Akihabara Update -- May 11 and May 18, 1997
By Sigi Rindler
Akihabara News: May 11 and May 18
Since I had another Akihabara field trip on May 18th, I thought it was best to check out the place beforehand. After all, I wasn't there for almost 2 months, which means really a lot in Akihabara terms! Shops have closed, moved, redecorated, gone bankrupt, or have been taken over by bigger ones and gadgets which you have seen two months ago are not anymore to find. Prices for most items have dropped again considerably (like the ones for CPUs). Anyway, there are exceptions for some shops that have gone out of touch with reality and have raised their prices again.
And since I walked along the backside of the station toward T-ZONE, I would like to start with such an example. Since I needed some more cable splitters, I remembered that Proside (close to the Two Top Pro Shop) had them for ¥100. Well, this time they had very little to offer, and the ones they had in the box cost now ¥120. Anything else in the shop is far overpriced! The Matrox Millenium 4MB video card sells for ¥34,800 (Engl. version) and ¥41,000 (Jap. version). They can be had for more than ¥10,000 less in many other shops. Resume: this shop has now dropped to the bottom of my list!
Since I was already close to the Suehiro-cho subway station, I decided to visit a newly opened shop called SHECOM. This is the Tokyo branch of the Kobe-based computer store. Vice president, Ken Cotton, was overly excited after visiting them over a month ago. How to get there? Cross the wide street at the crossing (Sanwa Bank corner) and walk further down the Chuo Dori. On the right side you see the black glass building that houses the Gateway Computer Showroom. BTW, Gateway must enjoy a splendid business since the showroom is always packed with customers when I visit (at least on Saturdays and Sundays). Back to visiting SHECOM. After another 50 meters or so, turn to the left and walk a couple of meters. SHECOM is somewhat hidden on the right side and can't be seen from Chuo Dori. The closed dark green shutter means that Sunday is off, but that's rather meaningless to know when it comes to Akihabara's shops. I have seen these schedules changed at random in the past. If you want to make sure, call the particular shop before deciding to visit. DOS/V Magazine or the Computer Shopper lists most shops with address and phone numbers. Oh well, this advice will save you guys at least some shoe repairs <g>. If you have any problems with your shoes, there is a "Mr. Minute" at the Akihabara Department store. I think that's the name of this franchise shop.
Since it was already past 12:00-the entire Chuo Dori was closed to the traffic-I walked criss-cross to check on the discount stores in the area. Further down the road I spotted a "Yoshinoya Beef Bowl" restaurant. I hadn't been to any since living in Los Angeles, but that was over 17 years ago. A set menu (miso soup, rice, pickles, salmon, and sliced beef) for ¥490 is a good deal, therefore the shop was packed with sales people from surrounding shops. An older guy sitting beside worked at the big Sanyo building at the other side of the road. He saw that I was reading an Internet newsclip of an Austrian newspaper and started to chat in perfect German! He gave me some good hints about things I didn't know concerning Akihabara, and he invited me to visit him during the coming days since he is in charge of German market operations. I am not very "brand name conscious" when it comes to translation work <g>. Note: Business connections are made at Yoshinoya and not the Imperial Hotel!
Back to the actual purpose of the trip. From Yoshinoya I walked back toward Akihabara on the left side of the road. There are two discount shops that sell all kinds of cheap or odd stuff. Electric toothbrushes with five spare brushes for ¥280. Try to get a bloody manual brush at the American Pharmacy for this price, but they are probably certified by the American Dental Association <g>. A Fujix Video Printer (new) was priced at ¥20,000, and a Funai VHS player at ¥11,000. I got two 3m tape measures (inch and cm) with lock button and spirit level. For ¥100 it's a real steal!
Soon I was back to the spot where you go down the staircase to the Suehiro-cho subway station. A couple of meters further was something going on which I couldn't see because of all these people who were standing lined up. Being taller than the average Japanese has its advantages... There were two Yakuza-looking vendors who had several Tamagochi models on display. Several price stickers indicated the goodies for ¥2,000 to ¥4,000. They had all fancy names in katakana attached which I could read, but had no idea what they meant. Nobody was buying during a 5-minute span. I asked how much the green tamagochi was since my little one is already talking about in his dreams. The guy must have realized that I was a gaijin, typed the price into his oversized calculator, and then held me the display very close to by nose... It said ¥4,000.I knew that this was twice the recommended retail price, but these gadgets still fetch between US$100-$400 according to magazines and TV reports. I said OK, the guy packed it so fast that I was really puzzled and handed it over, my ¥5,000 note still holding in my hand. Since I have gathered a lot of experience during my computer parts purchase, I ripped the bag open and had a look at the "tamagochi." What a scam! There was a green gadget of the same shape, but the character was a crocodile or a cat. I can't remember it anymore since this was quite a shock after becoming over-confident. Anyway, I handed the "100 Yen item" back to the guy and told him to exchange it to the thing I had asked for. However, I had no intention to make him ¥15,000 richer! Later on I saw another couple of tamagochi vendors, but they were selling the fake gadgets only (all for ¥4,000). My boy will continue talking in his dreams, I'll be woken up regularly, but this one is healthier to my scarce pocket money...
