City Walks and Salon

Akihabara: Change and Progress in Electric Town


9 November 2005

Akihabara, home of the latest and greatest in electronic technology, is not just a place for the “otaku” any more. While the “super-nerds” scour the electronic stores for the newest gadget, urban redevelopment is re-shaping this area, trying to combine the old Akihabara with a fashionable new version. The Lighting Detectives setout this time to discover the possible direction of Akihabara`s future.

Akihabara Redevelopment

Akihabara: Change and Progress in Electric Town
Akihabara: Change and Progress in Electric Town

The detectives gathered at the entrance to the infamous Electric Town to start off on their Akihabara Adventure. Redevelopment to make Akihabara a worldwide center for the IT community is part of the concept behind Akihabara Crossroads, a new development officially awaiting its grand opening in the spring of 2006. However, one of two high-rise structures in this redevelopment, Akihabara Daibiru Building, a combination office, IT academic research, and convention center, opened its doors in the spring of 2005. From the inside wall washers gently illuminate the Daibiru Building facade and blue LED accent lighting, embedded in the entrance pavement, creates a lighting environment that is a far cry from the typical Akihabara experience up until now. Along with this new lighting environment, the opening of the Tsukuba Express and a temporary museum D-Akihabara, we caught a faint glimpse of the new Akihabara.

The Yamanote Train Line platform is almost level with the second floor of the Daibiru Building, just in front of the train station. As the trains pass in and out of the station, the huge electronics store, Yodobashi Camera, can be seen in the distance. As the only dominate building around, the black backdrop of the night sky against the congested platform creates a dramatic urban scene, one of the more fantastic discoveries of the night.

Junk Markets

From the Daibiru Building, the detectives split into three groups and set off into the maze of little electronic shops in search of the rare and weird lighting products that turn up in this quirky little town. It is possible to uncover just about anything in this goldmine if you are will to search through the troves of shops, giving new meaning to the saying “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

The World`s Greatest Electric Town

Akihabara: Change and Progress in Electric Town

After treasure hunting in the junk markets, the three groups made their way to the main strip of Akihabara`s electric Town. Each group was responsible for photographing a section of the street and the photos were later patched together to create one, continuous elevation of the street. From this elevation scroll we concluded that the most prominent feature of this street is the amount of flashy, luminous advertising. Each advertisement is the individual taste and style of that store and not subject to any form of conformity from the next shop. The power of the individual is the predominate lighting culture of Akihabara.

There are as many variations on lighting methods, as there are stores along this street. Up and down lighting along the tall, skinny facades; Neon signage on building tops; Lighting concentrated in the lower section of buildings; Infinite tubes of fluorescent lighting around store entrances; plus many other techniques are all part of the glue that “unifies” this streetscape. Nevertheless, ground floors as bright as daylight that seem to naturally attract customers inward, is one commonality for all shops along this street.

The contrast in Electric Town chaotic lighting and the new Akihabara Crossroad’s more calming approach is clearly apparent, but the effect on the streetscape and super-nerds and who have run the show in Akihabara up until now is still fuzzy. How will the town change and react to accommodate the new kids on the block, IT center, high-rise structures, trendy condominiums, and such, gradually invading the area?