Japan is like nirvana for gamers. Not only has it been responsible for trendsetting hardware — did anyone try the Nintendo Switch yet? — it’s also the home of some of the most famous video games to date: Super Mario Bros, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, The Legend of Zelda… the list is pretty much endless. Though Japan’s dominance of the global gaming market has weakened in recent years, the reverence lives on.
If you’re living or traveling in Japan and want to immerse yourself in some amazing gaming culture, here are seven places to visit — and inevitabl,y spend dangerous amounts of money.
VR Park, Shibuya
VR Park in Shibuya is one of Japan’s first forays into a dedicated virtual reality theme park. The park offers up to eight machines, each with their own unique game as well as one with multi-player. The entire experience will only set you back a few thousand yen and it’s a great place to go if you want to escape reality — literally.
Akihabara Electric Town
An obvious choice, this wouldn’t be much of a list for gamers if it didn’t mention Akihabara. The love child of technology, gaming and anime, Electric Town offers countless computer shops selling retro games, computer parts and memorabilia. You can even hit up all your favorite areas from Jet Set Radio.
Special mention has to go to Super Potato which offers mountains of retro consoles and games. It’s a lovely mix of everything Akihabara and Japan. Also, if you’re wanting to pick up some games to take back home, head over to Game Hollywood — just be aware of the high import prices.
Sega Tower, Akihabara
I like to call this place “that tower where I spend way too much time and money,” or,as my bank likes to refer to it, “Bankruptcy Evidence Lot #125.” It is conveniently located directly opposite Akihabara station, where you can easily grab the last train ahould you stay way too late.
The tower is saturated in gashapon (toy capsule vending machines) and an incredibly diverse set of games. You’re bound to walk away with a bag full of loot and some great memories. Make your way to the top floor, where you’ll be greeted by all those rhythm games you’ve seen on YouTube.
You can find Pokémon Centers all over Japan (from Sapporo to Tohoku). The largest is in Sunshine City in Ikebukuro — expect some queues. I’d highly recommend the one at Tokyo Skytree.
Love it or hate it (and if you hate it, I put you firmly in the category of people who squeeze toothpaste from the middle or put milk in first when making a tea), Pokémon is ingrained in Japanese culture, and you’ll get to experience it all once at one of these shops.
What will really make it shine are the special events if you can catch them. I was lucky enough to be in one of the stores when it was holding a Pokémon trading card game competition and managed to watch a few — with mascots galore. It was awesome.
Tokyo Game Show
Held at Makuhari Messe, the convention center, this gigantic game exhibition has been taking place annually since 1996. In 2017, it will be open to gamers for the final two days on Sep. 23 and 24.
If you’re in the country at the time, it’s almost impossible to resist the allure of one of the biggest gaming events of the year. Expect the venue to be packed and your experience with the new releases a fleeting glimpse as your body is forcibly shuffled past it.
That being said, the real gem of TGS comes from the indie game booths. Last time I was there, I not only got to play the games but also got to chat with the developers
Although more of a center for sub-cultures in the city, it’s also a great place to visit if you’re a gaming fan. Nakano Broadway is like a little Akihabara in many ways. If you want to avoid the crowds and the clichés, a trip to Nakano Broadway will do wonders in scratching that gaming itch of yours. It’s also a great opportunity to pick up any gaming souvenirs that you might have missed along the way.
This bar in old school Asagaya, the ’60s hub of radical subculture now known for its jazz scene, is an absolute paradise for any otaku (nerd) who likes a bevvy. Walls lined with rare figurines and comic books enclose this tiny anime-karaoke hybrid run by a former film director who saw the need for a place where geeks could meet and share their passion. The best part? The affable owner will make you a cocktail based off of your favorite anime character.
Kyoto Bonus: Nintendo Headquarters
You can’t dispute the impact that Nintendo has had, and continues to have, on the gaming industry. Although the Nintendo HQ in Kyoto doesn’t offer much for tourists (you’re not allowed to enter), a pilgrimage here is a rite of passage for any gamer. Plus, you get to brag to all your friends of Discord that you’ve been to the place where Mario was made. Mamma mia!