Decline and fall of Akihabara as a tech hub

maid cafe signHas anyone been to Akihabara lately? I know I’m probably way behind the times here, but I still had the impression it was the land of all things shiny and technology-related – where impossibly gadgetry was salivated over by Japanese otaku and envied by foreign visitors.

As my latest ramblings on The Reg explain, I was rather disappointed to see, on exit from the station, pristine pedestrian walkways, giant IT mega-stores and shopping centres. Redevelopment over the past few years has apparently made the place a lot more family and tourist friendly but definitely not much fun for those interested in tech.

Most of the small, cramped, independently owned consumer electronics stores have closed now, but don’t blame the local mayor for wanting to redevelop the place. From my conversations with Japan tech experts and analysts it was going to happen anyway.

The area was big in the 70s, when according to some estimates, 10 per cent of all household appliances sold in Japan were bought in Akihabara. Then the PC and laptop boom in the 90s and beyond took over, drawing in a more geeky crowd keen to build their own customised machines. 

But now it’s all cosplay, manga, Maid Cafes and Hobby shops. It seems the tech industry, and Japanese consumers, have moved on. They’d rather get their gadgets online now and maybe try before they buy in a megastore like Yodabashi Camera, according to an IDC analyst I spoke to.

On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see the area reinvent itself as a geek manga/anime/cosplay paradise. Japan, if nothing else, has a remarkable resilience. 

The decline of Akihabara as a tech hub is therefore unlikely to portend the collapse of the country’s once unstoppable tech industry.

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