Akihabara Tour Report -- March 16, 1997
Your Mr. Akihabara has finally come out of hibernation for the first official orientation field trip this year.
As a matter of fact, I just returned home after 7 hours of running criss-cross through the back alleys of Akihabara.
This morning it was cold and raining, and I was worry that I might be the only one waiting in front of the station since 3 people had already canceled their attendance the day before.
Anyway, it turned out better than expected... After telling the guys that I was going to write an article about this trip, and that they would gain fame after being published on the WWW, everybody was in a hurry to get into my notebook...<g>
There were TPC members (or frequent TPC visitors) like Jerry Harris who has been looking for an inexpensive CD-ROM drive for his notebook for many months. Irwin Brand, an English teacher from Australia and perhaps a prospective new member. Morly Kowalishen, a Canadian, took two friends with him (Charanjit Marway and Warren Head). R.K. Deane, an eager TPC newcomer and local callback rep. with tons of namecards in his pocket, and an occasional TPC visitor, Arnold Aram, a retired Australian living in Tokyo.
BTW, computing isn't necessarily a domain for young people only. Aram showed keen interest in everything and was jumping up and down staircases until the end of the tour. He's only 76!
At 11:05 we headed down to the New Akihabara Center ("New" right after WWII when it was built). This shack houses "PC Bank" a shop that sells cheap CPUs, memory, HDs, etc. The selection isn't great, but it's worth to pop in since there are always some bargains laying around. Jerry spotted a 4x external CD-ROM drive with PCI connector for just ¥12,000. I can't remember the name of the manufacturer, but comparable models from Sony and Panasonic cost 3 times as much. Remember that external CD-ROM drives have always been outrageously expensive!
Jerry didn't go for it right away since he was still preoccupied with a pamphlet of a new shop in Shinjuku that sold an IBM model for ¥8,800 during the opening day...
Close by is a shop that sells all kinds of step-up and step-down transformers. Some of them can be used both ways between 100V and 240V including some settings in between. The prices vary according to the wattage. A good selection and reasonably priced according to my observations.
After that we headed up toward the crossing (Akihabara police station/Mansei bridge). Wait a bit! About 20m after the New Akihabara Center is a new Sofmap shop which caters especially to the Internet. They have a lot of software and hardware and anything else which people might need for browsing the net. We didn't enter the store - I was there before - and went straight to the corner were loud music is played and many CDs are displayed. This shop is one of the bad examples where you shouldn't waste time, unless you want to avoid the same experience as I once made. The music sounds great over the shop's speaker system, but once at home, you are tempted to believe that the CD was copied by holding a cheap monaural microphone 1cm in front of a cheap loudspeaker! ¥1,000, - for classical music for no brand CDs are far above standard anyway.
Some guys wanted to see the stun guns located 2 shops around this corner, but since it was raining, all the cheap gadgets that are usually arraigned outside were stuffed into the small shop. There was virtually no space for customers anymore...
Next we crossed the street past the Akihabara police station and finally turned right at the corner (Tsukumo shop). A bit further on the left side is JC-World where we wasted 5 minutes. The most amazing special of the day were mouse pads with some weird cartoon characters on them. Price: ¥980 while the same ones without the picture were ¥100 elsewhere. These crappy mousepads are too light, too thin and too hard anyway.
After walking a couple of meters, we were standing under the Sobu overpass. One guy wanted to see the junk shop "Akihabara Recycling Center" where old Toshiba Dynabooks were sold for ¥1,500 awhile ago. It's not in the basement anymore but in the 3rd floor.
Hey, it's now a much better shop with plenty of cheap goodies. All kinds of measuring devices for technicians, lots of older video cameras (professional ones for as much as ¥2,000... no typo!), many small Compaq boxes 385/25MHz for ¥10,000, Dynabooks, etc.
Now we headed down to the Laox Computer Kan and turned left into the "second hand street" (my own invention). Beside of Trisal is this Sofmap store that sells used laptops, printers, fax machines...
A business fax from NEC was ¥14,000! It must have cost several 100,000 yen when it was new. It wasn't too big either. The gadgets sold in the shop do work as I was told.
Opposite is this garage shop that sells all kinds of floppies and other media. They might still have the best prices in town, but if you are looking for the 100MB ZIP floppies, only "Robin" will sell them for ¥1,400 a piece (10 for ¥13,500). Robin is the corner shop when you walk down past the Washington Hotel (at the other side of the road).
A short stint at the small T-Zone shop at the end of the left road side didn't yield anything new, but Irwing got his 8MB RAM for his Toshiba notebook for about ¥6000.
