One of the prize games in Japanese arcades is a variation of the quarter games you sometimes find in American carnivals. The concept is to push a stack of goodies over a ledge into a bin that you open during play. Like many well-designed, profitable, and therefore infuriating prize games, the game provides an illusion of progress early on and becomes deceptively difficult the closer you get to success. Those carnival quarter games achieve these gravity-defying antics with a magnet. However, the nature of this particular game’s deception lies in the way prizes are stacked and the domed shape of the machine. Once the Jenga-style stack of candy or whatever starts moving over the ledge, the plexiglass dome provides another point of contact and support, keeping it from falling in and you walking away with an obscene amount of treats.
The problem with this game design, and why it wouldn’t work in the USA, is that it relies to some extent on your customer being able to stifle their rage and maintain their dignity while losses mount. This game needs customers that are even willing to walk away with nothing after an absurd expenditure and success dangling right before their eyes. Well, anyone who has interacted with American tourists knows that we maintain no such pretense of “saving face” and avoiding attracting undue attention in public. Our solution to a game such as this (and the obvious one if you have no qualms about cheating) comes with a hearty “bump”…. or a vibration, or rumble, or shake, shove, hell, a damn candy earthquake, if you will. So yeah, scope out one of these machines that somebody has gotten close to success on and abandoned. One person mans the quadrant with the leaning tower of candy, drops a coin in and opens the hatch, and another person treats the dome like a Japanese taiko drum… voila. A mountain of candy tumbles into your prize bin after one or two tries. With time, naturally we came up with names for some of these techniques: “Gaijin Bump”, “Gaijin Rumble”… and if someone is feeling really bold, “The Gaijin Stumble” (preferably with a backpack to maximize impact). Good times.
So this trip I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the latest iteration of this game renders all the above techniques obsolete. Your prize now dangles on a string. A string connected to a weight that you now must move over the ledge. No amount of Taiko Drum Master on the plexiglass dome will hasten your triumph. Walking away with ill-gotten grocery bags of prizes in years gone by, on some level I knew that this is why we can’t have nice things. It was fun while it lasted.
So what else to talk about for this trip to Tokyo? By my count, this is our eighth trip to Japan, a stop that has become at least an annual routine. This is the second time our niece has accompanied us, so we had a few activities that were geared towards that. We spent an afternoon doing a “fake food” class, where you make a tray of wax sample foods similar to the ones ubiquitous in Japanese restaurant windows. Newer techniques utilize heat-resistant vinyls and other materials and some degree of automation. However, all the original techniques were done with colored wax and completely by hand. This class brought us to Kappabashi Street, or “Kitchen Town”, near Ueno. Never visited this area, and window shopping here, was interesting in it’s own right.
Otherwise, this was another lame visit where our time evaporated in Akihabara and Ueno. We hunted around for a few Atlas Obscura spots and (as usual) found lots of new facets to the same haunts. A couple of places we took some pics of here… “Vending Machine Hell” is a weird little claustrophobic crush of vending machines of disputed origin with lots of threatening messages on them and a weird and random assortment of goods inside them. Many machines have wrapped boxes with cryptic newspaper headlines, poems and other writings. The place seems like a protest against something, but I’m not sure what.