I was fortunate to recently be on a business trip to Taiwan. You know, the real-life job when I’m not living out my fantasy as an actual video game journalist. But it was during the planning stages of this trip that it occurred to me, I may not have a better opportunity to visit Japan, what with it being cheaper than flying out from the UK. As a place, it has always been top of my list of dream destinations to visit. This was before I was even aware of the Yakuza/Like a Dragon games.
Then, as I have retold the story countless times, Yakuza 0 came out, changed my entire perspective on gaming, and only made Tokyo and Japan that much more of a dream destination.
I went ahead and booked a five day extension to the business trip to visit Tokyo and the real-life Kabukichō, the location that Kamurocho and many of the early games are based on. Even going as far as booking a hotel right in the centre of the red-light district.
My hotel doubles as the Millenium Tower in Kamurocho. It still manages to come complete with a cinema, a Gindaco and many other similar sites. The real-life equivalent does also have a life-size Godzilla head poking out of the outdoor terrace of the hotel. That’s because the fictional Namamichi Street is known as Godzilla Street in the real world. That may sound weird that the real-life version has a more unusual name but hey, Japan.
The vast majority of Kamurocho and Kabukicho line-up perfectly if looking at a map of them, so the next street along would be Tenkaichi Street and Ichiban-gai Street respectively. It is here where we get one of the more iconic structures.
The red gate is synonymous with the area so its inclusion in the earliest Yakuza games simply made sense.
Also along this street is a side street. It may not be as iconic as the red gate, but to long-time fans it marks the very beginning of the series. Next to Bar Serena, the very first moments of the franchise can be witnessed.
Back over on Nakamichi Street, there are a few activities that the Like a Dragon series is very well-known for: shopping and karaoke.
These karaoke places can be found on the exact same corner, both in real-life and if you were following the map of Kamurocho. I think this was the point where I realised just how much attention to detail had gone into recreating Kabukicho.
Similar to for the Don Quijote store nearby.
And if anyone is interested, yes it was playing the theme tune on repeat.
There were a couple more stops on my tour of Kabukicho still to take in. Having spent hours wandering these streets in game, I knew which way to go without the use of a map. Let me tell you, it is a very surreal experience, like literally stepping into your TV to explore an area you have spent hundreds of hours virtually touring around. But no trip to Kabukicho would be complete without a trip to Theatre Square.
Sadly, Club SEGA no longer exists in the real world. It was tough to think of the most recent game in the series that features Kamurocho in such detail, so most of these photos are from Yakuza Kiwami 2.
My final stop was a place called the Golden Gai, known in the games as the Champion District. It is a tiny area with around 300 bars in it. Many of these bars can fit less than ten people in before they reach capacity and as such it is more associated with locals frequenting rather than tourists. The small nature of the bars help create a real sense of community and many patrons will be on friendly terms with the staff that work there. But, in a bar that small, it sounds like you have no option but to strike up conversation.
Once again, Golden Gai was in the exact same location as it is in the Like a Dragon games, found to the northeast.
As I was wandering back to my hotel, I took one final picture that at first I always thought was a bit tongue-in-cheek in the world of Like a Dragon. But it wasn’t!
Choose your favourite host from these massive billboards. I didn’t want to stay around here too long though, there were plenty of barkers trying to get me into their establishments to meet some of their girls. Suppose I should have anticipated that, staying in the red-light district.
It may have only been a short time in Tokyo but I ventured outside of Kabukicho as well. And I plan on returning one day soon. Fingers crossed for another business trip to Asia in the future.
If all this has whet your appetite to finally jump into this weird and wonderful franchise, then you should. Can I suggest Yakuza 0 on Xbox, a prequel to the main series but also perhaps the strongest entry? Or any of them really, as they are all on Xbox Game Pass for you to jump in at any point.