Since it was already close to 1:00 pm, we had to walk back to the station for lunch and to meet those who might join us on our second leg of the field trip.
We always pass by the discount store "Good Man" where these 8cm classical CDs (brands: Deutsche Grammophon, London) are still sold for a mere ¥100! These make very cheap but expensive looking presents. Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. are available. When I visit friends in Europe, I always stock up on those things. For just ¥500 a head you can truly impress these guys, and they will talk about you until your next visit...
Just keep track of the presents and don't unload ¥100 calculators every time you visit!<g> Nowadays they are available for the same price or come automatically with every pack of coffee from a certain manufacturer.
The lunch was good, but one guy was a religiously convinced vegetarian. He bought himself an egg sandwich and appeared again after we had munched our hamburgers...
R.K. Deane, the Telematrix callback guy, was handing out his business cards by the dozen and explained how he designed and printed them himself. I'm going to get him to write an article on this subject, and/or to give a demonstration on DIY business card production at one of the next meetings.
Morly, Charanjit and Warren had to leave us, but they had already found what they were looking for anyway. With 5 remaining people we started the second leg of our trip...
Since the sidewalks on the Chuo Dori were overcrowded and everybody was holding an umbrella, we took the shortcut through back streets.
If you are in a hurry to reach Minami Denki/T-Zone, just walk down along the playground and the huge parking area at the other side of the station. It'll take you no longer than 5 minutes, and you'll discover that there are shops with goodies which you haven't heard of yet.
OK, we passed the back side of the Minami Denki building, then hit the wide street. Look at the left and you'll see the parallel running Chuo Dori with the old T-Zone corner building on the right.
Now watch carefully! There is a restaurant or coffee shop sign across the spot where you are standing. Go there and you can see a shop that belongs to the DOS/V group. The stuff they sell changes unpredictably within a couple of days. The goodies of the day were an Intel Pentium 200 for ¥46,000 (new approx. ¥62,000) and an Intel Pentium 200 Pro for ¥60,000 (new ¥88,000). Intel 133s go for between ¥13,000 to ¥16,000. A couple of AMD, IBM, and Cyrix Pentium clones were there, too. The IBM 200MHz CPU (Cyrix produces them) was around ¥26,000. These are very good prices. I know one guy who bought 2 CPUs and had absolutely no problem at all. I haven't heard anything negative about the shop.
Downstairs are apparently smaller electronic parts. Last time I was there, it was used as a stock room. They might have the things that are needed when you are building your own computer from scratch. You'll always find out that one essential screw or cable is missing since motherboards, and power supplies contain only the minimum number of screws, cables, and connectors.
I needed a branch cable to connect another 2 drives to my power supply. These cheap things cost anywhere between ¥1,200 (close to the station) and ¥340 (a bit off the tourist shopping area). However, I still feel that these ¥100 items can be had for less. Used cables and connectors would certainly do it. I'd like to roam around a computer junk yard for a couple of days and be allowed to take as much I can carry away (in a car)...<g> Don't miss this shop and check it out next time you are in Akihabara!
Since the real goodies cannot be found or cheaply obtained on the Chuo Dori, we walked again down the road beside the huge parking area (Suehiro-cho direction). After approx. 20m there is an automated sushi shop with a conveyor belt. I forgot whether the next computer outlet was the neighboring shop before or after, nor do I remember its name. Anyway, there are plenty of yellow price tags on the wall that advertise computer related stuff in the 2nd floor.
It's a neatly arranged room with tons of motherboards, video cards, etc. This shop is a MUST for those who are into sound since there is stuff which I didn't notice elsewhere.
Out of the shop and looking further down the road: A red sign "Two Top Pro" caught our attention. They have a nice show room with several of their own brand computers. The shop carries a good collection of tower cases (AT and ATX models), power supplies, and inexpensive Japanese software that represent the previous version. Not much difference for some packages, but paying ¥1,000 instead of ¥9,000 certainly is. Japanese Netscape (version 2.1) was sold for a mere ¥200!
Another 20m down the street on the left is a Proside shop. There was this 75MHz unit plus 15" monitor in one unit (like Panasonic's Woody) for ¥50,000! I was already thinking to get it for my little boy. But then I read the small letters: OPTIONAL... CPU, HD, modem. What a scam! I'd never buy anything from Proside since this is called "legally cheating".
Arnold, the Australian, was still thinking that "optional" means something like "supplied accessory"... He is certainly correct, but in Japan it always means "supplied accessory at customer's expense". I don't think that a native speaker's argument would hold water in a Japanese court about the deviating Japanese interpretation.
