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Tokyo's Geek Ghetto 488

anaesthetica writes "The Washington Post is running a story on Tokyo's "Geek Ghetto" which has arisen in the city's electronics retail district, "Electric Town." From the article: "We have been discriminated against for being different, but now we have come together and turned this neighborhood into a place of our own.... In Akihabara, we don't need to be ashamed of who we are and what we like.... We can feel comfortable because here, we outnumber everyone else." There are concerns, however, that the total immersion in escapist culture may be causing social problems, including a growing number of shut-ins." I've gone to Tokyo 3x and visited Akihabara all three times. Highly recommended for anime fans and techies.
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Tokyo's Geek Ghetto

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  • Geek persecution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IO ERROR ( 128968 ) * <> on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:32PM (#12748933) Homepage Journal
    The persecuted [] generally manage to find each other. When they do, it's amazing what they can do. Even more so when they are otaku [], which they appear to be calling themselves now. And if you've never felt persecuted at least once [] in your life, you are no geek.
  • Why not in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tungbo ( 183321 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:34PM (#12748970)
    Where is a comparable enclave in the US?
    Geek universities don't count! (Cal, MIT, etc.)
  • akihabara (Score:5, Interesting)

    by notsoanonymouscoward ( 102492 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:44PM (#12749108) Journal
    My favorite memory of strolling through akihabara was going through a maze of electronics vendor stalls and coming across a guy selling nothing but big red buttons. If you stick to the normal shops, its pretty much many many people selling the exact same stuff. If you explore a little, you'll start finding the more offbeat tinkerer type stuff.
  • by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:46PM (#12749133)
    I visited Tokyo and Akihabara in 1993. I have to say that it was one of the coolest places I have ever seen. Shops oozing with electronics and games. I went for two reasons: Laserdiscs and Super Famicom games. Games were often marked down to 15-40% of retail a few months after release. I was used to a trickle of Anime in the USA on Laserdisc, but in Akihabara, there were stores that only carried anime on laserdisc, isles full. It was pretty amazing.

    I have a friend in Japan right now, but he won't go there because he says it's too nerdy. I don't know if it got worse in 12 years, or I got better.
  • The button guy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ag0ny ( 59629 ) <.ten.ariednaval. .ta. .ivaj.> on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:58PM (#12749311) Homepage
    My favorite memory of strolling through akihabara was going through a maze of electronics vendor stalls and coming across a guy selling nothing but big red buttons.

    Most likely that's one of the small electronic shops under the station. That's one of the most Blade Runner-esque spots I've ever seen. Many shops there are a 1x1 meter square with a hole on the midle barely wide enough for the guy to stand on it, with all kind of components surrounding the guy.

    Shameless plug:

    Akihabara photos on my site [].
    More Akihabara photos [].
    And more [].

    And yes, I'm living in Tokyo.
  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:58PM (#12749322)
    Japanese culture is much less anti-intellectual and anti-geek than North American/UK/Australian culture. So it is not just akihabara that is geek friendly. And girls might at least glance in your general direction even if you are invisible elsewhere. Not that they like geeks or anything. But I think they have a somewhat higher geek tolerance level. A great reason to learn Japanese!

    However, if you are non-Asian you will still be regarded as a bit of a monkey on display at the zoo. People may avoid sitting next to you on trains unless it is totally packed and you may be followed around while in some small shops with suspicious owners, as if waiting for you to pocket a few items and then make a run for it. So there is a bit of racism over there, but they are generally a nice group of folks.
  • by ultimabaka ( 864222 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @01:59PM (#12749343)
    As something of a geek (I guess not as much of one as I used to be, but still somewhat of one), I wonder about a few things after reading the article:

    (a) "We can feel comfortable because here, we outnumber everyone else"

    As someone who has been a member of both predominantly geek- and non-geek social groups at one point, I've always wondered greatly why geeks, who always complain about being tortured and abused by non-geeks, turn around and do it amongst their own geek groups? "We outnumber everyone else" is hardly the way geeks should be fighting back against the non-geeks they claim abuse them so much, and if ya ask me, I'd tell you they were acting just like the non-geeks to one another. Just goes to show you that social structures work the same, geek or not.

