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Let’s tour Japan’s largest hobby shop chain and nerd heaven, Yellow Submarine

by Ron Duwell | May 19, 2016May 19, 2016 10:30 am PDT

Greetings from across the ocean! We’re in Japan today, as I am everyday, and this is a country that is world famous for its hobbies and collectibles. Toys, cartoons, models, card games, video games, and just about anything that can settle within the realm of “nerd.” If the human mind can fathom it, someone in Japan loves it, and, more than likely, you can buy it somewhere.

The big question, though, is what stores do you shop at? Where are the best places to pick up these mystical collectibles that people travel all over the world for? Of course, the two most famous places in Japan to go shopping for such treasures are Tokyo’s Akihabara district and it’s little Osaka sibling, DenDen Town. However, not everyone, including yours truly, lives in either of these huge urban centers and can drop everything they are doing at a whim to go shopping.

90% or more of the population lives within a few miles of the coast, but even then, Japan’s got an awful lot of coasts.

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In that case, you need a hobby shop within reach of your non-Tokyo or non-Osaka home, and in my experience, the most prevalent of these is Yellow Submarine. Excluding the used book stores like Furuhon Ichiba and Book Off, these are the more hardcore locations where you’ll find your more niche kinds of hobbies. And when I say most prevalent, I really mean it. Osaka’s DenDen Town has three of these within a city block of each other, each of them specializing in a different kind of obscure hobby.

Generally speaking, though, Yellow Submarine caters mostly to those who jam to collectible card games, again, like yours truly. I’m searching for information to confirm this, because I have only heard it in discussion with an area manager, but Yellow Submarine was specifically founded by a guy who just wanted to play Magic: The Gathering in Japan, and his shops bloomed into the stores we have today.

On the shop’s official website, I’m counting 28 different locations in cities extending to smaller urban areas like Himeji, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and even Sapporo. Some of these specialize in card games, others specialize in collectible hobbies. Today, we’ll be touring the store in downtown Kobe, one of the few that specializes in both!

Kobe’s Yellow Submarine shop is found in the downtown Sannomiya district. Roughly halfway through the Sannomiya Center Street shopping arcade, a small escalator in the Center Plaza will take shoppers to a second floor hallway, and, generally speaking, this section of Kobe is exclusively a shop for the Otaku crowd. Yellow Submarine might be the first shop they’ll stumble across, apart from a shady pet shop tucked away behind it, but further down the hall are loads of gaming arcades, crane machine shops, anime and manga stores, and lots of cosplay and other goods retailers.

More on that later, though. Today, we’re just going to duck into Yellow Submarine and see what we can kick up. The shop is divided into two distinct sections, the left side dedicated to figurines and anime collectible goods, and the right side being all card and board games.

As you can see in the gallery below, the shop has no shortage of capsule machines and anime toys. Walls and walls of just the most obscure, ridiculous little figurines that maybe your biggest Otaku friend might be able to recognize. I certainly can’t.

And even getting beyond the anime toys, Japanese collectors have this crazy obsession with collecting almost anything that can be turned into a miniature. I mean, some of the food found here is pretty tame. I once bumped into a capsule machine that sold miniature movie theater chairs. That’s it. Just… miniature movie theater chairs that folded as they would in the theater. Black, purple, brown. They had all the colors, too…

Of course, not everything is totally obscure. There’s plenty of Dragon Ball, Mario, Rurouni Kenshin, Dragon Quest, Attack on Titan, and those silly idol superstar anime toys that all the kids are into these days. Gundam Models, too. Lots and lots of Gundam Models. I’ve always been tempted, but have never had the courage to pick one up. Maybe as a departing present if I ever leave this country.

In between the walls of cheap plastic toys and card games, the middle of the shop houses its bigger, more expensive figurines. Star Wars, Godzilla, some really old Ultraman antiques. More along my tastes when it comes to entertainment.

And then we come to the card game section. In Kobe, we have a huge non-Japanese population, meaning that Magic: The Gathering is actually bigger here than some of the local card games. English cards are quite easy to come by at the Sannomiya Yellow Submarine, and they are also pushed to the front of the store. Legacy shelves, modern shelves, standard shelves. You know what I mean if you play Magic.

This place even has a weekly discount in which certain cards will be dropped a few bucks for a week. Green Legacy one week, and then all the Red Standard cards will follow the next. Gives plenty of incentive to just drop by and see what you can pick up at a cheaper price than usual. I got a great deal on my Thrun, the Last Troll, through these sales.

Behind the Magic cards is everything else. As you can plainly see, Japan is home to countless cards games of its own. Too many for me to count. Too many for me to care about. Some feature neat anime art, others pretty girls in those popular girl bands. Then there are the bubblegum anime girls that the grown men play with together in the tables in the back.

I’ve never gotten into the anime card games before, but I am grateful for their existence. Because of them, Magic has competition in Japan that it does not have in North America, and it is also much cheaper here than back in the States as well. Booster packs are at least a dollar cheaper, sometimes more if the exchange rate is in our favor. Same goes for singles, where you can find excellent deals on English cards, which are always marked down from the Japanese standard prices.

However, while I’ve never gotten into the anime girl card games, the card sleeves are a whole other matter. I play with them with a huge sense of irony, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

As mentioned before, Yellow Submarine also provides a cheap place for gamers to crash for the afternoon and play a few games with one another. The tables in the back aren’t the most comfortable, but they are free to use, and that in itself is a rare treat for anything in Japan. What is this “free,” you mention? Can you cook it?

The vending machines are also reflective of the audience the stores bring in. Sugary energy drinks to keep the games flowing!

I’ve dabbled in the Yellow Submarines in Himeji, Kyoto, and all three down in Osaka as well, and they are easily the best places to dig up Magic cards or whatever you are looking for. If you ever wind up in Tokyo, Osaka, or, heck, if you accidentally stumble into Kobe, it should provide a pretty solid selection to get your shopping day started. It’s only more obscure and more fantastical from there.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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