Retro Game Hunting in Denden Town
Traditionally, Tokyo’s Akihabara district is seen as the mecca for those with an appreciation for “otaku” interests such as anime, manga and electronics. However, the rising reputation of Osaka’s Nipponbashi, colloquial referred to as Den-Den town, has seen it almost achieve parity with it’s Kanto equivalent and it’s increasingly common to see tourists enjoying the area’s eclectic selection of shops, whether it’s Osaka Gundams – two storeys of all Gundam merchandise – or the numerous maid/cosplay cafes.
With the last decade seeing an increase in the popularity of retro-gaming, many of those searching around Den Den Town are on the hunt for old video games, whether they be the Japanese version of their childhood favourite, or an attempt to pick up one of the many Japan-exclusive games of the 1990s, when publishers were much more reticent to publish RPGs and other “niche” genres in the west; there’s a wealth of great games which you will never play a physical copy of unless you can find a Japanese cartridge or CD.
Another advantage to picking up Japanese retro games is price and condition. As anyone who collects 1990s Nintendo goods with attest, trying to find boxed games in Europe and America, especially at a reasonable price, can be challenge; most of us didn’t realise how much those cardboard boxes could be worth one day and were either less than careful with them or threw them away completely. In Japan, however, hunting down complete games is much less of a chore and prices are generally more reasonable than in the west (case in point; a boxed and complete copy of A Link to the Past can go for up to £150 in the UK, in Japan a copy of the Super Famicom version in the same condition can be found for the equivalent of £35). That’s not to say everything can be picked up for a nice price - as we shall see, you should still expect some eye-watering prices if you want to go into the rarer end of things – but it can certainly be more palatable.
With that preamble aside, where are the best places to go retro game shopping in Den Den Town? In this article I’ll introduce you, in no particular order, to my recommendations.
First Stop : Retro Game Revival
The most efficient way to get into the heart of Den Den Town is to take the Sakaisuji line to Ebisucho Station (from Umeda Station, take the Midosuji Line to Dobutsuen-Mae, before changing to the Sakaisuji Line and going north one stop. Altogether, the journey will take around 20 mins and cost 240¥). When you reach Ebisucho station, take Exit 1-B and turn left. Less than thirty seconds walk away you will find your first stop on your trip back into 80s and 90's gaming nirvana.
Retro Game Revival is set out over two floors, with the bottom floor dominated by Nintendo and the second, smaller, floor home to Sega platforms as well as gaming-related clothing. When approaching the storefront you are immediately greeted by a selection of televisions showcasing the shop’s wares and laminated ads for games of years gone by. The store itself is probably the best if you are on the look out for Famicom Disk System titles and is also notable for those searching for boxed Famicom games. Games are clearly labeled (in Japanese of course, though boxes often have their English equivalent name written in English on their somewhere) where necessary and there are also labels that tell you if the box or instructions are damaged. The store owners don’t speak English but will certainly do their best to help you if needed and are also quick to point out if you will need any additional peripherals to make the most of your game (when I purchased Hogan’s Alley on the Famicom, the owner checked I also had the Famicom Gun required to play the game by pointing at the box and miming a shooting motion!) Anyone looking for 8-bit up to 32/64-bit games will be well served by making this their first stop, though outside of Nintendo and Sega you will be disappointed.
Second Stop : Atoo Media Recycle Shop
Upon exiting Retro Game Revial, cross the road and turn right. After a few minutes walk you will come to the Nipponbashi branch of Atoo, a nationwide chain that, as the name suggests, specialises in second hand items. The Nipponbashi store has floors dedicated to idol goods, CDs, DVDs and anything else you can imagine, but it’s the ground floor we’re interested in here.
The first section of the floor is dedicated to newer games consoles, with large TVs showcasing the latest PS4 and Xbox One software and an enviable selection of titles to be found at reasonable prices. Also of note is the fact that the store has an import section, which are relatively uncommon in Japan, that boasts games for all the newest consoles and a few DS games thrown in for good measure.
