A brightly lit multi-floored media madness that extends as far as the eye can see in all directions. Impressive by day and dazzling by night. The area is abuzz with the hustle and bustle of tourist, geek and otaku from around the world. If there were ever a mecca for anime, manga and video games, this would be it.
On our first full day in Japan, I rose early, fully intent on taking advantage of my jetlagged state in order to see Tsukiji Fish Market – one of the largest in the world – before it relocates from its historied venue in Ginza over to Toyosu. However, the ten steps it took me from the bed to the toilet made me realise my body was not going to comply. I clambered back into bed, excusing myself that I wasn’t really a fish fan anyways.
The alarm went off again. Time to leave if we want to visit Asakusa, home to the popular Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple. I take one look at my partner’s crusted red panda eyes. Not going to happen. Plenty of less crowded temples in our itinerary anyway.
On the other hand, I am a video game designer, a fan of video games and a sucker for that neon-Tokyo vibe. So when the third and final alarm goes off there’s no physical force that can hold me there any longer. I spring out of bed and start rounding up the troops.
The whole sequence up until we arrived at Akihabara Station went something like this…
The sunlight is beaming down as we exit the station. The streets we saw fleeting glimpses of on the train come fully into focus.
The rhythm and flow of the crowd sweep us along through the side streets and out onto the estuary that meets the main artery. It’s mid-day Sunday and the streets are sealed off from anything but foot traffic.
And so, we walk.
It’s not long before we reach the limits of the pedestrian safety zone but down every street that extends from the trunk of the area, we see something we want to explore.
So we keep moving out into the unknown.
Everything normal about the city excites us. We’re just dumbstruck tourists and that’s OK. We agree to embrace it and breathe in every little detail.
Before we know it we’ve strayed from our planned route and are heading West with no reservations. Even with children and bags strapped to us as we navigate the wide open strips and narrow corridors, this city is just so walkable.
Some steps we spot at the end of an alleyway across the street (Myojin Otoko-zaka Stair) call to us. Atop them we arrive at an open courtyard area that houses many Shinto shrines. Here the slower pace gives us time to breathe and take in some of the sights, sounds and flavours without the clamour of the crowd.
We pick up some Takoyaki and head for a local park to give ourselves a chance to refuel. However, the smushy, hot and gooey crunch of the fried seafood balls don’t sit well with me as I sit on a hard stone stool in the park and contemplate the reason there would be a statue of a bear with giant testicles in front of the restaurant.
I had promised to try everything, even things I knew I had little chance of liking the flavour of. Though, at that point, I was wondering if now would be a good time to pick up an ice cold beer and a cigarette to ‘cleanse my pallet’.
I’m glad I abstained.
Distracting myself with a stroll through the seemingly wacky urban landscape was a better call. My mind soon forgot the tongues complaint as my eyes scanned between the beautiful floral displays of the houses we passed on the way back towards Akihabara proper.
Though, it wasn’t long before the homes turned to hotels and businesses before abruptly shifting to the splendour of the safe-zone we had left behind a couple of hours before.
My son and I managed to reinvigorate each other’s spirits by searching for Totoro among the many shops and department stores that line Chuo Dori. After a short and fruitful search, we realised our happiness wouldn’t carry us much further.
Our tummies grumbled as the golden arches of McDonald‘s shone like a beacon through the early evening glow of the city. I threw that Western tourist shame to the kerb as I reasoned that we’d only be good parents and travellers if we made sure to sample the unique menu items that can only be found inside the country.
…oh, and something for my child. Sorry about that, son. Almost forgot you there!
Obviously, the language barrier dictated we revert to the point-and-grunt method of ordering. Just remember to be patient and smile.
With our desires sated we swiftly got back amongst it all. The evening was casting its shadow down between the high-rises, increasing the contrast between the vibrantly stacked lighting of the buildings and the steel, glass and concrete that composes their structures. Navigation intensified as the roads reopened, constricting the once arterial flow of people, funnelling them into a starting and stopping mass along the pavements.
As the back alleys and major routes became too much for our senses we chose to take the paths that provided the least resistance. Cutting through department stores and arcades, over walkways and under rail bridges. The path less taken provided some nice surprises.
A few destinations of note were:
- Hirose Entertainment Yard (HEY) – an unconstrained and affordable arcade where we tried our hand at bagging a Minion toy, as well was failed our way through the highly renowned train simulator game, Densha de GO!
- Eorzea Cafe, Pasela Resort – where we had to turn around as soon as we saw the sold-out queue in the lobby (Riiko’s reservation guide may have saved us some heart-ache!)
- Kanda Fire Station, Tokyo Fire Department – which has an impressive array of emergency vehicles visible through it’s windowed, four-doored frontage.
- MariCAR, Akihabara – which are, suitably, near the fire station, and are where you can drive go-karts that, according to them are “…in no way a reflection of the game Mario Kart”
- Yodabashi Camera – which appeared to be simply where all the technology is housed, along with the Square-Enix Cafe, Beard Papa and a long wall of Gachapon machines, just cause they aren’t satisfied with taking all of your money.
- Akiba Showadorikan – another Pasela joint lurking down an alleyway that caught my eye with its confusing advertising mix that included honey toast, Ultraman, karaoke and “Usage such as durable human color etc is infinite!”
Needless to say that when we returned to our apartment in Minato we felt we had made the most of the day, despite cutting our itinerary in half. There is just so much to do in a city that is as dense as it is sprawling. You could spend a week trying to experience all Akihabara offers and you’d still be nowhere near close to content that you’d seen even just the things that interest you.
Still, we couldn’t stay in the muggy heat of the city for another whole day. We had plans to escape: an ocean spray to feel, an island to explore and trams to ride…
Next stop, Kamakura.