Tokyo, Japan: Akihabara, Electric Town

akihabara
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Edan Corkill has a reasonable explanation for everything, but we suspect he’s basically one of those interesting monomaniacs who feel they were simply born in the wrong country, and who persevere until they have emigrated to where they belong. Corkill was born in Australia and relocated to Japan as soon as humanly possible. His bio is worth a peek. Recently, he reported, in The Japan Times, on a proposed new cultural landmark: “Is a national ‘Manga Museum‘ at last set to get off the ground?” This would be the National Center for Media Arts (NCMA), and the problem here is, the Democratic Party of Japan has some objections. Corkill says:

Promotion of Japan’s so-called media-contents industries (including manga, anime, TV and film) has recently become a high priority within several government ministries…The DPJ thinks the plan was fast-tracked either on the orders of, or to curry favor with, Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is a fan of anime and manga…. But the degree to which Aso was really involved in the plan’s genesis is debatable.

As always, a lot of politics and politicians are involved. But after some snags, it seems the plan is finally gaining momentum. We’re talking about not only a first-class facility for shows, but a research center and archive. It’s good that there will be a place where anime, manga, video games, and whatever technological art form is next invented, will be granted their props.

Over at BBC News, Michael Fitzpatrick, who also writes extensively about Japan for Western periodicals, takes a closer look at Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, a self-confessed geek, and at the country’s prospects for improving its economy through digital products.

The location of the hoped-for museum won’t be announced until September, but it does seem like the kind of thing that should be in the Akihabara district, the technophile paradise where you can buy any gadget ever to roll off an assembly line, and then some. The car-free, pedestrian-only area is the center of a whole subculture of underground, “garage” game developers who find there the components for homebrew software and hardware. People seem to say “Akihabara” more when they’re talking about where to go for ready-made electronics and parts. They seem to say “Electric Town” more when talking about the wonderland of arcade games, and the cafes frequented by kids dressed up in fancy outfits. Either way, it’s a William Gibson novel come true. Both aspects are part of the otaku culture, built around electronics, comic books, anime-related entertainment, and gaming. Otaku means something like nerd or geek, only it’s a badge of honor, kind of like how American kids in the Sixties called themselves freaks.

Currently, attention is focused on the large number of businesses – mainly cafes and eateries, but also such mundane establishments as dry cleaners – staffed by girls dressed up like cartoon housemaids. The results range from winsome, fluffy little chickies to visions that are actually kind of scary. A writer known as Alamance calls it the “strange world of men with highly focused educations, alongside fantasy women or women enacting fantasies,” and posts some really neat pictures of the area. Hundreds of such maids belong to a professional organization called the Maid Cooperative. It seems pointless to drag in the political/psychological/etc implications. If cute young people want to dress up, why not? Elsewhere, Mdee Dubroff further explores this cosplay (costume play) subculture, with yet more characteristic and charming photos. On the other hand, a blogger named Jake, from Southern California (!), finds the whole phenomenon weird and creepy.

Akihabara has other features, such as a capsule hotel, where you sleep in a thing that looks like a giant microwave oven, or a coffin with a window. Inside, there’s room to lie down, a TV, a radio, and an alarm clock. Separate accommodations are available for storing luggage while you’re out shopping or going to meetings. Or having your cell phone blessed, as Brian Ashcraft did at the local ancient Kanda Shrine. In fact, the priests there will perform a purification rite over any of your electronics, as Ashcraft describes at Wired News. But be warned. Another source reports that the only place in Akihabara where you can get breakfast on a Sunday morning is McDonald’s.

And if you go there – write and tell us about it!

photo by heiwa4126 , used under this Creative Commons license

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