Thursday, October 18, 2018

Second-Hand Games and Goods in Japan (Rylee)

I am not the most enthusiastic shopper compared to most people. I try to avoid spending money on non-essentials often, especially as a college student, but over my life I have carved out a fairly large niche for retro games. So, when I discovered a store dedicated solely to the sale of second-hand classic video game hardware and memorabilia called Super Potato I was instantly amused. Accounting for my past trips to Japan and now, I still firmly believe I have visited this store more often than shopping for groceries or food. I consider myself a regular as I visit every week as stock always cycles through frequently and there is always something new to see.

A wall of Super Famicon in box games.
Super Potato has two stores in Tokyo, a conveniently located East Ikebukuro store, and a much larger Akihabara store. I take pleasure in going to these stores not for the purpose of buying things but for the sights. Many people state that Super Potato is much as a museum as it is a store and I couldn’t agree more. What makes Super Potato stand out is the sheer quantity and quality of its collection making it unmatched to other used games stores around the world. Super Potato attracts a lot of foreign visitors and surprises them with a working demo unit of a Nintendo Virtual Boy, obscure game systems and much more that you would be bewildered to find back in places such as the United States.
Nintendo Virtual Boy Demo Unit
The people who come from afar usually buy a lot at Super Potato even though the prices are not exactly bargains. Enthusiasts are excited to see things such as more working Sega Saturn units stacked on a shelf than all listings on eBay combined, and to have all of the accessories and games sitting right next to them for sale. Super Potato is an archive of Japanese video games where you will find anything released between 1980 to the early 2000s.

The beauty of it all is that you see gently used stuff from ages ago on display as if it were brand new. The ability to have places such as Super Potato and many other second-hand stores within Japan selling used goods as if it were bulk is definitely surprising. People surprisingly take care of their possessions in Japan allowing for the second-hand market to thrive and allows us visitors to witness parts of history such as through the evolution of consumer Japan.
Stacks of Famicon Systems
In the home entertainment or video game sense, the prevalence of old electronics and media can be also attributed for Japan’s stubborn nature towards adoption of more advanced and more complicated technologies. Games from the 80s and 90s were fun and easy to understand with their plug and play nature. Why would someone want to spend more money on something more complex for the same result on what you already have? Thus, the abundance of second-hand game stores unparalleled to any other place on earth. There is certainly evidence for and against this, but the fondness Japan has developed for older technologies and mediums is well beyond what I have experienced in America. The surging economy in the 80s is another factor into the prevalence of luxury goods, so the record-breaking sales numbers in the mid 80s are no doubt a contributor to the abundance of Nintendo Famicom systems and the sort. The surge of home computer systems and game consoles in Japan had far reaching effects on countries such as the United States, and without it today’s video game scene would be very different.
Nintendo Game and Watch

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

My Trips to the Grocery Store (Zowie)

A sweet treat from Aeon Mall.
Over the past month in Akita, the place I have become a frequent visitor to is the grocery store. It is about a 15-minute bus ride from Akita International University and located in the basement of Aeon mall. Every Sunday without fail I head to Aeon around 9 am or 11 am. While a grocery store may seem like a lackluster place there are plenty of new foods to buy and samples to try (during the morning hours). Every week I feel like I find a new section of the store I’ve never seen before. The main reason is there is only a limited time before the next bus comes so I try to get in and get out as efficiently as possible, but every week I try to buy something I have never had before. For example last week, I discovered the section that sells pre-made goods like fried chicken, grilled pork on a stick, and seafood. It is similar to the deli section at Walmart that has pre-made food, but at Aeon, there is a larger variety of delicious food to choose from. As funny as it sounds, I was overjoyed and relieved that I could buy something to eat after returning to campus without having to cook first.

Like most stores, it has a separate alcohol, fruits, vegetables, meats, cereals, hygiene products, sweets, and pre-made goods sections. However, something that I don’t see in the United States is the gift section. They have sweets like cookies, cakes, that are packaged nicely and some have cute designs specific to Akita, like Namahage, which is a type of mythical creature that is like a demon, mountain ogre, or spirit.
These are Namahage (https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Namahage_,_なまはげの像_-_panoramio_(1).jpg)
Aeon isn’t as big as large chain retailers in the United States, but it has everything I need and more. The workers who are giving out samples always have a smile on their face. There have been a few times when they tried to hold a conversation with me, but I only could pick up less than half of what they were saying. But we were still able to communicate through gestures. Also, I have noticed that I am used to hearing my professor speak clear concise Japanese but most of the students and locals speak fast and somewhat unclear.

Even though this is the place I have frequented the most I hope to find other places to go to over the next few months I am here. There are so many things I want to do, but transportation can be extremely inconvenient when trying to plan a trip off campus. But I am hopeful I can travel off campus more frequently on the coming months.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Student Lounge (Shelby)

One place that I go almost every day of the week is the student lounge in the center for international education on campus. The room is large, with many chairs, tables, and couches, and a large wall in the back showing the time for various places of the world. International students and native Japanese students alike come to the lounge to hang out, do homework, recruit people for events, or take naps. Some people even use the building next to the lounge, where there are large, reflective windows, to practice dancing. I, personally, like to watch them sometimes while I’m there.

