Super Potato isn’t really a shop, it’s more like a video game museum where you can buy stuff. The store is actually from western Japan, but its Akihabara shop is the centrepiece and it has been visited by countless Japanese celebrities. Want a Japanese Famicom? Or how about a Dreamcast? Japanese PC Engine Games? This cramped, multi-storey shop is packed with them, like some great gaming repository. Prices here run on the high side, but the old game consoles and games are in great condition. Most Super Potato stock is on show, but the extremely rare (and extremely expensive) titles are behind glass.
Yodobashi Camera and electronics store, Tokyo
The game section is nothing special and it’s not exactly cheap, but Yodobashi Camera’s real draw is its size. Occupying an entire city block, this electronics retailer is gigantic, with legions of escalators leading up to sparkling aisles of pristine hardware. The gaming section only occupies one of the nine storeys, but thousands of people queue here when new Sony and Nintendo game machines are released. Yodobashi-Akiba is ideal for shoppers who want to pick up games, electronics and cameras in one fell-swoop. • 1-1 Kanda Hanaokacho, Chiyoda-ku, +81 3 5209 1010, yodobashi-akiba.com. Open 9.30am-10pm
Sofmap store, Tokyo
This national retailer is a good place to pick up new game hardware on launch day as queues are often more manageable than those at Yodobashi Camera. In Akihabara, Sofmap has several locations, each with a slightly different focus: Akiba Sofmap #1 (computer games and popstars), Sofmap Amusement-kan (video games and posters), and Akiba Sofmap #2 (figurines and used games). All three are worth visiting, although if you’re travelling with kids, you might want to venture away from the idol and DVD sections. Amusement-kan, with its distinctive blue awning, is the best bet for gaming goodness. Be sure to check the bargain bins.
Despite its name, this store’s focus is anime and manga, although it does have a fantastic selection of Japanese game magazines as well as a whole floor dedicated to video games and computer games. The upper floors typically host card game tournaments and autograph signings. There’s some eyebrow-raising stuff here, but that’s true for most of Akihabara. • Takarada Building, 1-14-7 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, +81 3 5298 8720, akiba.kakaku.com/en. Open 9am-10pm (first floor), other floors 11am-9pm
This Japanese chain, with branches in North America, France and South Korea, specialises in used books, and its Akihabara branch offers good gaming deals. It spans six storeys, with floors dedicated to DVDs and CDs, manga, and, of course, books. The narrow building, with its grey stones and mirrored facade, looks more corporate Japan than secondhand game shop – if the sign “Please sell us your books and games“ wasn’t written on top of the building, it might be mistaken for an insurance company. The Akihabara branch also carries new consoles and accessories, often cheaper than elsewhere.
Game Hollywood, Tokyo
Claiming to be the best place to buy US games in Japan, Game Hollywood is an ex-pat favourite. Visitors might scoff at the high import prices, but Game Hollywood embodies the Japanese vision of what an American game shop looks like, complete with the Stars and Stripes over the doorway. It’s located on the fifth floor, so keep an eye for a movie style logo surrounded by yellow lights. Not only is this an interesting location, it’s also a good place for non-Japanese speakers to take a break from the aisles of indecipherable domestic games. Be aware that the “Asian versions” of Xbox 360 games (intended for South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) are priced slightly lower than US imports.
Melty Blood fighting game
Tired of shopping for video games? How about buying some arcade games? G-Front sells arcade game boards (the circuit boards operating within the big boxes) intended for use in game centres rather than home consoles. The place is stacked with circuit boards, arcade cabinets and machine parts in neatly organised bins. It looks like a library, but instead of books there’s everything you need to create your own personal Japanese arcade. Arcade games can be expensive, with the pricey boards, such as the most recent Melty Blood fighting game, placed behind glass and priced at more than £700. What’s more, for ¥50 a pop (around 45p), you can even test out some Japanese arcade game cabinets first.
Anyone after a bargain should head straight to Media-Land. It looks rather dilapidated and it’s not the most relaxing shopping environment – like so many ins Akihabara, it’s jam-packed with kit and overrun with posters for new games – but what Media-Land lacks in floor space, it makes up for with good deals and a great selection. The first floor has new games at slightly discounted prices, alongside month-old releases often already at half price. Secondhand games are a bargain here, too – in Japan, used games are often in pristine condition, as gamers buy them planning to finish them quickly and then sell them back at a high price. Look out for off-beat Japan-only titles as well as romance games aimed at women.
Trader shops, a retail chain dotted throughout Akihabara, are easy to find thanks to their eye-catching yellow and blue signs that read “Trader“ in English. “Trader4“ is the one you want, offering a fantastic selection of Japanese shoot-’em-up games, fighting games and rare PC games as well as stocking an array of limited edition game bundles and rare promotional items. Limited editions of new games often sell out fast, so you need to snap them up. This is also a good place to pick up Japanese game soundtracks and “superplay“ DVDs that show expert play. It’s the perfect place to get lost.
While many Akihabara game shops span entire floors or buildings, Tokiwa Musen is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tiny. It’s an eki-ten or station shop, and is the first game shop you see coming out of Akihabara Station’s Electric Town exit. You never feel overwhelmed by Tokiwa Musen‘s scale. Red “sale“ signs are plastered all over the shop like Post-it notes, so it’s easy to scan the place for bargains. The service is friendly and personal, and the shop feels like the Akihabara equivalent of a corner shop.