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An old Japanese video game console sits in my living room and I write things about it. Here.
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     I got an unexpected surprise last week.  I had bought a small lot of about a dozen Famicom carts off of Yahoo Auctions and when they came in the mail I discovered that the sender had used the most awesome packing box ever - a vintage Famicom lunch box!

    This thing is totally awesome.  Released in 1985 it features the usual round up of figures from popular early Famicom releases on the front - Ice Climber, Super Mario, Wrecking Crew and Clu Clu Land.  The art looks awesome close up
    Both the top and the bottom have that same, colorful artwork on it.  On the side it just lets you know its a Family Computer lunch box
    While the other side has some blue colored characters from Super Mario Brothers:

    This must have been a pretty awesome thing for a kid to carry his or her lunch to school in.  It brings back fond memories of my own Empire Strikes Back lunch box that I used to lug around in the early 80s.  I`m not sure if this Famicom one came with a thermos or not.

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    I have added another oddball Famicom controller to my collection: the Top Rider inflatable motorcycle!

    This is definitely one of the most interesting Famicom controllers ever made.  It is about what you think it is - an inflatable motorcycle that you ride on.  The handlebars, which are removable, are the only actual functional controller, with start/select buttons and the gas/brake control built into the handles themselves.

    Its actually a pretty cool controller, hooking it up it reminds me a lot of motorcycle games that I have played in arcades.  The controls work pretty smoothly.

    There are, however, two caveats.  One is that it is a massive pain in the ass to actually blow the thing up, especially if you aren`t used to doing so like me.  I thought I was going to pass out by the time I got it fully inflated.  Therefore this is one game that probably isn`t going to be played with very much in my household, neat though it is.

    The other thing is that this controller was designed for 7 year old Japanese kids rather than 37 year old, 6 foot tall foreigners.  If you fall into the latter category, this is what you will look like when riding it:

    For comparison`s sake please note the similarity:

    It is massively uncomfortable for an adult to use the controller as a result, which is too bad. Of course it is possible to use the handlebars without the motorbike so I might stick to that.

    Its kind of a must-have item for anyone collecting oddball Famicom stuff.  It was never released outside of Japan, and even in Japan it is a hard one to find (this is the first one I`ve ever seen, I won it on Yahoo Auctions).  This one doesn`t have the box which made it within my price range, with it I don`t think I could have afforded it!

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    Something kind of odd I have been noticing about retro video game collectors is the fact that, unlike other types of collectors, we don`t seem to place much importance on the `rookie games` of major characters.

    By `rookie game` I basically mean the game in which a major character made his/her/it`s first appearance.

    In baseball cards, for example, a player`s rookie card, like this 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, is considered really valuable and everybody wants it.  Willie Mays is of course a popular player so all his cards ae popular, but his rookie card in particular is the one that everyone places the highest value on
    In comic book collecting too the first issue that a major character appears in is always sought after and way more valuable than other issues.  Like issue 27 of Detective Comics here featuring Batman`s first appearance
    In video game collecting though we don`t really seem to attach a great deal of importance to the question of whether or not a game features the first appearance of a major character or not.  Value seems to be determined solely by how rare a game is and how popular/fun to play it is.  We don`t even  have a word in our collecting vocabulary to describe the concept (`rookie game` is just something I made up and probably doesn`t work too well).

    Its a bit odd given that we can easily identify which carts feature the first appearance of a given character.  Like Antarctic Adventure here features the first appearance of that penguin:

     Probably the most impressive `rookie game` would be Donkey Kong, which featured the simultaneous first appearances of both Donkey Kong and Mario, arguably the two most famous video game characters of all time. 

    I have pictured the Donkey Kong Famicom cart at the top of this post, but if we are going to be strict, I don`t think that would count as a rookie game.  The Colecovision cart was the first home port of Donkey Kong, so I think the Colecovision Donkey Kong would be considered the true first appearance cart of those two characters (I find it kind of interesting that Nintendo`s two most famous characters didn`t make their home debut on a Nintendo console).  Technically of course the game was featured on Arcade cabinets first, but I don`t think those count (or, more accurately, they do count but would fall into a different category since collecting arcade cabinets is a whole different ballgame from collecting carts).

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts I had about that.  I wonder why we don`t collect video games in the same way that comic book or sports card collectors do.  I guess part of it might have to do with the fact that video game carts are tied to specific consoles and most of us collect games for whichever systems we have or like rather than just collecting carts for collecting carts` sake (which is kind of what baseball card collectors do).

    It would make for kind of an interesting approach to collecting.  Some systems definitely have a lot of important characters first appearance, like the Famicom (Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters, etc). 

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  • 08/02/14--02:11: The Original Mach Rider
  •  Despite the Fact that I am desperately trying to make some more living space in our apartment, every once in a while I find something so neat I cannot resist the temptation to splurge.  My most recent purchase: the original 1972 Mach Rider!

    As usual, Erik over at Before Mario has beat me to writing a post about Mach Rider by about 3 years and I recommend checking his post out for the full scoop on the toy.  Just to recap the highlights here: It is based on a toy originally released by Hasbro under a different name.  It came in 3 colors (I got the yellow one, but I guess the photo gives that away).  Its basically a racing car that will fly at high speeds off a jump ramp.  It is awesome.

    The box mine came in is a bit beat up, but its awesome nonetheless:

     Inside, its got a pretty cool control platform (the dials are stickers, but its got a gear shift that actually shifts):
     I don`t have the batteries or the floor space (or as Erik`s post suggests, a lack of pets) so I haven`t given it a try yet.  I`m satisfied for the moment to just look at it.  Mine came with an interesting bonus goodie, a chirashi (flyer) advertising Nintendo`s mini game series, which was being released at the same time.  Its a pretty neat piece of Nintendo history:
     And best of all, it came with the decals still unapplied.  I`m very tempted to use some of these on my bicycle that I commute to work on, but I won`t.
    I`m pretty happy to have this in my collection, its one of the more colorful and neat toys (among many) that Nintendo released in the 60s and 70s which are pretty hard to find today.

    Before finishing this post, I have to put a little plug in for a friend of mine over on Famicom World, Dire51 (aka Rob Strangman) who has just put out a book about retro gaming entitled "Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman".  If you are looking for some light retro game reading, give it a look!

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    The man in the centre of the above picture is Yoshitaka Enomoto.  He is standing next to the host of a TV show called Nandemo Kanteidan, which is kind of a Japanese version of Antiques Roadshow.  It is a lot more flamboyant than the English version, but I watch it a lot.  Mostly people bring stuff like old samurai swords, paintings, bits of pottery, etc in to get told it is either worth a fortune or completely worthless.  The host, who is a comedian, cracks jokes throughout the show.

     Anyway, the particular episode that Mr. Enomoto appeared on was broadcast on Tuesday this week.  He brought an interesting bit of Famicom history and an interesting story with him.  The antique that he brought with him to have appraised was this (pardon the photo quality, I was just aiming my camera at the TV while the show was on):

    A gold copy of Rockman 4!

    If you aren`t familiar with hyper Famicom rarities, the gold Rockman 4 is probably the rarest Famicom cart out there, only 8 copies of it were ever made.  I have seen one in the wild once and posted about it here, at Super Potato in Osaka last year.

    The carts were made as prizes for a competition that Capcom ran to have fans design the boss characters in the new Rockman game.  They received over 70,000 entries from fans across Japan, most of them little kids.  Only 8 were chosen and each of those 8 kids got a special gold copy of the game when it was released.

    Its rarity means that it is super valuable and, as with a lot of these gold/silver special carts, it is pretty easy to fake (all you have to do is paint a regular Rockman 4 cart gold, though an expert would immediately recognize it since the underlying plastic is a different color from regular carts).

    There was no danger that this one was a forgery, however, since Mr. Enomoto as a junior high school student back in 1991 was one of the lucky 8 winners of Capcom`s contest.  His design?  Brightman:

    It was pretty neat to see that at least one copy of the gold Rockman 4s remains in the hands of the actual kid who won it back in the day.

    The show did a little segment about the history of the Famicom, which was interesting but if you are reading this blog you probably already know the details so I won`t recap what they said.

