Home > Focus on Japan 2007 > Back Streets of Akihabara

Back Streets of Akihabara

August 31st, 2007

Akihabara is not what it used to be. It used to be the Mecca of electronics, the place where you could bargain and haggle. Well, you might be able to haggle in some places, but not like before.

I remember, years back, wanting to buy a Japanese word processor–back before PCs were commonplace in Japan, when everyone used these electronic type-writer like machines just for typing and printing. A “Wapuro.” I went to several stores in Akihabara, and asked prices. These prices were always listed for an item, but were almost always marked out in red–you had to ask for the price, and could usually talk it down somewhat. Each time I got the price for a store, I wrote down the store’s name and the price in a notepad, so I could remember who had what for how much. After going to four or five places, I noticed something: the prices I was given were lower for each successive store I visited–the first shop had the highest price, the last had the lowest.

I finally figured it out: each time I visited a new store, the salesman was getting a peek at the notepad I was carrying, checking out the lowest price, and then beating it by a little. I had been haggling down the price without ever realizing it. But that’s what Akihabara used to be–not just the little stores, but the big chain stores as well.

That no longer holds true. Akihabara is different today. Maybe you could haggle, but I don’t think you’d get nearly as far as you could have twenty years ago. Instead, you usually don’t even have to go to Akihabara; you can get good and sometimes even better prices by visiting the electronics chains like Yodobashi, Bic, or others like them in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, or elsewhere. There’s even a new chain, Labi, which just opened up a big store in Ikebukuro. For a straight-out electronics purchase, I would usually go to places like these.

Akihabara has also transformed from an electronics heaven to mostly an anime and gaming heaven. On the main drag, at least, most of the stores seem dedicated to video gaming or some form of anime-related electronics/media. A shop bearing the name “DVD” in big letters likely won’t be selling any DVD players, but instead game DVDs.

But if you want to buy something unusual, Akihabara is the best place for it. For example, I wanted a region-free DVD player, one that could handle Divx files. For that combo, Akihabara was probably the best place; I found a good machine for it. That could be found in the bigger shops, ones that had duty-free sales for non-Japanese.

Similarly, I needed to get a USB keyboard–with an English, not Japanese, layout. I found a shop in Akihabara that specialized in keyboards, and had a few dozen English ones. For that, you have to go to the back streets.


Instead of shopping on the main drag, take a cross street to the streets behind the main drag, on the other side from the Yamanote Line. Here, you’ll find the real electronics heaven. Lots of little stores selling all manner of stuff in all manner of ways. A lot of shops will have these dirty plastic or cardboard bins chock full of cheap stuff, from knock-off products to cheap imports. I bought a 4-button mouse that was identical to a nice one I bought made by Logitech; everything was the exact same, except for the maker’s logo. The Logitech I had bought on sale at Yodobashi for ¥2000; this knock-off was for about ¥600.


It seems that almost anything can be found in those bins, from cables to removable drives to gadgets and toys to, well, whatever.


There was a ¥1000 3-megapixel digital camera with USB port that I was sorely tempted to try out, just for fun. A ¥650 set of wireless headphones. Any number of mice from ¥500 yen up, but the most expensive ones were still cheaper than the cheapest ones at the major retail outlets.


A lot of the shops get way too techy for the ordinary buyer, though–for example, there are lots of shops which sell stuff for people to make their own PCs.

But if you really want elemental electronics, try visiting the place I refer to as The Maze. Very close to JR Akihabara station, it’s a building on a fair-sized plot of land that long ago was converted to stalls in narrow aisles open to the outside.



In here, you can buy loads of just about anything and everything electronic–not computer-related, necessarily, but electronics-related. There are shops which sell nothing but wiring, or nothing but LED lamps and other lighting bits and pieces. One shop sells nothing but old but functioning radio tubes, some priced in the hundreds of dollars. For the home electronics-engineer hobbyist, this place is a treasure trove. You can also find larger components and systems, especially surveillance cameras/closed-circuit TVs, GPS systems for cars, and stuff like that.

These places are the main reason to go to Akihabara these days… unless some big new anime-based video game is going to be released. But I like the back streets better.

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  1. ykw
    September 1st, 2007 at 03:26 | #1

    I think Akihabara electronic parts stores have been replaced by www dot digikey dot com. There are more parts now than there used to be, and one needs a big place like digi to do a good job.

    I am amazed at the high prices of consumer goods in Japan. I’m not sure what that is. I think much is made in China. Perhaps the duty to move product from China to Japan is higher than China to Usa.

  2. September 1st, 2007 at 10:41 | #2

    Akihabara is not what it used to be.

    A comment lament, but not one that I’ve ever really understood. Sure, maybe Akihabara used to be the Mecca for electronics in this country, but I’ve never seen the need to set off on a pilgramage just to buy a DVD player or whatever. Frankly, I’d much rather be able to buy what I want near where I live, even if it does cost a little more–but these days I don’t think it costs much more at all. Granted, I’ve only ever gone there once, but it didn’t seem to me like the prices were significantly better than the ones at my local Bic or Yodobashi Camera outlets.

  3. Luis
    September 1st, 2007 at 10:45 | #3


    Well, that’s kind of what I was saying, actually. Bic and Yodobashi and the others have regular stuff at lower cost. Akihabara, however, still has stuff you can’t get locally. I’m pretty sure I could not get a Divx-ready region-free DVD player at Bic. Believe me, I would have gotten one there if I thought I could. One reason they have that, I guess, is because Akihabara has the duty-free shops, and deals with a lot of visiting tourists who go there to buy stuff.

  4. Andy
    September 2nd, 2007 at 10:55 | #4

    Isn’t Akihabara more famous for its cosplay shops nowadays? I’ve always encountered some sort of cosplay parade the few times I visisted there. There is also some big animation firms in the couple buildings right next to station if I remember correctly.

    By the way, I hate keitai.

  5. Luis
    September 2nd, 2007 at 11:01 | #5

    Andy: haven’t seen any cosplay shops, or I didn’t recognize them.

  6. Andy
    September 4th, 2007 at 16:05 | #6


    You shouldn’t have to really look for them. They should be right in your face once you step off the station. Don’t look too hard.

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