Author: Jayden Perry

Writes words about games & esports at @RespawnNinja. Communication & Media student @ UoW. @_JaydenPerry

The Amazing Japanese Arcade: Part 2

In my first post on the Japanese Arcade I outlined the basic idea behind my project and my original experience with Japanese arcades. This was in direct contrast to my experiences of arcades throughout New South Wales, and the rapidly diminishing number of them here in Australia.

Since then I’ve looked into my assumptions, but gone further and done some research into the rise of the arcade in Japan, as well as the culture they were born out of. I’m curious to see if my assumptions of what an arcade provides and why they’re so popular have any merit. Basically, Japanese arcades are huge and still a major activity for a large subset of the Japanese populace. As I knew they were a big thing before visiting, I wasn’t assuming they’d be as empty or as far apart as here, but was not quite prepared for what I ended up discovering. There’s a lot more to understanding what I experienced than simply what I noted, and that’s where my research began.

One of the most pressing notions to come out of my experience was why are arcades such a big thing? My main assumption was that this was firstly due to the tech and innovation of Japan, alongside the development home of traditional arcade developers, continued effort to actually make new titles for the arcade. The second part of this is that the whole lifestyle of games and the like as entertainment for all ages seems much more accepted and rooted in the culture, signified by pop culture-centric districts like Akihabara existing in the first place.

“The Japanese video game industry is at the crossing of electronics, computer, amusement and content industries in Japan,” writes Martin Picard in his 2013 paper ‘The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games‘. The economic development of Japan post World War II and the leisure boom are two main reasons why the games industry took off there at all. Mass consumption and export to the west quickly influenced externally developed games, while a drive to consume Japanese created media in Japan drove the industry and technology along.

The arcades themselves however are a merging of two industries – the new tech drive and the traditional and long running amusement/festival culture. While American business were just getting to grips with what the arcade and games could allow, the Japanese industry were able to quickly follow suit, with Taito and Sega heading up this drive. Much like China has done with social media, “the Japanese video game industry began not only in a context of importation, but also of strong competition and through a model of “cloning’,” ensuring their products success and recognition in the arcade market.

While it’s fun to think that Space Invaders’ introduction into Japanese arcades cause a shortage of 100 yen coins (and requiring the government to triple production), a popular myth that’s been debunked, it’s emblematic of the hold arcades and this particular game had on the populace. People couldn’t stop putting their coins into arcade machines to beat people’s scores and enjoy themselves, something that still occurs today on a slightly smaller scale. The only competition I can remember having at arcades is with a younger brother, or with a few friends at a bar with arcade machines. Never something to the scale of Space Invaders in Japan.

If you compare this to the decline of the western arcade since the 1990’s, it’s clear there’s something special about arcades in Japan and the culture surrounding them. While it’s tough to find much on the history of arcades within Australia, they follow the trajectory of that of the American arcade. The rise of the internet, home consoles and networked multiplayer effectively killed off the draw of arcades in western countries. Once again, the culture and infrastructure of Japan are the reason the arcades are a multi-billion dollar industry in the Japanese game market.

Factors like a highly functional and cost effective public transport system, the sheer number and ease of access to arcades makes them hangout places akin to the western mall. They’re an easy place to gather, enjoy time and socialise with friends and competition, without requiring extra effort on the part of the visitor. It also helps that at this point they’re so ingrained in the Japanese culture, being so many places, that they’ve survived their trial of time. They’re certainly not a national passtime, but at this point it’s safe to say the arcade is a staple of Japanese life in the cities.

One resource I found recently during the course of my research that is almost invaluable to my project is a video by Super BunnyHop, an American Youtuber that does a similar thing to what I am to achieve in context to his experience of the American arcade. Not only this, it does a great job of packaging interesting insights into the culture and history in with observations, without every getting too impersonal.

This is the style of video I hope to create for my digital artefact on Japanese arcades, however with the focus more on an ethnographic perspective than simply ‘reviewing’ the Japanese arcade experience like what’s done in this example. It’s here where I’ll combine my assumptions and research in the light of an Australian arcade like City Amusements.

Autoethnography Project Scope: The Amazing Japanese Arcade

In Australia arcades are a pretty poor affair these days. The few dotted around New South Wales, the Timezones and even Market City’s City Amusements are shadows of their former selves. It’s been something I’ve always seen as normal, having visited arcades very little growing up. I can remember playing the racing games with prop cars and bikes at the local bowling alley, or getting some Street Fighter and Time Crisis practice in whenever I managed to spend a spare hour at one.

Last year, before I headed to Japan for the first time, I knew arcades were a big thing over there – but I never expected it to be as big as it was. The quiet, single storey arcades of Sydney were dwarfed by the multistory ‘Club Sega’ that ended up being a regular visit while we there (being one train stop from Akihabara, anime and arcade central, helped here. It’s this contrast and enjoyment that has become the basis of my Digital Artefact – my plan is to examine the Japanese Arcade and its place in Japanese society through the lens of what we see as an arcade here – often a relic of a bygone era.

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A shot from my trip of the huge Club Sega (red building) in Akihabara

My initial experience with arcades in Japan was at the very same Club Sega pictured above, nestled around the corner from the Akihabara train station. When you first walk in your greeted by a ground floor full of UFO catchers (prize machines with the little dangling claws) outfitted with the latest figures from popular anime, stuffed toys and other trinkets. Escalators up and down stood next to the machines, one leading straight down to the featured new games, specifically Pokken Tournament at this point. Another four stories were above, each with their own colouring, feel and theme of games.

