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The secret shops of Akihabara

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 onTokyo’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 touravailable atTokyo Realtime. The site offers audio tour bundles fortwo 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

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