Whether you're a fan of video games, anime, J-pop, film, or anything else, you owe it to yourself to visit it at least once. It's not a cheap place to get to, but you're bound to make memories that will last a lifetime. Maybe you've recently been trawling through its streets in Yakuza, or have spent hundreds of hours living a rural life in Persona 4, but I'm willing to bet you've always been curious as to what it's really like, right?
The answer is that it's pretty darn cool, and unlike anywhere else on earth. Everyone knows about the most obvious pilgrimage sites for geeks, be they Shibuya Crossing, the arcades of Shinjuku, or the Tokyo Game Show, but there are tons upon tons of places that you probably don't know about. In this article, we've pulled together a list of lesser-known, but equally awesome places and purchases that you should add to your bucket list. Whether you want to pick up rare video games, buy vintage systems, visit a cafe that's decked with anime memorabilia, go to probably the coolest arcade in the world, or eat a video game themed cake, you'll find out where you can do that, and what you should buy, on this list. Have you been to Japan and think we've missed something? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
25 Pokémon Centers
Are you a fan of Pokémon? For many people, including myself, they were their first real foray into RPGs, and maybe you want to show your love for the franchise with a pilgrimage. You can find Pokémon Centers across Japan, with the largest located in Ikebukuro, and another great one at the Tokyo Skytree. What will you find within? Acres and acres of Pokémon merch, food, drink, plushes, and more. You're very unlikely to find one outside of Japan anytime soon, so bring plenty of cash.
24 Tetris For The Genesis
If you want to talk about rarities, they don't come much rarer than Tetris for the Genesis. What makes it so rare, you ask? Well, Sega fell into legal issues, since their version of the game...wasn't licensed, and Nintendo got the exclusive rights to release their unlicensed version instead. Yeah. As such, it never got an official release, but some copies managed to sneak themselves out of the factory, with ten (count 'em!) copies thought to be floating around. Just how much would you have to pay for one of these? Well, up to 16,000 dollars. Get saving!
23 Full-Sized Cars In Arcades
Japan does do arcades like nowhere else. If you want to grab a seat in a full-size car and race your way through twisty tracks, go to Tokyo Joypolis. Here, you’ll find Initial D Arcade Stage 4, where you can do just that! This is a particularly good opportunity for European games, as this machine has never made its way to Europe. It should also be noted that Tokyo Joypolis is also full of a catalog of other games, each worth your time and yen.
22 The Nintendo 64DD
This add-on for the Nintendo 64 expanded data storage, and featured a real-time clock for persistent games. While it was a commercial failure, it was one with a lot of potential. The 64DD featured an online service, Randnet, and a modem cartridge, alongside a host of first and third-party games. Titles available include Doshin the Giant 1, Sim City 64, and the F-Zero X Expansion Kit. Unfortunately, Nintendo failed to capitalize on what it could have been, making it a classic commercial flop.
21 Super Potato: A Video Game Museum
Another incredible store located in Akihabra, this location is legendary with gamers around the world. If you want to explore what is essentially a video game museum (complete with life-sized Naked Snake statue), but one where you can purchase the exhibits, you cannot afford to miss Super Potato. The only sad part about visits there these days is that the throne made from Famicom cartridges appears to have disappeared of late. Regardless, this place is famous with geeks all around the world, and there's a good reason for that.
20 Massive Arcades
While video game arcades may have somewhat collapsed in the rest of the world, they’re still big in Japan. The Yakuza franchise has made Club Sega famous, but there’s another location well worth visiting: Taito Station. You'll find these scattered around the country. Enter, and you'll be met with an electronic paradise. The games are many and varied, from classics to the latest and greatest, and are always priced very reasonably. A great way to while away the afternoon, a bustling arcade is an experience that, today, you'll only find in Japan.
19 A VR Theme Park
Want to try VR but can’t muster up the money for a headset? Should you find yourself in Tokyo, head over to VR Park in Shibuya, one of the country’s first VR theme parks. Here you can strap on a headset and flail to your heart’s content. It's based on the fourth floor of the Adores Shibuya arcade, so you can have some fun on the way in and way out. Two warnings before you go: if you get motion sick, I would highly recommend you don't go, and it's fairly expensive, costing 3300 yen on the door.
