Where do I go to buy old games in Japan?
I get this a lot. Don’t get me wrong; I love when people ask me this because I love talking about buying games in Japan because it’s the next best thing to actually doing it, which I don’t get to very often. 2016 marks my 15th year of shopping in Akihabara, and I wrote a guide very much like this in 2001 when I started.
Anyway. When somebody asks me where to buy games I usually end up writing them a long email or Facebook post or something. The idea here is that I can just link them to this page, at least for starters. Odds are you are here because you’re going to Japan soon and I linked you here. Hi.
In 2016, it is harder now than it has ever been to find old games in Japan. All available evidence points to the rise of Internet sales and the exploding popularity of videogame collecting. Collectors around the world are starting to desire Japanese games more and more, and once the games flow out of Japan, it’s less likely that they’d flow back in. I wrote about the disappearance of games in Akihabara in 2015 and boy were people mad! Because the Internet. But specifically because they thought I was ignoring the fact that you can find games outside Akihabara, and you can find anything if you’re patient enough. Well, sure you can! But that doesn’t help you when you’re on a one-week trip to Tokyo and only going to Akihabara for half of one of those days.
Point being, I don’t want or need to write a guide to shopping in Japan for people living in Japan. If you live in Japan, that’s awesome; feel free to drive out to tiny shops out in the boonies and then you can write a blog post that maybe I will read someday. The questions I get asked are exclusively from people who are short on time and opportunity. Where do I go?
Well, of course you go to Akihabara. But the classic games there have been compressed down into just a few stores, so you don’t really have to go poking your head in every single storefront looking for them. I’ll tell you what those are (as of January 2016). If you’ve got a very specific shopping list, go to Akihabara and knock them off one by one. I often do. But I also bargain-hunt, and fill my suitcase with things I didn’t think I was going to buy but found amazing deals on. And so I’ll show you where to go treasure-hunting, too, outside Akihabara but still within Tokyo city.
Let’s start here, though.
Japan’s “electric town” turned “nerd mecca” is home to many of the most amazing videogame stores in the entire world. Until recently you could assume that at least one copy of every ultra-rare Japanese game ever made could be found here on any given day, at one store or another. It’s still the densest collection of rare shit on Earth, but now it’s more a 90 percent chance of finding [game], not 100.
So this is where you go when you have a specific punch list. It used to be the case that there would be Famicom games around every corner, but by and large they’re now all concentrated into 5 stores: Super Potato, Mandarake Complex, Trader, Friends, and Retro Game Camp.
Super Potato: I have a theory as to why Super Potato (map) is so well-known. Most Japanese game stores (or stores in general) stop you if you try to take any photographs whatsoever of anything. Not Super Potato! They’d let us go in there and film entire episodes of Retronauts. Well, of course they’d become the most popular store in the world. This is full of all kinds of classic games and hardware. They also have large collections of rare classic strategy guides and music CDs.
Mandarake Complex: Just up the road from Super Potato is this massive black monolith of a building with eight floors of nerd heaven (map). Take the elevator to the 6th floor and you’re in a videogame store as solid as Super Potato. Lots of rare stuff in the glass showcases, lots of not-for-sale museum items to gawk at, and actually fairly good prices on some games. Don’t forget to go in here even though you can’t see it from the street.
Trader: My first stop on any Akihabara trip. There are three (or more?) Trader branches in Akihabara, but you want the really big one that’s on the main Chuo-doori street (map). Used current- and last-gen games at great prices on the first floor, retro just up the stairs. There’s a JUNK section in the corner where you can actually find some great bargains at deep discounts, but they’re on clearance and you can’t return them. (I’ve never had anything not work.)
Friends: Everyone’s favorite Akihabara store. A true Mom and Pop shop (Mom runs the downstairs counter), Friends (map) usually has a big ol’ pile of rare games in their showcases too, and often have the best prices of anywhere. It’s hard to find – there’s a little tiny door you go in, right next to a coffee shop called Segafredo – but really, you do not want to miss it. (Cash only!)
Retro Game Camp: Easy to spot on the main street (map), but high prices. I don’t think I’ve bought very much at Retro Game Camp, ever. Possibly at all. But they might have that thing you want if no one else does. Because – I stress this – high prices.
