“The Claw is Your Master: You Must Obey the Claw”

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The Japanese are big on gaming: video games, computer games, arcades, and slot machines. I was just informed that recently a man married a video game character. Some even have life-sized pillows in the shape of video game characters in their rooms. So they’re really into it. We saw at least two arcades in the mall near the hotel that we were staying in. They’re loud and exciting. Lights flash as children and adults (and extremely intense teenage gamers) play their games and win their prizes. The most fun game we decided would be one in which you use a claw to win prizes. How thrilling would it be to win a little bear key chain?! And it looked so easy; you just tell the claw where to go. They looked so cute all cramped up together. How adorable. Yeah right.

Not only was it the hardest game to play (one of us did win exactly one large cheese doodle from the same kind of claw-like machine), it seemed to be the most addicting. We were able to walk away from a pogo-stick game when we were told that we were too old. And we were able to walk away from the train game when it wasn’t fun (which only took us about one and a half minutes to realize). But somehow, we kept returning to this one machine. By this time, we had blown 1000 yen (about 10 dollars) on that one machine, each time believing we were one step closer to winning the prized animal key chain. But we didn’t win anything. Yet.

After trying other games, we returned to our key chain machine. We watched another Japanese boy (who was with his mother and had, without any question, been to this arcade before). He had a bag full of prizes, so we knew he would be legitimate. He had a technique. If you position the claw to where you think it should go, you must also check the side of the machine to look at it from a different angle. Ahhhhhhh. The secret was out. We used this technique to our advantage, and, after another 500 yen (5 dollars) worth of tries, my friend finally wins the sought-after keychain. Some celebrating was necessary. We had cracked the code. Sealed the deal. Whatever. Even the little boy whom we had mildly stalked to obtain his secret strategy smiled.

As we leave, a young couple walks up to the machine. They speak Japanese, of course, but I can pretty much assume they were saying something like:

“Oh, honey, would you like one of these key chains? I can try to get one for you,” says the boy.

“Awww. That’s so sweet. And they’re so cute! I would love one!” exclaims the girl.

“OK. Here goes nothing,” the boy replies.

He wins it for her. On the first try. Beginner’s luck.

It’s been an amazing trip so far. Not only have some of us won games in arcades, but we have also had the opportunity to practice meditation in a Buddhist temple, visit a famous tea shop, and participate in an ancient tea ceremony – among many other things. When we have free time, we can sometimes shop for all of the different trinkets that make Japan unique. And we perform for thousands of people, hoping to warm their hearts and make them feel something. It’s only been a week, but it feels like forever.

– Dani