Beloved for its contributions to modern pop culture around the world, Tokyo is the go-to destination for geeks. As the central nervous system of geekdom, enthusiasts of anime, manga, figurines, gaming and random colourful things that spring to life can traverse hotspots that will welcome them with open arms. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to getting your inner geek on—and here’s our list of attractions to keep you perked up.
For this list, we’re using Tokyo Station as the starting point for your trip. It’s also a good time to remind you to keep your Pasmo or Suica cards handy, and a pair of comfy walking shoes on your feet.
After Nintendo clamped down on the infamous Mario Kart go-karts that zipped across Tokyo, people have only had the opportunity to wear generic character onesies while zooming through town. But don’t let that stop you from exploring the city in a whole new way! It’s not prohibited to drive a go-kart around Tokyo’s streets, and Tokyo Kart is one of the companies you can hook up with to do so.
All you need is a valid International Driving Permit, and you’re good to go. One full course takes approximately two hours to complete, and you’ll pass by some popular spots. Walk-in customers pay ¥11,000, while online customers pay ¥10,000 when it’s done at tokyokart.com.
Getting here: Walk for ten minutes from Tokyo Station to the Nihombashi Station. Take the Ginza line to Asakusa Station, which is eight stops away, and costs ¥170. Walk out via Exit 4, cross the Azumabashi Bridge, and keep on walking until you see a kimono store. Turn right and proceed until you reach a parking lot, and then slip through the street until you see the Tokyo Kart building.
Nestled in a nondescript building in Akihabara is Super Potato. When we say nondescript, we mean that the building it’s housed in is as conventional as it gets—save for the blindingly obvious gaming window decals welcoming you from above.
Situated from the third floor up, be spellbound by pure retro gaming madness. If you’re a classic video game lover, or if you’re hunting for some gaming grails, Akiba’s Super Potato branch shouldn’t be missed. You can chow down on—among other things—their collection of Game Boy games, vintage Game & Watch handhelds, N64 controllers, Sega Mega Drives, Famicom games (both Super and Original!) as well as stock up on backup peripherals for your old systems at home. Just be warned that a high percentage of the classic content will be in Japanese.
Getting here: Akihabara station is a two-station, ¥140 ride from Tokyo Station using either the Yamanote or Keihin-Tohoku line. Exit Akihabara Station from either its Electric Town North Exit, and walk east until you see the Sega Akihabara building across the road. Cross the road, turn right, and then take the first left. Take the first right, and keep on walking until you see the entrance to Super Potato.
Imagine eight floors filled with all the electronics you could need. If you’re on the hunt for the latest, fanciest, and in many ways, unnecessary consumer electronics from the Land of the Rising Sun, Akihabara’s Yodobashi Camera is intense. From cameras, phones, refrigerators and massage chairs, there’s a little something for everyone here. Don’t forget to drop by its sixth floor, dedicated to toys and gaming.
If you need to blow off steam while window shopping, the rooftop driving range and batting cage on the ninth floor will clear your mind of the sensory overload of beeps and bloops you’ve been exposed to.
Getting here: Akihabara station is a two-station, ¥140 ride from Tokyo Station using either the Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku line. Exit Akihabara Station from its Central South Exit. Yodobashi Camera will be visible once you cross the road, with the Square Enix Cafe greeting you on the ground level.
Although there’s a smattering of Pokémon Centres scattered around Tokyo, only the most “mega” of them would be worthy of your attention. It might be out of the way from the usual touristy locales, but the Mega Centre is fully loaded for the most dedicated of Trainers.
Prepare for a true Poké-candy rush. You might hear the old Game Boy music play over the PA. You’ll certainly hit “aww shucks” levels of excitement when you see the hordes of Pokémon plushies on sale. Hint: special edition plushies are available during festive occasions – including Halloween! From lunchboxes to miniature figures, this is the place to be the very best like no one ever was.
Getting here: Ikebukuro station is eight stops (and ¥200 yen one away) from Tokyo Station using the Marunouchi line. Walk out from its east exit, and head towards the Sunshine City mall, which is a ten-minute walk away. The Pokémon Centre is on the second floor of the mall.
The Mandarake at Nakano Broadway is a different kind of beast. While most otaku-friendly shopping experiences feel more conventional and centralised, Mandarake is spread out throughout the four floors of Nakano Broadway. Other smaller geeky outposts litter the mall, but Mandarake is the behemoth here.
This particular branch was established in 1987, and apart from its traditional offerings of books (both new and secondhand) and toys, it also has a store showcasing authentic vintage Japanese movie memorabilia that sets it apart. Music, posters, pamphlets, toys—Nakano’s Mandarake perfectly encapsulates a love affair with Japanese pop culture.
On a side note, you could also visit Mandarake’s tower in Akihabara, but we’d pip the Nakano Broadway outlet for a much better utilisation of space and time (as well as sparing you from potential geek claustrophobia).
