The abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone part 1

One day in late July 2017 I decided to get back into the urban spelunking game, with a trip out to the abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone. Since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns, the Japanese government has slowly been reopening areas closer to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and while it remains tricky, a lot of areas can now be visited legally and (mostly) safely.

The trip started with a train from Tokyo to the nearest city Iwaki (いわきし Iwaki-shi).

From there it was a slow train to the coastal outskirts of Fukushima Prefecture.

Nearly at the end of the line was the first sight of something soon to be common – stockpiles of large black bags of radiation-contaminated soil. All soil is being tested inside the entire disaster area, and any found to be contaminated is being removed and shipped out for storage.

Tatsuta Station (たつた)

Tatsuta isn’t a town from what I can tell, just a station. It’s on the edge of the evacuation zone and was partially destroyed and shut down following the 2011 disaster. The station reopened in 2014 as a rail terminus. Trains still do not go any further in.

A new station structure was being built/rennovated, presumably with plans to eventually restore the train line to isolated towns like Tomioka and Namie.

This area is far enough inland that the tsunami didn’t hit, and it’s toward the edge of the exclusion zone, but was nonetheless evacuated 2011-2014 and has remained mostly abandoned.

Business sit empty, and there are no people around at all, apart from the two other people who were on the train.

Another soon to be common sight – geiger counters. Most areas now read at levels ‘safe for long term habitation’.

From here on you have to get a charter bus to any towns further in.

On the outskirts of the zone, the Japanese government has been building new houses for those who lost theirs in the quake and tsunami. All seem to be empty, possibly because the residents have settled elsewhere by now.

This is the road to the second nuclear plant –  Fukushima Daini. It was successfully shut down after the earthquake.

The cooling tower is visible on the skyline.

The sister plant which suffered the meltdown – Fukushima Daiichi – is just south of the next town, Tomioka.

Tomioka (とみおかまち Tomioka-machi)

While tsunami debris had (mostly) been cleared from the streets, it seemed decontamination work had only just begun at Tomioka, one of the two towns closest to the meltdown. Evacuation orders were only lifted two months earlier, and there were a few hazmat-suited work crews around, and a single shop (a supermarket) had opened to service them, as well as workers continuing the long process of decommissioning the damaged Daiichi plant.

Apart from decontamination workers, the majority of the town was still abandoned.

Half-packed possessions remained just sitting around.

Structures that survived the earthquake better were being used as dumping grounds for goods and possessions from elsewhere

Houses closer to the coast in the lower part of the town suffered huge tsunami damage.

This side-of-the-road restaurant and home had been abandoned and overtaken by the elements.

I went exploring inside.

The whole front of the kitchen had collapsed in

Various stored possessions abandoned
The outside sign is falling apart

Coming in Part 2 – the main streets of Tomioka, a Pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and probably the saddest part: abandoned newly built homes.

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Sega games on Nintendo consoles – a history.

Nintendo and Sega first crossed paths as rivals in the arcade business, and this spilled over into the console business when they both released their first home console on the same day.

Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo well and truly won round 1, and not having a great income stream from their consoles, Sega allowed their games to be released on competing systems like Nintendo’s Famicom and NEC’s PC Engine. The games were published by third parties, but nontheless there were several official Famicom/NES releases where the Sega logo could be seen on a title screen.

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By the late 80’s everything had changed however. Sega’s third console the Mega Drive was doing  very well, and was eventually a solid competitor to the Famicom/NES and later Super Famicom/SNES. As a result, the concept of Sega on Nintendo (or vice versa) faded from memory as a possibility.

Outside of dodgy Famicom pirates of course…

But by the late 90s, Sega was in a bad position again. All their Mega Drive add-ons had failed to gain decent marketshare, as had their Game Boy competitor the Game Gear. And their latest main console, the Saturn, had been a borderline disaster. While it managed to establish a decent niche in Japan (even outselling the Nintendo 64), their previously strong marketshare in the west had crashed. Their entire legacy rested on the hopes of the new Dreamcast console.

As a result, their publishing rules started to relax again, and they allowed other non-competing platforms to see their crown jewel property Sonic. In 1997 a terrible version of Sonic Jam was released on the Game.com, a terrible console by Tiger Electronics. More notably, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure was released on SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color in late 1999.

