[index]

Tue Mar 28 22:49:28 CEST 2006

Akihabara

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20060321

Today I went to Akihabara. Akihabara. Just the name brings
back memories. As a kid I would take subway to Akihabara on
weekends with a friend (Hi Sen!) and plan what I would buy
with my pocketmoney. Of course, most of the stuff I wanted to
buy was waaay out of my reach, but both Sen and I drew plans
and mapped Akihabaras stores, both big and small.

Every time I come back to Japan, I visit Akihabara. I visit
this place to see whats new in the market, but also to revisit
my memories. Most stores are new, but some of the old ones are
still around. One of them still blasts that irritating music
out onto the street. Its still just as irritating, but it
brought a smile to my face as I walked by. 

I went to another of my favourite haunts, which used to
sell Apple ][ software; it was still going strong when I got
there today, but had stopped selling software and had chosen
very explicit (and violent) cartoon pornography as its
speciality. I was saddened to see that part of my childhood go
sour.

Anyway, I had my little moment of nostalgia and
disillusionment. 

I went to Akihabara for a reason, which was to buy
something fun. I looked around half-heartedly for a Sharp
Zaurus- the ones which can be reflashed with a Linux
Kernel. Apparently its possible to get a hold of them in
Sweden, but it seems to be quite a hassle. What I didn't think
about was the number of different kinds of Zaurii in the
Akihabara market. I really should have known better, but
theres some ten or twenty products in Akihabara for every
Japanese product sold in the European market. Another thing
which complicated things is that a product with a certain name
in say Sweden has another name in Japan. The same goes for
product ids.

Needless to say, I skipped the search after talking to the
first salesperson. Instead, I looked around for the cheapest
possible MP3 player. Fun! The larger stores all have the same
price for the same products, they've probably made some sort
of deal with each other. But if you're careful, and ask lots
and lots of questions, you can get a real deal if you go to a
small one-man store. 

After lots of searching, I found a player which didn't
require Windows or Mac software, talked USB2.0, was small,
supported directories in the vfat filesystem, and didn't
require a separate charger- it charges the built-in battery
via USB. It costed just under 6000yen, which was half the cost
of the alternatives I found. 

Of course, it was a little ugly, and I expect the batteries
will die in a year or so, but it was still worth it. 

In the manual theres even a tiny section for Linux users,
which was completely unnecessary, but still quite nice.

Another really cool thing was all the specialist
stores. This isn't anything new for me, but fun nonetheless. I
found a store specializing in tank models from around the
world. From tiny ones less than 3mm big, to big ones at around
one meter from head to tail. From the first ones used in the
Great War to the ones used today by all nations. Experimental
ones created by nations and corporations from around the world
which never actually left the drawing room. Very realistic
miniature landscapes with tanks lined up. I was impressed,
even if it was a little much- the people customers I saw there
were... well I guess its fair to called them a little
fanatic. These guys are Otaku, to use a Japanese term for a
person with a hobby peppered with a generous dose of
fanaticism. 

There were countless stores several stories high, which
just sold cartoons in all its forms. From basement to maybe
five floors, filled with cartoons. Mostly from Japan, but also
from around the world. All differnent artistic and technical
styles, catering to all kinds of people. 

Theres this one building which is best described as a
bazaar. Every little space has been rented out, and this one
building contains one or two hundred shops. I've never managed
to count them all. One guy sells cables- audio, video, LAN,
fibre, PC internals. In all colours and lengths. Another has
specialized in diodes. Yet another sells analog interfaces-
switches, buttons, levers, big switches you see in movies
which start a power station. I found a store which sold
computer memory (RAM) of all kinds, both ancient and
modern. Want a hard disk for your Apple][ or IBM XT? :) 

Its no wonder Akihabara is called a geek's Mecca.

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