The Akihabara Experience

Spent the entire day today at Akibahara, the mecca for all gadget-geeks. It’s everything I had imagined it to be and then some. So here’s the run-down.

I extended my trip for an additional two more days here in Tokyo just to visit and see this famous place among gadget-freaks. I thought a half a day of surveillance and a whole day of shopping would be enough but turns out you’ll need more than just a couple of days to sweep the entire Akihabara district.

Buildings up to 6 floors are all full of gadgets and electronics. My first stop was Yodobashi-Akiba. The place is always packed from morning ’til evening. Each floor has specific categories for electronics — there’s one for mobile, then PC/Mac, home electronics, a floor for games and hobbies, another one for PC parts, then cameras and so on and so forth.

Yodobashi seems to be the biggest one among the IT malls and most complete as well. It’s similar to the Funan IT Mall in Singapore but is more organized since the building is under one brand. Imagine Octagon with the entire Cyberzone just under its name. Then, multiply that 6 more floors. That’s how it would look like.

There are actually a lot of offers and discounts here but since everything is in Japanese, I couldn’t understand what the Gold Points are, which credit cards to use to get additional 5% discount on purchases or when to claim exemption for 5% usage tax (just don’t open the items or use them while in Japan).

The second stop is the SofMap Megastore. It’s almost the same as the Yodobashi but this time, they also offer second-hand items. Some of the ones I can remember are SE Experia X10 (Php12k), iPhone 3G (Php10k), 3GS (Php15k), a Canon S90 (Php9k), an LX3 (Php12k). I almost bought the LX3 only to discover that the manual and menus are all in Japanese, thanks to the English-Translation sales guy who cleared that up for me and canceled the transaction.

The other problem with the second-hand phones is that they’re locked to a carrier (eMobile, SoftBank or NTT Docomo) so you still have to bring it to VirraMall to have it unlocked.

As for the actual prices of brand new items, I was disappointed that they’re practically the same as in the Philippines. Sometimes, I think they’re even more expensive.

I had to go to the iPad/Mac section every once in a while to browse the price list in the Philippines but for the most part, the savings aren’t that big. For example, an 8GB iPod Touch 4G costs Â¥20,800 or about Php11,000. The Macbook Air 11.6″ costs Â¥88,800 (Php47,200). The Nintendo Wii seems pretty cheap though (Â¥20,000 or Php10,600).

The camera lenses seem more expensive too. I think Hidalgo offers much better deals. There are second-hand lenses too but I don’t really trust those very much especially when you’re spending for a Php45k Canon EF 18-105mm L F/4.

Was able to see Kinect for XBox 360 too which is cool. Wanted to buy the set but then again, they kept on warning me about Japanese language on the devices.

The smaller shops that line the streets are also exciting since you get to see the weird gadgets. The second hand laptops are also very cheap here. The best bargain I’ve seen is an old 12″ IBM ThinkPad X60s which sells for around Php12,500. I think all the other 2nd-hand laptops start at that price.

While the big stores only sell locked phones with 24-month contracts (I thought the Samsung Galaxy Tab was selling for just Php23k but turns out, it comes with a plan too), the street shops offer them mostly unlocked but at a much higher price. Saw the Desire HD selling between Php42k and Php45k while the Desire Z was going for Php36k. I guess the Japanese aren’t that big with prepaid SIMs (or the subsidies are really very attractive).

Pocket WiFi like the one from Huawei seems to be the hot item this season. They’re all over the place (but comes with a contract again) and are oftentimes bundled with a netbook, an iPod Touch or an iPad.

The streets are as interesting as well. Lots of girls in cosplay attire and encouraging people to come into their stores. Lots of arcade halls, anime comics stores, DVD and hobby shops. Vending machines line up the streets, subways, hotels — they’re everywhere. Japan is a like a vendo-country.

