This is not an "I went somewhere so you don't have to" post. That's dumb. This is an
"I went somewhere and hope to spread the word so YOU will go too" post!
I had the opportunity to take holiday in Japan in October 2023, and what I saw in the Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo was mind blowing. At hobby shop after hobby shop, I said to myself, "this is the best I've ever been to!" until stepping into the next one! Imagine a bar crawl, but for plastic. That's Akihabara.
Editor's note: THANK YOU Jake, Harvey, Julio, Mark, and Russell for your tips and suggestions throughout my trip!
Before I jump into the shops, it's pertinent that you take serious heed of these survival tips. Things can spiral out of control really quick when you're there.
Make a list of kits and accessories ahead of time
Only bring the cash you can afford to part ways with
Do not bring credit cards, family heirloom watch, deed to home. You are NOT going to a poker game
Tell your loved ones not to wait for you
Buy your loved ones gifts valued at 20% of your Akihabara spend. Considered this a grease payment
Alright, you've been prepped.
This is the way
To get you started, here's a map with the general layout of what I know. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in this neighborhood, and I am sure that there are a few more hobby shops sprinkled in the area. Let us know in the comments if you have a great store worth noting!
The Radio Kaikan building is a great place to start your Akihabara odyssey. It is right near a large train station and is iconic. If it's your first time going to Akihabara, I recommend winding your way up the escalators rather than the elevator. Doing so will give you a sense of the scene. When you get towards the top, you will be treated to two great hobby destinations!
Volks Hobby Square Akihabara (Radio Kaikan 8th Floor) - At the top is Volks. Volks is a main retailer of the coveted ZOUKEI-MURA line. I didn't know about this line until visiting Japan, but from what I can tell, they specialize in super detailed large-format aircraft. But that's not all! There are many inspirational model display cases throughout the store. Overall they have a very nice variety of new kits spanning most genres to pick from. Plenty of aftermarket sets are available. I picked up several 1/700 Yamato aftermarket items.
Yellow Submarine Hobby Base (Radio Kaikan 6th Floor) - I think there has been a recent reorganization (December 2023), whereby their main scale model shop in the neighborhood, known as the Scale Shop, is now consolidating to this location, the Hobby Base. Source: X @YS_SCALESHOP. That disclaimer out of the way, I'll tell you my combined experience (yes, I went to both locations!)
Hobby Base - interesting set of kits of things I have never seen before like Japanese castles, dinosaurs, and bugs! More familiar were a variety of figures (some not so familiar!), Pokemon, and Gundam/Mecha. A good looking selection of paint and tools rounded things out.
Scale Shop - More aligned with my interests was the Scale Shop. Fantastic collection of new naval, armor, and aviation kits. It spanned many aisles. I noticed a nice supply of scenery gear as well. Many great looking builds were on display in a cabinet by the entrance. If the consolidation of the two stores has happened, the one giant location in the Raidio Kaikan building should cater to the majority of modeler needs.
I'm not sure if this next spot is iconic, but it has an oh-so-hard-to-miss sign at a large intersection. So if you need another photo opp, or a sign to remind you that you are in hobby heaven, take in the view from across the street!
TamTam - TamTam spans 2 floors with the 4th floor focusing on plastic models and the 5th on trains. With respect to plastic models, there was once again a great selection of kits on the newer side and great selections of paint and supplies. If you are crunched on time, consider pairing TamTam and Leonardo LG (2nd store) together as they are in adjacent buildings and right next to one of the subway lines.
If you have ever had a Stash Dream, or wanted to know what it feels like to be a model sandwiched between other models (of course I refer to the plastic sprue and not the plastic-centerfold variety), these are the 3 stores you go to. Just be sure to read Step 4 of the Survival Guide first.
Leonardo LG and Leonardo LG (2nd store) - To be honest, I don't understand the difference between the 2 LGs and 3rd store with an ET distinguisher. But I can say that the 2 LG stores appear more joined at the hip (common website) than the ET store. This mystery aside, the specialty here are 2nd hand kits. If you are looking for something out of production, spanning all genres, come to these. Both stores are packed to the gills. Look up, look down, look everywhere. You are bound to find something on that list you are carrying! And a reminder: the 2nd store is right next to TamTam if you are looking for old and new stuff.
Leonardo ET - This! This is what being in a Stash feels like! Incredible! It is a bit tricky to find, but find it you will. And when you do, reward yourself with another 2nd hand kit from their amazing selection. After considerable time here, I was about to leave when I looked up one last time and saw a Pro Modeller 1/48 SB2C Helldiver. I immediately procured it, and at a fantastic price. Far better than anything I had seen on eBay!
Caution: I don't recall seeing hobby supplies in the 3 Leonardo 2nd hand shops. But given the neighborhood you are in, and the chance to go to other stores, I think you will figure it out ;-)
Suragaya - Also on the 2nd hand circuit (from what I can tell), this shop is on the main drag and also occupies more than 1 floor. Like I said, Akihabara is nuts! They have a bit of everything. Again, if pressed for time, you could pair this shop with the Radio Kaikan building for the old/new mix, I also understand that they have several locations throughout Japan that offer a product mix beyond plastic models. Definitely check them out!
I'm not sure if there is a "finale store" or not, and truth be told, the shops I've discussed are not in an order of preference, but if there was a such thing as a "finale store", this is probably it.
Yodobashi Akiba - This is a massive department store! Don't be distracted by the fancy electronics everywhere. Stay on target. You are here for models. Go to floor 6. Now behold: This is the largest selection of models and model accessories you are likely to ever see. It is comical. Jaw to floor comical. I mean this with the utmost respect, admiration, and envy. Just take a look at some of these pictures to get a sense of what you are dealing with. It might as well be a distribution warehouse.
Editor's note: If Yodobashi Akiba didn't have enough kits, check out one of their other locations in Shinjuku under the Yodobashi Camera name. Further note: There are several Yodobashi Camera stores in the neighborhood. I know this because I tried 4 of them before I found the sprues!
I can't make this Akihabara post without acknowledging that one very special store is located in the Shimbashi neighborhood.
Tamiya Plamodel Factory - I love Tamiya and you likely love Tamiya. This is Tamiya's flagship store. In many ways, this is a retail shop and a museum. There is obviously an excellent stock of Tamiya kits and supplies, but the dioramas are far and away the most impressive thing about the place. You can use the Yamanote or Ginza lines to shuttle on over from Akihabara.
Editor's note: I will be writing another post that features this location and my visit to the Tamiya Headquarters in Shizuoka. Subscribe so you don't miss it!
Akihabara is an embarassment of hobby riches. After going to all these hobby shops, I was left with three impressions. First, if the stores are this flush, just how big are the locals' Stashes! Second, try as I might, a blog post is in no way going to capture the experience of being in Akihabara. And third, the hobby is not enjoyed with the same enthusiasm around the world.
There is so much positivity that this hobby can bring to people. Artistic expression, physical dexterity, problem solving skills, patience, and mental health, just to name a few. So why has the scale model scene flourished beyond comprehension in Akihabara? And when are YOU going to experience it for yourself!
Thanks for reading,
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