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A Practical Guide to Akihabara

The Audiophile's Dreamland

[Italian version]

Reporter: Hiroshi Iwata - TNT-Japan

What is Akihabara?

Imagine a small town (about 500m square) that's filled with audio shops, showrooms and parts shops where you can take a good look at or audition those super-expensive hi-fi components, listen to the sound they reproduce, and buy necessary parts for tweaking. That's what Akihabara (a.k.a. Akiba) is - a truly unique one-stop shopping area or audiophile's dreamland.

The registered member of Akihabara Merchant Union is 76 with about 250 stores, but the figures don't reflect the status quo - in fact, there are numerous shops in Akihabara that sells almost anything from audio, personal computer, Manga (cartoon and/or animation film) to porno.

Of the many shops, pure audio dealerships have diminished to only a handful in the last decade. Akihabara's first golden age came in 1960s with the boom in home electronics appliances such as TV, washing machine and refrigerator. And in the '70s Japan's audio business saw the golden age and thousands of shops in Akihabara and other areas sold hi-fi components. Around 1990, the boom has gone with the burst "bubble economy," and the Akiba shops were filled with the new rising star -- personal computers. Since the late 1990s, another new spooky stuffs are gradually increasing in this area: the Manga shops that sell books and the animation-mania's shops selling plastic "figures" of the characters.

Akihabara is rapidly changing with the "redevelopment" plans that are intended to vitalize the local economy. Therefore, the town will keep on changing for years, so take a careful look at the resources provided here and elsewhere if you are interested in getting there.

OK, let's wrap up boring introduction and explores the audiophile's dreamland - enjoy !

Where is it ?

Around 3'o clock on the Yamanote line which runs around the rim of downtown Tokyo. You can find the Tokyo metropolitan railway map at the following site: http://www2.neweb.ne.jp/wd/anime/shop/tokyorail2.html

[Akihabara map]

Our Akihabara exploration starts with the JR Akihabara station. I'll show you the map written in English at NTT (Japan's leading phone service provider) for your convenience:


The NTT site also carries various tips for travelers and its index page is worth paying a visit. There are other Akihabara maps available on the net, but one thing you have to be careful concerning the Akiba maps is that most of them are 90 degree turned clockwise to save the space. Make sure the directions on the map you are looking at.

Well, going down to Akihabara depends on where you are staying at, but all you have to do is to find "Akihabara." Also Kanda and Suehirocho stations on the Asakusa-line subway are within walking distance (see the railway map).

Places to go

In addition to the following shops, there is a used hi-fi shop and car-audio specialist shop on the far end of the 4th floor. Wakamatsu, a parts shot at the farthest end, sells several tube-amp kits and tube CD player kit that are quite attractively priced (note that all are designed to work with 100V AC).

Places to eat, drink and take a rest

Caveat Emptor

  1. Language
  2. Most salespersons do not speak anything other than Japanese, especially those at pure audio shops.

  3. Souvenir
  4. Avoid buying AC-powered equipment such as amps and DVD players that are designed for Japanese domestic market - they operate with 100 volt AC and won't work properly in your home under different mains conditions.

  5. Never on Sunday
  6. If possible, avoid going to Akihabara on weekends. Literally all the shops, streets and restaurants are filled with numerous PC manias, Manga-manias and a handful of pure audio aficionados.

  7. Tax-free shops
  8. Unless you want to buy a tiny radio or a boombox, these shops have nothing to do with audiophiles. In the case you are buying these stuffs, make sure that the radio is for export and its frequency band (range) fits your country.

  9. Schedule
  10. Don't try to visit everywhere in a single day. There are too many interesting things in Akihabara and walking through the people and noises will surely be quite exhausting. So, relax and enjoy your day in the fantasyland.

  11. Koban
  12. This is literally your last resort - police station. In spite of their poor language ability, the police officers are kind and helpful (well, generally they are !). If you have a problem, ask the person next to you where the Koban is.

As I've explained in intro, Akihabara is rapidly changing. Many truly unique shops (such as OTEC where we could buy almost any sort of op-amps) have already gone, and the large parking lot right in front of the JR station will soon be replaced with anonymous skyscrapers. We lose something, but we do achieve another new thing at the same time. In Akihabara, both are quite exciting for some reasons. I'm sure that you'll love to be in Akihabara. If you are a real hi-fi aficionado.

© Copyright 2002 Hiroshi Iwata - http://www.tnt-audio.com

HTML editing: David Malloch

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