Saturday, March 31, 2012

United Colors of Famicom

Gotta love those Famicom carts. So colorful.
I`ve never really organized them by color like this before but I thought I`d give it a try to see how they look. I`m rather pleased with the results. The effect reminds me of going into Uniqlo and seeing all their generic T-shirts in primary colors stacked up evenly on the shelves. Very pleasing to the eye.
My only regret is that there aren`t enough pink games to make a stack of them too. The pink carts are really the ones that stand out the best, at least the ones that are really vibrant pink like Super Mario Bros. USA or Banana.

Anyway, as I`ve said before, it is the color of the carts (among other things) that really separates the Famicom from almost every other console out there, except the colorfully-carted Epoch Super Cassette Vision (which is unfortunately massively hard to collect due to its scarcity).

A pile of Super Famicom or Nintendo 64 carts just can`t compete with that!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Takeshi`s Castle on the Famicom: My First Famicom Internet Purchase!

Something happened yesterday that has never happened to me before. A Famicom game arrived in the mail. The game? Fuun Takeshi Jou 2 (Takeshi`s Castle 2)!
I should give a quick thanks here to the awesome Manuel at Famicom World, who sold the game to me and mailed it in record time.

I had been wanting that game for a couple of weeks since I bought Fuun Takeshi Jou (Takeshi`s Castle), the first of the two games in that series at a shop here in town.
These are both games in the Family Trainer series, which is a pretty awesome series actually. The games are both based on the Takeshi`s Castle TV show, a show whose existance is a constant reminder that once upon a time Japanese Television actually broadcast stuff that was worth watching:

The games feature similar challenges as those on the TV show. There is a pretty good review of the first one on Pink Gorilla here. They were also featured on an episode of Game Center CX at one point.

You might wonder how I enjoyed them. Unfortunately I haven`t been able to do so. Perhaps my predicament is best described in the following mathematical formula:

Overcrowded Japanese apartment


Dog who LOVES to do nothing but bite feet all day


Not a good environment for Family Trainer games

So basically my Family Trainer pad has been sitting in its box collecting dust ever since we got the little guy. Someday though I am going to break that thing out and give these a try.

Incidentally if you are interested in getting a copy of the first of these games, go check out Manuel`s shop (linked above). He has the most reasonably priced copy of it you are ever likely to find, and he is a great guy to be buying stuff from to boot!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Omocha Souko Part 6: Coming Home With a Bag Full of Famicom Carts

Just a quick post. As I`ve mentioned a couple of times in recent posts, Omocha Souko here has been having a going out of business sale this month. I`ve been buying up lots and lots of their Famicom stuff cheap. Unfortunately there aren`t many valuable games or major bargains, but when I brought home one lot a few days ago I noticed how nice a bag full of random, cheap Famicom carts looks so I thought I would take a picture and share it here. Just look at all of them in there. Happy as peas in a pod I`m sure.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Omocha Souko Part 5: JuJu Densetsu vs Makai Shima

One of the great things about shops that you frequently visit is the little memories they leave you.

My favorite Omocha Souko memory is one from very early in my Famicom days, very shortly after I got my first Famicom.

This was way before I started collecting, I probably had about 15 or 20 Famicom carts at the time and the other 1035 of them were for the most part a complete mystery to me. My wife and I got into the habit of dropping by Omocha Souko once a week or so and buying a Famicom game that looked like it might be fun as a means of cheap entertainment for an evening. At that time Omocha Souko was charging a flat rate of 300 yen for most of its games (save the ones in the glass case), which was about the same price that it cost to rent a DVD. So for a couple of hours entertainment, a Famicom game was competetively priced. And, unlike rental DVDs, you could keep the game at the end of the day.

Anyway, I remember one evening back then the two of us hitting Omocha Souko. They had thousands of Famicom games on the racks. When I see their Famicom game racks now it doesn`t have the same effect that it used to. I know all the games they have because I have them too. There is no mystery. Back then though I didn`t know any of the games so it was massively interesting to explore the racks, trying to figure out which game might be good based solely on the game`s title and cover art.

That evening after spending a while searching the racks, we came up with two possible candidates. JuJu Densetsu and Makai Shima. My wife advocated for JuJu Densetsu. The monkey looked pretty cool and the name `JuJu` suggested fun, as did the cart`s green color.

