One thing’s for sure: the Japanese love their entertainment. You’ll never run out of things to do because there will always be something to do — even in suburban towns that lie further out from the city areas. You’ll be surprised at what you can find in just a small Japanese neighbourhood.
From the traditional arcades and classic gaming cafes to the unique Japan-origin entertainment like karaoke and pachinko, you’ll find yourself making time to try all of these out rather than having too much time on your hands! There’s no age limit to these entertainments; kids from elementary and high school to salarymen and working mums can be seen in these entertainment areas — and there’s absolutely no shame to it! In fact, it’s more part of the culture!
What’s a write-up about Japanese entertainment if you don’t mention karaoke? Maybe in other countries, karaoke isn’t much fun, but in Japan, it’s more like a tradition! Everyone loves karaoke, and it takes the role of everything — entertainment, party activity and even stress reliever.
In some other countries, karaoke is a mic in front of a bar, singing to a group of strangers — to be fair, that can be quite intimidating. In Japan, there are private karaoke rooms where you sing just with your group of friends! Not only that, but there are also food and beverages to go along with your karaoke. Sometimes, these drinks are even cheaper than when you go to a bar!
If you think your local arcade is sufficient, wait till you see what Japan arcades are like! Japan has quite a number of gaming companies like SEGA and Taito. Of course, there are classic games like car racing, bike racing, basketball and air hockey, but Japan wouldn’t be Japan if it wasn’t for their uniqueness and originality. There are virtual horse racing games and tap dancing taken to a whole new level! They’re the kind where you have to see it for yourself to believe it!
Too extreme for you? Japan is all-inclusive and has “kawaii” games that cater to the ones who prefer a slower paced arcade game. My personal favourite arcade game is a Mario Kart racing game! Also, let’s not forget the famous claw machine games — you can win anything from soft toys to electronics. I’ve had my fair share of spending hours and hours on the claw machine level of an arcade trying to get a big bunny soft toy out (let’s just say it didn’t end so well).
Here’s a shout: search up “Nihongo Master podcast” on Spotify or Apple Podcast and scroll to Episode 8 to listen to a rundown of Japan’s video game culture — we have a whole section just for SEGA!
The Famous Pachinko
Quite similar to the Western slot machine gaming, pachinko is a type of recreational arcade game that is more frequently used for gambling. While gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, the pachinko games are like a legal loophole for that. The pachinko balls that you win from the games can’t be exchanged directly for money and can’t be removed from the premises, but if you collect a certain amount of pachinko balls, you can exchange it for special price tokens.
It’s said that these tokens are legally “sold” for cash to a separate vendor. In some cases, these separate vendors are either the pachinko companies themselves or are working with those companies, who would then sell it back to them and thus making a profit.
Pachinko arcade games can come in all sorts — especially the newer ones that are highly customisable. Generally, you insert the pinballs in the game then launch them across the pachinko board, hoping they would land on one of the prize holes or point bars.
Entertainment Unique to Japan
If brightly-lit, music-blaring arcades aren’t your thing, maybe unique Japanese entertainment will be. There are tons of cultural entertainment for your viewing — everything from the sumo (traditional competitive wrestling) and kendo (剣道, Japanese martial arts) competitions to the kabuki (歌舞伎, a type of traditional dance-drama performed in a kabuki theatre) performance.
Viewing these cultural and unique Japanese performances and competitions is not only entertaining, but they also give you an insight into the country’s customs and traditions. It’s like a history or social studies class, only in the form of stage production and sports tournaments. That’s like killing two birds with one stone!
Are you excited to get your game on? If you’re a huge gamer, you would definitely enjoy our Nihongo Master podcast episode, Pixels and Powerups (Ep 8) where we talked about the top 3 video game companies in Japan: Nintendo, Sony and SEGA.
But anyway, if you do find yourself in Japan in the near future, give these interesting Japanese entertainment a try. There’s nothing quite like emerging yourself in the culture when you’re travelling, and this is one of the more creative methods to do so in Japan!
For our eighth episode of the Nihongo Master podcast, we talked about a topic which is probably close to a lot of your hearts: video games.
More than any other country in the world, Japan led the charge in the development of video game tech and software. Space Invaders and Pacman ruled the arcades of the early 80s, while franchises like Final Fantasy and the Legend of Zelda dominated the polygonic days of the 1990s — their modern-day descendants still continue to top the charts with each new installment.
Hardcore enthusiasts will be able to rattle off countless Japanese companies who have been influential on the video game scene, but we only stuck with three of the biggest: SEGA, Sony, and Nintendo. Between these three companies, they have more iconic characters than anyone could possibly remember. And in broad terms, their story is the story of Japanese video gaming culture as a whole.
Let’s look at the summary of what we talked about in the podcast!
Back in 1983, the Japanese could also enjoy coming home to unwind with a game on their brand new Nintendo Famicon (short for family computer). This gorgeous lump of red and white plastic was a vision of retro heaven. In Europe or the US, this device was better known as the NES (or Nintendo Entertainment System) which was the updated model released around the world in 1985. Both consoles took their respective markets by storm, and placed the pixelated crown right on the head of Nintendo’s top in-house game developer Shigero Mayamoto.
These early consoles were also game-changers in terms of the characters and IPs they introduced to the gaming world — we dropped a few names, and if you want to test your gaming knowledge, give the episode a listen!
Nintendo cemented their position at the top of the video game food chain in 1989, with what was technically their second bash at producing a hand-held console: the Gameboy, which was a smash hit, and sold over 120 million units! By 1995, Nintendo dropped Virtual Boy, a rudimentary VR headset, and about the same time the Nintendo 64 dropped — it held its own against the new heavyweight on the scene, the Sony Playstation. And so began the endless arguments about console superiority which still dominate millions of internet forums to this day.
