April 5, 2017 by dracs
While Japan doesn’t seem as keen on tabletop gaming as many western countries, there is one form of the hobby that thrives, and it’s a form that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who grew up in the nineties.
Collectible Trading Card Games.
Gotta Collect ‘Em All!
While Magic The Gathering may be the grand daddy of all Trading Card Games (or TCG), Japan has certainly carved out its own niche in the market.
Games such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Duel Masters and, of course, Pokémon, made their way over to the west in the late nineties / early two thousands, where they enjoyed a high level of popularity which continues to this day.
For many of us growing up during the time when these first appeared, Japanese TCGs were our introduction to the game type. I myself still have a large shoe box full of old Pokémon cards in a cupboard somewhere.
In Japan TCGs enjoy, if not a greater level of popularity, than a far more overt one, especially as many of the more popular games have accompanying anime and manga series.
If you look around in any of the major cities, you are sure to spot signs of TCGs being played, ranging from school boys showing off their latest Duel Masters cards to full sized billboards placed beside JR tracks advertising the next Magic the Gathering set.
The most interesting for any fan of card games has to be the plethora of shops entirely devoted to these games in all their many varieties.
Every TCG Under The Sun
I have received a few messages about Japan’s card game stores and it’s easy to see why. As far as the UK goes, we don’t really have an equivalent. TCGs are usually stocked by stores catering to tabletop gaming as a whole, rather than focusing on the specific medium.
Japanese card game stores, on the other hand, more often than not stock little besides card game related products.
More than that, while most western stores would restrict themselves to selling the boosters and sets for a game, Japanese stores present customers with the opportunity to browse and purchase individual cards.
This is a real boon for collectors as it means they have more of a chance to tailor their deck, picking and choosing the cards they need with ease.
Many stores also feature dedicated spaces to allow players to meet, trade cards and play games. Friday Night Magic, for example, is pretty common, with most stores running events to coincide with new releases.
Some stores focus even go so far as to stock the singles for the arcade card games.
A Tourist’s Guide To Card Gaming
If you are a player or collector of TCGs, then you may well want to check out a few when you visit Japan. The stores often stock games that are difficult to find in the west, many of which are tie ins with popular franchises.
These can make nice souvenirs, though unless your Japanese is good you probably won’t find a use for them.
Many stores do stock a selection of English Magic the Gathering cards, including some from older and harder to find sets.
These are often hidden among the other cards on display, but as they are in English they are usually a little cheaper, so it can be worth checking if you are looking for any card in particular.
Getting to take part in games is a little trickier, due to the great and terrible language barrier!
While most Japanese people know at least some English, many might struggle with conversational English and the technical terms needed to explain card mechanics.
I myself have been unable to participate in any card games at these stores and, given my track record for language gaffs, it’s probably for the best. Who knows what I might come out with!
One way around this though, at least when attending Magic the Gathering events, is to bring one of the card catalog booklets that come in the fat pack of every set.
Mobile phones are often banned while in a tournament or other such contest, but organisers will allow these books. This way, if you’re playing a draft format game, you can use the Japanese cards and look up their meaning in the booklet.
The Japanese approach of having dedicated card game stores is not one I foresee catching on in the west. The lack of a large mainstream following, coupled with the rise of internet shopping, makes it difficult for such a business model to be successful.
Still, if you are interested in tabletop gaming, they are definitely worth checking out, especially if you are on the hunt for relatively cheap English cards.
You can usually find them gathered around those city areas that cater to otaku (geekery) and other such esoteric stuff, places like Akihabara in Tokyo or around Osu Kannon here in Nagoya.
Just keep an eye out for this katakana:
Have you ever been to a Japanese card game store? How do you think games like Yu-Gi-Oh or Duel Masters compare to ones like Magic the Gathering?
The next Tabletop Otaku will most likely be my last one written while here in Japan as I will soon be moving back to the UK. Therefore I plan to give this city a proper send off and write up the Gaming City Guide to Nagoya.
Please let me know if there are any bits and pieces you would be particularly interested in finding out about this often overlooked city.
"For many of us growing up... Japanese TCGs were our introduction to the game type."
"Getting to take part in games is a little trickier, due to the great and terrible language barrier!"