Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Gamer's Guide to Tokyo: Akihabara

Last may, I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan.  It was awesome, I had tons of fun, and I realized that there's not a whole lot of information for gamers on what to do and see in Tokyo.  Thus begins this series of posts.  I'm going to point out the important things to see and check out in Tokyo, in as many districts as I can.  In addition, I'll point out as much cultural information as I can, so you don't stick out like a stupid tourist.

#1: Getting There

Akihabara is really easy to reach by train.  The JR Yamanote line stops at Akihabara station, and the Akihabara Electric Town Exit will put you right next to the AKB48 cafe and shoppe, Vie de France, and the Akihabara Gundam Cafe.  Head west from the exit to reach the main drag, Chuo Dori.  And hey, you've arrived!

#2: Super Potato (スーパーポテト, suupaa poteto)

Super Potato is really easy to miss.  It's literally between two electronics shops, and if you blink, you'll miss it.  You're looking for this doorway, across from the Animate store.  For something as difficult to find as this, it's definitely worth the effort.  the store opens at 11:00, like most of the shops in the area.

Super Potato focuses on the older consoles.  They have everything from Famicom (NES) to PS2, Gamecube, and original Xbox.  Their stock is great for the items they have, but finding rare games will be much more difficult.  They prefer to focus on maintaining a stock of regular items.  If you want to buy a Japanese PS2, they charge ¥9800 for a PS2, roughly $75-$80 at the time of this writing.  Considering that Japanese PS2s sell on eBay for $150, that's a bona fide steal.  On the 5th floor, they have a few arcade cabinets with a variety of games, mainly retro.  Of particular note is Do Don Pachi, a bullet hell shooter that is infamous for its difficulty.  They also have candy and snacks for sale.

Overall, I think Super Potato is one of the better stores for gaming in Akihabara.  While it's small and doesn't have the biggest selection out there, it's still a respectable shop, and worth checking out.  I found quite a bit of DDR, which I have no regrets buying. All of that cost me ¥3500, which is about $30.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.  I also picked up Star Fox 64 for $12.  Their Famicom (NES) and Super Famicom (SNES) selections are both some of the best you'll find in Akihabara.

Important!!!Make sure you pay for your items on each floor.  This is a culture thing, just roll with it.  Pay for your items on the floor you're on.

Important!!!Smoking is allowed on the 5th floor, but not any others.  You may run across staff and/or customers taking a smoke break up there.  Those with sensitive lungs should stay away.

#3: Trader (トレーダー, toreedaa)
Trader is an institution in Akihabara.  There are three trader stores in Akihabara: here, here, and here.  If you're looking for newer games, and the latest and greatest consoles, Trader is your store.  The best way to describe Trader is the GameStop of Tokyo.  That said, they have some solid selection of DS and Wii games.  I picked up a copy of Ouendan 2 at Trader 1.  Be aware that Trader stores are LOUD!!! They all seem to blast anime/game music at all times.  You will have difficulty communicating with store staff without shouting.

#4: Animate
Animate sells anime and manga.  Pretty bleeding obvious, but...

This shop has a ton of manga and current serialized magazines like Shonen Jump.  If you're looking for older manga, you're going to have a tough time finding it here.  DVDs are going to be region locked to region 2, so don't plan on buying any unless you have a region-free DVD player.

#5: Don Quihote (ドン・キホーテ, don kihoote)
Don Quihote is a trip.  If Wal-Mart did the methamphetamine instead of the customers, Don Quihote would be the result.  The store is a retail shop, but a strange one.  When you walk in the entrance, there's nothing on the first floor except for a vending machine.  You have to go upstairs to get to the storefront.  On the 2nd floor, there's instant meals, tsundere cookies and other snacks, health and beauty products, and off in the corner, they have camping supplies and anime T-shirts for tourists.  It's a bizzarre place. On the 4th floor is an @HOME maid cafe, as well as a video arcade.  The 5th floor is entirely arcade machines, and there's a decent variety on both floors.  There's DDR, several other rhythm/dance games, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Guilty Gear Xrd, Gunslinger Stratos, Gundam battle-pods, and at the time of this writing, a zombie shooter based on the pop group AKB48.  There's a lot available here, and it's easy to spend a whole day in this location if you're not careful.  Be aware that Smoking is allowed in the arcade, so those with sensitive lungs should not spend much time on these upper floors.

