With its profusion of shops selling manga and games along with the ubiquitous maids trying to lure you to their cafes, Akihabara has become one of the most distinctive and interesting parts of Tokyo. It wasn’t always like this though. Here are what we consider to be some lesser known historical facts about Akihabara.
Source: Warren Antiola on Flickr
1. It Hasn’t Always Been Known as Akihabara
The Akihabara name only came about after a major conflagration in 1869 which cleared the once densely populated residential area leaving an open field which was retained as a fire break. Initially, it was actually known as Akibabara. The current pronunciation dates from the twentieth century.
2. “Electric Town” Started as a Black Market
After World War II there was a demand for radios and radio parts — met by open air vendors in Akihabara. This unregulated market was eventually brought under control by the Douglas Macarthur led GHQ, but the trend was started. The outdoor stalls moved indoors into dense alley-like malls. While many of these have disappeared, you can still see some on the left as you leave Akihabara Station from the electric town exit.
3. Akihabara was the Scene of One of Japan’s Biggest Mass Killings in Modern Times
At midday on Sunday, June 12th 2008, a solitary attacker drove a 2-ton rented truck into a crowd in Akihabara. He then jumped out of his vehicle and proceeded to stab people indiscriminately. In total, 7 people were killed and 10 were injured. One of the consequences of the attack was that the “hokousha tengoku” (pedestrian heaven — the closure of Chuo-dori to vehicular traffic so pedestrians can walk freely in the road) was suspended until 2011.
4. It was a Major Source of Income for the Aum Shinrikyo Death Cult
A normal weekday commute turned into a nightmare for thousands of people riding the Tokyo subway when the Aum Shinrikyo cult launched a sarin gas attack on multiple trains on the subway system. 13 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 were injured. Later, it was discovered that a major source of income was a successful Akihabara-based computer business which sold cheaply assembled computers. Since members lived communally and without money, Aum was able to assemble the computers more cheaply than anywhere else.
Source: Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr
5. The First Maid Cafe opened in March 2001
The very first cafe which kicked off the craze was Cure Maid Café which opened (and remains) on the sixth floor of a nondescript building just off Chuo-dori. The maid craze was allegedly inspired by the frilly but form fitting uniforms worn by the waitresses at the American-inspired Anna Miller restaurants that used to be dotted around Tokyo. Although the maid craze has died down somewhat, there are still dozens of cafes in the area — each trying something slightly different in order to stand out.
If you’re interested in Akihabara, Tokyo Cheapo is releasing a Cheapo’s Guide to Akihabara. You can find out more here. The guide is free to download on January 23rd.
Maid cafes in Akihabara have almost become a cliche of themselves, catering for the curious tourist as much as the genuine enthusiast. But cosplay restaurant subculture apparently still has some tricks up its sleeve.
Take the Iron Maid Cafe — we had to be careful not to write “Iron Maiden Cafe”! — which opens as a temporary pop-up in the Maid Kissa Tougenkyou from November 1st.
Iron Maid Cafe is nothing to do with a certain British heavy metal band or the notorious torture device. Instead it features maids who will iron your shirts for you, a sort of laundry service cum maid cafe.
The menu includes the usual drinks and snacks, plus you can even get measured up for a tailored shirt by a maid.
The pop-up is a promo for Original Stitch, the American online made-to-measure tailor clothing service run in Japan by insprout.
Ahead of the official opening, some lucky people tried out the ironing service at Iron Maid Cafe, though we’re pretty sure that regular patrons will have to remove their shirts first before the ironing can begin.
Having a maid of your choice iron your shirt for you will cost ¥800 (under $8), while getting a measurement from a maid as well as a handwritten message will set you back ¥1,000 (about $10). It seems you can’t sit there and watching the maids do your ironing, though. The shirts are ironed and returned to you in 3-5 days.
The Iron Maid Cafe is open November 1st to November 16th at Tougenkyou.
Japan has always loved both technology and monozukuri craftsmanship.
So it comes as no surprised that Japan has fallen in love with 3D printing, even if it has meant artists have to watch what they do with it, especially female artists, and some people have been exploiting the technology to create firearms. 3D printers and related services are exploding, and now Japan is ahead of the curve in many ways. The world’s first 3D printing photo booth opened (temporarily) in Tokyo in late 2012 at Eye of Gyre.
Well, now you can create your own 3D figure of yourself (surely less narcissistic than it sounds!) at the aptly named Create Me. Though this time it’s not the hipsters of Shibuya and Omotesando, Create Me is located in the more low-brow district of Akihabara, also one of Tokyo’s most creative and energetic neighborhoods on a grassroots level.
