9 Places to Explore Japan’s Gaming Culture

Tokyo, neon lights, gaming, sega, Labi Japan

From its top-notch cuisine to its scenic landscapes, there are many layers to Japan. But besides that, a visit to Japan is also the ultimate goal of many gamers. It’s the birthplace of iconic titles such as Mario, Sonic, Pokémon that have influenced the way Western culture consumes gaming media. If you’re looking to check off some locations from your gamer bucket list, here are the best places you need to add on your itinerary.

Recommended: Real-life Video Game Locations in Japan

Electric Town

Anyone who has the tiniest bit of interest in Japanese pop culture has to visit  Akihabara district at least once. There’s so many dedicated gaming stores in the area that there is merchandise for every budget. Here, you’ll find shops selling game consoles, games, and accessories at unbeatable prices. Also there are many arcades where you can play several kinds of arcade games including crane games and rhythm games.

Square Enix Café

If you’re a fan of the Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts, and the award-winning Nier Automata, then you’ll be glad to know that its developer created a café dedicated to them. The Square Enix Café has two branches in Tokyo — in Akihabara and Shinjuku. One of the dishes they serve is the limited-edition Sea Salt Ice Cream — in line with the Kingdom Hearts 3 release in January in 2019.

Square Enix Cafe Tokyo (Akihabara)
Tokyo, Chiyoda City, Kanda Sakumacho, 1 Chome−6-1
Opening hours 9am – 8pm (reservation is required)

Pokémon Centers

There are Pokémon Centers all over Japan, the biggest one is in Sunshine City, Ikebukuro. It is here you can buy lots of merchandise inspired by the beloved franchise — from apparel and homeware, to toys and other lifestyle goods. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a few Pokémon trading card matches they occasionally hold.

pokemon cafe

Also, you can visit Pokémon Cafe in Tokyo! You can have a Pokémon themed food and drink here and you may see the most popular Pokémon of all time, Pikachu greeting the guests at the restaurant. 

Pokémon Cafe
Nihonbashi Takashimaya S.C. East Building 5F 2-11-2 Nihonbashi, Cho City, Tokyo
Opening hours 10:30am – 10:00pm (on a reservation basis)

Pachinko Slot Centers

The rise of game consoles and mobile devices have rendered most arcade games obsolete, but not in this country. According to the Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association, there are more than 4,800 registered arcades across the country in over 9,000 locales.

Every type of arcade game can be found in Japan, but if you truly want to experience Japanese unique culture then you can “try” the pachinko slot machines which date back over 80-years. The goal of the game is to fire tiny balls into gates as this then triggers the release of more balls. An ExpatBets guide to playing pachinko explains that, unlike a regular slot machine, these arcade games don’t produce money. The winnings (in the form of the balls) can be exchanged for prizes. To avoid Japan’s gambling laws, one of the prizes is a TUC gold card which can be converted to cash at certain parlors. If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest game, they operate similarly to Monster Casinos.

Huis Ten Bosch Game Museum

This destination, located in Nagasaki, is Japan’s premier video game museum. It features objects from various eras in gaming history, like consoles from the 1950’s, old arcades, the most recent gaming technologies, and tons of limited-edition paraphernalia that can only be found here. Video games have always been synonymous to Japan, and the Huis Ten Bosch Game Museum provides a good crash course for gamers and non-gamers alike.

Huis Ten Bosch
Opening hours 9am – 9pm (it varies each day)
▶Get an e-ticket for 1-day passport 

Ginza Sony Park

Last year, tech giant and game developer Sony built a four-level building (plus an actual park) smack in the middle of the Ginza district. It features some art exhibitions, and shops and restaurants will come and go.
It will open until the end of September in 2021, and after that it will be closed and renovated for the bigger project which will be completed in 2025. 

Ginza Sony Park
5 Chome-3-1 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo
Opening hours 11am – 7pm

Nintendo HQ

Though Nintendo is famous all over the world, they’re something of a national treasure in Japan. The company is so significant that the Japanese government uses characters like Mario to greet international visitors. Their headquarters are located in the heart of Kyoto. Though you won’t be able to get in since it’s staff-only, it’s enough of a treat to marvel at the structure from the outside.

Nintendo Museum 

Nintendo

In 2024, Nintendo Museum will open in Kyoto renovating the old factory in Uji City. The factory used to be a center of producing playing cards and maintenance for game consoles. 
At the museum, Nintendo’s legendary products and games will be exhibited and the details will soon to be announced.

Sega Towers

Akihabara

This list wouldn’t be complete without something from Nintendo’s long-time rival, Sega. There are at least four of these massive towers in Akihabara, and they are one of the most visited establishments in the district. Inside you’ll find a number of Sega-licensed arcades, merchandise, and gifts from popular Japanese games.

If you are game lovers, you should play these various kinds of games like crane games, music video games and video games at Sega at least one time.

What do you think of gaming culture in Japan? 
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Happy traveling!

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