Working in Tokyo for two months left me with some free time to explore the place. Here are some notes on the video game shops that I visited to try and expand my collection.
Super Potato is located in front of the Akiba Culture Zone. Prices are generally on the high side but this place is as much a shop as it is a museum and you ought to yourself to pay it a visit. The last floor has several older arcade cabinets that you can play for 100¥ a game while munching on game-themed snacks.
Nice finds: boxed Golden Sun (GBA) in perfect condition.
Also seen: cheap broken consoles if you’re handy — a lot of game-related paraphernalia.
Situated on Chuo-dori, Akihabara’s main street, Retro Game was often packed with tourists. Prices there can be downright exorbitant though. For instance, nude Pokemon cartridges are priced at 1800¥ (they sell for ~100¥ in less crowded areas of Tokyo!). It’s still fun to rummage through the shelves while listening to the ambient game soundtracks but don’t expect to find a rare forgotten gem in here.
Nice finds: boxed Yoshi no Tamago for 200¥, not so good condition but, hey, it was cheap.
Also seen: large choice of Game Boy consoles — many occidental hits (Zelda, Street Fighter, every possible Mario game), this shop really targets foreigners — a junk bin in front of the store contains items with damaged boxes, this is the only section with reasonnable prices.
There are several Trader locations around Akihabara but the first floor of store #2 is the place to be (climb the other floors for a peek at a very open-minded Japan). Prices were generally okay and they had a lot of choice. Bonus points for the constant flow of buyers/sellers, which ensured a renewed inventory each time I came by.
Nice finds: boxed Zelda Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (GB) in perfect condition for 500¥ each.
Also seen: SEGA games, which are less common — several limited edition consoles (costly, though).
Friends is a two-story shop hidden between Akihabara and Ueno. There is no store front and it’s really easy to miss if you pass the small sign on the sidewalk. On the first floor, there are many games only released in Asia that are not exactly catered to the international audience (derby and pachinko, mainly), and the second floor is dedicated to game guides and soundtracks. Reaching behind the counter to go through the boxes full of unsorted cartridges is tempting but the old lady who manages the store is likely to disagree.
Nice finds: dozens of Game Boy protection carts for 30¥ each!.
Also seen: “rarer” game consoles (Neo-Geo, Virtual Boy) — a lot of game guides.
Mandarake is a chain of stores that sells vintage toys and cultural products including video games. The Akihabara and Shibuya locations have decent game selections but prices were rather steep. Those are still worth a visit, if only for their huge Gozilla collections! If you prefer to focus on games however, try Nakano Broadway where Mandarake is split into tiny shops scattered around a big mall. There, look for Mandarake Galaxy; this one specializes in used games and its prices are quite reasonnable since it’s outside of the touristic areas.
Also seen: Power Gloves, It’s so bad!
Book-Off is a nationwide chain of bookstores that also sells used movies and games. It’s really easy to stumble into one of those shops by chance, especially around train stations. There, you may find older games, sometimes under the label “retro games” (meaning that this is going to be expensive) and other times under the label “old hardware” (cheap). Prices and selection vary depending on the location: the Akihabara one was prohibitively costly and had a poor selection, the Shinjuku ones were nice if a bit costly. The most interesting locations were definitely outside of the city center, far from the other tourists!
Nice finds: boxed Link’s Awakening DX + boxed Pokemon Blue in perfect condition — many nude Game Boy games for ~100¥ each.
Also seen: Heaps of dirt cheap SEGA Saturn and PS1 games (japanese gamers seem very careful and most CDs were impeccable).
Hard-Off is where it’s at! I first visited the Akihabara location by accident, only to find a small bin with four sad Famicom games. I left disappointed but found another store weeks later in the periphery of Tokyo and this was a totally different story: dozens of used consoles, thousands of games, low prices, they had it all! An epic day-long marathon through a dozen of Hard-Offs around Tokyo ensued and I found some really great stuff. Good times.
Nice finds: boxed Final Fantasy 6 for 500¥ — boxed Secret of mana in for 400¥ (gorgeous boxart!).
Also seen: everything, they have everything.
Mak Japan （マッｋジャパン）& G-Front（ｇフロント）
For the arcade connoisseur, there’s also Mak Japan and G-Front. G-Front is basically a small room with a catalog of inventoried games and a guy bringing you stuff, so you better know what you came for (was not the case for me, cue the awkward “Uhh, metalu sulugu?“).
Mak Japan is a bit more roomy and you are free to rummage a bit but it’s still mostly rows of bubble-wrapped PCBs, not exactly a feast for the eyes! They also sell arcade levers and buttons if you want that real *click click* feeling.
In conclusion, go to Super Potato if you just want one or two souvenir games; it’s a great shop with a unique ambiance. If you can spare some time, pass by a Book-off, they are easy to find around the main train stations. If you have more time, try to steer away from the city center and visit Hard-off stores to get the coolest and cheapest stuff!
Here is a recap of some shops I visited.