Next stop was Bless and A-Master. At Bless I spotted E-IDE hard drives from IBM that were incredibly cheap. Look at these prices:
2.1GB = ¥28,800
3.2GB = ¥34,800
4.3GB = ¥44,800
Still, I'd go for the Western Digital 4.0GB for ¥44,800. WD hard drives are simply good and hardly die on you. The shop carries SCSI hard dives, too. But these models (and especially the "wide" ones) will cost you twice to three times as much. I wonder whether the performance and life span justifies the expense. The CPUs were a bit more expensive than in other shops. The Intel P-200 was priced at ¥54,800 while Za Graceful had them for ¥47,800. 2 months ago I paid ¥61,500...
Now we went down the staircase to A-Master on the 3rd floor, the shop were I bought my old Gateway P-90 about 3 years ago. As usual I walked in and started to make notes of new gadgets and their prices. Suddenly one of the salesmen approached me and said that I couldn't take handwritten notes in the shop...I was kind of taken aback since I have done so many times before while the store manager, Mr. Matsuo, has even assisted me when I wanted to know more. I told the salesman that I wanted to talk to the manager. He said that they didn't have one. After I mentioned "Matsuo-san", he started to consult with a colleague and mentioned that the manager was in the hospital. I wanted a business card of the shop to call its umbrella company (Third Wave). Now they suddenly didn't have a name card either! Since I am very familiar with the shop, I told the girl at the cash register to open the 2nd drawer at the right side of the cash register. She opened it and I had a pick among hundreds of cards... After that I asked the guy if he had any objections if I expressed my experience in the TPC newsletter. He hadn't... since we are not the Asahi Shimbun. But he fell quiet when I announced the same action in connection with Japanese Internet newsgroups, and by having a Japanese translation upload to Nifty (with the name of the shop, the names of the salespeople, etc.). Anyway, I'd like to talk to the manager first since I assume that this was a one-man stint and not company policy. However, I can get pretty revengeful when some native punk treats me as a "shitty gaijin customer." This was clearly his arrogant attitude. He'll need some convincing face-saving tactics when I meet the Manager again and remind him about all the money I left in this shop, and about all the gaijin customers which I introduced. I am also capable of "unitroducing" existing and future customers...<eg>
Let's leave that unpleasant incident behind. BTW, everybody has once experienced the problems when nature calls with no big department store in sight. Outside the A-Master shop (beside the elevator) is a staff toilet. I am a kind of regular visitor. And if this punk tries to explain that you can't use it, tell him that I have approved it...
Now a short stint at the second hand shop of DOS/V Paradise. It's on the left of the dead end street between Minami Denki T-Zone and the old T-Zone building.
In this garage-like outlet I regularly check for CPUs and RAM chips. This time there were no particular deals available, but watch out... not all items are as cheap as you think! A used Intel 133MHz CPU for ¥17,500 is still ¥300 more expensive than a brand-new one at Za Graceful or PC Bank (in the New Akihabara Center close to the Washington Hotel). BTW, pretty reliable rumors mention that Za Graceful and PC Bank are companies that are run by former Aum followers. However, as long as they are a merit to my pocket money, I couldn't care less. I have purchased at both shops and never had any problems with the merchandise. Compare their pamphlets and you'll see that over 90% of the low prices are identical. Hey, Laox will charge you much more for RAM, while these guys will sell you cheaply "non-parity" but "christened" memory. Don't ask me which denomination Bless represents...<g>
Out of here, crossing the Chuo Dori, and heading up to Spunky. Well, only old Akihabara hands will still remember the shop that became Attla two years ago, but was again re-baptized to Alpha. They still carry the same junk, but bargains can be had if you arrive at the right day and at the right hour. There is another similar shop on its left called Soho (no branch of the porno district in London). Spend a minute if you happen to pass by. Ten meters in front of this shop is a crossing. Walk another 10 meters toward Akihabara station and you'll see the narrow entrance to the aforementioned Za Graceful on the top floor. If a 100kg man walks down, wait until he passes, otherwise he'll walk you out again anyway, or you'll find yourself spread all over the side walls-and don't worry to meet any sumo wrestler upstairs in the small shop. (The inexpensive shops are usually located at such locations since they were not meant to be used for public visitor traffic.) One wonders how certain furniture is carried into these shops. Probably via a crane through thewindow.
