Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Otaku Shopping in Tokyo

I’ve been to Japan annually four times in the last four years and every time I go I spend the majority (or all) of my time in Tokyo. Although I’m there not exclusively for shopping, I do spend quite a bit of time (and money) on “hauls” to bring back to Canada in my luggage. Every year I go tends to be different than the last. This is due to the discovery of new shops, spending more time scouring shops in different areas, or because some of the shops from the previous year are gone entirely. However, if you know what you’re shopping for, you just need to know the general area to get it. The shops may have changed, but the type of goods you can find in each area tends to stay the same.

Where to shop in Tokyo

I suppose I don’t even need to tell any of you that Akihabara is a prime source for finding what you’re looking for. However, it isn’t the cheapest or the only place you’ll find things. Recently, Nakano Broadway (north of Shinjuku) has become a “mini-Akihabara” in itself. I’ll go into more details later. The third place for otaku shopping would certainly be Maiden’s Road in Ikebukuro (south of Sunshine City).

That sums up the big areas. Akihabara, Nakano, Ikebukuro

The biggest tip I can give right now is to *avoid* big-name chain stores unless they have a sale going on. Unless there’s a sale, big stores (Animate, Gamers, Comic Toranoama, Kotobukiya) will always sell at recommended retail price. The *smaller* stores I’ve found things to generally be up to 20% cheaper. This doesn’t apply to character goods, however. You can usually only buy character goods (mugs, pins, keychains, t-shirts, etc…) at these big stores, so spend all you want on those.

The exception to avoiding expensive items would be if you can find a buy-back store or a personal showcase store where someone is actually selling something rare you’ve been trying to get your hands on. Akihabara has a Mandarake (buy-back chain) as well as a few great showcases inside and around Kotobukiya’s building near Akihabara station. Showcase stores are essentially a bunch of glass cubes purchased by sellers to house their merchandise they’re trying to sell – there might be hundreds in one store. They price it at whatever they want but tend to want to compete with one another. I’ve found some really rare items in these places, but they tend to be on the more expensive side. Nakano Broadway as well has a plethora of Mandarake stores (I think about 3 of them are actually labeled “Mandarake” but the whole place kind of has used / older goods). Although what you’re looking for might be expensive, it’s likely the *only* way to get what you want without shopping online. Even then, shopping online will be more expensive after calculating the shipping and exchange rates.

Know what you want

If you’re reading this guide to try and find the best place to get something specific, I’ll try and cut to the chase. It’s important to know beforehand what you actually want to be buying because each district is kind of better for some things than others.

Akihabara is absolutely the best place to get games, cards, DVDs, and electronics. It’s also a pretty good source for second-hand goods, Touhou goods, and private showcases (resellers). Akihabara basically starts at Akihabara Station and extends out towards what I call “the main drag” all the way to the next Tokyo Metro station (Suehirocho). Across the main drag from the station are the “back streets” – 2 streets running parallel to the main drag all the way up. It technically has *everything* you’re likely looking for, but not the best prices. You may resort to buying figures here if you cannot find them anywhere else. It technically has the biggest selection of figures available but in many places you’ll find the same things at relatively the same prices – often not the cheapest.

Ikebukuro, in addition to having a Comic Toranoama in Sunshine City, also has an Animate on Maiden’s Road (otome road). Maiden’s Road is situated a few blocks south of Ikebukuro Station – If you can find Sunshine City, pass through it and cross the big street (under a highway) and you’ll be behind it. It’s called Maiden’s Road for the reason that you’ll *mostly* find girls shopping here after school for BL (boy love) and other “cute guy”-related goods. It’s the best place to find books, manga, and doujinshi (BL or not). A few stores here sell second-hand merchandise as well. There are at least two “upstairs” shops that have quite a few second-hand figures and other hard-to-find goods.

