Why Gamers Make a Pilgrimage to Tokyo’s Underground Video Game Bars

Japan is known throughout the world as a gaming capital. Companies like Nintendo and SEGA long ago established Japan’s role as a leader of the gaming world. Video games play a huge role in Japan’s culture. Unlike in other countries, many casino games are banned so playing games in bars and online (at places like Futocasi フトカジ) play a central role in Japanese nightlife. This is particularly true in Tokyo, the nation’s capital.

Over the last fifteen years, video game bars have become a popular and unique feature of Tokyo’s nightlife. They combine socialising and drinking with classic and modern video games. There are video gaming communities based around particular bars. Many video game bars specialise in particular kinds of games, with many focusing on Nintendo and SEGA. Many have also developed their own unique aesthetic, influenced significantly by video game culture. For example, some video game bars have a “retro chic” vibe. While some of the bars are highly modern, others have a more nostalgic appeal, with classic games, consoles and controllers. Many of them also have a retro gaming aesthetic that will appeal to long-time gamers in particular.

Video game bars began to emerge in 2006, with venues like 16Shots opening their doors. Other popular spots like A-Button followed soon after. Since then, the scene has exploded throughout Tokyo. There are now bars covering every kind of game and every type of atmosphere you could ask for. While some offer standard bar fare, others offer high-quality whiskies and other alcohols to pair with your gaming. Japan’s alcohol licensing regulations make it relatively straightforward for venues to combine drinking and other activities. While there have been some recent controversies over licensing and copyright issues for games, the popularity of the video game bar scene still seems to be growing.

Akihabara Electric Town is one of the main centres of Tokyo’s video game bar culture. It is packed with great underground bars, all with their own unique appeal. Many offer classic 8-bit games, while others focus on more recent games. Super Potato in the Akihabara District is a great option for classic games. Others like A-Button have a wide range of classic and contemporary options. The Kabuki-Cho Entertainment District is also home to many great video game bars. It’s an ideal bar-hopping spot for gamers.

There are also chains like Club SEGA, which has several branches around Tokyo. Try Amusement Tower in Akihabara is one of Tokyo’s biggest video game destinations, with a massive range of games over six floors. Tokyo Leisure Land is open twenty-four hours and offers a great selection of games among many other activities, such as bowling, karaoke and batting cages. It’s a very popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

While these larger venues are great, some of the smaller video game bars offer a more unique and intimate experience. 8-Bit Café in the Shinjuku district is a great example. It’s a popular date spot in the earlier part of the evening, with many couples incorporating gaming into their evening out. Later in the evening, it gets a little rowdier and remains open until 5am. Patrons can enjoy a great selection of games throughout. Shinjuku Game Bar in the same area is another great option, offering Saturn, SNES, Wii and PS2 games for customers to enjoy.

Hirose Entertainment Yard is a great option for atmosphere. It has a classic gaming aesthetic with plenty of neon lighting and smoke hanging in the air. It offers different types of games on each floor. Bar 16Shots is one of the most popular venues for developers and others within the game industry. The customers there tend to be very serious about gaming, going there to play and discuss games rather than using them simply as a backdrop for socialising.

Qunai Bros is a particularly intriguing option. It’s a small bar shrouded in secrecy- the owners don’t even want its location or opening hours publicised! We do know that it’s located in Shinjuku. If you’re willing to go on the hunt, it’s reputedly one of Tokyo’s finest video game bars!

Whether you’re a serious gamer or only have a casual interest, Tokyo’s video game bar scene has something for you. Even if you have little interest in games, the atmosphere in many of the bars is worth a visit alone. And for those who want to go the extra mile, it’s worth jumping on the train to discover the hidden bars and restaurants of Hokkaido. The enthusiasm of the patrons might also persuade you to develop an interest! If you’re planning a visit to Tokyo (or Hokkaido), make sure to include a few video game bars in your itinerary.

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