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9 Best Japanese Arcades in the US 2023

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9 Best Japanese Arcades in the US 2023

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-1-retro_arcades.jpg]
Figure 1-1. Retro Arcades

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. US East Coast
  3. US West Coast
  4. US Central
  5. Full Japanese Arcades in the USA


Introduction


America, the land of freedom, democracy, and gaming. While it is true that countries such as Japan and Russia have contributed to the medium of gaming greatly, America like other things stands in a league of its own. Modern-day gaming truly started to take form in the early comic bookstores where fans would gather to either discuss their favorite series or play DnD. And with the advent of the home consoles, these gatherings would sow the seeds for the very first esports tournaments. But for many Americans, the first time they were introduced to gaming was with Arcades. Arcades were the lifeblood of the American gamer in the early 90s and 2000s. Here games like Mario & Donkey Kong, Pong, and Tetris would rule uncontested. But alas as with all good things, arcades too came to an end resulting in the mass abandonment of arcade shops. Despite this the spirit of arcades managed to live on in small, isolated locations, that is until the great revival of the arcades brought on by the massive presence they had in Japanese media. Hence it is quite ironic that the land from which the home console originated would also be the cause for the revival of arcades. Nowadays it is not common for one to find Japanese-style arcades throughout different parts of America.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-2-old_school_arcades.jpg]
Figure 2-1. Old School Arcade Machines

These arcades only happen to share the name with their long-closed counterparts, as they do not fully rely on gaming to function. Now they feature a whole host of other recreational activities ranging from lotteries to even live events. But that is not to say that the spirit of the early arcades has been truly lost, for you can still find many local esports tournaments being held in these locations that manage to bring people together just like the good old days. So, for that, we have organized some of the best arcades in America based in the three main regions of the country. These regions are the East Coast, West Coast, and Mid-West.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-3-us_arcade_machines.jpg]
Figure 2-2. US Arcade Machines


US East Coast



Ah the East Coast, home of tradition and culture, with cities like New York and Boston it is no wonder that it has been called the most diverse cultural hub of America. And from this gathering many great things have arisen, key among them being gaming, for due to the influence of different cultures gaming was allowed to grow and adapt in a very unique way. As can be seen in the city of New York, a place that has remained a bastion for gaming since the early 80s. New York also happened to be one of the very few cities that kept the spirit of arcades alive through small local shops that still carried the retro arcades of our childhoods. But now with the revival of the arcades through the Japanese medium of anime, we have seen them adapting more and more to fit in line with the traditional arcades one might find in Japan. While this change might be jarring for some it can be seen as an eraser of a whole sub-culture that has been allowed to grow since the 80s. But worry not as even if they are now adapting new methods and games, they will forever remain the timeless classics we know them, to be. The most iconic among them are the following:

  • Barcade
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-4-barcade.jpg]
Figure 3-1. Barcade

Located throughout the many cities of the East Coast but based out of the city of New York, Barcade stands as a sole testament to the raw unfiltered spirit of arcade gaming. Having some of the largest retro gaming arcades ranging from the 1970s to the mid-2000s, Barcade has been letting people experience timeless classics since 2004. With its largest branch in Brooklyn, it has been giving gamers a place to gather, relax, and play games. And while the concept of a bar mixed with an arcade isn’t a new one, Barcade was the one to polish the idea to its modern state. Such as allowing local players to gather and host grassroots esports tournaments that not only managed to bring people together but also broke down the stereotypical boundaries set by race and ethnicity.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-5-the_bishibashi.jpg]
Figure 3-2. The★BishiBashi

Barcade is also dedicated to its craft of retro gaming by keeping and maintaining over 100 retro arcade cabinets spread out among all its stores. Some of the games are so rare that you can’t even find their roms on the internet. One such game is "The★BishiBashi" an old-school retro arcade game that has an iconic anime art style reminiscent of Sailor Moon and gameplay that’s so unique you won't find it anywhere else. It is a two-player game where you compete against the other player in a gauntlet of nightmare challenges designed to test the absolute limits of your and your friend's sanity. For with each round, the games get harder and harder to the point where you will not even be able to react in time to the relentless onslaught of the game. So, if you want to test the limits of your friendship then come on down to the Barcade in New York for the experience of a lifetime.

