Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Akihabara - The Fire Engine of Tokyo

Akihabara is a bustling district of northeast central Tokyo, squeezed between the publishing district of Kanda to the south and the sprawling expanse of Ueno Zoo to the north. Ever since the deregulated days immediately following the war, a vast market had grown up there specialising in electronics, initially white goods and later higher tech. Sadly though, the days of the covered market where anything was available are long gone, but probably for the best, it was a heck of a fire risk.

From the mid 1980s a new phenomenon started to raise its profile as the nerdy geeks inhabiting the computer and game stores began to morph into the modern otaku. Otaku are almost exclusively young, male and often somewhat socially challenged spending long hours locked in their rooms glued to a computer screen or their favourite manga. These days it is hard to tell whether the area is selling high tech rarely seen outside Japan or game stores and maid cafes. But that's not where it began.

The area originally developed around the nearby city gate leading to the north. Traders set up stalls and would pedal goods to weary travellers. And then there would be a fire and it would all burn down. The market would be rebuilt and the cycle would start all over again until the next devastating fire. Eventually the city decided to act and built a shrine dedicated to the fire-god Akiba to pacify the clearly angry spirits. The shrine is long since gone, relocated to another ward, but the name eventually stuck. So Akihabara isn't an electronics or gaming district. In reality, it's a fire-engine.

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