I took up Makai Shima`s cause. The blue cart looked great. And in the cover art you could see the sailor knocking down little pirates with barrels, suggesting that it was not some crappy RPG but an action game of some sort. Throwing barrels at Pirates, I added, was an activity that really appealed to me.

We agonized for a while over the decision, but in the end JuJu Densetsu won out. That monkey is hard to resist. We took it home and were pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a pretty decent platformer. We definitely got our 300 yen`s worth that first day and it became a regular part of the lineup.

We ended up getting Makai Shima on a later trip. Its not bad either, but I have to concede that JuJu Dentsetsu is way better. A lot of other games fell into our hands on those `buy a game for the evening` trips - Binary Land, Nuts and Milk, Banana, Lode Runner and Yume Penguin Monogatari being some of the highlights. Eventually though we got to a point where we had a ton of games and the Omocha Souko racks stopped turning up games we were interested in as we had picked over all the best. Our little tradition came to an end. It was, however, fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spartan X 2 and Why I Hate the Other Omocha Souko

I made the 45 minute trek out to the other Omocha Souko this morning. As I`ve mentioned in previous posts the location near my house will be closing at the end of the month. They are having a huge sale and I was kind of curious if the other one way out in the suburbs might also have been putting their Famicom stuff on sale.

Unfortunately they weren`t. I didn`t want to walk away empty handed after such a long bike ride though so I had a look at their glass case Famicom stuff - the really good stuff.

I noticed that they had a copy of Spartan X 2 for 1500 yen in there. Spartan X 2 is a somewhat rare game that sells for about twice that at Mandarake and it is one I needed for my collection. I agonized over the decision for a while and then decided to buy it. I told the guy behind the counter I wanted something from the glass case, pointed at the cart and he rang it up for me. I love doing that. Makes me feel like a real big shot to be buying stuff out of the glass case rather than off the racks or (even worse) out of the junk bin.

Now I should mention that due to the game`s relative rarity I`m not all that familiar with what it looks like. When I got it home though I realized I had made a horrible mistake.

When I took the plastic wrapping off of it I noticed this:
Pretty strong distinction in the coloring there, isn`t it?

To explain: that rectangular part that is vibrantly colored was covered by the price tag when I bought it. The extraordinarily faded part was not. The bastards, for whatever reason, kept an incredibly sun faded copy of Spartan X 2 in their glass case.

Because I wasn`t too familiar with what the game was supposed to look like and because I couldn`t see the contrast between the sun faded part and the part under the price tag, I didn`t realize this in time.

Normally I`m not all that picky about cart condition, but this time I kind of am. The thrill of my glass case purchase has been ruined! Plus egregious sun-fading like this really ruins the appeal of the cart, especially when you can see the contrast between the two bits like that.

The ironic thing is that, looking at my previous post on that very store last year I realize that at that time they also had a copy of Spartan X 2 for 1500 yen which I mentioned being tempted to buy in that post. I even took a picture of the same glass case they got it out of and you can see the copy of Spartan X 2 in there. Only the copy they had back then wasn`t sun faded! Curses, if only I had bought it back then!

Caveat emptor as they say....

Monday, March 19, 2012

Omocha Souko Part 4: The Shinto Shrine to Video Games

Allow me to introduce Omocha Souko`s coolest hidden gem: its Shinto Shrine.

It is kind of hard to find, you have to enter through the back entrance to notice it. As you enter there is a cafe on your right and, across from that, a tori (shrine gate) at the foot of a staircase. It is called the Matsutake Jinja as the tori indicates:
The staircase (pictured above) is lined with traditional looking lanterns and is decorated like the rest of the store to look like a retro Showa town.

Get to the top and behold! The shrine!
Move close in though and you will notice something odd. The shrine has no deity!!
I think there may at one point have been some kind of statue there. Perhaps it was stolen or sold or something.

Anyway, I thought it looked a little lonely so when I was passing by a few days ago to take these photos I reached into my bag of Famicom carts I had just purchased and fished a random one out:
It is now a shrine to....that game with Ramen Man in it which I can`t remember the title of. Its a Kinnikkuman spin-off.

At least it was for a few seconds, I took the game with me when I left.

