"Ge-sen" might be a new phrase for you to hear, but is unlikely to be a new concept. It's a shortened form of the words "game centre" in English, and refers to the numerous arcades across Japan (also called "amusement parks" sometimes). From massive buildings with over five stories in neighbourhoods of Tokyo to tiny rooms in local shopping malls, ge-sen are everywhere. And unlike how arcades have suffered from disuse and time in other countries, they are constantly updated with new games and other exciting features! In fact, entering a ge-sen from one year to the next in Japan means you're likely to find new games alongside old favourites, and you never know what other surprises you might find.
Ge-sen are managed by several different companies in Japan, but the two biggest ones are SEGA and Taito. Both feature a lot of the same things but often have a few unique games and different prizes to win. The same goes for smaller companies and ge-sen as well. The phrase "you've seen one, you've seen them all" holds zero truth! So if you're interested in what a ge-sen has to offer, be sure to check out a lot of them. But what exactly can you find in a ge-sen? What do they have beyond the obvious video games that make them really special? And what makes a Japanese game centre different from ones in other countries?
Read on to find out as we present "What is Ge-sen?". Are you ready to have some fun?
Of course, since ge-sen is short for "game centre," the main focus of a ge-sen is the wide selection of video games! In the large ge-sen, you can find multiple floors of various games that are many different styles. Most games cost ¥100 for one play, so they're very cheap to try. And with how many different kinds of games there are, there's something for everyone!
Usually, ge-sen are constantly updating their games and bringing in new titles, so if you're a fan of older games, you'll need to look for specialty ge-sen in places like Akihabara to play the classics. But if you want to see the newest and most technologically advanced games, you can go to most other ge-sen! Popular genres of games are rhythm games and fighting games, both of which dominate most of the gaming space. Whether you want to play single player, locally against friends, or even remotely against other players in ge-sen across Japan you can find something to play. Shooting and racing games also exist, and big ge-sen are likely to have simulation games, too. Tucked away in secret corners, you never know what kind of other strange games you may find, so be sure to explore everywhere.
While actual gambling for money isn't allowed in Japan, you can still find slot machines and betting simulators, too. These games are played with medals or tokens, and the prize is even more so you can keep playing. Keep in mind that these tokens cannot be traded for real money, so however much you win, you can only use them to play more games and not for anything more. But if you like slot machines or want to bet on fictional horse races just for the fun of it and not for a monetary prize, ge-sen have you covered. There are even some unique medal games where you can play as a group to try to win a lot of medals at once!
With VR on the rise and Japanese ge-sen always wanting to be cutting edge and feature the newest games, you can bet that they have taken advantage of this new technology. Some ge-sen have simple VR games such as shooting or adventure games, not too far removed from what you can play in your own home. But some take the experience even further, offering full VR simulators, concert experiences, and more! Of course, be ready to pay quite a bit more than ¥100 if you want to have this kind of fun; usually, VR games start around ¥600 a play, but some VR parks offer a ticket that lets you play whatever you want within a certain time limit for around ¥2500. If you've got some extra time and money and want to try out the latest craze in gaming, head to the ge-sen! They always have the newest stuff.
A popular feature at nearly all Japanese ge-sen that attracts even people not interested in video games at all are Purikura booths. Purikura booths are a special kind of photo booth which takes five or six pictures of you and your friend(s) and gives each of you a small sheet of your pictures to take home. These photo sheets are stickers as well, so you can cut them out and stick them everywhere! A popular choice for Japanese girls is to put their favourite shots with their friends on the back of their mobile phone. It's a popular thing to try for tourists and makes a cheap souvenir to take home, but Purikura remains extremely popular with the locals as well, especially young girls.
Purikura is a lot more complicated than simply posing and smiling while the machine takes your picture. Get ready to choose backgrounds, and to decorate all your pictures with a wide range of stickers on a touch screen computer! These stickers range from everything from Japanese and English phrases, cute animals and food, features like cat ears or devil horns, and much more. The machine itself also alters your feature a bit, smoothing away imperfections, fixing your hair, adding makeup, and even enlarging your eyes and whitening or tanning your skin. It even makes your legs look longer on full body shots! It's a lot of fun to see how the Purikura machine makes you look. If you choose the biggest eye setting, get ready to look like an anime character.
Usually, Purikura machines cost ¥400 for one play. Most ge-sen also offer cosplay rental very cheaply if you want to dress up in a school uniform, as a maid or a police officer, or even as a famous character like Sailor Moon or Mario. If you have a Japanese mobile phone email address, you can also get a digital copy of two of your photos for free. Just be sure to check the rules in the Purikura area at the ge-sen you visit. It's very common for boys to only be allowed to enter if they have a girl with them, and some do not allow boys at all especially in around the changing areas. However, increasingly there are Purikura sections that allow boys to come together even without a girl - but just be aware that the rules may be different, so be sure to check the signs!
