Fashion & Beauty, Gaming, Lifestyle

Kumagumi & The History of Japanese Gaming

🔖 6 min read

In today’s day and age, weebs, otakus, and gamers don’t need to try too hard to look stylish. Not only have anime and gaming suddenly become widely accepted, but there has been a seamless integration between these and fashion. There is abundant merchandise and apparel with recent style trends in mind. Gone are the tacky, bold, and loud designs of the 2000s; nowadays, muted prints and designs grace boxy silhouettes tapered to make anyone look good. The best part about repping your favourite shows, characters, or games is that you can do so in a way that only the real ones will be able to piece it together.

Japanese Gaming through Sony and Nintendo

It is impossible to talk about the history of gaming without mentioning the role of Japanese developers. First, we have the world’s top-selling and most popular game developer, Sony. This company is so massive that even these days, it’s virtually impossible to secure a Playstation 5 even when it’s been out since November 2020. Additionally, The Playstation 2 is the top-selling console of all time as of this month. As a home exclusively to triple-A megahits such as Gran Turismo, God of War, and Spiderman, the console’s popularity makes complete sense. The sky is the limit for this Tokyo-based game company, as they release banger after banger, whether consoles or games. 

The Late Shinzo Abe as Mario at the Tokyo Olympics: japantimes.co.jp

How about that moustachioed plumber-turned-hero who saves a damsel in distress from a spike-shelled turtle? Developed by Nintendo, the Mario franchise is a mainstay in the gaming ecosystem. The jumpsuit-wearing hero’s reach spreads worldwide, as the late Shinzo Abe even used a Mario cosplay to unveil the Tokyo Olympics at the opening ceremony. As the co-face of Japanese gaming to the world, that electric-powered rat with clown cheeks named Pikachu has the same recognizability and popularity. The Pokemon franchise has been one of the gaming industry’s powerhouses for young fans delving into the world of games for the first time and nostalgia-seekers looking to return to what got them started in the first place.

Before all these recognisable figures, though, we have to run it a bit earlier, to the beginning of Japanese gaming history. That’s right, and we’re going back to the days when you’d have to go all the way to a compound to play these games using gadgets the size of ATMs: Arcades. There’s no better way to discuss the matter than with the help of our friends over at Kumagumi, who sell merchandise and apparel catered to the discussion of famous Japanese historical gaming figures.

The Roots of Japanese Gaming through the lens of Kumagumi

Kumagumi is a Japanese streetwear company based in Kobe, Japan. Started by two friends in 2015, the company sells apparel such as t-shirts, hoodies, and caps, as well as accessories and trinkets like stickers and towels in the theme of retro Japanese arcade gaming. Their inspiration comes from just that: going to the arcades in their free time to play games such as Winning Eleven. Their name is derived from the Japanese word “Kuma”, which means Bear, and “Gumi”, which means group, symbolising the days spent hibernating, or gaming for extended periods.

Their store is a celebration of all the milestones arcade gaming has earned since its inception and the many monuments and themes popular with the subgenre. For example, they plaster popular locations such as the SEGA building or arcade gaming figures like Arcadia, which are highly recognisable by anyone who knows about the scene. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been a significant bane to the arcade scene, as exposure to the virus is rampant, especially in packed establishments that require multiple people to participate and operate the same devices. Aside from selling merchandise, they offer support and help to these “dying breed” of retro gaming in the form of resources where you can go to donate.

Super Battle Opera

SBO Tougeki: kumagumi.com

Super Battle Opera was the ultimate geek-out for player versus player combat as the most unique and popular arcade fighting event ever to grace the Japanese gaming scene. Whether Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, or Street Fighter, a rush of adrenaline filled the air of competitors and spectators alike when it ran from 2002 to 2013. Unfortunately, the event had to be suspended by the organisers due to tickets getting pricier and pricier at the time. To this day, fighting game fans will never forget the cheers and roars of the crowd after those 40-hit combos.

The Monthly Arcadia

Monthly Arcadia: kumagumi.com

The Monthly Arcadia was not just a famous bi-monthly magazine that talked about all things arcade games, but also the organisers behind the Super Battle Opera Tougeki. First published in 1999, the magazine was much revered as the magazine you’d purchase should you need to know anything and everything about the latest games being released in the establishments. Although it had to stop creating issues by 2015, the magazine was always the go-to for news, guides, and tips.

Wasshoi!: kumagumi.com

Speaking of those fighting events, the phrase “Wasshoi!” was one muttered by everyone in the heat of the moment. Symbolising intense energy and fight, the expression was a one-size-fits-all phrase used to emote hype. Whether for the winning player to celebrate victory or the losing challenger to try to get back on his feet, the fighting scene was invigorated by this motto. The beauty of this is both its universality and usability.

Shibuya Kaikan Monaco

Shibuya Kaikan Monaco: Shop Kumagumi

The Shibuya Kaikan Monaco was the oldest and arguably most incredible arcade ever to grace the country. Opening in the 1970s, this had all the classics at the heart and root of Japanese arcade gaming. Located in Shibuya, it is a 6-floor building that had games as cheap as 60-yen! At prices and variety like this, it was the place to be for kids after school and on holidays and weekends. Whether it be a shoot ‘em up, fighter, side-scrolling platform, or rhythm games, there was something for everybody to enjoy. Unfortunately, this closed in 2013 due to the growing popularity of home console gaming. What is sure certain is that it is a place near and dear to the heart of all retro gamers.

Shinjuku Playland Carnival

Shinjuku Playland Carnival: Shop Kumagumi

The Shinjuku Playland Carnival was seemingly the Shibuya Kaikan’s younger brother, also being one of the oldest and most memorable arcades from the distant past. It opened in 1972 as a casino before rebranding as an arcade that houses over 300 machines in 1933. It was no surprise that thousands of customers would flock to the centre daily, with the variety of games and overall good vibes. Being in the centre of one of Tokyo’s bustling cities, it was a great place to go to after a night with good friends around the establishments. Again, as the theme continues, it sadly had to close due to the pandemic.

Sega Akihabara 2

Sega Akihabara 2: Shop Kumagumi

Akihabara is and will always be the place for gamers and weebs alike. Bright neon lights and well-lit signs clad colourful buildings trying to attract customers from all over the world. One of the relics of the past is the Sega Building, located in the self-proclaimed weeb capital of Tokyo. It symbolised the “new era” of gaming at the time, as it housed a Pokemon arcade game in one of its machine-laden 6-floors. Regrettably, it also had to close down because Sega decided to cut costs due to the lack of customers and tourism during the early onset of COVID.

Unfortunately, these remnants of the past have been slowly losing interest and even closing down due to both the pandemic and technological advancements. Games have been more accessible than ever, with home consoles and handhelds as hot and popular as ever.

Add to the fact that gamer groups of friends can connect at the click of a button through the internet; there also doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to spend each time you play with the newfound convenience of it all. Still, it is nice to reminisce the good old days when we used to touch the grass, play face-to-face, and give each other sweaty high fives in a packed, musky room.

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