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Three New Pop Culture Tourist Spots in Tokyo (360˚ Panorama)

Somese Naoto (Photographer)[Profile]

Tourists from around the world are flocking to Tokyo. Along with the city’s established tourist sites are many pop culture destinations. Here we take a 360° panoramic look at three spots that have captivated many foreign visitors.

Kawaii Candy Emporium

International tourists in search of kawaii culture head to Takeshita-dōri in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. This 350-meter street is packed with popcorn and crepe vendors, apparel stores for teenagers, and “idol shops” offering pop star merchandise.

Candy A Gogo epitomizes the kawaii atmosphere. The shop offers cute candy, gummi sweets, and chocolate from all over the world. Everything is priced at ¥480 per 100 grams (before tax), so customers can choose the exact amount that they want. Usually, there are around 130 different items to choose from.

Step into the extremely cute, brightly colored interior and you will feel like you’ve wandered into some strange candy kingdom. Anime-style female staff members greet you dressed in costumes, pink wigs, and brightly patterned tights. Their costumes change depending on the time of year, including miko (Shintō shrine maiden) outfits at New Year’s, kitten costumes at Halloween, and Santa suits at Christmas.

The shop has original heart-shaped lollipops, which have become an iconic Harajuku product. Many foreign tourists like to take selfies or purikura photo-booth shots of themselves holding the lollipops, or snap pictures with the shop’s staff members, making it one of the places to visit in Harajuku. The lollipops even show up in an Avril Lavigne music video.

Around as many foreign shoppers visit the store as those from Japan. Lines outside the store have been standard on weekends ever since it opened in 2013. Some 16 Candy A Gogo stores are located around Japan. The brand concept of treating candy as fashion has been a hit with young kawaii aficionados around the world.

A Building Geared to Otaku

The Nakano Broadway shopping complex rivals Akihabara in its otaku appeal. Whereas Akihabra caters in particular to anime and game geeks, Nakano Broadway, with its focus on vintage items, is known as the subculture lair for true connoisseurs.

Packed into the lower floors of the complex are 150 specialty shops that cater to all sorts of fervent otaku, such as the Taco Che used bookstore popular among female subculture fans, the figurine shop Liberty, and  Anime Shop Commit, which specializes in anime cells. The middle and upper floors of the complex are residential apartments. The heart of Nakano Broadway is the main branch of the Mandarake store.

Mandarake got its start in 1980 as a small used manga bookstore, but today there are 11 stores nationwide, with around 500 employees. The chain has become a symbol of Japanese otaku culture, offering not only manga but also figurines, cosplay outfits, games, anime cels, and other subculture vintage items, making it a one-stop destination for otaku. Store staff members themselves are all collectors, so customers can trust their recommendations. Many otaku fans from overseas visit the store, and their purchases combined with online overseas sales to account for around 30% of overall sales. Auctions held on the Mandarake website also make it possible for customers to purchase hard-to-find items such as original anime scenarios and cels. Annual sales are on the scale of around ¥10 billion.

The flagship Mandarake store in Nakano comprises 26 specialty shops geared to the hardcore fan, such as the Purasuchikko (Plastic) shop, specializing in antique dolls like Licca-chan and Blythe, and the Special Annex that has a lineup of Ultraman and kaiju monster soft plastic figurines. This article’s panoramic photo presents one of these specialty shops, Hen’ya, which specializes in corporate novelty goods and vintage items.

Robots Dancing in Kabukichō

Kabukichō in Shinjuku presents an alternative face of Japan’s capital. It is Asia’s largest entertainment district, with a total of around 3,000 bars, izakaya pubs, host clubs, cabarets, love hotels, and other such establishments, making it Tokyo’s “pleasure labyrinth.” Visitors should be aware that some shady bars illegally charge customers exorbitant rates.

Robot Restaurant has been particularly successful in attracting foreign tourists to Kabukichō. The dance performance at the restaurant has created a buzz overseas, to the point where international tourists make up 80% of all customers, particularly visitors from North America and Europe. The performance centers on a dance troupe of 20 women alongside a giant 3.4-meter tall female android and dinosaur  and animal robots.

The  dance show appeals through the beauty and power of its young female performers. It evokes the kitsch atmosphere of a makeshift theatrical performance, combining the high-tech, futuristic image of the handcrafted robots with a sex appeal similar to the moe-style attraction of Sailor Moon characters. The excitement level is heightened by the audience members, who wave glow lights that are handed out to them and whistle their approval.

Many celebrities have showed up at the restaurant since its opening in 2012, including the film directors Tim Burton and J.J. Abrams. Western media have described the place as “Blade Runner meets Austin Powers.” Originally, the aim was for the show to appeal to businessmen, but it ended up drawing unexpected attention from people overseas. There was talk about taking the show to Las Vegas, but so far such offers have been turned down. Apparently, the Robot Restaurant owners want its distinctive performance to remain an exclusively Kabukichō experience.

(Originally written in Japanese by Kondō Hisashi of and published on July 13, 2016. Photographs by Somese Naoto taken with the assistance of Candy A Gogo, Mandarake, and Robot Restaurant. Banner photo: Candy A Gogo on Takeshita-dōri, Harajuku, Tokyo.)

  • [2016.12.27]

Photographer. Born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1964. Graduated from the Department of Photography in the College of Art, Nihon University. Specializes in portrait photography. His portfolio includes work for numerous magazines as well as several photograph collections. Currently an enthusiast of 360° panorama photography.


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