If you were let loose in Akihabara, Tokyo’s famous Electric Town district, would you go searching for a tech souvenir to take home? I’m assuming the answer would be yes, because that’s exactly what I did. With a time limit of two hours, I scoured as much of Akihabara as possible to find a fun, high-tech souvenir that someone may want to bring home, and here’s what I found.
Which one would you have chosen?
If you want to buy a new piece of tech in Akihabara, that’s not really a problem. Both Bic Camera and Yodabashi Camera — massive, multi-floor tech megastores — are easy to find, and sell almost every new consumer tech product you can imagine. If you want to see everything in either one, it’ll easily take you longer than the two hour time limit I set myself.
Additionally, most of what you can find in there is available all over the world, so it wouldn’t really remind you of Japan after you return home. No, it’s much more fun to find a specifically Japanese item, or at least a rare piece of tech instead; but to do this, you have to tour the many alternative tech stores in Akihabara, and this is where the challenge lies.
It’s easy to spend the whole day doing this. There are multiple stores spread all over the town, often on multiple levels, or hidden away in basements, and if you can’t read Japanese, it needs dedication and a willingness to walk through mysterious doors to find them. Then, once you get inside a good store, some of the more interesting stuff is found in flea market-style cabinets and boxes, and they take time to examine. This is the fun of Akihabara — you never quite know what you’ll find, or where.
I wanted something preferably unique to Japan, a special edition product, or at the very least something I hadn’t seen for years. My quest was not easy, and I soon discovered it wasn’t going to be cheap either. However, here’s a look at the kind of thing you’ll find when you go touring in Akihabara for a tech souvenir.
There’s one particular store along the main street in Akihabara that sells retro games consoles, cartridges, and discs. There were stacks of these Gameboy Color handhelds, all in different colors; but it was the Atomic Purple transparent one that caught my eye. Originally released in 1998, the Gameboy Color is not especially rare; but it is still a fun retro toy to own.
The small screen has a resolution of 160 x 144 pixels and could show more than 32,000 colors, while the handheld itself required two AA batteries to run for about 10 hours. Why would I choose one of these? It’s the amount of cartridges sold in the store. You could choose a variety and quickly indulge in a wonderful retro gaming experience on the flight home.
Most models were up for about 8,480 yen, which is about $77 or 60 British pounds, and each cart varied in price. You could have also purchased both R-Type and Nemesis cartridges for $22 or about 17 pounds.
PlayStation Vita Hatsune Miku Edition
Released in 2012, this limited edition version of the PlayStation Vita was made to commemorate the release of the Hatsune Miku Project Diva game. The white console comes with Miku artwork on the back, and originally included the Project Diva game along with a 4GB memory card. This version was found inside a jam-packed used games store, and even though it came unboxed, it still commanded a 24,075 yen price.
How much is that? Just over $221, or 170 British pounds. That’s an expensive souvenir, but as it was only ever available in Japan you’d be getting something pretty special. The desirability is raised again if you’re a Hatsune Miku fan, and I’m definitely that. It was tough to resist this one.
Sony FES U Watch
Sony’s FES U watch is an unusual wearable with a customizable e-paper screen that stretches from the watch face down onto the strap. It’s a fashion watch rather than a smartwatch, making it less useful, and it was initially released in Japan back in 2017. Since then it has been made available internationally, complete with a massive, ridiculous price tag.
There were several FES U watches in the window of a backstreet Akihabara store, and what really stood out was the price. It was the cheaper version with mineral glass rather than sapphire, but the 19,000 yen price converts over to $175 or 135 British pounds, considerably less than the retail price of 440 pounds in the U.K., or about $570.
A comparative bargain price for the quirky, unusual watch, and answer me this: when was the last time you saw someone wearing one?
I was on the lookout for the Infobar A03 touchscreen phone, but couldn’t find one in the many used phone stores in Akihabara, at least in my two hour search. I did find a few of these beauties though — the Infobar XV. It’s actually quite new, having only been released in 2018; but it (along with all Infobar phones) is exclusive to Japan.
It’s a real stunner, and in these times of minimalist phones like the Punkt MP02 it’s still on-trend. It has Android installed, but with limited functionality so it only runs the most essential apps. The 3.1-inch screen has a 480 x 800 pixel resolution, and there’s an 8-megapixel camera on the back. However, since it’s a Japan-only phone, it’s unlikely to have the right bands for use internationally, so it may just be a design curio rather than a useable phone.
I found two of the three colors made, and each cost 24,800 yen. That’s about $228, or 175 British pounds.
Finally, and probably the most extravagant souvenir most would ever buy, it’s RoBoHon. Sharp’s robot phone is too adorable for words, and the only product I asked to take photos of when he came out of the cabinet; but as with most Japanese stores it wasn’t allowed. RoBoHon has a 2-inch screen on his back, and a projector in his head, plus a Snapdragon 400 processor, 2GB of RAM, and Android 5.0 Lollipop onboard.
RoBoHon’s original price was an eye-watering 198,000 yen, or a massive $1,820 or 1,400 British pounds. This used version was yours for 89,800 yen — $825 or 635 pounds. Expensive, but a truly unusual Japan-only piece of tech that very few will have ever seen, let alone used. However, like the Infobar, the Japan-only status may limit RoBoHon’s usefulness outside the country.
What if you missed your chance?
We’ve all done it. Seen something and been indecisive, and then missed our chance to buy it. What if you didn’t get one of these, and then regretted it? I took a look on eBay to see which is easy to buy outside Japan. Unsurprisingly, the Gameboy Color is plentiful, with prices for the transparent models starting at about $45. Almost all the Hatsune Miku edition PlayStation Vita’s come from Japan on eBay, and prices are twice that of the model I found in Akihabara.
You can buy the Sony FES U watch new from Amazon in the U.K., while on eBay in the U.S. almost all have to be imported from Japan at prices ranging from about $300 upwards, with many around the $500 mark. A few Infobar XV’s are for sale as imports for at least $425, while import RoBoHon models hover around $2,000 or more. Based on these prices, all but the Gameboy Color would have been a great value purchase.
Which one would you choose?
These are the items that caught my eye during my two hour search, along with a few others that I didn’t get to see in detail, including a beautiful Astell & Kern A&Norma SR15 Uma Musume: Pretty Derby special edition for 55,000 yen ($505/340 British pounds). Which one did I choose? I almost bought the Infobar XV, because it’s so pretty; but because this is Akihabara, my love of Japanese idol group Nogizaka46 meant I spent the cost of the phone on other memorabilia instead.
What about you, which one would you have chosen?
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