Japan is a fantastic country to visit if you’re interested in gaming, anime, manga and movies. Here are some of our favourite places to visit that we found on our recent trip!
1. Nintendo Building
Nintendo are based in Kyoto, the historic capital of Japan until 1868. Starting out life as a card game company in 1889 before becoming the video game behemoth we love today, you can trace Nintendo’s humble origins through to their modern incarnation on a 30 minute walk through the city. Nintendo’s original home – an unassuming 3-storey beige building near the Kamo River – is marked only by a pair of discrete plaques commemorating the Nintendo Playing Card Company. Half an hour later, you can find the current headquarters, but be warned – it is literally just an office building with no visitor centre. Who knows what’s going on inside? Personally, we like to think that the basement is filled with green pipes, piranha plants and goombas.
You can find both buildings in Kyoto on Google maps. We took the metro to Jujo station near the new HQ, and walked from there to the river which we followed up to the old building. Worth the walk for a pilgrimage to the House of Mario.
2. Pokémon Centres
We will be writing an additional post on this soon, as there are many differences between them, in terms of what they stock etc. Needless to say, this is the place to go for the biggest collections of official Pokémon merchandise, almost all of which is exclusively available in Pokémon shops.
There are also massive statues dotted around the larger stores, typically of that store’s mascot Pokémon. Stores are happy for you to take photos of/with the statues! Head to the Mega Centre in Sunshine City, Tokyo, to see Pikachu riding Mega Charizard Y, Mewtwo, and more.
3. Super Potato
Super Potato is found in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, which is worth a visit in itself. Akihabara is the gaming and electronics centre of the city. We chose Super Potato in particular for its retro charm and extensive stock of games and gaming merchandise going all the way back to its 8-bit origins. A vast selection of games and figures is spread across multiple floors, and if merchandise exists for a video game – this shop will have it! There is also an arcade on the top floor. You can find other branches of Super Potato across Japan.
Similar destinations to the Akihabara district in Tokyo include Nakano Broadway and Otome Road. If you’re in Osaka, it’s worth giving Den-Den Town a look too.
4. Space Station
Japan is home to many themed bars and restaurants. We found Space Station on a night out in Osaka, situated just a short walk from Namba station. Space Station offers customers a range of consoles and games to play on while you drink video game-themed cocktails, all reasonably priced and with no cover charge! We tried drinks such as a Dr Mario, Dankey Kang, Gin and Sonic, and Ecco the Dolphin, while enjoying several rounds of Goldeneye multiplayer on the N64 at 1am.
Godzilla is a Japanese icon and, as of 2015, an official cultural ambassador. When in Shinjuku, Tokyo, turn the corner around the Don Quixote store (itself a great shop selling “things”, “stuff” and”sundries”) towards the Toho Cinema and look up… to see the 12m high Godzilla head looming down at you from the buildings above! The street, referred to as ‘Godzilla Road’, is home to the Hotel Gracery, which offers a Godzilla-themed restaurant and even Godzilla-themed rooms. Several times a day, Godzilla will light up and start billowing smoke from its jaws. Seeing Godzilla peering down at you is worth a look. It also freaks out the unsuspecting, mildly inebriated pedestrians wandering through the Kabukicho district on a Saturday night.
For a more scaled-down look at the kaiju King of the Monsters, head to the Ginza district, where there is a statue to him in Hibiya Chanter Square. Watch people struggle to get forced perspective photos with the statue when they realise it is only a couple of metres tall. It’s definitely worth a look.
6. Bic Camera
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Dixons anymore. There are Bic Cameras all over Japan, but the very best we found was the Yurakucho store near Ginza. Your head will spin and your wallet will empty! It is an enormous electronics store across 9 floors with an entire floor devoted to gaming, toys and character merchandise. The range of items in stock is frankly astounding and if your stay is longer than a week, things can be ordered in for you easily.
We also found that compared to some specialist shops, prices in Bic Camera were very reasonable and resulted in an extra suitcase being purchased for all the swag we bought here! Every Amiibo you can’t find in stock back home is hanging on the walls here, as is extensive merchandise for a variety of Japanese properties that aren’t easily available in the UK, such as Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and Dragon Ball Z.
There is also an entire wall filled floor-to-ceiling with gachapon machines for dozens (hundreds?) of gaming, anime and manga properties. At 200-300 Yen a go, it’s easy to get carried away. Just one more go to complete the set of hedgehog cup clingers…
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Bic Camera’s vast inventory, try the Yamashiroya toy store in the Ueno district of Tokyo. It has a huge stock of character goods and toys. It tends to be pricier than Bic Camera, but may have in stock that elusive item you’re looking for.
