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’

The best arcade in Japan – Kowloon Walled City at Kawasaki

Kowloon Walled City was a lawless mini-city built just outside of Hong Kong.

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Established on a legal ‘no-man’s land’ and unpoliced by either Britain or China, it thrived and became an amazing mass of humanity.

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You might know it was the place the Kumite was held…

It was torn down in 1994, but I’ve always been fascinated by the place. I’ve been to where it once was, and all that is left is a boring park, with a few monuments like a piece of the original foundation, and a model of the old city.

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What has this got to do with Japan?

It seems I wasn’t the only one who was fascinated by the walled city, as some of the interior has been re-created in Japan. It’s called the Kawasaki Warehouse, and it’s one of many amazing pet projects by Japanese designer Taishiro Hoshino.

So we got on the train out of Tokyo and headed for Kawasaki. It’s a bit of a walk, but easy to find once in the right area.

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The entrance looks right out of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman:

Inside you have to walk past pretend drug dens and prostitutes

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Until it opens up into a re-creation of the bustling city courtyards

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That just happens to have an old-school video arcade inside!

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Everything from Taito’s original three screen Darius
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To a sit-down Outrun cabinet
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To more recent offerings like Nintendo and Namco’s Mario Kart Arcade

Even the bathrooms match the theme

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I’m assured the ladies was much nicer!

Upstairs there’s a weird renaissance theme, and classy layout for various parlour games

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And of course, Pachinko and crane games.

Well worth the trip out to Kawasaki!

More photos:

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Nintendo and other gaming in mainland China

China is a strange place when it comes to gaming. Despite the proximity, Japanese consoles have rarely had much presence, as most of China wasn’t developed enough during the age of their rise. You do find the odd arcade, and like everywhere else, terrible ‘free to play’ mobile games have taken over in the last couple of years.

Nintendo and their characters are as present as any pop-culture icons. They exist in the copyright wild west of China’s major cities primarily as pirated merchandise (with a few examples of legit merch). But there was no sign in any stores I saw of the actual main Nintendo products – the games themselves.

Here’s a photo journal of some of the gaming stuff I came across on a trip through mainland China.

Beijing

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Mario Kart Wii used as a sign for…
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90s (and early 2000s) arcade games by Sega, Namco, Capcom and SNK!

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 Xian

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So weird how you can get Mario Happy Meals, how would they even know what a Boomerang Bros suit is?
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At a Xian ‘indoor market’
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As far as I can tell, the Wii U isn’t even available in China. Yet here’s a Mario 3D World toy.

Xiamen

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Mario sells men’s clothing in Xiamen. A very strange city, it’s like a dying tourist town.

Shanghai

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‘Shanghai Fake Market’ – a huge indoor market with branded stores that haven’t paid for the branding…

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Ironically retro gaming would be easy in Shanghai – great supply of working CRTs available cheap at antique markets.

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Pilgrimage to Nintendo HQ in Kyoto

So I’ve been a Nintendo fan for 30 years, and I’m in Kyoto for the first time. Well I have to go to Nintendo HQ don’t I?

First stop was very hard to find – the old (60s?) Nintendo HQ, buried in the backstreets of a now largely residential area of Kyoto.

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After a lot of Googling and research, I worked out it was somewhere near here, which was around 15 minutes walk from the apartment we were staying in.

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So we set off the next morning. After a lot of wandering in the freezing cold winter air, we found it!

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 A totally non-descript building, except for this:

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 And this:

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This was their playing card factory and distribution centre I believe, and I also believe it has stayed in company hands. It’s a fairly large ‘small business’ building.

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 I took a peek inside as well, clean but seemingly closed (it was a Friday).

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 So that done, off on another adventure. The next stop would be much easier to find. It was about 40 minutes walk away through residential and industrial areas, though we stopped in at a couple of temples

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Until it appeared…

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Mecca.

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A couple of blocks away, there’s also the new development centre:

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Not too much to see, you’re not allowed in either building. But they do have a nice big sign at the dev centre.

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Bonus: Konami HQ in Tokyo!

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