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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogAkihabara Adventure: The Best Tokyo Nights!

Akihabara Adventure: The Best Tokyo Nights!

Thalia HarrisThalia Harris
Published Time
Posted on 
December 09, 2022
A snapshot of Akihabara at night. There are a lot of neon signs, and it looks like it was previously raining.

Akihabara, Tokyo, is one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world! It is the mecca of everything related to anime, video games, and electronics! But how did it come to be so great? What are some places that you can enjoy when you visit there? Let’s find out!

The Evolution of Downtown Tokyo

Akihabara is one of many Tokyo neighborhoods that have undergone significant changes over the past 70 years. Even though many people list this neighborhood–along with Shibuya and Ginza–among the famed communities, these locales have humble beginnings.  

In the case of Akiba, it was initially a 20th-century hotbed for consumer electronics, especially during Japan’s 1980s economic boom. Akiba earned the beloved nickname “Electric Town” because many gaming enthusiasts flock there to stock up on electronic parts and appliances!.

A night time shot of downtown Tokyo. It mostly featured red neon lights.
Downtown Tokyo has a plethora of things to enjoy in entertainment. Image via Shutterstock

Shibuya’s bustling, fashionable neighborhood (and ward) started as a castle town in the 11th century. However, when the National Railway Company (present-day JR East) built the loop serviced-Yamanote Line in the 19th century, it put Shibuya on the map! Over time, it grew into the colorful, trendy hub we know today.

Finally, the luxurious Ginza neighborhood had an exciting yet tumultuous origin. After its destruction by fire in 1872, the Meiji government rebuilt it with a Western aesthetic. This involved the heavy use of brick, new building material in Japan at the time. 

Ginza is a bustling downtown neighborhood like Akihabara.
Ginza is home to some of the most luxurious stores in Tokyo. Image via Shutterstock

While locals loved it, foreign tourists weren’t so keen about what they thought was a cheap imitation of their native boulevards. But over time, Ginza transformed into a mecca for all things expensive and opulent. Like the Omotesando and Aoyama neighborhoods, Ginza is home to many flagship fashion lines and jewelry stores!

Downtown Tokyo has much to offer in sightseeing, shopping, and entertainment! Both locals and tourists have a fun time whenever they visit these areas! One place where people enjoy themselves is the game center!

Game Centers in Akihabara

Game centers in Japan, also known as arcades, are an essential entertainment staple. While arcades in the West are slowly dying out, the scene is still thriving in Japan, especially Akihabara! There are thousands of them across the country, and they’ve been around since the 1970s. The best part about game centers is that they have so much variety!

A woman siting behind the steering wheel at a driving game at a Japanese game center, most likely in Akihabara.
Game centers are a staple of entertainment! Image via Shutterstock

In addition to retro and modern video games, these arcades also have crane games, also known as UFO catchers. These machines have everything from mascot plushies to home appliances like pancake griddles! They also have purikura photo booths where you can take fun pictures with your friends and rhythm-based games where you can bang on taiko drums!  

There’s so much fun to have at game centers! They even have virtual horse racing games if you’re feeling especially adventurous! But one of the most underrated features at game centers–and across Japan in general–is gashapon machines!

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Gashapon

Gashapon aka gachapon, gatchapon and gatcha-gatcha, are capsule toys you can get from vending machines! Though it originally came from the West as “quarter machines”, Japan’s toy variety is much wider! You can get anything from keychains, phone straps, and even limited-edition figurines for a few hundred yen a pop!

These machines are available in game centers, convenience stores, and sometimes even bathrooms! They’ve been around Japan since the 1960s, and video games, anime, and J-pop music inspire their toys. In Akihabara’s Gachapon Kaikan, there are over 500 gashapon machines alone! 

A big stack of gashapon (capsule toy) machines. They are yellow.
There’s a whole hall in Akihabara dedicated to gashapon machines! Iameg via Shutterstock

But what makes gashapon so popular in Japan, as opposed to in the West? Well, in Japan, there’s a lot more foot traffic, which provides a lot of opportunities for pedestrians to snag their favorite figurines for cheap! 

