Articles Feature

SFF shopping in Akihabara


As I’ve mentioned planning a few times in the podcast, I’m currently in Tokyo! And of course I had to visit Akihabara, the electronics capital of Japan to see what kind of retail presence SFF has in this country that’s perpetually short on space.

Akihabara (also known as Electric Town) is an area to the west of Akihabara Station in Central Tokyo, just north-east of the Imperial Palace. It’s a hub of geek culture, with many stores and venues promoting video games, anime, manga, and PC hardware.

Within a 10-minute walking distance of the station exits are a dozen larger stores dedicated to computer hardware along with countless smaller shops.

So without further ado, here’s a tour of the various PC shops I looked at, I’ve saved the best for last so be sure to check out the whole article!

Right next to the station is Yodobashi-Akiba, the largest electronics store in the world. It’s a big 9-story building, though the top three floors are restaurants and other stores. The first six floors however are dedicated to consumer electronics of every category. Oh, and there’s a multi-story parking garage in the basement, because like I said, this store is huge.

The Gundam Cafe is conveniently located nearby. There was quite a line so I didn’t go in though, plus I’m more of a NGE guy.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” certainly applies here though, and the only thing of particular interest to me (from a SFF perspective) was seeing a NZXT Manatee Manta in the flesh for the first time. Aaand yup, it’s as huge and bloated in person as it looks in pictures.

PC Shop Ark is a little further north than the bulk of the computer stores and it’s “only” a single floor, but it’s quite packed with good hardware so it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

This was the first, but definitely not the last, Thermaltake Engine 27 I saw on display. I like how it’s absolutely dwarfed by the Phanteks PH-TC14CS.

The elusive single-slot ELSA GTX 1050 Ti!

A fairly comprehensive selection of SFF power supplies, covering pretty much all of the quality SFX and SFX-L units available.

The SilverStone 300W TFX unit that Drew got the scoop on at CES earlier this year.

Unfortunately the clerk saw me taking pictures and conveyed (politely of course) that wasn’t allowed in the store. Probably owing to the relatively small floor space, the selection of cases wasn’t anything to get excited about though and the wall to the left of the PSU rack had quite a few motherboards, but not all that much in the way of Mini-ITX or microATX.

Next I stopped at this store called Buy More.

In contrast to the previous shop, this place is plastered in these signs letting visitors know that photography is OK!! Also, check out that stack of ASUS STRIX Z270G GAMING boards.

The selection of motherboards is pretty good, with plenty of SFF models present.

This was especially cool, I’ve been considering picking up a Gechic portable monitor, and now I find a few of them on display.

The first of several Corsair H5 SF coolers I saw on display. Japanese people are usually very space-conscious due to the high population density, and they are also conscientious about noise for the same reason. So I’m curious how well these sell here, because while they do well in the size department, they fail miserably with regards to acoustics in my experience.

A SFF case corner.

Make no mistake though, while Akihabara has what is probably the largest retail selection of small form factor hardware, it is still very much a niche. Everywhere I went, the ATX cases and motherboards vastly outnumbered the SFF options.

Just about all the cables, adapters, and connectors you’d ever need to assemble a PC.

One of the several Sofmap stores in Akihabara. This one seems to specialize in PC hardware.

Always great to see my favorite motherboard form factor get some attention.

The case selection here was pretty lackluster though.

I find it very strange indeed to see Sanyo Denki fans in retail packaging considering how relatively rare they are in the USA.

Speaking of strange sights, here’s an endcap display of nothing but NVIDIA Quadro cards.

A whole aisle of heatsinks.

While I didn’t notice any of the more exotic form factors our community loves discussing, there was definitely no shortage of mechanical keyboard to be had.

While looking for the next store to check out, I spotted this on the side of a building. On the one hand it’s neat seeing an advertisement for an industrial PSU like this, but I’m not sure I would want to use an open-flame model in my own build, no matter how small or efficient it is.

Dospara is one of several PC hardware store chains in Japan.

While not particularly SFF-friendly due to the card height, I always find fanless enthusiast cards exciting.