Nakano Broadway has become my favourite place to shop after the huge success I had in finding what I wanted (at good prices) during my last trip. I like to compare it to an otaku flea market. You can find it by taking the Tozai line to Nakano and taking the north exit into a large covered arcade mall. At the end of the mall is the entrance to Nakano Broadway. This is the best place to find figures, random box toys (out of box or in box), console games, foreign rarities (US releases), and *maybe* doujinshi. The layout of the place is 3 floors and a basement with the 2nd and 3rd floors being littered with stores selling second-hand goods or new-release merchandise at extremely decent prices (The first floor I disregard and the basement is the food floor). Above, I mentioned smaller stores often selling things 20% below retail price, Nakano Broadway is exclusively small stores and therefore consistently cheap.

The best of the best

I’ll try my best to give the best location (from memory here) to get exactly the type of goods you’re looking for.

Electronics: For new products I recommend Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara. It has its own exit from Akihabara station and is essentially a really big Best Buy combined with a Sears and has everything those two stores would have plus more. It’s 8F high and even has a book and CD floor and food floor on the top.

New Figures: Hit a big retail store if you want something literally the day and hour it comes out (only if you expect the item to sell out immediately). If you can wait a day to pick something up from a large release, there are a few small figure stores in the back streets of Akihabara. Look for narrow staircases leading up to the 2F that indicate there is a figure store up there. I’ve provided a picture below of one of them. Nakano Broadway, however, is actually the best place to find stuff the next day for 20% less than retail price.

Old Figures (3 months old or more): Did you miss out on a Nendoroid or a PVC you really liked because it was sold out or you couldn’t afford it at the time? There are places you can find that stuff (if you’re willing to pay above retail). I would hit up the buy-back store at the end of the main drag of Akihabara. It’s on the same side of the street as Animate and right outside of Suehirocho station. Another option is Mandarake 8F in Akihabara. There’s another Mandarake in Nakano Broadway which has a great figure selection (Nendoroids, figmas, One Piece POPs, PVC, crane prize, and random box toys) hidden at the end of a hallway on the 2nd floor. If you can’t find what you’re looking for yet, check out the Mandarake in Shibuya. It’s a single floor situated in a dungeon (B4). I can’t exactly give you directions to it but if you know where Shibuya 109 is, just head up the street more and look for a “Book Off” off to the right in a small street – it’s very close to that. I've included a picture of the epic cave-like descent into it:

Small Toys: If you like crane prizes or random box toys (Nendoroid-petit), there’s a lot of stores which will sell opened boxes so you can get exactly the character / toy you’re looking for. There’s no single location which is best, but I’d say if you take your time to look around Nakano Broadway you’ll find what you want. A few stores there sell ONLY this kind of thing. If you’re in Akihabara, the floors above Kotobukiya have a few shops which sell these.

Character Goods: My girlfriend likes to call this kind of stuff “useless” and for the most part it is. If you want keychains, pens, bags, towels, t-shirts, or mugs (etc…) with your favourite characters on it, hit up Gamers, Animate, and Comic Toranoama. This is the only place you can get this stuff. They have it all sectioned off by series (and only the popular series get goods) for easy browsing.

Books and Manga: The absolute best place for these is the line of K-Books shops in Ikebukuro, Maiden’s Road. There are 4 of them in total and there’s a nice handy map in the middle of the street telling you which store has what. It’s not all BL.

Doujinshi: There’s quite a bit in Ikebukuro, but that’s not the best place. Akihabara has a few well-known shops for doujinshi including Melon Books and Comic Toranoama. If you’ve ever seen a picture on a website of a big stack of new-release doujinshi on a green platform, it’s almost certainly Melon Books. It’s a little hard to find, even if you know where it is. Look for the “Hey” arcade (orange sign), somewhere across the main drag from Akihabara station, then go inside the arcade and take the basement stairs in the back. Sketchy, I know.

DVD and CD: If you want to do both of these at once, check out Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara. There’s a CD + DVD store on the 5F as well as one on the 7F. You may stumble upon an HMV in some districts as well.

