Japan: Home of Retro Gaming

Nintendo Game Boy

If you’re a fan of classic video games, you might know that Japan is the home of retro gaming. Many of the most popular video games of the 1980s and 1990s were developed by Japanese companies such as Nintendo, Sega, and Sony.

Retro gaming has become a popular pastime for many. There’s a growing community of enthusiasts who collect classic video game consoles and games from the 80s and 90s. These classic games have stood the test of time. Avid video game players continue to be enjoyed them even today. Many gamers also collect classic consoles and games. In short, retro gaming is a popular hobby around the world.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the history of retro gaming and explore why Japan remains a hub for this hobby.

History of retro games in Japan

Retro Consoles and Cartridges
Retro Consoles and Cartridges

The history of video gaming in Japan can be traced back to the late 1970s. This was when video game arcades started to gain popularity. Games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man became massive hits and sparked a craze for video games.

In the early 1980s, home video game consoles began to emerge. One of the notable mentions is the release of the Nintendo Famicom in 1983. The Famicom was a huge success. It had a library of games, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. All these games became instant classics.

The mid-1980s saw the rise of the Sega Master System. It was released in Japan in 1985. In the early 1990s, Nintendo released the Super Famicom. It became one of the best-selling consoles of all time. During the 1990s, Japanese video game companies continued to innovate and push the boundaries of gaming. Sony entered the market in 1994 with the release of the PlayStation. It featured 3D graphics and CD-ROMs, allowing for more complex and immersive games.

The late 1990s saw the rise of the Sega Dreamcast. It was released in Japan in 1998. The Dreamcast was not as successful as its competitors. However, it did have some popular games such as Shenmue and Phantasy Star Online.

The emergence of retro gaming in Japan

The emergence of retro gaming in Japan can be traced back to the early 2000s. This was when video game enthusiasts began to rediscover the classic games of their childhood. As gamers grew older and new generations of consoles were released, there was a growing nostalgia. Gamers preferred the simpler, more straightforward games of the past.

In recent years, retro gaming has become even more popular in Japan. This is especially with the release of classic consoles like the Nintendo Classic Mini and the Super Famicom Mini. These consoles feature a selection of pre-installed games. It allows gamers to relive the classic titles of their youth without having to track down the original hardware.

Significant retro games in Japan

Some retro games hold a special place in the hearts of Japanese gamers. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Super Mario Bros. – Released in 1985 for the Nintendo Famicom (NES), Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic and beloved video games of all time. It introduced the world to Mario, who has since become one of the most recognizable characters in all of gaming. The game’s fun, fast-paced gameplay, and catchy music made it an instant classic.
  2. Dragon Quest – Released in 1986 for the Famicom, Dragon Quest is a role-playing game (RPG) that is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the genre. The game’s creator, Yuji Horii, drew inspiration from Western RPGs like Ultima and Wizardry but gave the game a distinctly Japanese flavor. The Dragon Quest series remains hugely popular in Japan to this day.
  3. Final Fantasy – Released in 1987 for the Famicom, Final Fantasy is another RPG that helped to popularize the genre in Japan. The game’s creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, had intended it to be his swan song in the video game industry, but the game’s success led to a long-running series that is still going strong today.
  4. Street Fighter II – Released in 1991 for arcades, Street Fighter II is a fighting game that revolutionized the genre. The game introduced a cast of memorable characters, each with its unique moves and fighting styles. It also popularized the use of special moves and combos, which became a staple of the genre.
  5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Released in 1991 for the Super Famicom (SNES), A Link to the Past is one of the best games of all time. The game’s sprawling world, challenging puzzles, and memorable music have made it a fan favorite for decades.
  6. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. It was designed to rival Nintendo’s Mario series. The game’s titular character, Sonic, quickly became a pop culture icon in Japan and beyond.

How to collect retro games in Japan?

Collecting retro games in Japan can be a fun and rewarding experience for gaming enthusiasts. Here are some tips on how to collect retro games in Japan.

Visit retro game stores: Japan is home to many stores that specialize in selling retro games and gaming hardware. These stores may sell a variety of classic consoles, games, and accessories, as well as collectibles and memorabilia. Some popular retro game stores in Japan include Super Potato, Mandarake, and Surugaya. These stores are present in the famous Akihabara district in Tokyo.

Akihabara district in Tokyo
Akihabara district in Tokyo

Attend retro game events: As mentioned earlier, there are many retro gaming events and conventions held in Japan throughout the year. These events can be great places to meet other collectors, buy and sell games, and learn more about the history of classic gaming.

Use online marketplaces: Many Japanese online marketplaces, such as Yahoo! Auctions Japan, Mercari, and ZenPlus offer a wide range of retro games, gaming hardware, and merchandise for sale. These marketplaces can be a good way to find rare or hard-to-find items, and they often offer competitive prices. For instance, how cool is this Super Mario watch from Seiko!

Check out flea markets and secondhand stores: Japan has a thriving secondhand market for a variety of goods, including retro games and gaming hardware. Flea markets and secondhand stores can be great places to find deals on retro games and consoles but be prepared to do some searching and bargaining.


Retro gaming culture in Japan is a vibrant and thriving community that has deep roots in the country’s rich gaming history. From classic arcade games to old-school console titles, Japanese gamers have a deep appreciation for the retro gaming experience.

It has had a broad and far-reaching influence on Japanese pop culture, inspiring and informing works across a wide range of media and industries. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just getting started, there’s never been a better time to explore the world of retro gaming. And if you’re looking to add to your collection, ZenPlus is definitely worth checking out.

Eli Civil

A software engineer, entrepreneur, and Japanese culture enthusiast. I travel the world while working from my laptop and try to visit Japan as often as I can. About Eli Civil

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