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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogYumeTwins’ Guide to Japanese UFO Catchers

YumeTwins’ Guide to Japanese UFO Catchers

By Serena
May 26, 2022

You might have memories of going to arcade centers as a child or young adult to play video games and  crane games. Even though the crane machines were always filled with cheap plush toys and plastic mini gadgets, winning them felt like winning the world. But that is nothing compared to the experience you will have when you go to a game center or arcade in Japan.

Today we are going to focus on the Japanese crane game, which are often called UFOキャッチャー (UFO Catchers) due to the shape of the crane looking like a UFO with two arms that come out of the side.

With hundreds of thousands of machines around Japan being played daily there are definitely those who have perfected their skill at the machines. And of course there are still many of us who are often bested by them.

Want to be UFO Catcher savvy for your next trip to Japan? Follow YumeTwins’ guide for beating the UFO Catchers and winning kawaii prizes. 

Not able to make it to Japan any time soon? No problem! Check out TokyoCatch, an online virtual UFO Catcher game that lets you operate a real Japanese machine in real time anywhere in the world!

The Game Center

Game centers in Japan started in the 1950s as rooftop lounge and light entertainment areas in shopping centers for you to put the rest of your family while you shop til you drop. The modern Japanese game center is a little bit different from the western arcade you might remember as a child. One of the largest Japanese game centers that is known outside of Japan is Round1 Entertainment which broke into the US market in 2010.

For those who have been unable to experience Round1, similar places in America include Chuck E. Cheese which is more for children, and Dave & Buster’s which is more geared towards a teen and adult audience. These types of indoor entertainment centers sometimes have entire floors dedicated to crane games, classic game machines, modern games, sports, and karaoke.

But there are also smaller game centers in Japan that focus more heavily on arcade games and crane games. Two of the most popular game centers, outside of these massive entertainment centers that is Round1, to survive today are Sega, and Taito Station.  

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At these smaller game centers you are sure to find crane games of course, but also rhythm games, photo sticker booths known as purikura (print club), digital card games, and a lot more. There are many solo and multiplayer games, so game centers are a great place to hang alone or with friends. 

The Crane Machines

There are different types of machines in the Japanese arcade that can give you prizes. The UFO catcher like we mentioned before is named due to its shape, and it is of course abducting the prices from the machine. Insert Toy Story alien joke here. 

The machines themselves are filled with some high ticket items from current anime and manga series, as well as foreign movies like Disney and Marvel. Popular items are of course plushies, but also figures, accessories, tech gadgets, and even snacks!

However with the 2 pronged UFO catchers the goal isn’t always just to pick up one of these kawaii items. Sometimes you need to knock the item off of a platform or dislodge it between two bars. 

There are also the three prong claw machines that we are used to seeing in other parts of the world as well. However there are also machines that only have one hook that are meant to grab or hook onto a plastic ring that has been affixed to the prize. 

Tip #1

Get a feel for the machine. Some machines will really bleed you dry if you let them. While some machines will drop your item in two tries. There are many theories about the mechanics of the machines, but every one of them at every location is different.

Test out the machine a bit to see if you are able to get your item easily or if it looks like you will be there all day on one item.

Tip #2

Ask for help. The staff at Japanese game centers are there to help you. Even though they seem busy while running from machine to machine, they are there to help you. If your item gets stuck in a position you know you won’t be able to win from, ask them to reset the item to the original position.

If you are really really struggling and have asked the staff to reset or change the position enough time they might even take pity on you. They sometimes will give you better tips like where to grab the item or how. Sometimes they even reset it close to the goal for you! That is of course if you are nice to them!

Tip #3

Know when you quit. If it is a high priced item and you are not willing to sink some money and some time into the machine, tap out. Like we said there are many theories about the mechanics of the machines.

Theories range from the machines automatically paying out (being strong enough to do what you need to do) after a set number of plays, to them running on percentages (the machines doing what you need it to do only x% of the plays). While this can be true for some machines, it is not confirmed and definitely not a rule of thumb for every machine. If you can’t crack the code, give up before your wallet taps out.

Arcades and game centers have really changed since the days of Space Invaders on classic arcade machines. Make sure you stop in a Sega or Taito game center during your next trip to Japan for the kawaii experience! Do you think you have what it takes to master the skill of the UFO catcher in Japan?

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