     The segment ended with the show`s antique experts examining the game to make sure it was the real deal and see what condition it was in:
     And then they gave their opinion on its value.  In keeping with the greater flamboyance levels of the Japanese version of the show, they reveal this on a set that looks like it was borrowed from the Price is Right circa 1992.  They told him it was worth 400,000 yen (about $4,000 US).
     That sounds like a lot, but I was actually expecting them to say it was worth more.  The copy that I saw in Super Potato last year had a price of 628,000 yen (about $6300 US) on it, and this one looked like it was in every bit as good condition.  Maybe Super Potato is a bit overpriced?  Or the experts on Nandemo Kanteidan don`t quite know as much as they let on?  I guess it is hard to put a price on something so rare, they must hardly ever pop up for sale.

    Its also interesting to wonder how many of the other 8 are still in the hands of their original owners?  Obviously the one in Super Potato isn`t, but what of the other 6?

    As an interesting point to end the post on, the experience of designing Brightman as a kid seems to have had a major influence on Enomoto.  He went on to become a professional illustrator and has worked on a lot of animated TV shows and Manga!

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    One of the types of Famicom ephemera which I enjoy collecting the most are chirashi (mini posters/ flyers) that were handed out back in the day to advertise upcoming game releases. 

    I like them mainly because they look cool and are the sort of thing that look good when framed and hanging on your wall.  Like my Gyrodine and Sky Destroyer ones, which have awesome artwork on them:

     I picked up a small lot of them off of Yahoo Auctions the other day that just arrived in the mail.  I`m pretty happy with them.  Most of them were actually Famicom Disk System games, like Metroid here which is probably my favorite of the lot:

    And Super Mario Bros 2:

     Zelda no Densetsu:

     And a few others.

    The only thing that I dislike about collecting Famicom chirashi is the price - they are pretty hard to find so the prices likewise tend to be on the high side and bargains are few and far between.  Still though its kind of worth it for the cool artwork.  They also have cool stuff on the back, like this one which explains how you can re-write games on disks:

     Collecting chirashi is actually one of my main non-Famicom collecting pursuits too.  In addition to advertising video games they are also used for a lot of other things, including movies.  Japanese movie chirashi are actually in some ways even cooler than  the Famicom chirashi.  Japanese movies almost always have unique paintings commissioned for them which are reproduced on the chirashi.  The artwork, which often combines familiar scenes with bold looking kanji, make them look pretty awesome.  Like this poster from You Only Live Twice, with the 007 in big type, with the title in kanji below.  Totally epic:

     Same with this old school Battle Star Galactica from the 70s:

     Mega Force!!!  If you haven`t seen this film, you don`t understand early 80s culture at all:
     Ditto with Mr. T in DC Cab.  Having him yell at you in Japanese is pretty priceless:
      I keep some of my favorite movie ones on the wall in the same room with the Famicom chrashi.  They are actually a bit smaller than the Famicom ones (B5 vs A4 size).  Bonus points to anyone who can identify the 5 films in this photo:
     The other cool thing about movie chirashi is that they are generally a lot cheaper than Famicom chirashi. I`m not sure why that is, but I guess there are more of them out there than the Famicom ones.  I think people have been collecting movie chirashi since the late 60s/early 70s so there are a lot of them that have been preserved, which probably helps to keep the prices reasonable.

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     Some carts I have more copies of than others.  Super Mario Bros, Spartan X, Excitebike and Donkey Kong Jr for some reason I have quite a few of.  They were pretty popular games back in the day and are pretty good games to play now.  Still though, I don`t relaly need 12 copies of each even though I have that many.

    When you have 12 of the same Famicom cart you can organize them into 3 by 4 squares which, when put together with other carts you have 12 of, can open up some interesting interior decorating ideas.

     Parquet type flooring is one.  You would have to put them under some sort of sturdy, extremely thick plexiglass to prevent them from being broken though, which would be expensive to install.  Maybe not the best idea.
     They would make for a great coffee-table top too, just put a piece of glass over them and you are golden.  Definitely a cool conversation starter.
    They would also work pretty good as wallpaper if you had some way of attaching them to the wall wtihout damaging them.  Probably there is some way of doing this.  A wall covered with Famicom carts in 3 by 4 squares would look  pretty awesome.  If I ever open up a Famicom cafe, that is how I am going to decorate it.

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    The Japanese website CuRazy recently published a little piece reporting the top 18 things Japanese people remember about playing the Famicom as children.  Rocketnews did a good piece in English mentioning the highlights, but after reading the original I thought it would worth doing a pure, stripped down English translation of the list, which is totally awesome.  Here they are, in the same order they appeared in CuRazy:

    1. To begin, blowing on the cassette.

    2. At school, classes were generally divided into a Draqon Quest faction and a Final Fantasy Faction.  But there would always be that one guy on his own who was into Wizardry.

    3. Declaring that you would play Famicom all through the night on New Year`s Eve, then giving up halfway through.

    4. Pushing the reset button again and again and again because the game wouldn`t start.

    5. Getting into a fight while playing a simultaneous 2 player game.

    6 Having it hidden by your parents.

    7. When playing a two player game and the 1P player was about to lose, pushing the pause button in rapid succession (to mess up 2P`s timing, 2P not being able to retaliate as the 2P controller doesn`t have the pause button).

    8. Playing a racing game and moving your whole body with the game.  Then doing it a bit too much, pulling out the cord and causing the game to blink off.

    9. When you finish the game, waiting for a bit to watch the end screen.

    10. Your parents, while carrying the laundry, tripping over the Famicom and causing the game to freeze.

    11.  Loving it when you played by yourself!  Hating it when your friend came over!

    12. When your friend was playing, amusing yourself by playing with the microphone in the 2P controller.

    13. 20 years later, finally actually reading the instruction manual for the first time and realizing what the game`s story was all about.

    14. Buttons getting stuck in.

    15. When inserting the cart, having to carefully push both sides in equally.

    16. Being incredibly anxious the first time you played Dragon Quest 3.

    17. Not being able to save a game, just leaving the Famicom on when you went to school.  Then coming home and discovering your mom had turned it off.

    18. Writing your name on the back of the cart.

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  • 10/31/14--17:43: Been a Busy Month
  • I haven`t been posting in a while.  Been kind of busy with the above bundle of joy who just arrived.  Going to be a while before he is able to play the Famicom and by the time he does, it will be a 35 year old console.  Wow.  Hope he likes it, but I suspect I will have to buy him some more contemporary forms of entertainment when he gets old enough to actually use those opposable thumbs.

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    Five years ago today I found myself in my living rom in our old apartment in Fukuoka with a bit of free time to kill. I sat down on a tiny sofa with a ton of recently photographed Famicom carts scattered on the floor and I wrote this post about the different designs that Famicom carts came in. Thus Famicomblog was born.

    Five years later and, much to my surprise and delight, Famicomblog is still a going concern even though the recent addition to our family has severely dented my blog output.  Normally when a blog becomes too self referential it is a sure sign it has jumped the shark, but screw everything I am going to do the ultimate in self referential blogging just this one time to mark the occasion.   In self-congratulatory honor of having reached the 5 year milestone I am going to take you on my ego trip through what I like about my own blog.  Read on at your own peril
    So, what are my favorite posts?  I ask myself.  

    My Tour D`Excitebike post that I made during the first year remains the one I enjoyed making the most. I just took 5 copies of Excitebike with me on a bike ride around Fukuoka, taking pictures of them at random places - castle walls, a port with fishing vessels tied up, the red light district, etc etc. I got a few odd looks from people as I did so but that was a really nice day and so totally worth it.
    I did a few similar posts like that, including this one with my Nintendo Lefty RX about a year ago which was also a lot of fun (I was pleased with how the photos for that one turned out, if you use forced perspective you can make a tiny toy car look almost real)

    One kind of post which I did a lot in the early days of this blog but gave up after about the first year or so were ones in which I photographed my entire collection.  The carts look so awesome stacked up, I kind of miss doing those posts.  When you have a collection of under 500 carts like I did back then it was still feasible to do those, once I got above that number I had to stop doing it mainly for lack of space to set them up and take the photos.
    And of course the first 3 years of the blog would often feature posts from my main retro gaming source, the amazing Omocha Souko.  The day I found out it was going out of business was by far the darkest day in my gaming life, it had been such a fun place to go for deals.  I still enjoy looking back and reading old posts about the deals I got, especially the day they put these crates out.
    Another type of post which I wish I had time to do more of these days were the ones I did of retro game shops in Fukuoka that I visited. I think this blog has more information about the Fukuoka gaming world than any other, at least of those in English. Sadly, even though it has only been five years since I started this blog most of that information is already out of date, probably half the shops I visited have either closed or moved.

