In pictures: Inside a Japanese PC shop

80 PC shops within only a couple of square kilometres.

By Chris Nicholls on Nov 2, 2012
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Japan has long been known as the land of nerds and geeks, and Akihabara (otherwise known as Electric Town) is their Mecca. Home to a non-stop collection of manga and anime shops, as well as smoke-filled video game arcades (non-smoking laws don’t really exist in Japan), seedy maid cafes and the like, it is a heady mix.

Of course, it stands to reason that here, of all places, you should be able to find lots of PC gear. And you can. Within only a couple of square kilometres of JR Akihabara station, there are about 80 PC shops, and while some are just offshoots of the main branch, or facsimiles just to give chains more overall floor space, most are independent.

While in Akihabara recently, we decided to take a look at some of these shops, specifically one of the major chain stores, Tsukumo. Owned by Japan’s largest electrical goods chain, Yamada Denki, Tsukumo has stores around Japan, but six in Akihabara alone. This gallery is a quick look at their main PC shop, as well as another branch down the road that had some second-hand gear. [This photo: by Flickr user :: shodan ::]

The first thing you notice is the stock presentation. You walk into an average PC store in Australia and, depending on size, you either get a mass of product jamming every shelf, or you get huge open spaces with almost no product in it at all. If you’re lucky, you get a few display cases with a few motherboards or other expensive items in there. This is clearly not the case here. Like most places in Japan, computer shops pride themselves on their space-efficient and beautiful stock presentation. Note the rows of perfectly stacked and laid-out motherboards.
The next thing you notice is the stock levels. Nowhere in Australia have we got anything like the variety of equipment here. Australian stores may have lots of online stock, but their physical stores are fairly limited. Not Japan’s. You want a specific motherboard, from pretty much any manufacturer? It’s likely in stock.
One thing we found particularly interesting was the variety of Intel motherboards. While it’s become easier in recent times to get them here from online stores, they’re still a rarity in most physical shops. In Japan, if you want one, they’re very easy to get. And at reasonable prices, too. Even Extreme boards were around $200.
Something else that stood out from all the PC internals was this Roland 3D printer. From only $2800 or so ($3800 or so for the bigger model). Note the robot in the background, too. This is because the 3D printer was actually up a floor on the “Robot Kingdom”. Yup, a PC store with an entire floor dedicated to robotic goods.
Moving on to the second-hand store, we realised only a small percentage of stock was actually used. So before we got to the old stuff, we checked out the new. Like this wall of CPU coolers, for example. They may not have been as beautifully laid-out, but like the first store, the variety and quantity of the stock still astounded us.
The same goes for this wall of PSUs. Pretty much every brand under the sun and all were cheaper than here. Of course, exchange rates vary, as do prices in these stores, but when we went, there were some definite bargains to be had. You’ll note none of the products we’ve shown you until now are behind glass or Perspex. This is because theft rates in Japan are nonexistent compared with the West, so while the goods are security-tagged, they rarely need to be.
Given no one outside of hardcore gamers really seems to buy sound cards anymore here, we were staggered by this wall of them there. It seems they really are still popular in Japan. One thing that doesn’t change between countries? The extended warranty offers. See the little blue label near the top left of the picture? That’s offering a five-year extended warranty.
Following on from our earlier cooler wall, let me introduce the wall of fans. The only disappointment was the lack of some of the more discrete, quiet fans.
This picture should resonate with anyone frustrated at the lack of cases on show here. It’s one thing to look at pictures online, but it’s another thing entirely to see and feel what a case is like in real life.
With Japan being the home of modem/router companies like Buffalo, it’s no surprise to see them featured prominently on this wall, alongside compatriots NEC and Elecom. As Tokyo is already wired up with large amounts of fibre, it’s also no surprise to see many products in this wall offering 450mbps speeds, either.
The patriotism continues in this wall of external hard drives. Buffalo, Sony and I-O Data dominate. A tiny number of LaCie drives represented the West, and that was about it.
After a while, we finally got to the smaller-than-expected second-hand section. The whole second-hand thing is kind of alien to us here, due to local laws, but it’s been a staple of the Japanese electronics scene for many a year. Not that Japan has done nothing to clamp down on second hand electronics recently, which may be why this section is small, but most chains still have at least one second-hand shop among their Akihabara outlets. Plus, for a couple of smaller stores, it’s all they do, and they still survive. There's not a huge selection of laptops, but many here were close to brand new and hundreds of dollars off RRP. If you were willing to take a chance, they might perhaps have been a bargain.
While the selection was smaller than expected, you could still buy from a decent selection of second-hand motherboards. These started at $50 for something like a Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3P Rev 2.0 and went up to about $150 for something like an Asus Maximus II Formula. To be honest, we tend to doubt the longevity, but Japanese people are very meticulous in caring for their goods, so maybe these fears are unfounded.
Given the newness of some of the second-hand products on show, it was truly amusing to see how old most of the second-hand graphics cards were. HD2600XT, anyone? There were newer products, like the odd 6xxx series AMD, but these were in the minority.
The biggest reflection of how mobile phone-oriented Japan is compared with other countries is how large the second-hand phone section was compared with the PC ones. This wall of cases dominated the second-hand area, with everything from almost-new devices to an HTC Magic. If you want an idea of just how mobile-dependent Japan has been until now, only a few years ago, primary school kids reportedly had trouble using school PCs, as many did not have one in the home and had never used one before.
One of the true oddities of the Asian mobile phone market, this LG L-03C featurephone emerged in late 2010 with a 12 megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom Pentax lens. Not bad for mobile photography, and probably only just surpassed by Nokia’s 801 PureView. Yours for $150 or so, but probably only usable in Japan.
Now almost completely dead, due to its crappy QVGA resolution and the emergence of smartphone apps, One-Seg mobile digital TV in Japan was once a big thing, prompting rotating-screen phones like this. Given this model, the Fujitsu F-06B featurephone, came with a 13.2 megapixel sensor and 1080p recording back in mid-2010, you wonder how strong Japan’s mobile industry would be now had they moved to Android a bit faster…
Finally, we come to some second-hand Apple action. Given that at the time these photos were taken you could still buy an iPhone 3Gs new here for around $300 online, you have to wonder who pays almost that much for a slightly grotty second-hand one in Japan. The first-gen iPads above were slightly better value at $330 or so, but again, when the iPad 2 was only a bit more, it was hard to see the point. Our thanks go to Yamada Denki for allowing us to shoot in their stores, something they normally ban.

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