Akihabara Import Scene (I) / May 11, 2005
For us western kids, import games have always meant one thing: Japanese games.
Actually, if you come from a European country, you'd use the word "import" to describe US games as well but, honestly now, who gives a fuck about those pesky Europeans?
Not me, that's for sure.
This site's statistics tell me that 85% of visitors come from the States and there's also a Mexican dude (hey man I am talking about you, yeah you with the 220.127.116.11 IP address - you're famous hombre!)
And hell even the Mexican dude is considered an American so LET US SPEAK NO MORE OF THIS.
One of the main reasons I moved here was to avoid paying astronomic amounts of money to import games from Japan (I spend that money to import cheese now). I mean, believe it or not, the game shops here are full of import games - tons of them stacked ceiling-high, import games in every direction, as far as the eye can see! Even the large chains like Sofmap and Gamers (the equivalent of Electronics Boutique in the US and GAME in Britain) stock nothing but import games - often flogging the latest titles for 20 bucks a pop or less!
The Japanese however, funny as it may sound, do not consider Japanese games to be import games.
Yeah incredible stuff, I know, but there you have it.
When you mention Akihabara to western gamers, the last thing that comes to their mind is US games. However, anyone who spends more than a few weeks in Japan will soon start wondering where to score some US games - regardless of how good their Japanese language skills may be. Because even if you can play the Jap version of the lastest Squeenix RPG, there are still many western-developed games that never get released over here (although most of them fail to be picked up with good reason).
And do you really want to play Halo 2 with Japanese voice acting? (Yep, the Jap version does not have an option to switch the voices to English.)
Well, you shouldn't be playing Halo 2 anyways, but that's beside the point. There are many good western games that you would wish to play - it's just that I can't think of any RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
So today (or yesterday, to be more precise), I decided to call up the largest "import" game store in Akihabara (it's not a real import store since they don't carry Japanese games, but let's all agree to play along with the natives for the purposes of this article) and arrange for a time to go there, have a chat with the staff and shoot some pictures...
When I got there, I was greeted by Kawai-san who is in charge of overseas purchasing and who apparently is the only person in the store who speaks decent English. He took me around and agreed to answer any questions I might have to throw his way. I asked whether it was OK to shoot the staff and customers (with the camera, stoopid) and he said it was fine by him as long as the individuals concerned didn't object. He only asked me to refrain from taking pictures of the shelves with the haxx0ring accessories, so I didn't. I can assure you, however, that they are well-stocked in that department. Japanese import gamers are certainly wise to the ways of the matrix.
As a mater of fact, at first glance the store seems very well stocked, with a wide variety of product lines on offer. Aside from the standard Xbox, Gamecube, PS2 and GBA stuff you'd expect to see, there was also a complete range of N-Gage consoles and games (you won't be able to make calls with them in Japan, however), a good selection of GP32 stuff as well lots of retro consoles, games and accessories (PS1, N64, MD and even Lynx, Jaguar and others). And they've just recently added a line of PSP and DS consoles and games.
There were also various other useful items, like the aforementioned hacking accessories, some very expensive component video and VGA switchboxes, a line of Monster Cables, which you can't find in regular consumer electronics stores, and various other bizarre one-off items like the Xbox sign below.
It goes without saying that all this shit is expensive. A US Xbox goes for $265 and a slim PS2 costs about the same. Ditto for the games. Prices are between $50 and $75, although they always seem to have a few games on sale every time I go there. You can expect to pay from $20 to $40 for a game on sale, although it will usually be the kind of game you wouldn't want to buy anyway.
As a matter of fact, MOST games in this store are the kind of games you wouldn't want to buy.
According to Kawai-san, the store has about 15 or so regular gaijin customers - a tiny proportion of the total clientele. Actually, Kawai-san chose not to divulge the size of his clientele, but it is safe to assume that foreigners comprise much less than 10% of the overall number. Hence, you won't find the US versions of the latest Japanese RPG's, strategy games or action-adventures. No Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Stella Deus or Magna Carta then. The focus is on games developed in the US and Europe because those are the games that the Japanese customers of Kawai-san come here to buy (they can play the above-mentioned games on their Jap consoles because, well, the lucky bastards speak Japanese).
And let it be said here that we are talking about some HARD CORE customers. Regular Japanese gamers balk at the idea of spending $160 to buy an Xbox, even when Bill is giving them additional controllers, games and DVD remotes for free - these guys are paying an extra $265 to buy a US Xbox (and I say extra because I am assuming they already own Jap 'boxes) for the privilege of playing such shining examples of western game design as Playboy: The Mansion, Manhunt and Spy vs. Spy.
At $70 a pop, no less!
Since the gamers who frequent Game Hollywood are hardcore gamers (and Japanese hardcore gamers at that), it only makes sense that most of them would be obsessive compulsive, anally-retentive collectors as well. And so all items on display (even consoles like the 'boxes in the picture below) are wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from scratches/dust/earthquakes/poison gas attacks, etc.
And for the amount of money they cost they better be, I say.
For those of you who are currently in the Tokyo area, here is all the information you need to find Game Hollywod if you ever feel a burning desire to play some crappy American-developed overpriced piece of shit game.
1-9-9 Sotokanda, Uchida Bldg. 5F
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-002
Tel 03-5297-3281/Fax 03-5297-3282
Kawai-san was nice enough to give me a Sega Virtua Stick that I took a liking to. The poor bastard had no idea I was planning to make fun of his store and customers in such a brash and unseemly way. But, really, all the Japanese gamers who spend a fortune to buy crappy US games are loveable in their stupidity, much like many of us who pay through the nose for a lot of Japanese shovelware and patiently suffer through games such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance simply because they are made in Japan.
And, of course, there are still the GP32 games as well as the retro stuff and cool (though overpriced) accessories, so the store is by all means not a total loss.
Then again, the fact that they flat-out refuse to have anything to do with customers who wish to order from overseas renders it pretty much useless to all but the lucky few among you who live here.
Their loss, I say.
So that's it for now. Look out for the second part in this gripping tale of import madness to go up sometime in the near future. I promise the next installment will include strippers with US-sized boobs and dead whores.
Oh, and one more thing.
I don't really mind people from Europe visiting my site. I am actually from the old continent myself...