Akihabarology: from the tim rogers archive
by tim rogers


from the tim rogers archive: 01112003

Those Japanese did something great when they invented the Sony MDR-D22SL headphones, affectionately called "eggo" by both their corporation and their adoringly affectionate fans. I've wanted a pair for more than a year now. Why I never got them, I don't know. I have them now. I was going to get them at the bigger-than-my-American-ass Satou Musen store right outside Akihabara Station. I didn't. I got them in a tiny little underground shop in the Electric Ghetto.

You just got to support your local Electric Ghetto. The six-kilogram tanuki balls it takes to open a store in that place . . . it's a quality you don't see often enough in this world.

And the rampant capitalism you see in Akihabara, too, is something you don't see so often in the world. As a matter of fact, I'd be inclined to make a bold statement about it, right here:

Nowhere in the world is the concept of capitalistic competition more visible than in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan.

It's like one of those African marketplaces, except everything is regulated by laws and security systems and cash registers and guys dressed up in Sonic the Hedgehog suits. Girls in the street scream out advertisements for broadband internet in voices that suggest they failed out of cartoon acting school. Everything smells like cold charcoal and moist potpourri (actually, this is everywhere in Japan). People browse high-impact-style.

And -- don't you know -- every store sells the same damned shit.

With the exception of used games, that is. Which is what makes browsing so important. Like a science. Akihabarology.


Brandon -- or anyone else who knows -- what the hell is the deal with NEC? I mean, how many systems did they release? I counted all the ones I came across in Akihabara; so far, we're up to 14,321 different systems. What the hell?

< brandon's note: this many. Plus the PC-FX, like 8,000 mostly-dedicated game computers, and connectivity with this thing. >

Still no FM Towns Marty, by the way. Then again, I only checked about a tenth of the available stores. I only spent two hours there, damn it.


Or whatever it was.

Anyway, Satou Musen must own fifteen stores in Akihabara. I take it they started small. Of course they did. There's no other way to start, is there?

Yamagiwa has a lot of stores, too.

There's even a Bic P Kan, and a Sakuraya around the corner.

The king of Akihabara, by far, is LAOX. They pretty much run the show -- especially with their new AsoBitCity (which I keep thinking of as "Ass-o'-bitch-ity," much to my own private amusement), which looks poised to corner the shiny-huge-twelve-floor-games-stuff-washing machines-pornography-toy-home stereo-comic market.


If Satou Musen builds a store, LAOX builds one right next to it. In this way, Akihabara Electric Town is expanding toward the Ginza leaving Kowloon-gangster-flickish underground ghettos of low ceilings and stalls selling one particular type of stripped copper wire in its wake. What we have with the Akihabara of today is a maze of neon and train tunnels and bridges and big, shiny places, and people wandering everywhere, many of them not Japanese. The girl at the Akihabara Tenya, with which I was reunited today at last, even was so kind as to give me an English menu -- which somehow forgot to mention the okonomi tendon deal on the Japanese menu right in front of my face. The English menu must have been out of date.

There are carts set up on Showa-dori, selling these vaguely eastern-European kabob-things. The smell is like a pig that's still squealing for his life.

What differentiates one kabob place from another -- or another giant electronics store from another by the same damned company -- is presentation. Like I said, if Satou Musen opens a store on one corner, LAOX has to open one on the same corner, or vice versa. What pulls a person into any given one of these stores is what's on the outside. It's how pretty the girls are. It's how flashy the neon is. It's how many laminated low prices are packing-taped to the signboards.

The little shops are being run into the ground. Used to be, you could go to a dirty little shop and find three copies of Radiant Silvergun for a cool 10,000 yen. Not anymore. Those places, places like Trader and Trader 2, seem to be downsizing; no one is bringing in used games anymore. It's because the bigger stores offer higher amounts for the used games, and sell them for cheaper prices. Sure, they only make a measly few hundred yen on each sale; still, this is business. And it's more business, if not better, than those more special specialty stores are getting.

This is not the Mecca of videogames.

It is the Las Vegas.

Take that as you will.

You know, I could write a book about Akihabara. Non-fiction. I could make it a serious study in microeconomics. Like that mathematician who read nothing of math, yet inferred every damned formula in existence, I can write this book without looking at shit on microeconomics. Call it "Akihabarology."

Shit, writing straight non-fiction would be boring as hell. How about I write a semi-fiction book about a guy trying to write a non-fiction book about the microeconomics of Akihabara? It might be interesting -- to me.

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