Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Akihabara - Part 3

In this final post on Akihabara, I'd like to provide a more rounded view of what the area has to offer. While it is true that it currently caters for the most part to those who are seeking electronic goods and the cosplay (maid cafe) experience, it has other sides as well. It caters to a wide variety of fad followers, collectors and those who think nothing of plunking down their cash to get a slice of the latest cookie cutter cutie-pie idols.

For those who don’t know about Japan’s pop culture tendencies, at any given time, young girls who specialize in striking precious poses, wearing different costumes, and dancing poorly are very popular among young folks. One idol tends to pretty much be like the next and the shine usually wears off of them rather quickly and they are replaced by a fresher face. The picture at the top of this post is a line-up of (mostly) young men who are waiting to get tickets to some or other related to such idols. The picture above this paragraph is a fellow perusing a catalog of said idols.

In addition to ticket sales, there are also shops which sell paraphernalia related to these idols. The top of the shop that this card case was located in was lined with cheesecake shots and calendars of girls (see the picture below).

Mainly, they tend to carry various pictures but they also carry sports cards and collectibles. This is a large display of what appear to be little plastic soccer players with over-sized heads. There didn't seem to be many sports cards but there were signed cards of bimbos in baseball shirts saying things like "super fan".

For those who are interested in more internationally-famous geek items, there are less Japan-oriented boy toys available. These items are almost certainly imported and none of them are cheap. The bust of Sauron from Sideshow Collectibles is $573, Jabba the Hut is $178, and the light saber is about $430.

Despite the fact that there are a lot of toys in Akihabara, the price tags on them make it clear that they aren’t meant for children. They are for adult collectors. The huge display of trucks and other vehicles above makes me curious about what sort of person living in Tokyo would actually have a place to display or even store such items. I guess people manage somehow. Some of the (all adult and male) students I’ve spoken with have told me one of their hobbies is putting together models of various vehicles. It’s not uncommon for people to have over 100 models which they have assembled despite having no place to display them.

For those who find this all a bit tame, there is the option of digging into the realistic-looking toy/pellet gun bin. The stuff in the cans on the second shelf is silicon spray to clean the guns. I’m guessing the bags of plastic pellets are some sort of ammunition which cannot penetrate human flesh. It's probably designed for shooting at paper targets.

Speaking of penetration, one cannot help but notice the juxtaposition of phallically-representative devices below objects of interest to those who are looking to purchase some sort of representation of their, um, “love guns”. Could it be more obvious?

For those who find the absence of non-damaging weaponry frustrating, there is pepper spray on offer. It’s rather odd to find these things for sale in Japan since it is relatively safe. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone using pepper spray in self-defense in Tokyo when I’ve read news about attacks. It’s likely that these sprays aren't targeted at people who legitimately want to defend themselves but is mainly for people who want to show off such “exotic” items to their friends.

The shop above looks pretty generic from the front but there are ninja-style weapons for sale in the case on the left (under the fake samurai swords rack). My husband tried to get pictures of the throwing stars and whatnot in the case but the shop owner shooed him away. The shop is called “Variety Shop Angle” and has one of the ugliest and uninviting cartoon characters on its banner which I've ever seen.

All of these places with fake (and real) weaponry are a bit spooky. One tends to think of Japan as a country full of peaceful people who aren’t interested in implements of violence but clearly there are people out there who like to play-act with guns, swords, etc. Even in child-oriented toy shops, you find there are relatively realistic toy guns on offer so Japanese kids, despite growing up in a culture which eschews guns, engage in play with weaponry. If the shops above are any indication, some of them don’t grow out of it. I'm guessing there are dozens of people pretending to be Jack Bauer as I type this post given their extreme infatuation with "24".

If you think this is another maid-cafĂ©-related shot, you’re only partially right. Apparently one of the other things you can do in Akihabara is show off your transvestism. The “maid” on the far right is a man. My husband tried to get a better picture of him but he was moving too fast. He did notice that the people sitting in front of the coffee shop were agog at the big girl as "she" passed by.

I wanted to finish with this sweet picture to show that not every guy who goes to Akihabara or is into cosplay is a dateless wonder. Even though there is a lot of peculiar stuff to attract otaku and it’d appear as if many of them are purchasing various substitutes for real encounters in their lives, some of them are just there having fun and their presence says nothing about their social skills or lack of appeal to the opposite sex…or perhaps some of them are just walking their girlfriends to work. ;-)

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