Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 12:38 UK

Gadget heaven for Japanese geeks

Digital Planet
Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

A stall in Akihabara
Akihabara is the centre of 'otaku' or 'geek' culture in Tokyo

With broadband connections 10 times faster than the US and 90% of the population owning mobile phones, it is not surprising that Japan has its own "Electronic Town".

Called Akihabara, it is the centre of "otaku" or "geek" culture in Tokyo.

In the district it is possible to buy anything from spy cameras to underground computer games.

"Tokyo is the hot bed for new electronics in the whole world," said Serkan Toto, Japanese correspondent for the Tech Crunch news blog.

"Japan is a very advanced technology-wise, it's a nation of early adopters."

Taking a tour

Japan's electric town is full of shops stockpiled with any and every kind of electronic component a dedicated geek could dream of.

A store in Akihabara
You can buy almost any electronic component

Technology consultant Steve Nagata, who is also known as the King of Akihabara, took Digital Planet presenter Gareth Mitchell for a stroll through the streets of the district.

First stop was Radio Street - a must for the hackers and makers among Japan's cadre of geeks who are seeking components to start or finish a DIY electrical project.

"You can buy anything you need, if you want a wire connector or a plug, you can find it here. Ready-made or all the parts that you need to build it yourself," said Mr Nagata.

"You can come here and build to your heart's content," he added.

For Mr Nagata, Japan's long-standing obsession with technology springs from a wish to understand what is behind lots of gadgets.

"It comes from a deep interest in things around them and wanting to find put how things work and know what each component does," said Mr Nagata.

Under surveillance

Akihabara hosts more than just component shops. Finished goods are on sale too. Those willing to rummage can find anything from old radio tubes to audio recorders, high-end surveillance equipment and the low end too, such as a tie with a built-in camera.

"This is a very big part of Akihabara, the surveillance equipment with every kind of camera from professional grade to little teeny cameras that you can stick into all sorts of different things," said Mr Nagata.

"The equipment itself is legal but how you use it may definitely run afoul of certain restrictions.

"You really never do know when someone is watching you," he added.

This is very much a labour of love, something that they do out of their affection towards a particular character or style of gaming
Steve Nagata

As might be expected Akihabara reflects the thriving underground, homemade software culture in Japan.

"This is a garage software industry for anyone from individuals to small clubs or a company that produces and sells unlicensed software," said Mr Nagata.

"There are exact lookalikes to completely original software, this stuff is just as impressive as major console software."

The products cost less then the titles from the major gaming brands but, said Mr Nagata, making money was not the main aim for the folk behind the software.

"This is very much a labour of love, something that they do out of their affection towards a particular character or style of gaming," said Mr Nagata.

"It's their attempt to fill the world with something that they want to exist in it.

"This underground amateur culture has always been a big part of Akihabara and 'otaku' culture, back from home-made comic books, now moving into home-made hardware and software."

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday at 1232 GMT and repeated at 1632 GMT, 2032 GMT and on Wednesday at 0032 GMT.

You can listen online or download the podcast .



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