It also helps that because gashapon toys are much smaller than most limited-edition figurines, starting a collection with them has never been easier! After winning big at the game center and stocking up on gashapon in Akihabara, why not take a quick stop at the maid cafe?

Maid Cafés in Akihabara

Maid cafés are cosplay restaurants where the staff wear stylized maid costumes! They’ve been popular since 2001 and are very popular with anime and game enthusiasts. At these cafés, guests are either goshujin-sama (masters) or ojou-sama (princesses), and the staff pampers them for a day!  

Depending on the cafe, it can range from afternoon tea service accompanied by chamber music to decorated omurice with an idol performance on the side! Guests can also have a light conversation, sing karaoke, and play games with the maids! 

Three frilly-dressed maids in Akihabara wear black and white French maid outfits while waving from the balcony.
Maid cafes are fun places to unwind! Image via Shutterstock

These restaurants strongly influence many aspects of Japanese pop culture and the cosplay restaurant history. Even though all kinds of people enjoy maid cafes, their main clientele is men. Because of these, there are also butler cafes that cater to women as well!

No matter the type of maid cafe, you can always expect fun and personalized service from its talented staff! They’re a great place to relax after a stressful day and experience friendship! But just like any restaurant, it’s always important to follow the correct etiquette!

Japanese Restaurant Etiquette

Regarding eating at a restaurant anywhere, some basic manners are necessary. However, eating in Japan requires an entirely different set of rules! Besides the commonly known nuances of slurping your noodles in public and not leaving a tip after the meal, there are plenty of other points to keep in mind!

A man at a table counter says grace before getting ready to eat a bowl of ramen.
Good manners are key to a pleasant dining experience in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

Unlike most places in the West, Japan is primarily a cash-based country. Even though Japan has made significant advances in card usage and e-money over the past decade, it’s still a good idea to have cash with you before a night out. Also, if the restaurant is an izakaya (Japanese pub), take off your shoes before sitting on your zabuton (cushion)!

Once seated, you’ll receive an oshibori (dampened towel) to wipe your hands. Don’t use this towel on any other part of your body because it will be washed and reused by future diners. Also, don’t pour condiments directly on your food when using them. Simply dip the food in your desired sauce, and enjoy yourself!

A woman is being served at a Japanese restaurant, maybe in Akihabara.
Always have some cash on you before heading inside! Image via Shutterstock

Chopstick usage also has its own set of rules, but most of them are common sense. Just like you wouldn’t point your fork or spoon at anybody, don’t do the same with chopsticks! The same goes for licking them clean or sticking them vertically in the bowl. Some chopstick taboos are reminiscent of funeral practices, so mind your manners!

If you master these and many other aspects of Japanese restaurant etiquette, you will have a pleasant time during your stay! And what better time to master your food etiquette than during chestnut season?

Chestnut Food and Drinks

From prehistoric times to today, chestnuts have played a massive role in Japanese cuisine! Similar to sweet potatoes, they are trendy during the fall and winter. When they are boiled, chestnuts have an earthy and natural sweetness that is also versatile! 

Though there are many dishes where boiled chestnuts can be enjoyed on their own, they taste even better when used in other dishes! But there are so many to choose from! Which chestnut foods and dishes are the most popular?

An image of shiny, brown Japanese chestnuts.
Chestnuts are very popular in Japan during the fall. Image via Shutterstock

Kuri dango are glutinous rice dumplings smothered in kuri-an (chestnut paste). Chestnut paste is a versatile condiment found in dorayaki (castella pancakes with a sweet paste inside) and kuri kinton (candied chestnuts). What’s more, kuri mushipan is steamed bread with diced chestnuts inside! That’s just the tip of the iceberg!

There are also delicious chestnut drinks, mainly from the ever-innovative Starbucks! Their most recent chestnut drink was the Marron (French for “chestnut”) Cassis, which consists of chestnut, blackberries, and roast espresso! So while you’re enjoying your time in Akihabara, keep yourself warm with roasted chestnuts and a warm drink!

Summary

Overall, Akihabara and similar Tokyo neighborhoods have a lot to offer in entertainment, restaurants, and food! Where would you like to go if you ever go on an Akiba Adventure? What would you like to eat! Let us know in the comments below!

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Thalia Harris

Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3

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