    Probably my favorite post, in terms of substance, is the one in which I compared the power consumption of retro consoles to the PS3 and found that my entire retro gaming collection used less energy than the average one of those.  I'm not sure what the PS4 uses, I'd like to do a similar comparison but I sold most of the duplicate consoles I used in that post so I might not have enough to make a comparison.

    Another thing I have to do is get Phil in some more posts.  I packed him away when we moved 2 years ago and I think its about time I fished him out of whatever box he is in.

    Anyway, those are some of my sentimental reflections as the father of a 5 year old blog.  I should like to give a big thanks to everyone for reading all these years, it has been awesome getting to know you all through the blog (and through your blogs for those who have them, I'd list you by name but refrain out of fear of forgetting someone).  Hopefully five years from now I'll do another one of these on Famicomblog's 10th anniversary.

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    Il y avait untrèspetit robotdont le nom étaitPhil.

     Un jour,Philvoulait jouer avecson Virtual Boy.

    MaisPhilétait trop petite.
     Phila demandéde l'aide.Puis ilpourrait joueravec son Virtual Boy.
      PuisPhila été désorienté.Etil est tombéet ne pouvait passe relever.Oh, pourquoiétaitPhilsi petit?Pourquoi était-Philsi petit?


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    Super Potato is almost without a doubt the most famous of all Japanese retro game stores.  I`ve never visited the Akihabara one, but I have taken in the one in Osaka and it blew me away.

    So I am glad to be the first person in the blog-iverse to do a write up about the newest Super Potato, which just opened its doors in Nagoya this week!

    As I mentioned before, Nagoya has a toy/game/cosplay/otaku neighborhood called Osu, which is a bit like Akihabara or Osaka`s Den Den Town.  The new Super Potato is located right in the middle of that on Akamon Street, almost next door to the Mandarake, which will make it very convenient for retro game collectors visiting Nagoya to visit the two biggest shops. 

    The shop is comparable in size to the Osaka Super Potato, I`ve never been to the one in Akihabara so I don`t know if it rivals that one or not.  Its pretty decent sized though, taking up two floors in a cute little building.

    The first thing that is likely to attract your attention from the sidewalk is a giant Game Boy in the window which cool....

     Similar to the one in Osaka, when you go through the entrance you are greeted mainly by snacks and plush toys rather than games.

     Proceed further inside though and a Famicom box is hooked up to a TV so you can give Duck Hunt a go!
     Beyond that, row and row of beautiful Famicom games

    And no write-up about a Super Potato would be complete without a picture of the stacks of Famicom consoles.

     With some N64s, Super Famicoms, Twin Famicoms and Disk Systems for company:

    Behind the Famicom games they also had a pretty huge selection of Super Famicom games.

    They had some pretty amazing stuff in the glass cases.  This beautiful CIB Epoch Super Cassette Vision caught my eye, I`ve wanted one of these for a while.

    They had some cool rare Famicom games too, like this green copy of Kinnikuman, which they wanted 35,000 yen for
     And a whole bunch of other good stuff:

     Probably the coolest thing in the place were these copies of Rockman 1-6.  Note that this isn`t just a complete set (cool enough in its own right), it is a set in which every one of them is signed by Keiji Inafune, the man who designed Rockman!!  They didn`t have a price on it, I can`t even begin to imagine what something like that would be worth.

     The second floor had a lot of stuff for Sega and Sony consoles.  Mostly stuff I`m not interested in except for their awesome Sega Mark III selection.
     Next to the stairs they had a massive pile of dead stock Super Famicom games going cheaply

     I suppose I should mention the prices at this point.  In a word: high.  Not quite Toronto high, but pretty damn high.  They had a loose Twin Famicom for 17,000 yen, which is probably even on the high end by Ebay standards.  Some of the games were reasonably priced but a lot of them were quite expensive - Mandarake which is just around the corner generally has better prices (though nowhere near the selection unfortunately). 

    Despite the lack of dirt cheap bargains this is definitely a must-visit.  The thing I really like about Super Potato is how well they display their games - they just look way more beautiful and enticing in there than they do anywhere else.  A visit to a Super Potato is as close a thing to a religious pilgramage that retro gaming has to offer.  It is a place that inspires. And now there is one more place to do it!

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    The above is one of the most interesting things in my vintage Nintendo collection.  It is a 1950s store display used to advertise Nintendo playing cards.  The big white characters 任天堂 spell out the company name Nin-ten-do.

    Nintendo started out as a playing card maker and as late as the 1950s that was still its main line of business (somebody correct me if I am wrong about that).  They made a variety of cards, including regular playing cards and Japanese style hanafuda cards.  This display advertised both, with their landmark Napoleon cards featured on the top panel.

    These things are literally museum pieces, one having been featured prominently in the Nintendo museum event held in Osaka back in 2007.  That is about the only reference to them I could find online.

    About 2 years ago one of these popped up on Yahoo Auctions and I joined in the bidding, which ended up going through the roof (I dropped out at about 10,000 yen, it went a bit higher than that but I can`t remember the total).  So when I stumbled across this one a couple weeks ago with a starting bid of 1,000 yen I was the first bidder.  I put in a max bid of 10,000 just to see what would happen.

    And guess what?  Well, obviously I won it but the best part was that I ended up being the only bidder this time so I got it for a bargain.  The good thing about bidding on stuff which only shows up in auctions once every 2 years is that unless the auction gets well promoted the people who would bid it up might not even notice it is there, which I think is what happened this time.

    The thing that I really love about this is that it makes for a great piece of easy to display interior decoration.  These were designed to be hung from the ceiling as mobiles.  Pardon the mess in the background of this photo, I will be finding a more suitable location to hang this in good time.
     The artwork on them is very vintage and cool looking.  They slowly turn, revealing the other side of each card:

    I am really getting into collecting vintage pre-Famicom stuff from Nintendo, partly inspired by Erik`s Before Mario blog, so I`m pretty happy to add this to my still modest collection.

    EDIT: I originally thought this was from the 1950s owing to what the seller had been talking about.  As Erik points out in the comments however it actually dates from the early 70s.

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    In the mid-1980s a company called Amada had a contract with Nintendo and a number of game producers like Jaleco and Konami to produce novelty items related to Famicom games. I first got interested in their stuff a few years ago when I stumbled upon a box of Famicom mini cards they put out in 1985.  They made a number of other things, including the ever popular series of erasers shaped like Famicom carts, complete with their boxes and a series of stickers that I have a few of but haven`t posted about yet.

    Amada`s relationship with Nintendo was very brief, they seem to have only had a 1 year contract as all of the merchandise they made was limited to games released in or before 1985.  So for games from 1986 onwards there is none of this stuff, which is kind of an interesting divide in Famicom game history.

    Last week I picked up a couple of other Amada Famicom goodies released in that one year.  The first are a pair of Famicom jigsaw puzzles of Star Force and Yie Ar Kung Fu pictured at the top of this post.  These were relatively tiny puzzles with only a dozen or so pieces

    Though the boxes are almost the same size as the regular Famicom game boxes:

    Judging from this blog here (in Japanese, but there are some pretty cool photos of Amada Famicom stuff so its worth a look) these puzzles sold for just 20 yen each back in the day, though most of them were sold in little envelopes rather than boxes like this. The boxed ones were given out as prizes to lucky winners of a game (if your puzzle had winner written on the back you could trade it for one of the boxed ones I think).

    Another thing that I picked up were a couple of boxes of Famicom Menko.  Menko are like trading cards, but they are made of very thick cardboard and intended to be throw at the ground in a game (the goal of which is to flip over other cards). 

