Shopping for electronics, like many things in Tokyo, is an extreme sensory adventure. Every time I visit, I make a point of spending at least a few hours wandering through the city’s big gadget stores. This time I braved the Nine-stage BIC camera in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district, along the railroad tracks and right next to Ginza, the upscale shopping and business district. This place sells everything from camera lenses to contact lenses, to aisles densely packed with an incredible variety of goods.
When I arrive late on a recent Sunday afternoon, there is an announcer in front, wearing a red company jacket, peddling a microphone. You may hear low music — BIC Camera has its own theme song, which plays in parts of the store and there is an abundance of bright, fluorescent light. (If you want, hit play on the widget below for a soundtrack of this article, recorded while I was walking around.)
The first floor of these types of stores is mostly cell phones and accessories, reflecting the reality of the gadget industry nowadays. Years ago when I was visiting you would see shelves full of unique, colorful japanese flip phones. But nowadays it’s mostly various bland varieties of Android phones or Apple iPhones. Each of Japan’s major mobile operators is represented, including SoftBank, shown here. Towards the back you can find hundreds of different cases, some crazier than the others– and things like sushi-shaped trinkets, colorful charging cables, and other accessories.
There is also a large audio department, including bluetooth speakers, headphones and this section of “Cans. “
Go up an escalator and you’re up to the TV and audio (and booze!) Floor. This was my first time seeing 4K TVs in person, and they look pretty amazing. (And don’t translate well into still photos.)
Go up another floor and you’ve reached games, toys, musical instruments, and medicine. And then the beauty section. Here is the colorful selection of hairdryers, for example.
There is also an impressive variety of nose hair trimmers / personal care devices.
While stores like these looked like a walk into the future, as Japan’s tech industry declined, they now look like a walk through the history of gadgets. Here is a whole section of pocket dictionaries, created by Sharp and Casio.
There are pens, stationery, and mini crank paper shredders. And a whole range of colorful pocket calculators!
Upstairs again, I reached one of the two floors of computers and accessories. There are dozens of keyboards and a dynamic selection of computer mice, which are worth several alleys.
And then, a moment of calm. One fascinating part of this BIC camera – and others in Tokyo – is what appears to be an Apple Store within a store.
Unlike the rest of the PC department, which is chock-full of overly busy screens, piles of literature, and sales panels, this feels straight out of Apple’s own retail stores. A few nice tables, carpeted floors, different lighting, plenty of room to breathe, and the range of Apple gadgets to play in relative peace.
On my way down the stairs, I pass a section of massage chairs, where people get free massages. Also, I walk past a wall of printer ink, CDs and DVDs, label printers, e-readers, and then this department:
There are several fax aisles. And then another spacious homage to a bygone era, with plenty of recordable CD and DVD types to choose from.
This tour could go on – you haven’t even seen the Lego department, TV remotes, wrist guards, cameras, or Christmas decorations! But you better visit in person. While a lot of today’s crazy new gadgets come from China – or Kickstarter – there will always be something special going to Tokyo gadget stores.