I'd say that this shop has the best prices for CPUs (the Pentium 200 fell from ¥47,800 to 42,800 within just one week. And 32MB EDO RAM became again cheaper (¥15,600). The shop carries a couple of motherboards, sound cards, video cards, and other essentials. It's the ideal shopping place for poor socks like most of us.
After that I went to Ishimaru Denki's big CD shop to increase my classical violin/cello/double-bass collection. Hint: They have CDs which are packed for the Japanese market. It means that the original CD from the "Deutsche Grammophon" is again wrapped in a jacket with Japanese text on it. If you look around, you may find the same imported CDs without the Japanese wrapping, and for ¥500 to 1,000 less! Don't bother to ask one of the salesmen. Most don't know what they have and where to find the CDs, or they will guide you straight to the Japanese CD section. The reason might be the higher margin for these CDs, and/or because they can't read Latin based languages.
After that I went straight down to the station, went to Tokyo eki to get a seat on the Chuo line, and was woken up in Tachikawa (last station for this particular train). The conductor did look familiar to me...<g>
One week later: Official Akihabara trip on Sunday, May 18.
I arrived at exactly 10:30 on the Sobu Line and took the exit through the staircase where you enter the Akihabara Department store. The shutter had just opened and I walked in as the only passenger who was choosing this exit. The JR guy was making a deep bow for me alone and said "ohio gozaimasu." The same ceremony was repeated when entering the department store... again accompanied by deep bows of one man and two women. This makes gaijins feel great since such occurrences are really rare. Now I understand why Japanese love lining up in front of stores...<g>
I got my ration of chewing gum in the 100 Yen shop, and at 10:40 I was standing at the designated meeting place. The first guy who showed up was French fellow Jean-Pascal (colleague of our present TPC president) and Alex Abacus, a colleague of Stuart Woodward, a past president of the TPC. Old TPC hand Charles Cohen was next, followed by Dutch fellow Wolter Veenhoven with his girlfriend Mayumi. An Italian, Joe Sigurani, followed Gregg Cheung and Kristin Bradly. Finally we were joined by a couple of new and old TPC members: Lukas Lucosta, Charles Weathers and Laura ??? (well, from Texas). Some people got the word about the trip from the Tokyo Classifieds, a free magazine from Internet provider Crisscross for the gaijin community. Joseph Northey from Ghana just made it in time before we headed down to the New Akihabara Center.
The target was PC-Bank since the prices at this shop are almost identical with the price tags at Za Graceful. After that we went straight up to the police station, crossed the road, and turned right into the street that leads down to the Laox Computer Kan. A short visit at J-World revealed that they have very little that's attractive. A few meters further under the tracks of the Sobu line was a guy selling old Toshiba Dynabooks for ¥3,000 to 5,000. The problem is that you can't check whether they work or not. If there is no battery in it, you can't run it from the mains either. A new battery cost you ¥10,000! It's good stuff for the gomi... We turned left again and visited the V2 Outlet Shop. Cheap Macs, older (but new) Compaq models, some cheap but bad color printers were stacked high. Then we went up the road that ends at the Laox LIVINA shop (office furniture). At the left is the small shrine were computer freaks might clap their hands, toss a couple of coins, and hope that the new modem really works <g>. Actually, I never saw anybody inside the shrine.
Just around the corner is the so called "Second Hand Street." The small T-Zone outlet serves me for window shopping purposes only since I don't like to pay 10% more for everything that can be had for less elsewhere. Laura started to talk about being hungry and going back to the station restaurant over half an hour before due time, but I was on a "mission"... Anyway, we stopped at every tiny shop, bought some nicknack here and there, then stopped at Good Man, the discount store and last stop before having lunch. Laura spotted these ¥500 electric shavers and got somehow hooked... I reassured her that she didn't really need one like Breschnew's mother-in-law, but she said that she wanted one for her legs. Maybe she wants them to look like cacti. Go figure!
Restaurant: It was packed. And since no tables were available for 12 or 13 people, we got scattered over the whole place. Lunch took 15 minutes longer than anticipated since I had ordered a big mug... As usual, I show the newcomers Tokyo's biggest 100 Yen shop (the biggest I have seen), but there are always some guys who feel that the stuff is too expensive. However, these fellows are the same ones who have been shopping for a new computer for years without coming to a conclusion. They are probably waiting until 200MHz Pentiums hit the 100 Yen stores!<g>
After that we started the second leg of our trip. We seemed to have lost two or three guys including Laura, but then she was suddenly around again. This time we walked up to T-Zone along the huge parking lot. The Chuo Dori would have been OK also since there is no traffic on Sunday afternoons. We walked down to the Two Top Pro Shop, had a short look for 10 minutes at their neat show room, then I showed them the expensive Proside outlet. These guys lack any sense for sound marketing. I have seen prices in many shops that were crossed out with a lower price written underneath. Proside had an offer for a D.I.Y. computer kit. ¥111,000 was crossed out and replaced by ¥115,000. I fail to see the point why anyone should ever ask for this "goodie".