    So these are different from the mini cards Amada also issued for the Famicom, though the fronts are largely the same, featuring images from games that look like they were created just by somebody pointing a camera at a TV (something which a number of Japanese trading card makers were known to do back in the 80s).
     Like the puzzles, these Menko came in pretty cool boxes that replicate the look of Famicom cart boxes, mine featuring Star Force and Wrecking Crew on the fronts:

     The backs of the cards look like this:
    These things are pretty hard to find unfortunately.  Loose mini cards and some erasers turn up on Yahoo Auctions regularly but the puzzles and CIB stuff only shows up every once in a while.  I think they are a pretty cool side-collection type thing to compliment an actual Famicom.

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    I was browsing through the Famicom listings on Yahoo Auctions yesterday when I noticed one seller, mad-masax, was without much fanfare putting up what looks like it may be one of the most impressive Famicom sales ever.

    Currently he has 280 listings, each of them a different CIB Famicom game with a starting bid of 300 yen (about $3). The selection he has so far is crazy, including some of the most sought after, hard to find titles out there - Battle Formula, Lickle, Moon Crystal, Gimmick, Recca, Snow Bros, Adventure Island 4, Kung Fu, Magical Doropie, etc etc.  All CIB and all look like they are in (or near) top condition.

    The thing that really teases me is that in the description he says he is planning to auction off a little over 1000 different games.  Given that there are only 1051 (give or take) official Famicom carts out there, and also given the insane quantity of rarities he already has listed, this may mean that this seller is breaking up an entire, complete set of Famicom carts - all CIB!  I should note that the seller doesn`t actually claim to be selling a complete set, but it looks like he might have one (or something very close to it).

    A couple of years ago somebody did something similar on Ebay, where they received 1 million Euros for the whole collection (albeit that collection included some other consoles as well so it was quite a bit bigger and must go down as the most impressive Famicom sale ever). Other than that though, I`ve never seen a collection as impressive of this being sold off all at once.  Definitely something worth watching if you are curious about what CIB Famicom rarities will go for, Battle Formula is currently the leader in the bidding at a little over 50,000 yen.

    (note - the photo at the top of this post isn`t from the auction, but from my own meagre CIB collection! To see what he has, click on the link above, its way more impressive).

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     As I mentioned in my last post, a seller on Yahoo Auctions has been putting up an amazing collection of CIB Famicom games with low starting bids.  In fact he seems to be putting an almost complete set (over 1,000 games according to him and he has put up 600 different ones so far) - all CIB and all in nice condition.

    Since an opportunity like this only comes once in a while, I thought this would provide a useful bit of information to record - just how much are all of these games, being auctioned at (almost) the same time in almost the same condition by the same guy going for?

    While one sale isn`t enough information to form the basis for a price guide, at least this will give us a hint of what these games are roughly worth - virtually all the games got a fair amount of bidding so we know there weren`t any expensive ones going for unrealistically low prices, while at the same time the low starting bids meant no unrealistically high prices set by the seller (though of course that doesn`t mean everyone was bidding rationally).

    The seller hasn`t quite been selling them all at once, in the first round he auctioned off 300 (and has a second round of 300 which will finish next week).  The first round finished last night and these are the games which sold for over 5000 yen, which accounted for 88 out of the 300.  I cut them off at 5000 yen partly to save myself some time and partly because the more expensive ones, having gotten the most bids and most attention from buyers, probably went for prices closer to their actual value.

    I have listed these below, in order from most to least expensive.  The values are in Yen and do not include shipping (which would have added 164 or 510 yen depending on the method of shipping chosen).  To get a rough idea of the value in US $, the exchange rate at the time of the auction was about 115 Yen to the Dollar.

    All games are CIB and, while I didn`t closely look at all the pictures, the ones I did inspect were all in very good condition.  Some of them were sold as new or never used, these are marked with `New` after the price.

    There are a few interesting things.  The most expensive game was Summer Carnival Recca at 104800 yen, almost one thousand dollars.  Battle Formula, another rarity, was a close second and the only other one to breach the 100,000 Yen barrier.  Taking third place was a game I had never heard of for the Datach called Battle Rush, which apparently is also quite hard to find CIB.  Kung Fu (the scarce variant of Spartan X), Snow Bros and Lickle all got over 50,000, which isn`t surprising as they are all quite hard to find.

    One game that did surprise me was #10, Double Dragon which sold for a whopping 36100 Yen.  That is a great game but by no means is it rare (though CIB copies in nice shape are a bit hard to come by).  It seems totally out of place wedged in between Adventure Island 4 and Moon Crystal, both of which are extremely hard to find.  I have seen slightly worn copies selling at Mandarake for about 1/10th that price.

    There are a few other super common games that made the list - Dragon Ball Shinryuu no Nazo, Kakefu Kun and Saint Seya Goukin Densetsu seem completely out of place on a valuable game list but they were all new which might explain it (though I still think they went for too much). Mitsume ga Toru, a hard to find and very popular game, also seems out of place right next to Milon no Daibouken, which is a good game but extremely common.

    There don`t seem to have been any steals among the games on this list (the ones that went under 5,000 yen were mostly unsurprising too).  Kage and Taiku no Gen San seem a bit lower on the list than I think they deserve, but the prices paid for them aren`t much different from what they go for in shops.

    I`ll update this again next week when round 2 of the sale finishes.

    Summer Carnival 92 Recca 104800
    Battle Formula 101100
    Battle Rush (Datach) 81550
    Kung Fu 61000
    Snow Bros 55300
    Lickle 50111
    Guevara 45100
    Gimmick! 44100
    Adventure Island 4 39000 New
    Double Dragon 36100
    Moon Crystal 34700
    Chip and Dale's Adventure 32700
    Banana Oushi Daibouken 32100 New
    Bubble Bobble 2 30200
    Contra 29100
    Gold Punch Out 28500
    Yu Yu Hakusho (Datach) 25500
    Magical Doropie 22500
    Doki Doki Yuenchi 21500
    AnpanMan no Hiragana Daisuki 20500
    Chip and Dale's Adventure 2 20100
    Rockman 18600
    Donald Land 18500
    Nekketsu Street Baseketball 18060
    Spartan X 2 16015
    Kyoro Chan Land 15700
    Taiku no Gen San 2 15200
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 14700 New
    Spelunker (with POP) 14500
    The Empire Strikes Back 14300
    Kakefu Kun 13600 New
    Final Mission 13200
    Sword Master 13111 New
    Star Wars (Victor) 13060
    Bucky O'Hare 13001
    Family School 12600
    Mike Tyson Punch Out 12200
    Super Contra 12100
    Choujin Sentai Jetman 12050 New
    Bazolda 11600
    Fushigi no Umi no Nadia 11200
    Dragon Ball Shinryuu no Nazo 11166 New
    Adventures of Lolo 2 11100
    Gekitotsu Macho Man 11015 New
    Rockman 2 10600
    Bomber Man 10600 New
    Idol Hakkenden 10550
    Nakayoshi to Isshou 10500
    Chaos World 10000
    Mitsume ga Toru 10000
    Milon no Daibouken 9649 New
    Joust 9500
    Mighty Final Fight 9050 New
    Kage 8851
    Kawa no Nushu Tsuri 8450 New
    Hoshi wo Miru Hito 8000
    Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru 7850
    Bikkuriman World 7750 New
    Popeye (silver box) 7501
    Rockboard 7250 New
    Sqoon 7150 New
    Tatakai no Banka 7150
    Mother 7150
    Donkey Kong Jr Math 7050
    Rokdenashi Blues 6850
    Saint Seya Goukin Densetsu 6511
    Moai Kun 6449 New
    Taiku no Gen San 6350
    Chiki Chiki Machine 6265
    Ninja Ryukenden 6252
    Moeru Onisan 6250
    Robocop 2 6150
    Max Warrior 6150 New
    Mickey Mouse 3 Yume Fusen 6100 New
    Dragon Slayer 6099
    Balloon Fight 6050
    Zelda no Densetsu 6050
    Tom and Jerry 5761
    Space Hunter 5750
    Rockman 6 5750
    Ninja Ryukenden 3 5600 New
    Mario Bros (silver box) 5510
    Robocop 5350
    Bio Senshi Dan 5250 New
    Red Arima 2 5250 New
    Tashiro Masashi Princess ga Ippai 5000
    Ushi Ototora 5000

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    I just picked the above Atari 2600 game up off of Yahoo Auctions.  Gangster Alley is the name, shooting is the game.  I am always on the prowl for Atari 2600 games to feed to my (admittedly difficult to use but nonetheless much beloved) Atari 2800 system.

