Day 8: Akihabara Again

The original plan for today was to go to the Studio Ghibli museum, but…. D_:  Yeah, so it was a “free day”. Instead, we decided to go to Akihabara to let Hubby do whatever he wanted and I would just follow him around for a change.

We had another late start and didn’t leave the hotel until 11. It was raining. Again. And COLD! My weather app said it was 4 degrees “but felt like -1”. Yikes. Last night, we had thought we would get up early and go to Meiji shrine first thing in the morning but I was too tired, sore, and didn’t want all that walking in the cold and rain. So, off to Akiba~

We picked up a few snacks at Lawson and then got on the train. Akihabara is only 6 stops from Tamachi on the Yamanote Line. Super easy. And with our JR passes, free.

Hubby wanted to mail some postcards and he had looked up that there was a post office at the UDX buildings but wasn’t sure which one exactly. I had a general idea and got us to the right area and then popped into one of the buildings and asked a security guard. In Japanese. Hubby was super impressed with me. I was embarrassed. The guy lead us to the door in his super professional way and pointed across the street to the other building. (Crossfield was the one we needed.)

We mailed the postcards and then went to the second floor coffee shop for a hot drink and to eat our “breakfast”.

From there, we went straight to Don Quixote – which we call Donki. (It’s pronounced Donki Hote – ドンキホーテ – in Japanese.) At this point, I can’t remember if I wrote about Donki already, but for those that don’t know or forgot, it’s kind of hard to explain… It’s a chain of stores. They sell…. everything? And mostly inexpensive. It’s not like a dollar store… I heard someone equate it to Walmart once but that seems very inaccurate to me! You don’t WANT to go to Walmart. You want to go to Donki.

The Akihabara location is unique. It’s, like, 7 floors or something. That’s not unusal. Most large stores in the urban Tokyo area (or other Japanese cities) need to go up several floors to have room. But the Akiba Donki has an unusual selection of merchandise, including cosplay and… sex toys. They are also the homebase for the girl idol supergroup AKB48. If you don’t know who they are, I’m not gonna get into it. You can Google it. They have a stage on the 8th floor, I think, where they hold weekly performances for those hardcore, dedicated (…creepy?) fans. They also have a small shop for merchandise on the 4th floor, directly in front of the tax-free gaijin counter (where Hubby dealt with our shit while I sat on the floor, to the dismay of many employees – haha). The 4th floor is also where another @Home Maid Café location is. Right around the corner from the AKB48 shop. We didn’t go in this time – we went last time and like the other locations better.

We covered every single floor. I was looking for a few things in particular. If you remember back to my post about the things I wanted to buy, I used a picture of something called Katemete-pon. I originally saw this product on J-List and bought some – because it’s awesome. It’s basically a powder use stir into hot oil when you’re done cooking with it which solidifies it so that you can just pop it out of the pan and into your organic recycling. It makes disposing of it super easy. And not harmful to the environment.

I couldn’t find it on my own but, being the super smart, extra prepared person that I am, I had a copy of that picture on my phone, so I showed it to someone that worked there. She actually called another floor on the phone and someone came up to meet us to take us to where it was. Japan has some insane levels of customer service! But I also felt bad for being such a nuisance. They didn’t speak English really, but gave me a box and made me understand that it wasn’t the same brand but very similar. Through my very-limited, hybrid Japanese, I asked what it was called. It’s Katemeru Tempuru. Interesting. I bought 4 boxes because that’s all they had. I think there are 5 pouches in each box. Hopefully that will last me for awhile.

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After we left Donki, we walked down the main street, Chuo dori, for a bit, taking pictures of the colourful buildings. Then we decided we were ready to eat and, since in Akiba, of course we went to a maid café. Since we had already had a questionable experience, we wanted to stick to something we knew would be fun. We went to the main @Home location. That had been our best experience last time.

I’m not sure how much detail I went into about maid cafés before… There are so many of them, but the majority of them are in Akihabara. The two biggest chains are @Home and MaiDreamin’ (the one we went to yesterday). I mentioned that @Home has a location inside Donki, but at their main, original location, there are 3 separate cafés in one building (4F, 6F & 7F). Honestly, they are all practically the same, but to the discerning eye, there are slight differences… I guess. If you were a hardcore maid café goer, I assume you’d have your favourite maids and go to whatever location they were working at. Whatever.

So, you go inside this derelict looking building, take a rickety elevator up to whichever floor you choose (we picked 4F today) and enter a whole other world. It’s bright, it’s happy, it’s loud. And cute. Like cute walked in and threw up everywhere. To me, it’s the personification of genki.

