If you’ve ever searched “fun things to do in Japan,” chances are that you’ve come across a mention of going to a Japanese arcade. That’s actually a pretty good suggestion most of the time, because there’s an incredible amount of options offered at Japanese arcades to spend just a little bit of money and have a lot of fun comparatively. However, there’s an evil, one thousand-million-billion-trillion percent sinister money eating machine lurking nearby that will humble you yet keep you coming back to play again. That machine is none other than the famous Japanese “UFO Catcher.”
In its essence, the UFO Catcher is a crane game…that also has emotions and completely hates you. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of orientations UFO Catchers can be in, with anywhere from 0 to 3 claws, spikes, hole punchers, and whatever other method the evil geniuses that make these things develop to make sure you hate yourself while overspending on anime figures, towels, keychains, toys, and other prize paraphernalia. Prizes can be hanging from bars attached to sheets of paper that you need to pierce, they can be perched up on a series of props that prevent it from moving, or they can literally just sit there on a flat surface while you try to move it to the prize drop with a crippled, one-armed, and completely incapable catcher. And that’s why it’s so fun; the impossibility of actually winning plus the constant “I swear I almost have it” attitude keeps you playing. However, there is still a huge issue with all of this.
As an American studying in Japan, I’m used to the highest coin denomination being the quarter, which is 23JPY currently. However, in Japan, they have coins going to 100JPY and 500JPY, which are about $0.91 and $4.55 respectively. Guess which coins the UFO catchers take! Yeah…so now you know that at the very MINIMUM, the cost of one play is almost a dollar. Sometimes it’s 200JPY just for one play. Not a single catcher is less than 100JPY though, and the machines won’t even take a smaller denomination coin. Therefore, it is impressively easy to lose a lot of money, especially as a foreigner, because it’s just as easy to forget that you aren’t only spending a quarter, but rather a dollar every time you play. Also, because the machines are designed to require a solid strategy coupled with multiple plays, you will be coughing up more money than you realize almost every time you go.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth it at times. However, it is wholly necessary to establish a budget before playing. Otherwise you’ll end up spending over $400 in your first month in Japan on these sinister machines alone. Trust me, that’s entirely possible. TRUST ME.
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Hi all! My name is Ben Krieger, and I am a rising Junior at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I grew up in the Cleveland area as an aspiring professional football player, but clearly that is a path that I've abandoned because I'll be in Japan during my first season away from the game in fourteen years! I'm very excited to be in Tokyo for the fall, and I've been preparing to be able to at least survive in Tokyo by studying Japanese for the first time ever in Beppu, Japan this summer. I may not be great yet, but hopefully you'll watch me grow as I blog my way through the fall program!