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Radio Shopping in Akihabara, Japan

A concise guide to finding the popular radio shops in Akihabara.

Last week we had the pleasure of once again visiting Japan as part of our trip to China to try and sort out our insurance claim on a missing radio shipment. Why go to Japan when China is the intended destination? Put simply the fares were cheaper and it means you can apply for a 144 hour regional transit visa for China, something of a win win. We were flying China Southern via Guanzhou, so the transit visa would allow a trip to Shenzhen. But first we headed to Japan.

Compared to China, Japan is so different when it comes to whats available. Firstly their band allocations in VHF are only to 146MHz, which means no repeater access if used in Australia. They are also very patriotic when it comes to technology, with Dstar being the main digital mode and products on sale are all Japanese or Taiwanese.

Getting Around.

In Tokyo, most of the shopping can be done in Akihabara, a district north of the main Tokyo CBD and well served by the trains and subway. Visitors to Japan should try to get a Suica or Pasmo card on arrival if they cannot load the virtual product on their phone. Suica cards are still not available at most stations due to the chip shortage, these normally have a deposit and funds can be returned when leaving Japan. However there are limited placed including Haneda were you can get a welcome Suica, which has no deposit but expires after 28 days with no refunds.

To use a virtual card, you need a NFC enabled phone, on the iPhone its as simple as going into your phone wallet, selecting add transit card, then scrolling down to the Japan options which include Suica and Pasmo. You then link these to your credit card in the wallet (or debit) and your good to go. Just approch the turnstile and tap your phone.

Akihabara Navigation

I recommend on your first visit that you use the JR train network, as the station is a good place to start. You want to take the exit that has the department store, known as the Electric City exit on the western side of the station. Essentially you will be shadowing the Sobu line as you walk.

Once you past the Atre 1 store, you will come across a number of small shops, some of which sell radio gear. The Alinco sign is a clue.

This complex is something of a rabbit warren well worth exploration. About half way along you will notice a narrow set of stairs, which will take you to a second floor with more stores including an interesting second hand radio store called Ebox which has a website:

Once you have finished this complex head west and cross the road, continuing to follow the path of the overhead Sobu rail line. Again, you will often get a clue your on the right track, as behind you on the building you just toured there will often be a sign. I note at the time of writing its not there on google street view, but has been present three times I have visited.

As you keep walking down the street you will see the radio department store on the right, which is something of a misnomer. It appears to be related to the first building we visited however its more elctronics focused with parts, project boxes etc, worth a visit regardless. Sadly this time, I noted the seller with a massive collection of valves was absent, perhaps times or COVID caught up with the business model.

As you continue west, there is a street intersection where a KFC is located, remember this for the return journey. Halfway down the next block is the famous Rocket radio. Once multi story, business is now down to a single ground level store, but there is still plenty to look at, and it reminds me a bit like a JB Hi Fi store with its ticketing.

One important tip if you intend to buy a bit of gear, is to remember the tourist tax return scheme, which Rocket participates in, so take your passport.

Once you have finished visting Rocket, it's time head to their main competition. Remember that KFC? Walk towards it and on reaching take a left turn. Walking down the street you will see many Manga and IT stalls, but on the right towards the next intersection is our destination.

There is plenty to look at again over two floors this time. When you are done, head back to the KFC and do another left to head to the station, or just go wondering the district, there is plenty to see.

On a final note, I recommend visiting weekdays around lunch time or slightly earlier, weekend sees the area swell with foot traffic that can make it a bit busy. Unlike Australia, things are slow to start in the morning with many stores not opening until 10 or 11AM.

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