Japanicity: Notes on Akihabara

秋葉原電気街Image via Wikipedia It’s not that I dislike the area of Tokyo known as “Akihabara.” Nonetheless, after several hours of being there, several long hours of being sucked into the ultra-consumerist spirit of the place, I start to change. I begin to count the number of steps back to the station, where I can buy a ticket to another land of confusion. For me, the area is convenient when the object of purchase is kept in mind, but, beneath the electronic veneer of the area lurks something different.

The streets of Akihabara bustle with the lust of electronic consumption. Young women in French maid outfits roam the streets, handing out fliers or loitering in front of the station promoting their cafe of employment. This is a not a place to relax, but a place to spend.

One shop clerk, standing outside the shop, with microphone in hand, was performing an upbeat and speedy rap to the tune of the store’s music. One hour later, he was still there, still rapping for us. Computer shops abound. Turning down a side street, we can see the remains of forgotten laptops and the skeletons of personal computers all for a price. Old IBM Thinkpads, refurbished and polished up…$300.00. Almost one year ago, after waking up to a dead Macbook, I headed down to this same area and bought one of these Thinkpads. I’m now using it to write this article.

In the “Doutour” coffee shop, the smoking section outweighs the non-smoking section. A group of three men sit next to us. One of the men is just a teenager. The other two, his older friends, must be in their forties. Over cups of ice coffee, they rattle on about the intricate stories in their favorite manga. I chain smoke and try not to listen. On the other side of us, two men in their late twenties. One of the men, head down, is apparently asleep or dead. His friend, a husky Japanese man, calmly smokes his MildSeven cigarette and looks at the ceiling. I order another double espresso and drink it quickly. It is time to go. I know this, somehow. I sense my relative peace will soon turn to that odd sense of discomfort that comes from being in Tokyo for too long.

We are in a busy shopping area. A man with two pet bunnies is feeding them warm milk outside of a juice bar. The bunnies tremble and fidget as they sip, sip, sip the milk. Spectators have gathered to see the man with the bunnies. The word “cute” can be heard repeatedly as if it’s the only word that people can say. I tune it out.

A man walks by us with a pink wig, a tight-fitting dress and what looks to be a racoon tail attached to his bottom. No one seems to look twice. Meanwhile, the sounds of the city are overwhelming as the sun sets and a dull darkness fills the streets. The shopping doesn’t stop. We turn a corner and see bags, people pushing around other people, more bags. A man is playing an Xbox 360 outside of a foreign game store. His face is about six inches from the plasma screen. He is playing a game in which his character, a mohawked “punk rocker” lookin guy in fatigues is creeping around with an M-16 assault rifle. The man is so close to the screen. It is like he is being slowly sucked into a trance. Two more teenage maids walk by us.

A white man with gray hair is in front of us. He is slow and lanky. I want to follow him for a little while, but get distracted by a camera shop and remember why we came to this depressing part of the city: to eat at Burger King. We circle around the station and find the entrance to the joint right next to a McDonalds. A businessman whose table is located next to ours has fallen asleep. The back of his head leans over onto our side of the table. It is like a fuzzy black animal watching over us.

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