Akihabara

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Akihabara is the living embodiment of every video game nerd and Japanophile’s wet dream- it is flowing over the brim  with electronic stores: brandishing everything from memory cards to time machines; as well as novelties as the Maid and Gundam cafes; and of course it is home to the highest concentration of video game arcades in the entire city of Tokyo.  Sega, a fading icon in the west still dominates Japan when it comes to the gaming scene and almost every corner of Akihabara is marked by one kind of Club Sega or another.  Going into these places is like cutting yourself off entirely from the outside world and entering an entirely new one.  The bottom floors of Club Sega are usually reserved for those, more often than not, incredibly frustrating claw games.  Here you can usually find girls of all ages vying for that elusive stuffed toy that they simply must add to their collection.  I have to admit I’ve never seen the appeal of these toys or these games, but it seems like a great place to bring a date and impress her with those crane skills you’ve honed at the local construction yard. The upper floors house the machines targeted towards more of the hardcore gamer crowd.  One or two floors usually serve as a shrine to the ever popular Japanese fighting games.  Here one can find school boys, salary workers, and even old men battling it out for supremacy.  Machines range from the latest Tekken and Street Fighter games to the now almost archaic Virtua Fighter, among others.  Herein lies what I believe to be one of the most beautiful things about Japan- no one cares that Virtua Fighter is so old- to them it is a well designed game with great entertainment value and they will always be lining up to play it.  I spent most of my time on the fighting game floors (because the language of punching and kicking people in the face for entertainment is universal) trying to button mash my way to some victories– and they did come, just few and far between. I could’ve spent hours there drinking the Asahis I’d brought in, but there was still more to explore.  The highest floors of Club Sega are where the real gamers reside, and I was completely out of my depth here.  All the games here were in the vein of mobile suit Gundam, where the player takes control of a robotic suit and guns down other robot suits and miscellaneous aliens.  Some of the machines here even had pods that the player enters to further heighten the experience.  Other games on these floors are the music ones where players tap different buttons to the beat of music that seems supersonically fast.  The hand speed I witnessed here was beyond what I though was humanly possible- these people have obviously dedicated a good part of their lives to honing their craft (something evident in every facet of Japanese life).  It was almost surreal, scratch that it was surreal.  The whole place was surreal.  It’s obvious that in Japanese society video games are an integral thread in the fabric of life.  The most beautiful part of it all, is that people from all walks of life enjoy themselves in a way that isn’t childish, but rather is a way where fun is the only thing that matters, and any other idiotic invisibilities that we have thought up to make our lives less fun, are totally absent.  In Japan it seems people are not afraid to commit themselves entirely to hobbies that we in the west would consider abnormal or outside the realm of ordinary society, and Akihabara serves as a showcase for just one of those varied interests.

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