A quarter in east Tokyo where you can literally buy anything that works with electricity, and, in most cases, you can get it there sooner than anywhere else (this is less true for computer equipment, but definitely for consumer electronics). "A couple of square miles" is vastly exaggerated, but for several blocks, almost every building houses nothing but stores for computers, games, home cinema and Hi-fi equipment, household electronics and similar stuff. One exit of the Yamanote Line station there is actually called "Electric Town". On Sundays, they close down the roads through Akihabara because there are too many people for the sidewalk to hold.

Let me dispel a few myths about the mythical electric city of Akihabara, having been there twice in the past two weeks.

Most likely Akihabara boasts the highest concentration of electrical stores in the world. And yes, Akihabara has lots of consumer electronics. And nowadays there are even lots of places that sell computer hardware.

BUT (you knew this was coming, didn't you?), most of things in Akihabara are no longer extraordinarily recent or extraordinarily cheap. You can probably find a couple of the newer consumer goods from Japanese companies, such as Sony, Toshiba, and Fuji, but the technology gap is nothing like it used to be. I've seen most of the high-end models available in Akihabara also available in the states (albeit only online most of the time).

Also keep in mind that cultural preferences might also affect the inventory of things you're looking for. For instance, in the realm of personal audio. Akihabara would be a great place to look for an MD player, but it's portable MP3 player selection is really not so good.

Realistically, there are also lots of things you can't really buy at Akihabara even if you really wanted to. Yes, maybe a personal audio player, perhaps a digital camera, and a boombox even if you're really a high roller. But are you really rich enough to have the really sweet 35 inch flatscreen TV you saw sent back to your home country? And besides that, most likely there will be voltage differences, voiding of warranties, and other hassles involved with buying expensive electronics in foreign countries.

And it's pretty much a mistake to buy any sort of pre-built computer system in Akihabara. From my wanderings, I've found that the prices are high for not so very good computers. Though I believe this statement applies more generally throughout Japan, and not just specifically at Akihabara. However, the small pocket computers are very nice, if you can get used to the Japanese keyboards. Some of the symbol keys are in different locations, and the spacebar is tiny due to the fact that there are buttons next to spacebar which switch between English and Japanese typing. I used to hit these all the time when I started using Japanese computers all the time...and it annoyed the hell out of me.

There is also now another hazard built into shopping at Akihabara, which is the fact that Akihabara now has a reputation. As you can guess, this reputation means more people which creates greater demand which in turn resulted in raised prices. However, it is possible to haggle at most places in Akihabara, though many of the clerks only know basic English. Is your Japanese good enough to haggle with a sales clerk? If not...well, caveat emptor. Having an idea of the price of what you want is a good way to prepare, but doesn't help all if you're an impulse kind of buyer.

So while Akihabara may not be the electronics heaven that it is often made out to be, it is an excellent place to buy all sorts of nice anime and video game related gear. Akihabara has within it's dominion the two seven story anime store monoliths known as Gamers (the store that has been immortalized as Mega Gamers in the webcomic MegaTokyo, and had it's mascot made into a TV series known as Digi Charat as well) and Animate. There are also lots of smaller shops, which basically adds up to a lot of shopping and money spending for the anime and video game enthusiast.

Still, Akihabara is probably the best place to go if you want to do some old-fashioned walking around shopping for electronics. Although buying everything online wouldn't be as much fun, it would most likely be far more practical and easy.
I`m in Tokyo now, and have literally just got back from Akihabara, so decided to add to this node a bit.

Akihabara is geek heaven. No question about it. It has everything a geek could want in the fields of electronics and porn.

There are many consumer electronics shops with big "duty free" sights outside, which offer a good but not exceptional deal. The best stuff is off in the little side streets and on the upper floors of buildings. In these shops you can buy computer hardware, manga, character goods (dolls, posters, cards etc) and electronic components are very good prices. In particular, those geeks who like to roll their own when it comes to computers should be able to fund just about any component they need (even hard to find stuff like IDE encryption devices and water cooling equipment that normal shops just don`t sell (at least not in the UK.)) Many stored spill out onto the street, and once inside you will find them jam packed with an amazing array of stuff.

Keep an eye open for the little entrance ways, often with a flight of steps just inside, which lead to the shops on the upper floors of buildings. In these shops you can get the best deals, especially on used equipment. Compared with prices in the UK at least, 30,000 yen for 500MHz laptops with 12GB hard drives is a real bargain.

For electronics geeks and those into making quiet/modded computer, wonder through the electronic component alleyways. Here you can buy just about any component you need, from LEDs to resistors to ICs. Best of all, it`s all on show so you can get a good look at things like heatsinks and LEDs before you buy. Don`t forget to pick up a soldering iron, some copper board and a kilometer or two of wire while you are at it. Most of it is really cheap, for example massive heatsinks (good for passively cooled computers) can be had for 50 yen, or about 25 pence (UK pounds sterling).

Finally, remember to get a good strong bag from one of the computer places in the back streets. You`ll need it to keep all your newly purchased gear in!

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