Tokyo's "otaku" district gets tourism boost

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The Independent Travel

The Tokyo district of Akihabara has received a double boost as it tries to woo new visitors, both from its domestic market and from overseas, with the launch of an information centre designed to assist foreign visitors and the re-introduction of its "pedestrian paradise" scheme.

Tourism surveys consistently identify Akihabara as one of the "must-see" destinations for tourists to the Japanese capital. It is famous around the world for stores that sell the latest electronic gadgets and games, as well as shops that specialise in anime and manga items.

It is home to all the major discount electronics chains' stores as well as myriad smaller enterprises in the back streets.

The trouble for many foreign tourists, however, has been finding their way around.

On December 9, the Akihabara Tourism Promotion Association opened the Tourism Information Centre on the ground floor of the Sofmap Akiba Duty Free store to point visitors in the right directions.

Supported by the Japan National Tourism Office, the centre provides information in English, Chinese and Korean, conducts guided tours of the area and promotes shops and Japan's pop culture.

The Japanese government has identified pop culture - particularly anime and manga - as a key export earner and is keen to promote the phenomenon overseas.

The opening of the information centre coincides with the announcement that a popular shopping street through the district will become a pedestrianised zone on Sundays from mid-January.

First introduced in 1973, the "pedestrian paradise" scheme was hugely popular among local shop-owners, who made the most of the influx of visitors every weekend. Elsewhere, cafes set up tables and chairs on an 800-metre stretch of Chuo-dori, while musicians and street performers put on their acts.

That changed in June 2008, when a man suffering from depression went on a rampage through Akihabara, driving a light truck into crowds of shoppers and then stabbing people who tried to help the victims. Seven people were killed and a further 10 injured.

The police have been working with a local shop-owners' association and a city planning committee to improve security in the area, installing more than 30 closed-circuit surveillance cameras and starting security patrols, as well as drawing up regulations on street performances and illegal shops.

Akihabara Tourist Information Center

Location: Sofmap Akiba Duty Free, 1f, 3-13-12 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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