When I found out I was going to Japan one of the first things I promised I’d do (after karaoke, of course) was to visit Akihabara Town, Tokyo’s gadget district. In a country renowned for its obsession with gadgets this is the place to shop for electronics. I imagined everyone watching TV on their cell phones while waiting for the metro, and saw Akihabara itself as a place where gadgets too good for the likes of Americans lie out in the open. Indeed, at least when it comes to the sheer volume of gadgets, the Japanese seem to have a leg up on us. If only because the Tokyo metro is eerily quiet (even people who know each other speak in whispers, at most), everyone on the subway plays with their phone and Nintendo DS. But as for futuristic TV phones as low-hanging fruit? Not so much. Akhibara reminds me of Manhattan’s diamond district: it’s bustling, colorful, and the stores kind of look the same. Many of them have two, three, maybe even more, floors. The density of the district is overwhelming but, the selection isn’t. Most of the products– notebooks, cell phones, cameras, camcorders, and personal navigators– are from brands we know and trust (Japan is home to the Sonys and Panasonics of the world, after all), and have counterparts in the U.S. Often, those models are available in the States, possibly with a different name. However, Japan seems to emphasize different types of gadgets. I saw plenty of phones, portable DVD players, and pocket translators, and a decent number of cameras, but far fewer MP3 players, QWERTY smart phones, and GPS navigators. And I saw a few unique gizmos: a digital photo frame watch here, an anime webcam there. In many cases, the electronics were lower-tech than what you’d find in the U.S. The budget notebooks for instance, weren’t significantly cheaper (if at all), and the stores were less conducive to hands on testing than, say, a Best Buy. At times, the loose items in bins even reminded me of the fish market across town. One way in which Japan trounces the US, electronically speaking, is that its storekeepers seem more comfortable placing mainstream notebooks and netbooks side by side on the shelves. In the picture below, they dominate the display lining the busy street. Ironically, in a country where even the safety videos on airplanes are cute, mini-notebooks often take center stage. The netbooks aside, however, what’s striking about Akhihabara’s gadget selection isn’t how cutting-edge it is, but how precious. The most ubiquitous phone in the city is the SoftBank Pantone. This flip phone, available in even more colors than the new iPod Nano, targets teenagers with its fun color selection and large text-friendly keyboard. It’s simple, feature-wise, but the color palette exceeds what you’ll find in most handsets offered in the States. And the ubiquitous billboard: Did we mention the adorable webcams? While we’re on the subject of cute, the biggest– and strangest– mobile tech trend I’ve seen is people attaching charms to their phones. Even grown men, including a road warrior in the airport, have these adorable little tchotckes hanging from their handsets. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the evidence: I found this on the ground in Yoyogi Park, located in Sobuya, a neighborhood that brims with teenagers on the weekends.