Japanese Arcade Racing Scene SEGA Initial D
Image credit: SEGA

The Incredible World Of The Japanese Arcade Racing Scene

Arcades have become a rare sight in Europe over the last few decades. Meanwhile, Japan is home to a thriving arcade racing scene – including enormous tournaments and a steady stream of new SEGA games. Join us for a dive into the Japanese arcade racing scene for SEGA week!

Initial D is the most popular car-based manga and anime in the world. It has even gained considerable interest in Europe and North America in addition to its country of origin. Be sure to check back this week for a deep-dive into Initial D’s icon status by Timo!

Meanwhile, what may not be as well-known as the anime and manga series is the series of Initial D arcade games. Since 2002, a total of 10 Initial D Arcade games and machines have been released, the latest in February of 2021. Initial D The Arcade lets players compete against others in other arcades via high-speed internet connections. Even full-on tournaments take place regularly – you might start to grasp the scale of its popularity in Japan.

Japanese Arcade Racing Scene: Highly Competitive

In fact, the 2019 edition of the SEGA World Drivers Championship used an officially-licensed Super GT game. While arcade in nature (surprise), the games do need a lot of practice to get to know the ins and outs in order to be competitive.

Initial D is different in nature, as the games focus on drift races on mountain passes, true to the manga/anime original. Toyohito Tamari, a former Initial D top player and now the Director for Initial D The Arcade, describes the Japanese arcade racing scene from his point of view.

“I think that it’s crazy. I thought so the first time I saw players battling by drifting at high speed through narrow mountain passes. Everything is so extraordinary, and the key draw is that there are lots of elements that you just cannot experience anywhere else.”

Toyohito Tamari, Director of Initial D The Arcade, on the Japanese arcade racing scene

The final part of Tamari-san’s quote is essential here. These titles can only be played in the respective arcade machines, making them extremely interesting for players. This is especially true when it comes to a competitive mindset. Tamari-san explains: “More and more users are taking part in Initial D as a space to test their true skill.

However, the sheer numbers of arcades in Japan are on the decline. According to a thegamer.com report, Japan had more than 26,000 arcades in 1986 – in 2019, only a mere 4,000 remained. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial D arcade machines. Image credit: SEGA

This does not mean that the competitive scene has suffered, though. Quite the contrary, actually. “In recent years, tournaments have been rethought as another way of truly enjoying the game“, states Tamari-san. “And although there was a period when they stopped for a few years due to COVID-19, a very high-level competition is held every year.” Earlier, these tournaments only sporadically appeared over the years in the Japanese arcade racing scene.

Annual High-Level Tournaments

While the market as a whole has decreased in size since the early 2000s due to the increase in home gaming, arcade titles like Initial D have still risen to the top. Tamari-san adds: “Even in this environment, Initial D continues to be supported due to the elements it offers that cannot be experienced inside other titles, and combined with the growth of the Asian market, it has been able to expand in recent years.

What would usually seem like a negative in the games’ arcade exclusivity is apparently the exact opposite, then. For instance, hardly any Initial D games exist for home consoles, so fans can only play their favorite series’ games in arcades.

In spite of arcades in general losing ground, the competitive racing scene continues to grow. Not just in Japan, but in Asia as a whole, too. “When I came in contact with players from Asian countries, I was very impressed by the fact that we could connect with each other through Initial D even though we didn’t speak the same language“, Tamari-san reminisces.

Exclusive To Japan

How come the wave of enthusiasm has mostly passed by the Western world, though? Initial D The Arcade Producer Kenji Arai has a two-fold explanation. “One is that, unfortunately, Initial D is not as well known in the West as it is in Japan and Southeast Asia. Another is that the kinds of high-speed connections needed to play the Initial D series within arcades are not wiedely available in arcades in Europe and the United States.

Still, Arai-san strongly recommends giving the games a try should your path ever lead you to Japan. “I would love for people to try playing at the game centres in Akihabara, Tokyo. There you can play against people who truly love subcultures like Japanese anime and manga. These players are people who adore video games and anime, which is something you don’t often encounter in the competitive console racing game space.” Or, simply put: “Competing against these kinds of players is something you will only be able to experience in an Initial D match!

Main street of the Akihabara district in Tokyo. Image credit: ElHeineken via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY 4.0 Deed

Japanese Arcade Racing Scene: Electric Town

If you have never heard of Akihabara, imagine a part of town in Tokyo lined with arcades. These are not simply arcades, though. We are talking about multiple-story buildings full of arcade game machines of all kinds. In fact, the Akihabara’s nickname is “Electric Town”, and it is one of the must-see tourist attractions of Tokyo. Manga and anime fans will also feel right at home at Akihabara.

High-level competitions, an entire district full of arcades – these two things alone show how intense the Japanese arcade scene is. Check back with OverTake for more exciting SEGA week articles!

What are your thoughts on the Japanese arcade racing scene? Have you ever visited and raced in an arcade yourself? Let us know on Twitter @OverTake_gg and in the comments below!

Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia. I have been working in sim racing since 2021 after previously working with pro and amateur sports teams and athletes for a daily newspaper in Wolfsburg. Nothing gets me more excited than motor racing, especially with the beastly machines of the past. A third pedal and h-shifter are not just options for a rig, they are mandatory to me. Avid fan of the IndyCar series (modern and CART/pre-split).