Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Unofficial Fan Meet-Up in Yokosuka, January 2024 | Photo Report

Last weekend, an adventure with fellow Shenmue enthusiasts took us on a journey through Ryo's stomping grounds in Yokosuka. Our mission was to uncover the secrets behind Ryo's father's demise, help children name any stray kitten found... and generally have a fun day out exploring the setting of the first game in Yu Suzuki's epic series with other fans.

Grab your leather jacket and join us as we dive into a report on the day's escapades of this unofficial Shenmue fan meet-up!

Harbor Vista

The initial gathering point on this sunny afternoon was outside JR Yokosuka station, at one end of Verny Park. This was a perfect place to wait and soak up the atmosphere, as the park stretches along the harbor and provides magnificent views of ships and submarines belonging to the bases of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force on one side and the US Navy on the other.

Verny Park, Yokosuka (image credit: 怪猫)

It was fun to see all the Shenmue and Sega themed items being worn or carried - replicas of Ryo's leather jacket (including one with exquisite hand-stitched patches), Ryo's Timex watch, jeans and white sneakers, custom-made Ryo and Ren figurines, official and unofficial Shenmue T-shirts, and even a complete "black suit" cosplay that would fool Lan Di himself. Other items included Shenmue guide books and photos of prized Shenmue merchandise and items signed by Yu Suzuki and other Sega legends. The copies of SkillJim's Shenmue World magazines that I brought along also received a lot of interest from those who had not seen them before (Issue One is available for viewing online).

Two special guests (image credit: 怪猫)

A wonderful memento from EREN(echo) Small treats and gifts were shared out, and one of the group had kindly visited the tourist office beforehand to gather Shenmue guide maps. The generosity of Shenmue fans knows no bounds!

Burger Stop

After making our way along the boardwalk to the other end of the park, we crossed over to the vicinity of Dobuita, passing by the bus stop that Ryo took to his work at the harbor. Lunchtime took us to the Honey Bee - yes, the very place that inspired the delectable Funny Bear burger stand in the game. Here, tales were exchanged over burgers and fries. This was also the restaurant at which Yu Suzuki ate during his walk around the area with IGN Japan's Esra Krabbe a year ago (link to post).

Honey Bee

The restaurant fortunately has a separate downstairs room available that accommodated the whole group, and much fun was had sharing stories and thoughts about Shenmue, Yu Suzuki, Sega and many other topics over burgers and fries (and for the record, the chili dog is equal to anything from Tom's hot dog truck!).

Shenmue Chat

Upon chatting with those around me, a revelation unfolded: one among us was a former Sega-AM2 arcade game developer. The period was shortly after Yu Suzuki went on to found DigitalRex, but stories of his legendary days at AM2 abounded at the Sega office. Also gracing us with their presence were bug testers for the first two Shenmue games! They shared some insight into those bug-finding days. Imagine, all gameplay being recorded onto VHS tape, with the timestamp being noted for any glitch. A percentage was also added to represent the ease of reproducibility (e.g. being able to reproduce the behavior one time in five would be 20%). Each team of bug testers worked a 12-hour shift and each tester would document around 40 bugs per shift. Testing occurred round the clock, 6 days a week, so the bugs would have soon mounted up! 

Another interesting point came up when talking about the English versions of the games compared to the original Japanese. With the first game in particular, outside of Japan a few lines in the English version caught the player's attention due to their awkwardness, something that can often be traced to a too-literal translation ("Especially since you bought merchandise" being one iconic example). It's something that people who have played only the Japanese version would be quite unaware of, whereas these small translation quirks have formed a part of Shenmue's identity for overseas players, being viewed with some by many.

Suwa Shrine & Surrounding Area

From the Honey Bee, it was a short walk along the road towards Suwa Grand Shrine, through the large gate standing at the bottom of a narrow street leading up the hill.

Gate leading to the shrine (someone seems to have run into the pole to its right. Charlie and his pals..?) 

Despite "grand" being in its name, the shrine itself is of modest size and usually sits in peace and quiet, apart from occasions when Shenmue fans descend upon it. One change to the grounds in recent times is that it once contained an old wooden outbuilding with a sliding glass entrance door that was very similar in style to Ryo's house in the game, but this has been removed and a more modern storehouse now sits in its place.

Suwa Grand Shrine

Sightings of black cars did not escape the group's attention!

From there, we stopped outside the florist Hanamatsu, the inspiration for Nozomi's grandmother's flower shop. The scenery in this area has many Shenmue-like features: steep stairs leading up to the suburbs, a temple gate with similarities to the one at Ryo's house, and the park with its swings and a slide - I hope we didn't scare the child playing there when our troupe arrived.

Dobuita Street Stroll

Next, we made our way back to stroll along the road that is close to the heart of Shenmue fans: Dobuita Street. Whether it's your first time to visit or not, it always feels surreal to be transported into the atmosphere of the game with the sukajan jacket shops, empty parking lots for martial arts practice and Kakita's military emporium.

"Kakita Military Survival Goods" on Dobuita Street

I felt an urge to make a call on a pink telephone

On our way past the Mikasa Vol. 2 shop, which sells high-quality Japanese-made sukajan, a few of us popped in to greet the owner, who has supplied a number of jackets to Shenmue fans from around the world and is always supportive of Shenmue events. 

Dobuita Street at dusk. Almost time for a certain melody to play...


As evening descended, the group went on to enjoy the nightlife on Dobuita Street. Although I was regrettably unable to attend this part, but activities included rounds of darts, the Sega Saturn theme song "Segata Sanshiro" being sung at karaoke and possibly even orders of glasses of milk "perfect for a school boy" (this last one unconfirmed).

Lighting decorations near Shioiri train station

Closing Remarks

The meet-up was truly an unforgettable day. Witnessing the enduring passion of Shenmue fans in Japan for the franchise was magical, and the experience of meeting so many in person added a special touch. Regardless of our locations around the globe, we all shared a common wish for Shenmue to see its conclusion.

A special shout-out to the event's organizer, みんちゃん, for orchestrating this wonderful opportunity to come together and celebrate a franchise that holds a special place in our hearts.

Group photo at the shrine (image credit: みんちゃん)

Dragons don't sleep: cosplay perfection!

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  1. What a wonderful day! I wish i could visit it and learn more about shenmue real world inspiration

    1. Thanks for your comment! I hope you'll be able to see the location in person one day.

  2. I would love to join you guys in the next meet, please let me know when the next shenmue meeting is

    1. im a massive yu suzuki fan from australian since shenmue 1 ^^

    2. There's nothing definite yet for next time but keep an eye on social media for any announcement!