I visited Japan last year for the first time, and made sure to get some Street Fighter time in while I was staying in Tokyo. I wanted to share my experiences with you all in order to encourage you to go visit Japan if you have never been, or encourage those who have already been to return! It truly is a surreal experience. I don’t do much travelling so it was quite a culture shock, but tons of fun.
Japan’s arcade scene is thriving quite well, but in a different way than I had imagined until I stepped into my first SEGA arcade in Japan to see what was current. Most arcades you’ll find will have the first floor or two dedicated to UFO catchers, which are in their own way absurdly addictive. They look SO easy, even I wasted some cash trying to get something. I can see why all gamecentres make you walk past these machines to get to the other floors. Arcades are also filled with interesting rhythm games, and a number of card-battle games, some of them network-based, i.e. Lord of Vermillion, and some other crazy games such as Gunslinger Stratos. These looked pretty fun, but a lot of the games are network-based, requiring some type of ID card, and seemingly quite complicated in general, so I steered clear as my level of Japanese is very low. Overall, it was quite a different experience from the arcades that used to exist in Toronto. I’m used to fighters, shooters, lightgun games and racing games being the dominant setups.
For the types of games I was REALLY looking for, I found that Akihabara was really the place to be. There are were at least three SEGA arcades in the area, specializing in different games, along with the famous HEY arcade and a few others I’m not too familiar with. I spent quite a lot of time in one of the SEGA arcades which featured a number of classic lightgun and racing games along with a name plaque and a bit of history about each game – it was akin to an arcade museum where you could play everything.
HEY has the infamous 10円 ST arcades, and not once did I see them empty. This is such a great place to grind out matches on the cheap, and there was a decent mix of player skill level. Some newer players amidst the experienced and everyone having a good time. I found myself coming here regularly after doing my sightseeing for the day, and getting some games in with the salarymen in their business suits. I had been told that some of the serious ST players don’t go to Akiba since the arcade systems are not maintained as well as in some other arcades, but I experienced no issues with them myself.
One of the first things I found strange about the Akiba-culture of ST players was that barely anyone knew or talked to each other. I found this quite a surprise, coming from a city where we have approximately five ST players and they all know each other. The Japanese all got a good laugh when I mentioned the size of our scene, as HEY will have 5-10 ST players at any one time grinding out matches, most of whom didn’t seem to know eachother.
My first experience playing ST in Japan went surprisingly well. Apparently Zangief is quite a popular character there, and the match in great favour to the only character I really play (O.Honda). However, there were some players that truly shocked me with their skill – if I messed up my spacing ONCE, or screwed up an anti-air, I would be SPD’ed into another setup and decimated. I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the amazing comebacks the Japanese were able to pull off.
As a first for me on a Japanese board, playing against a Dictator the game froze with the O.Honda throw glitch. Previously I had been unsure if that could happen on a Japanese board, but there you go. Using my broken Japanese, I asked the HEY worker to assist. He ended up resetting the arcade and giving us each a credit to play again. And on that note, as a testament to the honesty of Japanese people, if there was ever an extra credit left in the machine (either from someone putting in an extra coin or not using one) no would claim it. Everyone would always put their 10円 in even if that extra credit was hanging around. It was truly astonishing, and something I doubt I would ever have seen happen in Canada when arcades were still in existence.
I ended up meeting Onucho there, which is an absurdly good Dictator player. I had thought I had some semblance of how to play against Dictator until I started playing against him, who made me look like it was my first day of playing Street Fighter. However, I had later learned that he has been playing SF for over 20 years and Shougatsu taught HIM how to play, so I don’t really feel too bad losing to someone like that. I learned what I could, though every time he would have a new setup and something tricky.
Conveniently enough, I lived right beside Gamespot Versus in Nishi-Nippori, so I had no trouble finding the place and managed to make it for one of the ST versus nights. I wasn’t too familiar with their schedule, and some of their arcade setups will change based on what’s going on that day – I had walked in before when half the arcades were on 3rd Strike. I can see how this place could be easily missed if you’re not from the area, as it’s down a sidestreet in the middle of nowhere. As a side note, there is a really awesome kushikatsu place near the train station entrance/KFC. If you ever visit there for Gamespot, I recommend a detour! GSV itself was quite different from the arcades I had already seen during my stay in Japan. It was a very.. cozy place, wires everywhere, streaming setup… definitely more of a gamer’s hangout than the corporate-run places in the big shopping districts.
Onucho kindly helped me navigate GSV ST night as I would’ve been completely lost otherwise (thanks again, Onucho!). Prior to the actual tournament, the arcades were set up to play ST. They were on freeplay mode, but it was 50円 for two games using an honour system. I got a few games in to warm up for the tournament, but the place was absolutely packed. There were as many players showing up to play ST as we get in Toronto for all fighters combined during the monthly tournaments…
As for the tournament itself, here’s how GSV night worked when I was there:
During initial sign-up, write down your name and your character’s name on a chart. They will then separate everyone into two teams. Find your team captain, add 50円 to the collection bowl and choose what order in the list you want to play. I was informed that the heavy-hitter players tend to play near the end, so I added my name near the top. When your turn comes up to actually play, you need to take a coin from the collection bowl that is then setup near the arcade in order to pay for your game. I suppose this is their way of ensuring everyone paid.
