Starting Out

If you've traveled to Japan for a Grand Prix, visited for vacation, or if you've moved here for work, odds are you've heard of my blog, While you probably know about the website, you probably don't know too much about me. I originally moved to Japan in 2005 and worked in Shizuoka until 2008. After that I went back home to the USA for a short 2 year stint, but then moved back to Japan in 2010. Before then I had played Magic on and off but was an entirely casual player. I originally started playing Magic back during Revised, but stopped right after Exodus. Before moving to Japan I would occasionally hang out with friends for impromptu kitchen table Magic gatherings, but when I moved back to Japan a second time Magic got its hooks back in me. After returning I realized that my Japanese was incredibly rusty so learning to play Magic entirely in Japanese ended up being quite the challenge. However, with a positive attitude and patience I was able to build up quite the vocabulary of Magic terms in Japanese, as well as learn the basic phrases needed to play a game of Magic. As with any language, practice makes perfect, and once I made up my mind I wasn't afraid to stumble through mistakes and say I didn't understand from time to time. And that brings us to why I'm writing this series of articles. I originally started my blog to help players learn how to play Magic in Japan. I wanted them to feel comfortable playing, or at least have enough confidence to hang out at a local magic store and make friends that could eventually create a community there. I also wanted to give them an idea of what playing tournaments in Japan was like. Most importantly however, I wanted to gain the feeling like they belong. Having lived in the countryside with nobody around for years, I know how important it is to build a community. I don't want others to struggle like I did, so I hope that this, and future articles I write about playing Magic in Japan will help out those of you who are either living in Japan or visiting it. For too long I've neglected this responsibility, but now I mean to change that and to work harder to make my articles a tool for the foreign community in Japan; including the visitors that are here for just a short time. I also want to give an insight to any Japanese players on what its like to play Magic the Gathering in a foreign country. Maybe one day you too will be able to say that you are a Japan Hobbyist.
Finding your Place Japan has thousands of local game stores, but not all of them have Magic cards, let alone strong Magic: The Gathering communities. Your first goal should be to do some research on Wizard's of the Coast's store locator and find out which stores you could realistically visit. The bigger cities will give you a number of choices in a relatively small area that are easy to travel to, but in the countryside the stores could be separated by 20 to 30 minutes of travel, if not longer. Take your time to explore these places. Look at what kind of goods they sell at the store, the lighting, how much play space they have, as well as how many people show up during peak times like Friday Night Magic or on the weekends. If nobody plays there, then you'll have trouble getting your fix of MTG. It took me a while to work out how to get to my first local game store in Hamamatsu, a city in Shizuoka, when I was living there from 2010-2011, but once I worked out the bus schedule it wasn't that hard to get there from where I lived at the time. Thankfully every smartphone has GPS now so there is also the possibility of riding your bike to your closest LGS to save time and keep yourself healthy. Lets say you find a place with a lot of Magic players. Another thing you'll have to look into is which formats they play. Is it a lot of Modern players? Standard? Limited? Whatever the case is, you'll probably have to change your play style a bit to fit in to the community. In my experience as a Magic player in Japan, the majority of players play Standard and limited, but recently the number of modern and legacy players have grown here too. The casual formats are a little scarcer, but they're around if you look hard enough. When I was starting out again as a player years ago, I had absolutely zero cards in my collection and had to start from scratch. That meant that all I could play was standard. I was fine with that however, and luckily most of the other players in town played it as well. Another thing you should consider when choosing a store is the staff. Are they knowledgeable? Helpful? Are they intimated by you since you're a foreigner? I've been to places where I've been welcomed with open arms, and some places where I got dirty looks just from being in the store. Granted it isn't all that common, but the situation can arise from time to time, especially if it's a game store that doesn't focus mainly on Magic: The Gathering. If you can find staff that speaks English you've struck gold, but if they don't, but are willing to try and work with you to explain things, it's the next best thing. Some people can be intimidated when approached by a foreigner, but all in all I think they quickly grow accustomed to it and begin to enjoy practicing their rarely used English language skills.
Interacting with Staff Going into a store in a bigger city isn't as hard as you think. The stores in Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo areas always have a good number of foreign customers coming and going (especially during GPs), but in smaller cities things feel a bit more personal, especially if the stores is the only one around for miles in each direction. Staff will usually welcome you when you enter the store, so don't be alarmed when they talk to you. 99.9% of the time you can walk around a store in peace and walk out, but if looks like you're actually in need of help and want to find something, the staff in the smaller stores might come up to you and ask what you're looking for. If that happens you can say what you want in English or show them a picture and they should be able to help you find it. If you're looking to sell some cards while you're over here in Japan, you can also do that, but if you're visiting from another country you'll need a Passport to do so. If you're currently living in Japan, you'll need some form of ID like a foreigner card or driver's license. Some stores will have their buy list prices posted somewhere on a wall, but other times they'll have to check up the cards online and give you a price (and in some rare cases you have to have the staff check how much they can offer you which is time consuming if you have lots of cards). From my experience many of the non-MTG focused stores update their buy lists prices rather slowly so you can sometimes get lucky and sell your cards before they drop in price. But of course if you're looking to play Magic the Gathering in Japan, the most important question to ask the staff is when they have Magic tournaments, as well as what formats they support at the store. Most places will have clearly visible schedules on or near their doors or in their play space, but sometimes it can get a little more difficult and you have to ask for information at the register. If you're interested in how to do this or any of the other things I mentioned above, I recommend checking out my blog and the article about what it's like to go to MTG stores. You can find it here.
A Brave New World Hopefully this article's information will give you a good start on your new Magic life in Japan (or help you when visiting the country for a big event). There is a lot to cover and I'm sure I might have missed something, so I welcome any comments or questions you might have about what it's like to play Magic in Japan or how to say some Magic related term in Japanese. I'll be covering a lot of different situations in future articles, so please try to keep it relevant to the topic of each article. From my experience Japanese players are thrilled to play against foreigners. In bigger cities there is a good chance you'll find judge staff that can speak English as well, and whom just might be able to help you navigate this new situation you find yourself in. Once you find a game that fits your schedule and build up your courage to attend it, I think you're ready for the next step: playing a game in Japanese. Sadly there is too much information to put all of it in one article, so you'll have to join me next time when I go over what it's like to play a game of Magic in Japanese! Be sure to check back in the coming months as we continue the journey of playing in pre-releases, drafting, attending professional level events, as well as many other Japanese MTG culture related aspects. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @yoschwenky or check out my blog (where you can kind a lot of other Magic related content). Until next time good luck and Matane(Ma-ta-ne)! Happy gaming!