A Gamer In Japan Part 1: The Group

So, this is the first in my series on “A Gamer in Japan.”  This week, I will be focusing on who you’ll actually be gaming with if you bring your hobby with you to the Far East.

So, as I said in my introduction, I’m a foreign exchange student living in the greater Tokyo area of Japan.  Miraculously, I have been able to stay in touch with the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing experience since I got here.  However, being a Gamer in Japan definitely changes things up considerably, especially regarding the kind of people who will share your hobby with you.

In my experience, you can get three types of groups in Japan:  Groups of all foreigners (Gaijin), Mixed Groups, and Groups of all Japanese (with you being the exception).

The All Gaijin Group

Groups with all foreigners are truly an awesome thing to get, if you can find them.  I was lucky enough to find a post about a gaming group living in Saitama, about an hour and a half from my school.  Taking the train to meet them, which costs about $25 round trip, I was able to join the group and we had several really fun games.  I would say that these groups are the ideal experience for anyone; if you can get into a game with all foreigners, you are pretty much assured that all of them are experienced in role-playing games and know what they are doing.  These groups don’t waste time and they get straight down to business.  We started the Scales of War campaign arc and made it to around level 5 before I had to quit the game to get married and finish up school, but the time we had together was awesome.  You can find these groups by looking online for postings or visiting one of the local hobby stores in Japan (the Yellow Submarine being one of them, which I will talk about further in the next part of this series).  There are a lot of groups which are made up almost entirely of military personal stationed on one of the American military bases in Japan as well; I’ve been invited to join several of these groups, but the travel has always been too much for me.

Within this group of all foreigner games, you do find the opposite though.  I started Dungeon Mastering a game for other foreign students who are studying with me at my university.  None of them had ever played Dungeons and Dragons before.  Why then did they choose their time in Japan to pick up a hobby that is mainly played in the states?  The fact is, Japan is a really expensive place.  We have a Games Workshop Hobby store in my city which sells Warhammer 40k.  In Japan, the box set that would sell for around $30 goes for almost three times that here (coming in right around 8500 yen, the big box sets go for around $500).  If you look at that, combined with the alternatives for other hobby games, or even just the price to go out and get drinks at a bar, the cost is astronomical.  Most of the people I gamed with at school are poor college kids who can’t afford to go out and party every day here.  So, we locked ourselves in the dorm during winter break, which lasts 2 whole months, and played Dungeons and Dragons for several hours every day.  It turned out to be an awesome game.  Scott, one of the newbies to Dungeons and Dragons, now works on several of my original projects with me, including doing illustration work for the campaign setting I’m working on.  Japan also has the effect of scaring the “nerd fear” right out of you.  Scott is a fraternity guy, pretty much the last person you would expect to see playing Dungeons and Dragons, but one trip to Akihabra and a maid café changed his way of thinking; Japan has practically turned him into an Otaku, he downloads and watches anime on his own, spends time in the arcades, and plays pen and paper RPG’s.  If you want to bring a friend to the world of role-playing, Japan seems like just the shock treatment you need to get them there.

For the most part, all foreigner groups are made up of very intelligent people.  It takes a lot of brain power to get yourself to Japan; it takes even more to live through the experience.  If you can manage that, you can definitely manage to play some Dungeons and Dragons.  I have found that the groups I played in here are vastly smarter, on average, than the groups I have played in back home in the states.  The games I have DMed for at my local hobby store in California have been filled with guys that don’t really have any goals, job, money, or education, and so they necessarily have all their lights on; I have found that these are the people who often cause problems for games.  But the people you game with in Japan are of an entirely different level and are dedicated to make what little time they have for the hobby a good time.

The Mixed Group

The second group type in Japan is the mixed group.  I haven’t played in one of these, but I have heard they do exist.  They usually feature Japanese that have some knowledge of the game, experience in role-playing, and speak some degree of English.  These games are good for people who want to get some cross-cultural exposure, without the trouble of learning another language.

The Gaijin Stands Alone

The third group is the all Japanese group.  These groups are hardcore!  They are really into the rules, and play the game without mercy.  I’ve played in a Japanese only game just once.  Beware!  They are pretty insane.  Even if you think your language skills are really good, they probably aren’t.  I’m nearly fluent in Japanese, but my level of fluency doesn’t bring me close to the level where I would be able to “role-play” a character or understand other people when they “role-play” theirs.  I turned into the mute barbarian for that game and it didn’t work out very well, but all the players were really happy to have had me there and nearly forced me to come back.  The Japanese all almost always surprised when they meet a foreigner that shares in their hobby.  I get stunned looks whenever I walk into a hobby shop or show up at a Japanese only DnD game.  Japanese only groups are almost always willing to invite you into their game; in fact, they may insist on it.