PC Games: Akihabara again! If you roam the back-streets you’ll see signs almost every block directing you to a “PC Games” store. This is generally everything from ero-games to RPGs.

Console Games: You don’t need to go very far at all to find these. Hit Akihabara and walk around for a bit, you’ll find everything you’re looking for. If you want a specific name, try Mandarake in Akihabara – it’s a good place for used games.

Cards: I don’t have a whole lot of interest in cards but you’ll find the odd shop around Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. I can say that the 7F building near Akihabara (Kotobukiya being the bottom floor) has a few card shops in it – most of them seem to have quite a selection.

Net Goods: What I mean by this is “goods related to 2chan, Japanese internet memes, and Nico Nico Douga” – The best place (and maybe only place) would be back-street Akihabara. There’s an Animation Studio Maid Café on a 2F building – it’s really easy to spot because there’s a maid mannequin on the balcony and usually lots of maids standing on the corner advertising their café. If you can find that, look for a small staircase leading into a basement – you’ll spot Pedobear on the way down. There’s a lot of Touhou stuff here as well. You’ll find a *few* shops like this in the back streets as well: Touhou and/or net goods.

Foreign Goods: Just like how we (North America) import Japanese goods, Japan tends to import from us as well. You’ll find a few shops carrying goods that you’d have to hunt hard at flea markets to find. I’m talking about Hollywood movie and TV show merchandise…from the 90’s! There’s a few places in Akihabara and one *really good* one in Nakano Broadway. There’s a buy-back store (I mentioned it in the figures section) at the end of the main drag in Akihabara near Suehirocho station which has US Toys (Look for stores with this designation) on one of the higher floors. Next to this shop is a place called “Toys Golden Age” which has quite a bit as well. My friend got a DBZ scouter in there. If you head over to Nakano Broadway, on the 3rd floor there is a really good store selling used and rare US Toys (large scale items too).

Cosplay: Don't buy cosplay in Japan, period. The exception to this might be accessories or wigs. The cosplay shops I've seen in Akihabara, Nakano, and Ikebukuro all sell the same outfits for 3 times the price that I've seen them go for on eBay. Trust me, there's no difference in quality. The best selection of wigs I have seen is at Nakano Broadway - you'll pay about what you'll pay on eBay.


That about sums it up I would think. I hope it's been informative to anyone planning to visit Tokyo soon! Please contact me or leave a comment (don't forget to subscribe to comments) if you have any questions.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Visit to Good Smile Café

Near the end of my trip I finally made the trip to the Good Smile Café situated in Matsudo, just outside of Tokyo. It's in a pretty quiet neighbourhood and during the time of day I went there it only had a few customers (allowing me the opportunity to take my time eating my Black Rock Shooter dessert [below] and take plenty of pictures). Currently the café is heavily themed for the release of the BRS OVA and included a number of BRS-themed selections on the food menu. The dessert was delicious and I enjoyed it while watching the BRS OVA playing on the big screen in front of me.

I was really impressed with the showcase of products available. Although it was predominantly figma and Nendoroid (and not so many of their other product lines), I think most people would be there for the figmas and Nendoroids anyway - and they had almost every one ever released including some of the yet-to-be-released models. I got a chance to see the upcoming Disappearance of Haruhi Nendoroid, the K-ON! Nendoroid-petits, and the new "jointed" Saber Nendoroid.

I have a complete gallery of my photos over on imgur.

My last comment: "This must be a pain to dust".

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Harajuku, Shibuya, and Otaku Loot!

