Akihabara Tour: May 19, 1996
by Sigi Rindler
Hi there... "Mr. Akihabara" has just arrived at home from today's field trip in Electric Town. That's the name which tourist guides refer to since "Akihabara" doesn't necessarily ring a bell among newcomers.
As usual, I arrived first (9:45) while most shops were still closed. But since I knew that the Laox Duty-Free shop opposite the Akihabara Department building opens earlier, I wanted to check about electric breadmakers. Strangely, all 3 models were exhibited for the European market only. A step-up transformer would have solved the problem, however, these 500 to 1,000W monsters weigh between 8 and 12kg and cost ¥15-20,000! I might order a breadmaker in the states or buy a domestic model (which doesn't have as many nice functions as the export models I saw). Anyway, I and my folks are fed up with the industrial bread from Yamazaki and similar sponge bread manufacturers. You know the ones that bounce back on the table once they fall down....
And since the TPC wants to buy a digital camera I asked for a pamphlet of the only model on display. The salesman should be reported to his superiors to get him a floor sweeping job! There was no pamphlet, he couldn't answer whether the interface cable was included, and has never heard anything about the accompanying software. Finally I asked for the Laox price since the ¥39,000 retail price was crossed out. He wouldn't know either... I decided to be polite and left him abruptly without saying a single word (which would have spoiled his day)!<g> This model was the old one. A new Casio camera is being sold already.
Huh... 10:30 already! I dashed back to the meeting place infront of the station. The spot where I used to wait was occupied by 2 adults and about 10 small kids with money collection boxes. They drowned out any surrounding noise with their usual "onegaishimasu" to attract people. But since they were collecting for UNESCO, I was less inclined to contribute to an organization whose leaders love jet-setting all over the world and have also wasted other peoples money in other ways with both hands. Opinions might vary, but I have heard and read my share....
By 11:00 we had a collection of familiar faces (Hubert, the Frenchman), Todd Boyle , Kyoko Kawashima (newcomer), Tony Costa (computer sensei for toddlers at Sacred Heart School), some other guys like the Japanese ikebana teacher and the American-Japanese gentleman who lives close to Kamakura, TPC member Jim Tittsler , Mike Carr (DTP man for the newsletter of the Tokyo British Club) and last not least our Swiss fellow Kurt Keller from the Japanese Hollywood town Ofuna (the Pinboard sysop). Chotto matte... fan #1 Joseph Northey from Ghana came all the way from Africa to join the trip (for the 3rd or 4th time). Well, some will eat cup ramen every day, too!<g>
I extended the grace period by about 1.5 minutes and left the spot at 11:02 (according to Kurt Keller's $2,000+ RADO wrist watch). Swiss and Rado represent enough authority to shut the guys up who missed the deadline by half an hour, but claim to have arrived at 11:00...<g>
First - as usual - we went straight over the bridge past the Japanese Railway Museum and stopped at STEP's PC outlet. Badly indicated boxes make shopping a kind of hassle, but this stopover is merely a window-shopping and price comparison trip. Today they were not well stocked either. Beside this shop you walk down the staircase to STEP's showroom. That's a really neat place where you can select your desired components for your computer to be built in the same day. However, you are not advised to go this route if you are a beginner. I know at least two people who have had problems with incompatibilities that caused them a lot of hassle afterward. STEP's technicians aren't very knowledgeable about their own products, but they are very good at getting rid of you when problems arise (endless repair times for instance). The are also known for not letting you open a box to make sure that the specifications on the box coincide with the ones in the manual. I might drop this outlet from my tour next time since Step's prices of a couple of items can now be matched or undercut by several other shops!
