People come to Japan for a wide variety of reasons; however, the one thing that most foreigners in Japan share is a love of Japanese pop culture. In the last 30-40 years, Japanese anime and video games have taken the world by storm, and because of these things, Japan has received a massive influx in tourists and foreign residents due to these exports.
One of the major symbols of these pop culture achievements is the arcade, which serves as a place of entertainment and respite for Japanese nationals and foreigners alike.
What is this, the 80s?
While arcades were powerhouses around the globe in the 70s and 80s, the rise of home video game consoles have largely pushed them out of popularity in Western nations. However, in Japan, the arcade tradition is still going strong, and these behemoth buildings still widely populate the Tokyo landscape.
Many of these buildings consist of several floors, with smaller arcades often being 2 floors, and larger arcades occasionally being 5 to 7 floors; some of them even include bowling alleys! The major chains are Taito and Sega, though other arcade brands can also be found scattered about the city at large.
Unlike the arcades in the west that have lasted to the modern day, you’re not likely to find many retro games at your average Japanese arcade. However, you will find a multitude of crane game machines, with a wide variety of prizes.
Called UFO catchers in Japan, they tend to be on the first floor, as they enjoy the most casual popularity of Japan’s arcade fare.
Another common inclusion in the arcade scene is rhythm games, of which there are many; one of the most popular is Taiko no Tatsujin, a simple game where you play a large taiko drum to various pop music and songs from anime and video game soundtracks.
You’re also likely to find a variety of racing games at most arcades, including the Mario Kart arcade game, which enjoys a modest popularity.
Certain arcades will also have sections full of casino-style games, despite Japan’s nominal ban on gambling. Anime-style and tie-in games, including super robot/mecha fighting games and Final Fantasy Dissidia, are also available at most large arcades.
Speaking of fighting games, public arcades are also a popular gathering spot for competitive players of games like Tekken and Street Fighter, as many arcades will have the latest boxes in those series.
Why go to the arcade?
Although home video games are undeniably more convenient, many would argue that it’s the atmosphere of the arcade that truly makes it something special. In addition, the simple pick-up-and-play style of the games make it a popular spot for casual hangouts (and dates!).
While sometimes expensive and rarely the original destination of a trip, the arcade can be a wonderful place to float down to while already out with friends.
While most arcades won’t have retro games or other fare westerners may have come to expect, they’re still an interesting and worthy destination for your social excursions in the land of the rising sun.
Other arcades that serve those niches do exist, many of them are noteworthy enough to deserve write-ups of their own, such as the (relatively) recently closed Kawasaki Warehouse. While the coronavirus may have limited our ability to enjoy them, arcades are definitely still a tour de force in the entertainment world.