7. Sapporo Snow Festival
If you’re travelling in February, try to make a trip north to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. Every year the city hosts the Snow Festival, an incredible display of huge, detailed and beautifully crafted sculptures in both snow and ice. The festival is worth a trip in itself, but the main site (Odori Park) tends to host snow sculptures featuring classic pop culture icons, such as Super Mario, Pokémon, Star Wars, and Final Fantasy like the giant scene above of Sephiroth vs Cloud from 2017.
While in Sapporo, if you’re looking for refreshment, try the Sapporo Beer Gardens, where you can take a tour of the brewery museum, try a reasonably priced tasting set of Sapporo beers and sample the speciality jingisukan, a DIY barbecued lamb and vegetable dish, perfect for warming up after a long day in the snow.
8. Character Street
There’s a whole chunk of Tokyo underground. Pretty much every station extends several floors down with vast shopping arcades, and nowhere is that more remarkable than beneath Tokyo station itself, where you will find the wonder that is Character Street.
Along with a small Pokemon store, there are shops for dozens of different characters, franchises and kawaii mascots, some of them permanent fixtures and others popping up only for a short time. Snoopy Town, The Moomin Shop, Miffy Style, Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Lego, Tomica, Kapibara-san, Kirby and Studio Ghibli are all there, and there are shops devoted to specific TV networks such as TV Tokyo (e.g. Pokémon) and TV Asahi (e.g. Kamen Rider).
Character Street is designed like a market street, shops are small and densely packed, but it’s so much fun you’ll want to keep going back each time you’re passing through the station – we certainly did!
9. Studio Ghibli Museum
This museum in Tokyo is a must for fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It’s a small museum, with rooms set up to showcase all aspects of the Ghibli creative process. You’ll see illustrations, artwork and hands-on interactive exhibits, and the chance to sit inside a giant Catbus. Visitors are free to explore the museum however they wish. It is spread across 3 floors with a spiral staircase, bridges and walkways connecting permanent and special exhibits.
There’s also a mini cinema showing exclusive Ghibli short films, and your museum ticket allows you entry. Hang on to it, though, because in a neat touch your ticket is actually made of film cells!
If you plan on visiting, it’s best to book in advance as ticket numbers are limited and may be restricted to timed entry. The museum gets very popular, especially after midday. One caveat is that, while it may be beautiful inside, photography is not allowed.
10. Snoopy Museum
Located in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, the Snoopy Museum is a testament to Japan’s love for the classic Schultz cartoon. Across one level there is original artwork, comic strips, maquette statues and personal memorabilia from the Schultz estate. You’ll see the progression of Snoopy from his origins in Peanuts as a neighbourhood dog all the way to the adventurous multi-talented beagle we know and love today.
You’ll find Snoopy merchandise everywhere in Japan, but there are exclusive items found only here. There’s also a cafe serving Snoopy-themed food and drink. It’s so popular you will almost certainly have to wait for a table!
…and two that will be disappearing soon…
11. Sony Building
Located at the Sukiyabashi Crossroads near Ginza, in Tokyo, the Sony Building is soon to be demolished and resurrected after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Before its closure, it has been turned into a free museum showcasing the history of the Sony Company and its contribution to electronics and entertainment hardware. You can see every generation of audio and visual equipment, such as a wall of hundreds of Walkman iterations. There’s even a gold Playstation, made to commemorate 10,000,000 sales of the original console.
You can also view a showcase of Sony’s future R&D projects. We experienced Sony’s vision of the tech-infused future of our living rooms, and tried out a head-motion activated soundsystem where subtle gestures control an entertainment media library. It’s hard not to get nostalgic about cathode ray TVs and VCRs, not to mention the good old cassette Walkman…
12. Giant Gundam robot
In Tokyo, take a boat, monorail, or bus across the Rainbow Bridge, and you’ll arrive in Odaiba, a massive entertainment and shopping complex across the bay. You could easily spend a whole day looking around the vast complexes there, and it’s home to Joypolis, a indoor theme park and gaming arcade.
But the reason we went to Odaiba was to see, and say goodbye to, the 18m replica RX-78-2 Gundam statue from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, which stood outside Diver City. At night it would light up, with anime footage from Mobile Suit Gundam projected behind it, and the suit would move around, albeit in a faily limited fashion!
Sadly, this robotic goliath was taken down on 5 March 2017. No word yet on whether it will find a new home elsewhere, but with the 40th anniversary around the corner in 2019, expect something special in the near future. In the meantime, to get your Gundam fix there are still Gundam cafes in Akihabara and Odaiba which provide a Gundam-themed experience.
…bonus feature… Pompompurin Cafe
In Harujuku, tucked away among the trendy clothing stores, manga shops and eateries, is the Pompompurin Cafe. This kawaii character is not well-known outside Japan, but you won’t be able to resist his adorable presence if you visit. You can find Pompompurin merchandise in most Sanrio outlets, but if you want the full Pompompurin experience head to this cafe where everything on the menu has been Pompompurinified. Irresistable!