A Day of Magic at Hareruya
Collectible Card Games are thriving in Tokyo, and Magic is no exception. Add a unique culture to the mix and you end up with a very distinct and friendly Local Game Store experience. I spent a day at Tokyo’s biggest LGS and have the inside scoop on Japanese MTG.
I recently had the chance to spend three weeks in Japan’s capital, Tokyo. The city is crowded like few others and subcultures thrive here in a big way. One of these subcultures revolves around CCGs (Collectible Card Games), for which there are lots of stores. Many Japanese employees head to the store after work to relax, crack some packs, and/or play some games. This holds just as true for one of Japan's most famous CCG stores - Hareruya. If you go there at 11 o’clock on a weekday, you can already play your first tournament before lunch. I couldn’t believe that was the case, so on one Tuesday morning, I made my way to Takadanobaba Station and entered the store.
Coming into Hareruya it doesn’t seem that impressive - that is, until you turn right and see the sheer size of the store. The shop area is huge (especially impressive since space is very limited in Tokyo) but the play area is even bigger. I was greeted by one of the employees while making my way to register for the Modern tournament. The list of players wasn’t too long, but all three formats (Standard, Modern, Legacy) had players, which really shows the size of Hareruya's community, as you'd rarely if ever see something like that in Europe.
Before the first round started, I had a chance to check out the rest of the store. There’s a set of computers for you to place card orders, and their feature match area streams the first table to Twitch at all times.
Another unique trait of Japanese stores involved the vending machines. Tokyo has a lot of vending machines for drinks and food throughout every corner of the city. Japanese MTG stores have adapted this trend and offer vending machines for booster packs. This was very tempting for someone who loves cracking packs like I do!
While I was pondering the idea of buying packs, an announcer let everyone know the tournaments started and so I made my way over.
Playing Magic in Japan may be different from what you're used to in Europe. To understand where these differences come from, you have to understand a key aspect of Japanese culture. Everyone in Japan will stand on the left side of the escalator, walk on the right with virtually no exceptions. You are aware of the space you are occupying and will apologize if you are in someone’s way.
In short: everyone will go out of their way not to cause any inconvenience for others.
All of this manifests in gaming culture as well. Before you start playing a game of Magic, you’ll lay out your fifteen sideboard cards to show you’re not up to anything sketchy. You'll do the same with your opening hand, showing that you drew the right number of cards. While you can argue that this wouldn’t stop a potential cheater, it’s more about the gesture than anything else.
As soon as the round starts, you’ll hear everyone say “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” - a phrase to which whole articles have been dedicated. In this case, it means something along the lines of “please excuse any inconvenience we might encounter during the game” or “to a good game”.
In my experience, Japanese Magic players are very clear about everything they do in the game. Even though I don’t speak Japanese, the board state was never unclear. All my judge calls were about oracle wordings or rules interactions. This made the gameplay feel very smooth and relaxed while still playing competitive Magic.
After finishing my tournament 2-1 I could’ve signed up for the next one right away, but I decided to go out and get lunch instead. If I wanted to, I could always come back later: tournaments would be happening until 8pm after all.
Exploring Magic in Japan was a very interesting experience. The community is enormous, the sheer number of stores make for competitive rates on cards and booster pack vending machines are a genius idea. What sticks with me the most though is the culture of respect for the game and your opponent. It creates such a welcoming environment and makes the gameplay feel true and clean while not taking away any of the competitiveness.
If you want to take something away from this article, let it be this: you don’t have to lay out your sideboard before playing every match, but respecting each other and being aware of how your actions affect others will lead to a more enjoyable experience for everyone - in Magic and elsewhere
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.