However, the PS1 still outsold the N64. By the time they released the Gamecube in 2001, Nintendo had the PS2 and Xbox to contend with. These struggles have never fully left Nintendo, as proven by the paltry sales of the Wii U in 2012.
Whatever the case, Nintendo is far from dead and buried. The Switch, which is Nintendo’s half-portable half-console hybrid from 2017, was nothing short of revolutionary. It returned to the innovative, accessible roots of the company’s gaming philosophy, and brought some of the best games of this generation despite being considerably less powerful than its rivals on paper.
Want to know more about Nintendo? Give episode 8 a listen on Spotify or Apple Podcast!
In 1993, the Sony Interactive Entertainment branch of the company was formed. Want to know how they decided to start the company? I won’t tell you here — but you know where to get the answer!
In December of the following year, the Playstation barreled onto the scene to bruise the cheeks of Super Mario with a well-placed roundhouse kick to the head. The groundbreaking 3D graphics and iconic square-circle-triangle-x controller raised a massive hype, and Sony got its feet well and truly planted in the video game market almost a full 2 years before Nintendo could respond in kind.
This meant that the Playstation could be marketed as the console for adults — in stark contrast to the usually more cartoonish visuals of Nintendo’s system. Lara Croft rings a bell to anyone? Refresh your memory with a listen of Sony’s rundown in episode 8!
Within the next few years, a solid lineup of action heroes stood alongside her as the flagship main characters of Sony’s console. Classics like Solid Snake from Hideo Kojima’s stealth-action classic Metal Gear Solid, zombie-hunting Chris Redfield from Resident Evil, and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 all came from Japanese studios. These were the franchises which would sail Sony over into the 21st century as the new titans of gaming culture.
The PS2 managed to shift an amazing 155 million units worldwide over the 12 years following its launch in March 2000. By switching to DVDs instead of CDs, the games were meatier and the graphics more realistic; not to mention a more appealing console. Then came its successor the PS3, continuing the trend of appealing to grown-up gamers, making it a direct like-for-like rival of the new Xbox and Xbox 360. And 2013’s Playstation 4 brought virtual reality to the lineup with the Playstation VR headset.
We covered more content on Sony in the podcast episode — so give it a listen if you’re a Sony enthusiast like me!
The iconic SEGA arcade towers in Tokyo’s Akihabara district were a local landmark for almost two decades. SEGA has been a major name in arcades since way back in the 60s, so there are still some other outlets dotted around town. Alongside the usual dance rhythm games, there are also some distinctly Japanese offerings — want to know what they are? We talked about a few intriguing ones in the episode, so give it a listen!
SEGA was the first major casualty of the console wars — they haven’t released a console since 1998’s SEGA Dreamcast bombed at the box office. To get your hands on any SEGA gear nowadays, you’d have to head along to a secondhand store in one of the retro electronics hotspots.
The SEGA Mega Drive was the one that brought all the power of SEGA’s trademark 16-bit arcade machines to a home console in 1988. SEGA Genesis is what it’s more widely known as in America. Being a 16-bit machine in an 8-bit era, it naturally had the edge when it came to graphics and gameplay and was a huge hit. Think Golden Axe, Street Fighter 2, Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog. If you wanted to be the coolest kid in class back in the late 80s, you’d better have those games sitting on your bookshelf.
But despite riding high throughout the early 90s, their 1994 Japan-released SEGA Saturn console totally flopped in the US one year later thanks to the forward-thinking folks at Sony who undercut it on price and one-upped it on just about everything else. Even with Dreamcast in 1999, PS2 got in the way of any potential huge success.
They’ve kept making software even until now, with a hand in some pretty big franchises. If you’re a PC gamer, you’ll be well aware of this from the Total War series, or Football Manager.
Here’s the list from the vocab recap in episode 8:
Adobenchā (アドベンチャー) — adventure
Retoro (レトロ) — retro
Gēmu (ゲーム) — game
Shujinkō (主人公) — protaganist/main character
Kantan (簡単) — easy
Futsuu (普通) — normal
Muzukashī (難しい) — difficult
Aitemu (アイテム) — item
Reberu (レベル) — level
Teki kyara 敵キャラ— enemy character
Kakutō gēmu (格闘ゲーム) — fighting game
Akushon (アクション) — action
Rōrupureingu (ロールプレイング) — roleplaying
Keikenchi (経験値) — exp/experience points
Chika-ra (力) — strength
Subayasa (素早さ) — agility
bācharuriariti (バーチャルリアリティ)— virtual reality
Shokugyō (職業)— profession/job, character class
Tsuzuki (続き)— continue
shūryō (終了)— quit
ākēdo (アーケード) — arcade
otaku (オタク) — geek or nerd
taiko (太鼓)— traditional Japanese drums
shimyurēshon gēmu (シミュレーションゲーム) — simulation game
chūkohinten (中古品店)— secondhand store
Shoshinsha (初心者)— noob, or more generally: beginner
otsukaresama desu (お疲れ様です)— a phrase which basically means “good work”
gēmuōbā (ゲームオーバー)— game over
Haisha (敗者)— loser, or defeated person
Shōsha (勝者)— winners
So that’s the summary of Japan’s leading video game companies — as I’ve mentioned, we covered so much more in the episode so I highly suggest giving it a listen. There’s some exclusive content that I left out here on purpose, and you wouldn’t even know what it is…until you head over to Spotify or Apple Podcast right now and type “Nihongo Master podcast”!