This series is meant to be just as much a travelogue as it is a document of Japan’s gaming culture. That being the case, I thought I'd give readers an idea what it’s like getting around in Japan and tips on how to best enjoy playing games during your commute.
Getting There by Air
We've all been on long flights (unless you are a certain gamrReview editor) so we all know how insufferably boring and uncomfortable they can be. Playing videogames is one way to make flying suck less which is why many gamers stock up beforehand, knowing just what they plan to play. I personally brought Mario Kart 7, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Pokemon Soul Silver Version to play on my 3DS. My Vita was equipped with LittleBigPlanet, MLB 13: The Show, PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale and various other games crammed onto my memory card. My flight lasted 13 hours longer than the combined battery life of the 3DS and Vita. Think ahead - a long flight is perfect time to make serious progress in any game. Be sure your games and systems are easily accessible in your carry-on items and you don’t have to access the overhead storage each time you want to switch a game. Know where your chargers are so you can recharge your battery at the terminal before your flight or during any layovers. Also be sure to put your portable on airline mode and take heed when the airline staff tell you to put away electronic devices; it is not worth the hassle.
Your 3DS should be your default travel companion while commuting in Tokyo. On the train you may be tempted to play an old school DS game but if you do this you most likely will miss out on all of the possible Street Pass tags around you. Tokyo just might have the heaviest concentration of Nintendo 3DS gamers of anywhere in the world. Given that statistic, your chances of collecting Street Pass Tags is astronomically high. Collecting a few dozen is not an uncommon occurrence in the course of a daily commute. Since I've been in Tokyo I've collected every available Puzzle Piece and beaten Find Me and Find Me 2 several times over. At some point I became blasé to the entire phenomenon and did not see the need to bring along my 3DS on every excursion. There also seem to be a number of Nintendo Zones where you can access special online and Spot Pass content scattered throughout Tokyo.
Nintendo has a stable advertising presence on certain train lines running throughout Tokyo. Every morning on my way to class I watch Mario and Luigi star in a PSA of sorts that offers general trivia questions and answers. The two brothers jump from block to block in a white vacuum of space in between informational cards and images. I'm not 100% sure what any of these ads are about but I was able to glean something about the drinking habits of giraffes, the cultural origins of the word "sayonara", and the traditional way of Japanese sitting known as "seiza". These spots are always followed by an actual videogame advertisement of some kind. Currently the ads are showing off Monster Hunter 4, but since I've been here I've seen spots for Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Collection New Life, Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon, and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (man the 3DS is on a roll!).
Everything you have heard about how crowded trains in Tokyo can be is true. Early morning rush hour is an exercise in making yourself as small as possible as you are surrounded on all sides by impeccably dressed salarymen, students struggling with their backpacks, and everyone else cramming into the train car. What is really striking is that most people endure this discomfort in stoic silence. Even worse than the morning rush hour is the congestion of the last train of the night. Most train lines stop running sometime midnight and 1 AM meaning that before then there is a mad rush to get home. Such trains are usually ten times worse because those same impeccably dressed salarymen may now be disheveled drunken messes passed out on your shoulder. There are times when I could not be sure my feet were making contact with the floor, that's how crowded these trains can be.
The train system is usually reliable but due to the sheer amount of people that utilize public transportation and a million other variables, trains may be thrown off schedule from time to time. There are signs in train stations warning against unsafe behavior while waiting on the platforms. As the illustration above describes, unsafe behavior includes walking while intoxicated, listening to music, talking on the phone, or playing a portable game.
You may have heard that the trains have problems with perverts and gropers taking advantage of the crowded cars to get away with sexually perverse acts. The trains have many safeguards to counteract this problem. Morning trains will often have Women’s Only cars which won’t allow male passengers. Also by law camera phones are required to make a shutter sound when taking pictures to discourage upskirt photography. Your phone is probably not Japanese so it does not have this restriction which may make it a target for pickpockets with malicious intentions.
The 3DS is undoubtedly the top dog as far as amount of gamers playing on the trains in Tokyo is concerned. Next most frequently seen are the various colors of PSP, which is still a popular gaming device in these parts. The Vita is well represented for the amount of devices that have been sold in the country to-date but the Nintendo DS is a somewhat rarer sight than you might expect. As with any other Metro system people pass the time with activities besides gaming, including reading, listening to music, and using smartphones to access the internet and play games.
Even the PlayStation's Vit'a Near App seems to be more useful in Japan. It never seemed worth paying attention to while living in my New York suburb. The small little hamlet of Nerima ward where I reside regularly reports 100 or so people playing nearby via the Near app. The app reports the popularity of games among players in your area while offering ways to connect with others and attain items for your games. Currently the most popular games include the free to play Phantasy Star Online 2, Hatsune Mika Project Diva-f, and Muramasa Rebirth (stay tuned for my review). I could see how a 3G capable Vita would be a nice luxury, allowing you to access the online capabilities during your traveling time but alas I have the Wifi only model. Free Wi-fi hotspots are a rarity in Tokyo.
You may have heard of Japan's high speed bullet trains, known as Shinkansen. Shinkansen is a convenient albeit costly way to travel between Japan's major cities. The ride is smooth and relaxing. Of course you can pass the time by playing games on your portable but don't knock the entertainment value of enjoying the scenery viewable from your window or nice conversation with your nearest neighbor. During my four hour trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima I was able to take down the Elite Four in Pokemon Soul Silver version. Little did I know that while I was engrossed in gaming I missed a reportedly stunning view of Mt. Fuji out the window.
The Night Bus
If you cannot afford a Shinkansen but still want to travel beyond the reaches of Tokyo another option are night buses - Yakou bus. Forget all your ideas of gaming though. The bus interior is plunged into absolute darkness once you hit the road and all forms of light from personal appliances are discouraged. Noise of any kind is prohibited so your only real option is to sleep. Your bus will likely make various pit stops throughout the night that will interrupt your sleep unless you are a really heavy sleeper. Theoretically you could use these breaks to get in some game time but more than likely you will be too busy using the restrooms, purchasing food, and trying to regain feeling in your legs before returning to the relentless darkness of the night bus.
Japan is an island nation so boat travel is available at various ports. When I was in Hiroshima we took a ferry to the island of Miyajima, home to a shrine that seems to be in the middle of the water. The ferry ride lasts only about ten minutes, ten minutes you could spend gaming, or, you know, enjoying the fresh sea air and taking pictures. There's more to travel than gaming you know, sheesh.
Once on Miyajima I decided I wanted to climb to the top of the mountain which first meant traveling up to the area by cable car. The cable car ride takes about 15 minutes each way and if you want you can either take out your 3DS to play Mario Kart 7 or enjoy a more fun game I call stare at the people in the cars going in the other direction until they notice you and see how they react.
On the Road
I am not allowed to drive in Japan but I've had the pleasure of long road trips by car in the countryside of the Tohoku region. I got some good gaming in during these rides and would have done even more if I did not feel obligated to keep our driver entertained, since playing music was not really an option. Japan’s famous Cherry Blossoms are in bloom during late March/early April but during our drive we spotted some unexpectedly in mid May.
Now you have an idea of what to expect when traveling around Tokyo and beyond. You’ll be thankful that portable gaming has so much great content to offer as you get from place to place. One disappointment though is that the photo taking abilities of both the Vita and 3DS are lacking so also remember to bring a decent camera or a smartphone with a decent amount of megapixels.
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