Interview/Article – Yukio Hayashi
Photography – Hiroyuki Matsuzaki (https://www.instagram.com/itl_mtzk/)
UK is the guitarist in a duo called MOROHA, that blends music and spoken words. He also loves games and Akihabara. We talked to him about why he’s so entranced with Akihabara as we walked around the area for around three hours, as it poured down rain during the rainy season.
1:00 PM on 6/10, pouring rain. JR Akihabara Station, the Electric Town exit.
It’s too bad that it’s pouring rain, but thanks for doing this.
(UK) Thank you.
First off, I’d like to hear some of your memories of Akihabara over lunch. Where do you usually eat when you come here?
(UK) Sure. A lot of the times it’s ramen or something, but I go to Gansen a lot too.
Ahh, Gansen’s great. Let’s go.
1:10 PM, pouring rain. In front of Gansen.
…Looks like it’s closed today and tomorrow (Laughs)
(UK) Too bad! Alright, let’s go get some curry from a place near Suehirocho station instead.
1:15 PM, pouring rain. Eating beef tendon curry at Brownie.
How old were you when you came to Akihabara for the first time?
(UK) Around 14 years ago, when I was 18. A member of the band I was in back then worked part time at a studio in Akihabara. At first I just came here to practice, and didn’t particularly have any fondness for the place.
So it’s wasn’t that you really wanted to go to Akihabara when you were in your hometown of Nagano.
(UK) Right. I liked and played games, but I never felt that I wanted to go to Akihabara every time I went to Tokyo. I kind of looked down on the…I guess you could call them shops aimed at otaku…that were popping up there at the time too.
That would have been happening around then. Akihabara would have just been losing its home electronics stores and transforming from an electronics town to more of a hobby town, around 14 years ago. The Sato Musen escalator would have just barely still been there.
(UK) That’s right, the Sato Musen was still there.
So how did you come to love a town that you had nothing to do with other than coming to it for band practice?
(UK) The UDX building was built in front of the station in 2006, and I’d go to the flea market that was on the first floor. I was surprised when I saw figures and such being sold in this fancy new building. I realized just how far reaching and deep this town went, and wanted to see and know more about it.
I think of it as a town that unconditionally accepts all sorts of different people with all sorts of different backgrounds, no matter the era. How many times per week did you go, at most?
(UK) Seven. I really grew to love going down different roads, seeing which stores changed and which never changed, and checking out the ones I was interested in with my friends.
I see. Are there any places in particular you want to go to today?
(UK) Since we’re near Suehirocho station, I wanted to take a look at some games at a retro game shop called Friends. And since I have a dream of buying arcade boards and being able to play them at home, I wanted to go to a place that sells boards too.
Got it, let’s go!
1:51 PM, pouring rain. At the retro game shop Friends in Akihabara.
Which old game do you remember best?
(UK) The first game I bought with my own money was CB Chara Wars on the Super Famicom, but it was so hard that I couldn’t even clear it! (Laughs)
That was often the case (Laughs) That’s why sometimes you play those games again now, and try to clear it.
(UK) Right, I wonder if I should pick it up. We had a Famicom at home too, but I never played Dragon Quests II or IV. I watched someone play IV, but I have no memories of II at all. So I probably never played it.
You’ve got a big gap right in the middle of the Loto trilogy! (Laughs) Maybe you should play that as well.
(UK) This shop really takes great care with the games that they sell, so it feels really good coming here.
That’s true. So then you should buy CB Chara Wars to clear up those old feelings, and Dragon Quest II since you haven’t played it before. We’re near Suehirocho station now, after this shall we head back toward Akihabara station?
(UK) Let’s hit up a store that has arcade boards as we head back that way though.
2:16 PM, pouring rain. Akihabara Gachapon Hall.
We’ve taken refuge from the rain in Gachapon Hall. Here UK put money into a machine with Futari Ecchi gachapon, but the ball got stuck and he had to get someone. He also got a Gigantocypris from a machine featuring sea creatures. A Bigfoot even came out when he was trying for a Kappa or a Chupacabra in a Capsule Q Museum UMA Encyclopedia machine! The rain got a bit better after a few spins, so we headed toward BEEP.
2:42 PM, pouring rain. BEEP in Akihabara.
Do you come here often?
(UK) I come here sometimes when I’m in the area. I look at all the arcade boards here and think about how nice it would be to have some. There are a lot of other interesting things here too.
They help arcade board first-timers out a lot too. More people still wanted arcade boards back when I was a student. But now that home ports of arcade games have gotten accurate, not so much…
(UK) Arcade board sales have just about disappears from Akihabara.
A lot of the stores themselves have closed, and a lot of the boards are going overseas…Have you considered getting a smaller cabinet, like a Blast City?
(UK) Having a cabinet at home is a dream of mine. But I’m worried about whether or not it will fit in my place, or whether it will damage the flooring (Laughs)
They’re pretty much a minimum of 100 kilograms after all (Laughs) Which game would you want most, if you got into buying boards?
(UK) That’s a hard one, but I’d say Final Fight. I played that game so much.
Let’s make a documentary about what led you to putting a Blast City in your house and getting Final Fight (Laughs)
(UK) This place also has old PC games, so discovering them and thinking “I didn’t know this came out” or “What in the world is this?” is a lot of fun. I wonder if I really should start buying boards…
3:20 PM, pouring rain. Cafe Renoir, Akihabara Electric Town exit location.
We went to an arcade today as well, but what would you say is Akihabara’s biggest allure for you?
(UK) It’s just a different kind of area of town, from the moment you get off the train. It’s fine with you having whatever hobby, and being whoever you want. It just has that sort of sense of freedom about it. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in Japan that allows you to indulge in that sort of atmosphere, maybe not even in the world.
I’m not sure if it’s because of what you just said, but I think it’s a place that fulfills desires. What desires of yours does it fulfill?
(UK) Like we did today, it’s just walking around and discovering interesting things. There are places that have changed with the times, and places that are the same as they’ve always been. It’s an amazingly vast and comfortable place.
A long time ago there used to be a produce market outside of the station, then it was a basketball court, and now it’s tall buildings. And the goods sold here have changed too: The Radio Center was built in 1949 or something, then things went to home electronics, then PCs. Now it’s figures, cosplay goods, and there are even maid cafes. That’s quite a big change.
(UK) That’s true.
Yodobashi Camera had a big impact when it was built, but now it’s just part of the scenery. Given that you like it so much, have you ever thought about living here?
(UK) I have. When I was living in Asakusabashi, I was debating about moving to Akihabara next. But then I decided it was fine to just come here when I wanted, so I moved somewhere different. I still think about it now though (Laughs) I’ve been considering that it might just be better to open up a shop here instead.
What kind of shop?
(UK) It would probably be centered around games, but I’m thinking it would be the sort of place where people with all sorts of different hobbies would be able to come to and have some fun.
I’ve thought about opening a place that would have a bunch of different products on display, similar to how convenience stores do it. A place that would have not just art supplies and tools, but also the latest plamo and figures. You’d be able to buy this magazine and other similar ones there the day that they came out, that sort of thing.
(UK) Ahh, that does sound good. Very interesting.
I suspect you’re probably pretty busy with your job, but do you get to come to Akihabara often these days?
(UK) Of course, because I really love it here.
Let’s walk around here together again sometime then.
4:00 PM, pouring rain. JR Akihabara Station, the Electric Town exit.
Thanks for doing this today…Ahh, be sure to tell us your passwords as you’re playing through Dragon Quest II. That way we can all play along with you (Laughs)
(UK) That’s a great idea! (Laughs) Alright, I’ll send my passwords along then!