This is how my GSV experience went (Go to 3:55)
I had been hoping the T.Hawk player would win so I wouldn’t be matched up against Guile, but there it was. Thankfully, this player must not be too familiar with playing against Honda since I’ll typically be completely shut out by Guile – it’s honestly one of the matchups that makes me want to play another character. So it went surprisingly well! I had told Nakano before the tournament that I’ve been playing for a little over a year, so that’s one of the things they mention on the commentary. Other than the obvious “Canada Shougatsu” which was quite flattering, I don’t understand the rest of what was said.
Looking back on my match against the Ryu player, I realize so many things I could’ve done differently. Playing in Japan in general has really opened my eyes to different gameplay styles – before this I have been used to playing against the same few people ALL the time, so I had to slowly learn the art of conditioning one’s opponent. As you can see from this match I did not have that down at all at this point. I was expecting the opponent to throw more fireballs, not to sit there and block, in which case I could’ve at least started off with a lot more throwing. I find that the Japanese Ryu players will NOT throw a fireball unless they’re fairly certain you won’t do anything risky to try to get in.
Following my loss, Onucho went on a bit of a tear with his Dictator which was a lot of fun to watch. Later on in the tournament, Nakano did quite well with his Cammy, which he later attributed to the fact that no one knows how to play against Cammy. I suppose other than Nakamura, she’s not a very popular character in Japan. The rest of the tournament was really exciting to get in to.. lots of close matches and lots of shouting! You can’t really hear it on the GSV videos but it’s a very lively atmosphere at these events and awesome to be a part of. After going to something like GSV, you’ll understand why ST has never ‘died’ in Japan.
Last on the list of must-visit arcades was the infamous Mikado. Now THIS place I had trouble finding! The Japanese side-streets always confuse the hell out of me. I found out later there is a train station exit right by the place… I can’t remember the name of the exit but Mikado is right there. I relegated to walking around until I heard the sound of buttons being mashed. The place itself was really cool, and again a very unique experience from the other more ‘corporate’ offerings. There were a ton of classic machines that I did not see anywhere else in Tokyo. The first floor was dedicated mainly to shmups and puzzle games, with the second floor being dedicated to fighters. It seemed to be a pretty popular place for Guilty Gear Xrd in addition to having the weekly 500円 all-you-can-play Super Turbo. Before sitting down for some SF, I was messing around in Samurai Shodown II. It unfortunately wasn’t a Neo Geo cab (which I didn’t see any of in Tokyo) but it was still great playing that game on an arcade again!
I had the chance to meet Mattsun who works at Mikado, and he seems like a really nice guy… very humble. I told him he was quite famous outside of Japan! I played a couple rounds against him in which I was absolutely decimated, but even in that I learned quite a lot. I have never played against a player that was so twitchy and made me make the silliest mistakes, so it really made me focus on my game and understand what I actually thought I was ‘reacting’ to. His familiarity with the game was on another level and he didn’t give me an inch, it was great. I recall one match where I was down to chip damage, he threw a fireball which I was planning to reversal through (can’t recall if it was meaty) and ended doing a Super on the other side of the screen, which although would obviously not hit, was enough to make me screw up my reversal inputs and eat the fireball. But I wasn’t the only one who would be decimated by Mattsun at least. When I’d see him sit down on the arcade, he wouldn’t have to get up for a couple hours! I also managed to glitch the arcade again (sorry Mattsun). A good number of players showed up to Mikado as well, but unfortunately I was unable to stay too long that day.
I ended up returning the next week and Mikado was even livelier than the previous week. I met a number of interesting players. There was one Japanese player who plays mainly old characters (O.Ryu, O.Chun) and we got a good number of matches in. I almost met the current Tetris Grandmaster, a French guy living in Japan… he had decided to pick up ST recently as a new game to play (Blanka player). Funnily enough, I met a Taiwanese O.Honda player, so we had a good little chat about how awesome O.Honda is and how completely different a character he is than N.Honda. We took turns getting beaten up by a good Guile player that night. From him I learned the usefulness of cr.strong in that matchup, which I had previously written off as being essentially useless (I think I’ve also updated the SRK wiki since ). Aside from getting beaten up by Guile, I could not gain an inch of ground against an N.Sagat player who was on a tear for quite some time. I got up after a while and it turned out to be Mattsun, so I wasn’t too surprised!
Apparently Mattsun is interested in doing another X-Mania USA this year. I know he’s already speaking to a number of the ST crew in the US, so I hope something can happen again as I plan to make the trip down this time. He also claims to be the best drinker in America, so I think a money match is in order!
Overall, I had an amazing experience in Japan and encourage everyone to go if you have any interest in the country and/or in seeing how lively the ST scene still is in Japan. SF was definitely not the ONLY thing I did in Japan, there’s a lot of other great things to do in Tokyo atleast. But if you love the game you owe it to yourself to visit, and make some time for Street Fighter in the process! If you don’t know anything about Japan, a couple quick things:
– don’t expect people to speak English, even in Tokyo..learn a little bit of Japanese to get yourself around. The Tokyo train systems all have English so don’t worry about that.
– “kore o kudasai” (this, please) was by far the most useful phrase I learned. Add “hitotsu” (one) or “futatsu” (two) before “kudasai.” There, you’ve just learned all the Japanese you need to know to buy street food! Which, btw, is glorious in Japan.
– depending on how long you’re staying, a shared house can be a cheap alternative to a hotel
– public wifi is not really a thing. Most require you to sign up on a Japanese page, and you can’t rely on Starbucks since a) they are not as prevalent in Japan and b) their wifi is probably full. If you don’t have wifi, Tokyo Metro stations do offer a public wifi service and they have an English page. An alternative is to rent a wifi receiver and carry that around with you
– go to 7-11 for cheap onigiri breakfast! (100円)