Disappearing Iconic Arcades in Japan

There’s been a bit of hand-wringing the past year or so in Japan about the state of Arcades, or Game Centers as they are called here. Arcades have slowly been closing, but with the pandemic, it seems an alarming number of iconic Tokyo arcades have begun closing their doors. What exactly is going on here? Is it truly all the work of Covid 19?

Foreshadowing the Fall: Kawasaki Warehouse

I’ve written before about this, so I’ll keep it brief: The first major themed game center I witnessed shudder in my time here was the Kawasaki Warehouse, famed for its recreation of the Kowloon Walled City outside of Hong Kong. It shuddered its doors in 2018 due to issues with the landlord, possibly due to money issues caused by low patronage. Check out some images I was able to capture before the game center shuddered in the video below:

Pandemic Victim #1: Sega Akihabara Building 2

This was probably the most iconic of all the arcades on this list, particularly for foreigners looking to visit the dazzling lights of Tokyo’s famous electric town, Akihabara. The Sega escalators were a landmark for many, and the large window canvases that the arcade would use to advertise new games and anime came to define the local landscape. No reasons specifically were given as to why it was closing, but many speculate it was because of the pandemic. It’s also not surprising to hear that the parent company, Sega, was getting out of the game center racket altogether a few months later, licensing out the name to the existing game centers while transferring ownership to other companies.

Pandemic Victim #2: Silk Hat Ikebukuro

Sunshine Street is an iconic shopping street in Ikebukuro, running from around Ikebukuro station all the way down to the Sunshine City building, home to the Sunshine Aquarium, Ancient Orient Aquarium, and the Konica Minolta Planetarium Manten. Near the end of the road was the Silk Hat game center, a multi-floor gaming mecca. Walking by, I always thought this place was a pachinko parlor or hotel, but little did I know, I was walking by a piece or Japanese arcade history. While no official reason was given, the pandemic was the likely culprit here.

Pandemic Victim #3: Taito Game Station Shinjuku Branch

One of Many Taito Game Station signs you can see around Japan (Photo: Raul Garcia via Flickr CC)

This one was not the biggest, the baddest, or the most exciting location for Taito, but it was one of the most centrally-located: A short walk from Shinjuku station, close to the mega-popular Yodobashi Camera, and a stone’s throw away from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, this local Taito was a nice place to stop and soak in a bit of the neon culture many associate with modern Tokyo. This particular stop had seen declining business in recent years, tying this particular location more to nostalgia than modern success. Again, it appears to be a victim of the pandemic, but there are other Taito locations in Shinjuku, so all is not lost!

Pandemic Victim #4: Sega Ikebukuro GiGO

This one hit a little close to home, both emotionally and physically. I’ve been to this game center a few times, and heard whispers that the crane games here were some of the most difficult in Japan, drawing only the most skilled of players to its fabled halls. Unfortunately, due to the building’s owners wanting to remodel the building and the lease being up, Sega GiGO was forced to close its doors. Another victim on Sunshine Street, unfortunately. TokyoLens over on YouTube made a really amazing tribute to the location, which you can view below.

And that’s just a few that I know of closing. There are probably many others I didn’t have time to touch on, but, needless to say, the lay of the land is changing, especially in the nerd-havens of Ikebukuro and Akihabara.

…Or is it?

Well, the Sega GiGO drama ended with the triumphant return of Sega to Ikebukuro! Literally right across the street from the old location, no less! A few weeks of sweating amounted to a collective sigh of relief among the Sega faithful, as it looks like all is not lost for the game centers of Tokyo. The new Sega Ikebukuro location opened on October 22nd to the delight of many. In fact, Sega noted that this is the first of three big steps in a grander Ikebukuro Project, so even more exciting things are to come!

Given the changing times and the availability of more home gaming, together with the crushing economic impacts of corona virus, it’s not too surprising to see the already ailing arcade culture hit even harder in recent years. While game centers may not completely disappear, Japanese gamers should steel themselves for more closures, as it appears the market is going to continue shrinking to something much more lean than the abundance we enjoyed in years prior.

Do you still like to spend some coins at game centers? Are they available in your home country? Let us know in the comments!

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