Monday, July 28, 2014

Akihabara Attractions Hotspots Guide

Akihabara was famous as "Electric Town," a place to buy all types of electronics components, appliances, and electronic devices.  These days it is more famous as the heart of anime and maid cafe culture.  The small electronics stores are all closing or moving off the main strip and anime related stores and big chains like Yodobashi Camera have moved in.

Just earlier in 2014, The Akihabara Radio Store, one of the pioneering electronics malls for the area closed permanently after being open 64 years (since 1949).  Right near the Gamers, I wandered through this maze of small shops full of electronics, obscure devices, and individual electronics components a few times before it closed.
View from outside JR Akihabara Station Electric Town Exit (the classic view with Radio Kaikan on the left, and Gamers on the right.)
These days, most tourists hit Akihabara for the otaku atmosphere and shopping.  The district is like any other Tokyo district near a train station - busy and full of people.  Most of the anime related shops are clustered on the west side of the Akihabara Train Station (easily reached on theYamanote Line).  I'm only going to talk about a few of the hotspots for anime related shopping or events in this post.  Plenty of guides have covered maid cafes along with buying doujinshi and computer games in the area before, so I'm not going to repeat the coverage.
Game buying guide at Kotaku.

New Akihabara Radio Kaikan
The new Radio Kaikan building had its grand opening on July 20th, 2014.  The classic building was the heart of Akihabara anime shopping, but it was torn down for a number of reasons, including the fact it wasn't a modern structure built to take earthquakes.  This new 10 floor building in the same place has new tenants and some of the old tenants have now moved  back in.  It looks like a pretty nice place, but the almost flea market-like atmosphere of the old place probably isn't going to be there as it looks more upscale now.
Old Radio Kaikan at night.

Some of the tenants include K-Books, Yellow Submarine, Volks, Kaiyodo Hobby Lobby, and  much more.  There are even more event spaces and a few pubs and a convenience store in the building now.

Akihabara Radio Kaikan
Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 1-15-16.

Akiba Culture Zone
This building is another major hub, with six floors of anime related shopping, that is relatively new.  It started out with a bang, but the composition of stores has changed over time.  There are some big consignment goods stores here where you can buy items out of display boxes that people have rented.  Of note, there is the Good Smile x Animate cafe on the 5th floor.  You can browse the latest Goodsmile anime figures and order food.  Sometimes there are special exhibits or events going on here.
Corner of Akiba Culture Zone
Consignment sales of anime goods.
Akiba Culture Zone
Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 1-chome, 7-6 

Some Other Shops
  • Gamers - right outside the west "Electric Town" exit from Akihabara Station across from the Radio Kaikan.  Anime, manga, character goods and more.
  • Kotobukiya Store - just south of Akiba Zone on a back street, more character goods and toys.
  • Animate - on Chuo Dori, a big store to stop in for all your anime needs.  This and Gamers are the two big chain stores operating in the area.
  • Robot Kingdom - real robots!
  • Mandarake - for all your used collectible shopping needs.  Eight floors of second hand treasure.
  • Don Quixote - on Chuo Dori, north of the Animate on the same side of the street.  Great for cosplay shopping and the AKB48 Stage.
  • Yodobashi Camera - on the east side of the rail tracks - separate from all the other stuff.  This is a big electronics store, but it has an entire floor for gashapon machines, model kits, and toys.  Do check it out and they have hundreds of gashapon machines.

Themed cafes
Places of Interest
  • Tokyo Anime Center.  The gift shop is located on the second floor of the Crossfield UDX building just north of the west side of the Akihabara train station.  The display / exhibit space is on the 4th floor of the building.  You never know if something good is on when you visit.  There are 3 floors of restaurants and a food court in the building too!
  • Artisans in Akihabara
  • Instant Noodle Bar
  • Canned Oden Machines (Japanese stew).  Right across the street from Akiba Zone to the north. Examine the machines around the corner.  Used to be a big thing to have a hot can of stew while waiting in line in the cooler months.
Visual directions to canned oden machines in Akihabara
  • Gashapon Hall, Cospa, Cure Maid Cafe.  When it is open, you'll see hundreds of gashapon machines inside the cramped space at street level.  Look for it on the map above and the maid cafe and Cospa store above it. The video below was shot there.

