Monday, November 18, 2019

Farewell, Kawasaki Warehouse Arcade | A Slice of Kowloon Walled City

Today's post, written by Patrick Fuller, is a tribute to the arcade building in Kawasaki that closed down yesterday. It realistically recreated a magical slice of the once-existing Kowloon Walled City that Ryo explores in Shenmue II, and that magic can be seen in his photographs and walk-through video.

About the author: Patrick (Paddy) Fuller
I’ve been a Shenmue fan since back in 2002 and have not been able to get this series out of my head since. The world has so much depth and presents something new with every playthrough. Just when you think you’ve seen all the game has to offer, comes along with another brilliant article exploring some of the in-depth cultural references and minutiae that would otherwise go overlooked. Thanks to Switch for allowing me to contribute.

I’m @patrickjfuller on Instagram and @paddyjfuller on Twitter if you want to follow me for pictures of Japan. I travel at least once a year and will be in Hong Kong over Christmas.
On 17th November 2019, just two days before a new chapter in Shenmue history opens, a popular spot on the Shenmue pilgrimage tour closed. The Kawasaki branch of the Anata No Warehouse ('Your Warehouse') chain was a five-story amusement arcade that was renowned for its recreation of the gritty, urban atmosphere of Kowloon’s infamous Walled City, but has now shut its doors for the final time.

There’s no turning back for Ryo now.

Anyone who has embarked on a Shenmue pilgrimage will testify that there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu when walking down Dobuita Street for the first time. The fact that a place you’ve never visited can feel so familiar is a testament to Shenmue’s ability to capture the atmosphere of a place in the real world.

Kowloon’s ‘Walled City’, perhaps the most atmospheric place in the Shenmue series, was one that fans of the game would never get to experience in real life: due to the city’s demolition in 1993.

That all changed in 2009 when art director Taishiro Hoshino opened the Walled City replica in Kawasaki, on the outskirts of Greater Tokyo, proving that Yu Suzuki was not the only Japanese creative with a talent for recreating the atmosphere of a real world location. 

Last year, Switch and I traveled to the Kawasaki Warehouse to take some pictures.

Models of the Proposed Recreation

Much like Suzuki, Hoshino went into painstakingly meticulous detail to recreate the look, mood, and even sound of the Walled City.

These photos show how intricate small-scale models were created, for planning the actual construction.
Framework with measurements on card
Competed model with building exteriors and walkways

The Real-Life Building: Video Walkthrough

That detail is evident right from the building’s exterior: not unlike its real-life counterpart, the Kawasaki Warehouse sticks out from its surroundings like a sore thumb. Nestled between typically clean, symmetrical Japanese office buildings, the Walled City themed arcade looks intimidating. Boasting rusted metal walls and a run-down exterior, the only indication that this building isn’t abandoned is the garish neon lights at the top. If you zoom in you can see Yuanda Zhu calling for help.

Anata No Warehouse exterior view. As you can see, it sticks out like a sore thumb. (Image: Wikipedia)
The grimy front entrance,decorated with rust and industrial-sized pipes.
As you walk through the main entrance, the doors open automatically as if boarding an unmaintained Starship Enterprise, and you find yourself in completely different environment. Upon entry, a sudden and loud hiss, as if a pipe has burst, hits you as you venture down a dimly-lit alley with grimy walls. You are now in Kowloon: all around you are neon-lit storefronts, worn down walls, Chinese posters and the sounds of people speaking Cantonese coming at you from all angles. A sensory overload.

Check out this video to experience the walkthrough:

To create this authentic look, Taishiro Hoshino and his team not only studied old photographs and videos of Kowloon to capture its atmosphere but also imported items from Hong Kong itself. They even shipped over actual rubbish to add another level of authenticity. To put this into perspective: Ichiro Yoshida, a Japanese foreign exchange student who lived in the real Walled City, recognized a poster that was in his apartment back in Kowloon when visiting the Kawasaki arcade.
Posters and advertisements adorn the walls.
Whether it’s the Bruce Lee movie posters, neon signs, birdcages, electric fans or old CRT TVs, this place feels authentic.  As much as Dobuita Street feels like Shenmue I, this place feels like Shenmue 2; the only thing missing is rickety wooden planks.

A plethora of signboards
Arcade machines among the run-down facades
To add to the Shenmue vibes, the arcade holds several Yu Suzuki arcade machines, including the full cabinets for Out Run and Space Harrier.

At the start line in Out Run.
Space Harrier: intense concentration is needed.
It’s difficult to think that the team behind the making of the Anata no Warehouse weren’t in some way influenced by Suzuki, and if the Kowloon theme and plethora of AM2 classics wasn’t enough, the exit to the car park looks suspiciously like a QTE. You be the judge…

Unfortunately this is one QTE that can’t be done over. The reason why the Kawasaki Warehouse is closing is still not yet known but one thing is for sure, as a key spot on the Shenmue pilgrimage, it will be missed.

If you weren’t lucky enough to have been able to visit, I hope you enjoyed this article.

What better way to say goodbye, than with a game of darts...

Picture Gallery

The entrance from the parking lot

A perfectly-working vending machine, artfully discolored
Kowloon City was home to inhabitants of all types.
If you're after a snack...

The detail extends to the interiors of rooms
Even the men's bathroom was given the full Kowloon Walled City treatment (rumor has it that the women's bathroom is sparkling, however)
"Excuse me, I'm looking for the Wise Men's Quarter..."

Warehouse Kawasaki - Notice of closure.. "Please use up any tokens we are holding for you before our last day."
Many thanks to Paddy for this submission. I'm sure there are many who have fond memories of visiting the Kawasaki Arcade.

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  1. i visited this (and dobuita) in september - so glad i did. i didn't take a lot of pictures bc my intention was to make a video and post on youtube for the community, but i didn't want to post a lot of pictures of a private business. wish i'd taken more pictures now!!

    1. That was lucky timing for your visit! Yes, I think they discouraged photos to be taken, but now that's all we have left...

  2. A friend and I went in mid November in 2019. I believe it was one of the last few days. They allowed people to take all the photos they wanted, however, you couldn't set up any standing lights. More of, capture your memories, but don't take 'professional content'. I watched a salaryman completely own a session of OutRun and Space Harrier. Then he calmly stood up, grabbed his bag and left. It was an amazing experience. I'll never forget it.

    1. That's a great story! This was truly an amazing piece of history that I wish would have stayed around for many more years.