Big in Japan #1: Let's go to the Arcade!

A couple of months ago one of my dreams came true: Me and my girlfriend flew halfway across the world to the land of the rising sun: Japan! For over 2 weeks we visited the most beautiful temples, wandered in metropoles unlike anything you find in Europe and ate some of the best dishes man can make. But I will not talk to you about the greatness of sushi and shabu-shabu, but instead I want to share my gaming and tech experiences with you!

After all gaming is practically invented in Japan and companies like Sony, SEGA and of course Nintendo all have their origins in Japan. Talk has it that the Japanese samurai were already playing a game in the 10th century where they took the role of an American-Italian plumber, although they did not exactly know what America, Italy or a plumber are...

Let’s go to the Arcade!

After a long flight and a transfer in Seoul (where robots roll around the airport to show you the way if you get lost; the future is now!) we landed in Fukuoka. It is not a city with many highlights, but as it is not very tourist-heavy either it is a great place to start a trip and get an authentic Japanese city experience. In the center of the city there is a big mall called Canal City Hakata, and is made up of a bunch of different colourful buildings around a pond and fountain. The mall is crammed with food parlors, clothing shops, cinemas and... arcades! Needless to say I dragged my girlfriend inside Taito Station. It's just one of the Taito Stations scattered around Japan as it can be found in almost every city, and usually more than just one. In retrospect it was a rather modest arcade, as I would find bigger ones in cities like Tokyo. Still, I was elated that the very first arcade I walked in had machines for games such as Taiko no Tatsujin and Mario Kart DX.

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Just some examples of games you can find in the Arcades

What is great is that a number of the arcade games are set up for multiplayer. Mario Kart DX usually consists of 4 machines next to each other for 4-player racing fun. While playing there is music blasting from the speakers in your seat, cheering on your character while your seat vibrates with the action. It is a bit of a different experience than playing Mario Kart 8 DX on a thursday night, and definitely worth a few yen to try it out yourself.

Taiko no Tatsujin has two sets of drums, meaning you can enjoy banging the lifesize drums to some weird Japanese soundtrack with a friend. But of course you can also enjoy these games by yourself, or maybe a random stranger is up for a challenge?

Another big chain of arcades is from a company that used to be one of Nintendo’s biggest rivals: SEGA. Walking into a SEGA arcade means being greeted by, well, mostly franchises that are not that popular here in the West. Of course there are famous games available such as Daytona Racing and House Of The Dead. But in the huge SEGA Arcade in Akihabara Tokyo several floors are dedicated to games I never heard of, but are popular in Japan seeing how many people were playing them. These ranged from RPGs to complex rhythm games. It was impressive to see a local fanatically play a rhythm game hitting buttons with the speed of light. And here I am thinking I was quite okay with Guitar Hero... What is cool is that you can buy a card with credits on it, which even lets you save your progress for the next time you come in.


Not one but two SEGA Arcades grace the streets of Akihabara

More than just video games

While video games are the most interesting part (for me at least) of an arcade, they are actually just one aspect of the whole arcade. Walking into one first leads you through a sea of crane games: big and small machines where you try to grab a prize by moving and releasing the claw at the right time. The trophies inside range from plush of popular franchises to figurines to PlayStations and Nintendo Switches. I do not want to know the odds of grabbing one, but I have a hunch getting one with your first 100 yen is quite small.

Gambling and random chances are a recurring theme in the Japanese arcades. Grabbing your prize from a crane game may require a little bit skill, but I think chance is also a big aspect of it. Then there are the gashapon! Or as we know them over here: the capsule toy machines. In Europe you may find the occasional one or two capsule toy machines in a shopping mall or near a snackbar. But Japan is filled with them, and you can find them in a lot of different places. There are shops that are just rows and rows of gashapon machines. And every arcade has anything from a couple of rows to a complete floor dedicated to gashapon. They are filled with tiny toys and almost every franchise is represented. I spotted capsules with Splatoon, Kirby and of course Pokémon in it. Which figure you pull is of course up to chance.


Gashapon! Gashapon for every license you can imagine. And that includes Splatoon!

Next to the crane games and gashapon you often find coin games in the arcades as well, and of course Japan’s it’s-gambling-but-not-really-gambling game Pachinko. I will not talk about the immense popularity of Pachinko or Japan’s laws on gambling, but if you are interested in it then this is a good read on the subject.

And last but not least, and catering mostly to the female audience are the photo booths! Arcades have several machines at the ready, all with different filters, frames and functions for that perfect picture. Some of the photo boots are even girl-only, and as a guy you are not allowed near them.


That's it for the first part of the series, arigatō for reading! Next week we will journey into the wonderful world of Pokémon, which is definitely big in Japan! Until next week, sayōnara!

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