The secret shops of Akihabara


Sofmap is one the largest game stores in Akihabara. It carries a wide selection of used consoles and recently released games on its first two floors. But the third floor is where all the action is. Crammed full of used games for every platform since the introduction of the CD, Sofmap is a collector’s paradise. If you’re looking for an obscure Sega CD or 3DO game, Sofmap will have it. Sofmap’s selection may not be as broad as Super Potato’s but, but the prices are much more reasonable, making it a great destination for bargain hunters.

Above: Sofmap is another great destination for collector’s and bargain hunters


Trader’s three-floor store can’t compete with the large retro library at Super Potato. It also doesn’t have as wide a selection as Sofmap, or the newest foreign titles, like Messe. So why is it on this list? Because Trader is the most popular place to sell and trade games in Akihabara. With so many games being bought and sold every day, you can always find something interesting at Trader. It’s also a great place to find used copies of new games that are sold out at some of the larger super stores in Akihabara. If a game is sold out at Messe, you can be sure to find several used copies at Trader for a reasonable price.

Maid Cafes

The growing number of otaku in Akihabara in the late 90s created a demand for nerd-friendly places to socialize. Maid cafes soon filled that niche. The first maid cafe, Cure, was established in 2001. Copycats soon sprang up all over the area and competition grew fierce. While maid cafes were originally created as safe havens for social interaction, proprietors soon discovered a market in catering to some of baser fetishes lurking in the depths of the otaku psyche.

Above: A maid passes out fliers on the streets of Akihabara 

The “maids” at maid cafes will often don other sexualized costumes, which cater to fantasies that idealize young girls. You’ll find women dressed in middle school PE outfits at the Angel Cafe, for example. While at the Nagomi Patch Cafe, servers pretend to be the little sisters of customers. Many cafe customers also pay to have maids accompany them as they shop for videogames and anime.

Above: Akihabara’s first maid cafe, Cure

Maids wait on their customers with great care, but are often expected to abuse patrons as well. At Nagomi Patch Cafe, maids fake giant mood swings so as to be more like “real little sisters.” Otaku perceptions of women do not tend towards the mature, feminist, or progressive. At the Angel Cafe, customers can play a strange game of “janken” (rock, paper, scissors). If they lose, they’re required to drink a particularly disgusting concoction containing fermented soy beans, oolong tea, and other mysteriously noxious ingredients. To make the situation even more painful, if the customer loses two rounds of janken in a row, the maid slaps them across the face hard enough to leave a hand print. The strange combination of sexual taboos, misogyny, and masochism found in cafes like these is quite common.

While the sexual context of these establishments is obvious, maid cafes are not brothels. This stands in stark contrast to Japan’s more mainstream “hostess bars,” where business men pay outrageous prices for alcohol and conversation with beautiful women. Many of these hostess bars are known for facilitating prostitution between their employees and customers.

Above: You won’t find any women dressed as schoolgirls at this ear cleaning cafe


  • grayguwapo - November 11, 2010 2:59 a.m.

    Awesome! I've been to Japan before but not in this area... If and when I do get to go back there, I'm making a trip to this heavenly place... Now, all I need is a lot of extra cash to go shopping there... Great article Ryan!
  • TommyG - November 25, 2009 8:08 p.m.

    Nice article. It should be the start of a series of similar pieces - I'd read em!
  • Stockholm - November 25, 2009 7:42 a.m.

    @Everyone Above Me None of you will set foot in Japan. Ever. Not even college boy up there. Wanna know why? Cuz' your mom ends up dying of Lyme disease three days before the trip and you spend the next 3 months crying instead. Most of you who where angered by my comment will likely die alone. This is how things are. Sorry if I offended any of you. How do I know this? Well you'll all just have to trust me. I'm the voice of reason (a.k.a. you're not going to Japan, it's just not realistic.)
  • nikrusty - November 24, 2009 8:26 a.m.

    wow really informative. Thanks GR :)
  • AnonymouZ - November 20, 2009 10:21 p.m.

    i agree with souleater... what happens if you WIN that rock/paper/scissors game oO?
  • rxb - November 20, 2009 1:18 p.m.

    I was lucky enough to go 6 years ago. It really is amazing. I spend ages walking around looking in every shop mostly because I couldnt read the shop signs. Also buildings have different shops on different floors. I kinda wish the maid cafes were around just to try one out. I went on my own so at least I wouldnt get blackmailed. One tip, stay away from the drinks vending machines they are bloody expensive.
  • deathrebellion - November 20, 2009 12:49 p.m.

    *sigh* i wish i cud visit Japan with shitloads of moolah :|
  • wrapdump - November 20, 2009 12:38 p.m.

    God I remember going to most of these places, and then feeling my knees buckling under all the crap I was carrying home on the train. Why do NES's still fetch more than Megadrives in Akihabara?! That call for a gamer's guide to Japanese is a good idea. I'll gladly help if anything like that happens.
  • Unoriginal - November 20, 2009 11:32 a.m.

    Sorry for double posting but: Amazing article Mr. Winterhalter (Kickass name BTW). You just increased my longing to go to Japan one day, and it was pretty substantial already.
  • Unoriginal - November 20, 2009 11:30 a.m.

    @Above Oh man, I am sooo going to Japan sometime!
  • Collymilad - November 20, 2009 9:43 a.m.

    "Fun Fact: The commenters who post things along the lines of "Oh man, I am sooo going to Japan sometime!" will likely NEVER end up going to Japan. The more you know!" I haven't commented before now, and I'm not saying I will go to Japan, but how do you know what people are going to do? It's not like it's THAT hard to go. Douche.
  • Samael - November 20, 2009 9:14 a.m.

    @Stockholm Yeah, except we are going to Japan. We're in the middle of setting it up. Don't make assumptions, you know what they make you. /endrant
  • Dameon Angell - November 20, 2009 7:25 a.m.

    This may be a odd sounding question, but do you guys have a desktop sized version of the picture you used for the news-bar to this article? I thought it was really interesting looking for a desktop picture. Thanks
  • Stockholm - November 20, 2009 5:54 a.m.

    Fun Fact: The commenters who post things along the lines of "Oh man, I am sooo going to Japan sometime!" will likely NEVER end up going to Japan. The more you know!
  • Samael - November 20, 2009 2:33 a.m.

    Going to Japan next year with my college anime club! It'll be simultaneously awesome and frighteneing. We already intend to visit Akihabara, so this was a great and informative read.
  • GameManiac - November 20, 2009 2:08 a.m.

    I think I just died and went to gamer's heaven after reading this article. [Cue angelic choir]
  • TheRussianConcussion - November 20, 2009 1:25 a.m.

    Wow! that was a really well put together and informative article. I thought you were going miss the video game themed bars. Thanks and keep up the good work.
  • defiance0fchaos - November 20, 2009 1:07 a.m.

    Janken is Rock paper scissors, you always start with paper...
  • souleater77 - November 20, 2009 12:19 a.m.

    what happens if you win one of those janken games? you were decidedly circuitous in that area...
  • JoeMasturbaby - November 19, 2009 11:25 p.m.

    this is probably the most fascinating article ive ever read on GR. i knew nothing about this, and its interesting to me. Maybe someday i'll visit.

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