"The Tourists Have Taken Everything" Laments Japanese Resident As Retro Runs Dry 1
Image: Oliver Jia

A Japanese resident has lamented the state of Kyoto's retro gaming stores, blaming foreign travellers for bleeding the country's stock of vintage games.

Kyoto-based American researcher Oliver Jia posted images of his local Surugaya, a store which sells retro games along with other collectable items. The shelves are shown with limited stock.

"The Surugaya in Kyoto is a skeleton now," laments Jia. "A year ago, there were tons of Famicom Disk System games, but this is all that’s left. The PS1 section is half empty. The tourists have taken everything. I don’t bother shopping for retro games in big Japanese cities anymore."

Jia adds that his local Surugaya once offered two whole floors of games, but now it is reduced to just one – and that he personally witnessed someone literally scooping up an entire shelf of stock. "I saw a guy just taking everything off the already paltry DS shelf. There [are] tons of people like him and very little anyone can do because it’s obviously not illegal. So I don’t even bother anymore."

However, the researcher is keen to stress that he has no issue with people buying up games to play – it's the resellers he's less keen on. "I should specify that if you’re a tourist in Japan and buying these games because you genuinely want to play them, I don’t have an issue with you," Jia says. "It’s the people who clear entire shelves just to scalp them online when they get home that ruin the hobby here for everyone."

Several other people in Jia's Twitter thread point out that stores outside of the big cities still have a decent amount of stock, but it stands to reason that eventually, even those more remote outlets will be bled dry.

Jia also adds that the recent pandemic has had some part to play in this:

Because we’re fully out of the pandemic now and everything is back to normal, we’re experiencing a surge of tourism in Japan. I’m fully aware that the economy needs it, but there are always trade-offs to over-tourism on locals. So we have to deal with that for the near future.

Demand for retro video games and other similar nostalgic items comes and goes. We’re currently in a period where there’s high demand. But once that demand is satiated, prices and supply tend to stabilize again. I anticipate it’s going to take about five years at best.

While this is certainly a sad situation, it's hard to see how it can be resolved; retro games, by their very nature, are a 'finite' resource. While scalpers and resellers from outside of Japan are certainly speeding up the process, sooner or later, retro stock is going to get harder and harder to come by – especially when you're talking about items which are over 30 years old.

However, it's easy to see why Japanese residents might take issue with tourists flagrantly lifting entire shelves of stock in order to simply flip them online, rather than to actually play and enjoy them.

Jia adds that he now shops for his retro items online, as "you need a Japanese address to get stuff shipped, so it’s generally stuff tourists won’t find."