I imagine that Nipponbashi is what Akihabara used to look like before it became charmingly gaudy. While it isn’t as welcoming to tourists and there probably aren’t as many stores in the area, it’s home to a couple of great stores that are worth a burn – another Super Potato, and Game Tanteidan. The trick to getting to the recommended stores is to actually get off a stop earlier on the way to Nipponbashi – jump on the Sakaisuji Line and get off at Ebisucho Station, follow the signs to Exit 1-B and your stores are a few metres to the right. Credit to Sebaatori’s excellent guide (http://sebaattori.larksnest.org/?p=329) for pointing this out!
I explored two floors at Game Tanteidan – the bottom was comprised a massive selection of Famicom carts, a good selection of Super Famicom games, boxed carts, stacks of Saturn and some Dreamcast games as well. There was likely more in there but I ended up hitting the Famicom and Saturn sections the most, then glanced around at some Super Famicom games as well. The place was well-stocked, but the biggest issue I had was time – my hiragana and katakana is a bit slow which made the process a bit time-consuming as it often leaves you pulling games out a little to get an idea of what the title is. When you consider the volume of titles there, it quickly adds up!
The prices were definitely cheaper than Akiba at Game Tanteidan, and there were a couple of well-priced goodies I passed up since I was being mindful of luggage allowances (such as a boxed pair of Saturn Twin Sticks for all under $15!). I’m sure they had other systems on that bottom floor to check through (and I didn’t get around to looking at the boxed games either), the above is what I was hunting for at this stage, hence the push. Prices ranged from as low as ¥100, and I think the most expensive stuff I was picking up where around ¥3000 (I think Soukyougurentai was around this price, but was probably a bit cheaper…). Handy were the Megaman X games – grabbed all three for easily under ¥3000 for the lot, which is much cheaper than the US and PAL prices!
After building up a huge stock of games downstairs I then quickly dashed upstairs on a whim – the second floor is dominated by game guides, art books and OSTs and probably other merch. My intuition proved on the mark as I was able to snap up the Phantasy Star Compendium in minty condition (complete with dust cover and obi!) for around $30 via the display cabinet. I didn’t spend much time looking around, but there were stacks of goodies up there as well.
In the same vicinity as Game Tanteidan is the Nipponbashi Super Potato. I only jumped to the second floor when I visited, but it looked like the ground floor was filled with more current releases (PS2, Gamecube, PS3, Xbox, DS, 3DS, Wii) if you’re so inclined. I actually found Super Potato a bit easier to navigate as they had more stock facing label-first to help identify games (particularly helpful for Super Famicom and Famicom carts, as the latter have no labels on the top and the latter are known for whacky text!). They also had a cool little bargain bin towards the back where I picked up a stack of cheapies, such as Godzilla Generations on the DC, Sailor Moon complete for the Game Gear and a pile of other gear for ¥100 each! They also had a Super Famicom running Super Mario Kart where a couple of fellow gaijin were having a gaming session, so that was cool too. While I was there I grabbed a few games out of the display case too (Radiant Silvergun complete sans obi in stunning condition for around $70 was probably the best buy), a DC light gun for a relative pittance and plenty of Famicom carts too (including all the Super Mario Bros games for reasonable prices too).
There are a couple of Sofmaps in Nipponbashi – the one you want to check out is on the same side of the road as Super Potato and Game Tanteidan, they’re all within a couple of metres of each other if memory serves. This Sofmap apparently used to be great for retro gaming, but when we went there they’d reduced everything to a handful of square tubs with everything chucked inside without much method to the madness. If you have time it can be worth a shot – I picked up Virtua Cop 1 and 2 for ¥100 each and they were both minty, but cut my losses time-wise as we hadn’t hit the other stops on this retro shopping trip by that stage (good decision – time was better spent elsewhere).
There are apparently a few other stores still selling retro games in Nipponbashi, but the three above are your best bang for buck if you’re restricted time/transport wise. Prices on the whole were about 20% cheaper than Akiba in general, so if you’re planning on visiting both I’d recommend spending up in Osaka before burning your leftover cash in Akiba. It’s also worthwhile keeping in mind that Nipponbashi isn’t anywhere near as gaijin-friendly compared to Akihabara, but it makes up for that with some selections of gear a stone’s throw away from the train station. As an extra bonus, if you’re experience is anything like ours you’ll have easy access to coin lockers so you can put your stash of games away safely and enjoy taking in the sights, food and drinks in Osaka while you’re in the city.
