi Multimedia Akiba building stands.
A channel was dug to connect the basin and the Kanda River, and Sakuma bridge was built over the channel at that time.
The channel was reclaimed later and has become a small park.
You can see the remains of Sakuma bridge, four main pillars made of stone.
Goods such as woods and charcoals from Tohoku were transported to Akihabara freight station by railway, and shipped from there to every place in Tokyo.
Later, cars became a mainstream mode of transportation, and rivers or channels were reclaimed or covered by roads.
Thus, the scenery of Tokyo has completely changed.
Akihabara after WWII, the birth of the Electric Town
Because of air raid attacks in WWII, Tokyo including Akihabara had been reduced to ruins.
After the war, there was a black market nearby, and as there was Denki School, the predecessor of Tokyo Denki University in neighborhood, many vendors dealt in radio parts such as vacuum tubes released by the US army.
As radio was the only recreation at that time, the market flourished.
Then, ready-made radio assembled by the college students sold like pancakes.
However, GHQ banned on open-air markets in 1949.
Vendors asked for the place with a roof in order to keep their business going.
Tokyo government and Japan National Railways offered the place under the elevated Sobu Line railway and the venders moved there.
This is the origin of present parts market, and Akihabara as the Electric Town.
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Development of Akihabara as the Electric Town
The rapid economic growth after the war brought about mass production and mass consumption society and household appliances boomed.
People’s life was improved and became more comfortable.
The more you own, the happier you are.
The Three Sacred Treasures, or the three status symbols at that time were, black-and-white televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators.
Then, the new three status were not necessary essentials any more but luxuries, color televisions, air conditioners and cars.
Worldwide reputation of “made in Japan brand” goods and Akihabara, the Electric Town
In 1970, Sony released Walkman, the forerunner of Japan brand product featuring miniaturization and high functionality.
In 1980’s, made-in -Japan brand became acknowledged by the world.
People from the world visited Akihabara for electric appliances, and duty-free shops increased.
Akihabara, the Electric Town, became globally famous.
The advent of computer – Akihabara changed into a mecca for pop culture fans
In 1970’s, the first PC (microcomputer) shop was opened in Radio Kaikan.
The advent of computers changed Akihabara dramatically.
In 1980’s, PC, game devices such as Nintendo, and game software were becoming popular.
In 1990’s, since Microsoft windows95 PC appeared, PC became widespread rapidly.
Sophisticated computers improved games, making the characters more realistic and stories more complex, that enabled games to interact between manga or comics, or, anime or animated films.
Thus, manga and anime, powerful elements of sub culture came into Akihabara with otaku, who love PCs, video games, anime, manga very much. Since 2001, shops aiming at otaku increased rapidly.
Thus, Akihabara has become known as a mecca for otaku and otaku culture lovers.
Card Labo on the 9th floor is a shop of toreca or trading card.
There are toreca section and a duel space.
At toreca section, many trading cards are displayed individually for sale.
Please notice the price of each card.
From a few dozens of yen to tens of thousands of yen, the difference is surprising.
This difference tells you the need for card, or rarity and popularity of each card.
This is the duel space.
You may have a chance to watch a heated match here.
Trading card game was originally created in the US.
The first original game made in Japan was the Pokemon Card Game in 1996.
Later anime Pokemon was produced and gain popularity.
It often happens that popular card games develop into other fields.
Popular trading card games have many players all over the world, including professionals.
Unique cultures born and developed in Akihabara
In 2005, AKB48, an idol group was formed.
It established the new image of idols with the slogan that “idols whom you can actually meet,” the idols cheered and supported by locals.
It influenced Japanese show business and gave birth a new trend that was called idol culture.
Also, a culture featuring the love and affections for cute idols or adorable characters appear in video games, anime and manga is called moe culture.
Akihabara absorbed Kawaii or cute culture and developed it into Moe-kawa, a new trend.
Akihabara is such a rich ground where new trends and cultures are born.
Now, some jargons represent sub culture from Akihabara, once used with negative nuance, have become positive and general terms.
Recently otaku means the person who has strong feeling, deep knowledge, skills and unique sense of values for a particular field.
Otaku as well as moe has been accepted as general words.
Azone on the 7th floor is a shop of dolls.
Doll shops offer parts and items to assemble only one doll in the world for your own.
You can choose anime-character-like face or realistic face with eye balls.