Getting here: Tokyo Station to Nakano costs ¥220, and is five stops away on the Chuo line. Exit from Nakano Station’s north exit, and you’ll see the Nakano Sun Mall shopping avenue across the street. From here, follow the path all the way north until you reach Nakano Broadway. Thirty different Mandarake specialty sections are distributed throughout the first to fourth floors of the mall, so take your time to browse them all!
If you’re a geek on a budget, go to any Book Off store. This chain of stores is synonymous with used items in Japan, and it paints an admirable picture on how well the Japanese take care of their possessions. Everything on display is in pristine condition, no matter which branch you visit.
The Book Off Super Bazaar formula is essentially “Book Off on steroids”: aside from used geeky items, you can also find preloved clothes, sporting equipment, accessories, and appliances. The closest Super Bazaar you can visit in the Tokyo vicinity is the Hachiojiminamino branch. It’s slightly further than normal (over an hour by train from central Tokyo), but you can appreciate the vast retail space needed that the city wouldn’t have provided.
Getting here: The Book Off Super Bazaar is off the beaten path. From Tokyo Station, take the Chuo line to Hachioji Station, which is 21 stops away. Switch to the Yokohama line, and get off at Hachiojiminamino Station (it’ll cost ¥920 one-way). Leave via its western exit, walk along the main road for about five minutes, and you’ll spot the Book Off Super Bazaar to your left.
Sometimes, you’ve got some time to kill before catching your train to the airport. Thankfully, you can take a leisurely stroll through Tokyo Station and enjoy everything it has to offer – including its Character Street. Permanent stores and pop-up counters align it, ranging from Ghibli goodness, Shonen Jump merchandise, Ultraman gear and other popular cultural figureheads.
Side note: look out for Tokyo Station’s Ramen Street, which works the same way as the Character Street for those hankering for awesome ramen.
Getting here: Tokyo Station is a sprawling underground labyrinth that houses many different retail experiences. The Character Street is at the northern part of the station, directly accessible via the Yaesu North Exit of First Avenue Tokyo Station.
Square Enix has made some of the most unique RPG video games known to man, and Artnia showcases the coolest products inspired by them. From Kingdom Heart baubles to Chocobo plushies, this special hut (for lack of a better descriptor) housed at the imposing Square Enix headquarters in Shinjuku beckons to those who’ve been touched by their games over the last three decades.
Among the special pieces of history that Artnia documents from Square Enix’s past include its Final Fantasy series. Artnia’s Final Fantasy zone will set tongues wagging with its crystal waterfall centerpiece, along with figurines, statues and other FF-inspired memorabilia surrounding it. (Hot tip: get yourself a Keyblade, because you deserve one.)
Soak in the quiet ambience with a touch of food and light refreshments at the side, named after potions and spells like Phoenix, Blizzards and Materia. It’s a small respite, but it’s totally worth a look.
Getting there: Shinjuku-sanchome Station is eight stops away from Tokyo Station, and costs ¥200. Leave the station via the B3 exit, and head northwest along the main road for ten minutes. You’ll then catch the unmistakable sight of Square Enix headquarters. Walk towards it, and you’ll see Artnia nearby.
Some might baulk at Robot Restaurant’s cabaret show’s willingness to play up to Western stereotypes, while others might see it as the Japanese laughing at our own misconceptions about what Japanese culture is. One thing’s for sure: Robot Restaurant is constantly evolving its show, and it knows how to tap into our weakness: the desire to see kooky Japanese stuff.
What happens when the switch is flipped? You get men in rubber suits, scantily-clad sword-bearing maidens and giant mechas that rule the stage. You’ll be bombarded by music, lights, sound, sparks, and, well, smoke. Leave logic at the door, and just enjoy the show in all its manic splendour.
Ticket prices officially range from JPY 7,500–8,000 and must be booked in advance, but you can find a good deal online if you look hard enough. Also, the venue is more “Robot” than “Restaurant” – save your money on the food for elsewhere.
Getting here: From Tokyo Station, take the Marunouchi line to Shinjuku station, which is nine stops away, and costs JPY 200. Exit the station via Exit 12b, and head north until you reach Kabukicho-Sakura-dori Street. Head north, and follow the signs to Robot Restaurant.
Unbelievable, but true: Nintendo is just opening its first official Japanese store in fall 2019. It’s a small part of the refurbishments being made to the Shibuya Parco complex; the Nintendo store will be situated on the complex’s sixth floor. It’s set to be a digital haven for all fans of the Big N!
What’s exciting is that in addition to selling video game systems, software and merchandise, Nintendo plans to host events at its Tokyo hub. As it’s yet to launch, details are still sketchy for now – but this would definitely be near the top of the lists for all serious gamers.
Getting here: From Tokyo Station, take the Marunouchi line four stops down to Akasaka-Mitsuke station. Switch to the Ginza line, and stop off at Shibuya, which is another four stations away. Take the Tokyu Department Store exit, and then the Moyai exit. From there, walk north for about 500m and you’ll reach Shibuya Parco.