Although Tokyo was built around what is now the Imperial Palace, in fact it is a city with many centers. The entertainment districts are perhaps the most famous, but there are also specific neighborhoods to visit if, say, you’re in the market for a guitar, snowboarding gear, or old books.
When it comes to otaku culture, Tokyo has two key centers: Nakano Broadway and Akihabara. The latter is a large hub of electronics, maid cafes, idol groups and anime shops. If Akihabara is the heart of Tokyo’s otaku scene, then Nakano Broadway is the brain: a mecca of more cerebral art and subculture in Tokyo’s western end. But it wasn’t always that way.
In the lead up to the 1964 Summer Olympics, Tokyo underwent an intense period of construction and change; the nation was preparing to show the world that it had overcome the hardships of WWII. Nakano, on the east west JR Chuo Line that bisects the city, was a shining example of the new Tokyo. When it was finished in 1966 along the line of a traditional shotengai shopping street, Nakano Broadway was downright futuristic.
The complex celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016 and, if one were to pinpoint exactly when it made the transition from city ahead of its time to hive of subculture, it would have to be 1980, when Mandarake first set up shop. Now a huge chain of specialty stores selling everything from used manga to VHS tapes, toys and fan drawn art under the epic slogan “Rulers of Time,” Mandarake has 27 distinct locations within Broadway alone.
But the thing to keep in mind about this labyrinthine location is that it’s about so much more than just manga and anime. Although the Sun Mall arcade on the first or ground floor has more traditional shops and cafes, including a recommended standing sushi bar and a UNIQLO branch, the basement floor and floors two through four of Nakano Broadway are truly underground, boasting stores that make the word “niche” seem insufficient. This may well be the highest concentration of underground culture in Tokyo.
Among the more than 300 shops there are ones for used sneakers, used video games, rare skateboard decks, old and obscure toys and other collectables, shirts and buttons, art supplies, and even health clinics, cafés, and fortune tellers.
Taco Che is a melding of West Tokyo hipsterdom and otaku culture. The shop’s selection is truly awesome, collecting literary fiction and art books, self published novels and manga, out of print work on marginal artistic movements, and even books and art exclusive to the shop. Taco Ché has created space for artists and authors to host exhibitions and readings in the shop, as well.
Nakano BroadwayArt by pop artist Takashi Murakami.
While in Nakano Broadway, recharge at Bar Zingaro. Takashi Murakami has become one of Japan’s most notable artistic exports and it makes sense that an artist that has made a living recontextualizing subcultural images would open up a coffee shop in Nakano Broadway.
Nakano Broadway ice cream
Whether or not you appreciate figurines and manga, there is something everyone can agree on: a towering cone of soft serve. Daily Chico’s steeple of ice cream has become a symbol of the complex. The mighty cones are served up in the basement of Nakano Broadway.
To take the pulse of this vibrant scene, a trip to Nakano Broadway is a must. If you’re lucky you may even spot a few famous frequenters, including a kindly old man who dresses in a girl’s school uniform and loves taking photos with strangers, and a less friendly fellow who walks around in a full Nazi Waffen SS uniform, with whom conversation is generally to be avoided.
Hours: Varied according to shop. Afternoons and weekends are a safe bet.
Access: From the North Exit of JR Nakano Station, walk down the Nakano Sun Mall shopping street.
For more detailed information, visit this site.