It’s usually very busy inside the maid cafés (at least when we go) and you have to wait in line for a bit before you’re seated. You walk in the door and join a line, and then when your turn comes, you’re greeted by a super cheerful maid and taken to your table. They bring you a very busy looking menu full of cute food and drinks.

They gave us the one English speaking maid on duty. Her name was Berry and she was really kawaii.

Usually, most people would order a ‘set meal’ which comes with a drink (on which your maid will cast a cuteness spell – audience participation necessary), a plate of food (on which your maid will draw with condiments, something cute like an animal and some cheerful words and hearts and smileys) and a photo with a maid of your choice. (Beware. There are tiers of maids though. Some are more… coveted than others and cost more.) The entire menu is pretty expensive, but the food is actually quite tasty. Combine that with the overall visit, and it’s kind of worth it.

It’s a bizarre, somewhat unnerving experience but also a lot of fun and I recommend doing it at least once. Or as often as possible, like we do. I don’t pretend to fully understand it and there is a certain amount of ick-factor to the whole ordeal (at least 75% of the customers are men), but… I just go with it.

It’s interesting to watch the customers who are obviously hardcore regulars pull out their photo albums and leaf through page after page after page of pictures of them with the various maids.

Throughout the day, at designated times, all the maids will assemble on the small stage and perform a song and dance. We weren’t there to see one this time, but we did watch several maids play one-on-one games with a few customers. (I’ve seen that crocodile dentist game come out more than once.)

You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cafés (since you have to pay for photos) but I snuck some anyway.

After our visit, we went next door to the Akiba Zone building. This was new to us. They built it sometime within the last 5 years. It’s multiple floors of anime/game culture collectibles and merchandise. Hubby shopped around for quite awhile and, after a few minutes, I found a quiet corner to sit and catch up on writing my notes.

I had to use the restroom and was afraid. The buildings themselves are bare bones looking structures, quite dingy in some places. And I hate using public restrooms. But I was very pleasantly surprised. Maybe because it’s a newer building or maybe because I just underestimated Japan’s public facilities. It was the nicest restroom I think I’d ever been in (you know, outside of a super fancy restaurant). It was clean and spacious and decorated in dark wood finishes and, best of all, had the super awesome Japanese toilets. I didn’t even want to go back out into the store. I just wanted to hang out in there.

I wanted to mention I did actually buy something. Hubby is all about buying cheap figures but I came across a CD which I felt obligated to purchase. It’s just a disc of 4 insert songs (songs sung by one character that usually don’t even appear within the anime). And it’s from an anime I don’t even watch and, really, have only “heard of it”. But, the character’s name is the same as mine. And it was only 500 yen. *shrug*

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We went back outside and continued walking around for awhile. Hubby was looking for another Mandarake location and I wanted to go to Gatchapon Kaikan to get a few souvenirs.

Gachapon Kaikan is kind of a must for first time Akihabara visitors. It’s rows and rows of gachapon machines. It’s a cool place to visit at least once, and you can get little trinkety type things to take home with you for a lot cheaper than in stores. (There are a lot of videos on YouTube about the store, if you’re interested.) We had done our one visit in 2010, but I had been looking at sushi keychains in the stores and they were insanely expensive. I ended up finding a few here for my friends and I also bought myself one tiny figure. Again, only 500 yen. It was Makoto from Kanon. We also bought a knock-off “cup girl“.

Sidenote: This same building is also the location for the very first ever maid café – Cure Maid. It’s on the 6F but we’ve never been up.

Hubby ended up buying several figures throughout our trip. I couldn’t tell you which stores he bought them at or how much he paid, but he was very pleased with himself for finding them so much cheaper than buying them online or back home.

We walked back down Chuo dori, having made a complete circle (up some back streets to get to Mandarake and Gachapon Kaikan) and went into one of the many Sofmap store buildings. This is another large department store, similar to Yodabashi and Bikku, but they seem to be highly condensed in Akiba and contain more otaku-targeted merchandise.

By the time we got out of there, it was dark and we were hungry again. Time for ramen! (This was ramen #8 and you can read all about it in the ramen post.) Hubby got a bowl and I got gyoza AND KOROKKE (potato croquettes)! My absolute favourites. They aren’t on the menu at ramen restaurants often so I get them whenever I see them. They were gooooood.

After that, we made our way back to the station and headed back to the hotel.

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I noticed this sign on the train platform. I’ve seen them before but never paid attention. I think they are in all stations. They show where all the exits are located in reference to the train car #’s. Well, that’s helpful!

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