For readers of Nintendo Life, Akihabara will almost certainly need no introduction. It has for decades been the bastion of Japanese gaming and otaku culture, a sprawling metropolis of stores packed with gaming treasures which we just can’t find back home. The sheer amount of gaming stores to explore have made the trip to Akihabara something of a pilgrimage for gamers around the world.
More recently, however, huge changes have taken place in Akihabara. Otaku culture has shifted away slightly from video games towards anime figurines and trading cards, and this shift has been reflected in the different stores that populate the area. The growth of the internet has also made it significantly easier to get hold of even the rarest of gaming goodies from the comfort of your home, perhaps making a shopping trip to Akihabara somewhat unnecessary for those with good connections.
That said, nothing beats the experience of crawling through stores packed wall-to-wall with literally every game you care to think of, and browsing through pictures on the internet is just no match for encountering obscure gaming hardware in the flesh.
With that in mind, let’s check out the best retro gaming stores in Akihabara. We at Nintendo Life have actually gone there ourselves to search for all the best stuff so you don’t have to, as well as to see just what makes each store so special. Whether you’re planning to fill your suitcase with Famicom games or just want to go on a retro gaming adventure, let’s have a look at where all the good stuff is.
Super Potato / スーパーポテト
This is the big one, by far the most well known retro store in Akihabara. A massive 4 floors filled to the brim with retro gaming goodness. The first 3 floors are split roughly between platform holders, being greeted with piles of Super Famicom consoles as soon as you walk in before discovering the glass cabinet full of rare Saturn games in the other corner.
Among these floors, you will encounter almost every Nintendo and Sega game out there in addition to games for the PlayStation and WonderSwan among others, mixed in with obscure goodies such as the Super Famicom Box, Sega Pico, and many different variants of Dreamcast. One stand-out selection huge display of Game & Watch machines, as well as stacks of boxed Neo Geo AES games.
The real killer is the fourth floor, however. Here, a life-size statue of Solid Snake greets you to a proper early-90s arcade! At the time of writing, the selection included the likes of Final Fight, Metal Slug, Dondonpachi and even Wonder Boy.
Tucked in the corner is a traditional Japanese sweet shop for essential snacks while playing. This writer lost many hours and 100 yen coins on this floor, which makes visiting this place so much more than a shopping trip.
Retro Game Camp / レトロげーむキャンプ
This slightly-confusing store is actually split into two, with an overflow building just a few doors down. The first floor of the main building is dedicated to mainly Nintendo games, and is the place to go if you want boxed Super Famicom and N64 games in decent condition. They also have a decent selection of Famicom Disk System games for those lucky few of you with a working unit.
Moving up to the second floor, we discover the Sega and Sony collection, as well as a miscellaneous selection of anything from a sealed 3DO FZ-1 to a boxed PC-FX. The overflow building just a few doors down is much the same, but with significantly fewer customers and more space to explore for yourself.
A fair bit of more modern hardware can be found here, but also houses even more N64 goodies in addition to what was already on offer in the other building. What’s the one thing that makes Retro Game Camp so special, however? They actually replace the batteries in all cartridge games and consoles which use battery backup, and clearly label the year the battery was changed. Nice!
This is essential if you don’t want to grab a soldering iron to de-solder those nasty old batteries yourself. An old battery will at best mean you can no longer save your game, but could also result in leakage which will slowly destroy the board. Purist collectors might consider replacing the battery as a defacement of the original game, but replacing the battery is absolutely essential to ensure those old games continue to work, and Retro Game Camp providing this service for free makes them the best place to go for peace of mind.
Surugaya / 駿河屋
Surugaya is actually quite a large chain of stores, which has rapidly expanded across the country, and many of the previous A-Too chain of gaming stores have been rebranded under the Surugaya moniker.
Nationally, Surugaya can be a bit hit and miss – they have been devoting increasingly more space to figurines and card games at the expense of video games. Indeed, actually finding Surugaya’s selection of video games in Akihabara can be a mission in itself – there are 3 or 4 different stores mostly featuring figurines, with the retro gaming branch hidden away in a back-alley.
It is well worth finding, however, as the small, cramped store is filled to the brim with the expected selection of both boxed and unboxed retro games. In particular, a sizable selection of Sega games is present in this store, as well as a pleasing amount of Mark-III and Master System games. The big deal about this store, however, is the massive selection of arcade games! Everything form CPS2 games to Naomi can be found here, with some of the cheaper games priced around the same as regular console games!
The vast majority of the CPS2 library can be found here, and is one of the few places in Akihabara (and probably one of the only Surugaya outlets nationally) to carry such a vast array of arcade games. An essential stop if you need something new for your Supergun.
They also carry one of the larger selections of Sharp X68000 and PC-8801 games if you’re lucky enough to have one of those Japanese home computers, although the actual hardware is much harder to come by.
Trader / トレーダー本店
Like Surugaya, Trader is also split into many different stores with many placing a greater emphasis on anime figurines. The other stores are branded quite clearly as ‘Trader 2’, ‘Trader 3’ etc., you want to go to the main store. Initially, the store can be a tad deceiving – it is plastered with hentai pictures, and even list the names of major creators of pornography on the huge sign right above the entrance. Ahem.
Greeting you when you enter the store is the usual selection of PlayStation 4 and Switch games, making you think that the store isn’t going to be particularly interesting as far as games go. Everything changes once you discover the second floor, however! Squeeze past the erotic images being used in place of wallpaper and you finally discover the retro game selection! Much of the range is pretty similar to the above stores, but this place also has a significant range of boxed hardware, all in excellent condition.
