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Why Japan's Most Famous Retro Game Shop Matters More Than Ever

Japan's retro shop has faded from its previous glory, but it still has an important role to play.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

For all the love it still gets, Super Potato also tends to get spoken of in the same terms as Tokyo Game Show. Among enthusiasts, both are seen as once bright lights in Japanese gaming that have faded over time. When the iconic retro collector's shop comes up, it's usually to lament how it's been picked clean by tourists.

Still, a trip to Japan isn't complete without a trip to Super Potato; so off I went, apprenhensive about what I would find. The first thing I noticed as I walked in amid the cacophony of retro music and sound effects was that the Virtual Boy was broken. The goggles looked battered, and the screen was covered by a note. No need for my usual bout of motion sickness, I supposed.

Outside of the Virtual Boy, Super Potato was mostly its old self. Famicoms, Super Famicoms, and other old consoles shared shelf space with old computers. The display cases offered seemingly innocuous western games from the 16-bit era for ridiculous prices, though Maximum Carnage was nowhere to be seen (I later found it in Osaka for the low, low price of $1500) Some of the shelves were loaded with plush toys and other souvenirs to hide the fact that they weren't as packed as before, but there were still plenty of games ranging from the Famicom to the PC Engine to the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 to be found. For the casual collector, Super Potato is mana from heaven.

And that, ultimately, is what I am - a casual collector. I've lately become more interested in trying to get as authentic a retro experience as possible - an interest spurred by the wonderful Mega Man Legacy Collection and Jeremy's own growing collection - but more out of base nostalgia than anything else. When I look at Super Potato's shelves, it's more to find old favorites - the Rockmans, Zeldas, and Marios - than to find a super rare gem.

But the thing that strikes me about Super Potato is not what it offers, exactly, as much as how it presents it. Super Potato is one of the few retro game shops that I can think of that also doubles as a kind of shrine to the hobby itself. Visiting the Osaka Super Potato today, I found myself smiling at an old commercial for the Famicom's Super Professional Baseball while another television counted down the ten best Famicom games. Familiar music played all around me. In Tokyo, I went all the way up to the third floor and played a round of Metal Slug X in the shadow of a Solid Snake statue wearing a Mario cap.

You could say that Super Potato is a museum as much as a shop - a place where hobbyists can engage with the medium in ways that go beyond picking through old games. More importantly, it's a great starting point for those who want to explore its history. True, you can buy a Retron 5 and some old games off the Internet, or even just download a ROM off the Nintendo eShop, but those are items you have to actively seek out. Wander into a Super Potato and it's all front and center, just begging you to pick up a game and start playing. I came so close to picking up a system while I was here, the only thing holding me back being my desire to cut down on the amount of stuff in my house.

Super Potato's role as a window into the medium's past will only grow with importance as the years go by. We're now at a point where gamers in their early 20s see the Nintendo 64 as their formative gaming experience. Soon it will be the PlayStation 2 or the Nintendo DS, then Smartphones and Minecraft. In some ways, we're more in touch with our history than ever - even just the Virtual Console was a huge novelty as recently as a decade ago - but consoles like the Famicom are slowly becoming something that can only be appreciated in the abstract. Cool as retro stores are, most are just a collection of games. Super Potato is the only shop I can think of that captures the novelty and excitement of the mid-80s and early-90s, when the Famicom was still fresh and exciting.

For that reason, I usually try to support Super Potato however I can when I'm in Japan. This time around, I picked up a vintage strategy guide for the original Final Fantasy - the art from that period makes them such great collector's items - and the Famicom Mini release of The Legend of Zelda, which includes a miniature version of that game's classic boxart. They may not be ultra rare finds; but outside of maybe Mandarake, they're not exactly common either. Wandering around Nakano Broadway, I reflected sadly that vintage gaming shops are far rarer than they should be. I suppose that's what happens when the culture at large treats our hobby as disposable.

Even if it's been picked clean by tourists like yours truly over the years, what Super Potato aspires to be is still important. And so I'll keep going, even if it's only as a casual fan of the medium's history. Anything to keep the torch lit for the next generation.

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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #1 kidgorilla 2 years ago
    I love reading stories about this place. When I used to travel for my job, I would make a point to find all of the retro game shops in whatever town I found myself in. But knowing that I'll probably never go to Japan at this point, Super Potato just feels like some mythic place that I'll compare everything to, wondering if what they have over there stacks up to, say, Video Games New York or People Play Games in Chicago.