These five stores are where the games are. Now, when I go to Akihabara, I’m usually pretty jet-lagged which means that I get up super early in the morning. The first store that opens up, at 9:30 a.m., is Yodobashi-Akiba, the giant multi-level shopping complex by the train station. So I head in there and kill half an hour; they have substantially discounted prices on brand new software, accessories, toys, and such. At 10, I head over to Book-Off (map) also near the station. This chain of used book stores always (well, mostly always) has old videogames for sale, too, and they can be pretty cheap. The Akihabara branch generally prices things competitively with other Akihabara stores, though. But I have found good deals there.
You might find a few other retro games here and there, often in shops that mostly sell porn. Your choice as to whether you want to bother looking.
Oh, by the way? There’s an on-again, off-again flea market that sometimes sets up in Akihabara. Definitely check Mottainai out to see if you’ll be there while it’s going on, because then you will definitely find some good deals on totally random games. (And you can haggle!)
Elsewhere in Tokyo
There’s Akihabara and there’s everywhere else. In general, here’s what to do: Keep an eye out for Book-Off. If you pass by one, go in. If you have a phone, check to see if there’s one near wherever you’re bumming around. The odds that you’ll find precisely what you’re looking for are low, but you might discover a treasure trove of uncommon old games at rock-bottom prices. On my last trip to Japan, I did, multiple times!
Here’s some specifics about other places in Japan.
Ikebukuro: Fast becoming another nerdy focal point in Tokyo, Ikebukuro actually has Tokyo’s second Super Potato store, and since it was less picked-over I found lots more stuff there that I was looking for. (There’s also a ridiculously good all-you-can-eat curry spot right across the street, incidentally.) Close to there is a giant Book-Off that had some rare games at slightly-less-than-top-dollar prices but also a whole section of cheap stuff.
Shibuya: The bottom floor of the Tsutaya across the big crosswalk from the station does carry retro games, although not that many. Up the hill is a Mandarake, which you’ll probably want to stop at even though it doesn’t have games anymore. But there’s also Yahoo-Off (map), which is a giant Book-Off (there’s some marketing tie-up with Yahoo! going on that I still don’t quite understand) that had great deals on old stuff.
Shinjuku: Nothin’ but a Book-Off, although one that I’ve gotten good deals at in the past.
Nakano: This is the home of Nakano Broadway, a multilevel ubergeek shopping complex filled with tons of stores selling all manner of nerd items. In here is Mandarake Galaxy, which is in the running for The Best Game Store Ever – like Mandarake Complex in Akihabara I’ve found the prices to be surprisingly reasonable on the rare stuff sometimes. There’s another game store in here somewhere too, and one called Big Mario that you’ll encounter on the walk from the station to Broadway. Neither are that great, but you won’t ever see me not investigate a store that sells old games, just in case!
Outside of Tokyo
This is where my knowledge, especially these days, is a little fuzzy.
Osaka: If you are going to go to Osaka and Tokyo during the same trip, you might want to consider that the shops in Den Den Town, Osaka’s version of Akihabara, can sometimes have much cheaper prices for hard-to-find games. The best is Game Tanteidan (map) near Ebisu-cho station. There’s a Super Potato close by (in fact, there are many of them in Osaka). Osaka has two Mandarake stores, and last time I was there (which was a few years ago now) both had lots of old games. I’ve now heard that a chain of stores called Ojamakan is a great place for bargains, although I’ve never been to one.
Kyoto: Oddly, the home of Nintendo is kinda dead as far as retro game shopping goes. Apparently there’s a branch of a chain called A-Too in the Teramachi covered shopping street downtown, and there is an Ojamakan south of the city, but… I wouldn’t spend my time in Kyoto going game shopping, not when Den Den Town is just an hour’s train ride away.
Nagoya: Never been, but it has a Mandarake and a Super Potato. Apparently the Osu district is their Akihabara. Again: never been!
I think people ask me where to buy retro games in Japan because they see all the games I buy and the good deals I get and assume there must be some Big Secret that I can let them in on. Honestly it is because I just spend way too damn much of my free time in Japan looking for old videogames. It’s less about knowing exactly where to go than it is about going to all of the places multiple times and being very thorough.
If that’s not your plan, and because you are not crazy I assume that it is not, ask yourself what your goals are. If you have a list of rare games that you want to buy, go to Akihabara’s big shops and grab them. You may find a rare game in a Book-Off for five bucks but odds are it won’t be the specific one you want. If you just want to bargain hunt and hope for any kind of big score, you’re more likely to find it by hitting up Book-Off and other used-media stores in other districts, which you can do as you’re traveling around Tokyo to do other things. And if you just want to window shop, go to Super Potato like everybody else.