Tag Archives: Den-Den Town

Retrogaming in Osaka

Akiba in the East, ‘Ponbashi in the West (東のアキバ西のポンバシ)

Japan is the Xanadu for retro gamers, especially those who are keen on finding older Japanese consoles in their natural habitat and playing games in an undecipherable language. Older video games can be found in Japan in almost any independent game store, recycle store or video rental store as well as sold by established chains such as book off and hard off. ‘Who would dare ask for more’ I hear you ask? The piece de résistance of places such as Akihabara in Tokyo and Nipponbashi in Osaka is the concentrated nature of facilities offering games from the good old days. During my pilgrimages I have spent hours and hours roaming the neon-lit streets of Akihabara, yet my true home ultimately lies just outside of exit 1-B of the Ebisucho station far to the west.

In the following post, I will unravel some of the mysteries that surround the internationally much less known nerd heaven that is Nipponbashi, also known known as Den Den Town.

Man, it’s good to be a nerd these days

While the history and general information about the Nipponbashi area can be read on Wikipedia or Den Den Town’s own Japanese homepage, what I will offer here is a more pragmatic approach to those who wish to plunge into the wonderful world of Japanese Retro Games in the area. After extensive research and several dozen visits, I have delimited the main retro gaming core within a rather small area on the Sakaisuji Avenue, which comprises the majority of the video game offering of Den Den Town. Compared to all the stores selling computer hardware, furniture, anime, comics, music, movies not to mention porn, places with a reasonable offering of older generation video games are actually few and far between. The key is to find them.

Handheld consoles are something I have never owned and therefore have close to no knowledge or interest in the matter. Thus, I will not mention that specific area of gaming here. For those interested, the amount of handheld products in the following stores is always proportional to the amount of normal ones.

Looking at Sakaisuji Avenue facing north. The fun begins after passing Yoshinoya on the left.

I do believe, and certainly hope, that most people looking for old video games do not constantly want to find themselves surrounded by Japanese genitalia-pixelating smut, and for this purpose I have gathered the locations of the five main stores to check when looking for some old classics. All of these lie on the west side of the Sakaisuji Avenue, within a couple hundred meters of each other, as can be seen on the map below.


View Retro Avenue in a larger map

By far the best way to reach the mother lode is by taking the Sakaisuji Metro Line and exiting it at Ebisucho station, exit 1-B. The entrance to Super Potato is situated roughly 2 meters to the right of the exit. This strategy has allowed even someone with no sense of direction or spatial memory such as myself to arrive at the premises without getting lost. Alternatively, Den Den town can be reached by walking North from Shin-Imamiya JR station or South from Nipponbashi Metro station for those who enjoy longer walks or want to check out other stores on the way.

Twin Emperors

In Osaka, there exist two institutions that are almost completely dedicated to the promotion and sales of retro gaming memorabilia. Game Tanteidan and Super Potato Seven take the idea far enough to build their entire business plans around selling old videogames to nostalgic nerds. In accordance with those plans, the atmosphere in these stores is heavily dependent on 8-bit music and consoles set on autoplay.

Anything you want $ your soul.

Super potato is an institution that any self-respecting gamer coming to Japan will be able to name. The franchise has a dozen of stores throughout the country, out of which at least the Super Potato Seven in Nipponbashi and Super Potato Retro-kan in Akihabara are mainly focused on older consoles and titles.

Less well known but very prominent in the Osaka gaming scene, Game Tanteidan is an independent player located roughly 50 meters from its aforementioned Den Den Town competitor. These two stores will easily supply anyone with the bulk of whatever they need gamingwise, while other stores on the subsequent list are relevant mostly due to the higher probability of finding more common games at lower prices. Or abundant games for practically no money whatsoever.


Name: ゲーム探偵団 (Game Tanteidan)
Adress: 大阪府大阪市浪速区日本橋5丁目12
Phone: 06-6636-8175
Website: tanteidan.cc
Twitter: game_tanteidan

During opening hours, the entrance to Tanteidan is impossible to miss. Nevermind the huge Post-it Mario on the wall and six TV-sets showing autoplay demos of old favorites in a never ending loop, the sheer 8-bit energy emanating from the place is enough to draw the interest of passers-by.