On Sunday I really wanted to show Sabrina Harajuku with all of the cosplayers. We woke up a little early to make sure we'd be there after breakfast and before noon, but instead of cosplayers there was some kind of dance troupe contest - and it was BIG. Stepping out of the station was quite loud and crowded. We saw a huge stage set up over the bridge where the cosplayers usually hang out and about 40-50 people were organized on stage in costumed garb dancing in sync to music (it was somewhat traditional music). After watching this for a bit we went to the fashion street Harajuku is most famous for:

It was exactly as I expected it to be - crowded and offering nothing in our sizes. The clothes there just too darn tiny for giant gaijin like us. Sabrina got to buy a few accessories which she was happy with but just ended up a bit disappointed that none of the clothes she liked had her size. A walk in the park to the big temple in the middle cheered her right up:

After Harajuku it was off to Shibuya! We did the tourist stuff - crossed at the giant crossing, pet the dog statue, went into Shibuya 109... Again, Shibuya 109 had stuff Sabrina liked but nothing that fit we left.

Now Mandarake (a big buy-back store chain), that's the kind of place that has the kind of stuff we both were interested in. Oddly enough, Shibuya's Mandarake is located about 4 floors underground in a basement of...something. Unlike Akihabara's Mandarake which is 8 floors, this one is a single floor and stretches quite far. I love how its entrance was literally a cave:

We had some time after Shibuya to check out Akihabara on the way home again since Mandarake in Shibuya didn't have all the stuff we were looking for. We didn't really buy anything this time around (or go in anywhere really), but we did see this cool itasha Ferrari! The guy happily let me take pictures of his car. On our way out I saw him drive up the main drag again. It was clear he was just there to show it off...haha. I also snapped a shot of the sun setting over Akihabara as we were leaving:

The next day we did a lot of traveling from place to place. We went to the Pokémon Center early morning for some cool swag and I ended up playing a demo for Pokémon Black! Afterwards it was back to Nakano Broadway to do a quick shop for stuff we didn't pick up on our previous trip. My One Piece POP collection grew by Usopp and Brook that day...

And then today Boa and Franky came out, I headed to Akihabara to get my hands on them. Being the smart otaku shopper I am I know that some of the more hidden shops will offer 20% off retail price. I managed to get both of them for 20% off and I'm convinced I got the last Boa in Akihabara. The store I found her in I got the last one and I saw a guy buying 3 of her right there. He was in other shops earlier that day clearly looking for her (and it looks like he bought another one or two in shops where I must have just missed her). No matter, I got her, and the fact that someone is buying up the stock of her means that she's instantly gone up in value now that she's likely sold out everywhere (and on the FIRST DAY of release):

Franky is just awesome by the way. My only problem is his MASSIVE box. I'm going to have real luggage problems now. I have 8 POP boxes in my room...*sigh*

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Odaiba & Roppongi

So we woke up one morning to see our travel friends off (they were going back to Vancouver) and after they left we decided we'd go to Odaiba. It was on our list but we hadn't planned to go that day so it was rather impulsive. We walked up to Asakusa station and purchased tickets for a little ferry ride down the river (under 12 bridges) to the man-made island of Odaiba. I got to take some awesome shots of the Rainbow Bridge as we approached. For those who don't know this, Tokyo Big Sight (home of Comiket) is situated on Odaiba.

First order of business was to see a bit of a car showroom where you could test drive vehicles on a little indoor track. We quickly gravitated towards an arcade, however, and spent an hour there playing Project Diva, Beatmania, and Jubeat. After we were out of coins we wandered into a mall (we didn't even know this place was a mall). It was GORGEOUS:

I think this picture best does it justice. It was mostly clothing stores and such but it was nice to walk around in. It had a nice fountain in the middle we stopped to take pictures at and such. For dinner we had Italian food and decided it was time to head back to the mainland and check out Roppongi by night fall. We had the opportunity to take a train to a connecting line we wanted which ran across the famous Rainbow Bridge. It was great to ride across it after seeing it from the ferry.

Now I'd been to Roppongi before (and Roppongi Hills twice before) and decided it was nothing special. I thought, "I'll take Sabrina here, we'll see the spider, look at over-priced clothes, go home" - but it turned out to be so much better than that!

