Akihabara? No Thanks. (Vlog Ep. 13)

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I am a failure as a Tokyo tourist. Why? Because I just didn’t “get” Akihabara. Like, at all.

I mean, I got it with the Robot Restaurant. That was an over-the-top experience that was created to be over-the-top, entirely on purpose. Akihabara, by contrast, is unintentionally over-the-top. And the hundreds (thousands?) of people I saw in Akihabara didn’t betray any indication that they were overwhelmed in being there. For them, a trip to Akihabara was just another day.

For me, a trip to Akihabara required three days of not leaving the house to recover.

Akihabara in Tokyo is adventure, but it's not for everybody. Here's what happened. #Tokyo #Japan #Akihabara #Anime #TheProfessionalHobo

This post was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

What is Akihabara?

Also known as “Electric Town”, Akihabara is a neighbourhood in Tokyo known as a shopping centre for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods. If you like any of the above, you’ll probably love Akihabara. It’s known as an otaku cultural centre. What is otaku, you ask? It’s a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, generally associated with anime and manga. You’ll get more than your fill of video games, arcades, anime figurines, anime vending machines, and comic books.

Akihabara madness

Wiki says “The connection between Akihabara and otaku has survived and grown to the point that the region is now known worldwide as a center for otaku culture, and some otaku even consider Akihabara to be a sacred place.”

Sacred. Place.

Maid Cafes

As if I didn’t “get” Akihabara enough, it’s also the epicentre of Tokyo’s maid cafes. I didn’t have the courage to go into one, mainly because I figured it was some sort of tame kink thing for Japanese men who want to be doted on by scantily clad Japanese women in maid costumes.

Akihabara maid snow white
Is that Snow White I spy, on the streets of Tokyo? Well….sort of.

These “maids” line the streets of Akihabara drumming up business. I couldn’t get a proper picture of any of them however, because they’re not allowed to be photographed.

Although tame kink is not far from the truth, apparently, it’s not (entirely) a kink thing. But the inner workings of maid cafes are elusive, since you’re not allowed to take photos or film inside. However some fellow travel vloggers got special permission to film their experience, and watching it was enough for me; I feel I’ve been there. Check out their extremely entertaining video here.

Sexy Sexy

As a wee peek into the underbelly of Japanese culture, Akihabara – with its maid cafes and anime – was bewildering for me. Trust me – I’m not a prude – but the overtly sexual nature of the anime video games and figurines and maid cafes was disturbing. Video games are for kids, no? And even if these video games aren’t for kids, they’re still surely exposed to this sort of exploitation of women, which must have a cultural impact later on in life. I saw a statistic – an old but telling one – that 2,201 men in Japan were arrested for assaulting women on trains (they’re famous for grabbing underneath skirts) in 2004. If you want a comparison, London saw 85% fewer total arrests in the underground that year. I see a correlation between maid cafes/anime and this behaviour; do you?

(See also: Why I Could Never Live in Japan)

Anime in Akihabara
exploitation of women in Japanese Anime


Akihabara Video

So, Akihabara, I’ve seen you. I’ve “done” you. And I was confused by you. Check out this amusing video to learn just how confused I was by the experience.

Can’t see this video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

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7 thoughts on “Akihabara? No Thanks. (Vlog Ep. 13)”

  1. Ah yes the manga-porn connection. I always laugh when somebody quotes a statistic to the effect that most Japanese men read comics. Which is taken to mean that it is a nation of geeks. Um… not quite… most Japanese men read manga ‘cos most manga is soft porn…
    There is an interesting tradition of sci-fi-comic-porn that is not just Japanese. This is a classic example:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarella_(film)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarella_(comics)

    Some academic type really should do a study on the subject.

    Reply
    • Hi Zardoz,
      Indeed – I know manga is more than your average comic book!
      It’s interesting – my Mum was telling a Japanese friend of hers (who lives in Canada) about some of the struggles I’ve had with the overt sexuality in Japan and some of my conclusions about how it’s problematic in society when women are exploited to such an extent. Her reply was a very dismissive “yes, Japan is a very sexual culture. We just ignore it. But how is Nora enjoying Japan?”
      This ignoring concerns me.

      Reply
  2. I also find manga quite disturbing. Those teary-eyed, innocent eyes obviously belong to a young girl but then the overtly sexy outfit is more suited for a woman. In my opinion, any type of porn anywhere is detrimental to women (western society is brimming with media exploiting women) but when it’s presented as child-like then it seems to fringe on pedophilia (I cringe just writing that word). :\

    Reply
    • Hi Lydia,
      Oh my gosh! You just helped me realize why I have had such a bad reaction to the anime – it’s not just exploitation of women….it’s of little girls!!! Wow. Thank you. I can’t believe I didn’t make that connection. That’s totally it.

      Reply
  3. I avoided the maid cafes and the robot cafes, thinking they would be over the top. Watching the YouTube video of the maid cafe, I would have hated them and glad I avoided. Loved watching the vid though, it was hilarious.

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah,
      I actually enjoyed the Robot Restaurant experience, however I went in knowing full well it’s ridiculously touristy and completely over the top. I was actually inspired to go because of Anthony Bourdain, who went to a Robot Restaurant show in his show Parts Unknown, and emerged from the place obviously lost for words. So he ended up saying “that was the greatest show in the history of entertainment”! It was full of sarcasm, but with that kind of reaction, I had to see what it was all about. And, well, you’ll read the post/see the video soon….but it was amusing to say the least.

      What disturbs me about places like Akihabara and maid cafes is that they’re not built for tourists, nor intended to be over-the-top. It’s an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.

      Reply
  4. I have lived in Japan 3 times.. at first I couldn’t understand what’s happening in thier country.. what happened too thier true culture.. now I see everything has been sold out and turned into commercialized sexist crap.. such a brainwashed society.. such a shame… considering thier true past Buddhist culture… everything is lost

    Reply

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