Visiting Minato City: A View from Tokyo Tower

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato (港区), or Minato City as it’s often referred to in English, is the business and diplomatic hub of Tokyo. Not only does it boast 49 embassies but is also home to companies such as Honda, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Toshiba, Sony and dozens of others who decided to choose the skyscrapers of Shiodome district of Minato as their base in Tokyo. If that wasn’t enough, there are 10 colleges and universities strewn across the area, making Minato City a real competitor for the title of the Heart of Tokyo, should such a competition ever take place! Yet if it did, it wouldn’t be all the above mentioned assets of the district that would probably weigh the scales down in favour of Minato, but a local landmark and tourist attraction that can be seen from many places in the city. I’m speaking of Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo Tower and the Zojoji Temple (増上寺, Zōjōji).

Tokyo Tower and the Zojoji Temple (増上寺, Zōjōji).

During my flying visit to Tokyo back in 2010, I was lucky enough to visit quite a few unmissable tourist hotspots and recognisable landmarks. One of those was indeed Tokyo Tower located in Shiba-koen district of Minato.

The Indie Traveller Tokyo Japan  Tokyo Tower 02To make my money last while backpacking my way across various countries, I’m forced to keep a tight budget. As a result, I walk a lot – something I actually quite enjoy. And so, while wandering around Tokyo I spotted it’s Eiffel Tower replica from many places. It gave me a feeling of being anchored and the knowledge of how far away from the city centre I was. Finally, after a few days of seeing the tower from afar, the day had come to finally see it from up-close.

At the feet of Tokyo Tower.

At the feet of Tokyo Tower.

Built in 1958, partially from scrap metal obtained from American tanks that were damaged in the Korean War, Tokyo Tower is essentially a replica of the Eiffel Tower from Paris. However, it is whole 13 metres higher than its French counterpart. It managed this after an 80-metre-long antenna was installed on the top. It is this antenna that helped Tokyo Tower keep the title of the tallest structure raised in the territory of Japan until 2010 when the famous Sky Tree opened for visitors.

That warm sunny May afternoon I had a fantastic traditional Japanese lunch with a friend near Daimon Station and afterwards strolled towers the landmark. On arrival, like so many tourists, I purchased a ticket and a fantastically amiable and polite uniformed young female lift operator catapulted me to the top of Tokyo Tower in seconds. Once on top, Minato City, and in fact the whole of Tokyo, unfolded at my feet in all its modern greatness.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.

Roppongi district seen from Tokyo Tower.

Roppongi district seen from Tokyo Tower.

The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay seen from Tokyo Tower.

The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay seen from Tokyo Tower.

Akihabara Electric Town: My Visit to the Kingdom of Gaming, the Mecca of Otaku and the Land of Maid Cafés

Akihabara at the start of rush hour.

Akihabara at the start of rush hour.

My backpacking tour of the Far East in 2012 took me to Tokyo, where I spent a fantastic week sightseeing, eating, cycling, and then eating some more. Tokyo has such an amazing number of places of interest that it’s simply impossible to cover everything in the little time I had. Nonetheless, there were two places which I made a point of visiting more than once: the first one was Shibuya (渋谷区) where I went to experience the Shibuya Crossing, world-famous for the throngs of people that flood it at night and during the day. The second place was Akihabara (秋葉原), the shopping hub of the capital city that specialises in computer goods, games, anime, and manga. It is the latter of these two areas that I’d like to write about today.

Akihabara is a truly colourful place.

Akihabara is a truly colourful place.

Somehow, Akihabara came to be referred to with a few other names. It is popularly known as the Electric Town (秋葉原電気街 Akihabara Denki Gai), but some also refer to it as, simply, Akiba. It is a fairly central district of the capital city that welcomes thousands of visitors per day, both Japanese and foreign tourists, who come here with very specific purposes.

GAMING

Japan Tokyo Akihabara Indie Traveller Akiba

Only one of the many multi-levelled arcades.

Only one of the many multi-levelled arcades.

One of the things that Akiba is noted for is gaming. There seem to be video game arcades everywhere, one next to and on top of the other. Some are huge monstrosities, with multiple floors each devoted to a few different kinds of games. In the evening those places swarm with both guys and girls, gaming in complete abandon. It’s really an interesting sight. What’s more, you can actively participate in it and try your luck at one of the gaming stations. In that, the Electric Town’s multi-levelled game arcades are definitely well-worth a visit, even despite the fact that you might end up losing some money really fast.

Video game urinal!

Video game urinal!

In Akihabara’s gaming arcades even the loos are not exempt from the presence of severe competition. In the gents, the unsuspecting out-of-towner can find himself initially perplexed by the sight of urinals which have been fitted with screens and bull’s-eye-shaped touch sensors. So aim your stream well lads and go get scoring those wee points! Seriously though, I think something like that is only possible in Japan. I certainly have not encountered interactive urinals in any place in the world I’ve been to. Still, it can be amazingly addictive!

Around noon some video game arcades can be quite empty. Not for long though!

Around noon some video game arcades can be quite empty. Not for long though!

MANGA, ANIME AND OTAKU

Piles of manga in one of many specialist shops in Akihabara.

Piles of manga in one of many specialist shops in Akihabara.

Akihabara can definitely be dubbed the Mecca of Otaku. But who are otaku? I already mentioned otaku in one of my previous posts (Japan: The Background of My Trip to Tokyo) but just to recap: our good old Wikipedia informs us that otaku (おたく/オタク) is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests. In nowadays Japan, central to the otaku subculture are works of manga and anime. This leads us to another question: what are manga and anime? Well, manga are Japanese comic books whereas anime is a term that represents animated productions of manga.

