The gathering point for anime and game fans from around the globe looks eerily different these days.

Akihabara isn’t the most crowded neighborhood in Tokyo, but it’s less likely to be empty than just about anywhere else in the city. That’s because many other districts’ crowds are tied to specific times or days of the week, while Akihabara is a constant draw for one demographic or another.

As Japan’s center for anime and video game culture, on the weekends it’s filled with domestic otaku on day-long shopping runs and event attendance itineraries. But it’s also a major attraction for overseas tourists who are in Japan on vacation, for whom it’s just as easy to come on a weekday as the weekend, and there are plenty of offices mixed in among the specialty shops with workers who clock in every morning and are there all day, possibly grabbing dinner in a local restaurant after their shift.

These days, though, Akihabara is a much lonelier place.

Our reporter P.K. Sanjun visited the neighborhood to see how it’s coping in the coronavirus era, and sure enough, the streets were startlingly empty. That picture above is taken right outside JR Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Gate, which funnels people towards the densest collection of anime and electronic shops. Usually, the walkway is packed with groups of friends debating where to search first on whatever treasure hunt has brought them to Akihabara, plus smiling tourists snapping selfies as they finally set foot on otaku holy ground, but that’s definitely not the case now.

It was a similar situation as P.K. moved deeper into the backstreets. No cosplayers posing. No cheerful maids calling him “Master!” or “Big Brother!” as they invited him into their cafes. Just quiet streets, and the energetic atmosphere the entertainment-oriented area usually buzzes with replaced with the occasional solitary bird chirp.

The neighborhood isn’t entirely deserted, though. While Akihabara is most famous for its retail shops, it’s also got a lot of offices, particularly in the UDX skyscraper that’s become a symbol of the neighborhood, and some of their employees are still commuting in. From their unusually quick footsteps and lack of chatter, though, P.K. got the sense that most are in the mindset of “Get in to the office, get work done as quickly as possible, and get home.” Several lunchtime hot spots had no lines at all, suggesting that even among those who are still coming to work, many are opting to eat in their offices rather than make another trip outside.

Before leaving, P.K. spoke with a clerk at one of Akihabara’s major electronics stores, asking how things have been since the start of the coronavirus situation, to which the worker replied:

“Some of it might have been because it snowed, but last weekend it was startling how few customers we had. It’s really unusual to see Akihabara so empty, isn’t it? There’s been a sharp drop in the number of weekday shoppers. Unless they need to buy appliances or something urgently, I think everyone is ordering their stuff online right now.

I think the number of businesspeople in the area has dropped too. The area around the station is still really crowded during the morning and evening rush hours, though. And the overseas tourists have almost totally disappeared. Every now and then you’ll spot a solo traveler, but there really aren’t any multi-person parties or tour groups coming through Akihabara.”

As with Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood, many Akihabara restaurants and businesses are dependent on tourists, both from elsewhere in Japan and other parts of the world. Obviously with the health situation being what it is, you can’t fault people for staying home, but this is definitely putting a strain on one of the most unique places in Japan, and hopefully the crowds will be back as soon as it’s safe.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]

【リアルレポ】日本最大級のカルチャー街「秋葉原」のいま / 電気街はあまり人がおらず…

Follow Casey on Twitter, where if and when you go to Akihabara, he strongly recommends the Kurikoan taiyaki stand for a snack.

[ Read in Japanese ]