    (b) "Here, the waitresses' uniforms are inspired by the French maid-meets-Pokemon outfits of adult manga. At other cafes, waitresses greet patrons at the door with a curtsy and the words "Welcome home, master.""

    So most of the 10% females left in this area have resorted to saying "welcome home master"? I feel kinda awkward saying this, but any self-respecting (woman-loving?) geek should be trying to get the hell OUT of there as soon as possible, not try to rush into this place.

    (c) "Nerd subgroups include not only people obsessed with cartoons and computer games, but also pop idols such as Morning Daughter, a music group marketed to kids that has become so popular among otaku that men sometimes attend its concerts wearing kimonos covered in glossy pictures of young band members.

    That, along with the child pornography aspect of some adult manga, has led to allegations that some nerds are pedophiles."

    This has been a very long-standing problem in Japanese culture in general (five minutes of Google should net you more than enough information), so trying to stick this behavior to just the nerds specifically discussed here is misguided, to say the least.
  • Persecuted? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:02PM (#12749373) Homepage
    I've never felt persecuted for being a geek... on the contrary, I'm usually surprised when people are awed at what they consider completely inaccessible, but what I consider fairly basic. I've been called a "Web God" for nothing more than nicely formatting an HTML table with CSS. Being a geek sucks when you're 12, but not when you're an adult.

    I'm a big fan of the dark underbellies of society, but I'd go there because I want to lookit all the pretty lights, not because I don't feel welcome anywhere else...

    Embrace your geekdom!
  • Akibake (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kendoka ( 473386 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:08PM (#12749463)
    I was just there with my wife a little over a week ago and it was pretty much geek central. =) Our friends there told us there's a new word floating around the area for the Otaku-types that frequent the place, perhaps a little more derogatory: akibake
  • Re:more details... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by minority ( 23819 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:13PM (#12749542)
    you got the main point, Akihabra (anime, comics, games), all are sex related now.
    recently, a japanese word known as "moe" represent this situation. (i don't know how to translated it in English)
  • Re:more details... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TrappedByMyself ( 861094 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:15PM (#12749586)
    Akihabara becomes geek sex paradise. :-)))

    Oh, so geek men and women go there to hook up? Oh wait, read the article.

    "These shops at Akihabara are not in the sex business because for geeks, fantasizing is much more important than actually doing anything with girls."

    The "sex" are cute waitreses and posters with chicks. I'd hold back on those emotes next time ;)
  • Re:Anime != geek!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pertinax18 ( 569045 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:21PM (#12749641) Homepage
    I totally agree, I am a geek but do not enjoy anime either, and find the otaku/manga culture really unhealthy and somewhat disturbing. Escapism in today's world is definitely necessary but letting your entire life be consumed by a fantasy is not good.

    Phrases like: "He giggled with glee when his servers addressed him in the squeaky little character voices they use to delight their fantasy-loving clientele." and "Morning Daughter, a music group marketed to kids has become so popular among otaku that men sometimes attend its concerts wearing kimonos covered in glossy pictures of young band members." just make me shiver...
  • Otaku to you (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:21PM (#12749642) Journal
    In Wired's premier issue they had an article on Otaku (circa 1993). [] It sounds like what was said then is still true today:
    Otaku are considered flunkies and not highly regarded by society at large, etc. I liked one quote: "Socially inept, but often brilliant"

  • by ArielMT ( 757715 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:34PM (#12749805) Homepage Journal

    Two questions, really. Is Tokyo's Akihabara as geeky as Singapore's Sim Lim Square? More importantly, I suppose, is it safer for my wallet? Sim Lim Square, at the corner of Bencoolen St. and Rochor Canal Rd., just next door to the Little India district, is seven floors of IT hagglers' paradise.

    Link [], Link [], Search [].

  • Do what you want (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zornorph ( 63846 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:37PM (#12749851) Homepage
    Otaku behavior is also being blamed, along with social disillusionment following Japan's protracted recession, for the increasing numbers of Japanese youth who have no apparent career ambitions. Instead, many are choosing to work part time -- or not at all -- so they can spend most of their time pursuing their hobbies.

