IN SOME COUNTRIES LIKE ENGLAND OR ICELAND YOU HEAD TO THE NIGHTCLUB OR PUB TO FEEL THE LOCAL PULSE -- THESE ARE THE PLACES LOCALS GO FOR THEIR ESCAPISM. Not so in Japan. To be sure, there are plenty of nightclubs and bars in Japan, and they are good nightclubs and bars by world standards, and there is always plenty of escapism in evidence at these places. But they form only part of the picture. When it comes to really letting your hair down Japanese style, really letting go of the pressures of the day to be caught up in the raptures of the now, there are really two places which excel, par excellence -- and they are the gaming parlor, and the pachinko parlor. Pachinko is kind of like pinball (vaguely... very vaguely!) with more balls and more noise, and it probably won't appeal to visiting foreigners much. Japanese electronic gaming parlors on the other hand are bound to delight and there are plenty of them, especially upon Akihabara's Golden Mile (Chuo Dori). There is something rapturous about being in a games arcade which has five floors, is packed with (almost 100 per cent) guys with black hair and a one-tracked mind -- the whirs, bleats and bleeps of all those machines, some of them Egret II's or even Egret III's -- the smoke and bustle and background music wickedly conspiring to lift you up into a trance, and so many lights are flashing and strobing anyway you almost feel like you are back in an underground club in East London! I kid you not! I had this very experience tonight (March 20 2006), at hey (Hirose Entertainment Yard) on Chuo Dori, Akihabara. hey is just one of many Akihabara establishments where serious gamers (and the not so serious) can get their rocks off for just 100 Yen (US$1) a pop. But there is more to Akihabara than just hey. Here is a list of some of the games utopias in this ultimate Gaming Utopia -- this is the Akihabara Gamers Portal!
That's right, this site is devoted to the major games arcades in Akihabara, where you can kick back and relax and play all the latest and the greatest in electronic games. Of course, there are plenty of places where you can try out new games and new platforms for free, and I will tell you about those places and what is currently playing there. But in my experience there are five major games arcades in Akihabara -- the two Sega complexes, hey and s@y, and a place in the backstreets called Tokyo Leisure Land. Of course, there is more to Akihabara than just playing games, and you will find plenty of other pages on this site, on subjects as diverse as Maid Cafes and Doll Cafes, role playing game suppliers and even fast food joints. If you are interested in buying games, there is a different site for that -- click here. This site here though is strictly for the playerz... and if you are most interested in electronic gaming when you go to Akihabara or are merely curious about just how cool games arcades can be, read on. This is your electronic lifestyle!
The thing you will quickly realize about Japanese video arcades, is that they are narrow, and tall. CardHouse points this out on his site when he says: "Because real estate is at a serious premium in Tokyo, most of the arcades I visited were five or six stories tall, each level usually organized by game type." On the first and perhaps second floor you will find the "UFO catcher" cranes, based on the ones you played as a kid but a thousand and a half times more sophisticated. In Japan, UFO Catcher's have been known to dispense candy, stuffed animals, consumer electronics and even live lobsters (according to a report I read on Extreme Guides.) However, stuffed animals seem to be the most common objects stuffed inside UFO Catchers -- although I did see some tasty huge blocks of chocolate in a UFO Catcher at hey earlier this week, and outside Club Sega they had some raunchy anime comics waiting to be won. I don't know if there is any special technique for winning the goods in UFO Catchers, and I don't know if any foreigners care too much about playing them. They are focussed on the stuff upstairs -- in Japan, all the good games are upstairs.
That's right: as you head upstairs the real fun begins, and you will be amazed at the range of games at hand, and the dexterity of the technology driving it. What you might find (and this information again comes from Extreme Guides) will include a dog-walking game (go figure), traditional Japanese taiko drumming games (actually these look fun and are a hit with foreign photographers), samurai fighting games with model samurai swords, horse-racing games, dancing games, and most popular of all, the kung fu fighting games. This is Asia of course -- you would expect to see a lot of martial arts games, and you will. Many arcades also offer a championship soccer lounge, with huge wallscreens randomly broadcasting highlights of all the games currently in progress inside the room. That's a cool feature -- you get to see what everyone is playing, up there on the big screen.
One game which is popular at the moment is Mushi King -- basically a fight-to-death stag beetle fight based on the rules of Janken (the "Rocks, Scissors, Paper" game which children play.) You can see on the right three buttons, in a triangular shape -- the buttons are red, yellow and blue. The red button stands for "rock", the yellow button means "scissors", and the blue one is the open-hand paper button. You basically play a "rock, scissors, paper" janken game with your competitor (or the computer if you flying solo on the day), and if your scissors beats their paper, for example, your on-screen stag beetle will destroy their beetle with scandalous sound effects. Sounds simple -- but the simple games are always the most fun. If you want to play this game, you can find it outside Club Sega in Akihabara, in early 2006.
