Monday, May 5, 2008
Glory Glory Japan, Heaven for Electronics
As I walked around the biggest electronics store I'd ever seen in my life in the "Electric City" district of Tokyo that is also called Akihabara, the strains of a familiar song kept jumping into my brain.
It had happy Japanese words and was repeated over and over. What was that tune?
OMG: It's the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with new peppy words that sounded like they were saying this is a happy place to shop. It's the theme song of Akihabara, which is a huge Times Square-like district devoted to electric necessities and toys ,and it has me wondering: is the Battle Hymn based on some ancient samurai tune, or did they rip this once solemn song from the public domain?
On weekends costumed anime characters wander around. The rest of the time, people with bullhorns shout out the latest sales.
Imagine the biggest Fry's you've seen. Add seven stories to it and high end products with testing rooms and then multiply it by 30 buildings and you have Akihabara. Don't forget to throw in a handful of goofy restaurants where Japanese women in Merry Maids costumes will bat their eyes at you and talk to you, if you buy a $20 cup of coffee (no pictures allowed, the signs say).
Basically, I wanted EVERYTHING there except the maids. The new tube amplifiers for iPods are genius. An iPod never sounded this good. I went back three times to listen, just waiting for the day I can afford one (a great system would be $3,200). They make the music sound "anarogue," as one of the jazz cafes I visited, that played only vinyl records boasted.
And, oh yeah, the toilet seats.
They may not be a big conversation piece in the States, but 70 percent of the homes in Japan have heated toilet seats with built in nozzles that shoot warm water at your private parts.
It seems that every foreigner who tries them thinks about buying one, and there are big toilet seat sections in the Akihabara stores with directions and advice in English for foreigners. There was a steady stream of them in Akihabara, including a Russian cardiac surgeon I talked to, asking about toilet seat voltage.
For a minute I thought that this could be my fortune, bringing the greatest toilet seats the world has known back to the U.S.
Then, I found out San Francisco entrepreneur Scott Pinnozzotto has done even better, building his own Swash seats for Brondell, and selling them at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
There goes my shot at the anarogue system.