Arcades, amusements, and fun fairs; terms that immediately invoke scenes of fun and youthful adventure. Of all the games associated with these delightful venues, there is none more synonymous than that of the dreaded crane game (or claw machine depending on your preference). I say dreaded crane game, due to their fickle and frustrating nature, but in truth they are incredibly fun.
But while many of them here in the UK and beyond are fading into obscurity, the Japanese seem to be keen on them in a big way. If you find yourself in what the Japanese call a ‘game centre’ then you’ll encounter wall-to-wall Japanese crane games of multiple varieties. They are so popular that sites now exist for dedicated online Japanese crane games, which, yes (you can probably see where this is going) can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
So if you’re looking for some of that youthful fun, let’s dive into the world of Japanese crane games.
The Japanese crane game phenomenon
I feel that the idea of Japanese specific crane games deserve a little explanation, after all, what makes them so different from everywhere else?
The answer can be put down to simply sheer enthusiasm.
Although the crane game principle was invented in America in the early 20th century, it was the Japanese that developed a long-lasting obsession with them that gained traction in the 70’s. Two of the biggest names that helped facilitate this was SEGA and Taito – both of which continue to do so until the present day.
Getting a bit more specific, I would argue it is the ingenious variety of machines as well as the selection of prizes that make Japanese crane games so much better than western counterparts.
More commonly referred to as UFO catchers in Japan, you can encounter games and claws that vary from the tiny to the utterly ridiculous in their enormity; games that require grabbing, pushing, pulling, bouncing, knocking over, or stabbing just to name a few. Couple this with prizes that vary from bags of crisps to exclusive figurines and everything in between and you have a winning formula that has kept people entertained for over 50 years.
To put things into perspective, according to an article from Jobs in Japan: in 2019 55% of all Japan’s arcade revenue was from UFO catcher crane game machines. Another great piece regards Guinness world records where the SEGA arcade in Shinjuku Tokyo achieved the world record for most crane games in a single venue totaling 477 machines.
As you can see they’re quite a big deal.
Online Japanese crane games
Getting to the matter at hand, many Japanese crane games can now be accessed online, bringing with them much of the excitement and the extensive prize pots that the physical crane games provide.
In truth, there are tons of companies and applications serving an online crane game format, and much like many other things in this world there are some that are not worth your time. With that in mind, I have checked out numerous crane games available and want to suggest a couple that are safe and genuine to get started with.
As a sign of reassurance, all the crane game companies listed below are part of the Japanese online crane game business association (JOCA) aimed at providing solid practices, guidelines and standards for participating vendors.
Where to play Japanese crane games online
First on the list is perhaps the most well-known name in the online crane game sphere, Toreba. It is accessible both through its website (which needs to be translated into English) and through a somewhat unconventional downloadable app, also through its website — not through the play store. While this may send alarm bells ringing, I have personally tried it out beforehand to see for myself — it is a legitimate application.
Once set up, you will find a huge number of prizes and machines. The stream to the machine (being in Japan) is not the best quality and so sometimes it’s hard to make out what the goal of each particular crane game is, however, many offer tutorial videos beforehand which other names on this list fail to do.
Downloading the app gives you 5 free tries which is nice, but prices for future tokens — in the case of Toreba — seem a little high but is industry average. $5 (about £4) for 5,000tp where each try on most machines is 2000tp meaning you get two tries for that price with a bit left over. There is also a reward scheme to earn tp in other ways mostly involving playing other mobile games.
Next we have Tokyo Catch which is produced by the same company that created the Tokyo Treat snack subscription box so there shouldn’t be too much worry on legitimacy here.
Much like before, the service is available directly through its website or through an app. However, the app seemingly has some issues with its user input logout timer being incredibly short and causing frustration. The Tokyo Catch website on the other hand seems to have little issue and is in fact much more streamlined, user friendly, and caters to western audiences much better than Toreba.
Anime figurines seem to dominate the prize pools here with a few other soft toys and plushies thrown in. Signing up gives you three free tries with prices being very similar to before; $5 (about $4) gives 2 (and a half) tries.
On the face of, crane master looks very similar to toreba, that’s because it is, but there are some notable differences.
First off there is no app for this one, only the browser version. Next the prize list is utterly ginormous with an incredible amount of variety too – far surpassing the other two mentions.
Lastly is the price. The price to top up on points is roughly the same, however the minimum spend to top up is 3000 yen ( about £18) but for that you get 2400 points. The average price per play is 200 points meaning you get 12 plays for your money. But with Crane Master there are also loads of prizes that require around 100 points meaning you could get double for your money comparable to the other Japanese crane games.
Things to consider
- Before anything else can be said on the matter, having a good internet connection is critical. It would be tragic to have worked hard for a prize only to have your connection cut out at the worst possible moment. Sit near your router at home, or find a strong wi-fi spot if you’re out etc.
- Maybe most importantly, spend your money sensibly. Just like real crane games you will need tokens or to put in real money to play. Give yourself a budget to work with just like you would I’d you were really there. It’s much easier to spend money at home on an app than having to change up coins you haven’t got in real life. This could essentially become gambling so only play for what you really want and leave if it’s not going well.
- Beyond that, consider things like shipping and shipping costs. Obviously this problem doesn’t exist with physical games but if you actually want to get your hands on your winnings take a quick look at some of the included information wherever you decide to play. Some places offer free shipping or bulk shipping methods where you pay once for multiple prizes. Outside of those two options shipping can be quite expensive so really consider these costs into your budget and whether it’s worth it for you before playing.
- Be mindful of input delay. This really comes with the territory of online crane games. If you’re sitting at home in the UK for example and the crane game is in Japan, there will most likely be a delay between you pushing the buttons and the claw moving. Sometimes it’s only very minor but it’s still going to be there, it may just take a little getting used to.
For many of us crane games are quite nostalgic. They are simple and somewhat addictively fun machines that lots of us played when we were young, whether at aforementioned fun fairs, amusements etc. However, many of the machines in the west are all but distant memories.
To see Japan very much keeping the world’s crane game scene alive and very much thriving is both a joy and a great sigh of relief. Furthermore, the industry’s attempts to bring Japanese crane games online has allowed many of us to experience a favourite past-time again.