Reading Nintendo magazines as a child, I would be given occasional glimpses of life in Japan. Developers and studios, game products and launches. One regular fixture was the almost legendary Super Potato, a used games store in Akihabara, Tokyo.
Nintendo magazines were a permanent part of my life for more than a decade. I met lifelong friends, learned a great deal and got excited about even more. It was probably where I first developed a passion for writing and in particular criticism, through the open look it gave at the writers themselves.
This means Super Potato was part of my religion, the canon of what was the very coolest. I saw glimpses and snippets; rows upon rows of classic games and machines, posters and merchandise. All of it representing that beautiful, artistic Japanese model of packaging and presentation.
It was absolutely on my must-see hitlist here in Akihabara, and I was disappointed when I didn’t stumble across it on my first day in the city. The next day, as I sat and ate my breakfast I looked it up on google maps. I got a vague sense of the direction, but after losing signal didn’t quite pinpoint it.
This morning, I rededicated myself to this mission. I opened up the maps page on my laptop and properly committed the shopfront, and the surroundings, to memory. This time I set out with a pretty clear understanding of where I was going.
I found the building, which amusingly enough I had actually photographed on my earlier wandering. It was immediately clear why I’d not entered the place by happenstance; there was no simple shopfront, but instead Super Potato was accessed via a side corridor and an elevator. I approached, only to be politely told that the opening time was 11 am, not the 10 that I’d read online.
I went for a coffee and a donut, sat down and killed some time. I explored a few other shops, seeing some figures and manga and other assorted bits and bobs in places I’d not yet explored; even took a good look at the Gundam and Sqare Enix cafes, and the Dragon Quest corner shop.
Finally I returned. I called the lift. The door opened, revealing an interior covered in stickers and posters for classic games. My heart was racing. I was actually entering Super Potato, this place of dreams, this holy land.
In describing the shop itself, it would be easy for my opinion to come across quite the wrong way. A cramped, dusty interior, a small, pokey building spread over three floors. It was, however, anything but disappointing.
Here were pristine copies of games consoles and peripherals of every kind, piled up like they’re no big deal. Here were games, boxed and unboxed, from decades of history. Here was that gorgeous Japanese boxart that made the Western cases I’d grown up with look plain and dull.
Here was memorabilia of every Nintendo character, big or small, in infinite permutations. New stuff, old stuff, collated with an effort of genuine affection. Whereas the glut of anime figures, robot model kits and film paraphernalia in other parts of Akihabara sometimes felt like it had been gathered in a business-like manner, to appeal to a demographic, the quality and history of Super Potato’s gaming goodies showed a real passion.
Climbing up to the second floor, the love and care wasn’t diminished as the games on display became a little younger. The Game Boy, Nintendo 64 and Playstation had collections as lovingly collated as the older machines, and even the Dreamcast, Gamecube and Xbox were represented.
A few things tempted me, though I was aware that it was a little early to be spending money. Nonetheless, it was easy to experience Super Potato like a museum of gaming history. Delicately, as though I were handling some Babylonian artefact, I picked through old game boxes. Quietly, I peered into display cases of machines and models.
The top floor was even more surprising. A collection of sleek modern arcade cabinets, running a selection of classic games, was accompanied by a quaint little tuck shop dealing in sweets and snacks. As I settled in and had a little go at VS Super Mario Bros, it was suddenly very easy to imagine spending a whole day here, awash in nostalgia about a world that was always just out of reach.
I hope that wasn’t the last time I’ll ever visit Super Potato. I actually feel somewhat guilty that for all the pleasure my trip gave me, I only spent 100 yen on a single arcade game. Nonetheless, even if that is my only ever visit, it will be a memory I cherish. Here is a place of myth and dreams, somewhere legendary that couldn’t quite be real. But it was, and it is, and I went there.
I want to learn the language, see the culture, explore and have adventures. I want to feel closer to history, study it so I can write about it. But apart from all of that, this.
This was why I came to Japan.