  • Silverball Retro Arcade
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-6-silverball_...arcade.jpg]
Figure 3-3. Silverball Retro Arcade

Next up for the East Coast, we have one of the oldest running arcades still in use to this day, Silverball Retro Arcade. Located in America's very own city down under Florida, Silverball Retro Arcade is not just an arcade in name only as it is possibly one of the very few arcades to keep the vibe and atmosphere of the 80s alive and kicking. Where others are either going modern or adapting the Japanese style, Silverball manages to teleport players to a time long past, when the only thing that mattered was getting your name on the top of the leaderboard in Tetris. Featuring a wide range of arcade cabinets ranging from pinball to even some Attari machines that have long been discontinued.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-7-lupin_iii.jpg]
Figure 3-4. Lupin III

Going with the theme of the retro arcade you will also find some other recreational activities such as roller skating and air hockey, but they are not present in all locations as the main focus is on arcades through and through. One can also find some of the oldest anime games on the market here, such as the great Lupin The III, and the Taito version of Space Invader based on the modern hardware and art style take of the company. And lest we forget the legendary and ground-breaking Donkey Kong which not only started the legend of Nintendo but also brought Japanese games to the Western market. So if you are in the mood to game on genuine retro arcades and relive your nostalgic childhoods then come down to Florida’s very own Silverball Retro Arcade.



US West Coast



The West Coast is the hub of technology and the birthplace of Silicon Valley. From here rose massive tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Latter of which many gamers are quite familiar with as it played a major role in the advancement of home consoles and the death of the arcades. But despite that arcades were able to emerge on the West Coast due to the massive influence of Japanese culture and animation. But unlike the East Coast which was able to retain its cultural roots due to dedicated fanbases, the arcades of the West had to adapt to the ever-changing gaming industry. As events such E3 and Anime Expo pushed the boundaries of gaming and anime to even greater heights. Which resulted in the arcades becoming a melting pot of different cultures and influences. The best among these arcades are as follows:

  • Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade and Bar
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-8-ground_kontrol.jpg]
Figure 4-1. Ground Kontrol

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that America is mostly only known for a few cities such as LA and NY, but what most people often forget is that America as a country is one of the largest in the world. Which led many to some of its quainter cities being forgotten, cities such as Portland Oregon the home of one of the most accomplished fusions of arcades and bars Ground Kontrol. Pun naming aside Ground Kontrol is one of the best places for gamers on the West Coast to gather and relax while taking in the atmosphere of this vintage place with a dash of minimalism added in to set the mood.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-9-metal_slug_5.jpg]
Figure 4-2. Metal Slug 5

Featuring an old-school arcade room with modern minimalist decor, the arcade offers players a wide array of games to play from the early 70s to the 90s on original cabinets. All their original cabinets remain in mint condition due to the hard work of not only the workers but also the fans. For it is one of the last places where gamers can play classic games such as Final Fight, Crazy Taxi (OG version), and the iconic 2D scroller Metal Slug 5. MS 5 also happens to be touted as the last good game in the history of the franchise, mainly due to the stellar 2P storyline that had players hooked from start to finish. So, for this vacation how about you journey to the quiet city of Portland for some of the best retro gaming on the whole West Coast?

  • Button Mash
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-10-button_mash.jpg]
Figure 4-3. Button Mash

Based in the city of glitz and glamour Las Angeles, Button Mash is probably one of the very few arcades that did not need to rely on Japanese influence to gain popularity. Because of all the Locations mentioned here, Button Mash is not only an arcade, but it is also a new-era fusion restaurant that serves up some amazing food alongside some vintage fun. While one might think such an idea might not be viable in the long run as the two main demographics of the concept do not overlap. Yet here we stand with Button Mash standing strong since 2015 and even after the pandemic, it has managed to tough it through with the help of fans and supporters alike.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-11-pokemon_pinball.jpg]
Figure 4-4. Pokémon Pinball

Rather than featuring a separate area for both gaming and eating, Button Mash merges the two resulting in a wholly new and unique atmosphere. One which cannot be found anywhere else. While their catalog of arcade games is smaller than the rest of the competition, that’s not to say it lacks quality as they have managed to gather some of the finest games over the years. Key among them is Pokémon PinBall game, an iconic game that gained massive popularity in the early 2000s but lost relevance in the West due to declining interest in arcades. So if you want to game on some vintage arcades with good food, Button Mash is the place for you.



US Central



Finally, we have the last and the largest region of America, the great Mid-West. Home to some of the most iconic landmarks of the country, such as the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains. Aside from all these natural wonders Mid-West is also known for being a place where the traditions of the East Coast clash with the modern advancements of the West Coast. Due to this, the culture here has taken a form wholly distant from the other two. Gaming is no different as the Mid-West has some of the best gaming events, including the Gaming Classic in Wisconsin and the multiple esports tournaments the University of Michigan holds. Arcades too have managed to find a place in this cultural hodgepodge, and some of the best are as follows:

  • Arcade UFO
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-12-arcade_ufo.jpg]
Figure 5-1. Arcade UFO

