Sunday, 14 March 2010

Electric Town versus Electric Town: FIGHT!

Okay, so this isn't about two seperate dramatisations of the same story, but is instead about two parts of Japan with the same name. Well, nearly. Akihabara apparently has the nickname "Electric Town", while Den Den Town in Osaka could be called "Electric Town", since Den means Electric... see? Okay, so it's a bit tenuous. Never mind.

Akihabara is the shiny home of everything new and geeky, with every item of software and hardware stack as high as you look. Clusters of people stare at posters advertising the latest... well, I'm not sure was it was. But whatever it was, the woman on the poster seemed delighted about it. Meanwhile, cosplaying women had out leaflets for nearby themed cafes, and the thrum of the latest arcade game bleeds across the street, competing with the tinny SNES music from the retro shop a few doors along. It's quite an experience just walking through the streets, and you can't help but be caught up in its endless rush towards tomorrow.

Den Den Town, meanwhile, is like the Bizarro Akihabara. It feels like when it was built it was probably the pinnacle of modern leisure but nobody has bothered to update it since. This covered network of arcades offers up enka karaoke bars, street vendors offering faded VHS cassettes, cheap bento lunches (200 yen, if you can ignore the hygeine risks), and a rather seedy unwelcoming air. Compared to Japan's usual immaculate image, it's something of a relief to find somewhere which has escaped any attempt at being nice for visitors.

Walking past an old man asleep on the floor, sitting beside a cardboard box with two video tapes on them, surrounded by crisps, it made me regret how timid I was with a camera. This area offers more photo opportunities than the rest of Osaka put together - one bar had two rows of tables, one entirely occupied by old men playing Shoji and the other by old men playing Go, while displays of garish t-shirts with nonsensical English slogans featured at one particular crossroads. It's a beautiful and oddly optimistic place. The nearby Shinsekai Tower epitomises this "once upon a time in the future" air, as its grimy husk is the most geniune piece of steampunk architecture you're ever likely to see. Certainly a contrast to the black monolithic office block that looms over Akihabara.

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