The secret shops of Akihabara

Otaku hot rods

See the picture below? The paint job is so loud it hurts, and that’s the point. Called, “itasha” (painful car), these otaku hotrods are occasionally spotted outside of Akihabara. But it’s in a lonely little parking lot, literally in the center of Akihabara, that one can find dozens of ridiculous rides like these. The drivers and creators of these specialty vehicles usually start to gather in the afternoon after the day trippers and domestic tourists have left for the day.

Above: A painful symbol of a Neon Genesis Evangelion fan’s masochistic desire 

The cars usually feature sexy girls from anime, manga or videogame series. But what makes these mobile tributes so fascinating are their owners. They are perfectly aware of how god awful their cars look and they revel in it. For them, these cars aren’t so much an expression of pride or fandom, but rather one of masochistic desire - something that one can find in other aspects of otaku culture.


Tokyo is filled with gamer bars, but A-Button may be the best. The back of this spacious establishment hosts a massive HD display and nine different consoles. Bar regulars include maids, game industry workers, and everyday fans. The staff is friendly and the drinks are delicious. Be warned though, the place is not English friendly. While you can drink and play as many videogames as you want at A-Button, you’ll need at least some Japanese ability in order to fully enjoy the atmosphere.

Above: Want to see more of the A-Button and other videogame-themed bars? Check out our feature on Tokyo’s underground game bars 

Above: The A-Button is packed with consoles, controllers, and playable games 


Patrick W. Galbraith is the world’s leading expert on all things otaku and Akihabara. The Tokyo University PhD candidate fell in love with anime and otaku culture while growing up in Alaska and Montana. Cultural anthropology is Galbraith’s primary focus, and Akihabara is his living textbook. Every Sunday, Patrick leads tour groups through Akihabara. The catch is that he does it all while cosplaying as Goku from Dragon Ball Z. Not only does he show geeks from all over the world the best shopping spots, he also spends a great amount of time explaining the history and the culture of the area.

Above: Galbraith’s tours are famous for introducing visitors to the unusual sites and shops found on the less traveled roads in Akihabara

These are just a few of the interesting sites that can be seen in Akihabara. The district is filled with hidden and secret shops. “You gotta keep your eyes open, most of the subculture shops don’t have signs,” explains Galbraith. And he’s right. There are so many black market shops, unusual cafes, and specialty stores that he could fill a book. In fact, he has. You can check out Galbraith’s latest book, The Otaku Encyclopedia or find out more about his amazing tours by heading here.

Above: Galbraith loses a match of janken and is forced to chug a disgusting drink at the Angel Cafe. One more loss and he’ll get a slap across the face! 

Alternatively, you can guide yourself through Akihabara using the Akihabara Audio tour available at Tokyo Realtime. The site offers audio tour bundles for two of Tokyo’s most famous districts, Akihabara and Kabukicho. The Akihabara tour is narrated by Galbraith and follows a similar course to the personal tour. The tours also come with an area map and photography booklet to help you navigate.

Photographs by Adrian Lozano and Max Hodges.

Nov 19, 2009

Tokyo’s underground game bars
Join us on a pilgrimage through the taverns and cocktail lounges every gamer should visit

Fun projects for your NES
Clean your console, replace the connector pins, and mod your controllers

Fan Art versus Official Art
A showdown between fan-made creations and their official counterparts


  • 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.

Showing 1-20 of 27 comments

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