Friday, January 05, 2007

Seoul's Yong-San versus Tokyo's Akihabara

After finishing up with my prison tour, I decided to visit the Yong-San station's electronics Department store in Seoul. After someone recomended it to me on the DMZ tour, I just had to see this place, as this person said it was better than Tokyo's Akihabara. Eager to see if such a claim was true, I had to go see such a wonder of mankind.

For those of you who don't know, Akihabara is a district in Tokyo that consists of almost nothing but electronics boutiques, manga comic books, and retail establishments specializing in little scantily clad plastic figurines (my friend Dan calls them pervy toys). It is in essence, a paradise for nerds.

It is the only place in Japan where I can find American cell phones (or ANY cell phone not made in Japan), any camera and lens ever built, computer CPUs and motherboards on streetcorners, a complete selection of oscilloscopes, and the original Nintendo Entertainment System (not to mention about 19 others built by Atari and Sega that I never know existed) It is an amalgamation of tiny storefronts throughout a whole section of town, chaotic and disorganized. If one has a day or two, you could conceivably find any electrical product.

Seoul's Yong-San, I discovered, is technically the largest electronics store in Asia (apparently meaning the largest store under 1 roof. And I must concede, Yong-San station's department store impressed me. There were about eight different floors with a heap of retail floorspace in a modern spacious high rise building. The first floor sold nothing but MP3 players and digital cameras. The second store sold gigantic flat screen TV and stereo systems. Floors 3 and 4 sold computers, computer accessories, and computer components, floor 5 was entertainment systems and DVDs. Floor 6 and 7 consisted of cell phones.

Like the Japanese, the Korean penchant for ethnocentrism and nationalism dictated that most brands would be of Korean origin, primarily Samsung. This proved to be especially true in the MP3 player, cell phone, and flat screen TV categories. Despite this, Japanese digital cameras dominated and American computer makers HP and Dell as well as Japan's Sony and Panasonic PCs sported a strong presence in the Korean market. Come to think of it, they had just about every computer maker I could think of. Motorola also appears to be quite popular (or just heavily promoting their Razr).

Depsite the great selection, as a tourist I have to say that Tokyo's Akihabara is probably the cooler place to visit as a tourist. While both destinations were rather enormous, the absolute chaos and disorganization of Akihabara was more fun than the clean, quiet, and sanitized setting of Yong-San. The thrill of digging through a box of green plates covered in semiconductors and circuitry to discover an old Atari (insert 1970's model name here) and accompanying games was just too much fun.

However, if I was in the market for a digital camera or other capital intensive electronic contraption, I would probably head to Yong-San given the choice. As a shopping environment, the quiet department store would be much easier to think in (and make wiser, better informed consumer choices).

So the verdict is in, and it is currently a stalemate:
The Place to see: Akihabara in Tokyo
The Place to Shop: Yong-San in Seoul

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