Otaku Heaven: A Spring Jaunt Through Tokyo’s Electric Town

    Japan
    is a wild and strange place, Tokyo
    in particular. Just two weeks ago my good friend Philip (our main Critical Hit!
    columnist) and I flew from Los Angeles
    across the Pacific to celebrate our spring break in gamer-nerd Mecca.
    Although the country as a whole embraces gaming as a pastime for subway
    commutes and after-school arcade showdowns, Tokyo acts as the central hub of
    electric excess — and that is where our story takes place. What follows is a
    search for the holy grail of gaming, the Japanese Dream and the legendary
    Pokemon of lore.

    After getting soaked in a torrential downpour trying to
    visit the Imperial Palace,
    we decided to cut our sightseeing short and move somewhere drier, preferably
    indoors. I suggested we take the metro to Akihabara, a district in Tokyo
    also known by the name Electric Town,
    where otaku (Japanese for uber-geeks) frolic in droves. These nerdy kids and
    man-children come in many flavors, ranging from the Godzilla toy collector to
    the quintessential anime hound. However, we were more interested in the
    hardcore gamers, and upon exiting the subway we decided to begin our search at Japan’s
    version of Best Buy, Yodobashi Camera.

    A giant pair of cartoon eyes painted on the exterior of the
    nine-story building greeted us as we walked into a store showcasing the future
    of American technology, three years from now. Cameras, printers, watches,
    laptops; there were gadgets in all directions, perfectly organized and
    screaming to be played with. The Battle Hymn of the Republic (“Glory, glory hallelujah!”)
    looped over the store speakers, all traditional song lyrics replaced with a
    catchy Japanese arrangement that constantly repeated the words “Yodobashi” and
    “Akihabara.”

    Giddy with excitement, we rode the escalator round and round
    until we finally stepped onto the sixth floor, the otaku floor. An Xbox 360
    display looked neglected in the corner, its screens turned off and gathering
    dust. Instead, a small group of teenagers gathered around the PS3 to try the
    newly released Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan (coming to America
    as Yakuza 3), an RPG/fighting epic set in the Edo
    period. At the other end of the spectrum, Nintendo DS and Wii nongames had
    aisles to themselves. I glanced at the odd box-art and found a game for wine
    connoisseurs, some language learning software, a calligraphy game (#1 on the
    charts that week) and, of course, Wii Fit in all its gimmicky glory.

    Next, we passed through large areas of toy models of
    scantily clad women and giant robots, our eyes distracted with perversion and
    nerdage. Two aisles were lined only with capsule toy vending machines selling
    encased Nintendo characters and plastic-food keychains. Another aisle was
    dedicated to hundreds of miniature Pokemon toys. We grabbed handfuls of
    merchandise like greedy children and handed our yen to the cashier, bowing in
    gratitude. Three hours in Yodobashi was enough; there was more weirdness to be had
    outside.

    Our backpacks bulged with nerdy purchases as we walked down
    the busy sidewalk toward the local Club Sega, a six-floor arcade carrying
    everything from tricked-out Virtua Fighter 5 machines to age-old 2D classics. I
    bought an ice cream and watched Phil get his ass handed to him in a match of
    Virtua Tennis; in under two minutes he had lost three consecutive sets to an
    unknown (presumably Japanese) competitor somewhere in the arcade. We had
    dishonored our country, so we left — but not before spending a few bills on
    crane games with ridiculously cute prizes.

    Around the corner from the arcade we came across an odd
    phenomenon found only in Japan: the maid cafe. In essence, groups of friends
    and young Japanese couples go to a cozy restaurant where all of the waitresses
    are dressed up as anime maids. They talk with mouse-pitched voices and act just
    like those annoyingly bright-eyed girls in many an otaku’s fantasy. We walked
    into the cafe to check it out but were surprised to see a line two floors up a stairwell
    to get a table; apparently sexy maids are a big deal in Japan. We were too
    hungry to wait, so we took off looking for a place with tasty desserts.

    As Phil and I sat on an apartment stoop, each of us with a
    portable ice-cream crepe in hand (delicious, and oh-so-trendy among kids), we
    pondered the cultural wonders we had just seen. The cherry blossoms were
    blooming, there were no clouds in the sky, and our week of nerding out had only
    just begun.

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