Saturday, September 20, 2014


I've mentioned before that money is weird in Japan - everything is off by a factor of 5 or 10. If you go to a 7-11 in the U.S. and buy a pack of gum to break a $10 bill, the clerk will look at you dirty. Doing the same thing in Japan doesn't raise an eyebrow, but the clerks will complain if you buy a pack of gum to break a 10,000 yen bill ($100 USD). Getting a $30 dinner in the USD is considered expensive, but 3,000 yen for a meal and drinks is cheap (20,000 yen is expensive). Japanese women will think nothing of dropping $5,000 on a Coach handbag, or a pair of shoes - it's the only way to show that you have money, since bragging about it is considered impolite.

Anyway, I was at the game arcade in Amupla, looking at the UFO Catcher machines (crane arms). I used to play them all the time in the 90's, and could get anime-related plushies within three tries, at 100 yen per try. Back then, the arms were mechanical, and unless the owner broke the springs, or packed the dolls in really hard, you could get several if you were skilled enough. One guy I knew could actually get 2 at a time, by hooking the strings on the dolls with the crane arm. At the time, the dolls cost the arcades about 200-300 yen apiece, so they were losing money on us.

These days, the UFO Catchers are computerized and can be programmed to not pick anything up. The strategy is to watch a specific machine for a while, and if enough people play it without winning anything, then you step in and start playing because it should begin picking the prizes up after 20-30 plays.

This is one reason I don't play UFO Catchers anymore - it's not about the skill. Then again, a lot of the prizes are really big now and worth more money. But, there's nothing in the machines I really want enough to spend more than 500 yen on. However...

As I said, money is weird here. I received several 500 yen coins as part of payments for English lessons from some of my students, and they kind of feel like arcade tokens.I figured I'd spend them if I saw something in a Catcher that looked interesting. For the bigger prizes, it's now 200 yen per try, or 3 tries for 500 yen. When I saw the replica Walther P-32, the pistol used by Lupin III in the manga and anime, I thought "what the heck". The box was laying flat across two rubberized metal bars, so if you picked up one end, the box wouldn't slide off the rod. You have to grab it off-center and kind of twist it so it goes sideways and falls between the bars. At least, that's what I was trying to do. I went through my three 500 yen coins pretty quickly, and it looked like it would take one more try to get the box to drop. I broke a 1000 yen bill in the changer, and kept trying.

But, all I managed to do was to flip the box upside down. At this point, I'd lost the equivalent of $25 USD, and the prize wasn't worth that much, anyway. So, I turned around to leave and noticed an arcade clerk standing next to me. He asked if I wanted him to reposition the box for me, and I answered that I wouldn't be able to win it no matter how long I tried. Then, he opened the case and put the box back on the bars, but this time so that the back end was just barely leaning against the back rod. He even showed me how to grab the box so that it would now fall on the next try. Shrugging, I got more change and put 200 yen in the machine. This time, the box fell into the hopper.

I reached down, pulled the prize out of the hopper, and as I stood up, the clerk, grinning, held out a plastic shopping bag for me to put the box in. He thanked me for playing, and I thanked him for letting me have the toy after all.

It's just a heavy piece of plastic, but the slide pulls back, and the hammer clicks down loud enough to sound like a cap gun. The finish is "pre-aged" to make it look like an old collector's piece, and it comes with its own stand.

It cost me about $27 USD, and normally that would feel like way too much money for something like this. But, money is weird here.

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