    Why is it bad to do the things that we like instead of working day in and day out at the factory/office/etc? I am moving towards this myself, as I plan to leave the big city life behind and move to a small town where there is more time to do the things I like. Sure I won't make as much money, but the commute to work will be a _lot_ shorter, the houses and land are cheaper, and the pace is a lot easier. I'd rather spend my time enjoying life than doing the Monday to Friday grind for someone else.
  • Re:more details... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flood6 ( 852877 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:37PM (#12749860) Homepage Journal
    From professorhojo's FA:"In addition to all the cafes, there is a "cosplay izakaya" (small Japanese-style bar) called Little BSD (Little Beauty's Satanic Dining)...One of the Little Beauty Satans will bring you some rice and seaweed."

    Is this a *BSD reference? Or is the devil/BSD thing just a coincidence? I'm not up on popular easter culture so I have no idea.

  • Re:Why not in the US (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:38PM (#12749866)
    You've missed how Japanese society created this. The Japanese society is the most racist one I've ever encountered. Those who are different do not exist. All other races are, of course, inferior, but so are retarded and crippled people. Fundamentally, difference is shunned. These folks, by not fitting the social norms, are completely shunned. This has created the phenomenon in a way that the US won't do to nerds.
  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @02:44PM (#12749962) Journal
    True enough, not all geeks are techies and not all techies are geeks. It is possible to be a geek without being a computer geek.

    Most techies are good with computers and science and go out to make a pile of cash. Those are not geeks.
  • Re:I suppose... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:10PM (#12750318) Journal
    "Flamebait", huh?

    If the truth hurts, whose fault is that?
  • Re:Why not in the US (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rastachops ( 543268 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:19PM (#12750447)
    I've dated some really hot ladies and one of the topics that always seems to come up is the "what do you do" etc and I'm quite open that I'm a geek. It's fun to see their odd reaction but it never seems to put them off. They just see it as quirky and cool. So it's not something to hide :)
  • My Akihabara visit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by payndz ( 589033 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:27PM (#12750524)
    I went there in (I think) '97 when I was in Tokyo to attend Space World, and even then it was... well, Geek Central.

    Wandering around Akihabara at random, I went into what I thought was a comic shop. Which it was... but a very specialised comic shop. It was devoted to fan-produced manga based on videogame characters.

    Pornographic fan-produced manga based on videogame characters. A whole shop of it.

    Now if that's not an extremely specialised geek market, I don't know what is!

    What really struck me about the place was that even however many years ago it was, they were selling hardware that's still barely reached Western markets - and at sale prices! Saw my first ever HDTV in Akihabara, and nobody seemed interested in it but me...

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:33PM (#12750570)
    In America, geeks achieve because everybody who's popular is too busy with recreation to get anything done.

    This is so true. I used to have this good looking friend. After knowing him for a while I realized he was really smart. Way more intelligent than me. He spent most of his free time socializing with friends and he either had a girlfriend or was kind of looking for one. So between that and school or work, that took up all of his time. To me, it seems like he wasted all that brain power of his. But he was living his life the way he wanted. From my perspective he has 'achieved' nothing in his life, (except maybe for an attractive wife).

    It's not that American geeks are smarter than normal people. They just have more free time.

    This is an aspect of the whole nature vs. nurture thing. Being a geek has absolutely nothing to do with being intelligent. That is, being born intelligent. Geeks will often know more than non-geeks in their fields of interest, but that's just knowledge not real intelligence.

    With a fixed number of waking hours in our lives, the fewer number of hours spent on socializing whether with friends or MOTOS, the more hours there are for accomplishing 'things', finishing projects, whatever you want to call it. Life really is like a zero sum game. The more time you spend hanging out with friends at the pub or smooching with your girlfriend at the park the less time you have for writing programs or working on important 'stuff'.

