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Tokyo's underground game bars

Shikoku, one of the four major Japanese islands, is renowned for its Buddhist temples. With a history stretching back for over a thousand years, tourists and followers of Shingon Buddhism regularly come to visit 88 of these holy shrines as part of a traditional pilgrimage.

But today, many visitors see Japan as a Mecca for the modern and geeky. It’s the birthplace of Miyamoto and Mario, the home of the Akihabara Electric Town, and host to the Tokyo Games Show. What these travelers don’t realize is that Japan hosts much more than the latest games and tech; there’s a thriving sub-culture, which has been built up around them. If you like the idea of strong drinks served with a side of 8-bit nostalgia, there’s another kind of pilgrimage available.

Scattered around Tokyo, lie six diverse videogame-themed bars. Popular amongst fans and game developers, these establishments allow customers to combine their love of games and alcohol. Most walk right past them, without even realizing they exist. That’s why we put together this pilgrim’s guide to Tokyo’s videogame shrines and cocktail lounges. The addresses and websites (when available) have been provided along with the description of each bar. We’ve also done our best to include an estimate of how much a night of “moderate” drunken gaming will run you.

All photos by Dawn Lucovich and Ryan Winterhalter.

GameBar A-Button


Official Website
Street Address: Taitou-Ku Taitou 1-13-9

How much will it cost?
About ¥1885 - ¥4714.5
About $20 - $50
About £12 - £30

The first stop on our pilgrimage is in Akihabara. This Tokyo neighborhood is packed to the brim with videogame stores and arcades. Whether you’re looking for the latest next-gen titles or bargains on rare classics, you’ll be able to find it here. That’s why for many gamers, Akihabara is the first and last stop on any trip to Japan.


Above: Visit A-Button after a long day of shopping in Akihabara 

But if you walk just a few blocks from the stores and arcades, you’ll find a little bar called A-Button. Surrounded by quiet houses and apartment buildings, A-Button is the newest and friendliest of the establishments on our drunken pilgrimage. The décor mixes retro and rare gaming equipment. A giant 42” high-def TV hangs over the bar - and is hooked up to half a dozen consoles, including a development kit for the Sega Dreamcast.  Vintage game controllers line the walls, while CRT monitors and consoles - dating back to the ‘70s - add a bit of old school flavor to A-Button’s retro atmosphere.

Head into the A-Bar on Friday and Saturday nights, and you’ll find a crowd of both game fans and folks from the industry. According to one bartender, “Japanese arcade culture isn’t what it used to be, it’s not as popular. So, about a year ago, we decided to make a new community based around this bar.”

It seems that the community has responded well. “Are we regulars? Yeah, something like that,” says one patron speaking on behalf of a crowd of customers. But don’t expect to be shunned if it’s your first time at A-Button; there are always lots of newcomers too. “It’s my second time,” says one young woman before turning her attention back to her boyfriend. She’s busy teaching him the ins and outs of Super Mario Bros. 3 on a nearby station. “Number four,” she says while pointing at the screen (apparently, he needed to know how to get to the giant world).


Above: A-Button is a popular watering hole for game industry insiders 


Above: The intimate interior is packed with consoles and playable games 


Above: A-Button’s impressive collection of classic controllers. Don’t forget to tip the bartenders, who somehow manage to serve drinks amidst the chaos of old school consoles 


Above: A closer look at the consoles connected to just one of A-Button's many televisions 

47 comments

  • dakotak51 - October 3, 2009 9:20 a.m.

    they have a place out here in wellington, new zealand like that ones called "gamesland" and the other is called old boy"
  • deadeye521 - August 17, 2009 12:55 a.m.

    looks awesome im going to visit a friend next month ill be sure to visit these places
  • adadadad - August 14, 2009 4:07 p.m.

    SECOND! NICE ARTICLE. MAY HTINK JAPAN ALL WRONG. THEY LIK PS-CRAP OVER XBOX! SILLYS. AX
  • Major_Wuss - August 13, 2009 7:46 p.m.

    Well, now I know I'll have places to check out when I move there.
  • ShadowMantis - August 13, 2009 12:39 p.m.

    OMG!! I HAVE TO GO TO TOKYO!! Who wants to come with me.While we're over there the only thing I'm gonna eat is NOODLES!
  • coolbeans - August 12, 2009 2:35 a.m.

    us Americans are left with only two option; 1: build some sweet bars like these here or, 2: all move to japan
  • gatornation1254 - August 11, 2009 7:17 p.m.

    Man I agree with you guys why can't here be places like that in America. I wud love to go and check out some rare games.
  • adadadad - August 11, 2009 7:05 p.m.

    FIRST! GOOD ARTICLE. MAY THINK JAPAN IS NOT CORRRECT AS THEY GET PS-CRAP OVER GREET AND SOPECIEL XBOX 360. /FAIL FOR THEM. MAY CRY.
  • MitsuharuSan - August 11, 2009 2:55 p.m.

    PS.: For those wondering... Tokyo is evolving to a level in wich you can already live well just by speaking english. I don't know if that's good or not (for Japan, I mean), but that's pretty much it. I wish the "people of nowadays" there would care more for the beautiful japanese culture of yesterday, but at least I think that will make the world closer somehow (and here's hoping this will mean less japanese berating "gaijins").
  • MitsuharuSan - August 11, 2009 2:50 p.m.

    Go to hell, Cwf2008. I lost members of my family because of your f'n bomb. If you don't have a heart, at least shut up. Anyway, domo arigatou gozaimasu for this article, GamesRadar!
  • dweller - August 11, 2009 2:35 p.m.

    I have to admit I'll probably drink more if there was gaming bars around here. reCaptcha: spittle Department
  • dante1924 - August 11, 2009 2:34 p.m.

    Sorry for a second post, but to mizzy: Are you on pot? Because that didn't really make sense.
  • dante1924 - August 11, 2009 2:02 p.m.

    Why do the bars get smaller and smaller as the article progresses? Anyway, I will go to A button one day, even though I don't know japanese! And I'll also find Qunai bros. one day, even though it will take forever.
  • 88Meters - August 11, 2009 12:33 p.m.

    Fuck you guys, I wanted atleast a clue for Qunai.
  • FETALJUICE - August 11, 2009 4:25 a.m.

    Shit, now I have a sudden urge to go visit Japan...
  • Red - August 11, 2009 2:22 a.m.

    I love Japan.
  • mertor3190 - August 11, 2009 1:50 a.m.

    Man i always wanted to go to Tokyo. But now I HAVE to go.
  • mig000 - August 11, 2009 1:02 a.m.

    Actually thats a great idea. I should start a bussiness like that with a few friends if we could get the money.
  • lovinmyps3 - August 11, 2009 12:45 a.m.

    SWEET!! I'm already learning Japanese so I can move there in a couple years!
  • Hobojedi - August 10, 2009 11:43 p.m.

    But.. I can't speak Japanese..

Showing 1-20 of 47 comments

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