It actually opened in mid-August but is now starting to get some press attention. Create Me uses The Bobble Shop, a 3D figure-making system that scans your face in five seconds. It’s the first use of The Bobble Shop’s system in Japan, which employs tech original developed by France’s Digiteyezer.
Then you can customize how you want your hair and clothes. Unfortunately you can’t (yet) pick up your own “mini me” right there and then, though you should be able to collect your 3D figure in between 10 days and two weeks.
The detail is very good but the figures are also quite delicate, though, being hollow, they are at least very light.
A mask costs just ¥1,500 (under $15) and a full figure ¥3,000 (under $30), with some customization options costing extra.
Right now the system mostly has the clothes and so on that came with the overseas system, though the company running Create Me hopes to increase its original items in the future to better suit Japanese customers’ tastes. Copyright laws allowing, we predict some anime character cosplay items being on the menu very soon!
We’re certainly looking forward to what the inventive folk of Akiba have in store for Create Me.
Akihabara is well-know for its maid culture. Who hasn’t heard about those girls in cute costumes serving their customers in the typical moe-style? But there are various concepts.
One of the latest business concepts are escort girls dressed in elegant suits or fashionable boys clothes. The look is completed by a hairstyle to make them look like a male host.
Bars and cafés with the same concept like Garden Quartz or Queen Dolce are already quite popular among women and also men. Since last year Re.sty now also offers an escort service of the so-called “danso guides“. The girls will go for a walk with you, join your shopping tour, or as their homepage claims they know the best places to go on a fun date with them or enjoy a delicious drink.
With a fee of ¥4000 per hour they are as expensive as the male hosts but maybe they will be even better man then a real man. They also offer a cheaper 40 minutes trial and a discount if you choose a trainee.
We all like the feeling of sleeping beside your loved one, right?
Well, how about those times when your said companion is not nearby or even if you don’t have someone at all — but you still want the experience of forty winks next to the warmth of female flesh.
A new shop, Soine-ya (literally “bed-sharing shop”, soine means to sleep beside each other), has just opened its…er, beds in Akihabara, letting you sleep next to a woman for those times when you want to feel the warmth of female flesh beside you.
Stereotypes aside, we reckon any man (or woman) could relate to this but most likely this will be aimed squarely at lonely otaku (geeks) who want to snuggle up close to a maternal figure.
It doesn’t come cheap, though. Just twenty minutes will cost you ¥3,000 (nearly $40), or ¥6,000 (nearly $80) for an hour.
If just sleeping in a girl’s lap is more your think, you can fork up ¥1,000 ($13) for just three minutes. Alternatively you could get the Hizamakura Lap Pillow.
Since it has only just opened, the profiles for patrons’ sleeping partners have not been updated but at some point you should be able to view who is available for bed-sharing that day.
This may be the first such place in Japan, though its existence does not surprise this blogger at any rate. It is located two minutes from Akihabara Station, so might just make a perfect resting place between otaku figurine purchases.
You get the Robot Restaurant, built at a reputed cost of 10 billion yen ($130 million).
Kind of like the leftovers from an unfinished Mad Max sequel, these scantily clad ladies ride around on large “robots” for pseudo-idol performances, only without much singing or dancing.
Following its opening over the summer, the Robot Restaurant has proved so popular that the charge has now increased to a whopping ¥4,000 yen ($50). Each “show” lasts around one hour and is held three to four times a day. Heck, it’s cheaper than Vegas, maybe?
We do like the nod to traditional Japanese theatre (namely Bunraku puppet theatre) with the stagehands dressed in black (kurogo), since officially they are “not there” as they arrange the set. Actually the whole affair has an air of Kabuki (appropriately for its location) or Gekidan Shinkansen — high octane, utterly superficial and silly, and yet kind of entertaining as well.
There is also an interesting list of types of customers who will be turned away at the door. It includes host and hostesses (or other people working in mizushobai industry — a large amount of whom ply their trade in Kabukicho), as well as cosplayers and otherwise “unusually” dressed people, and even “pushy” personalities (presumably to protect the performers). (Plus you cannot watch the show wearing sunglasses.)
This is intriguing since the concept of the restaurant is definitely Akihabara and Harajuku subcultures, mixed with the naughtiness of Kabikicho — and yet all the genuine minions of these domains might not be allowed in to see the results!
We haven’t been ourselves yet and we wonder how longer this place will be around… but we’re tempted.