Akihabara is a must-visit spot for anyone who considers themselves a fan of anime, games or cool electronics; heck, even those who are ambivalent to all of the above usually leave space in their Tokyo itinerary to check out the Electric Town at least once.
▼ And the train jingle for Akihabara is one of the best.
But travelling is expensive, and the coronavirus has made visiting Japan from abroad almost impossible. But now you don’t even need to get on an airplane to experience all the joys that Akihabara has to bring, because you can visit it for free via your smartphone.
Japanese railway company JR East recently announced their plans for a virtual reality version of Akihabara Station, in collaboration with VR event planning company Hikki and cellphone operators NTT Docomo. The project, called ‘Virtual Akiba World (VAW)‘ aims to create a virtual reality world where users can interact with each other and their surroundings, also known as a metaverse.
Virtual Akiba World is a virtual reproduction of Akihabara Station and the surrounding area. In VAW, users can go through ticket gates, get on trains and interact with other users, all without needing to download an app. Users can also go shopping in the metaverse, and any purchases they make online can be picked up offline, as seen in the promotional video below.
VAW also hopes to expand the metaverse further in the future with potential collaborations with Japan Racing Association and clothing store Beams.
Visitors to the Virtual Akiba World can expect to be greeted a host of characters synonymous with Japanese pop culture, such as Shin Godzilla, Eva-01 and Kamen Rider to name a few.
▼ Imagine getting off a virtual train and being met by these guys.
There will also be an "offline meeting area" that will act as virtual chat rooms where users with similar interests can gather and communicate via voice chat, as if they were together in real life.
Anyone interested in entering the Akihabara metaverse can do so through its official web page here on the site of VR creation company Vket Cloud starting March 25, when the page transitions from a teaser site to the launcher for the finished version. There will be a "gateway" display inside the real-life Akihabara Station between March 25 and 31, located near the ticket gates on the first floor, where users can access the metaverse by scanning the QR code on the block shown on the right in the artist’s rendition below.
While the concept of a VR version of Akihabara Station received a lot of positive attention when it was debuted the VR event Virtual Market 6, many Japanese netizens have had a negative reaction to JR East’s new announcement, taking issue with the quality of the metaverse graphics in particular.
“I think I saw something like this in Second Life.”
“This looks like something from a PlayStation 2 game.”
“What a waste of time and money.”
“Is the last boss going to be Shinjuku Station?”
While Japanese netizens don’t seem too impressed, the Virtual Akiba World might provide an opportunity to "take a trip" to Akihabara, especially if you’re living overseas. Sure, the graphics might not be the most sophisticated compared to what’s on the market these days, but considering the metaverse is to be accessible from smartphones as opposed to fancy VR headsets, they’re not half bad.
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