    This random Atari 2600 game though I think might be a really interesting discovery, a piece of video game history that I haven't been able to track any information down on the internet.  It therefore intrigues me and I want to write a bit about it here.

    First to rewind a bit.  The Atari 2800 was Atari's disastrous attempt to introduce the 2600 to the Japanese market.  They chose 1983 to do so, the same year the Famicom came out.  You can guess who won that battle.  So few Atari 2800s were sold that it is quite a rare console to find today.

    The 2800's lifespan was so short that only 30 titles were officially released for it.  These were all Atari 2600 carts that had Japan-specific boxes and manuals made for them, which are pretty cool and, like the console, very hard to find.  Well, the loose carts are indistinguishable from 2600 carts, so really its just the boxes and manuals for the games that are rare.

    This brings me to my new copy of Gangster Alley.  Take a look at this list of Atari 2800 games.  Note that Gangster Alley is not on it.

    Now take a look at that box.  Note that everything about it is the same as the Atari 2600 box for that game.  Except the lower right hand corner, which has a label which says:

    ビデオゲーム カートリジ

    ("Video Game Cartridge for use with the Atari 2800")

    This seems to have been an Atari 2600 game that did not get a re-make for its box art but nonetheless was released in Japan for the 2800 with just a sticker applied to the box.  I have looked around the internet, both English and Japanese (incidentally Japanese people almost never write or blog about the Atari 2800, it was that unpopular here) but haven't been able to come up with any information about this.  It makes me wonder what other Atari 2600 games in addition to the standard 30 might have been released here.

    Any Atari experts out there know anything about this?

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     Last night the two massive cardboard boxes pictured above arrived at my home.  They were heavy, I had to lug them in one by one from the doorway after the deliveryman, who had used a push cart to get them to my place, dropped them off.

    I left them in our spare room until this morning when I cut them open and out poured:

    Obviously, Famicom carts.

    These two boxes between them contained 440 Famicom carts, which is by far the most I have ever acquired at one time. 

    Why would I, a person who already has a gigantic mountain of Famicom carts, buy 440 more of them?  This is where the ridiculous calculations of the serious (but woefully underfunded) collector come in.  As it says in the blog description, I am actively trying to put together an entire set of Famicom carts. That is an expensive proposition since a few of the games are seriously rare and expensive to find.

    Out of the 440 carts in these two box, 438 of them were ones that I already had.  Of the remaining 2 that I needed, one was relatively easy to find on its own, but the other was one of the rarest and most expensive Famicom carts out there and basically it was the sole objective I had in mind when bidding on this lot.

    Meet the newest addition to my Famicom collection.  Yasuda Fire & Marine Safety Rally. 
     This game probably has a bit of an interesting story to it but I have to admit to having some trouble tracking down what exactly that is.  It was not sold in stores but rather it was distributed by the Yasuda insurance company in 1989.  It seems there were probably only a few hundred distributed.  Beyond that, the Japanese language internet isn`t telling me much - particularly I am interested in finding out how it was distributed.  Looks like something that might have been given out at a company event a la Pepsi Invaders for the Atari 2600 but I`m not sure.

    Originally the game came with a plastic case and a map.  Finding one complete, particularly with the map, is extremely difficult and there may only be a handful in existence.  Loose copies like mine are a bit easier to come by but still command top dollar on their own - consensus seems to be in the $300-$500 range.  Mandarake has a copy with the box, but no map, for 84,000 yen while Super Potato wants 170,640 Yen for a copy with both box and map.

    So these prices were way more than I could possibly justify spending on one game.  On 440 games though I could sort of justify dropping a somewhat sizeable load of cash, in the hope that by selling the 438 that I don`t need I could get back most of what I spent.

    So I can cross one of the big ticket items off of my list of needed games.  Oh and if anyone is in the market for Famicom games, uh (cough cough) , I`ll probably be updating my sales thread over on Famicom World with about 438 or so carts sometime soon.

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    Last week I presented a list of sale prices from a massive auction that is taking place on Yahoo Auctions of CIB Famicom games.  The seller is putting up over 1000 CIB Famicom games (which would be almost all of them, possibly all) at a rate of 300 per week.  In the first sale, 88 of the games fetched prices over 5000 yen and I listed alll of those.  The highlights were Recca Summer Carnival and Battle Formula, which both sold for a little over 100,000 yen each.

    Yesterday round 2 of the auction finished and here I present the same thing - a list of the prices of all the games that went for over 5000 yen.

    This week the results weren't as spectacular as last, in part because there were fewer big ticket items in this one. Only 57 games went for over 5000 yen, and most of those went for under 10000 yen.  Not a single game went for over 50,000 yen in this week's group, but there were a few interesting highlights.

    First off, the number one game was probably one you have never heard of - Karaoke Studio Top Hit 20 Vol. 2 - which went for 46,000 yen.  That is a game made for the Karaoke Studio microphone accessory and is extremely hard to find CIB (or loose for that matter).  One interesting aspect of that game landing at number 1 is that it is a game that is probably of no interest to people outside of Japan.  One question people have been asking is the degree to which Famicom game prices are driven mainly by foreigners buying stuff up.  A karaoke game like that, which is more or less unknown outside of Japan and of little interest (its all in Japanese) almost undoubtedly went to a Japanese collector, so the domestic market seems to be driving the prices too.

    Number 2 on the list was the much more familiar Battletoads, which went for 30,000 yen (A few years ago I sold a CIB copy of that game for just $35, albeit with a rougher box.  I could kill my previous self for that act of stupidity).

    There were a few games whose prices went for higher than I would have thought.  Prisoner of War is a bit hard to find, but it surprised me to find it in the top 10 selling for more than Over Horizon.

    A few games actually sold for prices which might be considered quite cheap.  Barely making hte 5000 yen cut this week was Uchu Keibitai SDF at exactly 5,000 yen.  That is a pretty popular and, while not rare, it isn't particularly easy to find.  It must have slipped under the radar. 2010 Street Fighter and Abadox also went for lower than I thought they would.

    Its also evident that new stuff was selling for a premium as most of the new games sold for prices higher, relative to the popularity/rarity of the game, than I would have thought.

    The seller hasn't started round 3 yet but when he does, I'll post the results here.

    Karaoke Studio Top Hit 20 Vol 2 46000
    Battletoads 30000
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 29000
    Solbrain 27500
    Metal Storm 23200
    Prisoner of War 22600
    Over Horizon 21000
    Goal! 20500
    Eight Eyes 18300 New
    Metal Fighter My 16500
    Reigendoushi 16000
    Yancha Maru 3 15550 New
    Robocco Wars 14500 New
    Samurai Pizza Cats 14500
    Crisis Force 14500
    Ninja Crusaders 12600
    Kyouryuu Sentai Juu Ranger 12500
    Guardic Gaiden 12100
    Terminator 2 11700 New
    Yancha Maru  11500 (with stickers)
    Millipede 11100
    Donkey Kong (Silver box) 10001
    Saiyuki World 9851
    Holy Diver 9850
    Gun Nac 9850
    RAF 9750
    Akumajou Densetsu 9750
    Wanpaku Kokun no Gourmet World 9038
    Dragon Fighter 8750
    Cosmo Police Caravan 8590
    Duck Tales 2 8250
    Layla 8020
    Donkey Kong Jr (Silver box) 8000
    Juju Densetsu 7800
    Eggerland 7780
    Magic Candle 7350 New
    StarGate 7250
    Duck Tales  7100
    Gundam Wars (Datach) 7000 New
    Western Kids 6950
    Double Dragon 2 6851
    Door Door 6750
    Abadox 6500
    Kamen no Ninja 6250 New
    Yancha Maru 2 6080 New
    Akumajo Special Boku Dracula Kun 6050
    Chigoku Kyokuraku Maru 5800
    Ice Climber  5750
    2010 Street Fighter 5730
    Sweet Home 5500
    Tiny Toon Adventures 2 5251
    Flying Hero 5250
    Ultraman Club Kaijuu Daikessen 5250
    Saizou 5220
    Zombie Hunter 5100
    Uchuu Keibitai SDF 5000
    Ultraman Club (Datach) 5000 New

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    Rant time.  Sorry, but I'm pissed.

