Culture calibration overload

This evening I decided to go a few stops up the train line to the Akihabara station to see about getting a USB keyboard and a few other computer things that I decided were better to get here than carry across the Pacific. The Akihabara area is also known as “Electric City” due to the large number of stores and shops there selling electronics, and since my local stores didn’t really have what I was looking for I figured I might just as well go there and see what I could find.

What I found was a cultural experience unlike anything I have ever encountered. I started off in a med-sized 5 floor shop near the station; the first floor was mobile phones, the second laptops and tablets, the third desktops, the fourth was various accessories and software, and the 5’th floor was networking supplies. There was an escalator, but it only went up so going down was by stairs or elevators (which I found to be the case in several of the other stores I visited). Since I was looking for a keyboard I headed straight to the 4’th floor and was amazed by the selection of keyboards, mice, trackballs, etc… on display, as well as the price range. While none were what I would consider bargains, there were some in a fairly reasonable price range and then others going up from there, including one wireless touchscreen keyboard that cost more than several of the laptops on offer.

With that store as a baseline, I repeated the process at several other stores and discovered that I had managed to find the one relatively subdued store to start off with. Most of the others had similar assortments (some including cameras, watches, and household electronics as well) but combined it with loud music, bright colors, strong lights, and men on megaphones barking out their deal of the moment. By this point I was so wrapped up in the cultural aspects of what was going on that I completely lost track of what I was looking for and ended up heading into a relatively quiet side passage filled with small shops to let my mind stop spinning from the stimulus overload it had just gone through. When I did regain some equilibrium I found myself surrounded by stalls selling electrical components. Gone were the fancy packages and in their place simply bins of resistors, capacitors, solder in various shapes and sizes, LED’s, etc… with an occasional set of tools and meters on display almost as an afterthought – an electrical tinkerer’s version of heaven.

Once back out on the street, I found myself running into young women wearing variations on Victorian maid uniforms trying to hand out flyers for the various restaurants and other establishments around (a fairly common practice here, though the maid uniforms are not quite as common elsewhere in the city). As a convenient route out of the situation I ducked into a store with the English words “top quality craftsmanship” on their sign, and assumed I was heading into some form of a hobby or supply shop. And I was – but one seeming to specialize in figurines of animated TV and film characters. Suddenly the maid uniforms made much more sense – I had stumbled into one of the localized hotbeds of cosplay culture, in which people dress up like their favorite Anime characters, and for some reason several of the most popular female characters wear variations on maid uniforms… which popularity among the cosplay set may have something to do with them being wearable, as opposed to the spiky and awkward “transformer” style characters.

Between the general crowd on the street, the overload of stimulus from the shops, and the cosplay set I decided it was time to head back to the flat while I go through yet another round of cultural recalibration.

And as if to provide a fitting wrap up to the day, I just experienced my first earthquake in Japan. A little shaking, but otherwise a non-event.

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