By Michael Mygind
This past March, my wife and I were able to make a trip that I’ve wanted to make since I was little: Japan, the land of the rising sun, Nintendo, Sega, SNK and a ton of retro video games for the picking.
This final installment of my little Japan recap will be discussing the game stores that I visited and what I picked up. It won’t list pickup by pickup, but instead, I will treat this like a guide to some of the stores, primarily in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, commonly referred to as Electric Town for its abundance of consumer electronics. At the end, I will share all of my pickups as well as a breakdown of how I did.
Retro Game Hunting
I’m an avid gamer and collector. So, it’s no surprise that a trip to Japan would be incomplete without doing some game hunting in a country where retro games are so plentiful and accessible. Prior to leaving for the trip, I did my research and found stores nearby to the areas that we were staying in that ranged from gaming stores to second hand stores. My suitcase was packed very conservatively to allow plenty of room for what I was to bring back. I even drafted up quite a lengthy list of Japan exclusives, along with the average eBay prices next to them for quick reference since my phone service would be off and a Wi-Fi connection within stores would be very unlikely.
Because we were on a guided tour with a lot on our itinerary, we were not free to roam the entire trip. But, we did have about two days to do as we wished. However, my wife is not interested in gaming, so I had to bear this mind and not let gaming monopolize the trip in lieu of actual sightseeing. I was however, able to visit quite a few shops because of their close proximity to each other. For the sake of those who are interested in visiting Japan and plan to do some game shopping, I’ll break down the stores that I visited for easy reference, most of which were in Akihabara. These range from gaming/collectible stores such as Super Potato and the Mandarake Complex to the various Off House chain of second hand stores (Hard Off, Book off and Hobby Off).
Super Potato (Akihabara – Tokyo): While often scrutinized for high prices, this store is a must see with various floors dedicated to retro gaming. Being an avid SNK/Neo Geo fan, I was floored upon entering the store to see a display case and shelf full of Neo Geo AES and CD games. Since neither console really caught on over here because of high retail prices, it’s not commonplace to find these games very often in the states. But, in the country where SNK started, their games are widely available. The same goes for games for the PC Engine and even the MSX Home Computer. Prices on most games weren’t dirt cheap, but were certainly better than eBay’s average price, most often coming in at half the cost. I was able to pick up a few Super Famicom games for 100 yen, or 83 cents.
While this was the store to blow my mind in terms of its massive retro selection, it also placed the challenge of the language barrier before me. It was very difficult to find the games on my list because of the way that games were organized on shelves and the lack of English on the spine labels for the cased games. Finding games on my list was thrown out the window in favor of games that I would stumble on. After two floors of games, we went up to their top floor where they had an arcade up full of candy cabs.
Mandarake (Akihabara – Tokyo): The Mandarake Complex falls in line with Super Potato in being a store based around the collectibility of video games, with prices that match this notion. This building has floors dedicated to Manga, erotic Manga, cosplay and doll clothes, toys and figurines, video games, DVD’s and more. Much like Super Potato, I walked onto their gaming floor to see shelves and shelves of games featuring Famicom, Super Famicom, Megadrive, Mega CD, PC Engine, Neo Geo and many more. We made a trip here early on when we were first given free time in Tokyo and later on in the trip when we returned to Tokyo. After having seen other stores, the second trip following our stay in Kyoto and return to Tokyo was a mission to pick up The Last Blade for the Neo Geo AES, a huge game on my want list, a spiritual successor to the Samurai Shodown series and one of the most polished SNK fighters ever. In the states, it is currently selling for $300 and more. At this particular store, it was priced at 22,000 yen, or $183.30.
Before the trip, I made it a point to find this game in Japan rather than pay more for a copy on eBay. After finding an employee to pull it out of their display case, he began the most thorough inspection of a video game that I have ever seen. He proceeded to show me the individual scratches on the cartridge, the small indentation on the case’s insert and gave a huge thumb up while showing me the manual which was in great condition. I collect, but I’m not a huge stickler on condition as long as the game is still playable. However, in Japanese game stores, condition is everything. You will frequently find games priced at different prices based on their condition, often with a sticker on the game/case that notes the store’s grading scale or any noticeable blemishes. This particular copy was in great shape, but was still 10,000 yen/$83.23 less than the highest priced copy which must have been immaculate. No worries.