    I was cruising Yahoo Auctions earlier today and was about to put a bid in on a Famicom game from this seller by the name of gs76u87o.  

    Then I stopped because I wasn't allowed to.  Not because I have any problems with my feedback.  Not because I couldn't pay promptly.  Not because of anything I had done or would do.

    The reason I couldn't put a bid in on the game was because gs76u87o is a piece of racist garbage.

    If you can read Japanese and take a look at any of his listings, he openly states that he won't deal with foreigners.  Note that the language makes it clear that he isn't referring to people living overseas - which would be OK since most sellers only ship within Japan for a variety of legitimate reasons.  No, he means anyone who is not ethnically Japanese he won't deal with regardless of where they live.

    While not in the majority, it is disturbingly common to find this sort of racism being openly displayed by sellers on Yahoo Auctions.  It probably doesn't get commented on much since these things are always written in Japanese so most foreigners don't notice and it has less visceral impact than seeing "Japanese people only" written in English..   

    It pisses me off that Yahoo Japan - a major company if there ever was one - allows this open type of racial discrimination to go on.  If an Ebay seller put up a condition saying "Only white people can bid on my stuff, if I find out you aren't white, I will leave negative feedback and blacklist you" you can imagine the shitstorm that would happen.  That guy would not have an Ebay account for long.  On Yahoo Auctions though it is totally OK and good luck trying to complain about it.

    This sort of shit is, while not an everyday thing, something that foreign residents of Japan do have to put up with in various situations.  The only time it ever really causes a stir is when the perpetrators make the mistake of expressing their racism in English - as was the case with the incident in the photo at the top of this page (which occurred at a pro soccer game - the team actually allowed that banner to be hung in the stadium for the duration of the game and were only punished by the league after an outcry following the photo showing up online). 

    So anyway, what was my point?  Fuck you  gs76u87o I guess is obvious, but also fuck you Yahoo Japan for allowing this shit to exist on your service that I AM FUCKING PAYING YOU TO PROVIDE TO ME and have a LEGITIMATE EXPECTATION THAT MY ETHNICITY WILL NOT PRECLUDE ME FROM FUCKING USING IT.

    Sorry for the all caps, but that really needed to be emphasized.

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     Famicomblog is not dead!  Its owner and curator does, however, have a 6 month old baby at home to keep him occupied, leaving precious little time for blogging. 

    I do have a few minutes to spare here though so I thought I would use it to introduce one of my more interesting Famicom ephemera additions - a pack of Mach Rider playing cards.

    These are pretty neat, they seem to have been issued by Nintendo back in the 1980s.  I am not sure how many different games they released packs of cards for, but I have also seen Spartan X ones out there.  They come in a nice plastic Family Computer case that is blue on the bottom with the Nintendo logo in the middle:

    Open it up and you have a deck of cards ready to play poker or whatever:

    If your pack is new like this one it will also come with a special stamp on it:

    There used to be a tax levied on playing cards and these stamps, issued by the government, had to be applied to all decks of playing cards as proof that the "Trump Tax" had been paid.  You don't see playing cards in stores with these stamps anymore so I assume the tax was abolished at some point, but I think it adds a layer of interest to these cards.

    I will try to start updating the blog a bit more regularly from now on but we will see how that goes.....

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  • 08/16/15--04:58: Checking in
  • It has been a few months since my last post.  If anybody is still reading, don`t worry, I am not dead.  I am just a father.

    My son is now 10 months old and the old saying about your children becoming your only hobby because they kill all your other hobbies is basically true.  I don`t think I have played any video games since he was born (save testing some that I sold, but basically that just involves me putting the cart in to see if the game loads and no more).

    To be honest, I haven`t missed them much - playing with the little guy and watching him grow day by day is by far the funnest thing I have ever done.  Suddenly I find myself finding it hard to imagine having a hobby that wouldn`t include him.So now my hobby is reading Thomas the Tank Engine books to a little guy who can`t speak yet but absolutely LOVES it when I make a toot-toot sound for Thomas.  Hard to beat that.

    Blogging is, along with video games, one of those hobbies that has had to take a back seat as a result, hence the lack of posts here.  At the moment he is sleeping so I have a few minutes before I pass out from exhaustion to compose this post (ever tried spending a day carrying a 10kg bag of potatoes around?  Give it a try and you`ll understand).  I`m not sure how often I will be able to post though, mainly because I haven`t got much to write about. Its incredibly difficult to generate content for a video game blog when you aren`t playing video games.  I am not declaring the blog closed though, I have too strong an attachment to it to do that.  When my son gets old enough to play I might start back into video games again. I hope he`ll like the Famicom classics because thats what we`ll be playing.  And maybe that will generate some interesting material for posts.

    In the interim I will try to find some time to devote to posts whenever I have a minute.  I do at least get the chance to stop at game shops on the way home from work once every month or two.  I don`t buy stuff much anymore, nothing like the glory days in Fukuoka 4 or 5 years ago, but I still like to look.  When I find something interesting, I`ll try to let you know on here!

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     Been a while since I last posted.  Am still alive and well.  Thank you very much.

    In September I made a trip back home to Canada with my family in tow to visit my parents.  It was the first time back in quite a while for me (and my son`s first time ever).  After getting over the emotional greetings, etc one of the first things my parent`s said was "There is a huge stack of your junk in our garage.  Do something about that."

    While most of my childhood possessions are long gone, a selection of my old treasures has somehow managed to survive multiple moves over the decades and remain packed up in plastic bins at mom and dad's place.  And as I happily discovered while going through the boxes my childhood video games were among the survivors.

    My NES Action set, still in its box, was among the first things I fished out (but forgot to take a picture of).  I didn't have a chance to plug it in so not sure if it still works, but along with it I also found my complete library of NES games, pictured above.  Double Dragon III, Shinobi, TMNT, Operation Wolf and the SMB/Duck Hunt cart that came with the console.  Yup a grand total of 5 carts that I put together over several years.  Sitting as I am now on a pile of hundreds of Famicom games, its hard to imagine how I managed to get so much entertainment out of these 5 carts back in the day, but I remember very clearly that I did.  The fact that these cost $40-$50 each in 1980s dollars, which represented several months worth of allowances for my 10 year old self no doubt explains that.

    In another box I found an earlier era of my childhood video game collection, my Commodore Vic-20, complete with all the games.
     My dad bought this in about 1982 at Canadian Tire, which at the time included its own store-branded software set with each purchase. I still have the Canadian Tire card that it came with, which I think is really neat:
     The Vic-20 operated games either in cartridge form or in tape cassette form if you had the Cassette Unit, which we did (and still do).
     The computer itself is built into the keyboard and I remember we used to have it hooked up to a 14 inch TV in our kitchen throughout the early 80s.
     My joystick!!  Covered in dust but still existing after all these years.  Oh the fun I had with this.  That fire button hasn't been used to shoot on-screen aliens in about 25 years. 
     These are the cartridge games I had.  All of them except Visible Solar System I played a lot. As you can tell, I liked space themed shooting games as a kid.  I wish they had made a Famicom version of Gorf, that was an awesome game. 
     Still had the manual for Avenger in the box, its basically Space Invaders.
     This was our cassette tape software.  $99.95 for 6 cassette tapes.  In 1982 Canadian dollars that represented a fairly major family purchase.  I didn't play these as much as the cartridges since they took longer to load, but I remember having fun with some of these.
     Ah the Cassette Unit. 