Over-all, it was an awesome experience. I think the one and a half day tour of the Akihabara district wasn’t enough but the stay sure did offer a good glimpse of the gadget mecca. At the end of the day, I’ve already ran out of cash and my credit card is maxed out. I’ll blog about some of the items I bought (no big ticket items though) — just the ones that are interesting or not found in the Philippines.

43 Comments on this Post

  1. lolo tasyo

    I stayed in Tokyo for 3 months some 6 years ago. I spent all my weekends in Akihabara, and yet I was not able to cover it all, or see everything. The place is so huge, its offerings virtually endless. Can’t wait to get back there.

  2. May vending machine po ba ng cellphones dyan?

  3. sir yuga may vending machine po ba ng cellphones dyan?

  4. Kakaingit! Hopefully, 1 day, I can visit Japan! and this street hehe..

  5. haha. ngayon ko lang nabasa ito. buti naman naka visit ka jan. i live in japan thats why alam ko ang akihabara. nice one

  6. Daytron

    In Yodobashi, the 5% discount is for unionpay cards – to encourage Chinese tourists to spend. Bic Camera (Ueno is closest to Akiba) is generally cheaper than Yodobashi and also has a point card system.

    I’ve not found any electronics much cheaper than elsewhere – the japanese market is very closed (hence contract phones etc) by language and you’ll find for example SONY products Japanese language only and more expensive than the english language version sold in say, Singapore.

    GSM network in Japan very limited, 3G mostly UTMS 2100 so compatible but 90% of the phones you see there won’t work well elsewhere even if unlocked (and doubtful anyone outside Japan would have a clue how to unlock). Lots of carrier specific software although many have english option.

    • bluemary1014

      I know of a cheaper store than them, its PC Bomber, its just near Akihabara, not in Akihabara. Try also to use this website: The items here are shown with a store where it is available. Look for the cheap ones.
      Note that the site is in Japanese.

  7. someday. T_T

  8. Sir when you came again here in Japan we can assist you in Akihabara, Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Dice etc…., actually karamihan ng benta dito for domestic use kaya manual is in Japanese, but wait there is a language setting of LX3 and others gadget you can set it on English. Most Japanese salesman although they can speak English but they do not know that there is a language setting, Of course default setting is in japanese that is why they insist it is not in English hehehehe. That was my experience before, then now I enjoy buying here and sell them on line after setting up to english menu.

  9. bluemary1014

    Phil is correct but certain brands like Sony are producing their products exclusively for Japanese use recently. Because they found out that tourists can save money from buying the same items back at their country, like us. The only known brands that have still dual language support are Canon and I think, if not Olympus, its Nikon.
    Also, Second-hand items in Japan is like Brand new if you compared it here. One friend of mine bought an Iphone 4 in sofmap this year, when she opened the box, the plastic wrap of the Iphone is the only wrap that has been opened. all the wraps are intact including the twist ties of the usb cable and earphones are left untouched. Only thing is when she got back here, she had it unlocked.

    Another thing on cellphones in Japan, Sim phones aren’t popular there because their signal is CDMA. Their phones doesn’t use Sim cards to work.
    Sim phones generally use GSM network. Its not a popular and common signal for them. Also, their mobile phone numbers are registered on its respective owner. This is to avoid theft.
    One provider which offers sim phones is Softbank. So everything with sim can be unlocked here in the Philippines.
    (Ref: I was in Japan in 2008 for 3 months, worked in a project for IHI Corporation. Most of my weekends were spent in Akihabara but there were places I wasn’t able to go to yet. If have the chance I want to visit the place again.)

    • bluemary1014

      I forgot to mention that if someone really wanted a Sony, for example, a Sony Digicam in English, he can still avail one. Just ask the salesperson for an International model. One note, the price is almost the same as here in the Philippines.

      Final note, Akihabara is not just an electronic town, it’s also a toy town. If someone here like me knows and makes a hobby out of gunpla or gundam plastic models, I’m sure if that person visits Akihabara, he will be in paradise. Everything you wanted to know and need is there.

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