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Tokyo is a frenetic city. With a population of around 14 million, it is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. So, as you can imagine, there are plenty of options when it comes to entertainment. But for many of its residents, arcades (called game centers in Japan) are a favorite pastime.
Japanese arcades, commonly known as ge-sen and usually located near train stations, they are the epitome of fun mixed with convenience. Gaming centers first appeared in the 1960s, located in movie theaters, department stores, and bowling alleys. They became very popular, even more so in the late 1970s, when the Japanese shooter game space invaders It became a worldwide phenomenon.
Games range from individual games to group games for friends, and typically start at ¥100 per game. Each center has its own vibe, from those with anime music blaring to older, more low-key establishments that still allow occasional smoking. There are centers with the latest virtual reality technology where you can fight zombies, and those with nostalgic arcade games dating back to the 70s and 80s. Players are equally diverse: families, teenagers, young dating couples, foreigners, salarymen (white collar workers), people with disabilities, the elderly, and the list goes on.
Most gaming centers open around 10 or 11 am and you can play until 11 pm or midnight (no need to book in advance). However, minors under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult after 6:00 pm and no minor can enter after 10:00 pm
Once inside the game center, convert your bills into coins at the exchange machine, although some newer establishments also accept some electronic money. If someone is already playing her game of choice, you can search for other games or wait quietly behind them for them to do so. The polite thing is to play once and then give the person waiting their turn. But when it comes to games with prizes like claw machines, people tend to keep playing until they win something, so it might take a while.
Game centers are the perfect place to go if you have time to kill before a date or if you want to relax after work, or even have a little fun after dinner. Here is my pick of the best places to gamble in Tokyo.
GiGO Akihabara 1
1-10-9 SOTOKANDA, CHIYODA-KU, TOKYO 101-0021
Good for: beginners
Not so good for: Those who don’t like anime or manga.
For your information: Open from 10am to 11pm, and games start at ¥100. There are also a few other GiGOs in the area, perfect for a game center crawl.
In the heart of Tokyo, Akihabara, or Akiba, is known as “Electric City.” It is popular with tourists and is packed with cheap electronics stores. But Akiba is also synonymous with otaku culture (geek), and is full of anime shops, “maid cafes” and, of course, game centers.
Most notable are the GiGO gaming centers around Akihabara Station. Previously run by gaming giant Sega, which had been operating them since the early 1990s, the arcades were recently renamed GiGO.
All the usual games are here: claw machines, card games, racing games, and rhythm games, including one of the most popular, Taiko no Tatsujin, which involves a traditional Japanese percussion instrument. The beloved game features a catalog of tracks from the latest in J-pop to classical music and Disney hits like “Let It Go.” The goal is to hit the drum accurately as the notes appear on the screen.
Taito Fuchu Kururu Station
Floor B1, Kururu Mall, 1-50 MIYAMACHI, FUCHU, TOKYO 183-0023
Good for: Parents who want their children to have a great time
Not so good for: Those who do not like noisy and crowded places.
FYI: A smartphone app can be used to call a store associate by scanning the QR code on the gaming machines. Open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and games start at ¥100
This center in a shopping mall on the outskirts of Tokyo specializes in one game in particular: claw machines. With more than 400, it is one of the largest arcades of its kind in the world.
Aisle after aisle, you’ll see claw machines with prizes ranging from BTS dolls, Minecraft swords, Minion plushies, and giant bags of potato chips to practical goods like frying pans, cooler bags, portable phone chargers, and fake security cameras.
After marveling at the sheer scale of the place, you need to head over to the change machine, as you’ll need a large amount of ¥100 coins. Use one of the red cups stacked near you as a makeshift bag and you’re ready to play.
From my own experience, I’ve learned that persistence pays off when it comes to claw machines. But if you’re stuck and having a hard time finding a good strategy, don’t hesitate to ask the employees for help – they’re very friendly and will kindly give you advice on how to get a prize.
Mikado Game Center
4-5-10 TAKADANOBABA, SHINJUKU-KU, TOKYO 169-0075
Good for: Revisiting the games of your childhood
Not so good for: People who don’t like dirty places.
For your information: It has an extremely large Pop-up Pirate game, if you want to try your luck. Open from 10:00 to 24:00 on weekends (and until 23:30 on weekdays). Most games start at ¥50, some at ¥100
Less than a minute’s walk from the Takadanobaba train station is Mikado, a well-known destination among gamers. The place is packed with vintage video games from the ’80s and ’90s, with the upstairs floor taken up almost entirely by fighting games like guilty mechanism Y Street Fighter. There are also shooting games like Dariusrhythm games like beatmania and good old pinball machines.
This place is a treasure trove of iconic games. Despite its worn and strong cigarette smell, it has a mysterious and nostalgic power that makes you want to go back for a chance to go back in time.
Mikado has a relaxed atmosphere and is not very crowded except for tournaments, which gather a few dozen participants and spectators. As the host of these events, it plays a key role in preserving the culture of Japan’s gaming centers and their community. For anyone eager to play classic games, I can’t think of a better place.
Floors 3-5, Decks Tokyo Beach, 1-6-1 DAIBA, MINATO-KU, TOKYO 135-0091
Good for: virtual reality games
Not so good for: Those prone to motion sickness
For your information: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are easy to move around
Admittedly, this is more of an amusement park with game center qualities. But Joypolis, as the largest indoor theme park in Japan, is your best bet for trying out VR gaming.
The most exciting of these is Zero Latency VR, a free-roaming multiplayer. It requires a reservation and is a bit pricey, starting at ¥2,200. You choose from five games, including the adrenaline-charged one undead arenawhich takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where players take part in a live TV show that must shoot down zombies to survive.
After some instructions, he is equipped with a VR headset, a pair of headphones, a 5kg backpack, and an equally heavy weapon. Once the game starts, there is no going back. Zombies will relentlessly attack you from all sides, and you’ll find yourself screaming frantically as you try to aim the gun at their heads. After completing the game, I desperately needed a tissue to wipe off my sweat.
For those looking for less intense options, Joypolis also has more affordable and affordable VR shooters, as well as beat saber, a VR rhythm game. Anyone who is curious about VR gaming or thinking of buying a VR headset can find Joypolis the best place for a trial.
Tell us about your favorite Tokyo gaming hub in the comments!
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