    I also found in the box a pile of floppy disk games for the Apple IIC, the computer that eventually replaced the Vic-20 as our official family computer in about 1987 or thereabouts.  While I had saved the software for it, the Apple IIC itself is no longer around, probably a victim of its own bulkiness.

    I'd like to say that I was able to hook these up and play with them but I unfortunately didn't have time.  Nor did I have space in my luggage to bring them back to Japan with me.  I can at least say, however, that they are still safe.  After some negotiation with my parents I was able to secure the continued use of some storage space in their garage for the indefinite future (in exchange for my agreement to get rid of a lot of other stuff: sorry baseball card collection and all of my old books).  So they remain in Canada, awaiting my return.  Someday I shall return for you, childhood video game collection, and we shall play together again, probably when my son is old enough and my apartment big enough to house you.

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     If you look over on the archive of this blog you`ll note that its first 3 years (2009 – 2012) were a lot busier than its most recent 3 years.  Take a glance through the posts in that first three year period and you will see a lot about me going to game shops in Fukuoka and finding some amazing bargains.  At the end of 2012 I left Fukuoka and haven`t been able to roam the retro game stores like I used to since, hence the lower number of posts since then (not to mention becoming a father in that time period too).

    A couple weeks ago I went back down to Fukuoka on business.  I tried checking out some of the game shops I used to write about on here, including Mandarakeand 007, while I was in town to see how things are going.

    What I found made me realize an important and, I hate to say, sad fact: most of the posts I put up here during the Golden Age early years of Famicomblog are now hopelessly out of date.  I don`t just mean that the details, like what shop had what games, are out of date.  I mean that the entire reality of retro video game collecting in Japan which they depict is one which no longer exists.

    To put this in extremely simple form: 5 years ago retro video games in Japan were easy to find and cheap.  Now they are hard to find and expensive. 

    And this kind of sucks. At least if you live in Japan and collect old video games.

    I`d like to devote one of my longer essay-type posts here to talking about how the used video game market in Japan has gone from one which just a few years ago was full of amazing bargains to one which today features way fewer of them.  I`m going to do so by looking at the development of three distinct modes of buying retro games in Japan and how they have changed over time – big recycle shops, specialist game stores and online auctions.  First up will be the big recycle shops…

    The Peculiar History of the Market for Second Hand Goods: Hard Off and the Big Recycle Shops

    Most people who have spent some time collecting old video games in Japan are no doubt familiar with the big second hand goods stores, often called `Recycle shops`.  The best  of these in terms of hunting for retro games are major nationwide chains, like Hard Off/Book Off, or regional chains like Manga Souko in Kyushu.  These can sometimes turn up amazing treasures.

    If you haven`t been here for too long though you might not realize that these types of stores are actually a relatively new feature of Japan`s retail landscape.  When I arrived here for the very first time in 1999 they were only just starting to appear and prior to the 1990s none of them had existed at all.

    Second hand goods in Japan before that time had been a relatively small niche market dominated by pawnbrokers (which still exist but generally trade in higher value goods rather than old video games and thus aren`t on most video game collector`s radars) and smaller mom-and-pop style second hand stores.  During the bubble economy era of the 1980s there seems to have been a social stigma associated with buying used goods in general – one often hears stories of how people instead of selling perfectly good electronics items that might sell for big money in America, would instead just put them out as trash.

    More importantly though, the structure of the used goods market before 1995 was heavily influenced by regulations set out in a law called the Used Goods Dealers Act. (For information on this I am aided by a series of very interesting articles by Prof. Frank Bennett entitled `Second Hand Japan: Used Goods Regulation 1645 – Present`). The Act, which was passed in 1949, mainly regulated the trade in second hand goods from a theft-control perspective, viewing it as a problem (since people could fence stolen goods through second hand stores) more than as a market worth promoting.  One of the key requirements of the Act was that all businesses operating second hand goods stores required a special license to do so.  This wasn`t in itself necessarily problematic, but these licenses could be revoked if a business was found to have sold stolen goods.  Since the license was granted to a business as a whole rather than to a specific store, Prof. Bennett opines that this largely discouraged the development of businesses running chain recycle stores.  Under those regulations, if a chain like Hard Off had existed and one random part time employee of at one of their hundreds of locations had inadvertently bought and sold a stolen TV for example, the entire chain (as opposed to just that one location) could be shut down.  The risk of that happening thus prevented Hard Off and other chain recycle shops from existing under that system – nobody would be willing to take the risk of creating a business model with such an Achilles heel. 

    A second area of regulation which affected second hand retailers is that affecting large scale retailers.  Prior to the late 1990s large scale retailers (ie box stores) were subject to a fairly rigorous approval process whenever they wanted to open a new location.  Small scale retailers had a lot of say in that process and could effectively veto plans for any stores that might harm their interests opening up nearby, which meant that there were actually very few large box stores in Japan until the turn of the 21st century (department stores and supermarket chains like Daiei being an exception). Since most of the big recycling stores today are based on a box-store type business model (they need a lot of floor-space to stock a wide range of goods in order to attract customers), this feature of the regulations also prevented Hard-Off type businesses from existing.

    In the late 1990s both of these areas of regulation were significantly changed, with the licensing system for used goods businesses abolished in 1995 and the approval process for box stores significantly de-regulated a couple of years later.  Not coincidentally Hard Off opened its first location at this time and the chain stores that we know today began popping up in all corners of the country.  This was also helped along by the negative economic picture in Japan in the late 1990s, which made people appreciate the value of used goods more than they had previously.

    Famicom and other retro video games were among the variety of goods which these chains would stock. Importantly at the time these chain stores were starting to appear in the wake of deregulation, the Famicom was still a relatively recent item (Hard Off opened its first location only 2 years after the last Famicom game was released) and thus retro games weren`t treated as collector`s items but rather were dealt with in the same way that books, CDs and VHS cassettes were – just used things that people might want to use.

    The business model of these shops generally involved (and still involves) people driving up with carloads of old crap they wanted to get rid of and just taking whatever the shop clerk offered them for it.  The clerks would then slap a price on stuff and throw it on shelves.  With things like old video games there is very little consistency among shops within the same chain as to what to charge for a specific game. They were just another random commodity and the store could only make money if they sold things in volume, so the clerks could, given how little they paid for the item (one Hard Off I visited gave a flat rate of 10 Yen per Famicom game regardless of the title) put whatever price they wanted on something.  This made these shops a collector`s paradise if you happened to be in the right place at the right time.

    When I first arrived in 2008 I got most of my games from chain stores like these – especially Omocha Souko which I have numerous posts on here about.  Two big things have happened in recent years which have really changed the usefulness of these shops to video game collectors though.  The first is that both the shops and the people driving carloads of junk to them have obviously become much more aware of the fact that video games are a collector`s item than they were 5 or 6 years ago.  I don`t have as much time as I used to for video game shopping, but I still drop by Hard Offs and similar stores every once in a while and it has been a long time – years – since I found a great bargain at one.  The standard experience I get when I walk into one today is a retro game section consisting of a rack full of Super Famicom tennis and soccer games for 500 Yen each, along with a pile of broken PS1 controllers (this is what I found at 007 in Fukuoka the other day).  The days when clueless people would dig out a box with 50-100 games in it that was covered in dust and included copies of rarities like Gimmick in it, truck it over to a Hard Off, sell it to an equally clueless clerk who would then dump everything into a 200 Yen each bargain bin seem to be over. TV shows highlighting the collector value ofvideo games have probably played some role in this.

    The second problem is that the big chain stores themselves are starting to disappear.  My beloved Omocha-Souko of course closed down in 2012, but it is hardly alone.  I don`t have any data on this, but I do know of several other chain recycle stores and Book Off/ Hard Off locations which have closed in the past 4 years (and none which have opened in the same time).  Book Off seems to have been particularly hard hit, the suburban Japanese landscape is becoming increasingly cluttered with box store locations that you can easily tell are former Book Off locations based on the distinctive yellow and blue color pattern left on the buildings.  Increased competition from online auctions is the most likely culprit, and I will get to them a bit below. 

    Basically what I want to say though is that the big chain recycling stores are kind of an interesting, but probably disappearing, element of the retro game collecting experience in Japan. De-regulation in the 1990s allowed them to burst onto the scene and for about a decade they provided an amazing source of cheap games to pick over.  That window seems to be closing now, which is kind of a shame.  Glad I was here to experience it while it was still open though.

