||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (November 2013)|
Akihabara (秋葉原) is a district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, Japan. The name Akihabara is a shortening of Akibagahara (秋葉が原, "autumn leaf field"), which ultimately comes from Akiba, a fire-controlling god and the local name for a firefighting shrine built after the area was destroyed by a fire in 1869.
Akihabara gained the nickname Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原電気街 Akihabara Denki Gai ) shortly after World War II for being a major shopping center for household electronic goods and the post-war black market. Nowadays, Akihabara is an otaku cultural center and a shopping district for computer goods, video games, anime, and manga. Icons from popular anime and manga are displayed prominently on the shops in the area, and numerous maid cafes can be found throughout the district. Some people view Akihabara and otaku culture in general in a negative light based on the male-oriented depictions in anime and manga.
The main area of Akihabara is located on a street just west of the station, where most of the major shops are situated. Most of the electronics shops are just west of the station, and the anime and manga shops and the cosplay cafes are north of them.
The area that is now Akihabara was once near a city gate of Edo and served as a passage between the city and northwestern Japan. This made the region a home to many craftsmen and tradesmen, as well as some low class samurai. One of Tokyo’s frequent fires destroyed the area in 1869, and the people decided to replace the buildings of the area with a shrine called Chinkasha, meaning fire extinguisher shrine, in an attempt to prevent the spread of future fires. The locals nicknamed the shrine Akiba after a deity that could control fire, and the area around it became known as Akibagahara and later Akihabara.
In 1890, the Akihabara Station became a major freight transit point, which allowed a vegetable and fruit market to spring up in the district. Then, in the 1920s, the station saw a large volume of passengers after opening for public transport, and after World War II, the black market thrived in the absence of a strong government. This disconnection of Akihabara from government authority has allowed the district to grow as a market city and given rise to an excellent atmosphere for entrepreneurship. In the 1930s, this climate turned Akihabara into a future-oriented market region specializing in household electronics, such as washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, and stereos, earning Akihabara the nickname "Electric Town".
As household electronics began to lose their futuristic appeal in about the 1980s, the shops of Akihabara shifted their focus to home computers at a time when they were only used by specialists and hobbyists. This new specialization brought in a new type of consumer, computer nerds or otaku. The market in Akihabara naturally latched onto their new customer base that was focused on anime, manga, and video games. The connection between Akihabara and otaku has survived and grown to the point that the region is now known worldwide as a center for otaku culture, and most otaku even consider Akihabara to be a sacred place.
The influence of otaku culture has shaped Akihabara's businesses and buildings to reflect the interests of otaku and gained the district worldwide fame for its distinctive imagery. Akihabara tries to create an atmosphere as much like the game and anime worlds the customers are used to as is possible. The streets of Akihabara are covered with anime and manga icons, and cosplayers line the sidewalks handing out advertisements, especially for maid cafes.
Release events, special events, and conventions in Akihabara give anime and manga fans frequent opportunities to meet the creators of the works they follow so closely and strengthen the connection between the region and otaku culture. Even the design of the buildings serves to create the sort of atmosphere that draws in otaku. Architects are designing the department stores of Akihabara to be more opaque and closed to reflect the general desire of otaku to live in their anime worlds rather than display their obsessions to the world at large.
Because otaku culture is often considered unusual for an adult, some controversies have sprung up as a result of Akihabara's public display of the culture. Since otaku are primarily male, Akihabara is full of female characters being depicted in sexist or misogynistic contexts. Female anime characters are almost exclusively depicted as sexualized objects and the abundance of cosplay and maid cafes puts young women in a position of taking orders from the male customers they serve.
Akihabara's role as a free market has also allowed a large amount of amateur work to find a passionate audience in the otaku who frequent the area. Doujinshi, amateur manga, has been growing in Akihabara since the 1970s when publishers began to drop manga that were not ready for large markets. These doujinshi have also created some conflict, as they often deal with sexual themes, like yaoi.
On June 8, 2008, Tomohiro Kato drove a rented truck into a crowd of people in Akihabara then proceeded to go on a stabbing spree, which caused seven deaths and ten injuries. This event came to be known as the "Akihabara massacre".
The investigation found that Kato frequently posted to online bulletin boards where he felt lonely and neglected by other posters. Kato wanted the people online to show some sympathy for the complaints he constantly posted, and after being ignored by them, he decided to do something drastic to get their attention, stating "I wanted to be stopped by a person who had read my messages."
In January 2010, Kato pleaded guilty to the murders and apologized to the victims and their families. The prosecution in the trial succeeded in proving criminal responsibility, and Kato was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in March 2011. In September 2012, the death sentence ruling was upheld.
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- IMAI, Nobuharu. "The Momentary and Placeless Community: Constructing a New Community with regards to Otaku Culture." Inter Faculty 1 (2010).
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