So, this is the first in my series on “A Gamer in Japan.” This week, I will be focusing on who you’ll actually be gaming with if you bring your hobby with you to the Far East.
So, as I said in my introduction, I’m a foreign exchange student living in the greater Tokyo area of Japan. Miraculously, I have been able to stay in touch with the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing experience since I got here. However, being a Gamer in Japan definitely changes things up considerably, especially regarding the kind of people who will share your hobby with you.
In my experience, you can get three types of groups in Japan: Groups of all foreigners (Gaijin), Mixed Groups, and Groups of all Japanese (with you being the exception).
The All Gaijin Group
Groups with all foreigners are truly an awesome thing to get, if you can find them. I was lucky enough to find a post about a gaming group living in Saitama, about an hour and a half from my school. Taking the train to meet them, which costs about $25 round trip, I was able to join the group and we had several really fun games. I would say that these groups are the ideal experience for anyone; if you can get into a game with all foreigners, you are pretty much assured that all of them are experienced in role-playing games and know what they are doing. These groups don’t waste time and they get straight down to business. We started the Scales of War campaign arc and made it to around level 5 before I had to quit the game to get married and finish up school, but the time we had together was awesome. You can find these groups by looking online for postings or visiting one of the local hobby stores in Japan (the Yellow Submarine being one of them, which I will talk about further in the next part of this series). There are a lot of groups which are made up almost entirely of military personal stationed on one of the American military bases in Japan as well; I’ve been invited to join several of these groups, but the travel has always been too much for me.
Within this group of all foreigner games, you do find the opposite though. I started Dungeon Mastering a game for other foreign students who are studying with me at my university. None of them had ever played Dungeons and Dragons before. Why then did they choose their time in Japan to pick up a hobby that is mainly played in the states? The fact is, Japan is a really expensive place. We have a Games Workshop Hobby store in my city which sells Warhammer 40k. In Japan, the box set that would sell for around $30 goes for almost three times that here (coming in right around 8500 yen, the big box sets go for around $500). If you look at that, combined with the alternatives for other hobby games, or even just the price to go out and get drinks at a bar, the cost is astronomical. Most of the people I gamed with at school are poor college kids who can’t afford to go out and party every day here. So, we locked ourselves in the dorm during winter break, which lasts 2 whole months, and played Dungeons and Dragons for several hours every day. It turned out to be an awesome game. Scott, one of the newbies to Dungeons and Dragons, now works on several of my original projects with me, including doing illustration work for the campaign setting I’m working on. Japan also has the effect of scaring the “nerd fear” right out of you. Scott is a fraternity guy, pretty much the last person you would expect to see playing Dungeons and Dragons, but one trip to Akihabra and a maid café changed his way of thinking; Japan has practically turned him into an Otaku, he downloads and watches anime on his own, spends time in the arcades, and plays pen and paper RPG’s. If you want to bring a friend to the world of role-playing, Japan seems like just the shock treatment you need to get them there.
For the most part, all foreigner groups are made up of very intelligent people. It takes a lot of brain power to get yourself to Japan; it takes even more to live through the experience. If you can manage that, you can definitely manage to play some Dungeons and Dragons. I have found that the groups I played in here are vastly smarter, on average, than the groups I have played in back home in the states. The games I have DMed for at my local hobby store in California have been filled with guys that don’t really have any goals, job, money, or education, and so they necessarily have all their lights on; I have found that these are the people who often cause problems for games. But the people you game with in Japan are of an entirely different level and are dedicated to make what little time they have for the hobby a good time.
The Mixed Group
The second group type in Japan is the mixed group. I haven’t played in one of these, but I have heard they do exist. They usually feature Japanese that have some knowledge of the game, experience in role-playing, and speak some degree of English. These games are good for people who want to get some cross-cultural exposure, without the trouble of learning another language.
The Gaijin Stands Alone
The third group is the all Japanese group. These groups are hardcore! They are really into the rules, and play the game without mercy. I’ve played in a Japanese only game just once. Beware! They are pretty insane. Even if you think your language skills are really good, they probably aren’t. I’m nearly fluent in Japanese, but my level of fluency doesn’t bring me close to the level where I would be able to “role-play” a character or understand other people when they “role-play” theirs. I turned into the mute barbarian for that game and it didn’t work out very well, but all the players were really happy to have had me there and nearly forced me to come back. The Japanese all almost always surprised when they meet a foreigner that shares in their hobby. I get stunned looks whenever I walk into a hobby shop or show up at a Japanese only DnD game. Japanese only groups are almost always willing to invite you into their game; in fact, they may insist on it.
If you are a foreigner living in Japan, there are groups of people who want to play Dungeons and Dragons or another RPG with you. Chances are that someone you work with or go to school with would love to learn the game and get a break from the expensive cost of living that Japan demands. The otherwise non-role-players will probably be willing to try something new, because hey, they are living in one of the strangest countries in the world (go look up the Gundam that they just erected in Odaiba, talk about strange). The Japanese would love to have you in their games. It may be a stereotype that all Japanese are friendly and polite, but from what I have seen, it is true, at least for fellow Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts. Don’t despair if you’re on your way to Japan and you’re afraid of losing touch with your hobby. There are people here who want to share it with you!