The 9 Best Things to Do in Akihabara, Tokyo

Colorful signs in Akhibara

TripSavvy / Maria Ligaya

The Tokyo metropolitan region is the world's most populous urban area, with more than 30 million residents. But what you may not realize until you visit is that Tokyo, unlike London or New York, isn't a centralized city. Instead, it's a confederation of smaller (but still huge) districts and wards, with the most notable being Ginza, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. And while Akihabara isn't as well-known among newcomers as its aforementioned counterparts, it's still one of the most dynamic and enjoyable areas of Tokyo.

From dining at animated cafés to racing Mario Karts in real life, "Electric Town" is full of pop culture pastimes.

01 of 09

Sample Some of the Best Ramen in Tokyo

Person lifting noodles from bowl of ramen with chopsticks

Jimin Shi-Longo / EyeEm / Getty Images

People may come to Akihabara for the anime and electronics, but they stay for the savory noodle soup. Ramen is a quintessential Tokyo dish, and this bustling shopping hub is a top spot for it. It wasn't always that way, though—when Akihabara first became known as "Electric Town," the computer-stocked shops wanted nothing less than restaurants selling watery specialties next door.

But times have changed, and Akihabara has blossomed into a ramen paradise. Foodie visitors must try the salt-based tokusei shio soba from Motenashi Kuroki, the shoyu (soy sauce) ramen from Ramen Tenjinshita Daiki, and the Hakata-style ramen from Tanaka Sobaten. All are within a 10-minute walk from Akihabara Station.

02 of 09

Collect Capsule Toys

Bicycle parked in front of capsule toy vending machines

Eric Lafforgue / Art in All of Us / Contributor / Getty Images

Japan, 〒101-0021 Tokyo, Chiyoda City, Sotokanda, 3-chōme−15−5 Mnビル 1F
Phone +81 3-5209-6020

Gachapon, also called capsule toys, are toys from vending machines that come packaged in palm-sized plastic pods. They're all the rage in Akihabara—to such an extent that there's entire alleys dedicated to them.

You'll find vending machines containing the toys on almost any street, but to see one of the most magnificent collections of gachapon machines, visit the Akihabara Gachapon Hall. Here, machines stretch from the floor to the ceiling. Capsules contain anything from tiny anime characters to replicas of famous landmarks.

03 of 09

Experience Otaku Culture

Akihabara - Mecca Of Electronics

Chris McGrath/Staff/Getty Images

To say Akihabara is all about anime (Japanese hand-drawn and computer animation) and manga (Japanese graphic novels) is an understatement. To get a real sense of otaku culture—in other words, computer and pop-culture obsession—peruse the collectibles and exhibitions at the Tokyo Anime Center.

At manga shops like Mandarake, you'll find everything from trinkets and gaming figurines to makeup. You may even run into the most conspicuous character of all, and the epitome of otaku culture, Pokémon.

04 of 09

Dine at a Maid Café

Akihabara - Mecca Of Electronics

Chris McGrath/Staff/Getty Images

3-chōme-16-17 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0021, Japan
Phone +81 120-229-348

Manga characters are everywhere in Akihabara, so it's not difficult to imagine the waitresses in maid cafés coming straight out of Japanese comic books. In fact, these cafés are all about bringing comic books to life. And while some locales have a flirtatious element to the service, ones like Maidreamin and Pinafore are family-friendly and suitable for both character-loving youngsters and game-obsessed adults.

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05 of 09

Play Real-Life Mario Kart

MariCar Tokyo

MariCar Tokyo

4-chōme-12-9 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0021, Japan
Phone +81 80-8899-8899

If you follow otaku-inspired social media profiles, you've certainly seen photos and videos of people driving the streets of Tokyo dressed as characters from "Mario Kart." This is one of the more popular and quirky activities to do in Tokyo, but it's somehow even more appropriate to take part in Akihabara, given the district's gaming culture. Book your ride in advance with a company like MariCAR or seek out a same-day option once you arrive.

Keep in mind that you'll need an international driving permit to engage in this activity.

06 of 09

Visit a 10th-Century Shrine

Entrance to Kanda Myojin

TripSavvy / Ryan Smith

2-chōme-16-2 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0021, Japan
Phone +81 3-3254-0753

Most Akihabara ventures involve futuristic or at least modernistic affairs. But you can also step back to the 10th century by visiting the Kanda Myojin Shrine. Here, you'll get a break from the bright lights and seemingly constant movement of the gaming vibe.

This shrine pays homage to three gods: the god of marriage (Onamuchinomikoto), the god of business prosperity (Sukunahikonanomikoto), and the god of expelling evil (Tairanomasakadonomikoto). Renew your vows before the god of marriage or take a stroll through the shrine's outdoor grounds to remind you that no matter how far in the future Japan may feel, you're never too far from the past.

07 of 09

Shop for Electronics and Accessories

Japan Akihabara

Yamaguchi Haruyoshi/Contributor/Getty Images

Step into just a few shops in Akihabara and you'll get the full gist of the region's "Electric Town" moniker. Almost anything with an on-off switch can be purchased here. Akihabara's most popular goods are, not surprisingly, computers and gaming gadgets, but you can also find appliances, cameras, and toys. In some stores like Yamada Denki LABI, you can flash your passport to enjoy a tax-free purchase. Or, browse through thousands of peripheral accessories at places like Yodobashi Camera Multimedia Akiba and Onoden.

08 of 09

Get Your Photo Taken at Studio Crown

Two people dressed up in cosplay posing for photo

mbbirdy / Getty Images

Cosplay (or "costume play") is popular among those in the performing arts trade. But it's also a fun hipster pastime, too, especially in Japan. Studio Crown sets the stage for you at their cosplay photography studio. Within a quick six-minute walk from Electric City, you can rent costumes and wigs for parading around the streets of Akibahara. Or, reserve your space in their studio to have the staff adorn you in dress and makeup, and then take a Polaroid to bring home as a souvenir.

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09 of 09

Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour

Tourist in yellow jacket walking along busy street in Akihabara

Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

There's no better place to break out a high-tech app and go on a tour, as everyone in Electric Town is literally "plugged in." GPSmyCity offers wonderful tours of a thousand cites and is available for use on both IOS and Android devices. Its Akihabara tour takes you on a jaunt down the main drag, Chuo Dori, and then routes you onto side streets and alleys filled with electronics shops, anime exhibitions, and chain stores. Bonus—the app's GPS remains active even when disconnected from Wi-Fi or cell service. So, you don't have to purchase an expensive overseas data plan to use it.

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The 9 Best Things to Do in Akihabara, Tokyo