Collecting Retro Games in Japan
Japan is a paradise for collectors of all kinds, but if you’re one of the many gamers who seeks out the ancient relics of gaming’s yesteryear, it’s perhaps even better than you could imagine. If you’re a casual retro game collector or even a more serious archivist, there’s probably no better place to seek out the titles that are missing from your collection.
Thanks in part due to an excellent second-hand market, a culture that values keeping used goods in great condition, and Japan being the point of origin for many iconic game hardware and software companies alike, retro games are widely accessible, and often at great price points!
I’m not a huge retro games collector – at least, I wasn’t at all until I moved here. But even I’ve found the appeal of Japan’s retro scene undeniable, and have collected a variety of retro titles from my favourite series and even some old consoles that I couldn’t get as a child: in some ways out of a sense of nostalgia, but mainly because a lot of them have been so easy to find.
But if you’re new to retro game collecting, you might not understand the benefits of getting Japanese games or taking advantage of Japan’s excellent secondary market. So why should you care about Japan’s retro collection scene, and how can you yourself use it to your advantage in your retro collecting?
Why Retro Game Collecting Is Easier in Japan
There’s a lot of reasons why the Japanese market is excellent for expanding any retro game collection.
To start with, the general preference for physical media in Japanese culture over digital options has led to a general abundance of second-hand game cartridges and disks. Stores for used items are pretty common in Japan’s cities, and games – alongside books and other physical media – are one of the most commonly found second-hand items in these stores.
For this reason, there are plenty of stores dedicated solely to used media, and many dedicated to used games specifically. Amongst this subsection of used game stores is a small portion dedicated to retro gaming specifically, such as the iconic Super Potato or Retro Game Camp in Akihabara, which have become iconic for their vast catalogues of games from the 8 and 16-bit eras: games for Nintendo, SEGA, Atari and even other more unknown retro formats can be found here. Especially if you’re on the hunt for a NES or SNES game in Japan, there’s a huge amount of options for you.
Secondly, Japanese stores and consumers alike keep these used items in remarkably good condition in a way that doesn’t necessarily affect the price. Most games are incredibly well-kept, and even games with a small amount of box and/or cartridge damage (which can be hard to find) will be marked down accordingly. Finding boxed games, and even boxed games complete with the manual is much easier than you’d think when you’re buying from Japanese stores.
One of the primary reasons to expand your game collections using Japanese stores is to find rare, unpublished goods not found anywhere else other than in Asian regions. Due to the nature of localisation and translation, there’s a wide array of retro titles that never made it to European or American markets.
Take for example the original version of Super Mario Bros. 2, the follow-up the genre-changing classic – the version of Super Mario Bros. 2 released in the west was completely different to the one released in Japan, which didn’t make it to the west until much later (retitled as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels in the Super Mario All-Stars Collection for the SNES). If you want the original Super Mario Bros. 2, you can find it in Japan!
If you’re into something particularly obscure in the west, like the critically acclaimed Japanese children’s TV show Kamen Rider, you can sometimes find games that were obviously never even considered for localisation or release in other regions, like this strange Kamen Rider Hibiki Playstation 2 game. This is a very interesting game to me, and Japan is probably one of few places on earth it could actually be found.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the price difference! Retro game collecting can be an expensive hobby, but due to the prolific nature of Japan’s used media market and the abundance of certain titles, you’ll always pay a lot less for old games from Japan, even when you’re shopping online and factor in additional costs like shipping.
Hot Spots For Retro Game Collectors In Japan
Before you need to go hunting in any specialist stores, there’s a good chance you might find what you’re looking for in a general used goods store. Book-Off and its subsidiaries Hard-Off (for hardware) and Hobby-Off (for toys and hobby stuff) have a few hundred locations across the country, and they’re absolute goldmines for video games. They even have an online presence that you can use to find what you’re looking for. You can even use Neokyo to purchase from this site!
As well as carrying mountains of manga and books for as little as 100 yen each, these stores are also well known for their deals on retro games, which will usually be fairly priced, even for the rarest titles.
For fans of more recent retro titles, there’s a lot to be gained at any given Book-Off – there’s always a bounty of titles for the three previous generations of classic consoles across PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo’s library of home and portable consoles. Even hardware and software that has mostly been abandoned in Western markets like the PlayStation Vita or PC CD-ROMs can be found in Book-Off stores. It’s always exciting to search through strange storage bins filled with various sega master system cartridges, game boy advance cart and UMD disks to find a hidden gem, sometimes priced as low as 30 yen.
Surugaya is a shop that deals in the trade of used media in addition to collector’s items like figures, comics and more. Much like Book-Off, it’s a pretty magical place where you can find all manner of used games, often in impeccable condition. I’ve heard many tales of people being so drawn in by Surugaya’s wonder that they actually become lost in the store – entranced by the sheer amount of things on offer.
Surugaya’s retro game selection is diverse and well-priced. If you’re looking for a single NES or SNES cartridge, you’ll find plenty of them available, and games that you might consid. In addition, they stock a variety of game-adjacent memorabilia, peripherals, controllers, handheld systems and hardware.
Surugaya is one of the featured marketplaces right here on Neokyo.com, so if you want to check out the kind of retro games that they have on offer, you can explore it using this very website.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Japan or are visiting, you’ll already know that there are a handful of physical-only locations that are well worth visiting for building out your retro game collection. In addition to the legendary Super Potato (which has an interesting legacy perhaps worthy of its own, separate article), and Mandarake (which can be a useful place to find certain games – but it’s better for buying figures!) there’s a whole host of smaller independent shops that you’ll find in collector-heavy areas like Akihabara or Nakano (we also highly recommend Nakano Broadway, a mall with lots of small stores that are excellent for collectors).
Of course, it’s not just physical stores where stacks of retro games can be found – and that’s where we might be able to help. Japan’s various web stores such as Yahoo Auctions or Rakuten can be really useful for picking up great deals on retro games.
Whether you’re looking to fill out your collection or hunt for a specific title, you can search it up using Neokyo. We recommend searching using katakana characters for the best results, as this will often take you straight to what you’re looking for. Once you’ve found what you need, make a purchase request and we’ll buy the goods on your behalf – then we’ll ship to you when you’re ready. It’s as simple as that!