Once inside, a whole new world opens. The floor and walls are covered in old posters, news articles and screenshots, all hovering around the same general topic. Relics ranging from R.O.B.s to Megaman plushies are hanging from the ceiling as ears soon begin to tingle from the soundchip-produced bliss.

Possibly the single best retro-cave currently, even surpassing the legendary Super Potato, Game Tanteidan offers a large variety of everything ancient. The first floor is heavily focused on the 3rd, 4th and 5th generations of console gaming. This includes games for all major consoles by Nintendo (Famicom, Famicom Disk System, Super Famicom, Nintendo 64, GameCube) and Sega (SG-1000, Mark III / Master System, MegaDrive, Saturn, Dreamcast) as well as less popular competitors Neo-Geo, PC-Engine and 3DO.

The rarest and most expensive treasures are safely behind glass doors next to the cashier. On the opposite side, a wide range of consoles and peripherals from the Neo-Geo to the Famicom Disk System are sitting on a shelf. Another couple of adjacent shelves are dedicated to official and less official guidebooks and obsolete game journalism.

Famicom, loose on the left, boxed on the right, nerd straight ahead

The shelves on the ground floor form three corridors. As a rough explanation, SFC and N64 titles are on the left, Sega titles from the SG-1000 to the Dreamcast as well as Neo-Geo and PC-Engine titles are in the middle, and Famicom and FDS titles are on the right. The supply should satisfy even the most adamant of collectors.

The second floor is more confusing due to a lack of focus. While it offers the largest inventory of MSX computers and games I have seen anywhere so far, another wall is covered with baseball cards, breaking the illusion. One shelf is filled with imported XBOX 360 games, another is occupied by game music soundtracks and there are a variety of Game & Watch handhelds in a glass display case. A coin-operated monster rally-pinball something-something arcade game is also present, as are a Virtual Boy stand and a soda vending machine.

MSX Shrine

As its name implies, however, Game Tanteidan (Detectives) is very knowledgeable on the value of its wares, and finding rare gems under market price may prove an insurmountable task. If money is no concern, it remains a great place to look for that final missing piece of a collection, as the supply is vast with more obscure consoles such as the Famicom Disk System and SG-1000 being well represented. And, with a probability that infinitely approaches one, the prices are still a bargain compared to Super Potato Seven.


Name: スーパーポテトセブン (Super Potato Seven)
Adress: 大阪府大阪市浪速区日本橋5丁目12−3
Phone: 06-4396-3377
Website: superpotato.com
Twitter: super_potato

Super Potato Seven hardly loses to Tanteidan in terms of elaborate props. The entrance is guarded by a, supposedly, life size Mario figure and a couple of smaller ones can be found after venturing deeper into the labyrinth. Game demos running on each side of the door mat are equally unambiguous toward nature of the store. The first floor is limited to newer releases, so traditionalists may want to strafe in the general direction of the stairway, which is left.

Closest I've ever gotten to a "Stairway to Heaven"

During the climb to enlightenment, preserved empty game boxes add to the unique ambiance of Super Potato Seven, as do the ridiculously narrow decorated corridors on the second floor. The naked light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling keep getting in the way of customers similar to stalactites in a cave. I’ve never been in a cave, but I’ve seen some in games; therefore, I know. Walking through the narrow corridors and constantly hitting your head in said lamps while listening to 8-bit classics and bumping into other ridiculous people might make you forget what decade it is as you keep fiddling with the Zelda game you always wanted as a kid but were never able to acquire.

Boxed Famicom and FDS games at Super Potato

On a general note, if you can find a game elsewhere, it’s most likely cheaper there than at Super potato. However, the emphasis here is on spectrum. Not the Sinclair Spectrum, though, the range of products available. Super Potato easily compares to Tanteidan in the amount of most old Sega products as well as loose Famicom and Super Famicom games. The N64 supply is relatively limited and CIB games for all consoles seem less abundant than next door. To counter this, Super Potato offers some overpriced gamer shirts and other extras like decrepit walkthrough videos of Famicom games from an era before the Internet.


Name: ソフマップ2号店 (Sofmap, 2nd store)
Adress: 大阪府大阪市浪速区日本橋5丁目12−8
Phone: 06-6634-9001
Website: sofmap.com‎

Sofmap is an oddity found in between the two greater stores. It is a relatively normal Sofmap electronics store except it concentrates on video gaming and anime instead of computer hardware. The first floor has newer second-hand games, while the second floor holds most of the older produce.