The far right corner of the store is where the majority of the retro games are kept, with Playstation, PC Engine and Mega Drive games getting much more recognition than at Retro Revival. Although there is a good selection of Famicom and Super Famicom games, they are generally loose carts so anyone looking for complete games will be better served elsewhere. There is, however, an extensive collection of Game Boy Advance games here that regularly features some of the rarer titles (such as the Japan-only F-Zero Climax) at very reasonable prices. Another advantage that ATOO has over its competitors is the fact that the price labels include tax, so you won’t have to take out your Smartphone and add the extra 8% on to the price yourself to check how much you will have to pay; a small convenience but a notable one, especially if you are buying one of the rarer, more expensive items from the various glass cabinets (such as the Famicom Mini Collection boxes, which can run up to ¥20,000). Overall, whereas Atoo doesn’t really excel in any area apart from the GBA, it has a wide array of old and new alongside each other on one floor and is definitely worth your time.
Third Stop : Super Potato Retro Palace
As you leave Atoo, turn left and carry on down the street in the same direction you were walking before. After taking a left at Café Di Espresso and then a right at the end of the street, you will shortly come across the main event, Super Potato Retro Kan, which is, for my money, the finest retro gaming shop in the country and certainly better than the flagship store in Akihabara. The word “kan” can be translated into building, mansion or palace and “palace” certainly feels most apt here, as it is the undeniable king of game shops in Osaka.
As soon as you walk into any Super Potato store you will immediately aware of the chain’s attempts to create a whirlwind of gaming nostalgia for its patrons, and Super Potato Retro Kan is no different; decorations of 8-bit icons hang from the ceiling, televisions showing games in progress are scattered throughout the store, gleefully feeding blaring analogue music into the atmosphere, and shelves stacked with gaming guides take you back to a time before a Google search could solve your gaming problems. It’s telling that actual games are not the first thing you encounter upon entry; the first section is dedicated to a nostalgic selection of confectionary and gaming related-soft toys.
This then segues to a cabinet which plays host to a variety of gaming treasures which, whilst for sale, are far beyond the reach of what most people would dream of paying for a video game; the centrepiece for the last few months being a Gold Competition Cartridge of Kunio-Kun’s Dodge Ball Zenin Shuugou Tournament Special, which was given away to prize winners in a 1993 tournament but can be yours for just ¥522,900 (¥564,732 after tax; see, I told you it was nice when the tax was included). That’s £3,000 for a 22-year old Super Famicom game (its value has almost quadrupled in the last five years).
Beyond the almost-Museum like entrance, however, you will find the widest and most comprehensive selection of retro-games, consoles and peripherals you could hope to find. Anything and everything from Nintendo’s Colour TV Game 15 (an early Pong console) up to Sega Dreamcast can be found here, with every console from the MSX to the Neo Geo and the PC-FX on display for your delight and perusal.
Pricing is usually fairly reasonable, with unboxed games often available for less than ¥1,500 on older consoles, and everything is tested and in very good condition. It is somewhat labyrinthine in layout however and without at least some knowledge of Japanese characters such as hiragana or katana you may find it difficult to find some of the more obscure titles. Perhaps nowhere sums up this stores character than the huge glass case of games which dominates the Nintendo section – it’s large, oddly organized and messy but half the fun is looking for what you want and finding something completely different on the way.
Overall, Den Den is a glorious throwback to the time before Internet shopping when stores where the only place you could hope to find these kinds of goods. The décor and use of video game music in each of these stores really creates a nostalgic atmosphere which only serves to heighten the experience of hunting for a long-lost gem or finding a game you never even knew existed. Anyone with even the slightest interest in gaming, and particularly retro-gaming, would be doing themselves a disservice by not checking out Den Den and these three stores in particular; they offer a wonderful glimpse into the past, even if you’re not particularly looking to buy anything; though even window shoppers will be hard pressed to leave entirely empty handed.