Manga fans are spoilt for choice in Akihabara.

Manga fans are spoilt for choice in Akihabara.

Shelves and tables in dozens of Akiba’s specialist manga & anime shops offer a ridiculously large number of titles. For otaku, this is the very definition of being spoilt for choice!

Manga for the +18 otaku only!

Manga for the +18 otaku only!

Manga and anime are created for fans of all ages. The fact that it is all hand-drawn and often coloured doesn’t mean that the target audience is that of kids and teens. And so, as the manga and anime dens of Akiba cater to customer of all ages, it is not hard to find some rather raunchy volumes flying off the shelves.

Things can get pretty hot in the Electric Town.

Things can get pretty hot and the Electric Town.

Japan Tokyo Akihabara Indie Traveller Hatsune MikuAnother thing that the otaku can find aplenty here are tiny figurines usually representing various characters from manga, anime, or video games. Particularly popular figurine appears to be that of Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) – world’s first ever virtual singer. Yes, virtual! Meaning, she doesn’t really exist! Curious? If so, check her video on YouTube taken from her live gig in Sapporo here and be astounded.

THE MAID CAFES

Japan Tokyo Akihabara Indie Traveller Maid Cafe 02Being such a vibrant and colourful place, it’s no wonder that Akihabara draws locals and travellers by the dozen. But apart from the above, there’s yet one other very particular experience that especially the male visitors to Akiba might not want to miss out on: it is a visit to a maid café. Indeed, if manga and anime is your fetish then Akihabara is the best place to indulge it in.

Japan Tokyo Akihabara Indie Traveller Maid Cafe 01

Maids looking for customers.

Maids looking for customers on the streets of Akihabara.

Maid cafés are really quaint establishments. Inside, girls in maid costumes serve their customers treating them as masters of some old household while they themselves are the oh-so-very-humble eager-to-please servants.

I would venture to say that the whole maid café affair is a very Japanese thing, only because I have never seen or heard of it existing anywhere in the world. In this respect, maid cafés can be seen to be as Japanese as sushi or sumo wrestling!

Maids looking for customers near Akihabara JR Station.

Maids looking for customers near Akihabara JR Station.

One of the maids inviting potential customers.

One of the maids inviting potential customers in.

SUMMARY

All in all, I think I’ve given everyone enough reasons to visit Akihabara while staying in Tokyo. I reckon it should definitely feature on every traveller’s itinerary, even if they are not interested in gaming, or anime, or manga, or the maid cafés; a visit to the Electric Town can still provide a fantastic glimpse into the vibrant modern Japanese pop culture.

Japan Tokyo Akihabara Indie Traveller Electric Town

I personally recommend a visit in the late afternoon or evening when the streets of the Electric Town are ablaze with hundreds of neon lights, music spills out in decibels onto the streets from every gaming arcade or manga shop whose door are left wide-open enticing otaku. Akihabara doesn’t allow your senses to ignore her which makes a visit to there a one of a kind experience.

The Electric Town's neon lights ablaze.

The Electric Town’s neon lights ablaze.

Japan: The Background of My Trip to Tokyo

Flag of Japan.

My trip to Japan was very short indeed. In fact, it was just a 6 day long break I took in the middle of my tour of South Korea and I spent all of it in Tokyo area. Although I didn’t get to see the wonderful rural Japan about the existence of which so many of us have no idea, I did acquire a pretty good understanding of what modern Japan has to offer.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.

The 21st century urban Japan is amazing and confusing, fascinating and at times scary. Everything seems to be happening fast. You’re surrounded by the noise of the living city and often maddening J-Pop music blaring out through the speakers of passing mobile-advertisement-vans or from huge screens fixed on buildings above street level. Oftentimes you get to witness a clash of the traditional with the modern – while crossing the street you bump into a genuine sumo wrestler or a monk only to see that behind him walks a perfect specimen of an otaku in full cosplay who decided on an outing beyond the borders of Akihabara, the district of Tokyo renowned for catering to needs of an otaku. A word of explanation to the layfolk: otaku is a person with obsessive interest in anime, manga and video games while cosplay is an abbreviation of costume play which basically refers to the practice of wearing accessories and costumes of one’s favourite fictional characters, usually characters taken from comic books or video games. It’s worth noting that in Japan cosplayers form a real subculture and their practice of wearing costumes is accepted as part of Japanese street fashion. Also, just to make a distinction, to be a true otaku one doesn’t have to indulge in cosplay yet to be a true cosplayer you most certainly are an otaku!

Tokyo seen from Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo seen from Tokyo Tower.

Meiji Shrine in the Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

Meiji Shrine in the Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

Yet even in the bustling Tokyo a traveller or city dweller can get some respite in the immaculately maintained parks, like the Yoyogi Park complete with the adjacent Meiji Shrine, or the Imperial Palace East Gardens. If you don’t fancy any greenery then you can always kick back at a beach on the artificial Odaiba Island. Although swimming is not allowed, the view of Tokyo with the Rainbow Bridge at your feet and Tokyo Tower in the background more than makes up for this. Yes, Tokyo as a representative of modern Japan seems to have it all and my experiences there left me wanting more. Who knows, maybe soon I might find myself in the Land of the Shogun, visiting the more traditional cities like Kyoto, or traversing its islands one after another and having random conversations with the most amiable people that inhabit them.

The frantic district of Shibuya.

The frantic district of Shibuya.

Destination
1 Seoul, South Korea
2 Tokyo, Japan