Plus Alpha: Searching Akihabara for that One Piece

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.  

Above: Hobby Tengoku’s locker-room sprawl

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.

Above: Donki’s One Piece section

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.

Above: The package reads, “One Piece Toilet Paper”

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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  • andresrodriguez - November 15, 2011 12:54 p.m.

    Toilet paper? Truly the One Piece. First by the way.
  • 510BrotherPanda - November 15, 2011 12:56 p.m.

    I think it'd be hard to part with even "one piece" of that bathroom tissue... Wait, I forgot: is the toilet paper in Japan way stronger?
  • rabidpotatochip - November 16, 2011 6:25 a.m.

    I'm assuming it's made of rubber so it must be stronger. ;)
  • fusionor - November 15, 2011 1:41 p.m.

    More like "one ply".
  • codystovall - November 15, 2011 2:29 p.m.

    Naruto is better....
  • Kuroken - November 15, 2011 3:39 p.m.

    Stop trolling
  • Cyberninja - November 15, 2011 6:09 p.m.

    @Kuroken The Man or Woman is entitled to their opinion and may voice it and i wont be trolling just because you dont agree with it. frankly i watch One Piece and Read Naruto and still prefer naruto because the pacing in One Piece is non existent at some points
  • Mezolitik - November 16, 2011 9:06 a.m.

    Stop trolling ;)
  • Ichthus5 - November 15, 2011 3:04 p.m.

    Hey. I think this is an interesting article and all, but...does this really have anything to do with gaming news? :/
  • AxiamWolfe - November 15, 2011 3:50 p.m.

    Variety is the spice of life now ain't it? If you really wish for something videogame related, I guess at some point Jarik may talk about Japan's HUGE indie (ie. doujin) sector. I dunno, just throwing the possibility out there.
  • Ichthus5 - November 15, 2011 4:01 p.m.

    Well, I do realize that this person is a big gamer, and thus has at least a bit of reason for being on a site like this. I just found this addition...odd. I feel like a link to a blog this person has or something along those lines would have been more appropriate.
  • EnigmaSpirit - November 15, 2011 3:42 p.m.

    When I go to Japan I HAVE to spend some time in Akihabara. And oppai usually refers to larger breasts for anybody wondering... I haven't seen One Piece; I've been begged to watch it by a friend, but I rarely watch long running shounen stuff. The episode count is intimidating. I may pick it up over a break or something. Seriously, I am loving these articles.
  • SoulBrotherKab - November 15, 2011 4:33 p.m.

    Good to see gamesradar's video game journalistic integrity is being held up with such great articles like "random girl buys some stuff in japan"
  • garfunkling - November 15, 2011 7:19 p.m.

    oh my word. I would give anything (besides the large amount of money to buy a plane ticket/passport) to visit that one piece section. i hate to play favorites but best manga ever....there i said it
  • therawski - November 16, 2011 8:48 a.m.

    This is the worst gamesradar article, and I love this website.
  • Mezolitik - November 16, 2011 9:04 a.m.

    'Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit' sounds like a Street Fighter spin-off from the nineties.
  • mothbanquet - November 16, 2011 9:43 a.m.

    Vivian can psychoanalyse me any day.
  • Nomino - November 17, 2011 1:51 p.m.

    Someday I hope to be like you, living in Japan and going shopping with beautiful Asian girls on my day off from translating video games.
  • rapmasterRH - November 18, 2011 5:04 a.m.

    I quite liked this article. I know some people have complained this isn't really about video games so why should we care and that's fine but its different and it was an amusing read IMO.