If you grew up in the United States or a European country, arcades are probably a distant memory. Especially for kids who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, arcades resembled a safe place to indulge in your gaming hobby without the fear of judgment. Full of fighting games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, and plenty of other classics like Pac-Man and Joust, arcades hold some of my fondest childhood memories. The arcade industry has all but vanished from western countries, with only a few select companies still keeping the tradition alive.
However, there’s still one place that the arcade industry is booming… Japan.
Japan is an interesting country for several reasons, and beyond the immense amount of world culture you can gain from a visit, there’s tons of nerdy and geeky stuff to check out. Most of the locations that celebrate gaming and anime are around Tokyo, the New York of Japan. Split into many districts, Tokyo hosts a wide variety of brightly lit neon signs, advertising entertaining venues to visit and spend your hard earned yen. It may be surprising then, that the buildings that stick out the most are the arcades.
Arcades are set up very differently in Japan than anywhere else in the world. Most of us visualize arcades as a corner of a bar, a lobby area for a diner, or perhaps a side room at a cinema. In Japan, arcades range from similar “hole in the wall” set ups to multi-leveled skyscrapers. Big companies like SEGA have buildings that are very easy to notice, with their large structure and bright red building color. These arcades might seem imposing from the outside, but stepping inside will only overwhelm your senses even more.
There’s many different subcultures to the arcade industry as well, and these multi-leveled facilities are the best way to see them all. Each floor is usually dedicated to one sort of experience or game genre. The first floor you’ll walk into is usually packed with “UFO Catcher” machines, which most know as “crane games”. These are immensely popular in Japan, and make up a large number of annual revenue. Ascending the floors further, you’ll find entire levels dedicated to rhythm games, casual gambling games, and huge installments.
The Japanese arcade industry is exceptional in both its variety and spectacle. Rhythm games like Guitar Freaks, Beatmania, and Dance Dance Revolution remain staples of the market, but larger and more impressive setups are commonplace too. Take for example a horse racing simulator game. Instead of a simple one screen set up, these popular games have dozens of stations set up in front of a huge multi-screen display. Players use physical cards to load up their stats and jockey information, and then everyone races together, becoming a virtual jockey.
That’s just one of the more impressive games I’ve seen during my research, but there’s plenty more to be discovered. Japan has an interesting gambling structure to some of their games, something that you would never see in the US or Europe. The culture around Japanese arcades is so distinct and unique that visiting one is an experience within itself. If you’re planning on taking a trip to Japan, be sure to check out districts like Shibuya and Akihabara, where all your gaming dreams will surely come true.
Comments are most welcome — thanks for reading!