A prime example of the melding of cultures in the Midwest is Arcade UFO located in Austin Texas. Established in 2008 Arcade UFO soon became the best hangout spot for pro and casual gamers alike. As the pro gamers could play some of the best arcade games imported directly from Japan, such as the infamous Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2, the sequel to the first-ever game in the series to be played at the mighty EVO championship. Casual players on the other hand had access to some of the most fun arcade party games such as Sega Tetris and Junbeat (x2). It also helped that the place is run and managed by dedicated gamers who are always happy to welcome a newbie into this weird and strange hobby we call gaming. So, if you ever happen upon the city of Austin by chance then do give this place a visit and see the impact gaming and anime can have on a community.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-13-guilty_gear_xrd_rev_2.jpg]
Figure 5-2. Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2
  • 1UP Arcade Bar
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-14-1_up_arcade_bar.jpg]
Figure 5-3. The 1Up Arcade Bar

Lastly, to finish this part we have one of the most storied arcade and bar combos in the Midwest, The 1Up Arcade Bar. Located throughout the country but predominantly based out of the Midwest it is a great retro-inspired arcade that offers players a chill place to relax, drink and beat the crap out of bad guys in old-school arcades. Some of which are still in mint condition, as if they were just unpacked. One such arcade that has gained massive popularity in the Greenwood branch is Karate Champ. A retro fighting game that sets the standard for weaving combos and specials together. It also had an amazing art style and graphical design for the time, which was elevated to a whole new level with the inclusion of a killer soundtrack that set the backdrop for the epic clashes of the game. So, if you are looking for a place for a night out with friends, The 1 Up Arcade Bar has got you covered.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-15-karate_champ.jpg]
Figure 5-4. Karate CHAMP


Full Japanese Arcades in the USA



Now that we have covered all the major arcades in all the American regions, I think it is time to give a shout-out to some of the very few fully Japanese arcades in America. Unlike others that only copy the aesthetic of these electronic wonderlands, these Japanese arcades teleport players to the land of the rising sun and anime. Mostly these places are highly linked to the anime community of the area, and not only support them but also help in the conversion of casual watchers to professional weebs. They accomplish it by supporting mainstream anime, a prime example of this is the large amount of hype that was given to shows like Demon Slayers and Jujutsu Kaisen by featuring them in ads and events everywhere. Following is a list of the three best arcades that represent this idea in practice.

  • ROUND1
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-16-round1_usa.jpg]
Figure 6-1. ROUND1

Now on this list, we have had arcades ranging from pure nostalgia to new-age modernism, but none that offer a pure authentic Japanese arcade experience, that is until ROUND1. Based purely on the concept of offering gamers and anime fans an authentic experience, ROUND1 does its absolute best to teleport players to the hustling bustling arcades of Tokyo. It accomplishes this by having equipment directly imported from Japan, meaning it is one of the few places in the states that offers gamers a chance to experience the technological wonder of Japanese arcades. Aside from arcades they also have multiple anime-based claw machines that are filled to the brim with anime merch for you to win. ROUND1 also has an immense focus on the anime community as it helps in organizing many different grassroots anime events in its many branches. Gamers and anime fans can also come together to play games such as Dancing Around and Sound Voltex that manage to bridge the gap between the two mediums while offering an experience like none other. So, anime watchers and gamers alike the next time you see the ROUND1 logo, know that you are in for the treat of a lifetime. 

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-17-round1_inside.jpg]
Figure 6-2. Inside of ROUND1 at 50 Holyoke St, Holyoke, MA 01040
  • Otaku Café
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-18-otaku_cafe.jpg]
Figure 6-3. Otaku Cafe

Gaming as a medium has accomplished many great things such as breaking the boundaries of narrative storytelling and social stigmatization, but one of its greatest accomplishments is what it has done by merging with the medium of anime. It wouldn’t be wrong of me to say that there was once a time when anime fans were looked down upon for their hobbies and passion. They were social outcasts but one place that always welcomed them with open arms was the arcades and among them all, Otaku Café stands as a testament to the community and its will to persevere. Otaku Café does not only keep the tradition of the early arcades alive, it manages to evolve it by merging it with the medium of anime. In doing so it has created a place where weebs and gamers can gather to discuss the latest shows or have high-octane duels in arcade games such as Dragon Ball Fighter Z and Ground Coaster. So, if you want to witness this unique blend of anime and gaming this is the place for you.

[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-19-otaku_cafe_inside.jpg]
Figure 6-4. Sound Vortex Arcade in Otaku Cafe
  • Game Nest
[Image: japanese_arcades_in_the_us-20-game_nest.jpg]
Figure 6-5. Game Nest

Las Vegas is the gambling home of America and in recent years the home of one of the most successful Japanese arcades in the states, Game Nest. Based on some of the biggest arcades in Japan, Game Nest manages to translate the atmosphere of those arcades into something truly American while also keeping the feel intact. They accomplish this by incorporating the American anime community into the mix and allowing them to spread the word. Gamers are also enticed by the multiple different arcades from Japan and the 80s, such as BlazeBlue, Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone, and Just Dance. All of this cumulates into an experience that is so unique and different that it cannot be labeled only enjoyed. So how about the next time life leads you to the strip you hop on down for a relaxing evening of gaming.

Figure 6-6. Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone in Game Nest


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