This is probably the coolest physical feature of the store. It might seem strange to have a religious structure in a store that sells, among other things, massive loads of porn, but in Japan this is pretty standard. Most factories and other big businesses here actually have a Shinto shrine dedicated somewhere on their property.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Toilet Kids for the PC Engine: Greatest Creation Mankind has Ever Produced?

Just when I thought my days of finding hidden gems at Omocha Souko were finished, they go and surprise me with the most amazing thing I have ever found. Ever.

Allow me to introduce my latest acquisition: Toilet Kids for the PC Engine!!

If there ever was a game that would make the perfect poster child for the `Weird Japan-only releases that you MUST have right NOW` genre then Toilet Kids is that game. Because you MUST have this game right NOW. Seriously. Go on Ebay and buy it. In fact - buy two.

It is a shoot-em-up game that takes place entirely within the confines of a toilet.

Need I say more?

Well, I will anyway. The game`s title screen introduces you to who I assume to be the nemesis, the King of Poo:
You know he is the king of poo because his hat is a pile of poo and the kanji written on it means king.

After that you get a cut scene in which the hero enters the bathroom, pulls down his pants and exposes himself to the audience (I`m not kidding), sits on the pot and gets blasted by the exploding toilet which subsequently sucks him in:
Then the game play starts within the toilet, which for some reason looks nothing like a toilet but whatever. The gameplay is exactly like Twin Bee. It is a vertical shooter, you have both a forward firing gun and a bomb sight to hit ground targets, most of which are coiled piles of poo:
You start off from your home base, which is a Japanese style squat toilet:
TANGENT: If you are a foreigner living in Japan like me you probably already hate these squat toilets. They are just the worst. I estimate that I probably spend about 3-4 hours every year trying to find a public bathroom that does not have these squat toilets. When I first came to Japan the office building that I worked in only had squat toilets. My American co-worker and I, after comparing notes, concluded that the KFC around the corner had the best non-squat option in the neighborhood. That KFC ended up selling an inordinate quantity of small sodas (cheapest menu item) that year.

OK, back to the game now.

Basically most of the enemies attack you by throwing poo or pee at you.

Points are measured in piles of poo:
And so on and so forth.

I wouldn`t rate this particularly highly in terms of game play. It plays a lot like Twin Bee but isn`t quite as fun. It has a cooperative 2 player mode but like an idiot I sold my PC Engine multi tap and extra controller a few months ago because at the time I didn`t have any 2 player games. I really wish I had those back.

Anyway. My only regret with this game is that it was never released on the Famicom. It would totally knock Yume Penguin Monogatari off its perch as the king of weird Japan only releases.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fix That Famicom Disk System Belt at the 100 Yen Shop!!!!

For the longest time I have been searching for a cheap way to fix a Famicom Disk System Belt.

There are some videos on YouTube that show you how to do it, but they always begin with something like:

`Just go down to your local (name of hardware store that does not exist in Japan) and pick up some sheet of plastic to make into the replacement belt....`

The only other option was to go on Ebay or somewhere and pay about 10 bucks for some little piece of plastic that was worth about 10 cents, so I always balked at that solution too.

Now, thanks to the marvels of the Japanese internet, I have been shown a way to obtain an endless supply of (admittedly low quality) FDS replacement belts for next to nothing!

The simple solution is here on the brilliant blog Ika no Memo Youshi.

The blog is in Japanese but includes pictures that pretty much speak for themselves.

Step 1: Go to your local Daiso (a nationwide 100 yen shop chain) and buy a 66 by 115mm name card holder (see the pic of the exact product on the blog).

Step 2: Cut it into little strips and you have an FDS belt. There is a bit of gentle persuasion involved in getting them to fit right (see the blog).

Step 3: Do all that other complicated stuff you have to do to actually get it into the FDS (in addition to the blog, this Youtube video seems helpful in that regard).

And presto! A functioning FDS! Maybe.

I should stress that these belts are nowhere near as sturdy as the real thing and the guy says they break rather quickly. Still though, for 100 yen for however many you can get out of one of those cardholders I thought it would be worth a shot.