We went back down to the police station, crossed the street, turned left and then right again (there is a Tsukumo shop right at the corner). This street leads straight to the big Laox Computer shop (left) at the end of the road. That's the interesting place where we were heading to. It's the "second hand shop street" right before you hit the Laox Computer shop. Right at the corner are advertising panels for "Trisal", an outlet on the 4th floor. A Pentium 166MHz with 16MB EDO RAM (8x2), a 1.2GB HD, 2.5" 3 mode floppy drive, 4X ATAPI CD-ROM drive, Sound Blaster... (probably no Win95 software loaded) costs ¥172,000 (w/o monitor). That's a price which is hard to beat! The same configuration with a P -133 is ¥142,000, and for a P-100 you'd have to fork over ¥129,000. If you are looking for SIMM RAM, don't shop here since "Za Graceful" has the better deals. I'll talk about this shop later on. Anyway, if you can read Japanese on your computer and use the internet, check out their homepage at:
Ten meters up this road on your right hand is a street stall that displays lots of magnetic and magneto-optical media like MO disks, CD-R disks, etc. This is definitely the cheapest outlet in town! Take your time and check out all these shops that can be accessed through narrow staircases only. You might find some goodies for real giveaway prices like good-looking second hand keyboards (Japanese and English) for ¥500 to ¥1000).
A little bit further on the left side is a shop that sells all kinds of small electronic items and CD-ROMS (displayed outside the shop). They were selling NEW Pioneer LaserDisc players for ¥9800! The 12" LDs are soon out of fashion since a new generation of 5" LD players are being marketed after this summer. Still, these gadgets were sold for close to ¥200,000 some years ago! Finally we went to T-Zone at the end of the road (the small parts outlet). Today I noticed no special deals, but the situation changes every couple of days.
It was 12:30 and time to head back to the station for lunch. Opposite the *radio departo* is the discount shop "GoodMan." It's always worth to have a glance at the stuff that's exhibited outside the shop. The first thing that caught my attention were these glittering 30cm LDs (laser discs)—all porno stuff—but what the heck, all were available at ¥500 to ¥1000. I was tempted to go back to the other shop and get the new LD Player for just under 10,000 yen, but then I remembered that I'm on the Internet...<g> Well, I settled for some other goodies. There were these "CD mini albums" (katakana expression). 3 inch mini CDs with 4 to 6 classic pieces on them. This is no big deal, but the manufacturers were "Deutsche Grammophon" and "London," 2 great band names. Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Strauss, etc. for ¥150 a piece. I have played them already and can say that everything high quality stuff. Great small and inexpensive presents... as long as you don't leave the price tag on them! Everybody bought something. One guy bought a 10-year supply of Chinese seaweed soap for ¥100 a piece.
Finally it was 13:05 when we arrived at Akihabara's department store restaurant. Before that we met leaderless Susan from Washington DC... another victim of her wristwatch that showed 11 am, but not the official and accurate Swiss RADO time!<g> Our missing TPC members Brian Perkins and Giuseppe from Italy were already eagerly waiting in front of the 2nd floor restaurant since they missed us in the morning by just half an hour....
Well, I don't want to bore your with our menu etc., but when I mentioned the big 100 Yen shop on the same floor level of the Dept. store, Kyoko-san wanted to see it. What we saw was then quite amazing. This shop carries many items that everybody needs and buys for twice to xxxx times the price in local neighborhood shops. Check it out yourself on the 2nd floor and you'll agree with me.
2nd leg of our trip:
We walked over to the biggest Sofmap outlet store called Chicago. They usually carry the cheapest US Computer magazines, but all they had were 2 kinds of game magazines and one for OS/2. They are always sold out quickly.... Tower Records in Shibuya carries them also for about the same price, however.
Next stop was the book section at the big Laox Computer store (floor level). They have most English computer books in town (and magazines), but they are EXPENSIVE!
Out of here, crossing the street, and going straight to Atztec (side-street behind the Mitsubishi bank). It's not my favorite shop, but they have lots of stuff for people who can build computers themselves. Hubert and Joseph had to leave us, but they must know Akihabara better than I do by know....
Next stop was Overtop. Bloody crowded with customers, but I checked the prices for ZIP drives and the media. I decided to go back to the shop if nothing better would come up. One turn right and another one right got us to the big showroom of DOS/V Paradise. The company seems to main importer for Micron computers (before that it was Gateway). I find them kind of pricey compared to other brands, especially when the monitor is extra. I was checking for my desired Iomega ZIP drives again. They are ¥19,800, cheaper than anywhere else I had seen. Somebody pointed at one for ¥15,000... but without warranty! Must have been dropped several times, who knows? I'd rather pay ¥5,000 more and have a year of warranty! The floppies are ¥1,650 if bought as a pack of 10. That's the cheapest offer in town also. So I decided to pick up the stuff after ending the trip.
