Tokyo’s biggest, brightest, loudest addiction
FOR most people, arcades are a nostalgic pastime enjoyed at the seaside or somewhere to go on a rainy afternoon with the kids.
But in Japan, arcades remain an inherent part of city dwellers’ lives.
Japan’s infatuation with arcades started in the late 1970s when games such as Pacman and Space Invaders flashed on millions of kids’ screens throughout the country.
This technology, and the subsequent fascination that it caused led to the creation of 44,000 arcades across Japan by the 1980s, with more popped up in the 1990s when Street Fighter was released.
But the rise in popularity of home-gaming systems and mobile devices in the early 2000s meant Japan’s arcades lost a lot of their shine among locals.
44,000 arcades dwindled to just over 4,000, but to this day, arcades remain a feature in Tokyo’s streetscapes and continue to offer gamers an experience they wouldn’t be able to get at home.
Many of the arcades are also strategically placed near railways stations to entice people in before continuing their journey.
With relative ease, you can switch from shooting space invaders to taking a virtual reality (VR) trip around space in the same arcade. But ultimately, each venue has its niche and its audience.
There are also male and female-focused arcades which cater to the social stereotypes of the sexes. The female arcades tend to have more toy-wining machines whereas the male ones are focused on action games.
You may not even consider yourself a gamer, but you should still head down to any of Tokyo’s multi-story arcades to watch skillful patrons bust a move on the dance mats and beat the claw crane machines.
If you’re not sure where to begin, let us point you in the direction of five of Tokyo’s best arcades sure to dilate your pupils and reveal your competitive side.
Many of Tokyo’s best arcades are in Akihabara, the country’s “electrical city”, such as the six-story Sega arcade just across the road from Akihabara station.
It may lack the luminous lights other arcades possess, but it makes up for it in the variety of claw crane machines and retro action-combat classics such as Tekken and Virtual Fighter.
It’s known for its dedicated gamers who bring supplies and spend hours improving their skills.
Sega also trials many of its new games in this arcade before releasing them onto the market. Essentially you could complete it before your friends have even heard about it.
When: 10am – 11pm daily.
Manga Café Manboo (various locations)
For more of a laidback experience without the booming music and other gamers mocking your lack of skill, head to a Net Room Manga Café.
These arcades have a reputation of feeling like your bedroom as gamers are given a booth with a computer and chair to use.
They’re also very reasonably priced at just JPY200 (US$1.80) per hour.
Each computer is stacked with a library of manga games and various consoles.
Where: 160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−32−1０ B1-B2F (central Tokyo).
When: 24 hours, daily.
Super Potato, Akihabara
Get ready for a trip down memory lane as Tokyo’s Super Potato is a retro gaming dreamland.
The first few floors are dedicated to vintage merchandise, including games not available anywhere else, keychains, posters, T-shirts and so on.
The top floor is packed with arcade classics such as Zelda and Mario Bros.
While the collection of games isn’t as big as Tokyo’s other arcades, Super Potato is a sensory experience to behold.
Where: 1-11-2 Chiyoda, Akihabara, Tokyo.
When: 10am – 8pm daily.
Shooting Bar EA
The Shooting Bar EA is predominantly a drinking hole with its own firing range.
However, no real bullets or gunpowder will be found on the premises as the patrons fire airguns.
Gamers can order drinks and guns off the same menu then after a safety briefing, shooters will be led to the range to fire away.
The bar is well managed, with a focus on everyone’s safety, so you needn’t worry.
When: 5pm – 1am, Sunday to Thursday (except Tuesdays), 5pm – 4am Fridays.
Pachinko (various locations)
Because gambling for money is illegal in Japan, you won’t find any blackjack tables or slot machines in Tokyo’s arcades.
Instead, you’ll see hundreds of arcades often filled with locals sat behind what appears to be vertical pinball machines known as pachinko.
The aim of pachinko is to win as many pinballs as possible by getting a little ball into the central hole in the machine known as a “catcher.”
However, these balls can’t be directly exchanged for cash on the premises due to gambling laws.
So, once the gamer is done for the day, they can take their balls to a counter in the arcade and exchange it for some prizes, including a “special coin.”
This coin can then be exchanged for cash at an establishment outside the arcade.
Where: (Akihabara area) Mitja Kanda, 3 Chome-19-9 Uchikanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0047.
When: 10am – 10:50pm, daily.