I haven`t actually tried this out myself yet. I will head over to my local Daiso sometime soon though andwhen I eventually get the time I will definitely be doing a post about it here!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Haruna Anno: Classic Game Princess

Decided to take a break from my Omocha Souko retrospective to do a quick post on Haruna Anno`s classic game collection.

I was just sitting here watching TV and a variety show on RKB came on. Usually I hate Japanese TV, but this program had something worth watching. They were showcasing people who collected various things and they did a 1 minute clip about Ms. Anno`s Famicom collection, which was quite impressive. Intrigued, I did a little Google search and was directed to the above YouTube video in which she takes the viewer through her retro gaming museum.

Its in Japanese, but she has a pretty amazing collection going there with 80s cabinets, a complete Game and Watch collection and a ton of CIB Famicom stuff. According to the TV show I just saw her collection is worth ten million yen, which might be in the ballpark judging by what I saw. They say she has over 800 Famicom carts, which means she is a bit ahead of me in my quest to collect them all.

I hope I catch up, I would hate to be beaten by a girl.

Anno is, I should note, a minor celebrity in Japan who has appeared on TV as a talento and been in a lot of DVDs, etc according to her Japanese Wikipedia entry, a large part of which is actually devoted to discussing her retro game collection, which I think is kind of cool.

Omocha Souko Part 3: Why It Didn`t Work

In this post I thought I`d toss out a few ideas on why my beloved Omocha Souko store has failed so spectacularly after less than 4 years in business. I`ve come up with a half-dozen possible contributing causes, which I present below in no particular order.

1. Finance

As I illustrated in my previous post, Omocha Souko was a massive complex with a lot of cool design features that made it a fun place to walk around. Unfortunately stuff like that costs a lot of money, which means that Maxim City was probably (just speculating here, I have never seen their books) carrying a lot of debt that they incurred with the up-front costs of building the place.

Its a sad fact that people who just build bland warehouses to sell stuff in (like Book-Off) have a competetive advantage since those places are cheaper to build. If you are going to build a place with all the bells and whistles that Omocha Souko had, you have to attract more customers to make that initial investment pay off. While Omocha Souko was certainly never deserted, in my times there I rarely saw it packed with people. Usually you wouldn`t have to wait in line at all at the cashier, or at the most there would be one or two people ahead of you. That was great for me, but was also an obvious sign that they weren`t getting a huge amount of foot traffic.

2. Location

They chose an odd location for this store. The problem was that they opened up only 2 blocks away from 007, a store that sells the exact same variety of products. In fact you can actually see Omocha Souko if you stand across the street from 007, its only a few minutes walk away.

In general Omocha Souko was a way better store than 007. But that is just my subjective opinion as someone who was really only interested in their Famicom games. 007`s Famicom games are more expensive and they rarely get new stuff in so I only drop by once a month or so even though, like Omocha Souko, it is right on my daily commute.

In terms of other stuff though I am guessing that 007 was able to hold its own in competition with Omocha Souko. In particular they seem to do a lot better in selling those card games that kids like as I always see crowds of elementary and junior high school students crowding around 007 playing those games while Omocha Souko rarely does.

So for most of their products I think the two stores were really just splitting the market between them and 007 for whatever reason was the one that ended up winning.

3. Timing

Omocha Souko opened in October of 2008, which was exactly the same time that the global economy was starting to go down the tube. Japan was particularly hard hit at that time and in the first year after the store`s opening the Japanese economy contracted in every quarter. Consumer spending in general plummetted during 2009.

Immediately prior to that the Japanese economy had been doing relatively well, having sustained about 7 years of continuous growth that made it look like the troubles of the 90s had been solved.

In other words, by unlucky coincidence they chose the exact worst time to open their store. They made the plans for it during a time of growth but implemented them in a time of contraction.

4. Failed Side-Businesses

At the time they opened the complex included a few side-businesses that failed to take off and closed down. On the second floor they opened an okonomiyaki restaurant. My wife and I had lunch there once, it wasn`t bad. Like the rest of the complex it was decorated in a cute Showa-retro theme.

That closed down after about a year. Unfortunately I never took any photos of the place while it was open. For a while that section was closed off, but they later turned it into a pornography section:
The other failed business was a magic show. They set up a magician`s theatre in the first floor retro town area:
This also failed to take off and I don`t think they`ve had a magic show there in 2 or 3 years. Despite that the theatre is still there and you can see everything in there collecting dust as you walk by. Its a rather melancholy reminder of how the big plans they had when they opened the store never really worked out.