“UFO catchers” is the term for what is commonly known as a prize machine or claw game. These are games which have physical prizes that you can win by getting them to fall into the bottom of the machine, where you can reach in and take them home. It may sound similar to the old claw machine that is sitting in your local supermarket, but UFO catchers at Japanese ge-sen are a lot more complicated - and they have much better prizes.
Because that's the most exciting part, legs start with those prizes. Ge-sen feature a wide variety of things that you can try to win. Of course, there are lots of stuffed animals and other cute things that you can try for! These range from massive stuffed animals and pillows to smaller keychains, depending on the machine. There is also a lot of anime merchandise, with everything from exclusive figures to towels, keychains, can badges (pins or buttons), wall scrolls and more. Ge-sen usually have an entire section of prize machines dedicated to food, with large boxes and bags of snacks, unique flavours of soda, and sometimes even surprises like tubs of ice cream! Finally, you can be sure to find some really weird and unique items as well, like realistic keychains of fish, squishy fake food, pocket watches, vacuum cleaners, and more. You never know what you might find waiting in a UFO catcher.
Whereas most claw machines in other countries the only point is to pick up the prize and carry it to the hole to drop in, Japanese UFO catchers in ge-sen are considerably more complex. There are a lot of different kinds of machines; some you do indeed need to pick up the prize in a claw. But in many you need to knock the prize off a shelf, pull it down a slope, break the paper it is sitting on by repeatedly stabbing it, cut the string it is hanging from, and more. You are rarely meant to win the prize in only one try, so be aware of that before you start! Most UFO catchers require patience as you move the prize slowly where you need it to go little by little until you finally achieve victory.
We will leave you with two tips for playing UFO catchers at Japanese ge-sen. Firstly, while most machines cost ¥100 for one play, if you put in ¥500 at one time you can get six plays! Since it usually takes more than one try to win, it's good to use this system to get an extra play for free. Secondly, if your prize gets stuck or falls too close to the glass on the side of the machine, you can ask a staff member at the ge-sen to move it for you. They can also switch which prize you are trying to win before you start if there is a variety in the machine. They're there to help you, so be sure to take advantage of it!
Many Japanese ge-sen, especially the larger ones, have some extra features beyond these usual ones! These include cafes and restaurants, drink stands, lotteries, and more. Your best bet is to check the floor guide when you first enter a ge-sen to see everything it has to offer - quite often, the directory will be in English and Japanese. They're usually near the stairs or the lift and are a great way to make sure you don't miss anything special!
Commonly amongst the UFO catchers you can find a special kind of lottery known as a "kuji" in Japanese. They're typically themed after an anime, game, or other popular pop culture icon like a movie or a band. To play a kuji, you simply buy a ticket for somewhere around ¥600 (the price varies by kuji) and then you get to take a ticket from a box. Every ticket is a winner, and the prizes are ranked alphabetically. The lower the letter you draw, the smaller and less impressive your prize is. Top prizes include figures, stuffed animals, pillow cases, bags, and wall scrolls. Lower prizes are typically handkerchiefs, keychains, can badges, and postcards. Every ticket is a winner though so it's fun to try your luck!
Many big ge-sen are home to places to get interesting food. Some even have maid cafes in them! Others host other concept cafes such as Animate Cafe, with themes that switch regularly to feature new anime and games. Ge-sen are a great place to find pop-up food carts and stalls as well selling ice cream, soda, crepes, and other easy-to-eat snacks. If you get hungry but aren't ready to leave the ge-sen just yet, never fear! It might well have some food as well. At the very least, you're likely to find a nice selection of vending machines full of soda, coffee, and tea - and maybe even ice cream! Beyond food, you can count on finding a lot of different gachapon (capsule machines), and sometimes even bigger things like bowling alleys, billiard tables, and even dart boards.
Ge-sen in Japan attract people of all ages, male and female, and from lots of different walks of life. From anime fans and intense gamers to people that love a bit of gambling to girls just wanting to remember their fun night out together, you're likely to see a variety of different people all enjoying the ge-sen together. And that's because they have so many interesting and unique things to offer! So what will you try first now that you know what you don't want to miss out on? Whatever it is, you can bet the ge-sen will have cutting edge technology alongside old favourites, and there’s going to be something for everyone.
Have you ever been to a Japanese ge-sen before? What was your favourite part? Would you like to visit one someday? What do you want to try the most? Are there any other parts of modern Japanese culture you would love to see featured in an article? Comments or questions, we are happy to hear from you in the comment section below!