Visual directions to the Gashapon Hall going down Chuo Dori.  Check the map above too for the location.
  • Themed Coin Lockers.  These were made pretty famous when they had the Evangelion wrapping.  The wraps have changed since then, but you never know if something nice pops up again.
Location of the coin lockers that had the Evangelion picture wraps.
More Tokyo Highlights
More Japanese Pop Culture

Japanese Souvenirs For An Otaku Or Others 
Anime and Games Set In Akihabara
Where to Find Giant Robot Statues in Japan
Tokyo's Theme Cafes
Artnia The New Square Enix Cafe and Store

Gundam Cafe and AKB48 Cafe in Akihabara
Gundam Front Mini-Theme Park in Odaiba (with another Gundam Cafe)
Shonen Jump Theme Park (J-World) with Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball, and more
The First Evangelion Store in Harajuku

Pokemon Store in Hamamatsucho
Giant Robot Toys - Macross, Godzilla, Gundam
Gundam Video Games in the Arcade and Home (Gundam Pods)
Evangelion's Rei and Asuka Figures Homage
Nifty Japanese Cat and Train Coin Banks
Canned Bread and Other Nifty Japanese Souvenirs
UFO Catchers and How to Win at Them  
Gashapon / Gachapon Capsule Toys in Japan

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Shopping and Dining at Tokyo Station, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof

2014 was a big year for the iconic Tokyo Station, as it completed a 5 year renovation project to restore the original red brick station building for its 100th birthday.  Not only has it been restored, it has been earthquake proofed and it lights up at night now too!  During WWII the third floor of the station and the domes to the north and south of the building were destroyed. The building was repaired afterwards without the domes or the third floor.  The station has survived the great Kanto Quake, had a prime minister assassinated within, and been repaired after war.
Tokyo Station Brick Building (photo via Creative Commons license from T.Kiya)

Today, Tokyo station has obviously been expanded too, as it now has platforms for many Shinkansen bullet trains, underground metro lines. Many mile zeros for the rail lines crisscrossing Japan start at this station and you might even see a zero marker on the track.  It is the busiest train station in Japan for rail traffic, with over 3000 trains a day passing through, but it is not as busy as Shinjuku Station as only a quarter of a million people pass through each day.  With all these people passing through the station, it is also a major shopping hub and place to pick up souvenirs.

Amazing Tokyo Station Hikari Vision Projection Mapping Birthday Celebration

Tokyo Station is the center of attention here for the redevelopment, but the redevelopment of didn't stop there.  On the west side, is Marunouchi, one of the main business districts for Tokyo, and on the east side are additional business areas.  Both sides have seen a revitalization.  The Kitte Marunouchi building (the old Japan Post building) was redeveloped into a fancy mall with some very interesting shops and a great looking atrium and rooftop.  On the east side (Yaesu exit), Tokyo First Avenue is now a great shopping hub and the GranRoof was put in to modernize and link the GrandTokyo north and south towers.  A place like Tokyo Station or the Tokyo Skytree Solomachi malls are like little commercial microcosms of Tokyo that you can easily spend a day in.  If you had one of these at home you'd have a nice little piece of Japan.

Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a maze and many of the shops are actually inside the paid transit area for the trains (even if just for the Yamanote Line).  The food shopping and dining here is pretty intense too.  Ekibenya, one of the best ekiben shops for the train bentos is here.   The main concourse runs east-west below the platforms and it is easy to get lost.  You'll have to look at a map and then look again --- I know I had to.
Bullet trains and you can see the GranRoof sail behind them (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Shinkansen lines are on the Yaesu or east side of the station for a couple of the rail lines (each has different models of bullet trains), along with the big Daimaru department store.

Wall of Ekiben at Ekiben Matsuri
Tokyo Station's big shopping and dining area is called Gransta and it is divided into North Court and South Court.  Central Street Shops is another major shopping area with Japan themed and travel shops, and Keiyo Street for some classy personal shopping are also focuses inside the station.

First Avenue Tokyo Station on the Yaesu side is an additional great shopping area for food items (from traditional to modern day snacks from Glico or Calbee), anime goods (Hello Kitty, Ultraman, Precure, Ghibli, etc), delicious ramen on Ramen Street, and there is much more.  Not to be missed if you have time.

Kitte Marunouchi Building
This building is just east (literally across the big wide street on a corner) from the restored red brick station building.  Kitte means postage stamp in Japanese.  Japan Post runs this department store as it is located at the site of their old Central Post Office building.

Kitte Building (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
Kitte Atrium (photo via Creative Commons license from Norio Nakayama)
The exterior looks like the old building, but the interior is now a big wide atrium with a great little rooftop garden where you can view the trains coming and going across the street.  Shops line the sides of the beautiful atrium and a 38 story glass and steel office tower, the JP Tower, is now the core of the building.  Again, many interesting shops and restaurants here (as usual on the upper floors), and there is a tourist information kiosk on the main floor.  One interesting shop in the basement shops, Amano Freeze Dried Foods, sells high quality freeze dried soups and mix and match ingredients.

GranRoof links the north and south towers of the GrandTokyo towers together.  It put a beautiful sail-like canopy over the long connective strip and is multiple stories high with many shop levels.  It brings an open and lively pedestrian zone to the old area that also adds many dining options.  I've never visited but I'll easily take a walk through this nice looking urban spot.