    I don't collect like I used to, but, like record stores, I always want to go in and buy something small. I love that they exist, and I'll do my part to keep them around as long as I can.
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  • Avatar for frobakikan #2 frobakikan 2 years ago
    Deleted July 2016 by frobakikan
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #3 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    Sounds amazing. There's a shop very like it in Cardiff (Wales), though the whole shop is about the size of a closet. Cool place though.
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  • Avatar for admiralsnackbar #4 admiralsnackbar 2 years ago
    I got a bunch of cool little things from the Tokyo Super Potato. Tanteidan in Osaka had more of the rare PCX stuff I was hunting but Super Potato was more...fun? Either way, they are all excellent stops.
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  • Avatar for shurn #5 shurn 2 years ago
    I feel guilty as a foreigner who is also responsible for taking retro systems and games from japan. i dont have a huge collection but a few famicom carts and a pc engine duo with a few cd's.
    But you did bring up the point that the culture as a whole sees it as old junk. I dont plan on collecting much more as i have no space and am burdened enough with what i already have.
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  • Avatar for Karisu #6 Karisu 2 years ago
    There is nothing not awesome about Super Potato. There has never been anything not awesome about Super Potato.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #7 TernBird 2 years ago
    I've never been to Super Potato, but it sounds awesome.

    I've heard that they've caught on to their celebrity status with foreigners and adjusted their prices accordingly; is it a noticeable thing?
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  • Avatar for John-Thacker #8 John-Thacker 2 years ago
    My wife and I (both in our mid 30s) were in Osaka recently, and Osaka's Mandarake Grand Chaos had a large 90s anime display, with all kinds of popular 90s anime (and signs in Japanese saying things like "Eh, has it really been twenty years?!") We got the same feeling from that display as we did from Super Potato.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #9 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    "I suppose that's what happens when the culture at large treats our hobby as disposal."

    Hopefully, these sales are ending up in the hands of people who will keep them. What worries me is the stuff tossed out or stops working.
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  • Avatar for jay-ban #10 jay-ban 2 years ago
    There are better (cheaper, less touristy) places to buy retro games in Japan but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable retro-gaming place to take a stroll on a lazy afternoon.

    I don't think anyone should feel guilty for buying stuff from there though, unless of course your only purpose is to tick a few rare titles off your excel spreadsheet and then proceed to bubble-wrap said purchases out of sight and out of mind.Edited July 2016 by jay-ban
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #11 Y7748837 2 years ago
    Around 2012 or so, I would regularly accompany my collector friend from back home on trips to Akiba to search for rare Saturn gems. Whenever we found something, we would balk at the price and then hop on Amazon Japan when we got home.

    I don't think it's the tourists that picked Super Potato clean, I think it's that the retro shops lost their suppliers. As you said, Super Potato is full of plushes and toys rather than games. I swung by Friends last month and their SFC shelf was mostly empty. Liberty's five floors of splendor have completely erased and replaced.

    Strangely enough, I found a PC gaming shop right on the main strip. After a decade of square footage being steadily lost to anime and pornography, that's a ray of light. Now that the Japanese government has cracked down on the pornography, maybe games can start to make a comeback.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #12 riderkicker 2 years ago
    I saw on an old episode of Gamecenter CX that Super Potato also sells repair parts for old controllers like the Genesis, SNES, and Famicom. Though I wonder if they also sell them for Sega Saturn, Turbo Grafx, and other obscure pads.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #13 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    I feel the same way about game preservation. Thats why I have been an avid collector over the years. I look at my game collection and those moments in time come flooding back. Not even just the games themselves but what was happening in my life the different times that I played them. I really hope one day to show my kids and tell them all the fun times I had with them and about the Golden Age of gaming which to me is basically from 1986 to 2000. I really hope to go to japan someday before all these shops close up. I really want to go to Super Potato!
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  • Avatar for helpfulmole #14 helpfulmole 2 years ago
    I was at the Osaka Super Potato on Monday!Edited July 2016 by helpfulmole
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  • Avatar for GaijinD #15 GaijinD 2 years ago
    @riderkicker Seems possible to me, especially for the systems you named. Both were more popular in Japan than the US, especially the PC Engine, which was the Japanese equivalent of the TurboGrafx.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #16 Monkey-Tamer 2 years ago
    I'm glad I didn't trade in my old games growing up. I've got my own mini museum minus some boxes for SNES games my parents pitched when I left home. The temptation to pay off my mortgage with them nags at me, but I'm hanging on to them for now.
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  • Avatar for Aleryn #17 Aleryn 2 years ago
    Though the article is definitely sad in tone, its nice to hear about the place in detail. Congratulations on the mini famicom Zelda, I bought mine on a whim thinking it was a redundant waste but find myself going back to it yearly.
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