Akihabara is all about maid cafés, cosplay supply stores & all things electronic. It’s where the new, newer, newest of electronics, household goods (like smart toilet seats) and everything J-pop is sold. Akiba has also become the center for cosplaying – people who dress up like characters from manga or anime on the weekends.
Retro-geeks fear not – the electronics components bazaars are still alive and well, but the hottest tickets in Akihabara today are 100% pop culture: comic books (including fan fiction that is definitely not for kids!), anime, idol singers, maid cafés, model making and cosplaying.
To find a maid café that welcomes foreigners: walk along the street (marked on this map) and pass by the maids handing out flyers. If a maid hands you a flyer advertising her café, consider yourself invited. Most flyers have a map to the café on them (FYI they tend not to be on the ground floor). If a maid doesn’t hand you a flyer, assume that her café isn’t set up to receive non-Japanese. The food tends to be unremarkable teenager-boy fare (not a vegetable in sight), but the hourly rate you’ll pay on top of the price of your lunch buys you the experience of being served by girls dressed like comic book maids who call you “Go-shujin-sama” (master of the house) or “O-hime-sama” (princess). (Note: Taking photos of the maids is strictly forbidden, except when bought as part of a “setto” (entree + drink + service) that includes a Polaroid (taken by a staff member) of you posing with the maid of your choice.)
Also worth seeing are an especially weird Don Kihote with a maid café and AKB48 theatre on the top floor and a building called Super Potato: six floors of lovingly refurbished old game systems and games.
The best way to see this neighborhood is by wandering the streets and dipping into any building that looks interesting. But I also highly recommend downloading the one-hour Tokyo Realtime audio walking tour. You can go at your own pace by starting and stopping it, and it’ll not only give you the most interesting bits of history, it’ll also take you to truly out-of-the-way sights like hobby shops dedicated to insane levels of model-making, vending machines that dispense meals-in-a-can, comic book costume emporiums, and the one-stop-shop for collectible Goth-Lolita dolls.
Most stores open at 10:00 a.m.
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist
Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had