Visiting Japan Part 1-A: Retro game shopping in Akihabara (Tokyo)

 

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So, you’ve decided to visit the most magical place on earth (Japan) and you love retro games. Urban legend dictates that retro stores are on every street corner and you can pick up minty Sharp Twin Famicoms for a pittance at each and every one. While the fantasy is a little bit removed from reality, it’s not too tricky to get your retro on if you’re fortunate to be in Japan. While by no means exhaustive, the following posts will start off recapping a few places worth checking out that are reasonably easy to track down while you’re over there.

To keep things focused, I’m going to focus on two areas in particular – Akihabara in Tokyo and Den Den Town/Nipponbashi in Osaka. Both cities have international airports, good public transport and offer some choices to shop without burning a hole in your sanity. These posts aren’t definitive by any means, but they’re the places I had the most luck at on the most recent trip I took with my (very patient and understanding) wife. To keep the length in better control, this first post will cover Akihabara and the second will cover Osaka and some general shopping tips. For those curious, I’ve also got a few more posts in the vault to talk a bit more broadly about our experiences over there.

Akihabara (Tokyo)

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Akihabara (or Akiba if you prefer fewer syllables) has been a nerdy Mecca for years now and, if only to enjoy the spectacle, should be enjoyed by everyone who visits Tokyo. While the degree of retro gaming goodness isn’t anywhere as expansive as it once was, it comfortably trounces anything back home and offers a very convenient way to go shopping.

Keep in mind that the convenience of the area means you won’t be necessarily getting bargain-basement prices on your gear, and it’s not like you’ll have your pick of FM Towns Marty and NEC PC-FX machines coming out your behind. However, stock rotates pretty quickly and you’ll likely be able to find some gear while you’re there at prices less than what you pay online. It also depends on what you’re after – the Mega Drive doesn’t have anywhere near the presence of the Famicom, Super Famicom, Saturn or PSone for example, and there weren’t as many PC Engine Hucards around as I’d like. Still, there’s no lack of games out there to find, especially if you’re after PSone and PS2 software!

So, with this in mind here are my picks for getting your retro on:

Super Potato

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Super Potato’s a national chain, but their Akiba store is iconic for its tight spaces, range of games, chiptunes blaring over the PA and the arcade on the top floor. The location’s easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for, but you have to run the maid gauntlet to get there. Like many retro shops it’s pretty tight inside, and I didn’t go any further than the third floor as I found all the fun stuff there! There’s loose hardware, games for all the major platforms and some reasonable prices (but again remember – you’re paying for the convenience!). I’d recommend having a look around (do better than me and check the other floors!), price some things up and keep it locked in your head to compare with the other options. When I was there I was able to track some games I couldn’t find anywhere else (such as Fighting Vipers 2 on the DC for a few hundred yen) and grabbed a couple of game guides/artbooks as well. They had some great merchandise there as well – I purchased up a very classy Super Mario pocket chain watch for my brother while I was there!

Mandarake

Mandarake is a behemoth a little further away from the maid gauntlet that features at least 9 floors of amazing stuff. I only dwelled on the bottom floor where all the cool old tin toys were and the game and DVD floor, but it’s an awesome spot (unfortunately I can’t recall which floor!). I found Mandarake was generally a bit cheaper than Super Potato, but not always. They also have an excellent selection of Super Famicom, Mega Drive and Saturn gear, including some stuff in the glass cabinets at what I thought were reasonable prices. The surprise I picked up there was Keio Yugekitai ( Keio Flying Squadron 1) on the Mega CD for under $15 all complete and shiny, and I managed to find the Valis and Monster World games for the PCE there too. The only trick is to not be seduced by the Hard Off store next door – they specialise in amazing audio equipment, but there aren’t any games there.

Book Off

There’s a book off around the opposite exit/entrance from the Akihabara train station you take when you walk around to the main strip that’s also worth a visit. By the time we got to Book Off we were feeling a bit knackered so we didn’t dwell for long, but while the software’s hit and miss it’s not uncommon to find good buys on hardware there.

Of all the places we wandered into, these were the main three I found the best results for retro gaming. I also checked out a couple of the Trader and Liberty stores while I was there, but unfortunately missed the ones in question that are apparently great for retro games – the Trader on Chuo Dori according to Dreamcastgaga (http://www.dcgaga.com/2013/06/guide-to-retro-shopping-in-akihabara.html) is apparently awesome for retro gaming, so I’m a bit bummed I missed it!

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Now, if you’re after stuff that’s a bit newer you have many more choices. The Sofmap on Chuo Dori near the Club Sega arcade has a great selection of used games for PSone, PS2, PS3, DS and PSP on the second floor, and the hardware prices weren’t too bad for Akiba either (snapped up a nice white DS Lite for under $20). I also found a couple of the Sega Ages 2500 series I’d missed on the PS2 at the Trader 2 opposite KFC for reasonable prices as well.

The only other tip I have is to find the Tokyo Anime Centre shop on the second floor of the UDX building near the Akihabara Station (grab the escalators up – it’s opposite the Excelsior Caffe) as they have free English language maps of the area which include most of the places I’ve talked about above. Pair it with a smartphone app that can walk you around the place in offline mode and you’ll be good to go and won’t get lost several times finding something obscure like I did!

While it’s not shopping related, be sure to check out the Club Sega, Taito HEY and Sega GiGo arcades while you’re in Akihabara – they will blow your mind. I had a blast playing Parodius Fantastic Journey, Virtua Fighter 5, Super SF4 AE, Virtual On Oratario Tangram in a DX cab and more while I was there, and the competition locally was awesome (hint: I got owned many, many times!).

That covers it for this first post – I’ll be back next time to talk about Den Den Town/Nipponbashi in Osaka and some general tips about retro game shopping in Japan.

 

Sean Boden can normally be found on his awesome blog – Retro Otaku