During my otaku bonenkai party, Mr. Shuto opened one of his many storage cabinets and revealed a huge haul of old school gaming products, almost all Japanese translations of originals, that he had collected from Yahoo Auction over the years. Most were in near-mint condition, some he had never played, and some of them I haven’t seen since I was 12 or 13. Apparently they’re cheaper to collect in Japanese than English (less demand, maybe, or more books in good condition). We were all flabbergasted by his collection, and I thought it might interest English language viewers to see some of them here. Taking photos in the low light of his apartment was a challenge (especially after a few beers) so apologies for the glare and the blur.

Firstly, the Basic-Companion-Master-Expert sets:

Ancient Treasures

The red box in this picture is the first RPG I ever owned, and I had forgotten its contents. Unlike the D&D Rules Cyclopaedia, the red box has the same internal art (which I had forgotten):

Knock-kneed, like every Japanese girl ...

I remember how the pictures in this book opened up my mind to a whole new world of fantasy and adventure – I’d never read an adult fantasy novel before I somehow stumbled onto this box, and though I never got to play it properly (I moved on to AD&D early), it holds a special place in my heart… Mr. Shuto has never played this system, but it didn’t stop him from collecting a lot of modules:

Verisimillitude, in Japanese

Mr. Shuto’s collection didn’t end at D&D though. He also had an extensive collection of Cthulhu-related material (which he has played) and other boxed sets, some of which he arranged for us on his study floor:

Madness in Mie

Mr. Shuto’s boxed sets included some early Runequest, which I think he may have had a chance to play, and which I’ve always wanted to try. I think this is a very early edition, judging by the art:

Undiscovered country for me...

This boxed set included a book of secrets, I think, and elder lore:

Dark secrets in dark languages

My god, that artwork is bad. But such early Runequest! I don’t know how easy it will be to understand the rules, but I’m tempted to try and cadge them off Mr. Shuto and run a session sometime. Running early Runequest in Japanese has to be a rare experience…

Mr. Shuto also collected early Traveller, starting with the boxed set:

Remember this...?

I’ve played a lot of Traveller and I really don’t like the system, but the game itself is so romantic and such a classic representation of the joys of space opera that I will always remember it fondly. The great thing about these Japanese books is that they retain their western form, so looking on a Traveller rulebook for the first time in years could bring back all those thoughts and images from my early games even though only the title was in English:

So simple, yet so much within...

Exploring this boxed set was quite entertaining. Here, for example, is something I could never have imagined I would ever see when I first began playing – a star system map entirely in Japanese:

Find your way through this, intrepid scouts!

The interested reader will note that these games all follow a similar translation process, in which the English language components are often retained and the Japanese translation even subordinated to them. This is the translation style of the main importing company, Hobby Japan, which leaves a lot of the key English words in the translated edition for reference. This pattern has been retained in, for example, the Pathfinder Japanese wiki, which makes it easier for Japanese players to understand what words have been translated how, and also easier for me to read the trickier language. It also means that people who don’t read Japanese can understand what they’re looking at without having to rely on the artwork. This process is particularly important for games like Runequest and Warhammer, because the translation has attempted to incorporate the greater romanticism and historicism of the original works and sometimes includes generating new words in Japanese. They may have deviated from this a bit in early Runequest, and made it a more Japanese-only feel, like the D&D rules cyclopedia, which would make it even denser and more difficult to run an adventure with.

I have a bit of an interest in finding out whether there is a Japanese grognard movement and if so what its principles are. I’m pretty sure that Mr. 123 is a grognard and I’ve previously proposed interviewing him about his philosophy, because I think the Japanese approach will be more inclusive and less movement-ish than it is in the West. I think also the Japanese have largely rejected 4th Edition D&D, from my impression, and are diverting heavily into Pathfinder, partly because the cost of all those splat books is prohibitive but Pathfinder is free in its basic form. I detect zero interest in 4th Edition and in the 6 – 8 conventions I’ve attended never seen it being run. So I wonder if they’re essentially more amenable to some form of grognarding in any case. There’s also usually a very old school Japanese game being run at any convention I go to. Western games seem to be priced very high compared to Japanese ones (which can be very cheap) so it could also be that Japanese gamers reject new editions of games that they like – I’ve seen no later editions of Shadowrun since I came here either. So I do want to explore Japanese grognarding in more detail.

Who would have thought that, having come to rural Japan, I am suddenly exposed to the opportunity to play almost any of the key OSR games that I might want to? A fascinating coincidence of location, here in steamy Beppu… and one I may take avantage of when I have a little more time…

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