I think it’s way too late to out myself as a massive manga and anime fan. It’s public, ever since I keep blabbing on about it, falling in raptures over the first manga I saw in a Japanese book shop and going to nerdvana, Anime Japan. As some of you might be just as crazy – and you possibly are since you are my lovely internet friends/readers – I want to introduce you to the weird and wonderful anime world of Tokyo.
No, unfortunately, it is not the world you know and love, where Tokyo Tower becomes a portal to otherworlds with floating mountains or crystals moons, it is not were giant monsters are haunting the cityscape or the population freezes into an eternal sleep. It is much darker and deeper and it is real. Very real. So let me take your hand and follow me to one of the many wonderlands of Japan’s megacity.
In the Limelight – Nakano Broadway
Hidden between grey side streets full of restaurants and sake bars that compete for visitors day and night and only distinguishable from other grey blocks in the district near Nakano train station, the Broadway does not even closely live up to its name. There is nothing grand, flashy or extravagant in it. But don’t turn around!
On the one hand, you can get cheap deals, whether it be the sweets shop (I have never seen the regular supermarket sweets cheaper anywhere in Tokyo!) and there is a lot of choice when it comes to shoes. On the other hand, this is where the best and cheapest merch, books and retro goodies surrounding the colourful world of manga and anime can be found. The first floor does not have much to offer and might leave you disappointed but just go up and take your turns and you will be stuck for hours. Pinky promise.
One shop after the other will entice you to come closer, peek through the displays and see figurines of characters of beloved and unknown to you series. And they are amazing! Why do we only get silly cards and posters in the west? And here’s the best part: they are cheap! And depending on your time and determination, you can find the same article in another shop for much less! It is well worth comparing prices and stock across the mall but beware, you might get lost and forget where you found it. I regularly do. (Hehe I consider myself as a regular, already.)
You can find key chains, figures between 1 and 20 cm, cards, artbooks, retro gameboy games, buttons, etc. And if you are able to read Japanese, the book store full of mangas throughout the ages will take your breath away. And there are deals with one book being 300 YEN or 5 for 300 YEN! Didn’t I tell you you’d love this place? I got a full-on art book for 400 YEN! Yes, you read that right, that is about 25% of the original price.
Where the world shrinks – Akihabara District
Akihabara, the place where everybody tells you to go if they look at your wide-brimmed glasses and declare you a nerd (hipsters go to Shinjuku). Why? Because you’ll probably love it. It looks all very confusing and I am still trying to get the hang of it. My approach is to screw the map and just go into every shop along the main street. And try to take photos of the big dancing banners with kawaii characters on it. It’s tough because they are so tall.
Before you head over here, check out the Tokyo Anime Center. Sounds amazing but isn’t really that much. It used to host a massive store with merch from latest series but has now been downsized into a small store with overpriced items. Leaving that aside, the fourth floor will display changing exhibitions on current animes and might even give you insights into the creative process of drawing one.
If you love gaming, this is a great spot to hop from one pachinko slot to the next, albeit that’s not special in Tokyo, you can find them everywhere. It’s a massive addiction and they are considering placing bans and finding ways to counteract this. If you are looking for more harmless but just as frustrating activities that bring your hopes up, why not try the catch crane with adorable figurines, cutest plushies and undefined looking food stuff. I seriously am mad at these things. Just when I place them the right way, the stupid arm isn’t grabbing right. They are rigged, I tell you. Rigged!
If you need some more order among the flickering neon lights and bright posters, then the resident Animate shop – which can be found all over the country and you can even collect stamps to show you’ve been everywhere – will be your temple. To find figurines is a little more tricky here as they are not in plain sight. Posters on the walls have sheets with numbers on them. Take the one you likw and hand it to the staff. What you should know, tough, it’s a major franchise and thus more pricy and focused on daily merch, such as stationary and mangas (which are sealed so you can’t peek. Darn!).
Get Your Poke on in Ikebukuro (See what I did there?)
Pokemon Center, anyone? You can find it in the Sunshine Plaza and while you are trying to catch ’em all, you could walk into a restaurant theme park with cat mascots right next door, the aquarium upstairs (yes, on top of the building) and if you’re lucky even get a stunning city view from the top. But I deviate. Let’s face it, Pokemon are the way to go, right?
So check out the many plushies of pickahu, marvel at all the new pokemon you have never heard about (feeling old yet?) and delight in the cuteness that is pokemon school supply, such as notebooks and pencils. Did I mention that small figurines are only about $3? Gotta catch ’em all, I say!
Head to Toe – Cosplay Shops
If reliving your fan-fantases is your goal, then why not check out amazing cosplay and wig shops? There are many scattered all around and looking around Harajuku is a great place to stock up on crazy costumes. If you want to recreate a specific character and get the whole costume instead of making it all yourself, why not check out Mandarake and Acos, for instance? Together they have locations in Nakano, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Akihabara.
And once you’re all ready to go, you might want to attend the Anime Japan, the biggest Anime Convention taking place annually in Tokyo. I was there and the buzz was enormous. But it was more talking and getting flyers than anything. Even the cosplay was rather disappointing as most people came in normal wear. Keep in mind, Anime and Manga are a genre consumed on a daily basis and don’t have that hype of eccentricity as they do in Western countries.
Now, if you want to see others being dressed up. You can attend such cosplay events or even combine it with food in those random theme restaurants for which Tokyo is known. From a robot restaurant over eating with vampires (not being eaten by them – big difference) or samurai over to the (in)famous maid cafes. There is plenty crazy to catch and enjoy.
So if you ever feel the need for a big infusion of cute and/or kick-ass in your nerdy life, these are the places that deserve your undivided attention whenever you make it to Tokyo. And keep in mind that big selling series, such as Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pokemon are getting big time overhauls and special editions at the moment. Now is as good a time as any to head over and fulfil your fan wishes.
Where would you head first and do you have a specific item in mind you absolutely NEED to buy?