“That’s Akihabara. Umm…geek people go there”, Jin replied.
Geek people? Sounds like a set of museum of technology, perhaps the term of gadget is more appropriate. I ultimately managed to go there two days after. Though I am not an expert, not a techonologist, but I think whatever means of new way that ease human life and impress at the same time are always fascinating for people. The reason why I fell in love with Akihabara at the first sight; it is the heaven of technology.
Akihabara is located in Tokyo city area, a busy district which you can reach by Tokyo subway from any major stations such as Shibuya, Ueno, or Shinjuku. First time I set my foot there, I was welcomed with lightening electronic logos attached on many front walls of the stores — a variation of flashy katakana brands, paired with Roman alphabets underneath, for those who couldn’t read Japanese — trying to attract tech-savvy people and shoppers in general. Toshiba, Hitachi, Sony, Panasonic, Sanyo…you named it. Some foreign brands also seemed like did not wanna lose the competition. Samsung and LG from Korea, many Chinese brands (or Japanese brands which stamped as “Made in China) as well as the big name of Apple (maybe built in China too), which appeared to be so appealing for saturated Japanese electronic market, had claimed their existence in this Sillicon Valley of Japan.
The district was cramped with gadgets’ sellers. Some stores which provided quiet spacy alley for visitors to sight see usually offered slightly more expensive prices for the same items than some stores with very narrow alley, stacks of boxes, and crowded displays. The already limited lands in Japan perhaps one of the factors that supported this condition, but Japan, especially Tokyo, is already a very expensive country to live in compare than living cost of the surrounding Asian neighbourhoods, so this fact wasn’t really bother me. However, the fact that electronic gadgets here were relatively cheaper than what mostly would be sold in Jakarta had insinuated my thought to buy lots of these electricity consuming items here and sell them back in Indonesia. Cell phone, for example, has a very decent Japanese design -cute for women and a touch of technologist for men- would be really appealing for Indonesian young population market. This gadget is usually with shape of flip or slide and only sold for about $150-400, a good price for imported products which are made in Japan. I also remember that time (2007), different types of laptop, PCs, netbook, as well as tablet were already available in Akihabara and also sold with relatively cheaper price than in Indonesia, while the same Sony super slim pocket netbook was just arrived in Jakarta 2 years after.
Two reasons why it was impossible to bulk buy these items and resell back in domestic markets are the tax (maybe fines too if we shop more than $10,000) as well as the supporting infrastructure and service once the gadgets are sold outside Japan. Keyboard was design for Japanese users, with katakana and hiragana keys. Surely it will hurt general users in Indonesia who use American QWERTY standard. The operating system and even the empty one with Linux only, was all installed in Japanese interference. I was thinking to ask Jin to buy one netbook for me and to help me re-install with English intereference, but this is just too tedious to do, so i put off my mind. Japanese is also a rule abide citizen. In Japan, you cannot purchase an unlocked cellphone as most of providers already bundle their service with the phones themselves. I mean, in Indonesia you can jailbreak this system as cellphones are all unlock here, but jailbreaking would be against the commerce law in Japan and sellers would prohibit you to buy cell phones if you do not sign at least several months of provider service contract.
Another thing which made Akihabara so unique was the atmosphere. Japan is well known for its excellence in making good quality gadgets, and once you are in Akihabara, you can feel this popularrity not only through its output of production but also through the aura of the people; feels like technology, numeric and mechanic, are the DNA of the Japanese. Not mentioning their sense of arts too, because they do produce gadgets with fit in state-of-the arts with the function and advantage of the products.
Every country always has unique aspects to be observe from the way the people trading in the market. If you go to India, then basically you will see groups of local sellers aggresively selling textiles and clothes on the street, and what I meant with street was real street, pedestrian walkaway. Most of their baskets or display boards are flooded to the main street. Such thing is a natural view in Akihabara where flash disks, mouse, USB extensions, keyboard cleaners, MP3, rolling keyboard, earphones, and many other peripheral electronic stuff are stored in range sizes of baskets, put along on the streets with signage of 300-500 yen, and being mixed and steered by pedestrians who want to make luck on good bargains. Colorful and shiny cell phones and ipod, being displayed on very modest flip boards, accompany the baskets aside with sellers shouting in a cute way “Cell phone, 2000 yen only!”. I sometimes could see other bigger gadgets,like LED-speaker lamps and video camera, along with the boxes, being left outdoor as if they were for free. These were enticing considering how luxurious these would be in my home country (damn import tax…).
From my 5 days only visit in Tokyo, I went to Akihabara two times, one day with Jin and one day with Jin’s okasan (mother). A piece of Casio watch that I bought for only $20+ along the street has been still perfectly working since I bought it 4 years ago. It’s the artifact why Japanese make a durable, yet efficient good. I also got MP3 icube and another gift from Jin’s mom, a Hipper switching mood lamp USB speaker with a shape of dinosaur egg (the MP3 was broken though…)
Akihabara, I love you, nerd…!