Akihabara is a district of Tokyo devoted to consumer electronics, where building after building is stuffed with everything from 2 by 2 foot stalls specializing in diodes or resistors to full-fledged, multifloor shops, each so full of devices that Marconi would have thought he was hallucinating.
I knew I had reached Akihabara proper when I looked down on the sidewalk and saw a street vendor selling oscilloscopes and microchips. In a stall behind him, 60 different kinds of laptops were on sale, ranging from plain vanilla clones to full-fledged 80386, 60 Mbyte, 6-pound notebooks.
Thinking I must have died and gone to geek heaven, I knew that this district was going to take a while to visit. I ducked into a noodle stand and used my two-word Japanese vocabulary to order a beer and a bowl of miso soup. As I noisily slurped my noodles, I could hear dozens of stereo systems, all playing different brands of disco at full volume.
Suitably fortified, I spent the next two hours trooping up and down stairs in building after building. I had to keep reminding myself that I had many more weeks on the road, lest I yield to the temptation to buy a home satellite dish (only $100) or a personal computer that weighed only 980 grams and ran on AA batteries. The computer was only available in a kanji model, but I figured I could always learn. Even more tempting were DAT drives, high definition TVs, global positioning system receivers, and three-inch color televisions.
Feeling somehow unsatisfied, yet still solvent, I tore myself away and headed back towards the subway. On the way, I passed a group of young women all dressed up in natty uniforms bearing the somewhat cryptic label “With Me” and all walking in a line. The women at the head and tail of the column carried banners which matched their uniforms. The rest of the “With Me” girls each jauntily carried the new two-pound Hitachi notebook, shamelessly displaying their VDTs for all to see.
Every ten minutes or so, the conga line would go out into Akihabara and walk for a few blocks, dragging along a sound system guaranteed to attract lots of attention. They would wend their way back towards the With Me store and disappear inside, luring a portion of the mob in with them. Somehow, I suspected the short skirts had more to do with the crowd’s loyalty than any desire to purchase Hitachi’s latest and greatest.