Next step was Bless. We took the elevator to the 7th floor, to read on the closed door that the shop is actually on the 5th floor. There are never many customers, but the ones who visit usually buy there. The shop's specialty are hard drives which you'll hardly find elsewhere for these prices. CPUs cost a bit more, but it's always worth to compare. Some of our guys left a couple of coins there. Before we went to the 3rd floor (A-Master), I told the group about my problems the week before, and about my plan to stage a little show. Unfortunately, the manager seems to have this day off. There isn't much to say about the shop since almost everything they have cost now more than elsewhere. They used to be have the best prices on CPUs and hard drives. Yes, nostalgia comes with a price tag, too!
Just around the corner is the second hand shop of DOS/V Paradise. They carried the usual stuff as always. The highlight was a huge Japanese software package for creating postcards in Japanese calligraphy style. Since it was a Windows 3.1 version, the price had plummeted to ¥1,000. Mayumi bought it as I remember. By the way, the DOS/V Paradise CD-ROM shop is still at the same place where it always was. Last time I was misinformed by one of our members who went up to the store with the elevator and couldn't find anything. It turned out that he took the elevator in the next building...
It was already close to 16:00, Joe and Laura either got lost or had quietly disappeared, so we went with the remaining Mohicans up to the 8th floor of Minami Denki's T-Zone. It's the "Outlet Shop" where older models of computers and peripherals (still in the original boxes) are being sold at bargain prices. There was an incredible bargain that I think is worth mentioning. A really small A4-size Panasonic laser printer for PCs (Model: KX-PN300W) with 600dpi and a print speed of 4 pages per minute for a mere ¥19,800!!! One toner cartridge is included, and any additional cartridge will print approx. 1,600 pages for ¥2,700. No special paper required; normal copy paper will do. I have seen the print (Japanese and Roman letters) and can say that it looks great. What I don't know is whether you'll get printer drivers depending on your word processing program. This one I forgot to ask for. Still, you may check that on the Internet or call the shop.
The tour was officially over, but Wolter, Mayumi, and Lukas went with me to Za Graceful to get a better idea on how to get more for their bucks. In close walking distance was another garage-like outlet for anything from odd cables to CDs to videos, etc. An English speaking Chinese was displaying four CD-ROMs that were bootleg copies from Hong Kong. One had the English version of Windows 95 and Windows NT on it, plus numerous Adobe programs. The other three CD-ROMs also had Adobe and various CAD/CAM programs on them. He wanted ¥10,000 per CD, but for that you got it in a plastic case and a CD-ROM jacket that was duplicated on a black & white copier...<g> He sold 10 units within the 15 minutes that I was watching his "business". The guy was really set up to be mobile at command. All he needed was grabbing is two huge bags and disappear in the crowds. Of course, it's all illegal, but as long as certain companies keep up their high margins and create demand by publicizing it extensively, people will use other channels to get what they cannot afford otherwise. Anyway, this area is known as the "seedy" part of Akihabara that makes shopping trips so appealing. The Yakuza occasionally holds its 10-minute sales out of a car with the engine running. It's the certain charm of this part of Tokyo that no old Akihabara hand would want to miss...
BTW, although I conduct these field trips for the TPC, my opinions do not represent the TPC in any way. Complaints about expressed "purchasing or customer's ethics" have to be directed to the author only! Sometimes you have to play the game of the Akihabara mafia business to succeed...<g> Just look at the occasionally patrolling policemen. They don't see the guys who sell tamagochis for 8 to 10 times the normal retail price, the ones who sell fake Nintendo Famicom games and other illegal gadgets... really. I saw them strolling by at a distance of 2 meters. The same observation was made near the Sunshine building where the Yakuza was selling a popular Nintendo game with two other unpopular games for ¥20,000. This is an illegal "bundle sale" which the police should know about. Anyway, I just want to imply that there is not much difference between Akihabara and other notorious East Asian countries. Akihabara works on a smaller scale, but you can finally get anything legal or illegal if you are patient enough and willing to pay the multiple amount of the normal price. The Chinese guy with his CD-ROMs is probably one of the very small creatures am ong the real fat sharks in business suits.
Oh well, my last shop was finally Ishimaru Denki again where I purchased 3 CDs with violinist Vanessa Mae (classic fusion music), if she or her style means anything to you. From there I went straight home without falling asleep. Reason: I can't sleep while standing. Only the Japanese can do that!
I think that most of the guys have enjoyed this trip and are now ready to go on their own and get lost in the maze of Akihabara again.
See you at the next TPC meeting and tell your friends to join me on my next trip.
Sigi, AKA "Mr.Akihabara"
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