Japanese arcades (ゲームセンター) are found everywhere in Japan. Japan seems to be one of the few countries where the arcade hall has yet to die. It’s quite the opposite, as it feels quite bustling.
After World War II, Japan went through a period of massive and rapid industrialization in its manufacturing sector, and it was then that the arcade was born. There was a market for urban leisure activities due to the availability of disposable income, an advanced manufacturing industry with excess innovation, and a cultural appreciation for novelty. From the early 1960s to the present, metropolitan areas in Japan have always hosted some form of electronic amusement or video game arcade. It is almost completely unaffected by the decline of arcades in the Western world.
Japanese arcades have something for everyone, which gives it a broad appeal. Arcades compliment city life as a kind of in-between-space – a crowded public place to be alone, somewhere to meet friends before heading to another place, somewhere to kill the 15 minutes before your train arrives….
Sega, Taito Station, and Round 1 are some of the most famous and popular Gessan (this comes from combining “game center”) and in each of them, you can find many types of interesting games such as exercise games, sports games, and commemoration games. UFO catcher (crane game), Gashapon, Taiko no Tatsujin (Drum Master), and Purikura machines are among the most popular games. The best place in Tokyo to enjoy the Japanese arcade culture is for sure Akihabara, where besides the modern arcades, you can also spot some retro-game arcades.
Types of Games in Japanese Arcades
In a typical Japanese arcade, the games are divided depending on which floor in the arcade you find them in. The rule of thumb here is that the lower levels are generally lighter and easier, and the higher you go, the games get more involved and complex for the inexperienced gamers. The lower floors are there to pull in crowds with easy to access games. You then move up the floors to get to the heart of the arcade and the really niche games that you need some time to break into.
Purikura, Japanese photo booth, is usually located on the basement floor of Japanese arcades. It is where you can customize photos in fun, beautiful, and sometimes ridiculous ways and the photo booth is popular especially among teens and couples. They are quite different from your usual photo booth. Inside, you will find a green screen background. Near the camera, a monitor will show you various poses to strike. Once the shoot is over, you’ll head over to the side of the booth where you have the opportunity to customize your photos with filters, stickers, lettering, and all kinds of good stuff.
Purikura booths usually cost 400 yen for one shoot and gives you two sheets of photos. There’s also usually a theme like fashion models, beauty and makeup, idol, and so on.
UFO Catcher and Crane Game
A couple of different variations are available, but the end goal is to pick up a prize inside a big glass box using a big claw. The prizes are mostly stuffed toys, figures, snacks, and electronics. There are also some rare items that can only be found in the crane game, so the prices for those rare or limited items are usually expensive when you see them on the internet.
Rhythm games are plentiful in Japan and you have a wide choice between playing instruments, singing, pressing buttons following the music or dancing. Usually, players of these games move their hands and feet incredibly speedy; it is amazing to watch them play so hard. Taiko no Tatsujin is a popular rhythm game where you play a Japanese drum. Most of the song selection are Japanese pop, rock and anime songs. The score counts when you beat a drum at the same time that the notes passes across the screen.
Traditional Style Arcade Games
For old-school gamers, there is of course the area dedicated to traditional arcade units – challenge rivals in fighting games or play co-op in order to get through a side-scrolling adventure game. The most popular games like Capcom fighting games (Street Fighter) and Tekken can be found, as well as racing games. Shooting and simulation games are also found.
Strategy Card Games
One of the new trends in Japanese game centers is to see arcade games that respond to customer-derived trading card input. You have a physical set of cards that make up your army and these cards are read through RFID on an individual screen/tablet that you have in front of you. In these games, gamers can bring their own cards and deploy them over the course of a computer-driven dual. It is a personalized experience, but it certainly can be daunting for the casual (non-card carrying) gamer.