One photo was able to capture about 50% of their retro supplies

Pecularities of Sofmap include having oldschool game consoles for sale at grotesquely low prices, the catch being that they haven’t been tested for functionality and the store offers no guarantee on whether they will work. Loose games are sold for peanuts as well and even some boxed ones can be discovered for cheaper than most places. Peripherals, controllers and rumble paks are also available in limited quantities.


Name: エーツー日本橋店 (A-Too)
Adress: 大阪府大阪市浪速区日本橋4丁目11−3
Phone: 06-6641-2500
Website: a-too.jp‎

A-Too is a self-proclaimed Media Recycle Shop located roughly one third of the way from Ebisucho station towards Nipponbashi to the north. The store stands in a league of its own, losing clearly to the top 2 in notoriety while also being exponentially better than either Sofmap or Geo.

It has, or rather had a a very distinct advantage over the retro gaming concentrated venues. I remember first having gone to A-Too in 2009 to buy a carftul of N64 games, not because I needed them, but because they were sold loose from a plastic trash can priced ¥5 yen /ea. Someone had to save them. The materials used in making the cartridge must be worth more. Although said box no longer exists, the store offers a variety of adequately priced Nintendo goods from the Famicom to the N64, as well as Saturn and Dreamcast games.

FC, SFC, FDS

I recently bought a copy of Soul Calibur (Dreamcast) for ¥50 and Goonies (Famicom) for ¥300. Furthermore, A-Too offers the largest quantity of any store of the most common consoles and peripherals at very nice prices. One glass display is protecting the most coveted and exclusive titles, proving that A-Too is not entirely without merit in that area either.


Name: ゲオ大阪日本橋店 (Geo, Nipponbashi store)
Adress: 大阪府大阪市浪速区日本橋4丁目11−1
Phone: 06-4396-0081

Compared to the four other entries, Geo is almost useless nowadays. Although shelves still exist for retro products on the first floor, the oldest material to be found as of March 2011 are old DS Lites. On the second floor, in their ecological niche right next to women’s shoes, are the humble remnants of some more common Famicom and Super Famicom games that can be found at almost any other shop.

The entire inventory

The reason to mention Geo is mostly because it’s a chain with manifestations throughout the country and the situation at said shop may well change. Some Geos (Hirakata) are bound to be better equipped retrowise than others (Nerima). Currently this particular one is only good for finding a couple of popular ones for a bargain. Still worth a look before heading to the more plentiful and expensive stores.

Thus ends my insight on retro gaming in the downtown Osaka area. Potential future updates will deal with shops in Hirakata, Nerima and Akihabara whenever I have the time to properly research them. In the meanwhile, here’s a comprehensive overview and picture gallery.

-Antti

Prevalence of console by store

Shangri La

The situation seems to have calmed down a bit, which is a very welcome change considering I’m exiled in a city that hardly even acknowledges that there is something abnormal happening elsewhere in Japan.

It is quite difficult to write about a general area of Osaka as well as a hotel that I have covered at least twice before during my adventures in the Far East. Besides, the past few days have been incredibly calm and dull, and I have lately come to realize by following different media that readers actually crave for catastrophes and tragedy, which unfortunately I am currently not able to provide from my safe haven.

One of the first things to came to mind after arriving in Osaka was that it beats Tokyo on many levels. The objective reasons I was able to identify were that Osaka is far less westernized, less crowded and just more likable in general. Having spent one of the best years of my life in the area can also affect the sentiment. Particularly the Shin-Imamiya-Namba-Nipponbashi area is a place that is more reminiscent of Finland than anything I’ve found in Tokyo so far: a relatively quiet downtown area mainly constituted of alcoholics.

On Wednesday I attempted to apply for a re-entry permit, the receipt of which would have made my life a hell of a lot easier if I had had to leave the country in haste. Unfortunately, to get a re-entry permit one needs to know the exact departure date, rendering it impossible to really get one just in case. In addition, I would need an alien permit first, something I need to apply for in my area of residence, i.e. at the Nerima Ward Office in Tokyo. Bref, le plan est  à l’eau.

