All posts by Greg in Japan

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.

A Gamer in Japan Pt 2 – Location, Location, Location

In my last post in this series, I talked about who you will probably be spending a lot of your time gaming with in Japan; this time, I’ll talk about the where.  I would really encourage people to share on this one, as your play experience may have varied greatly, but from the games I have been a part of, the play location was always totally different than in the United States.

I live just outside of Tokyo.  As most people know, Tokyo is one of the most crowded cities in the world.  When I say crowded, I mean that they have to have people who’s job is to push and cram as many people on the train’s as they can during rush our, in order to get everyone on board… I can’t imagine that that is very safe, but it gets you home on time for dinner.

Living situations are especially impacted by this scarcity for space.  Most apartments here are very small as are other living set-ups.  I live in a dorm that is about 7 feet wide, by about 12 feet long (practically prison cell dimensions, and it often feels that way) and there isn’t much space to play elsewhere in the dorm; so, we usually end up playing on my bed, with all the play stuff laid out on the floor…

We have also made some contacts in the Japanese hobby chain known as the Yellow Submarine.  They are a hobby chain which retails all manner of different hobby and gaming related goods.  This is the place where we go to buy dice, figs, books, and just about everything else.  They are a good place to play Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and other CCG games; some of them will even give up their play space for role-players.  They sell the complete line of Dungeons and Dragons related books at about 2.5 times the cost US.  I went in there yesterday and found the Japanese translated hard-bound WotC books going for about 7000 yen a piece.  So, if you think you’ve got it bad when it comes to the cost of gaming material how do you think the Japanese feel?  Despite the cost, Yellow Submarine is a great place to get a game, if they have the space.  I’ve played their once.  We couldn’t play very late because the store closes early, but we were able to get a few hours of gaming in, with some of the most sought after things to have at a game… a table and chairs…

I got my camera out to take some pictures at Yellow Submarine, but they stopped me.  It is a corporate chain and thus they can’t allow picture taking inside unless they have the express consent of the parent company… which they wouldn’t give to a humble blogger like me.  So, they told me that I should direct everyone to their website where you can see the pictures for yourself.

Here is the sight:

Warning:  It is all in Japanese, prepare for a multi-cultural onslaught.

That is right, the other long term games I have played in had nary a place to sit, nor a place to put our mat.  We ended up using a plastic folder put on top of a miniature end table which we all sat on the floor around.  The space here is limited in even apartments; it isn’t just my minuscule dorm.

Now, I realize that most of these are my personal experiences; some of you may have had very different ones.  I am really interested to hear your experiences with where you played?

One of the places we loved to play at back home was a local pizza parlor which we had a standing agreement with.  We could come in and play for as long as we wanted taking up the biggest table there and each week we got the same thing:  3 pizzas spread over the time we spent there, 2 orders of buffalo wings, 2 orders of cheese sticks, and drinks for everyone.  With that much purchased we got to use the space for as long as we wanted… I have yet to find a place in Japan that will do the same… anybody have a different experience?  How have you found places to game in foreign countries? Anybody with Japanese experiences that relate to this problem?

Once again, if you would like to comment on any of the other stuff that I work on, you can find it over at my website:  I’m always eager to hear from people, if you’re a gamer in Japan, I’d love to meet up and share some stories and maybe a few rolls of the dice.  You can also e-mail me at thedumpstat[at]yahoo[dot]com.  Hope that I’ll be hearing from you.

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!


Pleased to Meet you! I’m Shinobicow

Hey Everyone!  It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.  My name is Shinobicow from .  I’ll be doing a guest column or two for Stargazer’s World and I wanted to properly introduce myself to everyone.

My real name is Greg.  I was born in Tokyo, back in the 80’s before the bubble burst.  So, as you can imagine I’ve grown up pretty much indoctrinated with the Japanese culture.  I’ve taken several trips back there and right now, I’m living in Japan as a foreign exchange student as I finish up my college degree in Asian Studies.

I first got into the role-playing genre through video games, mostly through the Final Fantasy Series.  However, when I was 12 I started my first venture into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons when I picked up the Baldur’s Gate games when my mom took me on a shopping trip down to Costco (yes Costco sold computer games even back in the late 90’s).  I really enjoyed them, loved the concept, but the mechanics seemed tricky to me; I wanted to understand more about how the game was run.  I managed to convince my parents, somehow, it is still a bit fuzzy, to drive me down to our local hobby store so that I could pick up some of the AD&D rules.  Well, to me, they didn’t make much sense, but once I hit high school, I immediately got involved with a group of friends and started running my first ever 3.0 Dungeons and Dragons game.  With their help, I learned the rules and had my first real gaming group.

We made a request to the same hobby store where I bought my first D&D game to let us use the place for our ongoing campaign.  Through this, I became known in the store, started running various games from there, and eventually was hired and worked as an assistant manager for almost two years.  During that time, I expanded into some other RPG’s:  Shadowrun, World of Darkness, GURPS, CoC.  At the same time, D&D became my favorite.

Now, I’m almost done with college, my game groups have come and gone as people graduate and move away, but through living in Japan, I’ve been able to see an entirely new side to the hobby.  Role-playing in Japanese… that is a wild world of its own.  I hope to elaborate on this crazy realm of fantasy in my column here on Stargazers World.

So, I guess that brings me to describing my column(s).  First off, I’ll be doing a short series on how my background in Japan has affected not only the way my games are played, but who they are played with and the type of influences that go into adventure and world building.  I’ll also introduce the gaming world to some of Japan’s closely guarded role-playing secrets and its hive of scum and villainy…. Sounds exciting right?  Following this short series, I’ll begin to delve into my personal world building experiences, especially when it comes to designing campaign settings that have a distinctly Japanese influence.  I’ll go into some tips for building your games not only from a historically accurate perspective, but also from a Pop culture perspective, because like it or not, anime is a great place to draw inspiration from for role-playing, Dungeons and Dragons is no exception.

I hope everyone can get something out of these articles.  I’m pleased to be writing them.  If you want to check out my blog, come on over, I would love to here your comments on my existing works, what few there may be.  You can see the URL address at the top of this page.

If you would like to shoot me an e-mail, I can be reached through the comments here, or at my e-mail address:  thedumpstat(at)yahoo(dot)com.