If your plan is to go home with a boxed console in the best possible condition, this is the place to check out as they have a really varied collection in excellent condition. They also have a decent selection of boxed Neo Geo AES games, and a significant amount of their games come sealed away in VGA-style tomes, which I guess is great if actually playing games doesn’t appeal to you.
Friends / フレンズ
This next store seems to be intentionally difficult to find. Awkwardly positioned between an adult magazine store and a store offering services for ‘spending time’ with teenage girls, only the picture of Yoshi gives away that there is actually a game store here. The staff here also seem to be not used to having many customers aside from their regulars; it is not the most welcoming of places.
There are positives to this, however – there were literally no other customers in the store when we visited, and the little old lady behind the counter on the first floor didn’t seem to notice our presence.
The lack of other customers means you have free rein to explore the stock without fighting around other people, and the stock is in particularly good condition since it likely hasn’t been in too many hands. They also have a pretty sizable selection of gaming magazines for you to explore, and the second floor is full of so many examples of sealed hardware that is was sometimes difficult to tell if the stock was brand new or resealed without knowing that the original seals looked like.
The awkward atmosphere meant that this wasn’t the most fun store to visit, but it is well worth checking out if you want to go through their selection of retro games in peace and quiet, as well as experience a store which many people might not know about.
Book-Off / ブックオフ
We were torn about including this at first since Book-Off is an absolutely huge national chain of stores selling used books, DVDs and games which are littered across the country, and the Akihabara branch isn’t even particularly large. One thing does make this store special, however – their huge baskets full of unboxed cartridges!
They have separate baskets for Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy among others, and it is just such a joy to flick through their huge library of games as ludicrously low prices! They have the usual selection of boxed games too, but the condition isn’t the greatest – you will be better off checking out the other stores for those.
Bizarrely, some of their limited edition games are mixed away with the anime DVDs in the glass cabinet, so it is worth checking that some games haven’t sneaked over that way! The store is right underneath JR Akihabara station, so you can make this the first place you check out before getting some lunch at the Square Enix Café close by, and check out the other stores during the afternoon.
So, there you go! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this should help you see the best that Akihabara has to offer within one day.
But before you go running off to book plane tickets, here are some things to consider when shopping in Akihabara.
Make sure to compare the prices!
One of the small quirks of Japanese capitalism is that stores don’t tend to compete with each other on price, preferring to make sure that their neighbours are able to be just as successful as them for the good of the community.
This desire to not drive each other out of business is commendable but does some strange things to the prices. Groceries tend to be priced the same regardless of where you shop, while retro game stores tend to suffer from the opposite problem – stores aren’t so aware of their competitor’s prices, meaning you can often save a huge amount of money just by walking down the street. Games like Radiant Silvergun, Elevator Action Returns and Kingdom Grand Prix aren’t particularly rare, just expensive. Shop around, resist the urge to buy something as soon as you see it.
Boxed or unboxed?
Collectors are probably well aware that unboxed games are significantly cheaper, but this takes on another dimension when surrounded by so many unboxed games. You may be able to get 5 or 6 unboxed games for the price of just one of those same games boxed. With that in mind, if your aim is to simply get as many games as you possibly can for your Japanese consoles, then there is no shame in making your money stretch as far as possible by going unboxed.
This issue is made even more significant by the fact that boxed games tend to be in mint condition (thus pricey). Japanese people usually throw away the boxes as soon as they become even the little bit worn, resulting in huge amounts of loose games as well as mint, boxed games but with very little in between. If you generally consider keeping those darn SNES boxes in decent nick to be a losing battle, you may want to resist the urge to buy boxed games here, too.
How to get them home
One thing that people often overlook is exactly how they intend to get their goods back home with them. Loose cartridges can be just thrown in the suitcase, but hardware and even boxed games might need to be shipped home and packaged well. This will take time, cost money, and there is always the risk of damage occurring along the way.
With this in mind, it may actually better to source something a little closer to home if it isn’t particularly rare. Otherwise, don’t forget to be practical when looking at what to buy!
Regions and voltages
Region coding probably doesn’t need explaining to readers of Nintendo Life, but you should make sure fully understand the region coding situation for your console, which can vary widely depending on both the region and revision of your machine.
Retailers in Akihabara get many foreign customers so they often have region coding information pinned up in their store. However, this isn’t always accurate – for example, we saw the Mega Drive listed as region-locked when the reality is actually significantly more complicated.
A bigger concern is the electrical compatibility of hardware, however. Modern consoles are typically multi-voltage, meaning they will work regardless of the native electrical system of your country. Older consoles are typically NOT multi-voltage, meaning you shouldn’t just plug the machine straight into the wall unless you want a house full of smoke. With something using a power brick such as the Mega Drive or Super Famicom, you can usually just grab a native power brick back home and everything will be fine. Machines such as the Saturn or PlayStation where the power board is inside the console are a little more complicated. You could just buy a stepdown converter and call it a day, or you could also grab a screwdriver and replace the power board inside your console with one from your region if you want to keep everything tidy.
So, that’s everything you need to consider when heading out to Akihabara! It might not be quite the mecca of gaming that it was in the ’90s, but is it still a priceless experience to come to the biggest metropolis of gaming in the world. Have fun, and make sure you don’t come in the rainy season!