People use it as a mutual meeting ground when they need to meet up with someone or get a group together because almost everyone knows where it is. Often times, the Japanese students who are not part of the study abroad prep program go to the lounge to find students that can help them correct their English homework or help them with a project. I’ve been approached by several girls who have asked me to help them correct papers or understand a part of their class reading. Just recently, I was asked by a trio of students in a Japanese linguistics group to help them with a project where they have to teach someone ten Japanese words, so they decided that they would teach me ten words of the Kansai dialect. I was also asked by a few people if I was interested in participating in field trips or volunteer activities.
Volunteer Opportunity Flier from Last Week
The student lounge provides a unique dynamic on the campus, as it is not an exclusive area for international students or students who want to study and it’s not a place where there are any particular set of expectations. People are loud, they play games, do homework, nap, or just do whatever they want to do. Japanese students seem to go there to hang out with other Japanese students rather than to meet international students, which I find surprising, as it’s probably one of the most densely populated places in terms of where international students go. And, as someone who has the chance to sit in the lounge for extended periods of time, mainly over lunch, it’s interesting to see the amount of people who come to the lounge to eat lunch. As soon as lunch is over, the room quickly empties and becomes incredibly quiet. And even then, when people are in class or eating lunch, there’s almost always people dancing outside.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Japan’s Gashapon (Keaton)

When looking at what I was consuming here in Japan, the gashapon, or gacha, is a strange decision I settled on. This is because I have not been buying a lot of gachas (compared to my friends anyway), but I believe this is not the only thing involved in the culture of gachas.

First off, gashapons are small dispensers that give out a small item depending on the gacha you use. These items range from small magnets that cost around a 100 yen to a modest size figure that can cost around around 500 yen. These little machines can be found almost anywhere and can be found in groups. While you find a lot of these in groups of around six, there are some places that can contain rows and rows of these dispensers.
Example of a typical gacha station.
America also has gacha, but on a smaller scale. Supermarkets may have a small candy or bouncy ball dispenser near the entrance that costs 25 cents, but Japanese gacha give off a different feel. The items you get from gacha differs depending on the machine; however, most of the gachas are anime related. By appealing to fandoms, Japanese gashapon gain more incentive to buy than a 25 cent bouncy ball. Not only this, but the items you receive are quality products you could buy at comic stores like keychains and pins.
One of the items I was able to get.
But like I said, I have not purchased from a lot of gacha, but I still feel like I am a consumer unlike some customers I have watched which come to machines with a cup of 100 yen hellbent on getting the one they want. For me, like the gambling high of getting the right keychain, there is also a high in finding the right machine to use. Since gashapon cover many properties, there is always new gacha to find, and finally finding the one with the show that you like is a exhilarating feeling. I even biked an hour out of my way to just use the gacha because my friend told me of a gacha I was looking for.

Gacha are more than just a machine on the side of the street. However small they may be, the nicknacks you can get from gashapon can be a way to show off your interests for just a small small price. While the item may be nice, finding the gacha you have been searching for is half the fun. While I do not buy a lot, I am always waiting to find the the one gacha that will make my day.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Yokoso, YouTube! (Gray)

My prompt for this week was to become a “fan” of something. Though I am a regular at the campus conbini, I decided it would be interesting to take my research to a digital space: YouTube! In the course of my time in Japan so far I have picked up several Japanese YouTube channels that I watch regularly, though I had started watching one while I was still in the U.S. The ones I’ll be talking about, because I watch them most regularly, and have participated in their comments section, are a prank/comedy channel called SUSHI RAMEN [Riku] and a cooking/vlog network of channels run by Rachel and Jun, an American/Japanese married couple living in Japan.

Banner from Rachel and Jun's main channel, where they mostly post in English about life in Japan. Jun has a cooking channel of his own.
The general flow of consuming these videos is dependent on if a new one has been uploaded. While some channels have a more regular upload schedule, others are more scattered in their upload times. When a new video was uploaded, I would watch and comment, usually in Japanese but there were some channels with majority English comments. The content of the videos on these channels varies but I’ll give an example of a recent video by SUSHI RAMEN [Riku].
Thumbnail and description from SUSHI RAMEN [Riku]'s most recent video.
By the thumbnail and editing you can tell that he takes a lot of inspiration from Japanese comedy variety shows, with colorful subtitles in Japanese as well as general absurd video concepts, like building a slide from the front door to the living room with guitars attached to the sides so he can play a song when he comes home from his part time job. This, while patently ridiculous, is enjoyable because of [Riku]’s personality and his unique editing style. 

The majority of comments on [Riku]’s channel are in Japanese, with the occasional one-off English comments remarking on how “Japanese” his videos are. My attempts to engage in the comments were mostly in Japanese, garnering a couple likes but no replies, which I in general expected. The comments section of a Youtube video is not the best place to have conversations with other fans as there are a lot of comments and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle.

I think in future I should also ask my Japanese friends and my roommate what YouTube channels they watch, so I can watch the same things and have discussions with them from that. I was particularly interested in investigating a form of pop culture created by the individual instead of by larger companies and industries. It was interesting to see how the content on YouTube borrows from more traditional mediums like television, and the cultural specificity of those references. But all in all, I encourage my fellow students and blog readers to check out Japanese YouTube! You never know what you’ll find!