Dolls have fans of wide variety from otaku who love anime characters to art lovers who prefer artistic dolls.
Doll owners enjoy posing their ball-jointed dolls, changing clothes and arranging hairdos of them.
While some owners make clothes for their dolls, many come to Azon for surprisingly exquisite and fine dresses, accessories and small items.
Representative shops in Radio Kaikan
Radio Kaikan is the most well-known landmark in Akihabara with big yellow sign.
If you took a look at shops inside, you can tell what are in now in Akihabara.
Present Radio Kaikan hosts many pop-culture shops that represent Akihabara.
Astop on the second floor is a shop of rental showcase service, a very familiar business in Akihabara.
You can rent a showcase in the shop and display and sell whatever you like using that space.
You pay rental fee monthly and sales commission to the shop.
Rental fee varies due to the location of the case.
In Akihabara, however expensive you’ll pay for what you really want, and whatever will sell if it had need.
Some tourists are absolutely delighted to find goods that they lose hope of finding, cheaper goods than other shops, or character goods of old anime requested by their children or grandchildren that are not available at other shops.
Parts Market is located under the elevated railway of JR Sobu Line.
This is the place where the street venders who dealt in radio parts at black market moved.
There is no other place in the world where electronic parts and device shops concentrate like this.
Everybody enjoys making things by hand, that contributes to the technological development of Japan.
One thing you can’t miss here is the first model of SONY Walkman TPS-L2 displayed in a showcase on the second floor.
It is the memorable forerunner of “Japan brand” product featuring miniaturization and high functionality.
Onari Viaduct and Hatago-cho Viaduct of the Sobu Line
The picture shows Akihabara when the Sobu Line was built.
The viaduct in front is the Onari Viaduct, and another beautiful arche-shape one on right side is Hatago-cho Viaduct.
The elevated railway of the Sobu Line was extended from Ryogoku to Ochanomizu in 1932.
Its height is the same level with the 3 storied building, far higher than the Yamanote Line, another elevated railway.
People came all the way to have a look over them.
The reason why so many railways were elevated was because the Meiji government ordered as such, in order to avoid obstructing traffic by laying railroad on the ground.
Idols, Idol culture and ota-gei in Akihabara
On the 7th floor of Pasela building, P.A.R.M.S theater is located.
There you can see the performance of popular idol groups such as Kamen Joshi or Mask Girls now on the screen.
Speaking of idol groups, the most famous one in Akihabara is AKB48. AKB stands for Akihabara.
For the past dozen years or so, Akihabara is the town where not only items, but also idols are produced.
The way enthusiastic fans cheer up their idols with shouts and performance became well known and popular as “ヲタ芸(ota-gei)” or “otaku performance,” as those fans are called idol otaku.
However wild the ota-gei went, otaku don’t bump each other occupying small space, just like traditional dance of maiko-san, performed in space of only 0.9 square meters.
In otaku jargon, 推す means to support your idol, 推し refers to the idol, and when you perform ota-gei, you can say 打つ ota-gei.
When you 推す your 推し and 打つ ota-gei together with your otaku buddy, you really feel refreshing.
There are many places you can 打つ ota-gei in Akihabara.
Super Potato is a well-known retro video game shop in and out of Japan.
It houses treasures for classic video game lovers, such as original PlayStation, PlayStation Two, classic game cassettes, Nintendo family computers and SEGA Mega Drive.
Old VR games and vintage video games such as Space Invader are also available.
Absolutely a heaven for classic video game enthusiasts.
Gift shop the Akiba
Gift shop the Akiba is on the ground floor.
This is an ideal shop to find standard souvenirs of Akihabara.
You can buy the goods with Akihabara-ish characters on them and goods in season as well as popular sweets among foreign visitors.
Old Manseibashi Station
Nearby Manseibashi or Mansei bridge over the Kanda River, there used to be Manseibashi Station.
The first Manseibashi Station was built in 1912.
Designed by Tatsuno Kingo, the famous architect who also designed Tokyo Station, it was beautiful building in Tatsuno Style characterized by white bands and red bricks.
Being a terminal station where passengers changed trains or trams, the site was always bustle with many people.
There was a statue of famous navy hero commander Hirose and his subordinate warrant officer Sugino in the station square.
In 1919, the Chuo Line was extended to Tokyo Station.
This made Manseibashi station an intermediate station with fewer passengers than before. In 1923, the first station building was burnt down in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake.