Sabrina really wanted to go to an art museum she saw on one of the signs so we decided to check that out. After an expensive meal over-looking the Tokyo Tower at night (hey, we had to do it once this trip), we found ourselves buying multi-passes for the observatory, the Mori Art Museum, and the dinosaur exhibit on the 52nd-53rd floor of Roppongi Hills. Our first stop was the dinosaurs (which had so much more than expected) where I saw quite a lot of castings of dino skeletons, full-scale life-like statues of the dino's, and quite a few real fossils as well.

Next up is the Mori Art Museum. I didn't expect anything really...maybe paintings or something. Turns out it was all full-on installations; as a media arts student this is right up my alley. First up was Tokujin Yoshiaka's contributions (hey I learned about him in class!): He had the world's largest piece of optical glass on display as well as this thing:

There were quite a few other notable installations as well but I think you're best off checking out what's available online. Looking over at the view of Tokyo at night was a great end to the day.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Ikebukero, MUJI, and Ueno Zoo

Day 3

I have a bit of an update to do now since I didn't blog yesterday. For the majority of our 3rd day we were in Ikebukuro (most specifically Sunshine City and Otome Road). The first order of business was to try and hunt down the ramen shop where last year Jon and Tyson loaded up on garlic - later making their room rank with gasses. I was sad to see the ramen shop was replaced with something else. That's not the only time this has happened either. The HMV in Ikebukero is now a Book Off - In Akihabara, Aso Bit City was replaced with a souvenir shop.

Otome Road is exactly as expected - lots of second hand shops and lots of BL doujinshi. A plus side to the second hand shops is that I think the items there are even cheaper than Nakano Broadway. I found just a few items from shopping there. After shopping I took Sabrina to an "auto salon" - 5 floors of cars (mostly new contemporary models with some concepts). It was a nice, relaxing, cool environment. Did I mention it's still hot and I'm still not used to it?

One of the main reasons for going to Ikebukero that day was for the Basara café Maryanne wanted to go to. It was a pretty interesting experience for sure. The place was full of girls and themed with posters and videos from Basara 3 (I think the whole thing was just propaganda for the upcoming PS3/Wii title). I had a drink that was themed to one of the characters (blue with a lemon on top for the helmet and 6 pocky sticking out of the top to represent his 6 swords). Food was pretty decent as well (although overpriced). I don't know a thing about Basara but I can see how fangirls can like this sort of thing.

We had a bit of time while things were still open to visit Ginza (our transfer point) on our way back. We popped up right in the Sony Building just as it was closing but we'll be going back to see the rest of the techy gadgets. I got directions to MUJI and walked the 5-10 minutes with Sabrina with eager anticipation with what I'd find. I found exactly what I was looking for - Naoto Fukasawa's wall-mounted CD Player!

Day 4

Today was great! Started off with the usual Denny's breakfast and grossing Sabrina out by eating natto (fermented soybeans - all stringy and smelly). As punishment for making her eat one (ONE BEAN!), she won't let me eat natto for the next 2 days. After this it was off to Akihabara.

Now believe it or not, today was the first day I actually went anywhere in Akihabara; The first day I just went along one side of the main drag and hung around outside the station. After being harassed by the maids we ended up in one of their café's doing the "moe moe kyun" over a melon cream soda...*sighhhh* :D

I love hanging around the back streets of Akiba, there's always some hidden shops. I found a narrow flight of stairs leading up to a really tiny 2nd floor shop where they had stock of everything new and at the cheapest prices in Akiba. I got a Black Rock Shooter figma for 400 yen less than the big shops and was able to find the Lucky Star X Street Fighter crossover Nendoroids that Tyson wanted. An overall good haul ended perfectly with Mos Burger (Sabrina stole a coaster). *nyuk nyuk*

