Trading Card Games and Japanese Culture
Hello and good day or evening everyone, I am The AlphonZeus of Team Gradelock and Team Vision, with you once more as we dive into a different topic for today. In terms of trading card game culture, the United States of America has quite established its aggressive playstyle in multiple TCGs and a strong secondary market for singles and sealed product. However, this time, we will adventure into Japan and the trading card game culture within it.
First, Japan has embraced trading card game culture as a largely popular hobby. In the USA, we have local trading card game stores (“locals”) and big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target that carry sealed product for some of the most popular TCGs. However, in Japan, you can find trading card games practically everywhere. There are numerous stores across the country, and you can find a plethora of boosters from various places. From supermarkets to 7-11, there are boosters throughout Japan you can pick up whenever you need to take a trip to a store. In fact, about 1 out of every 3 people in Japan would have picked up a TCG in middle school and continue to play those TCGs throughout their lives. In fact, it’s less more viewed as a “children’s card game” and more of an accepted hobby.
For locals, there are very few regions in the USA that have plenty of locals to head to, but Japan’s acceptance of the TCG industry brought forth plenty of stores to play and buy/sell cards. Since the public transportation system in Japan is quite robust, it enables a wide demographic of all residents to travel to various different locals without having to use a car. In fact, these locals hold “teaching days” that attract potential new players to stop by and learn how to play the game. Nakakano (fellow Vision member and source for this information) would help run events like this for high school students. Furthermore, there are events that would take place as late as 7PM or 8PM. This is because of the many players that have their day jobs, so it is common to see players in their business wear playing at a local event.
However, when there are so many locals to visit, the size is not really a factor. There are some events (whether the regular local tournament or special event tournament) held that have a hard cut off at 20+ players to accommodate for spacing. Additionally, there is not much of a huge secondary market in Japan to buy and sell cards from other people. You would either sell your cards to the local stores, which have a buylist in place for your trading card games, or you would sell amongst your friend group. There is no established player-focused market website like TCGPlayer and cardmarket.
Although there is not quite a TCGPlayer in Japan, they have a site much like eBay for secondary sales. This is called Mercari. What sets this website apart is that each sale has its own thread where visitors can comment on that particular sales listing. This type of conversation between the seller and the potential buyers can help facilitate communication about the card itself such as its condition and asking price. Nakakano believes that because of this feature, there are very few instances of fraud that take place on Mercari. The website also waits until the transaction is over end before the money clears unlike other third-party merchant providers like PayPal. Mercari also offers buyer protection and other measures in those few instances of fraud.
If you are looking to make money as a solo vendor in Japan, you will not have much luck. Vendors in general (whether they play, collect, or both) are not as common in Japan because of the two safe options of selling/buying from your friend or your locals. Additionally, Vanguard cards in particular are very cheap, especially premium cards. The locals already have a strong incentive to buy and sell cards from their player base to foster a sense of community and to add convenience to players that are seeking cards out to complete their decks. Friend groups also buy packs and invest in case splits together. There are not many (if at all) opportunities for vendors to sell case splits to other players. This type of environment and comradery focuses on the “gacha” element of the TCG hobby. To explain, gacha is a type of game where you would use currency (whether in-game free/premium currency or loot boxes) to obtain cards or characters that you would need to better progress through the hobby or game. So, these friend groups that invest together hope to pull the cards they want, especially the higher rarity versions of them.
There is an audience in Japan that wants to achieve owning a maximum rarity deck, similar to the USA. They either have a special liking to the deck, or are generally interested in having their own high rarity collections. Stores normally would sell out of the high raritiy stock quite quickly and early. For example, Nakakano woke up at 7AM and got to his store around 7:30AM to pick up Tsukuyomi SPs on the launch day at V Booster Set 5: Aerial Steed Liberation. However, there were already 15 people there that seemed to have arrived as early as 6AM to pick them up as well. Unfortunately, he was only able to get one copy of Goddess of the Crescent Moon, Tsukuyomi SP. He had to travel out to Akiba to try and find another store to pick up the remaining copies. The caveat to this is that Nakakano is one of a number of players to fall within this maximum rarity dream, but very few competitive players approach this because they tend to play different types of decks simultaneously.
In America, it seems that we are slowly catching up to the maximum rarity dreams. My own playgroup was not as hellbent on completing a maximum rarity deck early on in Cardfight!! Vanguard’s scene, but the longer that I have played the game, the more incentivized I was to choose a clan and then attempt to have a max rarity deck. I seem to have noticed that more competitive players like to showcase their maximum rarity decks in their accolades. I was only able to have a standard Dark Irregulars deck maximum rarity, before their new support in V Booster Set 6: Phantasmal Steed Restoration. Now, I’m trying to figure out how I would approach God Hand, but I digress. Japan has quite the knack for higher rarity cards, creating more different types of higher rarities that would increasingly belabor collectors to seek out their playset for a decent price. With multiple rarities taking place as far back as Wedding SPs for Bermuda Triangle in G-Clan Booster 3: Blessing of Divas, Bushiroad has taken an approach to create multiple higher rarity cards over the past few years since the before the establishment of Standard.
Instead of higher rarity cards, Japan has been enamored with other accessories like playmats and sleeves. In particular, character sleeves and convention exclusive sleeves have such potential value gain over the long run, that a few years out from an accessory’s release, that value can be worth just as much or even more than the trading card singles themselves. Japan’s biggest festival to pick up such accessories lies within its celebrated fair of Comiket. Starting 1975 in Tokyo, Comiket brings together a do-it-yourself, grassroots approach to merchants that wish to sell their own self-published works to fans. This festival is celebrated twice a year and has become the largest fan convention in the world. You can find items ranging from manga to autographed artwork, but trading card games accessories are a huge part of Comiket’s inventory. Dozens of vendors flock to this convention to pick up such items to sell across the world.
After gearing up with your decks, one intriguing feature of the TCG hobby is the number of special events available to attend. Japan has been particularly spoiled with many different types of events with exclusive cards just for those events. For example, the Congratulations promos are complete foiled, not just the un-foiled, alternate art with hot-stamps that USA locals have for their tournaments. Unlike events in the USA, Japanese local events do not last the whole day. However, there are sometimes special guest appearances, free fights, sneak peek presentations on upcoming products are games like a card art gallery, and even a live musical performance. There are even direct collaborations between Bushiroad and major Japanese locals like C-Labo that presented the Misaki-Kourin wedding playmat. There are some larger local tournaments too like the Akiba GP. These events are held twice or thrice every week, accommodating both Standard and Premium-Standard. Some of these events are also female-exclusive to help women get into the hobby more as well. There are usually 1-2 female players in the local tournament events, so these events hope to attract more into the hobby.
The last point I would like to bring up is the difference in playstyle. Nakakano still stands by the mentality that Japanese players are still play conservatively, focusing on heavy resource building. There are still the similar fields between Japan and the USA in terms of playerbase. You still have the collectors, competitive, and casual players that show up to these events. Japanese competitive players always follow the meta and what is the strongest deck at the time, the casual players would play their favorite clan or whatever they are comfortable with, and collectors usually have the maximum rarity decks are not as invested on playing in tournament events. Nakakano concludes with the argument that a rare subset of players in Japan consistently top because of their preference for resource building and not adopting the Western playstyle of big push turns and aggression. He still needs to gather more data regarding this, but this was the note of his observations living abroad in Japan.
On that note, I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article, and learned something new about Japan’s trading card game culture. This is The AlphonZeus of Team Gradelock and Team Vision signing off, and take care!
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