Akihabara, usually called “Akiba,” is famous all over the world as a place to purchase and try out electrical goods but the face of ‘Akiba’ is changing rapidly. In the near future a more balanced range of facilities including business premises, restaurants and shops with a scientific twist will start to appear.
The Cyber-town of today
The Tsukuba Express, a new train line connecting Akihabara with Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture (north east of Tokyo) in just 45 minutes opened in August of 2005. Tsukuba City itself is well known for education opportunities, holding the Tsukuba Science Expo in 1985 as well as for its ‘science town’ – The Tsukuba Academic City. For these reasons, the Tsukuba Express is anticipated to be used by passengers with a high sensitivity to the ever changing world of information technology: ideal in that Akihabara is also undergoing a change in its base service sector as it switches to focus on IT at the start of the 21st century.
When building work in the area is completed, approximately 20 buildings will appear. The Akihabara Daibiru (a whopping 31 stories in height) opened on a portion of the Akihabara Crossfield, in front of JR Akihabara Station, in March, 2005 and is a building embodying a plan to make Akihabara the center of the national IT industry. Daibiru is aiming at securing for itself a business-academia collaboration face as 18 institutes including a Tokyo University research facility and a private institute for advanced applied research have already set up shop in the building – employing just a few of the estimated 4000 businesspersons and academics the building will host daily. In addition, academic meetings, symposiums and seminars will be held in the facility’s convention halls attracting participants from around the globe.
The Akihabara UDX building also opened on another side of the Crossfield area in March, 2005. Counting cafes, restaurants, show rooms, digital workshops, event spaces and studios (1st to 4th floors) amongst its attractions, the majority of the building is geared up for business as the 6th through 22nd floors is dedicated office space and as a single floor covers about 1,400 tsubo, it is one of the largest options for office floor space in the country.
Continuing with the building work, the Fujisoft ABC Akihabara Biru and the Orix Akihabara Biru will be completed in the near future and, combined, are expected to bring in approximately forty thousand further workers to the locale which, when compared to other redeveloped areas such as Shiodome or Shinagawa, is said to have an advantage due to its self administered concept as the “IT center” of Japan.
A Town at the Forefront of Industry
The modern day electrical district of Akihabara is, surprisingly, the former residential area of minor warriors stationed here in the Japanese Edo period (1603-1867). Since the start of the Meiji era (1868-1912) however, when electricity was slowly made available in Japan, electric powered street lights lit up towns throughout the nation. When the Japan Broadcasting Corporation started radio broadcasting in 1926, radio usage rapidly spread as a means to both obtain information and as a pastime. As a result, the wholesalers who dealt in electrical goods such as electric wires, switchboards, switches and radio parts also developed their businesses and grew in number. That said, during the war years it became almost impossible to get hold of even the most basic of electrical materials as priority on the war effort took its toll on the private sector. Even lamps were rationed. When Tokyo was devastated in the March 1945 air raids Akihabara was reduced to ashes.
The Electrical Town
(that is and as was)
Approximately 250 electrics stores line the Chuo Dori Street to the west of JR Akihabara Station and Kanda Myojin Dori Street and while the origins of the modern Akihabara dates back to a 1951 black market, conducted in and around Surugadai and Ogawacho after the war, the area as is was moved under the elevated railway tracks of JR Akihabara Station by governmental law in later years when the boom in household appliances was just around the corner.
One of symbols of wealth during Japan’s period of high-growth and economic prosperity was ownership of a home electric appliance and, as out dated as it sounds nowadays, a black-and-white TV, an electric washing machine and an electric refrigerator were “the three status symbols” of the age.
A little later, in the 1970s, some stores started to sell the then new fad item of computers and the area focused to a large extent on the selling of electronic parts. From this time, the sales of videos, telephone / answer phones, audio and visual equipment and other more ‘intelligent’ home appliances has increased greatly. On the other hand, the level of competition in Akihabara has decreased somewhat as the electrical home appliance field was influenced by mass retailers developing chains and discount stores.
Finally, when sales of personal computer related goods exceeded the sales of electrical home appliances in 1994, Akihabara knew it had been once again reinvented – this time as a cutting-edge multimedia town focusing on PCs, cellular phones and Internet related items.
To demonstrate this fact fully, when Yodobashi Camera Multimedia AKIBA opens in front of the east exit of JR Akihabara Station in September of 2005, its 27,000 square meters of retail space will write anther chapter in the history of ‘Akiba’ as this, one of the largest home electronic appliance mass retailers in Japan sets about attracting customers by the thousand, always with one eye on the future.
A town for the ‘otaku’
Maid & Comics Cafes
As the Japanese game industry developed alongside the PC revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, Akihabara started to attract many game playing ‘maniacs’ (otaku) and in turn created “kosupure (cosplay) cafes,” to reenact scenes from popular games by having waitresses wear the same costumes as those in the actual games. As time passed, some cafes had waitresses don maid uniforms and today sees around 10 or so such places selling both drinks, the service by a ‘maid’ and the opportunity to read comics to their visiting ‘otaku.’
Attractions for Anime Fans
Anime fans oftentimes overlap with the other Akihabara ‘geeks.’ For that reason, shops selling doujinshi (coterie magazines) by popular anime artists, often very difficult to obtain, have been increasing in Akihabara in recent times. For collectors though the fun does not stop there as a number of stores dedicate their premises to the selling of trading cards, figure dolls, character goods and toys.
According to a 2003 survey by The Japan National Tourist Organization, 7% of visiting foreign tourists visited Akihabara that year. For this reason, Akihabara Nishiguchi Shotengai Shinko Kumiai established a special division dedicated to tourism and tourists in November, 2004. Producing maps in English, Chinese and Korean, they distributed these tourist friendly items to 120 places around Tokyo.
Probably because home appliances made in Japan have long been popular as the technical capabilities of Japanese companies caught up with, and sometimes surpassed companies in the same field from other nations, the “Made in Japan” stickers seen today are very much a symbol of high quality meaning that many non-Japanese visiting the capital, whether on business or for sightseeing, with the sole intention of purchasing to take home radios, “walkmans” or stereos as souvenirs. Recognizing this market, the number of duty-free shops and larger shops housing duty-free floors have increased over the years making Akihabara a part of Tokyo with a ‘stateless’ atmosphere.