A closer look at the iconic otaku street shows it’s not business as usual in the district.
For fans of Japanese pop culture, the streets of Akihabara have a beauty that’s on par with verdant bamboo groves, mist-shrouded mountain temples, or any other representative scenery of Japan. It’s the biggest gathering place in the world for otaku artform enthusiasts, an entire urban district devoted to anime, video games, and other forms of passionate expression that have captivated people from around the world.
So if those are your kinds of hobbies, the above photo of the largest street in Akihabara, posted by @mamenitounyu, the Twitter account of unofficial Akihabara mascot character Chosei Tonyu-kun (“Processed Soy Milk-kun”), probably puts a smile on your face, either as it reminds you of happy memories of a previous trip or gets your pulse racing at the prospect of a future visit. Unfortunately, once you see the whole picture, including Chosei Tonyu-kun’s notes, the view isn’t quite so cheery.
秋葉原のヤバさが一目でわかる画像つくった。 pic.twitter.com/0oW8GoPGhF— ちょうせい豆乳くん (@mamenitounyu) July 18, 2021
That Japanese text under each of the four arrows, 空きビル? It means “empty building,” showing that businesses have been clearing out of some of Akihabara’s prime locations as the coronavirus pandemic continues in Japan. “I put together an image that shows at a glance how bad things are in Akihabara these days,” tweeted Chosei Tonyu-kun with the photo.
Some of the vacancies in the photo are ones we’ve talked about before. On the far right is Sega Akihabara Building 2, a video game arcade that shut down at the end of last August and remains almost entirely empty, with the exception of some restaurants on the first floor and in the basement. On the left is Adores Akihabara Building 2, another arcade that closed on June 30, and the karaoke boxes that were on the upper floors have cleared out too, as seen here on Google Streetview.
The other two empty buildings in @mamenitounyu’s photo are the former Volks Akihabara Hobby Tengoku (second from the left), an anime collectibles shop that closed in May after 23 years in business at that location, and Akky One, a duty-free souvenir and electronics shop that is “temporarily closed” as of July 12 according to its website, but seeing how it’s already gone ahead and scrubbed all of its signage off the building’s exterior, it doesn’t look like it’ll be coming back anytime soon.
Though Akihabara has long been Japan’s biggest electronics and anime shopping district, it’s only within the past 15 years or so that the neighborhood’s constant festival-like atmosphere came about, thanks to an otaku culture boom both within Japan and overseas. But with Japan’s borders closed to international tourists for more than a year now, plus fewer Japanese people traveling domestically during the pandemic, there simply aren’t enough people coming to the pop culture mecca to keep every specialty store in operation.
▼ Chosei Tonyu-kun, doing his best to keep the locals’ spirits up
秋葉原がヤバい的なツイートだったけど、ふと、こんなのが日常的にうろついてる時点でヤバいだろって思った。 pic.twitter.com/r1tmrUYfEX— ちょうせい豆乳くん (@mamenitounyu) July 19, 2021
On the bright side, Volks opened a new store a little further down the road in June, but that’s only because the building’s previous tenant moved out. The real silver lining, though, is that while there are fewer otaku on the streets of Akihabara than at any other time in recent memory, anime and video games are surging in popularity as people hunger for stay-home entertainment these days. That means that when travel eventually does resume, we can expect crowds to swarm back to Akihabara, but it might take a while for the neighborhood to bounce back to its full glory.