    This is really one of the biggest differences between us and other mammals. If we are lucky enough to be born with some intelligence, we can achieve something tangible in our lives, something more than just making more humans who will also achieve nothing. While it is not likely that any program that you write will be around after you die or that that OLED display you invent will still be used in 30 years or that that game art you worked so hard on will ever be seen in 20 years, you will still have contributed more, been more a part of history than guys with girlfriends and social lives. If that's any consolation. And those few with REALLY big brains can do stuff like invent calculus or the transistor, after which you will always be a significant part of history. (Or you could just crash a plane into a skyscraper...)
  • by Maestro4k ( 707634 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:33PM (#12750574) Journal
    So most of the 10% females left in this area have resorted to saying "welcome home master"?
    Umm, no, not even close. Did you RTFA or skim it? That's just what the waitresses at one cafe say. You know, Waitresses, those women who get _paid_ to serve food and drinks at cafes and resteraunts? It might be a bit degrading but hardly unique. Hooters waitresses get degraded more than that here in the US.

    And do note, they're employed there, they don't have to work there. They may not live anywhere near Akhibara (this wouldn't be at all unusual, lots of people commute to work in Japan, some have multi-hour trips). They took the job knowing what it entailed. You never know, they might actually like the job and what they do. That'd hardly be degrading.

    I feel kinda awkward saying this, but any self-respecting (woman-loving?) geek should be trying to get the hell OUT of there as soon as possible, not try to rush into this place.
    Actually there are shops that cater to female otaku too, just fewer of them since there's fewer female otaku. And your above point just proves that you wouldn't work at that particular cafe mentioned, not that there's anything wrong with it per-se.

    You've also assumed that all the otaku like that kind of thing, but that's not correct either. Not every cafe is like that, they cater to different tastes. Someone else pointed out an article on Japan Today [] that's more accurate and less biased. One of the cafes it talks about the waitresses all wear long full skirts and elegant maid-style uniforms. That's not very degrading.

    You should also note that wearing a uniform for work is a common practice in Japan. In fact at most places the employees change at work. Fancy/cute uniforms are quite common for females in many job areas. And we can't forget the extremely common school uniforms females have to wear from middle school up. Some elementary schools have uniforms too but it's less common.

  • Re:Why not in the US (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:34PM (#12750590)
    I have met a few [good looking geeks] in my life and, yes, they all had really hot girlfriends. I don't think those girls thought of them as geeks, although they actually were.

    All of my friends' wives and girlfriends are fully aware that their man is a geek. They complain occasionally, but it's not a particularly big factor - just a hobby that they don't happen to share. The same would be the case if their man was a big football fan. Once you get past the age of 20 or so, geekiness stops being a big deal.
  • Shut-ins. . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:49PM (#12750745)
    From the article. . . "Immersed in role-playing games and comic fantasy worlds, many have found real-life personal conflict difficult to cope with-- one cause, some say, for a massive increase in the social problem of hikikomori , or shut-ins. Now numbering as many as 1 million nationwide, the shut-ins -- mostly men in their twenties or thirties -- typically live in their parents' homes, rarely leaving their rooms."

    This is the part I found interesting. --Minus the sensationalist hype.

    Should we really be surprised to see this kind of behavior pattern in a society which rigorously punishes people for trying to be unique individuals, for having the gall to actually try to maintain any kind of self-love and respect?

    Men are expected to stand out, to express themselves in order to gain power in this world, so of course they are going to have problems when they are forced to grow up under the confines of a no-win situation. I'm not surprised at all that so many of them give up and opt out. Relationships require self-confidence and a wide variety of dynamic social skills which are certainly not taught by punishing people for stepping out of line to experiment with their lives when they are kids.

    The retreat into fantasy of a million working-age males isn't their fault. It's the fault of a seriously messed up society.

    "The nail which stands up will be hammered down."

    Ugh. There are many types of population control and herding in effect in the world, but this particular one really steams me.


  • Re:Geek persecution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CFTM ( 513264 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @03:50PM (#12750761)
    Ultimately, my choice to become a computer shut-in was caused by a warped perception of self. In essence, I was a fat kid with bracers and acne and no self-esteem. Computers were always easy to me and I was rewarded because of my intelligence playing games online [Played a MUD for eight years]. It was a simple pattern of success in the virtual world, cuppled with percieved values in the real world [getting rejected by a girl, not making the basketball team etc]. At the time I didn't have the coping mechanisms to deal with these sorts of things properly so I became introverted.

    So I guess, from my experience, I would suggest talking to your sons about how they feel about themeselves. Figure out a way to get them to talk about how they percieve themeselves. Some methods that might work are what there dreams/goals/aspirations or who their idols are, I've found with myself those things were a reverse manifestation of how I really felt about myself. I dunno if any of that is a help but let me know.
  • by NaruVonWilkins ( 844204 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @06:09PM (#12752277)
    On your second point, I have to disagree. I've spent quite a bit of time in Japan - I'm white, and I have a fro, to boot. If anything, I get more attention, more people talking to me on the train, have more fun in clubs, because I'm non-asian. You wouldn't believe how many Japanese women are interested in talking to you because you *don't talk down to them*.
  • What the? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @08:06PM (#12753297) Homepage
    How much of a geek do you have to be to feel like a misfit in a country where 9 out of 10 people on the train are playing a game or texting on their cell phone, or reading an anime comic book? I mean come on.. Japan is a country full of geeks, at least in our perception of a geek in western society. They focus on the strangest part of other cultures when incorporating them into society.

    IE, in the US, if you have a Kanji shirt or tattoo, it's meaning is somewhat important. You probably wouldn't want to say "I sleep with my sister," for example.
    In Japan, it doesn't matter what your shirt says, as long as it's in English. The meaning is almost irrelevant (if there is any meaning).

    And food..
    In the US, pizza can have a variety of toppings, but when it comes down to it, there's bread, tomato sauce, and cheese.
    In Japan, squid-ink is a popular substitute for tomato sauce. Sometimes you can't even get tomato sauce. I'm sorry, but that's not pizza.

    But it's a society where everyone is expected to behave and live in a certain way, so there's not a lot of room for individualism, which can ironically, I suppose, lead to feelings of isolation and not belonging, since nobody knows the "real you." But that happens everywhere.

    Most people carry their own towel for washing/wiping their hands. You can find napkins, but they're generally very small, and waxed.. for reasons nobody yet understands.

    But I digress.. at any rate, I've been to Akhiabara a few times, and it's not all that spectacular. Tokyo is divided into districts, and each district generally serves a purpose. It's an interesting way of arranging a city.. clubs are in Roppongi, electronics are in Akhiabara, clothing stores are somewhere else.. There's a little mixing, but generally, that's how it is. It makes it less convenient to shop for different types of things in one trip, but more convenient to find the exact item you want. (Although, when you do come across a department store, there tends to be LOTS of space devoted to electronics.. Almost every department store I saw had mini Crusoe powered laptops, for example. What's "geek," in the US is much more mainstream there, hence the first sentence of my post).

    Honestly though, the prices aren't much better than the states for computer equipment, possibly worse if you're converting from US$. Aibo's are still 5 grand (or however much they cost nowadays), and the fastest P4 is still going to set you back close to a grand. (Although cell phones are generally significantly cheaper). You're also not going to see some advanced PC technology you've never heard of, like USB3.0, or 15000RPM 2TB SATA hard drives. What you will find is a lot of brands you may not have heard of (Albatron, for example, which I'd never heard of before visiting Japan 3 years ago). And be careful what you buy, because the stores aren't under any obligation to accept returns. When I bought a Gigabyte motherboard and couldn't get it to boot (after swapping out everything, one component at a time), I eventually took it back and I was told to run slower memory and an older video card. They wouldn't let me return it or exchange it for another. Just because they sell a ton of electronic equipment in Akhiabara, don't expect the stores to have more or equal knowledge than you do. These guys are just salespeople and first-level tech support, just like anywhere else in the world.

    It *is* easier to find exotic parts that you'd generally have to mail-order in the states, like a Zhallman fan.. although some cities (San Diego, for example) have tons of mom'n'pop computer stores with the same sort of things.

    Pretty much, if you have a Fry's near you, you're not missing anything except huge throngs of shoppers, and people who aren't sure if you know which side to walk on, so every-other head on encounter turns in to a little dance.
  • Re:Anime != geek!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shadow0_0 ( 59720 ) on Tuesday June 07, 2005 @11:17PM (#12754521) Journal
    Have a look at this... tml []

IN MY OPINION anyone interested in improving himself should not rule out becoming pure energy. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.