The second station building was completed in 1925.
However, passengers kept decreasing and finally the station shuttered its doors in 1943.
Now Manseibashi Station was renovated as a shopping facility named mAAch ecute, and opened in 2013.
Chuo or Central Street, the main street of Akihabara after WWII
This is a picture of Chuo or Central Street, the main street of Akihabara, after World War II.
The yellow signboard reads “Radio Center,” a part of Parts Market.
If you come to Akihabara and stand under the Onari Viaduct, you’ll find the very same place with the picture.
It’s impressive to see things remain as they were and those have changed with the times.
Yes, more than 70 years has passed and Akihabara has changed a lot since then.
KOTOBUKIYA and figure
Kotobukiya is one of the top figurine and plastic model makers in Japan, established 70 years ago.
Kotobukiya has items related to major works of movies, games and anime, such as Star Wars, Final Fantasy, Studio Ghibli anime, that you can’t find easily in other shops in Akihabara.
It launched light-saver-look chopsticks in 2009.
With the popularity of Star Wars, it became a big hit both in Japan and other countries.
The figurine is called “figure” in Japan.
It is amazing that two-dimensional anime or manga characters are converted perfectly into three-dimensional figures.
The work has reached a high degree of perfection.
It’s impressive that different textures, such as softness of the skin as well as clothes of different materials, are expressed so well.
You can see the craftsmanship of Japanese who never make shoddy products but complete in wonderful details.
I suppose this is partly because of traditional notion of Japan, “spirt dwells in everything.”
Gachapon Kaikan is one of the landmarks in Akihabara.
Inner walls of Gachapon Kaikan are occupied by Gachapon or capsule-toy machines.
Have you ever tried one?
Gachapon is very popular among foreign visitors too.
What attracts people?
First, it’s inexpensive.
Second, there are a lot of unique products with good humor.
On the top of that, items are very high quality.
Somehow Japanese people are fascinated by elaborately made small things or miniatures.
Whatever you get, you will be surprised at their high quality.
It’s always a thrill to turn a lever wishing you can get the one you like! Be careful!
You may spend much more money than you expected.
There is Gundam café in the area called Cross Field.
The café is divided into 4 areas.
Zeon’s Dinner Tokyo is a hands-on diner, where you can feel as if you were a military officer of the Zeon.
Restaurant area is a restaurant resembles a mess hall inside a space battleship of the Earth Federation.
Fortune Latte Café offers take-out drink and you can choose taste and theme of your drink.
Goods Shop offers about 360 original items.
[Anime : Mobile Suit Gundam]
The first serial was aired in 1979.
Since then, new series were made one after another to be aired on TV or screened
― really long-running anime works.
Gundam was an epoch-making work in the terms of its realistic and complicated story and setting, when each episode in most anime series was complete story.
In the story, human beings moved into the universe and formed the Earth Federation.
Then the war broke out between the Earth Federation and the Principality Zeon, who declared its independence.
Amuro, a boy and main character on the side of the Earth Federation happened to be dragged into the battle.
Unlike most TV series drama or anime, your side is not necessarily always good and enemies are not necessarily evil, even attractive.
There is not such simple “good and evil.” So why you have to fight for what? What is justice?
The story asks such questions.
It fascinated not only children but also many adults.
Just like Star Wars movies, there are many fans who say they have grown up with Gundam series.
Recofan Akihabara shop
Recofan Akihabara shop is specializing in pre-owned CDs and records.
Uncountable numbers of CDs and records of many different genres are in the shop.
TOKYO VIDEO GAMERS
TOKYO VIDEO GAMERS is a café and bar. It looks like Retro game arcade.
You can enjoy playing games and alcohols here.
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SEEK BASE AKI-OKA MANUFACTURE
SEEK BASE AKI-OKA MANUFACTURE is a commercial facility opened in 2019, that always thrills you with new discoveries and great buys.
As a base where you can seek through, it offers various kinds of shops specializing in your hobby, a café, and a hotel.
This is final STORE, directly managed by “final,” a Japanese earphone and headphone company.
Those stylish and high-grade house brand earphones are worth seeing.
This is 2nd BASE, a camera shop directly managed by Sanpo Camera, which was established in1975.
This shop sells many pre-owned cameras and interchangeable lenses.
If you bring your own camera, you can try to attach a lens to your camera body.
They also offer developing and printing service.
Tokyo Video Gamers