Gaming is more social than many like to give it credit for. Arcades used to play a huge part of this socialization but now the majority seems to happen with screens between the players. Of course there are still some arcades and people will often get together with friends to play. You probably know of arcade bars where alcoholic beverages are served and arcade machines fill the place instead of just being one stuck in a corner.
In Japan there are game bars which eschew the arcade machines for the more Japanese-sized bar friendly consoles. Patrons are encouraged to pop a game into any classic or modern console and play solo or with friends as they enjoy a beverage and a snack.
Almost every single one are owned and operated by Japanese, but not all. Japanator sat down and interviewed Matt Bloch, owner of the Osaka game bar Space Station, to find out more about this unique bar.
Japanator: So let’s kick this off with who are you and what is Space Station?
Matt Bloch: I am Matt Bloch! I am from Maryland, USA. I started playing video games from 5 years old starting with the Atari 2600. Space Station was the name of the arcade in my town, and it is where I spent a lot of time when I was growing up. The current Space Station is a bar that takes its name from that arcade and is made to resemble the dark neon lit interior that I remember from the original. Space Station was designed to represent both old games and new games, and Japanese games along with the U.S. versions of those games. It is a place for people to drink while they play the games they enjoy.
J: That’s actually quite the touching history. So why open a game bar in Japan? Why Osaka?
M: I was on the JET program from August of 2006 to July of 2008. The program chose to put me in a small town of 5,500 people in southern Kyoto prefecture called Wazuka. I would often go to Kyoto City or Osaka City on the weekend. Both were 1 hour and 15 minutes away from where I lived. I stopped renewing my JET contract after two years for the sole purpose of moving into a city, and I only knew Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka really. I chose Osaka because… Well, I don’t really remember why I chose it over Kyoto at the time but it was the right choice. People in Kyoto often come to Osaka for the nightlife. It is more rare for people from Osaka to go to Kyoto for that.
When I moved to Osaka I continued teaching English through a dispatcher for several years. In 2009 I discovered a video game bar called Continue close to where I lived. I would go there once or twice a month. It wasn’t until January of 2010 when I realized opening my own video game bar is something I should do. It felt like the ideal match to my skill set, expertise, and interests. For example, I always enjoyed designing my own personal gaming and computing space whenever I moved into a new place. I felt I could design a gaming space that could accommodate multiple people. Also, I had always dabbled in graphic design with Photoshop mainly, and I was excited about having a reason to use it for designing materials for the bar such as posters and flyers. Gaming is what I know best and I felt I could use that knowledge to present a decent breadth of the gaming world, both past and present, to customers.
The bar opened April 26th, 2011, 18 months after I had the idea to open it. In that interim another video game bar opened (November, 2010) called Dendo. That makes Space Station the third video game bar in Osaka, and the first and currently only (soon to change) foreign owned and operated video game bar in the country.
J: Asides from being run by a foreigner, what makes Space Station different from other video game bars?
M: For one, there is no cover charge, which is unique to Space Station with perhaps one or two exceptions.
Western video games and machines are represented alongside their Japanese counterparts. Space Station is the only game bar in Japan to represent the U.S. version of these retro games. The U.S. version of game boxes also line the walls.
J: So besides the old US arcade decor and the video games themselves, what else separates Space Station from your normal everyday bar? Any special food or drinks?
M: Those are the main things that differentiate it from a normal bar. Other than those things, it can function like a normal bar. There are signature drinks like the Hadoken, as made popular by thedrunkenmoogle.com, and the King Graham, which is named after a character from King’s Quest and was also invented by Graham, one of Space Station’s staff.
J: So how do Japanese patrons react to your bar? Do you know of any bars like this outside of Japan?
M: Japanese patrons are often surprised to see what the U.S. equivalent of the Famicom and its cassettes look like. Even those Japanese who are familiar with how it looks may have never had a chance to try it directly. Also seeing the boxes the games came in might be novel and interesting for them. They enjoy the bar much in the same way foreigners do by enjoying classics from their childhood like the Mario games, Puyo Puyo, and Momotaru Densetsu.
There are bars like this outside of Japan, like the famous Mana Bar in Australia, and the crop of barcades that have sprung up around the U.S, though of course the barcades are different in that they primarily feature arcade game cabinets and not necessarily the home consoles.
J: Having been there myself, I gotta say it is well worth checking out if one is in Osaka. Thanks for your time!
For fun, Matt provided us a list of of themed drinks available at Space Station. Be sure to ask for one if you stop by!
Space Station 5
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