    The Video Game Specialists – Mandarake and Super Potato

    In the previous section I mainly talked about large recycling shops, but its important to bear in mind that those shops generally don`t specialize in games or have any knowledge about them.  Some shops, however, do specialize in games and cater to gamers (and collectors of games) in particular.  

    It is hard to find information about some of these.  Obviously game shops have existed since the first video games went on sale, but what about game shops that specifically stocked used games?  Anecdotal evidence from my travels suggests that a lot of mom and pop style shops did start to spring up during the Famicom`s original lifetime.  Coinciding as it did with the above mentioned regulatory framework favoring small retailers these seem to have been small, family owned businesses.  Many of the smaller ones I visited in Fukuoka while I was there seem to have closed and I don`t have a lot of info on them.  But two of the more successful ones which eventually became chains – Mandarake and Super Potato – we can talk a bit about.

    Aside from both being chain stores that often operate in close proximity to each other, Mandarake and Super Potato are quite a bit different creatures.  Super Potato is actually the only one that really counts as a `pure` retro game store since that is all it sells, while Mandarake sells a wide variety of other goods (mainly comic books, toys and cosplay stuff).  An important common feature they have though is that unlike the big recycle shops they both have specialist staff who know the value of games and have long priced things accordingly.

    It would be really useful to know a bit more about Super Potato`s origins as a store, but the internet doesn`t really tell us much (at least as far as I can find – anyone out there know a bit more?)  Its website says nothing about the store`s history, nor does the Japanese Wikipedia page or any other sources I could find.  Mandarake, on the other hand, is a publicly traded company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and subject to certain disclosure requirements and thus it is much easier to find out historical information about it.

    The first Mandarake store was opened in Nakano (Tokyo) in 1980, under the simple name `Manga Used Book Store`.  Judging by the name it likely specialized only in comic books at first.  Business seems to have gone well and it was incorporated in 1987 under the name Mandarake with a capital of 2 million yen (about $18,000 US at today`s exchange rates, not a huge sum).  It opened its second store in Shibuya in 1994 and in the following years would further expand to Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo, as well as opening further locations within Tokyo. 

    Its sales have grown year on year – from 1.4 billion yen in 1995 to 8.6 billion yen in 2012 (the last year for which data is posted on its website).  This would seem to indicate that it is doing well, but it is a bit difficult to determine how much of this amount is attributable to retro video games (which generally only take up 10-20% of floor space at the Mandarakes I have been to) and how much is from other merchandise.

    While we don`t have much information on Super Potato`s origins, we can piece together a bit of its recent story based on information about store closures.  According to its Japanese Wikipedia page, 10 different Super Potato locations have closed across Japan since 2009, with 8 of those coming in the period 2013-2014.  In the same time period, only one new store (in Nagoya, as first reported here on this very blog!) opened.  For a chain that currently has only 10 stores in operation, closures of that scale are huge. 

    This isn`t a perfect comparison, but I think it can generally be said that Mandarake is a growing business while Super Potato is a shrinking one and the main difference between them is that Super Potato is a pure retro game shop while Mandarake has a much more diversified product range.  It is hard to speculate about what problems Super Potato is facing (I note that its prices have always been on the high side for Japan), but I suspect some of it might be owing to the above mentioned changes in the retro video game market as a whole – it is simply getting harder to find cheap stock on the one hand, while increased competition from online auctions is probably biting into their customer base more than it is for the more diversified Mandarake.  Either way, Super Potato is kind of the market leader for retro game shops in Japan and if it is doing bad, this bodes poorly for other specialist shops too.  This brings us to….

    The Online Market – Yahoo Auctions

    Finally we come to the big elephant in the room – online auctions.  Even online, it seems, Japan has to be different from the rest of the world.  Ebay tried entering the Japanese market in the early 00s but quickly withdrew after failing to make much of an impact (probably due to the prevalence of postal accounts, which allow for free transfers between buyers and sellers.  Paypal fees? No thanks.)  Yahoo Auctions is the big one.  And at any given moment it has a huge amount of retro video game stuff up for bid.

    I have been an active user of Yahoo Auctions (only as a buyer) for almost 5 years now and I can say from firsthand experience that the market has changed radically in that time.  In keeping with the above description of the big recycling shops, when I first joined Yahoo Auctions it was obvious that a lot of the games were being sold in lots by people who didn`t have much idea as to the rarity/value of the games they were selling.  This suggested that people who would previously have been dumping those games at recycling shops were now dumping them on Yahoo Auctions in order to cut out the middle man. 

    Most interesting though – and fun for me at the time – was that the auction prices never seemed to go too high.  Often you could get stuff for a tiny fraction of what it would sell for on Ebay.  So in addition to relatively uninformed sellers you also had a fairly laid back set of uninformed buyers bidding on the stuff and building up nice collections on the cheap. 

    This dynamic no longer exists.  Sellers now are obviously way more knowledgeable than they were in 2011 or 2012 – you almost never see a rare game stuck in a huge lot anymore, and on rare occasions when you do the seller has usually put that game`s title prominently in the description.  Prices too have gone through the roof – I wouldn`t say there are no longer any deals to be found, but when you find them they tend to be much more modest (no steals, but maybe some decent priced stuff) and they happen way less often. 

    Japanese bloggers generally chalk these huge price increases on Yahoo Auctions to overseas buyers and I think that is probably the case.  One big piece of evidence supporting this theory is the correlation between exchange rates and game prices on Yahoo Auctions.  The first big bump in prices I noticed happened shortly after the Yen lost a large chunk of its value against the Dollar about 3 years ago (which wouldn`t have happened if only domestic buyers were to blame).  Another is that proxy services which allow overseas bidders to bid on stuff seem to have proliferated over the past few years, making the Yahoo Auction market much more open to the rest of the world than it was a few years ago (and thus much more easily influenced by foreign prices). For famous and hard to find games (Contra, Crisis Force, etc), the prices on Yahoo Auctions in 2011 for single copies used to be easily half what you would have paid on Ebay, but now they are pretty close to even.  It is really hard to explain this increase based on any changes particular to Japanese collectors, so I think the influence of overseas buyers is by far the biggest factor driving this.  This of course has side effects on physical stores in Japan, who in addition to having more difficulty getting stock in the first place are also more incentivized to sell their games on Yahoo Auctions where they can reach overseas buyers willing to pay much more for games than Japanese buyers are, thus making the brick and mortar stores even less appealing to bargain hunters. 


    It is kind of sad to say but I think the market for retro games in Japan has basically gone global, meaning the selection of games and the prices charged for them to collectors living in Japan (or visiting) is a lot less attractive than it used to be.  A lot of the stuff I said in posts like this one here simply doesn`t seem to be the case anymore.  The big recycling shops that used to dump treasures into junk bins are disappearing and the ones which still exist don`t get many treasures to dump anymore.  The specialist stores seem to be having trouble making their business model work in the era of online auctions.  And the online auctions have seen prices explode over the past few years, which has effects on the other two.  Its an irreversible cycle that will probably continue down that path for a while before it hits some sort of equilibrium when prices stabilize on the international market. 

    This isn`t to say that you can`t find bargains, they still probably exist out there.  Somewhere.  But the wild west days of finding copies of Gimmick for 100 Yen seem to have past us by.

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    Its amazing how time flies, its been over a year since I updated this blog, which is usually a good barometer for declaring a blog "dead".  But this one isn't, its just in hibernation as its curator raises a family.

    Which is a cool thing to do in Japan because sometimes you find coin operated Mobile Robot suits like the one in the above photo which was taken over the weekend.  I need to get one of these for our living room.  I was thinking it would have been the most awesome Famicom controller ever, and I hope Nintendo will release one, maybe for Formation Z or some other game, in the near future.

    Will be back in 2018 with another update, maybe sooner.  I haven't bought a video game in over a year, which is really the main reason for this blog's inactivity.  When the occupant of the above Mobile Robot suit is old enough, I'll probably break the Famicom out again and find some more reasons to post :)