To blame the local mayor for this turn of events, however, would only be telling half of the story.
IDC research VP Tomoaki Nakamura explained to El Reg that the area’s waning tech footprint can be seen as evidence of a maturing market, after first the appetite for commodity electronics in the 70s and then home PCs and notebooks in the 90s propelled Akiba to regional and international fame.
“In the technology area, the smartphone era has come and there is so little room for customising those gadgets, other than bumpers, protection films and other accessories,” he explained.
“But the most obvious reason why those small components shops are shut down is due to large constructions in the area and internet commerce, where people come to Yodobashi Akihabara to actually look at and touch the products and then order the products from home. Amazon delivers most of goods within a day for free – the price is much cheaper than the real mega shops.”
Maids, manga and darts
So if there’s not much tech of any noted on show in Akihabara, what’s all the fuss about? Well, the area has definitely adapted into something altogether more strange and uniquely Japanese.
Taking root initially thanks to the same otaku who visited Akihabara to build and pimp their own computers, shops and cafes devoted to manga, cosplay and anime now dominate the area, turning it into a new Mecca for the nation’s comic book, dressy up, cartoon geeks.
If one also lumps in stores devoted to collectibles, or ‘Hobby shops’, which are frequently devoted to manga and cosplay themes, these cultural oddities now make up the vast majority of Akihabara.
Possibly the strangest to the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the Maid Café. Spawned originally from the cosplay (basically fantasy dressing up) genre, these hang-outs are regular cafes serving regular drinks and food, except the punter is served by a girl wearing usually a French maid outfit.
Beloved of certain otaku due to their talismanic appearance in many manga and anime series, these maids behave in an exaggerated deferential manner to their customers. When we arrived at one particular establishment we were greeted with a phrase which translates as “welcome home master”.
Food and drinks could be ordered with the tinkle of a strategically placed bell on the table and food was decorated with quite ridiculous flourishes.
A ketchup heart adorned my omelette with rice, for example.
Re: Yes, we know.
"I can't understand why Japanese nerds are into manga. I'd think think comics of any sort too juvenile to be of interest to a nerd."
A "troll" icon would have been appropriate for your post if you weren't hiding behind the "Anonymous Coward" mask. First of all, individual nerds like what they happen to like. Some people are huge into Star Trek, others are big on Doctor Who, some build and launch model rockets, some enjoy video games, and then there are some who enjoy reading comic books and/or Japanese manga. Calling someone else's past time "juvenile" is throwing stones while living in a glass house, as I am sure that there are things that you're interested in that might not be seen as worthy pursuits by everyone else around you. You may not have to like what other people choose to spend their free time doing, but don't go badmouthing other peoples' interests either.
With that said, while in the West comic books and cartoons are often (unfortunately) seen as works that should be made primarily for children, in Japan that is not the case. In Japan, comic books and animation are seen as a medium, not a genre, and as a result you can have any kind of story, ranging from light-hearted stories meant for small children all the way up to dark and serious stories meant strictly for adults, placed in animated or comic book form. So calling the reading of all manga "juvenile" is painting with an overly broad brush, because many popular manga titles in Japan are specifically created for and read by adults. And besides, I don't know why you have determined that reading comics and manga has to be an exclusive pursuit. There is nothing that says that someone who enjoys reading comics or manga couldn't also be an avid BMX cyclist and/or enjoy working with technology as well.
But it is those independently owned places that still remain that are the gems - scratch under the surface, and find the hidden shops on the upper floors and you discover the remaining independent traders which made the area what it was. Radio Kaikan may be a hole in the ground, and there may be a different current visibly flowing through Akiba these days, and Den-Den Town in Osaka is slowly falling into the same trap (but still fantastic in it's own right), but stores such as Super Potato (which still sell original unwrapped mint copies of Gameboy Games out of the original carton that was found at the back of an old warehouse for only 300 yen a game), or the hard-to-find Arcade shops on the fringes of akiba (that will let you handle some of the rarest arcade boards known to man, and then sell you a mega pile of spare buttons and joysticks for only 25 pounds) are what really make those places shine.
And what have we got in London? Tottenham Court Road? I'd rather have a Maid Cafe than a DFS, and Yodobashi Camera than PC World, thank you very much....
Re: Two different planes of existence
Agreed, but in this respect at least, it is better here. Under their parents' observation, from around the age of three or four Japanese children tend to be allowed to use "handihanabi" - hand held fireworks that are a little less hot but more colourful than British sparklers. I was introduced to the soldering iron cafe through my eight year old daughter's (sadly) fleeting interest at Tokyo's Make07.
On a slightly related note, I was ashamed when I brought my children to the UK, to be required to leave a room full of toddlers because I had not been vetted. Social acceptance of default distrust disgusted me. It had apparently arisen during my absence and is thankfully not yet present in Japan.