General shopping tips
I’ve only touched on some of the spots to have fun shopping for retro gear as this really is only scratching the surface. Probably the most prolific chain I found were Book Off stores dotted around the place. Book Off were great for filling in gaps in the PS2 and PSone collection (I bought a ridiculous number of games for only ¥100, all in excellent condition), and they also had a healthy supply of current-gen games, including handhelds, if you’re so inclined.
Finding other systems was a bit hit and miss though. I snapped up some Famicom games from the one in Shibuya, and for those travelling with fashion-inclined companions, the Shibuya Book Off sits atop a second hand designer clothing outlet called Bingo (so if you’re travelling companion[s] enjoy clothes shopping, it’s a great combo); the cook-your-own yakisoba restaurant opposite it was also delicious and fun (so everyone wins)! Just follow the sign pointing towards BookOff that also advertises Mister Kebab.
The big Book Off I visited in Kyoto I found by wandering through the Nishiki markets and over a couple of bridges (all at night, but it made for some great photos!), where I snapped up only one or two non-PSone titles for reasonable prices, and I was able to get a cheap copy of Auto Modellista in the Book Off in one of the malls via Dotounburi in Osaka (they had a complete/boxed Virtua Cop 2 with gun set for the Saturn there for a pittance!). There’s a sizeable Book Off in Hiroshima’s CBD on the main street on the right if you’re heading away from the train station (after the Hondori Street mall) that had some good buys too. Stock varies and the non-mainstream gear is always a gamble, but it’s fun to have a look. Book Off also have game art books as well for sale – find the anime section and they’ll be in there, potentially sandwiched between some soft-core porn (BTW, there’s stacks of porn in Japan too, you’ll be surprised/bemused by how much you come across!).
The only other chain store I checked out was a Geo in Nara near the train station, but the selection there was purely mainstream gear (apparently they used to stock retro games, but cleared out the old stock a couple of years back). Again, I was able to snap up some more PSone titles there so it wasn’t for naught.
Hard Off is often referred to as a holy grail of sorts, and they can be great places to find hardware bargains. The trade-off is time however – it takes time (and train fares) to head to the various Hard Off stores in the cities, and if your schedule’s pressed you have to weigh up if it’s worth it. We had plenty we wanted to cram into the trip so we left the Hard Offs as an optional quest. If time’s not an issue, it can’t hurt to give them a look to see what’s out there.
By extension, there are some amazing retro shops dotted around the place that are a bit out of the way, and that’s often where your bargains will kick in. Hollo at Super Gaijin Ultra Gamer (http://www.supergaijinultragamer.org) has posted some amazing photo blogs of some of his local haunts, and Yakumo of Segagaga Domain/Retro Core fame (http://www.segagagadomain.com/) has posted amazing undercover secret agent videos of some excellent places to go shopping. Given they’re away from the major urban centres, it (as always) comes down to time and money. If you’re going through/staying, have time to kill and access to transport, then these can always be worth a look in. If you don’t, then you’ll need to weigh up if it’s worth the time or money to head out there. Keep an eye out for recycle stores and anything plugging second hand goods too – don’t expect you’ll get a bargain every time, but it may not hurt to poke your head in for a look.
I went into the trip with two things – a list of games I was after (thus to avoid just buying anything/everything I saw) and an idea on the average eBay price for said games, especially the pricier ones. Both helped tremendously with retro shopping as it kept the haul from getting too big to manage along with all the other stuff we bought during the trip, and meant that in the early phase of the trip I could work out if it was worthwhile picking the game up then and there or if it’d pay to wait a bit. When it came time to packing everything in the suitcase, I took advantage of wrapping the games up in batches using the UFO catcher bags in abundance in Sega arcades. Kept everything in order during the tip home!
For those curious, we spaced the trip so we spent a couple of days in Tokyo, a few days in Kyoto, overnight in Hiroshima (that’s the only regret – would have loved more time in Hiroshima, it’s an amazing city), a few nights in Osaka then back to Tokyo for a few more days before jetting home. I didn’t buy much in the way of games in the first stint in Tokyo, then slowly added to the pile from Book Offs and other stores on the way to Osaka, went nuts in Nipponbashi, then burned the last of the cash in the return trip to Tokyo.
Thus ends the shopping posts, but we’re not over yet! Two more are on the way – the first will look at some of the fun stuff we got up to in Japan (including some places we wanted to visit but ran out of time), and the final entry in this series will cover some general tips on getting by when visiting the country.