Hard Off (Akihabara – Tokyo): This secondhand store that focuses on electronics has a huge fan base among retro gamers who want a deal. They have everything from guitars to computers. However, they are known for cheap consoles and tubs and tubs of “Junk” games, which for the most part, are all still very playable. Despite seeing many YouTube videos featuring this chain of stores, this particular one was pretty picked over, likely due to its proximity to actual gaming shops and the resellers that post found games on eBay for inflated prices for sale to other countries. I was still able to find a couple of games in a “Junk” tub, though.
Book Off (Kyoto): This secondhand media store and sister store to Hard Off was my favorite store of the trip. With a quarter of the store dedicated to retro and modern gaming, I was able to find quite a lot for some amazing prices including Neo Geo CD games for 250 yen each or $2.08 each. I even picked up an as-is Wonderswan Color (That works!) for a buddy for 500 yen or $4.17.
Hobby Off (Akihabara – Tokyo): This secondhand collectible toy store was another store in the Off chain. Before stepping into the store, you will walk down a hallway lined with display cases of collectible toys and figurines. While they did have a small section for games, the only find was an ironic one. I went over with hopes of picking up an AV Famicom system. Well, I did…sort of…in the form of a Gachapon toy.
Hyper Media Shop (Just outside Toyocho Station – Tokyo): This was a store that we stumbled on while walking back to our hotel in Tokyo. They had mostly current and last gen games, but a decent selection of Playstation and PSP games for very reasonable prices. This was the final shop that I visited and was after I tapped out on buying more games after the second visit to Mandarake. So much for calling it quits.
Other stores: I barely touched the tip of the ice-berg with my recap. Littered throughout Akihabara were smaller shops that would even put boxes of clearance Famicom or Mega Drive games out on the sidewalk for passerby’s to browse. Imagine walking in San Francisco and seeing a box full of NES or Genesis games sitting in front of a store. The accessibility to retro games there is unreal.
The Trip Home/Customs
Heading back, I had a suitcase packed with games for myself and some local collector buddies from top to bottom with clothes acting as padding. My backpack/carry-on was occupied by two of my massive AES games. After I had to endure a 9-hour plane ride, which was quicker than the way there because of an air stream that our plane caught, I had to endure passing through US customs with an unhealthy amount of video games. I was told that as long as you declare to have spent less than $500 on the trip, you won’t be taxed. We fibbed on our declaration form to have spent just under $400 on games, souvenirs and various flavored varieties of Kit Kat bars. The TSA employee that helped me read “$250 – Video games” and asked “Video games? Like Call of Duty?” I nodded and walked right through without a charge.
While my wish list that I drafted was basically all for not, I went with a mission to load up on games from my favorite publisher, SNK. That I did. I also found quite an eclectic mix of games for the Playstation, Super Famicom and other consoles that pertained to some of my favorite publishers, series and genres. I even managed to throw in a few cheap curve-balls for humor’s sake such as Typing Fighter II, a pachinko game featuring a Street Fighter II machine and a Playstation “game” that gives tips to dog-owners.
How did I do?
I made it a point to keep all of my receipts for the sake of finding out how I did. Not including the un-pictured games that I picked up for friends, my entire lot of 32 games and my Barbie-sized AV Famicom mentioned earlier came out to 47,429.83 yen, which equals out to $395.17. I then made a list and one by one, checked eBay’s sold listings for the average value of each game, with the exception of Typing Fighter II for the PC, which returned no results due to its obscurity.
Amount spent: $395.17
Average worth: $846.00
Percentage paid of US Market Value: 46.71%
In terms of game hunting, it was a lot of fun. I would have liked to have found more of the games that I went over hoping to find, but simply seeing that many retro games in such quantities was mind-blowing. I keep hearing that prices are so high over there now, but in the spirit of optimism, I’d say they were very reasonable compared to the prices that they can be bought for on eBay or import gaming stores’ sites. For fans of imports as well as the more obscure consoles, Japan is indeed the place to look for games.
I’d like to wrap this little series up by thanking everyone that has followed it and urge you to research a potential trip to Japan in the future. It is an amazing country full of history and culture that you just have to experience first-hand….as well as games, lots of games.
Catch up on my previous posts in my “Gaming in Translation” series:
Part 1 – “Impressions of Japan”: A breakdown and random thoughts of our trip.
Part 2 – “Nerd Culture in Japan”: The presence of gaming, anime, manga and toys in Japanese culture.