Plus Alpha: Searching Akihabara for that One Piece

Vivian, an E3 booth model, takes on Electric Town

Plus Alpha is a weekly column that explores life in Japan from the perspective of American expatriate and game-industry veteran Jarik Sikat. Having worked in numerous areas of the game industry since 1994, Sikat relocated to Japan in 2010.

Just one class away from completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Vivian was forced to take the semester off, since the class she needed to take wasn’t being offered. So Vivian decided to spend it here in Japan.

For each of the past three years, Vivian could be found modeling at E3. But she’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill “booth babe.” A self-confessed anime and videogame fan, Vivian was addicted at a young age when she started watching Sailor Moon, and later played games with her cousin and grandmother on a Nintendo Famicom (NES). “It was really my grandmother that got everyone hooked,” Vivian explains. From then on she was all about Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, although now she prefers first-person shooters.

With a day on our hands, I asked Vivian what she wanted to do. “I want to look for One Piece stuff,” she said.

“Hmm… like a one-piece bathing suit?” I asked. (“Cool!” I thought to myself.)

“No, like the One Piece anime! A One Piece souvenir,” she replied.

Oh! Ok. So we set off for Akihabara.

For Vivian, coming to Japan and picking up a One Piece figure or plush would be too easy, so our search through Akihabara that day was for something totally different and unique – a quest for her very own “one piece.”

Just beyond Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit was our first stop. Boasting the “greatest and biggest hobby items in Akihabara,” Volks Hobby Tengoku is a three-story paradise of videogame, anime and manga character goods. If Vivian was going to find her One Piece souvenir, no doubt this would be the place to start. So amongst the Gundam models, Final Fantasy statues and cups of pudding in the form of delectable oppai (a Japanese term for “boobs”), we began her quest.

What makes Hobby Tengoku such an interesting visit is its rows and rows of rental lockers. Not to be confused with the ubiquitous coin lockers throughout Japan’s train stations, these rental lockers house meticulously displayed items that the locker renters hope to sell; anything from idol-singer trading cards to Front Mission models. While the shop handles the actual sales transactions, oftentimes you can spot hopeful sellers arranging their displays into cool “action scenes.”

Despite a flood of One Piece items ranging from reusable eco bags to beer glasses, it was still early in our search and there was much more to see. From here, though, we quickly learned that finding that One Piece wasn’t going to be easy.

Moving on, we hit up the Figure Hobby Building. The shop has a bit of everything, from vintage Star Wars toys and figures to replica sci-fi film and TV weapons and Airsoft pistols.

Above: Lost among the models

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we take a break from Vivian’s quest to hit up the purikura (a Japanese abbreviation for “print club”) photo machines in the basement of Taito Station. Here, girls only (sorry guys) can choose a costume and have pictures taken in one of the purikura booths. Costume rental is free, while the average purikura machine runs at about 400 yen.

Above: Smile!

The Don Quijote chain of stores is often referred to by locals simply as Donki. Vivian calls it overwhelming. Inside the eight-floor Akihabara Donki, it’s easy to get lost among the groceries, discount electronics, Dragonball track suits, Hello Kitty pajamas and Fist of the North Star condoms. This Donki is also home to two floors of arcade games, a maid café, and the main live performance hall for the 48-member all-girl J-pop idol group AKB48.

One Piece hand warmers? Tony Tony Chopper boxer briefs and jeans? Don Quijote’s got your back! We’d seen it all. What did Vivian think?

“This is the most amazing store ever!” she said.

Of course this is where we found Vivian’s One Piece.

Jarik Sikat has worked in the videogame industry in areas ranging from localization and product development to public relations and marketing. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Newtype USA.

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