Japan Trip 2017–2018: Medal Games at the Ameyoko Horse Racing Hall

David Cabrera
6 min readMar 5, 2018

A friend guided me to a very specialized arcade buried in the Ameyoko shopping district in Ueno. This Adores location has no rows of traditional arcade cabinets, no music games, and no Gundam. Rather, the place is devoted entirely to a single genre: the medal game.

Trinity Fortune 3 at the Ameyoko Adores in Ueno.

If you have an itch for a gambling experience, but you’d rather be entertained than have a chance at winning real cash stakes, medal games are made specifically for you and Japan’s old folks. Trade some cash for medals, bring them over to the machine, and then kick back. The games are simple variations on classic gambles (sometimes several gambles at once) that play themselves. (One notable exception is Konami’s series of Mysterious Dungeon clones, Eternal Knights, which is actually really good??) All you need to do at any of these games is insert medals, watch the show, and wait for the result.

ColorColatta 2 (I am pretty sure) at Leisure Land in Akiba. A roulette game that also plays bingo and two other games on your screen, based on the results of the roulette. I played this with the saddest man in the world.

What do you do with the medals you get when you win? Nothing. You can play longer, and you can save your medal balance for another day, but that’s it. That’s the existential beauty of it. There are no prizes and no stakes, just gambling, the chance to gamble again, and the inevitability of ruin. It’s relaxing.

This beast, which blew my mind when I first saw it, is Sega’s Galileo Factory.

The game is a simple coin pusher with a delightfully overdone gimmick: this roller-coaster-like network of tubes which sometimes delivers rubber balls onto the play field. It takes a while to actually see this apparatus in action, and that’s one of the ways the game gets your money. I seriously spent 3000 yen on this dumb thing trying to get a jackpot out of it. (”You’ll never see one of these things again,” I told myself.)

The cranks at either side of the panel fire medals like a machine gun onto the play field, allowing you to spend way too much money way too fast in an extremely exciting way. The temptation to Gatling gun change is too much. The act is too satisfying. It’s like making it rain, and it’s totally useless if you’re trying to win. But you’re not trying to win, are you? You’re playing a medal game, after all.

Push medals out into one of the six holes on the sides of the display, and you get a few medals back while the slot machine on your screen spins. If you get lucky there’s a bonus game (this is where the balls and tubes come into play), and if you win big, medals burst onto the play area like a gushing waterfall. Even so, that doesn’t mean you get all those medals. The illusion of all that cascading change only makes you feel like you won, encouraging you to play some more. I never saw a real jackpot and I probably wouldn’t have seen one another 2000 yen later.

This one is Konami’s Fortune Trinity 3, another coin pusher. The center area of this machine is actually a giant, rotating, multi-side screen that has a different game on each side. “Ocean Jackpot” is a (real, physical) roulette board, “World Jackpot” a big-screen board game, and “Ground Jackpot” is a (real, physical) pachinko/plinko board. If you get a chance at one of those jackpots, the screen simply spins to you. By contrast to my Galileo run, my host kr won a jackpot on this game that continued for so long that we had to leave before it was done.

These behemoth machines are meant for five or six people to sit down at any side of them, and that means it’s sort of a communal experience. There’s limited in-game chat in these games (“ganbare!” all around) but people pretty much sit down at these things to zone out and be left alone.

Though the place is well kept by its constantly-busy attendants, it can get smoky, especially if you’re sitting next to the wrong senior citizen. A side effect of thousands of metal coins flowing endlessly through all these different machines is that you’ll notice an actual layer of dirt on your hands after you’ve played for a while. Employees wear gloves.

Starhorse 3. The seats expand into a two-seater if you have company.

A floor above these games is the real wonder of the place, the Horse Racing Hall itself. This might well be the only place in the world where you can see Sega’s entire StarHorse series all running in the same room. Each of these games is an installation unto itself, and the hall has multiples of each version. There are warnings on the walls not to yell at the other players when their horses win.

StarHorse Returns (I presume 1).

By this point I was already all out of medals, and StarHorse is a commitment that involves signing up for an account and everything.

StarHorse 2.

(This is a distinct game from Derby Owners’ Club, by the way. Arcade DOC was quietly retired in the early ’10s and moved to mobile.)

The top floor is more horses and simple, standard medal games, which are pretty much straight-up slot machines. You can also play real slots and pachinko for medals in the back.

FEATUREWORLD

And yes, there is a Castlevania (Akumajo Dracula) medal game.

I took this picture moments after the all-over screen showed the famous “field of flowers” scene from MGS3. At the former TRY Tower in Akiba.

(There’s also a slot machine remake of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which I’m pretty sure qualifies as sacrilege.)

Ameyoko at night, around 10 or so. This lively district gets intimidatingly quiet.

I hung out in Ueno and Ameyoko a few times on my vacation and the place has a charm in and of itself. If you’re a tourist it’s totally worth hitting up Ameyoko; they’re ready for you. Just avoid prime weekend hours. It was a pushing, shoving sea of people the first time I went. And check out the horses.

I write for a living, but not every idea is something I can sell. This Medium is for fun, and for the pieces that don’t find a home elsewhere. If you’d like to support what I’m doing, I recently opened a ko-fi so you can buy me a coffee. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

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David Cabrera

Sooolar wind. Anime/games writer. Sometimes on @polygon? @Kawaiikochans is the sum of my efforts. Serious about stupid.