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On March 31st, 2001, the battle was no more. Sega discontinued the Dreamcast, and started developing games for the remaining platform holders, including Nintendo. The first release was a port of Chu Chu Rocket to Game Boy Advance. The end of the very same year the previously unthinkable had already happened – An official Sonic game on Nintendo.

Two Sonic games were released on December 20 2001. Sonic Advance on Game Boy Advance

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And Sonic Adventure 2 on GameCube. In a strange twist of fate, Sonic actually beat Mario to a new Nintendo console, as it would be another six months until Super Mario Sunshine.

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It went on from there, and the next Sonic game, while multiplatform, was designed primarily for the Nintendo GameCube. SegaNintendo_8975

But for long term fans of both companies, it really really hit home when in 2003 Sega developed a Nintendo game.

This splash screen blew my mind the first time I saw it.

The game? F-Zero GX. And it was one of the greatest games of the generation, and still a killer looking and playing title today.SegaNintendo_8974

Technically that was about it for Sega. In 2003 they were taken over my Pachinko company Sammy and have continued as an upper-mid-tier third party developer. And over a decade later, despite varied game quality, Sonic is a strong seller on Nintendo.

Who would have thought?

 

Pre-WW2 Nintendo Hanafuda (花札) – cards and gambling kit

This is my oldest Nintendo item, a set of original Nintendo Hanafuda. I’m not sure of the exact date of manufacture, the seller said the kit was ‘pre-war’. Given the superb condition it seems likely it is from quite late in that prescribed period.

The set is contained in an unassuming wooden box.

In which fit the gambling paraphernalia and cards.

I don’t think the non-card items are Nintendo made, but the kit is clearly built around the box of Nintendo cards and it all fits together very neatly.

Various chips for gambling.

Under the main card box is a tray of other gambling related items.

The card with the woman on it says 百本 or something like ‘a hundred points’.

The small Hanafuda box itself is where we can see the original Nintendo branding.

任天堂 – Nin Ten Do – in the original kanji logo.

The lid lifts off to reveal the beautiful Hanafuda (花札) – literally ‘flower cards’.

The cards themselves are quite beautiful and well made.

These three cards are branded. The left card has the Nintendo Playing Card logo, and the middle is branded with 任天堂 Nin Ten Do.

You can see the matching logo on the plaques at Nintendo’s old HQ in Kyoto.

The same logo is on the door on the right!

The whole kit.

Splatoon Madness in Japan Part 3 – Suizokukaan at the Kyoto Aquariam

The final stop in the ‘Splatoon madness’ journey is in Nintendo’s home town, at Kyoto Aquarium. A semi-educational Splatoon-themed event called ‘Suizokukaan’ ran for summer, with a focus on squid and jellyfish exhibits.

The aquarium was outfitted with Splatoon branding throughout.

And featured special Splatoon art as temporary signs for each relevant section.

The educational info compared what’s seen in the game with the actual marine life.

I’m not seeing the resemblance…

And what would a tourist trap be without copious volumes of exclusive merchandise! Murch would be proud.

The aquarium itself is pretty standard stuff, but quite modern with some nice exhibits.

The last metroid is in captivity

There are some cute Japanese touches too.

The main event is a Splatoon themed water fight for kids, in the seal pool between hourly shows. Kids get themselves a Splattershot…

And shoot water at a squid target.

It’s a competition for who can hit the highest level, green vs pink.

While parents/grandparents/people waiting for the seal show look on in various states of amusement/boredom.

The best part is the music. Tracks from the first game play while the race is on.

And right at the end they drop a waterfall on all the participants to the tune of ‘Now or Never’ – Squid Squad version.

All a very silly diversion but fun for the kids. And just shows the depth of the cultural relevance of the brand in Japan.

Nintendo Switch and Splatoon Madness in Japan Part 2 – Splatoon 2 launch day

Splatoon 2 launched on a Friday, so most people were at work. Shops in Akihabara open at 10am, and many were ready for early buyers.

Some larger stores like Sofmap, Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera set up shopfront stalls, selling the game and related products.

There were some small lines

But there was plenty of stock to go around, so it was easy enough to get the game and related items, like Amiibo and neon green/pink joycons. If you were lucky, there were also a few of the licensed (in-game brand) Forge headsets available.

My personal haul

The bigger stores were very busy however – there was a 20+ minute wait at the counter at Yodobashi for example.

While the game was easy enough to obtain, it’s not so easy to get a Switch console in Japan. This is what you see in most places at the moment:

Demand is off the charts and all Switch consoles sell out instantly. Stores only get a certain allotment of consoles, and to determine which customers get a chance to buy one, they run lotteries.