5. Online Competition

This is just a guess but for a lot of stuff that Omocha Souko sells, including video games of course, Yahoo Auctions and other online sources are probably biting into the bottom lines of physical stores. I don`t know if this is as advanced as it is in North America, but probably the same trend is hurting this type of store too.

6. Insanely low prices

This is pretty much summed up in my first post in this series. With their retro game stuff they have sold so much stuff to me at such ridiculously low prices that you have to wonder if they had priced them higher maybe they would have made a bit more money.

The counter-argument is that if they had priced them higher, they`d probably have a huge pile of over-priced games taking up space on their shelves collecting dust and not producing any income at all. So I`m not really sure if that actually hurt them too much or not.


I`m not sure which of these played the biggest role in the store`s demise, probably they all played a part. In general though the store was probably built in the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong business plan. It was a great store for someone like me, but that just isn`t enough to spell success.

Related Posts:

-Omocha Souko Part 1: The Greatest Retro Game Store in the World
-Omocha Souko Part 2: The Grand Tour

Friday, March 9, 2012

Omocha Souko Part 2: The Grand Tour

October 1, 2008, by strange coincidence, was both the day that I moved to Fukuoka and the day that Omocha Souko Fukuoka Honten first opened for business.

Fate? I think so.

At the time it opened - and indeed, at the time it will close - Omocha Souko was a store the likes of which this city had never seen before. This was a mega project, the most ambitious toy, comic, game, clothes and general used good store the city had ever seen.

Prior to its opening Maxim City, the company that owns Omocha Souko, had two other locations in town. But this one was different. It was to be the flagship of the entire chain. It wasn`t just going to be a store, but a self-contained entertainment palace. My sorrow at the store`s passing isn`t just because I`ll miss its bargains but because it is without a doubt the most interesting store to just wander through that I have ever seen.

Lets take a little tour just to show what I mean.

Outside you are greeted by one of the two giant TV screens they have constantly broadcasting commercials for the store:
There are three entrances, this being the main one:
On the right as I walked in that day there was a bunch of vinyl albums for sale. Anybody looking for a copy of Richard Valentine`s Come Back Lover? Don`t be shy.Random stuff like that is to be found throughout the store. Just one more thing to love about the place.

The interior of the building is like a maze that you walk around with various passages, rooms and stairways interconnected with each other. The most brilliant part is the fact that the entire place is decorated to look like a post-war retro Showa cityscape with false storefronts everywhere.
It actually looks quite realistic in some places, with laundry even hanging outside the windows:They go all the way up to the ceiling, which is two stories high:
And have a lot of strange details, like this policeman in front of the Koban:
It is the type of place you can easily get lost in, but never be bored with exploring.

The first floor has a bit of everything. The toy section is perhaps the most impressive:
There is also a little shop selling mostly Showa retro style candy:
A little cafe:
The obligatory section dedicated to J-Pop and K-Pop goods:
The used electronics junk section:
And these little toy vending machines that are littered throughout the store:
There is also a sizable used clothing section on the first floor but I`ve never found it to be particularly photogenic.

Upstairs we go!

The gaming section, which takes up about half the space, I have covered here before so I`ll skip that in this post. The rest of the floor is taken up by Pachinko slot machines:
UFO Catchers:
A movie section complete with dedicated VHS cassette tape shelf:
Where you can buy a copy of Dirty Laundry for only 100 yen:
Vinyl records!!
Musical instruments!
Fishing equipment!!
More Pachinko slot machines (I think these were supposed to be the real money makers for them):
And last but not least Manga:
All in all, an impressive array of things. While a lot of other stores offer similar combinations of stuff for sale, I don`t think any of them came close to offering the shopping experience that Omocha Souko did simply because none of them are anywhere near as amibtiously and imaginatively designed and laid out. It is perhaps a bit hard to convey this in words and photos, but perhaps you sense what I am getting at.

Alas it could not last forever. In my next post I`ll examine the possible causes of the downfall of this magnificent store.

Related Posts
- Omocha Souko Part 1: The Greatest Retro Game Store Ever