I extended my stay here for two more days on Thursday morning, but had to initially check out and check in to a different type of room on that very day because the original one was not available anymore. Considering I had been skyping home to soothe my parents until 5:30 in the morning, the checking out at 10 was not my favorite moment of the week. Not as bad as some other checkouts, though. I then proceeded to wander outside for several hours enjoying the marvelous supplies of Den Den Town before returning to the hotel, this time to a Japanese type room instead of the previous Western type.

Attempting to adhere to several requests to retrieve some potassium iodide pills, also just in case, I studied the indispensable Japanese nomenclature and gathered enough courage to go inquire about said preventive medicine in a nearby drusgstore. Pros: they understood what I was looking for on the first try. Cons: They laughed at me. It turns out that the government possesses the whole supply of said pills, and the drugstore obaa-san emphasized that I should definitely be okay if I stay around these parts.

As this post is incredibly mundane already, let’s cover some other boring topics. I’ve been enjoying the furo at the hotel daily and also come to realize that this place, at a price equivalent to about 20 euros a night, provides me with a level of comfort that is perfectly acceptable. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone on their honeymoon, but for the sake of sleeping and using a computer it’s more than fine. The beer vending machine downstairs might add to this warm and fuzzy feeling as well. Let me put it this way; if Hotel Chuo feels inadequate, then you’re spending too much time in your room instead of experiencing Japan.

Extended weekend coming up because my birthday on Monday is a public holiday in Japan. This traces back to the late 70′s when I saved Emperor Showa from crocodiles during a rafting trip in northeastern Australia. True story.

-Antti

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kantō anymore

Friday marked the beginning of the trip down memory lane to Kansai. I did my part by walking to Shinagawa station straight after work, meeting up with Joona again and taking the first Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka. 13240 yen, 6 days worth of living expenses budget but meh, I’ll catch up once Joona leaves and I’m all by my lonesome with nobody to drink and eat Kobe Beef with. Nothing too special about the train ride, except it was so different from Finnish ones it almost made me cry. It was both fast and on time. I might never get over this. I’m still seeing a therapist for all the traumatic experiences with VR. Once at our final destination in Shin-Imamiya, Osaka, we went for some shitty ramen due to all decent food places being closed at the time, before going to the hostel to sleep. Turns out the clerk at the entrance had been a guide to Tunna and Riku during the Japan episodes of Madventures.

Saturday was a day worth remembering, accounting to three factors.

The main plan for Saturday was to go to Kobe to eat the best beef in the world in the best restaurant in the world. Hype enough? We departed from the hostel around 11 to be in Kobe at lunch time. Wakkoqu’s lunch was once again something to be feared. The young master who was responsible for the show was the same as two years ago and the food was equally excellent. I’ll add pictures if I ever get them from the master of cameras. The pinnacle of the whole experience was that they actually offered cream with coffee. Real cream, not any of that low fat milk or any other shit “health-conscious” people like to drink. Take that you non-believers. I guess I could ramble about Wakkoqu and Kobe beef institutions for long enough to fill the internet but it’s really something to experience yourself. Oh, and it did make my wallet exactly 7304 yen lighter. That’s over 3 days of food budget again. But if I starve later at least I’ll starve happy.

Part two of the Saturday Experience Extraordinnaire was to go to the electronics store Labi in Sannomiya so Joona could drool over some Apple products for a few hours. Actually the goal was very clear but if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to mock the Apple fanboy, the repressed mock will turn into bile and I might die. Ideally, Joona was supposed to buy a MacBook air and 3 Apple TVs while taking advantage of Labi’s member card point collection system to pay for part of the set.  The plan was both retardedly ambitious and complicated, and eventually took about 2 hours to complete. It might come as a surprise, but we didn’t have member cards. Initially, Joona spent half an hour speaking with the only store clerk in the 8 story electronics supermarket with an adequate grasp of English to know if the plan was actually achievable while I wasted my life playing Angry Birds on a demonstration iPad, getting displeased looks from other customers.