So here are the best video games arcades in Akihabara:
hey (Hirose Entertainment Yard): 外神田１−１０−５廣瀬本社ビル.
(Hirose Honsha Building, 1-10-5 Soto Kanda.)
Phone: 03/5294 3380. Web: . Map: http://www.necca.ne.jp/~akihabara/a/t/map.htm.
Along with Sega, this is one of the gaming highlights of Akihabara. Inside the Hirose Entertainment Yard there are a couple of floors of arcade games, and on top of it all, Necca Akihabara which may or may not be a maid cafe, the definition is vague. However, one thing you will notice at hey is that all the female staff are dressed as maids -- they won't spoonfeed you like at the real maid cafes but at least they make the effort to look cute. Apart from that, this is a typical shoot-'em-up, kick-'em-in-the-ass video arcade. The machines in use here are pretty much Egret III's or Egret II's. The games are just as neat.
When you get tired of playing you can retire to Necca Akihabara, on the fourth floor of Hirose Honsha Building. There are a range of items on sale up here including spaghetti, coffee and cake and alcohol.
Getting here from the station: ＪＲ秋葉原駅電気街口徒歩２分, 中央通りソフマップ１号店さん２軒隣, クレーンゲームがあるエスカレーターで４階.
Necca Akihabara is open from 10am to 11.30pm.
Ishimaru Game One: 外神田１−１５−４.
(1-15-4 Soto Kanda.)
Phone: 03/3255 1600.
Open from 10am to 8pm.
This is one of the ten Ishimaru stores in Akihabara -- for more information on this chain click here. Ishimaru Game One is a good place for the gamer to begin his or her tour of Akihabara. For one thing, it is close to Akihabara Station. For another, there are plenty of games on the first floor you can try out and play. When I went there earlier tonight (February 27 2006) I was thrilled to find Mario Kart rigged up on a handheld Nintendo DS -- cool. I played a round on the 50CC mode (I am pussy I know) and won. Elsewhere on the floor, I noticed games like Rumble Roses (some kind of femme wrestling game) and Monster Hunter 2 (which was retailing for 5980 Yen). On the upper floors, games give way to anime, and it gradually becomes pornographic the higher you go. On the top floor in an events hall. I will endeavour to keep you updated on the events being held there over the following months and years!
Laox Asobit H.
Phone: 03/5298 3581. Web: http://www.laox.co.jp/english/laox_store/asobit_h.html. Map: http://www.laox.co.jp/english/images/map.gif.
The "H" in this department store name means "hobby", and this in my opinion is one of the best places in Akihabara for a serious hobbyist to get his or her rocks off. Gamers will also find plenty to entertain. It is certainly well stacked and stocked, up-to-date, and there are plenty of consoles where you can try out the latest games. I can imagine how cool it would be for a gamer in Japan to spend a few hours in this tower, slowly moving from game to game and floor to floor. But games are only the start of the fun here. There is even a shooting range where you can fire off a few rounds on the seventh floor. How cool is that! The first floor is devoted to the Gundam phenomenon while on the first floor there are the Playstation 2's and some girlie Nintendo models. The last time I was here, they were promoting the impending release of Final Fantasy XII, which is a big deal in Japan -- it is due to come out on March 16 2006. They were also promoting the Japanese martial arts adventure game Sengoku Musou which will come out on February 24. There were plenty of guys trying out the new games, and the atmosphere inside the store was electric, to say the least.
From the third floor up, hobbyism takes over. There are plastic scale models of various weapons of war, car and railroad models and then the gun floor on level six. Just a short escalator ride will take you to the shooting range on the seventh.
One Akihabara visitor remarked: "I remember passing the Asobitcity construction site a hundred times earlier this year, wondering what they were building. According to Watch Impress, the store is both owned by LAOX, who owns, like, 99.999998% of all the game stores in Akihabara, AND it has an indoor shooting range. AND an entire floor of computers on which you're actually permitted to play online games. And of course a WALL of capsule toy machines.
Plenty of photos at the link.
"Looks like it might be the kickassest store in Akihabara -- better even than the old LAOX Sofmap, which is just a forty-five-second walk away? Still too close to call. If its stupider name (Asobi = "play") is any indication, it might win by a nose.
"Man, I had some craaazy nights at the LAOX Sofmap... it is, seriously, the stuff dreams are made of. Plus wall-to-wall used Super Famicom games for thirty cents each on floor three. They had Parodius, and I got mine. God bless LAOX."
s@y Game: 外神田４−２−２貫三ビル.
(Kansan Building, 4-2-2 Soto Kanda, on Chuo Dori.)
Phone: 03/5289 8445 or 03/5289 8466. Map: http://www.taito.co.jp/shisetsu/space/299.html.
The name of this store is pronounced セイアット秋葉原 or "Say at Akihabara". In front of the entrance there are plenty of those funky drum machines and other games. Inside, things only get better and better!
