Amazing Nippon / Fun and Games: Claw Machine, Capsule Toy Arcades Prove Hit with Overseas Visitors

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A group of French tourists attempt to snag a popular anime figurine from a claw machine at Taito Station Akihabara in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

This is the third installment of a series exploring places that attract overseas visitors, allowing them to deepen their knowledge of Japan’s charms.


Excitement bubbled among a group of overseas visitors as they tried to snare a claw-machine prize at Taito Station Akihabara in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in mid-July.

The five-story, one-basement building houses a huge gaming arcade, replete with myriad machines and photo-sticker booths. “A little more to the right. Go, go!” The French tourists’ enthusiasm was almost palpable as they attempted to skillfully extract popular manga figurines from the machine.

“It’s difficult to find these kinds of places in France, and when you do, there’s a limited variety of games,” said one of the tourists, reflecting on his first visit to a Japanese gaming arcade. “I wanted to come here because arcades like this often feature in footage and magazines that showcase Japan. It just feels so glitzy and crazy — in a good sense.”

Roman Hasch, meanwhile, was attempting to coax a T-shirt featuring a popular game character from a claw machine. Though his endeavors were ultimately unsuccessful, the 37-year-old German national proclaimed, “It was fun trying!” Hasch opined that the store’s cleanliness and atmosphere made it a welcoming space for both children and adults alike.

The arcade’s manager Hirofumi Kubo, noted, “In addition to fans of specific anime and video games, we also attract people who seem to be on a kind of social studies tour and who are keen to visit a venue that somehow symbolizes Japanese subcultures.”

The Akihabara district is home to a large number of electronics and anime-related stores, and the arcade was seeing an uptick in foreign visitors even before the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Though patronage dropped sharply amid the pandemic, the government’s easing of COVID-19-related restrictions has helped the facility log an around 20% increase in overseas tourists since spring, compared to figures for 2019.

“During the pandemic, people spent more time at home,” Kubo said. “And thanks to social media, many become acquainted with the wide variety of [Japanese] claw machines.”

In recent years, “intangible goods consumption” — consumptive behavior that puts value on personal experience — has become common in Japan. According to Kubo, this trend has helped boost the popularity of claw machines, allowing consumers to enjoy the challenge of obtaining certain products.

Capsule-machine toys, too, have been gaining popularity among foreign tourists following the pandemic’s peak. Namco Tokyo, a sprawling gaming arcade that opened April in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, boasts around 250 capsule toy machines. Capsules containing popular figurines cost between ¥200 and ¥500. Foreign tourists reportedly account for 40% of the store’s customers.

Nora Ou from the U.S. beamed with joy after cracking open a capsule containing a longed-after figurine of Charlie Brown, the owner of celebrated pooch Snoopy.

The 31-year-old said she intended to display the figure on her desk at home, adding that her prize’s particular facial face expression was only available in Japan.

Li Chen, 35, from Singapore, surveyed the neat rows of machines, marveling that each one was fully operational and that they could all be enjoyed for a modest fee.

According to a survey by the Japan Toy Association, sales of capsule toys have been on the rise, totaling about ¥61 billion in fiscal 2022. This year, Bandai Namco Amusement Inc. — the Tokyo-based company that operates the outlet — opened stores featuring capsule toy machines in both the U.S. and the U.K.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign visitors express delight upon cracking open a capsule from a machine at Namco Tokyo in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

Wide appeal

Zoos and amusement parks, too, have seen an influx of overseas visitors. Nagasaki Bio Park, a zoo and botanical garden in Saikai City, Nagasaki Prefecture, is known for allowing visitors to touch its animals.

The facility’s capybaras are particularly popular. “Our capybaras are long-term residents and very friendly,” said Kimitaka Kamichika, the zoo’s public relations official. “Visitors can see the capybaras up-close and touch them, which is one of the reasons they are so well-regarded.”

The park is a canny user of social media, and more than 90% of its 1.8 million TikTok followers live overseas.

Meanwhile, Hana Biyori, a botanical garden located near the Yomiuriland amusement park —which straddles the cities of Inagi in Tokyo and Kawasaki — also has been pulling in foreign visitors thanks to an area featuring “flower chandeliers,” featuring more than 300 flower pots and a projection shows.