18 Kunio-Kun's Dodgeball Tournament Special
This game was released back in 1987 in the west too, but here it was known as Super Dodgeball. What's so special about the Japanese version, you ask? Well, it was the second game to feature Technos Japan's character Kunio-Kun, also featured in their version of Renegade, Nekketsu Koha Kunio-Kun. While the base game is not super rare in Japan, the Tournament Special absolutely is: coming on a gold cartridge and featuring special tweaks, the game can fetch prices of 98000 yen.
17 Try Resident Evil Cakes At Capcom Bar
Located in Shinjuku, this place is incredible. It’s a Western-style restaurant that serves food and drinks related to Capcom games, including Resident Evil cakes, and Devil May Cry pizza. Unlike many places in Japan, the bar takes credit cards, and many of the staff also speak decent English. Weapon replicas on the walls, consoles to play, and good food and drink...what more could the well-traveled geek want? It's a perfect place to rest up after a long day of gaming, shopping, and exploration.
16 44 Sonic
Do you enjoy a drink? Are you a nerd? If you said yes to both of these, then you owe it to yourself to go to 44 Sonic. Located three minutes from JR Asagaya Station’s north exit, the bar is run by a former film director who has dedicated the place to anime and film. There’s regular karaoke, and they’ll make you a drink based on any anime character of your choice. It's a popular place for foreigners, so get there in plenty of time, and be sure to enjoy your stay.
15 Universal Studios Japan
In Universal Studios Japan, in Osaka, they’re hosting a really cool event this year, Universal Cool Japan 2018, celebrating Final Fantasy, Monster Hunter, Sailor Moon, and more. On top of all the awesome permanent rides there, you can experience the Final Fantasy XR ride, and ride a VR coaster where you'll find yourself immersed in Cloud and Sephiroth's epic battle, or enjoy a mystery alongside your dinner at the Detective Conan Live Mystery Restaurant. Pick up a 1.5-day pass, and spend a day and a half of your holiday enjoying this incredible park.
14 A Unique Arcade In Kawasaki Warehouse
If you’re looking for a unique arcade experience, you need to hit up the Kawasaki Warehouse. This place is modeled after the Kowloon Walled City, a cramped, crazy, self-sustaining apartment complex previously located in Hong Kong. This amazing arcade attempts to replicate it, with seedy areas on the lower levels, an entrance to a triad hideout, stores, arcades, grimy bathrooms, and more. It may sound weird, but that’s part of its charm. Whether you’re into gaming or social history, this place is well worth a look.
13 The 8-Bit Cafe
If you want to relive the ultimate in 90s Japanophilia, you need to go to the 8-Bit Cafe. You can find this place in Shinjuku. Toys and figurines are piled high, there’s a larger-than-life Game Boy, and a menu inspired by 90s video games. It's fairly hard to find, hidden in the depths of the district, but if you can get yourself some directions, you'll find a retro paradise. You can play as many games as you want for a 500 yen cover charge, and sometimes, you'll be serenaded by a DJ who sources music direct from a Game Boy!
12 The Panasonic Q
This is the aforementioned GameCube/DVD player combo. It was only released in Japan, where it hit the shelves in 2001. It was the result of a rare decision by Nintendo to license their console tech out to a third party. The DVDs were front-loaded, and it featured a pretty cool-looking, if plain, steel chassis. It was only produced until 2003, when it was canned because of low sales figures. If you want a unique curio from your visit, try and pick one up.
11 Book Off: Used Famicom Games By The Truckload
Famicoms are hard enough to find outside of Japan, their games even moreso. If you find yourself in Akihabara, get thee to Book Off, where you’ll find an entire first floor dedicated to the system’s catalog. The store also sells tons of Super Famicom games and those of more recent systems. You'll also be able to nab a ton of second-hand books and anime figurines. The prices of Famicom games are pretty low, with some costing as little as 100 yen, so it is well worth a look!
10 Tokyo Bus Guide
Want something sedate to play while you listen to podcasts at night? The Japanese have you covered. They’ve had games like this for years, but Tokyo Bus Guide is one of the most noteworthy. Released on the Dreamcast, the game gives you the opportunity to drive around Tokyo extremely slowly and efficiently. It's actually a fairly decent game, somewhat similar to the Omsi series, but with a solidly Japanese tint to its style. If you're a fan of weird video games, pick a copy up while you're there.
