Akibizarre: 4 deeply odd Akihabara otaku stores
Akihabara has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most eccentric shopping areas in Tokyo. The high density of computers and niche gadgetry chased off families and eligible women in the 1990s, giving way to a pervasive culture of 'boys being boys' in the most otaku-rich environment anywhere in the world. These too-far-gone Akihabara shopping stops prove the point.
1. Heroine Special Effects Research Center, Akihabara headquarters
The HSERC is dedicated to videos and goods that combine a love of schlocky tokusatsu 'special effects' TV shows and erotic videos. Imagine the Power Rangers as women -- women who are mercilessly beat up by bad guys. This may seem like a highly disturbing concept on which to build an entire genre of 'entertainment,' but this Akihabara shopping beacon apparently is locked in on the pulse of otaku. The chain now has several locations in Akihabara, and these same videos can be found at rental giant Tsutaya.
Next door to the cave-like hideout is Akibattle, which sells the costumes used in the making of HSERC's popular videos of cat-fighting heroines. In the same building on Kanda Myoujin Dorfor, you can also find a cluster of kinky video stores -- Heroine/Amazoness, Fetish World and Battle and Athlete.
Matsui Building B1, Soto-Kanda 4-4-9, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5289 9200, www.heroinetokusatsu.jp
2. Dear Stage
Dear Stage is a performance space for Akihabara’s distinct brand of singing idols. Almost every night, demure young women bounce on stage and belt out high-pitched covers of anime theme songs and 'dempa' (radio wave) music. On Friday and Saturday evenings, events can last deep into the night.
The space is cramped, splashed with neon paint and filled with otaku who launch into a frenzy of semi-coordinated dancing and chanting called 'otagei' when singers hit the stage. Literally meaning 'otaku art,' otagei is all about getting the crowd fired up and energizing the idol. Some fans tear off their shirts and flail about like burn victims. Admission runs between ¥1,500 and ¥3,000, but the show is as much about the rabid fans as the singers on stage.
Dempa Building, Soto-Kanda 3-10-9, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5207 9181, moejapan.jp/dearstage
3. Akihabara Mad
Akihabara Mad is a variety shop that proudly announces it has 'captured the male heart in one building.' Its three floors house a wide selection of gadgets, weapons and pornography.
The store claims to be the first 'weapons shop' available to Akihabara shoppers. Popular items include Nazi accouterments, Batman throwing stars, spike maces, flack jackets, dildos and Bruce Lee uniforms. Dedicated otaku claim it is better to run from the police than to be caught with a bag of such embarrassing merchandise.
Also good to know: the store claims that shoplifting is punishable by death. Those who sneak pictures in the secretive store could be subject to torture and a brutal death.
Soto-Kanda 3-16-15, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 3251 5241, www.akiba-mad.com
Established in 1994, Toranoana is the oldest and largest doujin (fan-produced) merchandiser in Akihabara. There are two stores on Chuo Dori. Most of the traffic goes into Building A, which has dating simulator games, fan-made doujinshi software, fan-made doujinshi magazines and homemade erotic cartoons featuring famous anime characters.
Building B has the same setup, but with male-on-male yaoi anime porn and hug pillows on the second floor. Toranoana means 'tiger pit,' which is how this Akihabara shopping favorite can sometimes feel when new merchandise arrives.
Soto-Kanda 4-3-1, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5294 0123, www.toranoana.jp/shop/#aki_1
Patrick W. Galbraith is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia.