Akihabara, the otaku capital of Japan, is a great place to spend a few hours — whether you’re into anime or not. Between the crazily, colorful multi-storey shops, the maids on the side of the street, and the hole-in-wall cafes and restaurants, it’s an experience that you won’t forget…ever. Here are 10 suggestions for fun things to do in Akihabara that won’t cost a single yen.

Before heading off on your adventure, listen to this podcast that will take you deeper into the culture of Akiba, as the area’s known for short.

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anime shops in Akihabara
Welcome to Akiba! | Photo by iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Pro tip: For an inside look at Akihabara, consider a guided tour. This one is geared towards geeks and gamers, and includes a visit to a maid cafe.

1. Go to M’s (it’s a 7-floor sex shop)

M’s is probably one of the most well-known stores in Akihabara (though no one will admit to knowing anything about it). Famous for its sexy costumes, sex toys, blow-up dolls, vast porn collection, and many other “inappropriate” goodies, M’s has made a name for itself in the area. Their prices are fairly reasonable — and looking is always free. Note that you must be 18 years of age to enter the store, and you are expressly prohibited from taking pictures inside.

Pop Life Department M's sex shop
M’s seven story sex shop is one of Akiba’s more discreet buildings | Photo by Setsuko Yasuda

2. Marvel at some serious gamers

The game center near the Akihabara Electric Town Exit of the station is a great place to watch hardcore gamers working their magic on arcade machines. Think racing, drumming, Dance Dance Revolution, and much more. There are always lines for the UFO catchers, some of which are set to be “easier” on certain days. If you feel like parting with a few coins, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to scoop a plushie toy yourself.

UFO catcher machine Akihabara
Akihabara is a mecca for UFO catchers | Photo by Gregory Lane

3. Browse the discount bin at an electronics shop

Akihabara was once famous for its cheap electric goods. Although the dynamic of the place has shifted over the years, there are still lots of stalls selling discounted electronics. Sometimes they have bins of marked-down items; it’s always fun digging through them to see what’s on offer (and then figure out whether it’s still even in use).

4. Pop into the anime shops

Visiting the anime shops in Akihabara is one of our favorite things to do. They have everything from body pillows to key chains, school folders, and cosplay costumes. The larger the shop, the higher the possibility they will have paraphernalia from your favorite manga or anime. If you’ve watched it, they probably have it.

Animate is a good place to start, followed by Mandarake and Lashinbang.

Wherever you go, to be safe, we recommend leaving your wallet with a trusted friend. All of these places can make you realize that you have always needed that expensive Evangelion tablecloth/figurine/entire collection of you-name-it.

5. Spot the maids

Going to a maid cafe in Akihabara costs money, but you’ll be able to see many maids on the street as they promote their establishments to passersby. One look at the rather impractical nature of their costumes is all you’ll need to realize they are not, in fact, house cleaners of any kind.

6. Take an art break

If you need a breather from the buzzing crowds and your maid count has maxed out, take a stroll along the tracks of the Yamanote Line towards Okachimachi Station, where you can explore an artisan alley. 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan is a cool little place that’s full of crafts, creativity and good coffee.

7. Stop by Kanda Myojin Shrine

Akihabara’s not all neon and niche sleaze. Kanda Myojin is a tranquil space that has special significance for the IT crowd, with professionals coming from all over the country to seek a blessing for their innovations. The shrine, which was founded over 1270 years ago, is a quirky mix of tradition and tech, and a welcome respite from the visual overload of its surroundings.

kanda myojin shrine
Kanda Myojin Shrine | Photo by Chris Kirkland

8. Relive your youth at Super Potato

Remember the days of 8-bit gaming (scoff not, young readers!)? And how cool it was when Sonic was leet? Take a trip down memory lane by dropping into Super Potato, a weirdly named store that stocks all the good ol’ golden oldies. You don’t need to buy anything — just bow before the shelves of your lost youth. And weep into that pack of free tissues you were given on the street.

9. Eyeball the anime cars

You can while away a good half-hour counting the anime cars that roar through the streets of Akihabara (or, more realistically, park on the roadside and display their scantily-clad anime girls and mecha characters in glossy glory for all to see). First to 8 gets to do #10 first!

10. Use the loo at the Gundam Cafe

There are many themed cafes in Akihabara, but we recommend this one — mainly for its washroom features. While you can, in theory, nip in and spend a penny without actually spending any pennies, it might be a better idea to sit down and order a drink — you know, to be polite. Do use the loo though—it’s one of those only-in-Japan experiences.

Gundam Cafe at Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo
Gundam Cafe is one of several theme park-like cafes in Akihabara | Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

Bonus idea: Go-karting in Akihabara

For a unique way to see the Akihabara sights, try go-karting Mario-style. Read our full guide of what you need and what to expect.

The original version of this article was written by Grace Buchele Mineta in 2013.

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