Yesterday I went to the geek mecca of Akihabara, aka Electric City. This area is a blend of street venders, shops, and mega stores all dedicated to electronics. It was absolutely surreal, shops had resistors and capactors in boxes proudly displayed for passing shoppers. One stand was devoted entirely to electrical switches, while another was entirely dedicated to data connectors. I counted at least five shops with nothing but various types of wire and cabling.
If you have a geeky side to your personality, you have to include this place in your schedule. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, you could spend hours here.
Now, while mere mortals would be content to spend their vacations shopping and snapping pictures, I was on a mission to repair my iPhone battery pack. To do this project, I needed a soldering iron, solder, a replacement wire, some heat shrink tubing, and a tool for cutting and stripping wire.
Let the shopping begin!
[ Technical details follow, if you aren’t into that stuff, skim the next few paragraphs. ]
I knew that the kind of shop I would need to find would not be a mega store, but instead would be a hole-in-the-wall, down some tiny alley. I mean, come on, the amount of business you get from selling soldering irons is a whole lot less than you get from selling computers and TVs.
Not only was I able to find everything I was looking for, but I had enough time to shop around and get the best deals. 1400 yen for a solding iron, which included a stand, sponge, solder, wick, and heat clips; a total bargan. Most shops were selling heatshrink tubing for 300 yen or more, but I got a meter of the stuff for 84 yen! I could bore you with the details, but I got everything I needed for under 1800 yen, which is less than $20; a feat I’m not sure I could pull off back home. I grant you the stuff is cheap and low quality, but it’s for a one time use. Besides, I’d have no problem spending 2000 yen on beer, and this was way more fun.
I was in geek heaven.
I set up shop in the hostel kitchen and had the unit working again in about an hour. Ok, ok, I’ll try not to break my arm by patting myself on the back too much.
For those of you wondering, I did find replacement battery packs, but the cheapest was 2900 yen, and had a pathetic 1400mAh battery, compared to my unit at 3200mAh.
Anyway, Akihabara is totally awesome, and I wish we had a one-stop part of town like this at home. While poking around I found all kinds of cool gadgets to tinker with. If I ever move to Japan, I will be able to have all the geeky projects I can imagine.
[ End of geeky details. ]
Now, for those of you who were waiting for some commentary, here it is.
Unlike back home, where we kind of turn a blind eye to such things, Akihabara knows the people in market, and capitalizes on it. In addition to the technical shops, there are shops selling video games, comics (manga), DVDs (mostly anime), and then the totally weird, “maid cafes”.
The comics and DVDs run from popular mass market to “ecchi” (the Japanese way of pronouncing the letter ‘H’, which in turn is an abbriviation for “hentai”, which delves in the perverted). What surprised me was that in some shops, the wire cutter isle would be opposite the DVD rack. I guess they know their market and aren’t afraid to sell to it.
And, no, for those of you wondering, I stuck to the required repair equipment.
Finally, there are the maid cafes. These are cafes in which the young girls working there dress up in traditional french maid outfits and serve coffee. I guess there is some sort of fettish about this that totally escapes me. I have to admit that I was tempted to check one out, but I chickened out becuase my weird-o-meter (which keeps me safe while traveling) was pegged, and details about what actually would happen there, or to my wallet, made me feel a little uneasy. Sorry guys, no good stories. Besides, the very idea of it still makes me giggle, and I just couldn’t keep a straight face while there. In case you ever find yourself in town, finding one of these cafes is easy because there are lots of girls standing in the street dressed in their outfits handing out flyers.
Flyers are very popular in Japan (while I’m on the topic), and there are tons of people handing them out to passers by. This is one area where I’m glad to look like a tourist, they usually don’t bother to try to give me a flyer. Occationally, though, they are useful, as I have about six packets of facial tissue thanks to this method of advertising.
And about the title, “otaku” is Japanese for geek, but it tends to imply that the person is also into Anime, Manga, and probably the ecchi variety too.
Finally, the only shops which I found disturbing were the video survalience shops. They sell all kinds of tiny cameras and CCTV equipment, which admitedly has all sorts of ledgitimate uses, but still, there is something creepy about the whole thing. Maybe I just don’t like the idea of survalience to begin with.
Here is a photo of a typical electronics stand.