Back again with a shorter entry. This one will be gaming related, but not a review. This one is a cultural story. Last weekend I went to Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto in Japan for vacation. They are about two hours away from Seoul by flight and it was my first foray into the land of video game history. I was with a friend who is not a gamer in the least, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a nerdcation. Still, we started out in Kobe and while we were walking around looking for some sweet Kobe beef we happened upon an arcade. Now, one thing about me that my gaming friends know is that I am an avid Sega fan — the Sega Saturn is my favorite system — and I’ve debated with myself over getting a Sega-flavor tattoo on my person.
This was a Sega arcade and when I walked in it was like all the synapses in my brain fired at once. I went from travel-weary to gleeful. The arcades in Japan are different than the ones I’ve been to in America and Korea in that the peripherals are extremely ornate. There are cards to save your profiles, there are fishing controllers, there are built in mouse and keyboards for PC-like gaming, there is just everything. Korea is close to this but as a PC-gaming nation the arcades are small and they focus more on dancing and light-gun games. America doesn’t really have arcades and the peripherals are almost always broken and mangled so it tends to be just light-gun, racing, and a few fighting games.
The thing I noticed most about this Sega arcade is the atmosphere of it. The men there (my travel buddy was the only woman) looked really serious and did not appear to be playing for fun. Some were grinding characters in games others were practicing combos in fighting games but the general air was serious gaming. I only had a short time to play so I say down and played some solo BlazBlue (a fighting game) and I had a blast. The games all appeared to cost about 100 yen (which is about a dollar, which is expensive) but there was no worrying about not having the right change after exchanging bills.
Later on in the trip we headed to Osaka where we spent most of our time and I got to go to a few more arcades. Sega has really cornered the market on the arcade scene in Osaka and Kobe at least with about 80% of the arcades being Sega branded. There was a large Namco (think Pac-Man and Tekken) arcade in Kobe but that was the only one I saw the entire time I was in Japan. The first Sega arcade I went to with the grumpy men was also the smallest I saw. The few Sega arcades I went to in Osaka were MASSIVE with the largest being a six-to-eight floor themeland with claw machines, pachinko, and photo booths. It felt closer to an amusement park than an actual arcade.
I love arcades and miss being able to go to them freely in America due to the console scene but they appear to be doing fine in Japan. There are plenty of really amazing games I wish would be released outside of Japan. The entire country is not as game-crazy as is oft perceived of Japan (especially not in the Kansai region) but you see Pokemon here and there and lots of anime characters (One Piece being the hands down most prevalent). I tried hard to pick up some nerd swag (goods, not swagger) while I was there and did find a few things, but it was hard (the best being Nintendo-brand playing cards, which is what the company originally made before video games). If you want your gaming fix I would recommend going to Tokyo, not elsewhere.