On November 5, Sega Sammy announced that it would sell all of its arcades. Sega Sammy, the partner company of Sega Entertainment, said it would sell 85.1% of its shares in Sega Entertainment to Genda Inc, an amusement machine company. The move comes months after Sega closed its iconic Akihabara arcade in August due to the significant losses and obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic had caused.
If the announcement feels like the end of an era, it’s because it simply is.
Sega is one of Japan’s most recognized companies, mostly because of its video game business (which remains unaffected by the demise of the company’s arcade business). Sega, much like Nintendo, has come to shape the video game culture in Japan and what people around the world think of the country. Sega contributions to Japan’s soft power simply cannot be denied. Sega has created more than 500 games and 70 franchises, among its most popular ones being Sonic the Hedgehog, whose first game was released in 1991. Other vastly popular franchises are Super Monkey Ball and Yakuza. Yakuza has been so incredibly successful both commercially and critically that it has led to film adaptation; and Sonic, being Sega’s mascot, has become one of those beloved and legendary Japanese characters alongside the likes of Mario and Pikachu.
When Sega announced that it would close its towering Akihabara arcade that for many years greeted those walking form Kanda River to the Akihabara district, people from both Japan and overseas felt the crushing loss, many lamenting that they wouldn’t be able to see the building one last time because of the multiple restrictions enforced due to the pandemic. However, there were still hopes that Sega Entertainment would survive all this. The November 5 announcement, however, served as the final nail to the coffin.
While to many the demise of Sega’s arcade business is nothing but a casual and unavoidable effect of the pandemic and the nature of capitalism that sees some businesses fail and others rise. However, Sega and its influence in Japan has really come to shape the nation’s culture and its global strength. The world of anime, manga, and video arcades that has come to define neighborhoods like Akihabara and help magnify otaku culture serves as a quintessential aspect of Japan. Love it or hate it, this culture is a truly unique aspect of Japan, and the current changes Akihabara is seeing will significantly alter the neighborhood.
No, Akihabara will not stop being an anime and manga mecca, but the sudden disappearance of Sega and the knowledge that it will never return will forever serve as a reminder of how the pandemic altered Japan as frequent visitors and tourists alike yearn for the olde days when Sega’s multiple arcades served as beacons of entertainment, welcoming people to the unspoiled charms of Akihabara, Tokyo, and Japan.
What’s more, since Saga video arcades are located all across Japan, many cities and neighborhoods will have to bid farewell to the iconic name. In Tokyo, Kabukicho is another district that is known for its video arcades, the Sega one being very easy to spot thanks to its prime location across from Toho Cinemas.
As a whole, Sega will survive the pandemic, and its video game business will continue to thrive. However, the disappearance of its video game arcades due to the shift in consumers’ trends and the pandemic is a great loss to the culture Sega helped build and maintain for decades. This is not simply the loss of a bunch of arcades, it’s the end of a defining era.