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A brief guide to the otaku universe in Tokyo

By Gianni Simone 7 January 2020

Otaku culture has conquered the world. Not only manga are widely available in different languages, but anime, video games, and idols are celebrated in countless conventions, fairs, and cosplay events. However, if you want to fully experience the real thing, you should make a pilgrimage to the holy land itself. Here’s a brief guide to the otaku culture of Tokyo, the undisputed otaku capital of the world.

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Akihabara

Akihabara, the centre of the otaku universe in Tokyo is a giant playground, its streets swarming with people constantly on the lookout for new and used manga, video games, figures, and whatever else the otaku industry has to offer.

One good thing about Akihabara is that most of the shops are concentrated in a relatively small area west of the station and even the farthest ones can be reached on foot within 10 minutes. Chuo-dori (the main avenue) is home to many of the bigger stores. You can use it as your main reference point and branch off to the backstreets on either side in order to explore the smaller, niche shops.

Though Akihabara’s core area is only 500 metres by 300 metres wide, the sheer number of shops means that one can hardly see everything in just a few hours. So unless you can make more than one trip, you had better plan your visit carefully. Be ready to climb stairs and ride elevators. This is nothing less than a treasure hunt after all. Here are a few of our favourite shops:

Comic Toranoana (4-3-1 Soto-Kanda) is your go-to place if you are into dojinshi (fan-generated comics).

Super Potato (3-5F 1-11-2 Soto-Kanda) and Friends (2-3F 2 Shin-Etsu Kanda Bldg 6-14-13 Soto-Kanda) are the retro-game versions of paradise. The former one is quite expensive, but has literally everything, while Friends has the best prices in town.

Toys Golden Age (4-7-2 Soto-Kanda) is a tiny cramped shop that bursts at the seams with tons of retro toys, from Godzilla and Ultraman figures to giant robots, minicars, tin toys, and dolls.

Radio Kaikan (1-15-16 Soto-Kanda) has several floors of trading card stores for every game.

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Nakano

If Akihabara is the official, attention-hungry side of Otaku Tokyo, Nakano is its opposite, both geographically and temperamentally, quietly going about its business without fanfare, yet attracting thousands of dedicated manga and anime fans by the mere strength of its offerings. Nakano is just a five-minute train ride from Shinjuku, yet it couldn’t be more different from its glitzy, naughty neighbour.

Otaku-wise, its centrepiece is Mandarake, a secondhand goods chain located inside Nakano Broadway (5-52-15 Nakano), an apartment complex whose first five floors are full of shops. There are a whopping 25 different Mandarake branches spread inside the building, each one devoted to a different genre. This is also one of the few places in Tokyo that goes so far as to include among its staff people who can actually speak English and other languages. Here’s a brief description of some of its 25 branches:

(Mon) (1F): Studio Ghibli goods.

Live-kan (2F): dojinshi for ladies.

Galaxy (2F): video game software and hardware.

Deep-kan (2F): dojinshi for men.

(Infinity) (3F): Boy idols- and voice actors-related goods.

Anime-kan (4F): anime scripts and cells, signed sketches.

変や(Hen-ya) (4F): novelty goods, vintage and antique toys.

Mania-kan (4F): vintage manga magazines and books (including Tezuka Osamu’s original editions), records (anime, tokusatsu), movie scripts.

Plastic (4F): dolls (Volks, Blythe, Licca-chan), doll wigs and other accessories.

And don’t forget to check out all the other shops. There are so many, it’s crazy.

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Ikebukuro

Ikebukuro is a must for female otaku as the district’s Otome Road (3-2-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro) is lined up with shops, cafés, and cosplay studios geared to them. Here are a few highlights:

Animate Sunshine is the first building at the street’s southern end and is devoted to cosplay, with shops like ACOS selling costumes (both new and classic anime characters), wigs, cosmetics, weapons and other accessories. On the fifth and sixth floors, HACOSTADIUM cosset is a photo studio providing everything you need for your cosplay shoot, from different kinds of sets and props to photo gear (SL camera, tripods, reflection boards, and more).

Next to Animate Sunshine, there’s a long line of shops belonging to the K-Books chain including:

K-Books Anime Store, the closest thing to a K-Books general store, that sells manga, anime, video games and toys including things for kids (lots of plushies too!).

K-Books VOICE Store, all about male voice actors.

K-Books Live Store which covers Love Live!, The Idolmaster, the Vocaloid genre, and other music- and idol-related anime and characters.

K-Books Dojin Store, considered by many K-Books’s crown jewel, and a place you absolutely have to see if you are into Boys’ Love and other manga for women.

Another female fans’ favourite is Swallowtail (B1F Showa Building, 3-12-12 Higashi-Ikebukuro), by far one of the best-looking theme cafes in Tokyo, where you will get the royal treatment from highly trained butlers with perfect manners and warm voices. It’s the kind of place where you want to wear something smart.

Gianni Simone

Contributor

Gianni Simone is a freelance writer from Italy and has contributed to several English, French, and Italian periodicals such as The Japan Times, Vogue Italia, Zoom Japon, CNN Travel, Flash Art, and more. He is the author of Tokyo Geek’s Guide and the upcoming Otaku Japan Travel Guide. He blogs at Gianni Simone and Otaku Tokyo.

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