Japan’s importance to gaming really can’t be ignored. After all, it helped turn the industry around after the notorious 1983 market crash, which was caused in part by the woeful ET: The Extra Terrestrial tie-in on Atari, along with a string of rubbish cash cow releases.
Legendary Japanese games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter helped mould the industry into a heavyweight entertainment business, and today, Japan’s capital of Tokyo stands as an energetic hub of all things gaming. Put simply – if you’re a gamer, you have to visit the city at least once in your lifetime.
Virgin Atlantic caught up with some of the UK’s best game critics to get their recommendations on the gaming attractions you have to check out while on holiday in Tokyo.
Welcome to Akihabara, the Electric Town
Akihabara is a district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, and it stands proud as a haven of game and geek culture. Around the district’s main street Chuo Dori, you’ll find bustling arcades, technology stores rammed full of gadgets, as well as cafes and pubs based on popular gaming franchises. Don’t be surprised to see some of the locals walking around dressed as their favourite game character either.
Wesley Yin-Poole is News Editor at major game site Eurogamer, and he’s certainly no stranger to Tokyo’s gaming delights. “If you love games you’ll love Akihabara, or as everyone in the know calls it, Electric Town,” he tells us. “It is at its core a long, long high street, with discount electronic stores squeezed onto each side.”
“In classic Tokyo style, the stores are narrow but tall, and those that focus on video games are packed to bursting with anything and everything you could possibly hope for. Keep going up, and up, and up. You never know what you might find. While in Electric Town, you must visit Go Potato, perhaps the best second hand retro video game shop in the world. It’s ever so slightly off the tourist trail, but well worth the effort.
If you have Yen to spare, you might find it disappearing quickly, thanks to the towering Radio Kaikan department store, which is filled with games, manga, anime, movies, digital cameras and everything a tech-savvy traveller needs under one roof. There are many local stores like this that are packed with rare treasures, so the only downside is having enough suitcase space to ferry all your goodies on the flight back home.
Games editor at The Guardian Keith Stuart agrees, and adds, “Akihabara is a key destination. Stores like Super Potato and Media Land have thousands of new and retro video games that you simply will not find anywhere else but Japan.”
“This is also where you’ll find the big arcades,” he adds. “Many have closed down in recent years, but Club Sega and Taito HEY are still around and a must-see, even if you don’t play anything yourself, you’re bound to see a group of super-skilled semi pro gamers showing off their skills.”
There are few places in the world that gamers can go to steep themselves in such a rich game culture. Whether you fancy taking on the locals at Tekken or Street Fighter at an Akihabara arcade, or simply shop around for cute Pokémon plushies and detailed action figures, you don’t have to look far to get your fill.
Shibuya’s cultural delights
The district of Shibuya is another of Tokyo’s key cultural hubs. It’s perhaps a little more up-market than Akhibara, thanks to the green splendour of Yoyogi Park and its endless sea of fashion boutiques, but if you’re serious about Japanese gaming, it’s an essential stop on your tour. You’ll find it just a half hour drive West of Akihabara, or you can take a quick train on the Yamanote Line.
Stuart continues, “Exploring Tokyo is like exploring the history of video games – the city is alive with technology. Wandering over the Shibuya crossing, looking up at the vast video screens fronting every futuristic skyscraper is like actually being in a sci-fi game. The whole cyber punk aesthetic that has dominated science-fiction game design for the past 30 years is inspired by Tokyo architecture, culture and style.”
Shibuya is regarded to be the birthplace of Tokyo youth culture, thanks to its trendy fashion, buzzing nightclubs and artistic passion. From the plays of Kanze Noh Theatre – which was erected in 1901 – to the Toguri Museum of Art, there’s plenty to see across the district if you need a break from pixels and polygons.
But what if you need a quick bite to eat? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that Tokyo offers a range of themed restaurants, such as the Gundam Café in Akihabara (which is based on popular anime series Mobile Suit Gundam), a trendy bar themed around the harrowing RPG franchise Dark Souls, and Luida’s Dragons Quest bar in Roppongi
Food, drink and”¦ zombies?
Yin-Poole tells us about his own personal favourite, and explains, “When you’re hungry, check out the Capcom Bar in Shinjuku. It’s a restaurant mashed up with the Japanese company’s favourite games, from Street Fighter to Resident Evil, Monster Hunter to Ace Attorney. The menu is inspired by Capcom’s games, but the best of all, so are the staff.
“So, if you order the Biohazard (Resident Evil) Steak, your enthusiastic waiter will shake your plate and scream, as if the meat is coming back to life. Then, another equally enthusiastic waiter will rush over, blowtorch in hand, to put an end to the uprising. All this right in front of you, at your table, quintessentially Tokyo.”
If the thought of being attacked by a zombie steak makes your stomach turn a little, then you’ll be pleased to know that both Akihabara and Shibuya have plenty of roadside and indoor eateries offering a wide range of Japanese delights. For added gaming fun, you should seek out one of the many pubs that have game consoles actually embedded into the tables. We’re sure you’ll agree that few things beat a round of Super Mario World while slurping down a big bowl of fresh ramen noodles.
So, there you have it travellers and game fans, if Tokyo isn’t already etched into your ultimate list of holiday destinations, then you should make a point of adding it now. Virgin Atlantic offers a range of flights to Tokyo, and while there, not only are you visiting a technologically advanced, digitally switched-on hub, you’re in the midst of videogame history and royalty alike.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article, which includes our guide to Tokyo Game Show 2014, which is set to take the city by storm from September 18th to the 21st. We’re also giving you a chance to win some serious game prizes as well, so you won’t want to miss it.