One of the legendary amusement parks has closed in Japan: Kawasaki Warehouse. It’s not like a Six Flags, but rather, a large entertainment complex with its main focus on electronic games. Walking through the warehouse before it closed gave me a peek into its past and also serves as a window into Japanese arcade culture and why it might be in decline.
A Brief History of Kawasaki Warehouse (Anata No Warehouse)
The amusement park, as it is known, was established in 2009, making it a relatively young staple in the arcade scene of Japan. It was designed by kabuki theater set designer Taishiro Hoshino. The actual history of how it all came together is fascinating: They wanted it to be as authentic as possible, so they foraged for old Chinese movie posters, metal cages, old electronics, and all things Chinese. They also developed a “secret super ageing technique” to give everything that depressed, water-worn look about it.
Kawasaki Warehouse was designed after the Kowloon Walled City, a self-contained city/slum in Hong Kong that was taken care of (mostly) by its citizens, known for its camaraderie, alleys without access to any sunlight, and… crime, unfortunately. It was a fascinating construct that existed for decades before being torn down by the government in 1993 (after initially announcing the plans in 1987… the eviction process was not pretty). The city had a pretty rough reputation: poor sanitation, crime, and drug use were rampant, and this really rubbed the Hong Kong and British officials the wrong way. Of course, the story is far more complicated than its reputation may suggest (I highly recommend reading this article for more information on the city itself).
Kowloon Walled City developed with it a certain grungy, apocalyptic aesthetic that the Kawasaki Warehouse took up as its own look. Given that the arcade requires you to be 18+ to enter (mainly because there are gambling machines available on higher floors), it gives the whole tower a very foreboding, ominous feel. But once inside, it’s a load of fun!
Elements of a Japanese Arcade
Japanese arcades are not that dissimilar to their American counterparts but they do have their own flavor. Most game centers will have tons of crane games and UFO catchers when you first walk in. These tend to appeal to all ages and demographics. Plus, there are tons of different types of prizes you can potentially win: everything from figurines to backpacks, bluetooth speakers to ice cream, these machines pretty much have it all.
On the main floor or second floor, you’ll also find PuriKura machines, which are photo booths that allow you to do minor retouching and add graphics, stickers, widen your eyes, and so on. These deserve a whole post of their own, but rest assured, you will see throngs of Japanese schoolgirls hovering around these machines to get their pics.
Usually upstairs as well you’ll find the game cabinets: Things like racing games, fighting games, tests of skill, and so on. This is where you’ll find things like Street Fighter, Mario Kart, or Dance Dance Revolution.
The Last Days of Kawasaki Warehouse
The Warehouse closed on Sunday, November 17th, 2019. No official reason was given but many have speculated that it was a combination of a rise in the tax rate, the difficulty in maintaining and upgrading game machines, and the lackluster attendance that ultimately did the warehouse in. With its last days, however, it saw amazing attendance from a curious public. Our friend used to go there before the announcement of its closure and noted that each floor would have only a handful of people there to populate the space, whereas when we went a few weeks before its closure, it was jam-packed with intrigued arcade-goers. It’s a shame it couldn’t pull those kinds of numbers before the announcement, but it looks like the Kawasaki Warehouse went out with a bang, closing its door and a footnote in the history of Japanese Arcades.