If you are a foreigner living in Japan, there are groups of people who want to play Dungeons and Dragons or another RPG with you.  Chances are that someone you work with or go to school with would love to learn the game and get a break from the expensive cost of living that Japan demands.  The otherwise non-role-players will probably be willing to try something new, because hey, they are living in one of the strangest countries in the world (go look up the Gundam that they just erected in Odaiba, talk about strange).  The Japanese would love to have you in their games.  It may be a stereotype that all Japanese are friendly and polite, but from what I have seen, it is true, at least for fellow Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts.  Don’t despair if you’re on your way to Japan and you’re afraid of losing touch with your hobby.  There are people here who want to share it with you!


Hey everyone! I'm a gamer, husband, and father living in Japan. I teach High School English to Japanese kids. I started playing games about 13 years ago and have been blogging about gaming for the last 5 years or so.

4 thoughts on “A Gamer In Japan Part 1: The Group”

  1. A fun post to read, I'll be waiting to hear more about the subject since this was part 1.

    I recently was in China as a exchange student, but there weren't nearly so much activity on the roleplaying parts. As far as I know, only some of the expats were actively looking for a groups in Shanghai, but I never had time to go and play with them. My Mandarin ain't too good yet (not on the roleplaying level) and also in China, unfortunately the level of English is not too good. I actually haven't even heard many Chinese people playing roleplaying games, but maybe I haven't been alert.

    But on the other hand. Living in China IS like a roleplaying game! (I wrote about it here: http://bag-o-dice.blogspot.com/2009/05/living-in-

  2. Great stuff! I lived in Japan for 3 years. Its been a little while (got back about 5 years ago) but I had an interesting time finding gaming groups there.

    I did manage to find a local group in my prefecture (Mie-ken) through an online Gaming Guild site/maillist. Unfortunately I don't remember what it was called at all. The whole group was made up of Gaijin, all teachers. Some were part of JET (like I was) others were in Nova and one guy was a lifer who married a Japanese woman and taught professionally at a private school. We gamed at his house down in Tsu.

    I also played a lot of Magic the Gathering with my highschool students and even convinced a couple of them to try D&D with me. It was a lot of fun even over the language difficulty (for them, we played in English).

    One of the best ways I found to remain connected to the hobby was through online message board play. I started PbP over on Enworld while in Japan and have remained a consistent player there for over 7 years now.

  3. I'm glad to hear that people are finding this subject interesting. Actually the group that i played in for the savage worlds game was made up of mostly JET guys and gals. It was really fun. I'll be doing JET in about a year (hopefully, i'm keeping my fingers crossed) and so i'll be back here for that, but i'm also getting married in a week so i'll be back here with her regardless; as a funny follow-up regarding that, trying to teach your girlfriend how to play Dungeons and Dragons is hard, but trying to teach your girlfriend who doesn't speak any English is way harder, but as a result i'm speaking way better Japanese than i thought even possible. She's trying to get into it with me right now, she decided to play a little warlock girl who lulls people into a sense of security before eldritch blasting them using her Teddy Bear as an implement; its a funny character, but i thought it was cool. It has a very anime esq theme to it, but that is coming up in another post in the near future so i shouldn't get too ahead of myself.

    Hope that you'll enjoy the follow-ups as much as you enjoyed this one. Pictures to come in the posts that follow, i might even run over and grab one of that giant gundam before they do the official opening; i'm supposed to be going to that, but i'm having trouble resisting the urge to go down there before it "officially" gets unveiled to the public on July 11th. We'll see…

  4. Lovely post. I have never played in Japan but I have been in touch with other gamers and they seem to have had similar experiences. Looking forward to reading part 2. By the way, you really want to head down to Odaiba ASAP before the unwashed masses gather for the big opening. The Gundam has been complete for over two weeks now and they are just fine tuning it before the official opening (it went far quicker than they imagined). Once they open the protective fence will be taken out and everyone and their grandmother will be hugging the giant robot legs, effectively hindering you from getting any good shots of the behemoth. Also, head down before they put that abomination of Tokyo Olympics logo on it. How dare they sully this giant work of art with speculative commercial cra*p? (^-^)

    Oh, and have a look at my blog, has some snapshots of the Gundam as I saw it, two weeks ago.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..A Paper Craft Castle On the Ocean =-.

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