— Thomas M. Tuerke
First up is Yodobashi's. This multistory building is immediately east of the Akihabara station.
You can see it peering just over the top of the elevated portion of the Akihabara station in the photo at right, which was taken from the skywalk in the north-west courtyard adjacent to the station (the one you get to when you take the "Akihabara Electric Town" exit.)
Yodobashi is an electronics megastore. Imagine Frys electronics meets Walmart, times eight. That is to say, the entire eight floors (nine, actually, plus part of one of six basement levels) is devoted to electronic retail. Each floor is in itself the size of your typical superstore, and each is devoted to a particular set of items: one floor is for home entertainment items, one for cameras, one for cell phones... you get the picture. In particular, our interest lies on the 6th floor (6F) which carries model railroading supplies. It's in the section among the gundam and models, set along the back wall, shown at the bottom right of the map below.
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| Map of the 6th floor; trains are in the section shown at bottom-right (5-o'clock) || The entrance to the model section |
For being an electronics store, the model railroading section is quite extensive.
The far part of Aisle 7 has an envyable selection of track (including Unitrack, Fine Track, and even some Atlas) and scenery (including Woodland Scenics' supplies in KATO garb) on one side, and structures (KATO, Greenmax, and more) on the other.
Aisle 8 has rolling stock, including row upon row of glass cases with the distinctive green KATO boxes, plus MicroAce, Tomix, and a few lesser-known brands. Needless to say, nearly all of this is Japanese rolling stock, and nearly all of it is N scale (or more precisely, N gauge 150:1 scale.)
The prices are reasonable—though not the lowest—and foreigners are exempt from paying taxes; just bring your passport, and be prepared to wait as the clerk completes some paperwork that you'll submit at customs as you leave Japan. Yodobashi's is a great place if you're limited for time, need to get a lot of shopping done, and are willing to pay a little higher price for the convenience of being right next to the Akihabara station. Alternately, it can be a final stop to back-fill any items you might not have found at the other stores you went to.
A final word: I originally went on a Friday (when these pictures were taken) and as you can see, the crowds are reasonable; the occasional executive in suit dropping in to examine the selection before lunch, and maybe a handful of late teens. There was no line at the checkout stand. I came back on a Saturday, and the place was packed ... and the checkout was backed up several dozens deep, with all five registers at full tilt. Clearly, if you visit on a weekend, allow extra time for everything, from browsing to paying.
By the way, if you're hungry, head toward the 8th floor (8F)... but be prepared: this is not some food court, rather a whole slew of sit-down restaurants. Judging by the lunchtime clientelle, it seems to be an attraction all its own.
— Thomas M. Tuerke
TamTam hobbies is a more modest store (only two floors in a smaller building) but that term is relative: the model railroading section alone occupies half the fifth floor (5F) and seems larger than many state-side hobby shops I've been in.
It's about four blocks north of the Akihabara station, at the north-west corner of intersection of Chuo-dori and Kuramaebashi-dori.
The entrance to the building is a bit buried amid the street-level retailers, but go in the door and take the elevator to the 5th floor.
As it turns out, TamTam's selection seems just as extensive as Yodobashi's—even having an interesting selection of HO models, as well as some US rolling stock—and the prices are a bit better. One thing that I found interesting is one complete aisle of N scale single cars, each individually wrapped in its own bag. Bears further investigation, to see if that's an option to fill out missing cars to make complete consists.
Definitely worth the walk there and back. Basically, come out the "Akihabara Electric Town" exit, turn left in the plaza to head west to Chuo-dori (the major north-south street immediately west of the station,) then turn right heading north, until you reach Kuramaebashi-dori, about 4-5 blocks away. The location is shown on Google Maps.
— Thomas M. Tuerke
Stumbled across another place on the way back from TamTam. The kids were hungry, so no chance to duck in to find out more. (more to come.)