On our recent trip to Japan, we planned to spend a morning in the district of Akihabara (秋葉原), within Tokyo. This area, sometimes called simply “Akiba” is known for it’s many shops of electronic items, games, and maid cafes (cosplay restaurants).
Having an interest in robotics, I had planned to visit the Tsukumo Robot Kingdom store, which is one of the only stores I know of that specialize in robot kits and parts. However, after arriving in Akihabara around 9am, it seemed that most stores were not open yet, which I confirmed by asking someone familiar with the area. I was told one of the only stores open this early was the nearby Yodobashi Camera, which was to open a few minutes later at 9:30am.
We waited at the towering entrance and watched as the crowd gradually built up. I took a picture while waiting which you can see as the featured image of this post. The three words above the store’s sign read 安心 (peace of mind)、定額 (constant prices)、and 全国 (nationwide).
When the doors opened I stepped into to what was the most amazing electronics store I had seen in my life, 6 full floors or pretty much everything you can think of: TVs, coffee machines, appliances, and of course cameras and related equipment. The 7th floor, technically not part of Yodobashi, contains a nicely sized bookstore, a massage parlor, and a CD store. The 8th floor contains a bunch of restaurants (I had the best dish of Ma Po Tofu my life in the Chinese restaurant there).
When I say they have cameras and related equipment I mean they nearly everything from many different models of each manufacturer (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, Fujifilm, etc.), to almost every lens you can think of, even the super giant ones for sports photography. Where I live it’s difficult to find a camera specialist store, and the ones I have been to have a small fraction of the goods. I guess Best Buy is the closest match, but it really doesn’t compare in terms of scale and product lineup.
Next to the camera section is the digital scale area, where there was probably at least 30-40 different scales. Next to that was an oddly placed sections of products which are harder to classify, like toothbrushes and special chairs.
One of the upper floors is all toys, including more adult toys like detailed train models and collectable figures. There is also a large section of trading cards, toys for younger children, educational toys, and a huge section of Tomika stuff (known for their detailed car and train sets). My son got quickly addicted to a large aisle containing displays of Power Ranger toys (sort of like transformers) that are free to be played with by anyone.
Of all the places we visited (with the exception of the airport) Yodobashi Camera had the highest ratio of foreigners walking the floors. Electronic gadgets and toys are clearly understood and enjoyed universally, and this store is ideal for any travelers who have some extra cash to spend.
We ended up hanging out in this building for 3 to 4 hours, and only saw a small fraction of the goods available. If you are into electronic gadgets, appliances, or toys, this is a must see place for you. There are 20 other Yodobashi stores in Japan, though I have not visited them and not sure if they are equally massive.
I’m sure there are many retailers that carry these products, but Yodobashi has the rare benefit that you can shop by looking at goods in person, and in some cases try them out, before purchasing. In this day and age that is becoming increasingly hard to do for some things like high-end electronics like cameras.
Before leaving we purchased an English to Japanese portable translation device, which I may write an article about in the future. One thing to keep in mind is that you can get a discount on some of the products which are tax free (免税, menzei), however you need to bring and show your passport at checkout time. I think the tax rate is around 8%, which can be a big chunk of money for more expensive items.