9 Sega Tower
Got money burning a hole in your pocket? My advice: don’t go here if you haven’t. The tower in Akihabara is full of capsule toy machines and tons of games. You’re going to spend a lot of money here. Situated across six floors, this is a next-level arcade (see what I did, there?) Be forewarned though: many of the players here will be all too ready to kick your butt, with many of them having arcade skills long since lost in the west. Think you can take them on? Only one way to find out.
8 Nakano Broadway
Speaking of pilgrimages: if you’re a fan of gaming and anime, you owe it to yourself to go to Nakano Broadway. A fantastic shopping complex that’s just five minutes on the train from Shinjuku, if you want just about anything, you can find it here. There are floors dedicated to anime and idol collectibles, tons of video game stores, merch, and more. If you want something else, on the ground floor you can pick up clothes, shoes, second-hand stuff, and more.
7 Nintendo Headquarters
It’s hard to think of any gaming companies that have had as much of an impact on the industry as Nintendo. Over the years they’ve had their ups and downs, but they’re legendary for a reason. If you’re visiting Kyoto (and you should, it’s a very cool city), go have your picture taken by their monolithic building. You’d be a fool not too, if you’re there. Sadly, they don't do any tours or have a museum, but get a picture anyway, even if it is just for nerdy bragging rights!
6 A-Button, The Otaku Experience
As we said, Nintendo, like many Japanese corporations, don’t really do museums. That being said, this unassuming looking bar in Taito is as close to one as you’ll get. The bar is decorated with countless controllers, rarities including a Japan-only Gamecube/DVD player combo, a PSP that’s used as a jukebox, a Dreamcast development kit, and more! Oh, and as we said, it’s a bar, so you can have some delicious drinks and snacks while staring lovingly at this rare, vintage gear.
5 Extraordinarily Pricey Games
Collectibles can get expensive, and video games are no exception. Sift through Japanese game stores and you can find, for example, copies of Kunio-Kun’s Dodgeball for the Super Famicom priced at 950 dollars, a copy of Game Freak, the zine from which grew the developers of the same name, for 65 dollars, and rare Virtual Boy games like Virtual Lab for 800 dollars. If you fancy an investment, do some research before you go: some of these games, while expensive in Japan, are worth even more in the West.
4 World Class Cosplay
Cosplay is an art form, and if you want to see it done at its best, Japan is the place to go. If you want to buy costumes, you can go to Don Quijote, a discount store in Akihabara, which also sells tons of collectibles! If you don’t want to have to put the effort in yourself, you can hit up ON STAGE, a bar dedicated to cosplay. Tokyo is probably the cosplay capital of the world, and a fantastic place to pick up some tips for your next costume!
3 The Famicom Disk System
Using floppy disks on a NES seems frankly bizarre, right? Well, in Japan, it was a reality. The device was called a RAM adapter, and was plugged into the system's cartridge port, with the system containing a whopping 32KB of RAM! The disks were double-sided, with many games requiring the player to flip them over halfway through, while some longer games took up two whole disks. Fun fact: Square almost bankrupted themselves by financing an unsuccessful publishing deal with Japanese software companies.
2 The Satellaview
Seeming like a peripheral from the year 3000, this add-on for the SNES would stream and decode games broadcast via satellite. Technically a satellite modem, it cost an absolute fortune at the time, with an MSRP of 18000 yen, or 200 dollars. The users would plug it into the cartridge slot and would then connect to the St. GIGA satellite network, and during broadcast time, could download games to the device's internal memory. Sadly, it lacked the revolutionary feature of multiplayer, due to satellite broadcasts' one-way setup.
1 The Sufami Turbo
Another product of a rare third-party deal with Nintendo, the Sufami Turbo is a weird machine. It was produced by Bandai, and affixed to the top of the Super Famicom. Effectively, it was a cost saving measure for Bandai, as it allowed them to create their own, smaller cartridges, circumventing Nintendo's production process. A total of 13 games were released for the system, so again, hardly a huge success. If you can get your hands on one and a couple of games for it though, you should; they make interesting collector's items.