Another update on this article on my now never-ending quest to collect a series of Konami Famicom character cards from the 80s.
Recap: at some point starting in 1987, Konami decided to include a collector card with all their Famicom titles. Each card had an illustration related to the game; some cards featured screenshots or pieces of screenshots, others had artwork of scenes in the game.
But one lucky day I found a regular small boxed game with the card. And now I have a card for all twenty of the games that came with one!
On top of this, I picked up a beautiful near mint copy of Dragon Scroll (ドラゴンスクロール) in Ikebukuro, which came with a different card to the one I had, so now I have entered the murky waters of collecting multiple cards per game.
Dragon Scroll also came with these great advertisements for various Konami games and sountracks. Pretty cool when you have almost every item on a vintage ad!
This Japanese site (which I found because it flatteringly used this site as a source) has nicely collated most of the available cards, so this journey may go for many more years. Another great site Video Game Den also has good info on the available cards.
In the higher parts of town where the tsunami didn’t hit, the earthquake still did a lot of damage to many buildings.
With the streets cleared of rubble by the government workers, abandoned buildings and infrastructure create an eerie post-apocalytic vibe.
Nuka Cola side quest
Another classic post-apocalytic image omnipresent in Tomioka was that of the dilapidated vending machine. A special someone of mine was a huge fan of the Fallout game series, so I made finding a real-life Nuka Cola a priority.
Unfortunately most machines were either all locked up (I wasn’t going to break in, I’m an explorer not a vandal)…
…or already ransacked.
Even the front can sections had already been broken into in this machine.
There was a highway running through Tomioka with some traffic heading through town to Iwaki, the power plants, and the next town Namie.
But the commercial centres of town remained shuttered.
A grocery store remains boarded up, almost fully stocked.
This dressmaking shop evidently closed quite quickly.
This poster was advertising a festival to be held in April 2011. It presumably never went ahead due to the March 2011 evacuation orders.
This restaurant is in hindsight grimly named アトム (Atom).
This service station has stood up to the elements surprisingly well.
Inside is pristine
But this external basin is caked with grit.
The signage has collapsed on the reverse however.
Pachinko Grand Hall
I spied this building on the way in, and it turned out to be the main event of the trip. A crumbling local casino at the top of the hill.
Several walls have collapsed.
As has the sign.
As well as pachinko, the place featured a halloween themed Karaoke bar.
Inside is a moment in time, frozen.
Pachinko balls (the equivalent of gambling chips) have fallen to the floor and remained there for over six years.
Products like chewing tobacco remain in their racks.
Apart from items that presumably fell in the earthquakes, shelves remain undisturbed.
A kitchen deserted.
Even in an abandoned wasteland, you still have video games in Japan. Puyo Puyo for Windows XP!
And you can never escape from the omnipresent Hello Kitty.
On the way upstairs there was a commercial kitchen.
The second floor waiting room.
With a shelf full of reading material.
My quest to find a Nuka Cola continued, but these machines were empty.
The new view from the second floor bathroom was… something.
The karaoke rooms.
Heading through the back to get to the final floor, apparently there was a Sauna (セウナ)?
Right at the top, the ceiling was collapsing, parts literally fell just as I walked past this section.
The roof seemed stable enough however.
Heading down via the external spiral staircase.
One last look on the ground floor led to Nuka Cola success! I found some mini bottles in a small refrigerator for the special gift! Use by date: 19 May 2011…
Probably the saddest scene was right up the top of the town. This was a new estate – six years ago.
Brand new homes completed or half finished. The town was clearly growing, and people were starting their lives here.
But now the houses sit abandoned amidst overgrown weeds.
There was a similar scene closer to the coast. This half-built wooden house was never finished and has since been beaten by weather – but the metal and glass door/window fittings remain pristine.
This old man is one of the handful of residents who had returned to the area as of July/August. He was out walking his little dog and heading to the town’s single shop.
What would a post-apocayptic scene be without some creepy abandoned institutions? Tomioka delivers with an abandoned school.
On the right is a kindergarten.
It’s all been kept in pretty good condition internally, seemingly with plans for the population to return in the future.
Across the road, a middle/high school.
It was getting dark and the final shuttle was leaving, so it was farewell to Tomioka, Iwaki and the rest of this area of Fukushima. If I ever return I imagine it will be very different.
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.
Continue reading part 2 here – featuring the main streets of Tomioka, a Pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and probably the saddest part: abandoned newly built homes.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
It went on from there, and the next Sonic game, while multiplatform, was designed primarily for the Nintendo GameCube.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!