#6: Retro Game Camp

Retro Game Camp is a family owned shop very similar to Super Potato.  They mainly specialize in older games, and have a very good selection of Dreamcast, Saturn, and Super Famicom games.  They have a decent stock of systems, and rare, hard-to-find games.  They are worth checking out a couple times over the course of your trip, because their stock changes daily.  There's a cosplay shop up above that sells wigs and other props.  If you need a good wig, they're worth a glance.

Retro Game Camp also runs a couple bargain bins outside their shop, with some real bargains in there.  I found a copy of bust-a-groove for the PS1 that I passed over, but it was in there for about ¥150, if my memory serves me right.  The majority of the games are horse racing manager sims and Winning Eleven.

Where to eat in Akihabara

There's a ton of amazing food in Akihabara, but you'll need to look around a bit.

#1: MaiDreamin
Ah, the infamous maid cafe.  MaiDreamin has a whopping six locations in Akihabara alone.  They're a chain cafe, if that even makes sense.  The MaiDreamin in this building (6F) has two staff that speak English quite well, so if you're worried about language barrier, that won't be as much of a problem here.  To get inside, take the elevator around the corner here.  Once inside, be prepared for sickening cuteness.  The atmosphere is overwhelmingly saccharine, and disturbing on the level of Pon Pon Pon.  The food was meh, the glow sticks died out way too fast (If I'm spending ¥200 on glow sticks, I expect them to last more than one song!), and the offerings felt like a "gaijin special." Even so, You have to go to a maid cafe at least once while here.  The maid that helped our group is a really impressive dancer, and she can sing like nobody's business.  This location is considered the "head store" of all the MaiDreamin in Akihabara.  They have other locations in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Nakano, and Odaiba, as well.  If you're outside of Tokyo, there's two locations in Osaka.

#2: Sushi Zanmai
If you've ever played Catherine, you've seen a venue very similar to Sushi Zanmai. The little plates of sushi come around, you grab a plate, eat the food, and then they scan the plates at the end to give you your check.  Different color plates mean different prices.  There's a Sushi Zanmai on the 8th floor of the Yodobashi Akiba, along with a bunch of other fantastic restaurants.  I recommend the tamago (egg), shrimp (ebi), and if you're daring, I've heard the fatty tuna is fantastic. I had eel (unagi), octopus (tako), and egg, and it was delicious.  They have a menu guide at each seat that includes English translations.  You can also request specific items from the chef. If you're seated nearby, they'll hand it to you, otherwise it will work its way around the conveyor belt.  If you're there in the early summer (April-June), order a melon parfait for desert.

#3: Kyushu Jangara Ramen
Honestly, Kyushu Jangara was some of the best food I had the entire time in Tokyo.  This shop is tiny, only seats about 10 people.  Once you step inside, though, it feels like an old world ramen shop that you would have seen hundreds of years ago. Personally, I love how the outside looks nothing like the inside.  Like a lot of shops in Tokyo, it's very easy to miss this place.

The Tonkotsu (pork cutlet) is amazing.  The broth is made in house from pork bone, slow simmered and seasoned to perfection.  The hard boiled eggs and green onion give some fantastic accent, and additional ramen can be purchased for your broth for ¥150.  The staff don't speak a ton of English, but they do have an English menu that you can point and order from.  This location also sells Ramune, which, ironically enough, I had a hard time finding.  I could get Calpis and Pocari Sweat all day long, but Ramune was a rare find.  Kyushu Jangara is a must-visit location!

How to get what you want
If you have specific games in mind, there's a really easy way to ask if they have it.  Download a copy of the cover art on your phone before going out to Akihabara.  When you're at the store, go up to one of the counters and say "sumi masen, kono terebii gemu wo sagashitemasu." (すみません, このテレビゲームを探しています. (ないですね?) The "wo" in that sentence is pronounced "oh." Show them the picture of the cover art as you're talking to them.  What you're saying is "Excuse me, I'm looking for this video game."  Simple and easy way to ask.  If they don't have it, they may cross their arms or hands in an X shape.  They're basically saying they don't have it.  You can confirm this by asking, "nai desu ne?"   It's broken Japanese, but it works.  I'll post another guide with shopping tips and other basic language pointers.

If you don't look Asian, most staff will be very helpful.  Even knowing a little bit of broken Japanese goes a long way and will help you get the information you need.

Hopefully this helps, be sure to check out my other Gamer's Guide to Tokyo articles coming in the next couple weeks!

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