Two of the Enermax SteelWing cases we reviewed on display.

The selection of ITX cases here isn’t too bad.

A few shelves of ultra SFF PCs.

A Z170 variant of the classic Shuttle design.

A Marutsu, basically an old-school RadioShack on steroids.

Wire in all sorts of gauges and types. This would be very helpful for unexpected wire harness modifications.

Various bits and bobs for electronics projects, sooo many parts.

Then I ended up at a different Sofmap, but this one is much bigger, at seven floors. It’s not all dedicated to PC hardware though.

For example, a good part of the second floor is dedicated to audio, mostly headphones.

While there was a good amount of parts, it wasn’t of much interest from a SFF perspective.

Tsukumo eX

As promised, I saved the best for last! Tsukumo eX is what the company claims to be the largest store dedicated strictly to PC hardware.

There are actually several Tsukumo stores in the area, but Tsukumo eX is located along the main road through Akihabara, just a few blocks north of the train station.

Six floor of PC hardware! Plus a basement full of snakes apparently.

My first mechanical was a Filco Majestouch tenkeyless in Cherry Red several years ago, back when they were still pretty uncommon (before it was cool!) so it’s neat to me seeing so many of them on display here. Topre is something that’s intrigued for some time now, but I just can’t get over the price.

I’ve been stockpiling the M570 wireless trackball because I was worried Logitech would discontinue them given how unpopular they seemed to be. But I can report that trackballs are very much alive and well in Japan, every store I’ve been to that has a somewhat large selection of mice also has a little dedicated section just for the trackballs.

Fun fact, Logitech goes by Logicool in Japan.

Here’s just a sample of the Mini-ITX motherboards. Most of the fourth floor was taken up by aisles full of motherboards.

Even as many stores as I’d been to, this was the first place (and only so far) where I’ve spotted this little beast.

In the back corner of the fourth floor is the CPU heatsink section. Here I found the largest selection of Noctua coolers that I’ve seen thus far. Although they’re well-regarded in most online communities (at least for performance, build quality, and support, maybe not so much for aesthetics), they’ve proven hard to find in Akihabara.

Impressively, almost the entire Noctua retail cooler lineup is present, with the exception of the NH-L12. But I may just have overlooked it by accident.

Noctua fanboyism aside, this store definitely has the best selection of low-profile coolers I’ve found so far.

The fifth floor is mostly graphics cards and power supplies. Strangely though, the selection of SFF PSUs wasn’t as comprehensive as I was hoping. Notably, they didn’t seem to have the SilverStone SX800-LTI, which I quite liked in my review and is my current favorite SFX/SFX-L unit.

You know you’re in a hardcore PC parts store when there’s a display case shelf dedicated to fancy SLI bridges.

The top floor is mostly cases and fans, and there is a fairly comprehensive collection of Noctua fans to match the heatsinks downstairs. They even have an assortment of the industrialPPC fans.

Most of the shelving along the walls is for ATX cases.

But thankfully they do have some shelving for SFF cases. Hmm, that shiny one on the top-left looks familiar…

Why, it’s a silver NCASE M1! The sticker says that the display model is not the current version (v5) and something about the drive slot.

But wait, what’s that similar-looking case next to the M1?

So this is the Abee RS01, it clocks in at 239 x 162 x 335mm for 13.0 liters. Abee is a domestic case manufacturer that specializes in all-aluminum cases, essentially it’s like the Japanese equivalent of Taiwan’s Lian Li. Their cases are basically nonexistent outside Japan though so they’re not a familiar brand to most people.

Even here they’re niche, but if you look closely there are actually two other stores I’ve been to where the RS01 is pictured, while this is the first place I’ve found the M1. And I’ve specifically been looking for the latter because I knew Dirac has an agreement with NCASE to distribute the M1 in Japan, so I wanted to see one on a store shelf.

Abee makes a variety of cases, like the RS04 HTPC cases on the right in the above picture, many of which are Mini-ITX.

So that wraps up my SFF quest to Akihabara, please leave any thoughts or comments in the forum thread here!