The Alternate Universe of Akiba

Photo by Michael Johnstone

In the northeastern side of central Tokyo lies a district like no other place in the world. 

Akihabara (often shortened to Akiba) is an alternate universe in which anime, manga, and hentai (NSFW) are the new reality, and hardcore fans can come to indulge their every whim. It is a heaven for the otaku, a term used for a special kind of person with an obsessive interest in a particular, and often peculiar, lifestyle.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Akiba’s streets are lined with anime characters on massive billboards, with signs directing you to comic stores, video stores, game stores, and computer and robotics shops. It screams at you from every direction, and in cutesy, cartoonish voices.

I’ve never been what you could call otaku. I haven’t spent countless hours watching anime or reading manga. I haven’t taught myself Japanese just to correct translation errors in manga magazines. For that matter, I’ve never read a single manga comic. Sure, I watched a run of Saber Marionette J when I was in high school. As I recall, the plot was based on a space colonization-gone-wrong and in which few men survived, leaving no women to reproduce. The population was replaced by mixed clones of the original survivors, and with no women to be found, the colonists built android females to, er, attend to their needs. Yes, it’s the stuff of high school fantasy. Yes, it’s slightly absurd. But I watched the series (at least in part) and moved on. This was probably my only  foray in to the anime world.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

So why am I so fascinated, so utterly enthralled with the mecca, the veritable holy land of the otaku?

There’s something so surreal about it. Escapism in it’s most extreme form. Shops full of DVDs, posters, figurines; any form of merchandise imaginable to supplement the obsession. The virtual world of anime is alive 10 or so city blocks. There are maid cafes on every corner, in which young girls dress up like cartoonish, victorian maids and serve their customers with unbridled cuteness (more on this in a separate post!) and where you can surround yourself with others who share your obsession.

One of many Akiba shops devoted to animated adult films.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

I suppose it appeals to me because of it’s extreme nature. And despite the slightly bizarre concept of an adult video store that specializes solely in cartoon pornography, there’s something pure about the idea. Full immersion in one’s interests, even into the realms of human sexuality. Otaku don’t care about the way they are perceived, they simply pursue their dreams and fantasies to the limits of their imagination.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

So here’s to you, otaku of the world. Keep doing your thing. This is your world too, and you can shape it the way you want.

Truth be told, we should all care less about how others judge us and do what makes us happy. Even if, at first glace, it seems a little bit strange.

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  1. Michael and the Maid Cafe | The Asian Persuasion says:

    […] wandering the streets of Akihabara on one of my first afternoons in the endless city, I began to notice an unusually high proportion […]

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