A beginner's guide to Japanese Arcades

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You are walking down the busy streets of Akihabara Tokyo and you‘ve crossed several of those enticing video game Arcade venues already. A flood of sounds and music and a whole world of flashing lights pique your interest, but then the anxiety is kicking in: what will I do in there? How to behave? Can I make at all?

Well, fear not dear reader, for we are going to bring you up to speed.

Akihabara Streets Tokyo


Once you enter an Arcade in japan, the sensory overload is real. So it is good to have clear first goal in mind: get change! In order to play those devilish machines, you will have to feed them coin – generally it is 100¥ for a game (around 0,80€), some older games might only cost you 50¥, while some extraordinary spectacles can be 200¥. As with most needs in Japan, you will find a vending machine that takes care of the job in the area. If you are planning to spend some serious time (and money) here, there are cups provided for your huge amounts of coin the machine will spit out.

The next thing you will want to do is get an overview of the location: a lot of Arcades have multiple floors, each floor designated to a certain genre of gaming. Once you know your way around it is time to dive in.

Japanese Arcades


Shooting stuff is one of the most basic and easy to understand things in video games - so why not start there. A lot of Arcades will feature light gun games, in which you will actually point a gun at the screen to shoot the monsters or terrorist or whatever comes in front of your gun. Make sure to figure out how to reload (and maybe try not to shoot the hostage) and you are very likely in for a ton of fun. Look out for classics like „The House of Dead“ or „Virtua Cop“.

If you are still feeling a little exposed there are even some shooting games, where you can sit in a little booth with curtains – so nobody will judge your skills.

Fighting Games

Now that you‘ve got your blood pumping the next logical step has to be a close and personal fist fight, right? There are tons of fighting game cabinets in Japan‘s Arcades and some games might even be familiar from your childhood days like Street Fighter II – a game that is 30 years old ans still alive and kicking (pun intended). Now here is the single most important survival tip: if you are playing a fighting game in an Arcade watch out for the cabinet that is on the other side of your screen. Other players can join in on your game and beat the living hell out of you. And they will probably do so. Like, real hard. But only in game of course. It‘s till humiliating – especially if you think you know the game from your childhood days.

Rhythm Games

Speaking of humiliation: the top tier class of „games you will probably fail in“ has to be the vast world of rhythm based Arcade machines. If you look around the rhythm game floor of any given Arcade in Japan you will see pure skill everywhere: schoolgirls dancing in unison on foot mats to pumping J-Pop Beats, a cool guy with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and an unimpressed look on his face hitting 1000 notes a minute on bongo drums without a miss or the same guy perfectly playing the hardest version of guitar hero you can think of only a minute later. If you believe, that you won‘t get impressed by gaming skills – you will probably reconsider your entire world view here.

So how could you ever measure up against those demigods? Well, you can‘t. But that doesn‘t mean, there is no fun to be had here. Actually all of those games have easy modes and some even tutorials and once you get the hang of it even a little, the experience of playing through a song and hitting the right notes at the right time is one of the most rewarding gaming experiences you will find. Whether it is real dancing, drumming, pushing lit up buttons, scratching on a fake turntable or shooting zombies to the rhythm and melody of the Super Mario theme song – there should be a machine tailored to your preferences somewhere.


You might think with all those electronics around eating and drinking might be prohibited in Arcades – but surprisingly it is absolutely not. You will find vending machines stuffed with sodas, iced tea, beer and coffee cans, but also all sort of snacks and sometimes even ice cream – and it is quite alright to bring all of that to the next Arcade machine and dine in style. For the longest time it was even common to smoke in Arcades, though that might be changing with the Japan‘s recent ban on indoor smoking.

Back home

Suffice it to say Arcades in Japan are there to provide you with a great time. It might be challenging here and there, but it is well worth the trouble. Now the biggest challenge for you might be, that you are actually not walking around the streets of Akihabara right now, but instead are being locked inside your apartment and the idea of being in a far away country in a cramped, noisy and sweaty Arcade seems more like a feverish dream than a possible reality, then here is the next best thing you can do:

Dig up your old home console system and get some Japanese beverages like Asahi Super Dry Beer or Pokka Houjicha Roasted Tea and couple that with some snacks like Koikeya Teriyaki Potato Chips or Tennen Koubo Pan Hokkaido-Creme and make yourself comfortable at home. Shoryuken!

Written by guest author Malte Weingart

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