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Akiba-kei – A Japanese word meaning related to Akihabara. Akihabara or ‘Electric Town’ was the place in Tokyo where you could go to get everything from electronic components to new and vintage devices. The electronic component shops inspired generations of budding engineers that went on to work for the likes of Sony and Panasonic. Think of it as Shenzhen’s SEG electronics market (in the SEG Plaza building located in the Huaqiangbei neighbourhood of Futian district, Shenzhen). 

Akiba-kei or Akihabara in December 2006

Vintage gadgets were available from high end hi-fi to games consoles. All are very Akiba-kei.

In more recent times it has also evolved to cater for fans of Japanese technology with a raft of computer stores and service providers.

It is also becoming known for catering to other geek consumer tastes including anime, manga and cosplay – think a cuter version of a Star Trek convention. Whether you like anime, manga or dressing up as your favourite character Akiba-kei has something to offer.

Finally there is the maid culture, which is kind of like a fancy dress tea house, often with a specific theme related to anime or manga related culture.

Akiba-kei transcends geography. It now represents a mindset, a culture that has gone around the world, but whose spiritual home in Akiba-kei continues to evolve over time. The exportation of Akiba-kei culture started in the 1960s and70s when Japanese manufacturers products were seen to be technological wonders, from hi-fis and watches to cameras. 

Sailors, servicemen and ex-pat business people took (often superior) Japan-only models of the latest hifi home together with a step up transformer if needed. With TV syndication and video recorders interest in anime rose as well. The 1980s brought long term interest in games consoles. These cultural provided a bridge over time for the wholesale export of Japanese popular culture through and influenced by Akiba-kei. 

Thanks to Peter Payne and the J-Box newsletter. More Japan related topics here.