There has been a lot of talk recently of the decline of the retro game scene in Japan, particulary with regards to the now famous Super Potato in Akihabara. Where once the shelves were bursting with old software, now they are looking noticeably less full, especially with regards to systems such as the PC Engine. But Tokyo is not the be all and end all of Japan, much less one shop in one district. What is it like looking for retro games outside of the capital?
I arrived in Fukuoka in 2012. It’s the largest city on Kyushu, the sixth largest city in Japan surpassing Kyoto and is actually closer to Seoul than Tokyo. When I first arrived, I made great use of the excellent famicom blog to help discover new places, but even by that point many of the blog posts were sadly out of date and the stores had ceased trading. He goes into great detail in a post made at the start of this year explaining this decline.
Although the scene is clearly not as vibrant as it once was, there is still a lot to see and discover, especially if you aren’t trying to find anything specific.
Dedicated game shops
In Fukuoka, Mandarake is the closest thing to a large dedicated game shop we have. It doesn't deal solely in games, but also in used manga, toys and DVDs usually with a geeky focus. If you want to find something that wasn't made by Nintendo or Sony, here is your best chance as they stock consoles and software from MSX to 3DO. Behind the glass cabinet, they keep the high ticket items - rare games, limited edition hardware and promotional goods.
The prices are generally a bit higher than other avenues, but they're usually well organized and each item is graded with regards to the quality of the game, box and manual, so you know exactly what you're getting.
You can also get guides and magazines from earlier days too, just in case you really want to live it up pre-internet style but a famicom game has you stumped.
How many different systems can you spot?
Note the Star Wars Xbox 360 with Kinect nestled away at the bottom and a wireless SNES pad by Konami in the bottom right!
You could pay for a cheap apartment’s rent for the cost of Super Mario Bros. Game and Watch. Neat box though.
I’m always impressed at the amount of Game and Watch devices in box they have.
Some of the higher cost Famicom games.
A sleepy Amarterasu rests under a cherry blossom tree. Clearly partied too hard at hanami.
Who knew Japanese GameBoy boxes were so small?
Video rental shops
DVD rental shops are still in abundance in Japan. Recently, streaming services have started making headway with Netflix joining Hulu last year, but the physicals stores are still standing for now at least. Due to laws passed in the mid 80s regarding copyright, you can freely rent movies and music while game rentals are effectively prohibited. You can still find used and new games for sale here though, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, it will reach back further than PS3 and DS.
Amiibo shortage? What Amiibo shortage?
Playstation, GameCube and GBA sitting nicely next to Xbox 360.
Surprisingly, you can still rent CDs from these places too. Better yet, some of the bigger stores even have a section for game soundtracks.
It’s 2016 and I can’t decide which Zelda soundtrack to rent.
Book off (or its unfortunately named brother, Hardoff) is a used goods shop that mostly focuses on media, but bigger stores also have old furniture and clothes. Prices are pretty good and can vary between branch to branch but what is available is a mix. The bigger the store, the more likely it is to have older games, but there’s no guarantee it will go beyond the last generation. The retro game section may also have it’s own ghetto, tucked away separately in the electronics section away from the current generation games, so make sure you look in the household section too.
The bigger stores sometimes carry the label of ‘Eco Mall’ in a flimsy attempt to justify their existence for environmental reasons.
To whoever decided to group the Famicom carts by colour, I salute you.
It’s not as neat and tidy as Mandarake, but that makes digging all the more fun.
Gameboy games with no box that sorely need a home.
Can’t store your GameCube in just any old box, can you?
What’s better than finding Independence Day on LaserDisc? Finding two Independence Days on LaserDisc!
While you’re here, take a look at the toys, soundtrack CDs and manga. A lot of the manga is old and yellowed, but considering a lot of it was cheaply produced over twenty years ago, it's not bad for the price.
If they have game music, they have Final Fantasy.
They can’t all be hits.
Or a little Super Mario-Kun? This version of Mario was recently added to Mario Maker.
Recycle shops and markets
Recycle shops, generally, are a bit of a mess. Here you’ll mostly find old furniture and electronics but occasionally you’ll find a small pocket of games. Usually they’re nothing to write home about (think sports, shogi and mahjong games) but you never know what you’ll stumble across, and you can get some real bargains.
In a paper bag sitting clumsily to the side of games, a pre-Mario Nintendo made pong clone.
The prices can get pretty crazy.
I apologise if these images give you the urge to tidy up.
A PS2 with an HDD for recording TV. Hairbrush sold separately.
Baskets full of controllers for cheap if you’re willing to do a little digging.
Famicom games - I’m sure there’ll be nothing worth having in there…
A pretty good section!
I’m going to start my own Pokemon casino.
If you’re heading to Japan, it pays to do your research first if you want something specific. But if you just want to admire old collections and the odd item you weren’t even aware existed, keep an eye out and you never know what you may stumble upon!
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