Electric Gaudy Land

I’ve mentioned Akihabara here a few times before, and not just because it’s full of the geekiest stuff money can buy. But that’s the main, most important reason.

I just got home exhausted from a mid-week shopping expedition to Yodobashi Camera, which dominates the Akihabara skyline. Which is handy, because it’s a useful navigation beacon through the crowded back-alleys where you can buy just about anything that plugs into power.

Yodobashi Camera is nine massive stories of computers, mobile phones, ultra-portables, washing machines, light fittings, bicycles, music, games, cameras, peripherals…. you get the idea. As well as being enormous, it’s also quite fathomable to foreign shoppers, too, which is certainly not true of every shop around. Even in quiet times, the whole store is a blur of shoppers, staff shouting the sales pitch for the latest gimmicky gizmo, garish signs, and that really-quite-irritating Yodobashi Camera theme song playing on loop.

I bought a Wii recently (to study Japanese, honest), and I thought I’d drop in at around 8pm after work tonight to pick up a few bits and pieces. Sundays are normally pretty crazy in Akihabara, but being a Tuesday night, I thought I’d have no problems. Man was I wrong.

The queues for each of the eight registers stretched right back to the end of the room, crowding the display shelf corridors. I would estimate over 200 people lined up – at any given time – to buy. And most people were only after one thing – a Nintendo Wii with WiiFit.

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that every fourth person I saw move through the checkouts was buying a Wii (including the two guys in the picture, if you look closely), and three quarters of those people were buying WiiFit too. WiiFit came out on December 1, and it’s currently the biggest selling software for any system in Japan. I bought my Wii on December 2. On the day I bought it, they were still wheeling literal pallet-loads of WiiFit boxes behind the counters. Six days later, they were sold out.

Actually, it’s a fascinating concept – but sadly, I haven’t snagged a copy yet. It’s an exercise training game that comes with a balance board that sits on the floor in front of your TV. You stand on the board, which can sensitively measure how much pressure you’re placing on different parts of the board. You run through training programs and games like yoga, snowboarding, pushups and hula-ing (!), and you can measure how you’re improving over time. At any rate, the trailer can explain it much better than I can. I don’t think I’ve met many people here who don’t know about WiiFit at the moment – it truly seems to be a mainstream hit.

At any rate – I’m not sure if it’s Christmas or that there are actually still people who don’t own Wiis, but make sure you have half an hour free to wait in line before venturing out for electronic goodies around this time of year. Hopefully, you can expect a WiiFit review in the new year.

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