Climbing the floors at Dynamic Audio 5555 in Akihabara is dizzying: Each level of specialty audio goods is yet more hushed, more exclusive than the last. Lining the walls are waist-high speakers, heavy amplifiers in brushed aluminum, music players encased in immaculate walnut paneling. One audio system costs as much as a Tokyo apartment.

“Take a photo of the cables,” urged Kengo Shima, the sales manager for the fourth floor. “These machines would be nothing without the cables.” Rest of World duly stepped behind an amplifier arrangement to snap photos of the sleek, heavy leads. Shima looked on approvingly. 

Dynamic Audio 5555 has operated in Tokyo since 1965, catering to high-end hi-fi devotees all throughout multiple audio booms and an economic bubble. The company stayed a fixture after mass-market sellers edged into the area, and even through the pandemic, Shima said, demand held as steadily as before. “Our concept is different. That’s why we made this shop, to let customers listen. Sometimes, they cry,” he said. “This is a business of emotions.”

A similar mixture of nostalgia and pleasure-seeking brings people to Akihabara, Tokyo’s long-running electronics district. The area began with markets, which grew into consumer electronics stores and gave it the name “Electric Town.” In the 1970s, these were joined by arcades, created by superstars of gaming entertainment like Sega and Nintendo — a niche which later expanded to include anime culture and all the offbeat interests that accompany it, maid cafes included. Huge electronics empires like Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera set up shop, and specialty stores thrived in the alleyways between them. 

A few streets from Dynamic Audio, the air rings with major-key jingles and rattling from the arcades. Super Potato, a retro-gaming haven that spans three floors of a drab office building, is alive with customers, including tourists who have spilled eagerly over Japan’s newly reopened borders. Like the audio store, the lively foot traffic belies the fact that they’re survivors; several beloved game centers shuttered under Tokyo’s pandemic restrictions, and Sega left the trade entirely. 

Around the station, there’s more evidence of Akihabara’s long history. Tucked directly under the tracks is Akihabara Denpa Kaikan, where Takashi Kikuchi’s tiny electronics-parts store shudders every time the Sobu line roars overhead. He’s worked in the business since 1946, in one form or another. “Those were the days!” he said to Rest of World, of the postwar boom. “Everybody wanted a fridge, a TV, and a washing machine all at once, and they were all on display along the road. Iina! It was a good life in Japan.”

People walk and ride through the streets of Akihabara.