I don’t know what Japan’s largest export is, but I think its most important export is culture. Pop culture to be precise; there are few places where as you walk the streets you see things you’ll see on fashion catwalks and in TV-show backdrops and and Paper pages this time next year; and Tokyo is one of them.

Pikachu, the fat and ugly version

Pikachu, the not-so-kawaii version.

This time, the photos are from Akihabara, which gets more interesting every year. It’s always been a nerve center for electronics geeks, and I’m one I suppose, but I’ve always found the atmosphere unpleasant and the selection repetitious and the prices atrocious. In particular, you can see some weird high-end audio shit there, but it’s stacked up against a wall under fluorescent light in a charmless room with no comfy chairs in front to listen to music in.

Now, Akihabara has become a hot locus for Otaku nerds and the related-but-distinct Cosplay culture. The micro-micro-economics are complex, but the symptom is simple: they show up in surprising outfits and encourage you to take their picture, in exchange for, well, that’s less obvious.

Young women posing for the camera in Akihabara

The picture above is a scene I didn’t understand; these two very young women maintained these poses while dozens of camera geeks clustered to photograph them. They were engaged in the process, intently reviewing albums and proof-sheets and printouts of photos of themselves, autographing some of them. I saw no advertising or money changing hands. Might any of my commenters know what’s up? For example, are they aspiring stars promoting their careers?

Now, here’s just a bunch of kids looking cool.

Sharp-dressed youngsters in Akihabara

Hard-core gadget geeks can still come here, they’ve got ’em all, but I don’t think its a good place for a gaijin to shop, the sticker prices are just not competitive with the rest of the world, so you have to know how to route around that.

There was one class of transaction that I understood, because they write it up in the Daily Yomiuri while I was there: Hot chick dresses up for the photo-geeks, but in exchange for photos they have to take leaflets for local Cosplay-supply stores.

Cosplay-supply saleswoman in Akihabara

If you’re going to go to a faraway land and put up with all the travel bullshit, at the very least you want to be surprised when you get there. Tokyo never fails.



Contributions

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From: Matt (Jun 19 2007, at 14:16)

A friend of mine says the cosplay in harajuku is much larger, see http://images.google.ca/images?hl=en&q=harajuku&btnG=Google+Search&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&um=1&sa=N&tab=wi for details....

But that Pikachu is just soooo wrooooong.

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From: Mark (Jun 21 2007, at 08:58)

Bic Camera in Ikebukuro or Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, etc., are cheaper these days for electronics, although you can't get the overseas warranties or the English language versions. And part of the cheapness is from the point cards, which kick back 5 to 15 percent on your next purchase. As a short term visitor, you'd have to sequence your purchases. I do this even as a long term resident. For instance, I bought my Mac at Bic, then immediately used the kickback to buy a couple of 250 GB hard drives on a lower floor of the store.

In the early 1990s you could negotiate the prices down, but I think those days are long gone. The trick was to do all your research at another shop, then waste as much of a salesman's time as possible getting a detailed explanation of a few models a level or two below what you really wanted. Then you'd casually ask about the higher level stuff, let him "sell you up," but give an agonized look and ask if he could come down a bit on the price. By that point he'd invested so much time in you he'd give you the maximum discount.

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From: Trejkaz (Jun 27 2007, at 20:52)

I saw this Pikachu guy in Kanda. He was working at a cosplay restaurant there. Takes a lot of balls to wear a costume like that.

I wasn't initially certain if it was the same guy but after digging up one of the other guy's photo albums and comparing them, I'm pretty certain.

Wonder if he changed jobs to another restaurant, or whether their restaurant moved into a more accessible location. :-)

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June 17, 2007
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