The next stop was Za Graceful which has the cheapest SIMMs in town! My WD 1.6MB hard disk has gone down in price again and now costs ¥26,900. Four months ago I paid ¥34,000 for it, but this money will buy me now a WD 2.1MB! Add another ¥5,000 and you may call yourself a proud owner of a WD 2.5MB. Somebody handed me a green flyer of a company called "PC BANK" (close to the station). I have a feeling that this shop is somehow associated with the former outlet or whatever since the prices for many items are exactly the same (¥8,738 for 8MB RAM for instance). I have never visited PC BANK before (might be a new shop). The phone number for this shop is 03-3251-0816.
Other goodies with "graceful pricing":
Hitachi ATAPI 4X CD-ROM drive: ¥4,980!!! Goldstar ATAPI 4X CD-ROM drive: ¥4,467!!! Hitachi ATAPI 7X CD-ROM drive: ¥9,418!!!
The same drive costs ¥8,933 at PC BANK.... BTW, don't bother about 3.5" FDDs. 2-mode drives are under ¥3,000 and 3-mode drives about ¥3,600. The latter ones were ¥25,000 four years ago.
Susan had to leave... and Todd Boyle got lost by himself. Next stop (just 1 minute from "Za Graceful" is Attla, the former "Spunky"). There was nothing special to see, except the two button devices that you can attach to the left and right of your keyboard in order to play your favorite pinball games (approx. ¥6,000). Somehow me managed to lose Brian Perkins and our Portuguese fellow Tony between the last 2 or 3 spots....
Out of here, crossing Chuo Dori, and straight to the A-Master building. There is now a new shop on the 6th floor called "Bless." They carry the usual small parts as many other shops and charge identical prices. It's not worth to target especially this shop, but I'll make it a habit when I'm in this building. These shop do have one or the other bargain (depending on the day you visit). Just take the elevator up to the 6th floor, then walk down staircase by staircase and check all the other computer outlets. A-Master is still the best choice. If you need to converse in English, ask for Matsuo-san (manager) and mention the TPC!!! He knows that we are at least "somebody" since many TPC members have purchased in this shop. He is a likeable guy and keeps his promises. Unfortunately, the 4th floor of A-Master was closed for some repair work and my Iomega Zip drive was sold out. This shop might not be the cheapest one anymore, but I don't fret over ¥500 if I have the opportunity to exchange things without questions being asked.
Come to think of all these weird shop names, but there are rumors that Za Graceful is actually run by former Aum members. Bless (Asahara) might have a similar background, however, I don't really know... it's just a play with words.
Since it was already past 16:00, I said good bye to remaining folks and went back to DOS/V Paradise to get my ZIP drive. There was some slight disappointment since all their original Iomega drives were SCSI drives, so I had to settle for a model made by Epson in the Philippines. This one is whitish and goes with the color of my Gateway... as if I would care! Anyway, this model was over ¥1,500 more expensive and has DOS/V software included. I might have to get somebody elses software for the US model... Just before paying the money, I realized that they have overcharged me (¥17,800 for 10-100MB ZIP floppies). ¥1,780 is the price for one single floppy, but 10 in the box go for ¥1,650 each. I'm not saying that it had been done deliberately, however, I have witnessed a similar case awhile ago when somebody else complained. Some of their employees are a bit sloppy....
Well, this was a short review about this month's Akihabara tour. I hope that everybody has enjoyed it (even those who have arrived late or who got lost in the crowd). One more thing: 3 hours after arriving at home I received a call plus fax from Kyoko-san where she expressed her appreciation and how interesting Akihabara can be.
Now having gotten used to this letter of thanks, keep em coming!!!
Todd, Tony... hope to hear from you soon!!! Aaaah, we are all awfully sorry that we have deliberately lost you... You may try to learn the tricks of the trade at my next tour.<g>
Watch the Algorithmica Japonica for Sigi's next grand Akihabara Tour!
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