Then to make Sabrina REALLY happy, we were off to the Ueno Zoo. Last year we only had an hour and saw what I thought was about half of the zoo, turns out it was likely about 1/3 of it. We dumped our swag in a coin locker and walked the scenic route through the blistering heat of the humid park towards the zoo. Starting with the section I didn't see last year, Sabrina and I spent a good 2 and a half hours just doing that one portion. There were more breeds of monkey than I can count. Best off to just look at the gallery on Facebook. I'll include one of this guy for good measure:

Here's an action shot of my Black Rock Shooter figma - This thing's of amazing quality:

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nakano Broadway & Square Enix Showroom

My second day in Tokyo I went to Nakano Broadway right away and had a thorough look through it. We were here briefly last year but only at the tail-end of our trip and we didn't get a chance to see everything. For those unfamiliar with this location, essentially it's becoming a buy-back version of Akihabara (and at better prices). I found things to be about 20% cheaper here and was able to find everything on my "list" at a better price.

For lunch I revisited to tonkatsu place near the entrance to Nakano Broadway and for dessert I went to a soft-serve ice cream place which offered 7-scoop cones. I realized that all of the stools outside this place were because Japanese people seem to frown on those who walk and eat simultaneously. We didn't care enough. I got a chance to play the Beatmania SIRIUS machine they had in the arcade before I left as well.

After Nakano was the trip to Shinjuku - a WHOLE STOP away! We walked about 20 minutes from the station to the Square Enix showroom and were greeted by a giant plush Tonberry and Cactuar. It was nicely air conditioned and the FFXIII piano soundtrack was playing in the background. Nothing much to report about this place except it was exactly as to be expected. Square Enix figures and jewelry, soundtracks and games, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. There were a couple of awesome 1:1 scale statues, however:

My loot for the day after finding everything for "rock-bottom" prices include One Piece POP Robin & Sanji, Nendoroid Reimu and Marisa, a One Piece flag (fricken huge), Cactuar cup (present from Sabrina), Rider Nendo-petit, Revy (Black Lagoon) crane prize statue, and a Professor Layton charm.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 1 - Akihabara and JUMP Shop!

Well I've arrived in Tokyo and already enjoyed my first day out. I have to first of all say I underestimated just how hot and humid it really would be. The heat I can somewhat deal with, it's the lack of escape from it I can't. Being in the shade or in the cover of night makes no difference, the air is so hot you can barely breathe. But, I will press on, it's for good cause! After all, my hostel has amazing air conditioning. Did I mention I'm staying in the SAME ROOM in the same hostel from last year? By special request they gave me my old room. :D

I spent my first day here (after a traditional Denny's breakfast) in Akihabara. This involved arriving there at 10:00, going to Kotobukiya first (waiting for everything else to open at 11:00), and working my way up the floors of the building making notes of the prices of things I wanted to buy. The day flew by. I only ended up going along the right side of the main drag. I also didn`t buy as many ``big`` purchases yet; I ended up making notes about prices instead in preparation for my trip to Nakano Broadway today. I have a few things on my wish list, the most notable being One Piece POP Strong World Robin and the TouHou Marisa / Reimu Nendoroids - all of which I've found here for substantially better pricing than I would have found online.

It absolutely sucks that the exchange rate has dropped, however. It means that when I run out of cash I exchanged back when it was about 10% difference, I'll have to pay 25% more for JPY instead.

Here are some pictures of the motherland:

My lunch was a ramen place on the top for of Yodobashi Camera most memorable from my last trip . We made our own gyoza sauce using everything we found on the table - this trip was no exception to that.

And let us not forget these:

After lunch we decided to go to the JUMP shop before we ran out of time in Akihabara (which we knew we would have). I was mainly in it for the One Piece stuff. There was a ridiculous amount of people in the store, so much so that it was lined up out the door to pay for stuff. I bought a Gomu Gomu fruit not knowing what would be in it (the thing had no label or price on it but I knew I'd have to get one). Opening it I found it to contain.......gomu gomu (gummie candies). So it turned out to be a "Gomu gomu no gomu gomu".

Annnnnnd here's my infamous swag pictures from the day:

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