We didn't spend a single Yen... not even for the previous Netscape version that was sold for rock bottom ¥100! However, you can buy their HD rack cases and frames since they are cheap. Just be aware that they come in models for IDE and SCSI.
Now we went back to the "A-Master" building. Hint: take the elevator up to the 6th floor, then walk down staircase by staircase to visit all showrooms in the building. This building is also handy when nature calls. The toilets (meant for the staff only) are beside the elevator, but there are moments in life when egoism prevails...<g> On the 6th floor is another branch of Two Top, but there are usually more salesmen (two) than customers in the room. Well, there was actually nothing that attracts anybody. Half of the room was filled with boxes (monitors and printers).
One floor down is "Bless". They have some good prices on certain items. The same goes for A-Master on the 3rd floor. Have your DOS/V magazine handy and compare the prices with TWO TOP's 10 pages of ads. This is the shop which we didn't visit yesterday (the one with several floors above OVERTOP. Don't get confused by the names since OVERTOP is on the first floor. It's just one of the meaningless Japanese shop names like "Robin's Garage" (gone by now). It took me 3 visits to Akihabara to finally find the shop on the 4th floor while I was intensely looking for a garage at street level...<g>
Since it was already after 16:00 I decided to go for the last shop visit and selected T-ZONE in the Minami Denki building. We took the escalator up to the Internet coffee shop and the huge game center where we were greeted by someone dressed up as a pink cartoon-like insect... There was a promotion for a new car racing game called "pod" by Ubi Soft. Two big screens, real steering wheels and foot pedals for accelerator and brake. I was racing against 76 year old grandfather Arnold. At the end I was told that I won... although I had suffered several fatal crashes at 250km/h and fell twice off the road to the street level beneath. On the way out I received a mousepad, which has been the 5th or 6th since the beginning of January, and was supposed to be very happy with this grand prize.
I also got a rolled up poster with unknown content which I handed over to one of our guys to express my generosity...
Hey, this year I already got more free mousepads than tissue paper packets. The only problem with them is that they aren't as handy when walking around Akihabara. Besides, I don't need a different mousepad for every day of the week. The Internet coffee shop was virtually full, which is a good indicator that the Japanese are finally catching up with the Internet, and that T-ZONE won't go bankrupt in the foreseeable future. T-Zone's software classes are well attended, too.
We took the elevator up to the "Outlet" shop. "Outlet" is another Janglish expression for "clearance sale". Don't miss any Outlet shop when seeing one since you can get great bargains if you arrive there at the right time!
I met an occasional visitor to the TPC who bought about 20 CD-ROM drives (all they had) for ¥1,780 each! Well, they were new but 2x speed gadgets only... He does business with some Africans who can't or don't want to pay more. I met him at Bless where he bought the last 15 16-bit sound cards for less than ¥5,000 each! Akihabara shop owners prefer these people over window shoppers like us...<sigh>
Finally we arrived at the Outlet room on the top floor. There was a demonstration of a cheap video camera for "video conferencing" purposes. I bet that nobody has ever bought this camera because of this great demo setup. You could distinguish a person's head from that of a moose, but you couldn't tell whether it was you or somebody else! The staff members must have seen that, but they don't seem to care and don't know much either when being asked about their products. I wonder whether these guys are part of the clearance sale themselves...<g> This time there wasn't anything that was of much interest to me. No wonder since the "wholesale customer" has gotten it all!
Once more, if you see something which you want to buy in this place, jot down the price and walk to the old T-Zone building for a comparison. Although it's the same company, their prices are sometimes different. At our last field trip we noticed that an Aptiva model was ¥30,000 less in the "non-outlet" shop in the other building! I'll bet that you'd be in the mood to kick in walls if you relalize 10 minutes later that you could have gotten another 2.5GB hard drive for the overpaid amount...
On this trip we saw Matrox Mystique 3D video cards (4MB) for ¥20,000 to ¥32,000. I would say that I saved at least 30% compared to the uneducated shopper who would walk into the first Yamagiwa or Laox computer store and buy without comparing prices. A small investment prior to shopping for the DOS/V magazine or the Computer Shopper will also save you money and time!
Everybody seemed to be happy with the trip despite the cold and rainy day. At about 17:30 I said goodby to the remaining guys and headed back home. In the Chuo line I got the seat directly on the main heating unit of the coach, and fell asleep pretty soon... only to be woken up by the conductor in Hajiochi (way out in the boonies).
Thanks for coming and see you again at one of our next trips! Mr. Akihabara
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