According to one Japanese reviewer: "地下1階から5階まで、楽しい空間が広がっています！ついに実現した、『コスチュームプリクラ！』。コスチュームの持込みもOK!もちろん無料です。さらに圧巻なのはビデオゲームが約100台と充実しています。クレーンゲームも最新のぬいぐるみ、人気の景品がどんどん入荷中！ぜひ遊びに来てね！"
I am too lazy to translate this completely but the general gist is that from the basement to the 5th floor, there is endless amounts of fun to be had at s@y. There is a "costume print club" where you can dress up in costume and gets photos taken of you (perfect for all those cosplay fanatics!) There are also 100 video games upon which you can while away the hours!
The last time I was at s@y (on March 21 2006) everyone was playing games like Quiz Magic Academy and Zoids and the ever popular Idol Master. There were also folk playing computerized versions of the classic Asian game Mah Jong and even some pachinko and slot machine type games.
As the honorable CardHosue says "Video Mahjong. I love the concept of Mahjong, but every time I sit down with a set and say "Okay, THIS time, I'm totally going to understand Mahjong," my mind starts drifting off like a tiny flower caught by the wind and sucked into a jet engine.
"When you walk through Chinatown anywhere USA, you can always hear someone mixing up the Mahjong tiles beyond gated doors that you can't see through because the sun is in exactly the wrong place. It is an excellent noise.
"I don't hear that Mahjong tile sound (in Akihabara). Maybe Namco makes a mechanical Mahjong game."
Unlike a lot of the other stores, s@y stays open late: it's open 10am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and 10am to 11pm every other day. So when you have been shooed out of the other stores which close at poxy hours like 8pm, you can always head over to s@y!You won't be disappointed.
Club Sega: .
Remember the local video arcade you used to hang out when you were in your teens, playing Pacman and Galatica (if you old enough)... take that nostalgic old small town arcade and multiply it by a factor of a thousand, and you would have an approximation of the Club Sega Arcade in Akihabara. As I stated before, this is five floors of nothing else but games. It is worth repeating that, for the third time. This is five floors of games. A serious gamer could easily spend a life in here. Just duck out every mealtime to one of the nearby Maid Cafes, to stock up on warm human company...
One visitor to Club Sega said: "Yes,I loved the place... The first floors are for "UFO" machines where you "can get" some Evangelion, Capcom and Sega figures (and more stuff too, after popping hundred yen coins into the coin slot). Five floors of arcade games... and not just Sega. And this is not the only one (Sega building) I saw."
"One floor was full of Street Fighter Hyper Fighting (the new mix between all versions, available for Japanese PS2) machines, all networked and in a tournament." Click the nearest link above to see photos of Club Sega in action.
There is another Sega institution across the road, up closer to the station -- and it too is packed with games and gamers.
GIGO Sega: .
This second Sega games arcade in Akihabara is much like the first, with a lot of UFO Catcher games on the first two floors, then plenty of floors of action games above. When I passed by last (March 21 2006) I noted a lot of excitement regarding the game Sangokushi Taisen, a medieval Japanese war strategy game in which players use pre-purchased cards to manipulate and command their armies. Role playing fetishists will love it -- I would too, given half the chance! GIGO is open from 10am to midnight and with its central location on Chuo Dori minutes from Akihabara Station, it can't be beaten!
On the matter of those chargeable cards, Sega's Virtua Fighter 4 allows frequent players to use them to carry their statistics. If you're good, get a card from a vending machine and you can prove yourself in mostly silent matches between men who don’t make fun of each other or seem to talk smack between matches. That's the Japanese game culture for you, and you will see it at its most refined, at Akihabara.
On a final note: as one observer wrote on her site: "And then there are video arcades. You can find these in any commercial district but we saw our first, a Club Sega (Sega operates arcades?!), in Akihabara. Most, if not all, of the arcades in Japan have crane games containing slimes, as well as rhythm games involving input devices shaped like drums and guitars. I was enjoying myself at one of the latter until I was humbled by some eight-year-olds.
"And of course, since this is Japan, there was at least one random Shinto shrine tucked between the high-rise electronics stores..."
But Shinto is another story entirely...
Tokyo Leisure Land: 外神田１-９-５.
(1-9-5 Soto Kanda.)
Phone: 03/5298 1360. Web: http://www.leisureland.jp/.
This is a widespread Japanese chain featuring all the fun you could imagine -- video games, slot machines and pachinko, billiards, 10pin bowling, karaoke, indoor baseball, who knows, they probably even have darts!? At the Akihabara branch, they focus on the electronic sides of entertainment (which is appropriate enough, this is Akihabara after all!) On the first floor there are (a sight for sore eyes!) big Mario Kart arcade games as well as MushiKing and the UFOs, some of them dispensing chocolates. One floor up, it is all pachinko games and slot machines, and geezers smoking manically. Another floor beyond that, things get back to more of a gaming feel, and there are plenty of Zoids and other varieties of your common game, martial arts projects, and the top floor is dedicated to soccer. It is not a bad place, all things considered.