The Tokyo metropolitan region is the world's most populous urban area, with more than 30 million residents. What you don't realize until you visit Tokyo is that unlike, say, London or New York, Tokyo isn't highly centralized. Instead, you can think of Tokyo as a confederation of smaller (but still huge) districts and wards, with notable ones like Ginza, Harajuku and Shinjuku usually among the first that come to mind.
Akihabara isn't as well-known among outside as the aforementioned parts of Tokyo, but is one of its most dynamic and enjoyable areas without a doubt. Continue reading to see the most amazing things to do in Akihabara, which is known as "Electric Town" both because of the type of goods sold there, as well as due to its general atmosphere.
01 of 07
Experience Otaku Culture
When it comes to things to do in Akihabara, it's not an exaggeration to say that most are related to anime and manga. Collectively known as Otaku, this popular segment of Japanese culture not only underlies a lot of the country's character in pop culture, but specific character, most conspicuously Pokemon.
Whether you stop in to the Tokyo Anime Center to see its eye-opening exposition, or at manga shops like LAOX Asobit City and Mandarake, Otaku culture is definition one of the must-see aspects of Akihabara.
02 of 07
Dine at a Maid Café
Characters in Akihabara exist not only within manga books and inside arcade games (more on those in just a second), but in flesh and blood right before your eyes. It's not difficult to imagine waitresses at the dozens of maid cafés in Akihabara on the pages of a Japanese comic book or on an animated TV show.
One common misconception about maid cafés is that they serve a sexual purpose, which is false almost without exception. While there's certainly a flirtatious element to the service you receive at a maid café such as Maidreamin and Pinaforte, they're totally family-friendly, in case you're traveling with kids.
03 of 07
Play Real-Life Mario Kart
If you've paid attention to your social media newsfeed recently, you've almost certainly seen photos and videos of people driving the streets of Tokyo dressed as characters from Mario Kart. It would be inaccurate to state that you can only do this in Akihabara, but it somehow seems more appropriate here than, say, in Asakusa, given the centrality of video game culture to the district's identity.
Whether you book online and in advance with a company like MariCAR or seek out a same-day option once you arrive in Akihabara, keep in mind that you'll need an international driving permit in order to drive a Mario Kart in Akihabara.
04 of 07
Geek Out at an Incredible Arcade
Of course, you needn't venture outside the world to enjoy the full power of Japanese gaming in Akihabara. After all, this is in some ways the historical ground-zero of arcade culture. Popular Akihabara arcades include Hirose Entertainment Yard and several Sega arcades where you can enjoy your favorite vintage games. It's sad that Sonic the Hedgehog can no longer win in the world of Playstation and Xbox, but he's never a loser in Akihabara!Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Step Back in Time at a 10th-Century Shrine
Most of the things to do in Akihabara thus far have had a focus on the futuristic or at least the modern, so it might seem counter-intuitive to take a proverbial step back in time. However, visiting the Kanda Myojin Shrine (which dates back to the 10th century) is the perfect addition to a day in Akihabara.
If you're spending a lot of time inside, walking through the shrine's grounds can reinvigorate you, cutting off the noises of the arcade and allowing you to breathe fresher air for at least a short time. More generally, a visit to Kanda Myojin reminds you of a current that flows through all of Japan: no matter how far in the future Japan makes you feel like you're traveler, you're never too far from the past.
06 of 07
Shop for Electronics and Accessories
It might be tempting, given the ubiquity of "Electric Town" as Akihabara's nickname, to assume that this is the Japanese-to-English translation of its name. In fact, Akihabara means "autumn leaf field" when translated into English, which is about as far from the city as you can get in any aspect.
It's not until you step into a few of the shops in Akihabara that you realize the most tangible reason for its nickname: If it has an on/off switch, you can buy it here. Akihabara's most popular goods are, not surprisingly, computers and gaming gadgets, but you can also find appliances, cameras and even toys here, to say nothing of all the peripheral accessories also in great supply at places like Yodobashi Camera Multimedia Akiba and Onoden.
07 of 07
Practice Your Night Photography Skills
Accessories such as remotes and tripods are essential if you want to properly photograph Akibahara at its most photogenic time—after nightfall, of course. When else would you expect Tokyo's "Electric Town" to truly shine?
You'll be in good company, as Akihabara attracts photographers professional and amateur from distant lands as well as from right in Tokyo. Just in case you don't meet someone who speaks good English, keep the following tips in mind.
Once you put your camera on its tripod and turn on remote control of its shutter, you'll need to adjust the settings, starting with focal length, which also known as aperture. For photographing neon lights at night, the largest aperture you'll want to use is f/8; any larger (say, f/5.6 or even f/7.) and all the lights in your pictures will have a tendency to look shallow and blown out.
As far as ISO and shutter speed are concerned, these are a matter of personal preference, but you'll need to adjust them... correspondingly based on your camera's light meter. Note that if you want people in your shots not to look blurred, you'll need to use a high ISO (most likely greater than 1000) and a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second or faster. You should also remember that higher ISO settings result in grainier image quality, even with high-end full-frame DSLRs.