At first the huge amount of UFO catchers was peculiar, here they’re usually used for small chocolates or expensive toys and always seen as a scam. I remember seeing PSP’s in machines outside the local Kmart as a kid, never seeing anyone succeed at it and firmly believing they were just a money grab. After even a few hours it was pretty clear how big an attraction they are in Japan, and how – while hard – they still often deliver their prizes to players. There’s even a whole ecosystem of stores that operate solely to buy and sell UFO catcher prizes, but that’s a whole separate project…

Experience notes:

  • Strong smell of smoke, especially in higher up levels (due to indoor smoking being allowed)
  • Games are sorted into floors of the same style of game (ie. rhythm games)
  • High encouragement to buy digital passes that save progress for returning visits
  • Vistors weren’t solely kids, plenty of adults, even in business suits, playing games
  • Action based games like Gundam seemed most popular
  • Cheap and easy – coin changers everywhere and 100 yen coins (roughly $1 AUD) get you ages of play, not just a single race/round
  • the western arcade fighter wasn’t as prevalent
  • branded and rapidly changing promotional games/toys
  • filled with plenty of school or older aged females, breaking the ‘sterotypical’ western arcade attendee

There’s more I have committed to memory, but as a whole I’m very curious to delve deeper than the surface level of arcades that I first experienced. With modern day consoles and computers, what makes people leave their homes to drop 100 yen coins in a tall building filled with games? What do the Japanese arcades owe to their much longer lifespan, and continued support, that we don’t see here?

Below is a video I quickly together with the team from work as a feature on Pokken Tournament (as it was unreleased outside of Japan at this point), which includes some shots of the arcades and my initial thoughts on the experience.

 

My plan for the Digital Artefact is to take this approach one step further, taking a filmed walk through of a Sydney arcade (hopefully City Amusements due to its size) and discussing aspects of it in relation to my experiences in its Japanese counterparts. This is where research, readings and extra resources come in, with the intention of editing it all together into a video package which combines my own experiences with this research.

Ultimately, there’s a lot to unpack here, ranging from the introduction of arcades into Australia in contrast with the prevalence of them in Japan to the actual purpose they serve in each of the two societies. To understand this there’s a lot of history I need to delve in to the culture that surrounds these arcades and districts like Akihabara, places very unlike what I’m used to here in Australia. I’m very curious to learn more about something I enjoy as much as the arcades of Japan – I’ll be sure to keep the daydreaming of being back in one to a minimum.

Gojira Revisited: Autoethnography of a Kaiju

In my first post I looked at my original viewing of the 1954 Japanese film Gojira and how I felt about it as a direct response. That stage, the initial experience, has provided a whole bunch of personal responses I plan to delve into now with further research and reflection. In the question of my original response, I found the text to be strange but engaging thanks to underlying familiar themes and plot points, I feel like that is a good entry point to look at my own reference through.

In a piece for Premium Beat, Michael Maher  explores how Japanese cinema came to have a huge influence on world cinema post World War II. Described as the ‘golden age of Japanese cinema’, credited to the work of director Akira Kurosawa adapted western cinema and mixed it with eastern, traditional cinema to create important pieces like Seven Samurai and Rashomon. As Ishiro Honda, the director of Gojira in 1954, was a close friend of Kurosawa, his influences on this film especially becomes clear.

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Autoethnography and Gojira 1954

Autoethnography; At first it’s a difficult concept to approach. Having to all at once experience and take note of ourselves in a new culture while also examining how and why we react to it in the way we do sounds complex, but it often offers a new insight as an outsider viewing something new. Once you’ve got your head around the idea that “autoethnography is both process and product”, as described by Ellis et al., the value of this sort of study begins to shine through. Our personal experience narrating a culture offers both insight into ourselves and epiphanies on how we make sense of digital Asia.

Through that lens, I got to watch the 1954 Japanese film Gojira. While I’ve seen Godzilla in countless other pieces of media, from American re-imaginings to games and more recent Japanese films, I’d never sat down and enjoyed the original. While I found aspects of the style a little jarring and it wasn’t the most watchable movie I’d ever seen, I quite enjoyed my experience with the film. There was a lot in it you could easily trace through to modern Kaiju and action movie tropes and themes that extended well beyond the climate of Japan in the 1950’s.

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Here’s some of my observations from during the viewing:

  • Film spends a lot of time showing political procedures and everyday life
  • Regular contrast of tradition and technological advancements, especially early on (fishing village, traditional dances vs military warships)
  • Map placed sideways – discussion suggested this was to re-identify Japan after western mapping
  • Constant WW2/Nuclear weapon imagery and parallels
  • Unwavering attempts to kill Gojira even after realising conventional bullets don’t do much other than make him mad
  • Odd mix of music – very pro-navy/military sounding audio whenever forces deployed
  • Some overcomplex plot-points and random love triangle to add to this
  • Slow movie overall but the big moments were enough to keep me engaged

As far as Japanese movies go, I found Gojira to be quite approachable by the end, especially in comparison to other live action and anime films I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the fact we’ve been exposed to the Kaiju in quite an Americanised way, or even just because of how universal a lot of the themes of the movie have come to be in modern day cinema. Either way, there’s a lot to unpack from quite the quite entertaining, if not a tad strange, seminal Japanese Kaiju film.