UK Anime Guide to Shopping in Japan
Written by D. R. on 08 Jan 2014
It’s the age old anime fan’s dilemma: You love all things anime and manga, you’re in Japan, but where do you go to spend all your hard earned Yen? We have all heard about Akihabara Electric Town, but unless you’re fluent in Japanese actually finding your way around and working out which shops you want to visit can prove to be an exercise in futility. That’s where we come in, with our handy dandy UK Anime Guide to Shopping in Japan.
We shall be covering the usual suspects such as Akihabara and Den-Den Town, as well as a one or two hidden gems. Just don’t blame us when you run out of money and have to live on convenience store food for the rest of your holiday - although that’s not as bad as it sounds, Japanese convenience store food is actually pretty good for the most part. We'll cover the basics first, then we will move on to which areas you'll want to check out before finally covering which shops you'll want to keep an eye out for.
Keep one eye on vending machines and places to eat
Chances are you’re going to be shopping for a while, especially somewhere like Akihabara, so scoping out the places to get food and drink while you go will make sure you’re never struggling to find somewhere to grab a drink or a bite while your stomach growls impatiently at you. This is doubly important if you go in the summer as I did - you will need to drink a lot of fluids if you want to stay on your feet in those temperatures. Luckily Japanese cities are littered with reasonably priced vending machines and convenience stores to get your fix of Pocari Sweat and Edamame. Similarly, keep an eye out for toilets (especially western style); you don’t want to be caught short half-way up an eight storey flight of stairs (there are a lot of those, especially in Tokyo) while carrying bags full of precious figures, manga, CDs and Blu-rays.
Don’t be afraid to buy second-hand
I know what you’re thinking: “Second-hand? I want new and shiny!”. But bear with us here, this isn’t like wandering around the lacklustre shops we call second-hand stores here in the UK. You won’t find the scratched discs, torn booklets and the infamously malodorous shop floors of our second-hand stores in Japan. No, the Japanese are very particular about their second-hand goods and the vast majority of Japanese second-hand goods you will hardly be able to tell apart from new. The Japanese otaku (I should probably warn you that while we in the west tend to wear the ‘otaku’ label with pride, it’s actually a pretty derogatory term in Japan – so it’s best not to use it while you’re there) in particular are very careful with their possessions. You can easily pick up items as good as new for considerably less money than they would cost new, you'll even find some second-hand items still sealed in their original boxes. The second-hand shops are also the best places to hunt out those slightly older, perhaps out of print, items you’ve been lusting after for years.
Beware the fake monks
This tip applies mostly to the big cities, especially Tokyo: If you are stopped in the street by someone dressed like a monk asking for money (often "donations" for a "blessing"), don’t give them anything. Don’t even feel the need to stop and be polite. I know it’s difficult with our tendency towards politeness here in the UK, but try your best to ignore them. Please do feel free to report them to the police if you get the opportunity; it’s apparently quite a widespread scam targeting foreign tourists. I myself was approached by one in Shibuya. Just remember this: Real monks don’t ask for money on the street, ever.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or directions
Even if you don’t speak any Japanese, you’ll be surprised just how common good English speakers are in Japan. Many Japanese people will be more than happy to help you out and practice their English (especially once they realise you’re from the UK). That said, if you can manage to learn enough Japanese to ask basic questions like directions, how to ask for something in a shop, etc. you will be surprised just how far that can take you. If all else fails there’s one word you need to know: “wakarimasen”, which literally means “I don’t know”. Think of it as a polite way to say you don’t understand.
Don't try to haggle
The Japanese don't haggle, it's considered rude. Well, that's not strictly true: They do haggle occasionally and under certain specific circumstances - but for our purposes it's best to consider it off-limits unless you're fluent in both the language and the culture.
Beware Adult Content
Quite a few of the shops you'll want to visit will have adult sections, some even have whole floors dedicated to adult material. These sections will always be marked out, and are often behind curtains or similar, but if you're not familiar with Japanese it can be all too easy to miss the signs. That's fine if that's the sort of thing you're looking for, but just be aware it is possible to inadvertently wander into sections with shelves overflowing with pornography.
Author: D. R.
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