Question: do you think the people who come to Akihabara have changed?
Momoi: While the part of the “Electric Town” known as Sotokanda still sees many of the same customers it did in the old days, I get the feeling there are a lot of new faces along Shouwa-doori (one of the main streets in Akihabara).
I don’t want to go along this theme too much because I sound like an old man (smiles), but it’s true that before the nineties the main draw of the district was to radio buffs and people who modded old game machines.
With the DOS/V boom and the self-built PC boom of the mid-nineties the stores began to shift from radio and solid-state electonics to PC parts. It was probably a nuisance to the radio buffs, in hindsight.
After that, with the arrival of fighting games the number of game stores (arcade and console) increased exponentially as well. This led to game maniacs coming to Akiba in increasing numbers, which I think may have brought the anime fans in on their coattails.
As a result, stores selling anime laserdiscs proliferated, drawing even more anime fans to the district. As a result of this and the games boom, stores in Akihabara gradually shifted from hardware to software-focused. This had a symbiotic effect on the type of customers who came there.
Around this time, mail order and online shopping began to emerge as a serious factor. In the past, the main draw of Akihabara was that it sold “maniac” hobby electronics that couldn’t be acquired via other means, but when the stores there started accepting orders via mail the need to come there to buy the parts in person disappeared.
So what did that mean for the district? Well, you can’t buy services over the internet, which is why I think the maid cafes began to spread. At present, I’d say that Akihabara has become a service district.
In the past, customers came to buy hobby items, but now instead of things they come here in search of experiences. For example, it seems like nowadays Akihabara hosts idol events on a daily basis. That kind of service can’t be bought over the internet, so fans come here to seek it out.
Maid cafes are a natural result of this, and don’t feel out of place to me at all.
Question: do you think the atmosphere surrounding otaku has also changed?
Momoi: Yes, I think that might be the case. The sort of stereotypical otaku you used to see have gradually lessened in numbers. Actually, I’ve been thinking I’d like to open a clothing store here in Akihabara (smile).
To tell you the truth, I rather enjoy choosing clothes for men. There are a lot of people out there who would really shine with a bit of polish. With a bit of advice, if they would start caring more about their appearance they could live a life where being known as an otaku wouldn’t have to feel like a weakness.
So, I’d like to open that sort of shop to give them a hand. Not cosplay, mind you – regular clothes that you could go anywhere wearing without feeling embarassed! That’s the kind of style I’d like to give.
ed. damn you Momoi, now I want to read your book.