Feature: The Evolution of Akiba

Post WWII, a black market for radio parts and other electronics developed around Akihabara Station; if you look carefully you'll still find the legacy of this former life in the Akihabara Radio Center, a two-storey warren of several dozen stalls dealing in connectors, jacks, LEDs, switches, semiconductors and other components, under the elevated railway tracks. This is the original, still-beating heart of Akihabara, and it's worth a peek, mainly as a cultural study.

After the 1960s and '70s, when the district was the place to hunt for bargain new and used electronics, Akihabara saw its top shopping mantle increasingly usurped by discount stores elsewhere in the city. It has long since bounced back by reinventing itself as the centre of the otaku (geek) universe, catching J-pop culture fans in its gravitational pull.

Today you are as likely to find intricately designed plastic models of anime characters, self-penned pornographic comics and cosplay (costume play) outfits as you are electrical circuits, fuses and wires in the place locals call Akiba. Along neon-lined Chūō-dōri, west of the station, you're sure to encounter cosplay maids enticing customers into maid cafes such as @Home Cafe and Jam Akihabara. To make some sense of it all, pick up an English map at Akiba Info; the helpful staff here speak English.