Literal lotteries. Customers are asked to line up at a certain location from 8am and take a number. Later in the day, they draw numbers, and the winners now have an opportunity to buy the console.

There was another lottery the next day for the regular edition of the console

This was the line to take a number at the Akihabara Bic Camera store.

After getting your number, you can go about you day shopping, and return for the results announcement.

Entrants in the lottery awaiting the results

The results are posted at the front of the store.

The Splatoon 2 booth was quite busy with buyers at this point, and combined with the rush to see the Switch lottery results, a crush took place.

Bad luck if you didn’t win, try again tomorrow.

Or you could buy from scalper stores for double the price!

More Splatoon store displays

 

After a long day of observing the craziness, I finally got home to get playing myself.

While Japan got ready to do it all again a week later for Dragon Quest XI!

Next up: Splatoon at the Kyoto Aquarium

Nintendo Switch and Splatoon Madness in Japan Part 1

While I mostly focus on retro stuff on this site, I’ve recently gotten back into modern Nintendo games. And there is nothing more modern, more Nintendo, and more Japanese than Splatoon, a game about punk-rock fashion-conscious highly evolved transforming squid children playing ink-shooting games in a post-apocalyptic future world. Oh, and it features singing idol girls and is set in a suspiciously Shinjuku/Harajuku looking city.
The first Splatoon was huge in Japan, despite the fact the console it was released on, the Wii U, was not. It was a crossover cultural hit with huge merchandising success, and is easily the highest selling home console game in the current generation in Japan, selling more than even huge names on PS4 like Final Fantasy and more recently Dragon Quest.

On top of this, Nintendo’s new system, the Switch, is also a huge hit, having been constantly sold out since launch. Recently these two things combined with the release of Splatoon 2 on Switch. And as expected, Japan has gone crazy for it.

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Nintendo has gone all out with ads for the game, with many TV spots, ads running in trains…

   

…and standard posters around the city.

But what sets the Splatoon 2 campaign apart are these: Fashion ads for the in-game brands.

Merchandise

You can’t really go anywhere that sells toys or games or trinkets of any sort without coming across Splatoon merchandise. It is everywhere in all cities countrywide.

   

   

   

Many companies without a licence are using the ‘rainbow paint’ motif to sell their gaming wares too.

   

In store displays and ads

      

Tie-ins

You can buy all sorts of licenced snacks and drinks

7-Eleven has a promotion to get exclusive in-game gear if you buy the game from them (they sell download code cards) or with certain product purchases.

   

You get a Splatoon badge and a code which can be redeemed on the Switch eShop, and the gear gets dropped off as a package in Inkopolis Square in the game.

Tower Records

The biggest tie-in with a store is probably Tower Records.

The initial Japanese pre-release Splatoon demo was itself a tie-in, as Tower Records sold the in-game t-shirts for the Rock vs Pop theme.

The Shibuya store in particular looks like this:

   

And had a performance tie in with Wet Floor, an in-game band.

While not nation wide, there is a possibly even larger Splatoon tie-in event with Kyoto Aquarium, which I’ll cover in a future article.

Next article: Splatoon 2 launch day.

Game Shop 1983 (ゲームショップ 1983) Sapporo

Outside of the known ‘game districts’ in Tokyo and Osaka, specialist video game shops are a bit harder to come by these days. You have Yodobashi and Bic Camera for new games, and all the HardOff/HouseOff/BookOff variations, but you have to look a bit harder for specialist stuff.

I’ve recently been travelling in Hokkaido, and came across this tiny slice of old-school Akiba in Sapporo – Game Shop 1983.

It’s a tiny place, packed with stuff in that haphazard ‘run by an enthusiast not a businessman’ way. The guy who runs it is nice though, and the prices are not insane.

All eras are represented, from Famicom through to modern stuff.

The classic ‘drawers of loose carts’ format.
Some copies of the new ‘Neo Heiankyo Alien’ game mixed in with actual vintage releases…

It’s so cramped and…unkept… it reminds me a lot of the game shops in the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong more than most Japanese shops.

In a cute touch it seems you can get a papercraft version of the shop. They were all out at this moment however.

Not much more to say about the place, but it’s worth a visit just to see this: the Dreamcast Karaoke unit version of the ‘Tower of Power’