Once the details were clear, something we in Finland call “säätäminen”, began. In order to get membership to collect points, the clerk said, one needs a Japanese phone number. Well it sure as hell wasn’t Joona who had one. With the help of the same enthusiastic clerk guiding me through the Japanese online registration process I was finally able to register a Labi membership, thus allowing Joona to buy the Air, collect points and use said points to buy Apple TVs for the glory of all. When everything seemed clear, the cashier had to call her superior in order to make sure that Sampo Pankki was an organization to be trusted. Unberlievably (sic) there were no last minute transaction problems and after almost suffering a heat stroke from spending the afternoon at the Labi Electronics Sauna, we finally got out with one happy Apple freak and one disgruntled Labi gold member. I’ll get back to the heat  issues in Japanese buildings in an exclusive Anttirant later on. On that note, the Kobe adventure was over, but the evening was just beginning.

I had made plans for us to go drinking with a few old friends from Kansai Gaidai at 9, Ryan-sensei and Sayumi-chan. Since there aren’t_really_enough_options in Japan when it comes to drinking, off to Toriki we went. Tanreis were flowing, the edamame was taunting Henrik from across the continent, chicken heart was delicious, nankotsu still sucked but the get-together was excellent all in all. You don’t deserve to know the details. After some yopparai philosophizing on the last train we made it back to the hotel and Joona packed his bags to get ready to leave early the next morning. Well, packed his bags, except he left me with a well designed cardboard box labeled MacBook Air but had the nerve to take the actual content back to Finland with him.

Edamame yanka!

On that day, 2 years ago

With Joona leaving early on Sunday morning I was free to enjoy the rest of the day roaming around Osaka and going through places from days gone by. There were some places that I should have written about last time I was in Japan but I was busy that spring doing something else. Also, I had an interesting epiphany while wandering around. Interesting for me, not so much for readers. The thought that struck me was that Shin-Imamiya has to the best place in Osaka, period. First of all, it has a bad reputation, so by Japanese standards that means that there are a few homeless and / or drunk people around making life more interesting. Not unrelated to that reputation, it’s the cheapest place to find a quality  business hotel for a stay in Osaka. We paid 3000 yen a night for a twin room. Not too shabby.

The next unique spot in the area is Spa World, located conveniently around 50 meters from the correct entrance of the Shin-Imamiya JR station. Spa World is essentially a hotel / spa / relaxation complex with an innumerable amount of spas, baths, saunas, pools, restaurants and whatnot. It became a fan favourite in Spring 2009 because of a campaign price that allows people to enter the place for the whole day for only 1000 yen. The spa cannot be doing very well as the campaign is still ongoing and there is no way for them to pay for all the water and electricity with that price when taking into account the amount of people that go there. Spa World is also the international benchmark for everything Engrish, as appointed by the Japan Ministry of Engrish, Jearousy and Googre Transrate (MEJGT). While I could not find such old classics as: “Woman only bath, men cannot enter from here” or “Woman only room. Stay out, man” there had still been no effort to make grammatical sense:

• “Wears inside the building”
• “It’s excite!”
• “I hope smoking in the smoking room.”
• “Let’s tanning!”
• “Doragon foot”
• “Please note so slippery”
• “Antitheft and locker key wristband are always with you please yourself”

Engrish Winner of the Week

Outside of Spa World is one of the saddest reminders of the delusions of grandeur prior to the Lost Decade and at the same time one of the coolest potential attractions anywhere, ever: A roller coaster running through a shopping mall. Both of the aforementioned have been abandoned for a long time, however, and now it appeared that the entire building complex was getting demolished. I was still able to get a glance at a place that, in the right circumstances, could have made Chuck Norris fall to his knees in awe.

In addition to Shin-Imamiya being cheap and having Spa World, it’s also the center of the world for… well… retro gaming nerds. The huge shopping center for normal people, Namba, is also just a short walk away but I tend to always be drawn towards the small game and electronics shops of Den-Den-Town, located between Nipponbashi and Ebisucho stations on the Sakaisuji line. Even now I wasn’t really able to buy game consoles and take them back to Tokyo but I was still able to gather energy just by enjoying the atmosphere and 8-bit game music at スーパーポテト and ゲーム 探偵団. If you can’t read Japanese characters that’s your loss. I had to ask the store manager for the reading of the latter kanji. I also promised myself an N64 once I manage to turn in the final version of my thesis.

I eventually bought some cheap manga for the trip back and spent the Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo wondering how I could best manage my living expenses to avoid running out of money before March.

-Antti