2018 Spring Nora Walsh-Battle Temple Japan Temple Semester

anthropology of the arcade

IMG-2404A moment of stillness in a usually hectic arcade.

One quintessential Japanese institution that I’ve, shockingly, come to love in my time abroad is the arcade. Growing up, I was never one for video games of any sort; there are no discarded cartridges for Mario Kart or Grand Theft Auto in my attic, my feet have never rested upon the glowing platform of a Dance, Dance, Revolution rig. At one point, I came to possess a secondhand GameBoy but I barely burned through a full charge before passing it on to a younger relative. I knew distantly that arcades, and gaming in general, were fairly popular in Japan due to the large number of franchises developed in the country as well as the populace’s need for an outlet after long days at the office, but didn’t think much more of it.

IMG-2415A friend who is less remedial and subsequently more enthusiastic about arcades that I am on any given day.

For all the misrepresentations of Tokyo in Western media (looking at you, Sofia Coppola), one thing they truly get right is the endless sea of neon that overtakes the city after dark. Signs, in both Latin characters and the various Japanese alphabets, are stacked one on top of the other on every street corner, the same chains frequently recurring and thus burned into memory. Karaoke joints are prominent in every part of the city, and though by this point I’ve become partial to Uta Hiroba (which translates to something like “songs for all,” I believe), another chain’s red-lettering against a cerulean backdrop always jumps out at me. Second place to karaoke signs, although not as widespread, are those for arcades.


In Japan, multi-story arcades are the norm, a far cry from their American cousins which, in my limited exposure, seem to be more or less a single, grotto-like room. Many are open twenty-plus hours a day with brief cleaning intervals, and in some cases offer their visitors the option to enjoy full meals, aged whiskey, and rental pajamas, without moving more than ten feet from their console of choice. On my first arcade visit, to a mega-complex in Akihabara, I had thought coming at 11 am on a Tuesday would guarantee me a relatively calm introduction to the concept, with few fellow customers interrupting my picture-taking. I was wrong: already salarymen on their lunch break dominated the pachinko floor and patrons were arriving by the minute, 7-11 bags stuffed to the brim with energy drinks and onigiri. Having trekked out there, I played a few games with varying success and hit the road before I had the chance to witness any fights over the single Pac-Man machine.

Many arcades have themes and, according to a reliable source, tend to attract less serious gamers and more tourists. In turning my research to those arcades, I discovered (on my very first google search; again, I’m not into gaming) what has become my personal favorite, Anata No Arcade.

IMG-2919Most doors in Anata No Arcade open automatically and are accompanied by sound effects/gusts of mist, which is convenient but also terrifying.

Located just outside of Tokyo in Kawasaki, where TUJ students in the Musashi-Kosugi dorm technically live, “Your Arcade,” as it translates, is designed to look like the Kowloon City slum of Hong Kong. It is the definition of techno-orientalism, with components of a street market and space ship merged together. Its designer meticulously studied images of the now-sanitized Kowloon City, and in some cases brand new arcade games were dirtied, scuffed, to better fit the aesthetic.

IMG-3008This portal actually just goes to the parking structure.

While I can’t say I’ll be entering a tournament or staking out a spot before the doors even open anytime soon, I must say that arcades can be a fun way to kill a few hours and, of course, get some good pictures!

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