Goodbyes both heartfelt and snarky mark the end of an era in Tokyo’s otaku district.

It’s not unusual to feel a little wistful at the end of August, as summer starts to fade and shorter days and colder nights loom. This year, August 31 was especially bittersweet for otaku, though, because it marked the final day of the last remaining Akihabara branch of Toranoana, which was once one of Japan’s premier dojinshi (self-published manga) stores.

Actually, no fewer than five Toranoana branches were permanently closing on this day, with the others being locations in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Osaka’s Namba and Umeda, and Chiba City. The Akihabara closure was the most significant, though, since not only is the neighborhood the worldwide mecca for otaku culture, Toranoana’s Akihabara A branch had been a neighborhood fixture for the last 28 years.

But that was all ending on Wednesday night, so we made our way out to Akihabara. It’s becoming customary for the clientele of fan-oriented shops and entertainment centers to come pay their respects on the final day, and for the staff to make a speech marking the occasion, and when we arrived a little before Toranoana was scheduled to close at 8 p.m., a crowd of otaku had already gathered.

▼ A sign in the window informing passersby of the closing of the five branches on August 31

Customers inside were looking through the selection and making one last purchase, while others snapped commemorative photos of the storefront. Serving as a metaphorical time capsule, the final series being promoted outside the shop were Jewelry Hearts Academia and Rent-A-Girlfriend, with posters right above the door…

…and Sakura no Toki, with its artwork displayed just to the left of the entrance.

As the time got closer to 8, the crowd continued to grow. Eventually, there wasn’t space on the sidewalk in front of Toranoana, so people started amassing across the street, in front of the Mister Donut and Sofmap stores.

Speaking of other nearby businesses, Melon Books, another dojinshi specialty store, has a branch just two blocks away from Toranoana’s Akihabara shop.

▼ Melon Books

Melon Books was already closed for the night, but earlier in the day they’d put up a sign with the following message:

Thank you for 28 happy years

“Our neighbor two blocks over, Toranoana, will be closing today.
Esteemed rival, and fellow friend who loved Akihabara,
because you were close by, we also could do our best.
Without you here, Toranoana, thinking of the future fills us with sadness.
Selfish though it is for us to say this, everyone, please go to Toranoana today.
Challenging ourselves to be as good as Toranoana has been our goal, so with a smile, we say thank you.”

If that phrasing sounds familiar, it’s the same message that the Akihabara Burger King branch posted when the Akihabara McDonald’s closed down two years ago, with the same layout, which means that if you read the first character in each of the lines of text vertically, they spell out Watashi tachi no kachi,” or “Victory is ours.”

▼ The Melon Books sign, with 私たちの勝チ (“Victory is ours”) hidden in the far left column of text.

We then headed back over to Toranoana, but even though 8 o’clock came and went, the staff was still working hard, ringing up its last-ever shoppers’ purchases. At about 8:25, all the customers had been taken care of, and Toranoana’s staff came out to greet the assembled crowd, and the branch manager said a few words.

Even with a megaphone, it wasn’t easy to hear him over some of the surrounding noise of the city, but Toranoana’s appreciation for its fans was clear as he said:

“Thank you all for coming out, even in this hot weather on a weeknight.

As you are all already aware, today, August 31, is the last day for the Toranoana Akihabara A store to be in operation. We didn’t imagine that so many people would gather, and we are very happy to see that we are so loved. It’s very sad for our store’s time to be ending, but as we close, we hope that we’ll be able to see you all again, somewhere, in a new capacity.

Also, Toranoana itself remains in business, and we’ll continue to do our best through our online sales service, so we hope you’ll make use of it and show it the same love you have shown us here in Akihabara.

Thank you again for coming out tonight. Toranoana Akihabara A branch is now closed. Thank you for shopping with us for so many years.”

As mentioned in the manager’s speech, Toranoana will continue to sell doujinshi online, and it also has a number of regional satellite shops within other stores (essentially Toranoana-branded dojinshi corners inside of bookstores). There’s also one remaining full-fledged Toranona physical branch, the fujoshi-oriented store in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood.

Still, as the crowd burst into emotional applause, the staff bowed deeply, and when the shutter on the store came down one last time, the curtain was also coming down on a period of Akihabara history.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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