More Tokyo Highlights
Shopping and Dining at Tokyo Station, Kitte Marunouchi Building, and GranRoof
Tokyo's Ramen Streets at Tokyo Station, Aqua City, and Shinagawa Station
Ekiben Matsuri (Train Bento Festival Store) at Tokyo Station
Sweets Land, Character Street, and Ramen Street at Tokyo Station

Friday, July 18, 2014

Toranomon Hills Tower Opens

Toranomon Hills (photo via Creative Commons License for 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia)
Toranomon Hills is the latest big building development project by the Mori development company that opened on June 11, 2014.  Toranomon Hills will be the tallest skyscraper in Tokyo with a height of 256 metres (taller than Tokyo Midtown), but isn't a large as Roppongi Hills megaplex which was also built by the same company.  The building and the Andaz hotel at the top look pretty gorgeous.  The building takes its name from the Toranomon district that it is in, and "tora" means tiger, while "nomon" means gate.  The neigbourhood used to be at the long demolished south gate to Edo Castle.  Right now, the neigbourhood is sandwiched between the Imperial Palace to the north and the Tokyo Tower to the south.  Great views of both places from the building.

Toranomon Hills is part of a series of redevelopment project in the heart of Tokyo and the building sits at one end of a new road that connects Toranomon to the Shimbashi district to the east.  This road will be extended two more kilometres northwest for the 2020 Olympics.  The building towers about the low to mid-rise buildings around it  and it is a boost for the area which was hit by the economic turmoil of the 1990s.  The closest train station on the Yamanote Line to the building is  Shinbashi to the east, and the nearest metro station on the Ginza Line is Toranomon to the north.

The building is 52 stories high with fantastic views all around.  Hyatt has opened the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills on the 47-52 floors of the tower.  Andaz is a boutique type hotel  with 164 rooms which offers a locally inspired theme to make have you leave feeling like a local.  The 51st floor has the main dining restaurant, the Andaz Tavern with great city views, and the 52nd floor has the Rooftop Bar which is designed with Japanese Teahouses in mind.  Much of the rest of the building is occupied by business and residential.  There is some shopping on the lower levels, but it is not a major mall.

The building also has an interesting mascot that looks much like the beloved Doreamon, but is a white tiger named Toranomon.  Nice touch with the cute character mascot from Fujiko F. Fujio.  Doraemon is also the official ambassador for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


1 Chome-23 Toranomon
Minato, Tokyo

Lots of great pics here.
Toranomon Official Site with Guides.

More Tokyo Highlights Posts

Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Observation Decks to View Tokyo From

You've been all over Tokyo at street level.  You've been under the city in the depths of the subway.  Now is the time to claim the high ground and get the bird's eye view of the city.  There are usual suspects to get a great view from such as the Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Skytree, the observation deck at Sunshine 60, and the Mori Tower in Roppongi.  All of these observation decks charge a small to a more hefty fee view for their views, but there are also places to view the city that are free.  Now having said that, I do have to say that it was worth the price for me to get the views from the Skytree and also the Mori Tower.  Plan according to your budget.  I blogged about the Skytree here, and the Mori Tower here.
View from Mori Tower
Some of the free observation decks are at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, the Bunkyo Civic Center, and Tower Hall Funabori.  There are also many lounges / restaurants offering great views from tall buildings as the restaurant floors are sometimes placed really high up in the buildings. You can get great views from the restaurant floors at the Caretta Shiodome Tower (46 and 47th floors), and the Ebisu Garden Place Tower (38 and 39th floors).  One of the neatest buildings, the Shinjuku NS Building, also in west Shinjuku, has a restaurants on the 29th floor and a way cool atrium with a skywalk inside the building.

 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck
This is the most popular of the free observations decks and it is the most accessible as most visitors end up in Shinjuku at some point.  Head west from Shinjuku Station into the business area.  On the way to this building you can enjoy some wonderful public sculptures and the many skyscrapers in the area.
Metropolitan Building

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is an incredibly large building too that is well worth viewing, I also hear there is a good cafeteria here for bargain eats that is open to the public.  There is an excellent tourist information center in the building too!  There is one observation deck in each of the two towers on the 45th floor and they offer some great views.  The view from Tower 1 is slightly better.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Deck
This observation deck is more off the beaten track. It isn't the tallest of observation decks but there are not that many tall buildings nearby to obstruct your view so you can see toward Shinjuku, the Metropolitan Government Building and even Mount Fuji in one photo frame.  The building is unique too with the observation deck looking like a saucer embedded in a building on the 25th floor.  Nearby is the Tokyo Dome and one of the prettiest Japanese Gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen (fall is pretty).  The nearest train station to here is the Korakuen station on the Marunouchi and Nanboku lines.

Bunkyo-ku, Kasuga 1-16-21, Bunkyo Civic Center Bldg 25F.

Tower Hall Funabori
Definitely not on the beaten track, this small observation deck is in a tower that is only 115 meters tall, but that is still about 28 stories. You can see the Skytree to the north and Tokyo Disney to the south. It is near Funafori Station, on the north side, and it is on the Toei Shinjuku Line.

Tower Hall Funabori 4-1-1 Funabori Edogawa, Tokyo 134-0091 Japan

More Tokyo Highlights Posts, Shibuya Crossing, Skytree Information, etc.