Anime, arcades and pop-culture artifacts: a geek’s guide to Tokyo

Anime, arcades and pop-culture artifacts: a geek’s guide to Tokyo

To score the latest merchandise from their favorite anime, local otaku head for Akihabara © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

Since the 1980s, anime and manga have been among Japan’s most recognizable cultural exports. As cartoons and comics about mecha-robots and magical girls à la Macross and Sailor Moon spread across the world, so too did otaku, or "geek" culture. Today, millions consider themselves otaku.

If you've come to Tokyo in search of manga and merchandise, here's exactly where to look.

Where to find the best otaku and anime stores

For a diverse selection, hit the Akihabara district

To score the latest merchandise from their favorite anime, local otaku head for Akihabara, where being spoiled for choice is an understatement. Radio Kaikan is a multi-floor complex well stocked with goods from popular fandoms, and when it comes to manga and doujinshi (self-published comics), Animate has an endless selection. 

Girl geeks often prefer Ikebukuro

Akihabara tends to favor the male otaku crowd, but fans of anime and manga aimed at a female audience can find goods from their fandoms in the arcades and comic book shops of Ikebukuro. The largest store in the area is Animate Ikebukuro, whose even larger flagship store is slated to open in Spring 2023.

Pokemon trainers will want to visit Pokémon Centre Mega Tokyo in Sunshine City for exclusive merchandise. Located next door is the Pokemon GO Lab, which carries goods related to the popular mobile game. 

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Nakano Broadway is a must for collectors of all kinds 

Otaku come in many forms; the word can also mean someone who’s enthusiastic about a particular subject. Train, vintage anime, and antique aficionados will appreciate the Nakano Broadway shopping center for its eclectic selection of rare items and collectibles, such as old comic books and figurines, baseball cards and railway memorabilia. Mandarake, a collectibles specialty store, has shops throughout the building. Vintage watch collectors will also find a wide array of timepieces here. 

Anime, arcades and pop-culture artifacts: a geek’s guide to Tokyo

Odaiba's Unicorn Gundam statue is an unmissable photo op © MasaPhoto / Shutterstock

Odaiba has character stores and Sega-themed thrill rides

An icon of the Odaiba islands, the full-size Unicorn Gundam statue stands majestically outside of the Diver City shopping mall for an unmissable photo op. Meanwhile, housed within the mall itself are anime and character stores for franchises such as JUMP, Doraemon and every gunpla (Gundam plastic model) fan’s dream, Gundam Base Tokyo. 

If you’re looking for a thrill, Tokyo Joypolis is an indoor theme park operated by video-game giant Sega. Within the three-floor complex are rides, arcade games and a store with merchandise featuring famous Sega characters, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, in stock. 

Visit Shibuya to shop Nintendo's greatest hits

A life-sized Mewtwo slumbers in its tank at the Pokemon Centre located on the sixth floor of Shibuya Parco. Also on the same floor is the Nintendo store, where gamers and casual players alike can find merchandise from some of the company’s timeless franchises, including Super Mario, Zelda and Animal Crossing. There are also Capcom and JUMP stores here, albeit on a smaller scale.

For more anime and subculture merchandise, head to Shibuya BEAM and spend the afternoon browsing specialty stores Animate and Mandarake. 

Can you find this new secret Nintendo cafe in Tokyo?

Anime, arcades and pop-culture artifacts: a geek’s guide to Tokyo

At Oizumi Anime Gate, visitors are greeted by life-sized statues of classic Japanese anime characters © picture cells / Shutterstock

See the studios where animation comes to life 

Akihabara may be where most merchandise ends up, but the production of animated works actually takes place around western Tokyo, in cities like Nerima and Suginami. Here you’ll find studios responsible for everything from Japan’s first animated feature film in color to more recent hits like 2013's Attack on Titan.

Anime lovers keen on learning more about the production process can stop by Suginami Animation Museum for a quick tour. Nerima city, on the other hand, is home to Oizumi Anime Gate, where visitors are greeted by life-sized statues of several classic Japanese anime characters, including Astro Boy and Yabuki Joe.

While anime studios aren’t typically open to visits, those hoping to get a sneak peek can drop by Musashino Campus Kamayaki Pizza, a homely pizzeria housed inside the Production I.G building – a studio known internationally for the highly influential Ghost in the Shell anime, among other titles. Autographs and drawings of famous artists and animators adorn the walls here. Located a minute’s walk away are WIT Studio (Attack on Titan) and Tatsunoko Productions (Gatchaman).  

Visit Tokyo's best anime museums 

Ghibli Museum 

Tokyo’s most famous animation museum is quietly nestled in the suburbs of Mitaka. While modest in size, visitors will find themselves instantly transported into the beautiful world of Studio Ghibli. Tickets are always in high demand, so book well in advance. 

Discover the Ghibli Museum through video tours

Tokyo Anime Center

This anime exhibition space and merchandise shop in Shibuya regularly holds special short-term exhibits – past installations have included Animation Jujutsu Kaisen, Vanguard and more. Fans can also check out the venue and shop from anywhere in the world via the website. 

Suginami Animation Museum 

The permanent exhibition here showcases analogue animation production methods, while special exhibitions are held regularly too. Admission is free, and English audio-guidance devices are available on request. 

Toei Animation Museum 

This exhibition space is attached to the animation studio responsible for series like Dragon Ball and One Piece. Here visitors can get a glimpse of the vast catalog of animated works the company has produced over the years, while learning more about animation production in the process. Online reservation may be required. 

Anime, arcades and pop-culture artifacts: a geek’s guide to Tokyo

Consider setting a budget beforehand playing the claw machines in Tokyo's arcades © Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock

A quick guide to getting started at the arcade

Arcades, or game centers, are found near just about every major station in Tokyo, with red signage that's easy to spot. The claw machines cost ¥100 ($.87) per turn and are worth a try, though consider setting a budget beforehand. If you get stuck, call a staff member over to move the item to a more favorable position by saying, "resetto, onegaishimasu" (reset, please).

Got your item but still have credits leftover? Staff members can transfer them to another machine of your choice, but no refunds. The major arcades are Taito Station and Adores.

Tokyo and Osaka are a feast for your five senses

Top tips for exploring Tokyo's otaku culture

How do I get around? 

Akihabara, Nakano and Ikebukuro are all easily accessible from Shinjuku Station via the JR Chūō-Sōbu and Yamanote lines. 

When should I go? 

Ikebukuro and Akihabara can get congested – weekdays are best.

Where can I find the best gashapon

These capsule vending machines for miniature toys are quite common, but the Gashapon Official Shop in Sunshine City Ikebukuro has the largest selection.

Can I take pictures? 

Taking photos of merchandise and cosplayers is sometimes allowed, but pay attention to any signs nearby or ask before snapping a pic.

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