Note: Unfortunately, this place closed down in 2019…
Have you ever heard of the legendary Kowloon Walled City? Originally a fort for the military, the area became increasingly populated following the Japanese conquest of Hong Kong during World War II. As individuals fled from the city, the population of the Walled City increased in-step. Following the war, the area became a hotbed for crime, prostitution, gambling, and drugs under the control of the Chinese Triads. The Walled City existed largely as a lawless zone until the government intervened in 1994. At its height the massive labyrinth complex reportedly had a population density of 1.26 million inhabitants per square kilometer, making it one of the most tightly packed spaces in the world.
Today, the dystopian megalith no longer exists and the spirit of the Kowloon Walled City lives on in the most unlikely of places. Situated on the border of Tokyo and Yokohama, the legendary slum has been reborn anew. Known as Kawasaki Warehouse, this modern Japanese arcade invokes the imagery of the Walled City as its design motif. Though packed with every game imaginable, the establishment makes visitors feel as if they have traveled back in time.
How to Get There
Getting to Kawasaki Warehouse is easy. A mere few minutes walk from the station will have you at the front door in no time. Just take the Keihin Tohoku line from Shinagawa and you’ll reach Kawasaki in a matter of minutes. The facility itself is easily recognizable from it surroundings. You’ll know you found it when you see a grimy looking building in an otherwise typically sterile area. Nevertheless here’s a map just in case.
Kawasaki Warehouse is the perfect half-day trip for those looking for a unique experience and can be explored in just a few hours. Visitors should be aware that they have a meagerly enforced 18+ policy. While the chances of being carded here (or anywhere else in Japan) are slim it would be wise to bring an ID just in case. In fact, save for Japanese nationals, you officially need to carry either your passport of residence card while in Japan anyway so be sure to remember it.
The Kowloon Walled City
The interior of the game center is designed to mimic the vertical hierarchy of the Walled City. According to hearsay, many areas of the city had little if any access to direct sunlight. In turn, this lead to a situation where things grew progressively slummier the lower one went in the labyrinth. This vibe has been faithfully recreated within the Kawasaki Warehouse arcade.
Immediately upon entering the facility you’ll be greeted with the reality of the lower recesses. The real Kowloon Walled City was known for high levels of unlicensed doctors and prostitution and these have been authentically represented within the layout. Crowded and claustrophobic, you’ll immediately notice these hideous trappings of poverty when looking around.
Before ascending to the second level, be sure to follow the crimson lighting toward the back exit. Here you’ll be greeted by what looks like it could be a secret entrance to one of the triad’s underground lairs. Just remember to watch your footing or you’ll end up in the green goo!
After snapping a few shots, head back down the tunnel to the escalator. From here you’ll be heading up to the second floor where all the games are located.
Kawasaki Warehouse’s Upper Levels
After ascending the escalator from the first floor, look up. You’ll be greeted by a two-story panorama of what living inside of the city would have looked like. Surveying the area, you’ll find a dizzying array of storefronts, drying laundry, and open-front meat shops. The level of detail the Kawasaki Warehouse goes to recreate this façade is really incredible. Be sure to visit the toilets for an authentically grimy scene you’ll never see anywhere else in Japan!
On the second floor you’ll find legendary arcade games such as Street Fighter and Dance Dance Revolution. The upper floors alternatively have darts, billiards, and the like. Nevertheless, I suggest you don’t make a bee line for these just yet. Instead, check out more of the interior that was inspired by the Walled City.
After exploring a bit, head up to the third floor for a better vantage point. Here you’ll have a great view of the scene you were just looking at from below. Also, be sure to check out the collection of gambling games such as Mahjong and horse racing that fascinates many mature males. Along with Pachinko, these games are some of the ways that Japanese men pass the time when not working.
If you’re still up for more, the fourth floor exhibit presents a stark contrast to the three below. In keeping with the vertically hierarchy of the Walled City, the final level is much more elegant. While the actual complex likely did not have anything like this, Kawasaki Warehouse does remain faithful to the top-down idea of the actual Walled City here.
Time to Get Your Game On
After exploring the labyrinth, feel free to get your game on! This arcade has every type of genre one could hope for but I highly suggest that you check out the retro game corner first. It’s located near the escalator from the first floor on the right-hand side by the meat shop.
You’ll discover some old gems that you can’t find anywhere else in Japan (or the rest of the world for that matter). For example, among these decade-old machines is the original Gauntlet from 1985. This legendary game is believed to be one of the forefathers of the entire “hack n’ slash” genre. Additionally, there is also the ancient UFO catcher should you want to try your luck.
Gaming fans will also find almost every edition of fighting game known to man near the far end of the room. Robot and Gundam fans should also give the simulation pod a try. This type of game is something that can only be experienced in Japan and is a great way to use up all those 100 yen coins taking up space in your pocket.
All in all the number of games and entertainment options within the four stories of the Kawasaki Warehouse is as mind boggling as its interior. If you’re in the area I highly suggest you stop by if only for a quick peek inside. Even if you’re not into gaming, it’s well worth the trip just to appreciate the remarkable level of historical detail that went into reconstructing the Kawasaki Warehouse.
Until next time travelers…