For the diehard Akiharans (yes I made that word up) the concept that there could be a place that equals or even surpasses its hallowed streets is nothing short of sacrilegious. And I’m not about to change my opinion, but I have to say that Nakano provides a worthy alternative. Having been recommended to give it a try by numerous people, I finally made the effort and I was suitably impressed. Within the Nakano Broadway shopping mall spanning the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors are an impressive number of Manga shops, Gacha Gacha machines, cosplay clothing stores, toy shops, original animation cell shops, nostalgia shops, auction stores, and, for some reason, a knife store. And I really do mean an impressive number; the stores spill out into the cluttered hallways and over into each other. And for someone who has no idea what they want it’s the perfect place to go and burn some cash on things which are entirely unnecessary. Central to this mini manga mecca is Mandrake which is comparably smaller than its Akihabara and Shibuya counter parts, yet seems more charming and interesting due to the haphazard way in which the various sections of the store are positioned, sprawling across levels and other shops. The cosplay shops are more professionally laid out than in many other places and have more variety and, whilst a little pricy, there are more conventional clothing stores with an otaku twist. If you really need a Darth Vader hoodie designed by Mark Ecko then this place is your best bet. For video game fans though, there is little to impress apart from a few second hand game stores. This place is geared towards animation. Part of the curious appeal of the place is that many stores have similar stock but with vast differences in the price, so bargain hunters should be prepared to spend hours jotting down prices in their notebooks. Whilst it may appeal more to those looking for something specific, Nakano has such a fascinating collection of cluttered stores within such a small space that many are sure to find it fascinating, if only in trying to figure out how all the stores are able to stay in business.
Akihabara has been changing piece by piece. Whilst before it was a curious combination of futuristic technology and near derelict buildings, recently the old is being replaced by the new. There isn’t really any more space to build on, as is true in most parts of Tokyo, so the landscape has been changing as buildings are knocked down to be replaced by newer, safer, and cleaner buildings. It is hard to be remorseful about this. Akihabara has opened itself up from the enclosed and intimidating environment into a more welcoming one, and yet inevitably with the new buildings comes a sense of sterility. The dank, the dingy and even the smell are tangibly fading away. This has definitely been a slow transitional period in that much of the flavor of the place remains, but the speed at which some buildings have appeared and then become an integral part of the environment is still somewhat surprising. I have only been here for three years and yet Yodobashi Camera, the UDX building and the new Sofmap store have risen up and dominated the scene. Even the new Mandrake building, whilst housing perhaps the geekiest of contents, has altered the landscape. Does it make a difference? If Super Potato was in a modern context would it be better than as it is, accessed only by entering a tiny elevator, tucked away in a back alley that smells distinctly questionable? And therein lays the potential danger. Whilst larger chain stores, even those like Mandrake, can relocate with upsetting the ecosystem, inevitably the smaller ones will start to disappear. Sold off. Knocked down. Rebuilt. That’s progress. Will it still be Akihabara? Of course. No matter what kind of shops are built they will eventually change in some way. You can’t really change Akihabara. Akihabara changes you.