Akihabara hosts new mall for artisans and craftsmen

By Alexandra Homma

For those who are familiar with Japan, the transition between March 31 and April 1 is not just the end of one month and the beginning of another. It is the transition between changing old to new and embracing everything which comes with it. Farewells to school life, friends, cities, and quite often jobs, take place at the end of March. Greetings, new beginnings and new faces at school and work, on the other hand, herald the beginning of April, and that is the life circle for many in Japan.

In a way to acknowledge this, the newly constructed mall for artisans and craftsmen, 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN, located between JR Akihabara and Okachimachi stations (hence the name AKI-OKA), launched its spring event “TOKYO NEW LIFE MARKET” on April 2. Under the concepts of "uniqueness" and "individuality," participating craft shops offer a limited number of specially crafted objects fit for a new beginning – furniture, ornaments, bowls, cups, bags, accessories, jewelry and many more.

Each shop brings its own style to the event. Kuhkan Kobo Takuya, a stylish interior and furniture shop, presents a unique flower made of wood shavings to the first three customers each day, while the first five customers each day visiting Hacoa Direct Store, a wood craft atelier, will have their names engraved into a wooden name card case for half the price. For sake lovers, Toy Cafe TOIQUE, a unique toy cafe for adults, not kids, even offers strawberry liquor. And for the rainy, blue days - Tokyo noble, an umbrella shop, offers an endless collection of umbrellas in all colors and shapes – including even miniature umbrellas for decoration and interior.

In the spirit of craftsmanship and creativity, workshops and hands-on experience are also offered: making your own hat or accessories is possible at imeka and PicoLabo respectively. Customizing an umbrella is also possible at Tokyo noble.

Donation boxes for the March 11 earthquake victims can be also found throughout the mall. Hacoa Direct Store, STUDIO UAMOU, inoui and several other shops have launched separate charity campaigns as well, including donations of partial profits for the reconstruction of the most devastated areas.

An initiative of JR East Urban Development Co, 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN brought new life to the area when it opened last year in December. The area between the two stations used to be dark, dangerous and had stayed vacant for years. The new white mall, however, with 2,540 meters total length filled with art and craft shops, boutiques, ateliers and cafés, drastically changed the previously desolate area and contributed to an even more lively and unique Akihabara: a place for creativity and uniqueness.

TOKYO NEW LIFE MARKET lasts until May 8. All workshops require reservations. 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN is closed on Wednesdays.

For more information on 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN see http://www.jrtk.jp/2k540/

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This new mall in Akihabara can become the ideal house of creativity and innovation for Japanese artists and craftsmen. They are easily inspired by such amazing and sleek architecture and creative exhibits in the venue.

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The architecture of the place is actually pretty minimal--they've done a good job of creating nice retail and workshop spaces, but have kept the original massive pillars and asphalt walkways that characterize most of these under-the-tracks urban wastelands. The stores are a decent mix of affordable and high-end crafts and original designs, and there are a couple of cafes and--for a change!--plenty of places to sit.

It's too bad JR hasn't done more to publicize the place, though--last time I was there we saw maybe half a dozen people walking around. Situated just between Okachimachi and Akihabara stations, it should see more foot traffic if JR gets the word out properly.

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Couple of things here: My apartment building is right next to this place and now the streets are even more crowded, so it's quite popular but not quite annoying for the people that leave along either side of the JR tracks. Secondly: The place wasn't dangerous beforehand, it was a monthly parking lot that was fenced in and locked during non-business hours and it always had an attendant on-duty. So, it wasn't a vacant, unused space before they opened this new mall. The are clearing the next space, closer to the Okachimachi side... not sure if this will be an extension or what just yet.

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I miss the slice of otaku heaven Akiba used to be years ago... I guess times change and places must adapt to the demands of patrons, but Akiba no longer satisfies my desire for random anime craziness any more.

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