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Akihabara - Tokyo, Japan
No image of Tokyo is complete without a shot of the world-famous Akihabara ’Electric Town’ (Akihabara Denki Gai). Aside from the towering, psychedelic fluorescent light displays, this quirky neighborhood of bustling Tokyo is an insanely popular electronics-shopping district with hundreds of boutiques.
Walking through this small district is a true assault on your senses. Be prepared to be dazzled with bright visuals and pulse-pounding music and voices as each shop attempts to draw in the most customers. Just five minutes by rail from Tokyo Station, Akihabara is a ’must-see’ when visiting Tokyo along with other districts like Shibuya, Ginza, and Kabuki-Cho.
The land where Akihabara now sits began as an overcrowded community frequented by lower-class samurai in the 19th century. It consisted of poorly built wooden buildings that were prone to fire. A rather serious fire destroyed most of the district in 1869—threateningly close to the Imperial Palace. Local authorities decided to leave an open field between the district and the Palace to act as a firewall against future fires. As trees slowly took over the open field, their leaves began to blanket the entire area in the autumn. Locals began calling the field ’Akinobohara’, or Autumn Leaves Field. When a train station was built there in 1890, conductors shortened the name to ’Akihabara’ and the name hasn’t changed since then.
The district began taking on prominence just before World War II as a black market for radio parts. Most of the equipment was funneled through the hands of local electrical engineering students in a nearby college, under the protection of the raised railroad. Despite the best efforts of local authorities, and even the Americans after World War II, Akihabara remained the best place to get cheap electronics.
Today, the Akihabara district has blossomed into the primary location in Japan to purchase the latest in state-of-the-art consumer electronics. You can select from thousands of cell phones, home theatre, home appliances, and entertainment systems. A newer focus on personal computers (link) offered by big name stores like Laox have become the premiere destination for visitors.
Of course, you should be cautious of whatever you purchase in Akihabara for a number of reasons. For one thing, certain consumer items are labeled ’not for export’ and may not be taken out of the country. Another common problem is the difference in electrical supply systems in Japan. Many devices require different voltages not offered in North American electrical outlets. Lastly, for cell phones and other network devices, compatibility with your home network is not ensured, so shop with caution!