Akihabara Used to Protect Edo Castle from Fires

Tokyo (東京), depending on whom you ask, is known for its numerous population and tightly filled skyline, as a city of dreams for many Japanese if we are to believe many manga and anime series, and without a doubt, for its famous wards. Of those wards, many function as almost independent cities, and they each have their own story. Some of them have truly left a mark on our image of Tokyo and even Japan as a whole.

Akihabara ⎜Flickr CC

Akihabara is a part of Chiyoda ward. It used to be a stretch of land inhabited by low class samurai, serving as a passage between Edo Castle and northwestern Japan. After a fire that struck the region in 1869, a shrine was built to protect the area from potential fires. The worshipped deity was firstly called by the name Akiba and later on, Akihabara. You can apparently find (almost) anything in Akihabara, especially electronics, hence its nickname “Electric Town”. The presence of shops that sell manga and anime goodies will make otaku feel at home here as well. Pleasure seekers who would like to be served as a master might enjoy visiting one of Akiba’s Maid Cafés (though there are now Maid Cafés in several other countries as well). Cafés with other fine species also exist. Cat cafés offer the possibility of petting and looking at cats while drinking your tea. Since last month there’s one in Brussels too.

Yodobashi, a 9 floor store, Wikimedia Commons CC

The uncountable shops selling electronic gadgetry, often for seemingly good prices, partly originate from a black market that apparently thrived shortly after World War II. At first, mostly radio parts were sold. Low prices can also be due to low quality, incompatibility with foreign electricity outlets or sheer uselessness. For the record: Yodobashi is an electronics store with no less than 9 floors.

Most blog posts about Akihabara on the internet mention about the same things, and many of them talk about overstimulation. This seems to be a very accurate description of the effect of Akihabara on todays image of Japan. This part of Tokyo is about the most extreme when it comes down to otaku culture, gadgets and flashy signs and neon lights, and it happens to be exactly that which sticks in many people’s minds the most. Ask a young, not yet very educated otaku about what they think of modern Japanese culture, and they are likely to give you a description of what most of Akihabara looks like, instead of a short, but nuanced view on the entire Japanese lifestyle. Rural Japan is a side of the country that doesn’t seem to find its way as much through the media as urban Japan.

If you ever visit Akihabara, take a moment to sit down, relax, and maybe you’ll remember this little post that said that back then, the sole purpose of Akihabara, or the shrine devoted to the deity, was to protect Edo Castle from fires.


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