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Gaming at Hiroshima Malls: Having Fun That Isn’t Shopping

Try to reminisce on your childhood, and tell me if you ever had the following experience with your family.

“Want to go to the mall on Sunday?” your mother may have asked.

“I don’t want to. There’s nothing I want to buy, and nothing else to do but shop,” you may have replied.

“Then what are you going to do, stay at home? You’ll be bored all day.”

“At least I’d be bored in private.”

I used to think shopping malls were boring because they mostly sold clothes, which my child and teenage self didn’t have much of a desire to buy. In the end, though, it would be my folks dragging me to malls X, Y, or Z just for exposure to the public, and after splitting up from my family, aimlessly walking laps around the mall, and reconvening at a designated point, I would go home empty-handed and unfulfilled, as if I never went to the mall in the first place. Depending on the mall and the family’s retail habits, this probably happened in a lot of households besides mine, with the children and husbands being the top complainers. However, malls are supposed to be fun for the whole family, and thus, the best malls have more than just stores. Such malls are prevalent even in Hiroshima and dotted throughout the city’s suburban areas, each warranting a day trip of its own.

A few years ago, I highlighted ten noteworthy places in Hiroshima City to go shopping, with some locales making the list for the sheer number of things to do besides shop, but this time, I wish to focus specifically on malls rife with entertainment options. Notice I said “malls,” so shopping streets like Hondori are automatically out since it’s easy to leave said street and entertain oneself elsewhere. I compiled this collection in early November when Black Friday and the Holiday Season were upon us, so there were more sales going on, prettier décor strewn all over, and rich, autumnal, limited-time delicacies to be enjoyed at the food courts. Enjoy this compilation and take notes for your next trip!

The Three Wings of Alpark

This shopping center, located on the west side of the city just outside JR Shin-Inokuchi Station, is a prime stop for those living in Nishi Ward due to its sheer size and accessibility by public transport. Alpark is divided into the West Wing, the East Wing, and the North Wing, with a playground in between the East and North Wings that becomes awash in cherry blossoms from late March into early April. Each wing is enormous and has its own appeal outside of shops, but let us begin with the West Wing, which had been undergoing renovations for the longest time up until April of 2022. It attracts the most attention for housing the largest MUJI in all of Japan, but like I stated earlier, those with no interest in shopping will walk past that toward Moff Animal Café, which opened that same month.

Moff is like an indoor, miniature zoo, except visitors can chill with soft drinks from the drink fountain while spending time with these docile critters. Sure, a newer location was established this past March just west of the Hiroshima Bus Center, and another branch inside AEON Mall Hiroshima Fuchu is slated to begin operations this December, but those are just “ordinary” cat cafés, whereas the Alpark location focuses on smaller, more exotic species of birds, reptiles, and miscellaneous mammals like marmots, hedgehogs, and even a two-toed sloth! Moff is a hit amongst the little ones, and those with herpetophobia, ornithophobia, or some other irrational fear of animals may have a chance to overcome their fears in a safe, relaxed environment, where the knowledgeable staff kindly let the customers pet and hold and even hold some of these furry, scaly, or feathered darlings.

The East Wing is where the bus terminal and plenty of eateries—some of which have sublime views of the park—can be found. On the fourth floor sits PRIZE SPOT PALO, an arcade that opened this past September featuring nothing but crane games, which garner more popularity year and year, to the point of displacing some of my favorite arcade cabinets. There are lots of awesome prizes sitting inside the machines, beckoning passersby to test their skill and luck in hopes of taking hope a cute plushie or sleek figurine, but since I’ve gotten rusty at these machines, I chose to quit while I was ahead.

Last but not least is the North Wing, which has seen the least amount of change but is ironically the most superb segment of Alpark. The first floor houses a couple of restaurants and a sporting goods store, but the true gem is situated on the second floor, where a bookstore, a café, and a video arcade exist in harmony, providing entertainment for kids and young adults for essentially an entire afternoon. Leaf through books and magazines, blow off steam with some video games, or sip a hot beverage while working on your latest article, and when you get tired of all that, head to the floor above to catch a flick at the cinema!

An Expanded AEON Mall Hiroshima Fuchu

For years, this AEON Mall located in Fuchu Town (not to be confused with Fuchu City in Hiroshima Prefecture or the Tokyo Metropolis) has enjoyed being the largest AEON Mall in all of Chugoku and Shikoku, yet it continues to expand and open more shops. At this point in time, this branch dominates as the biggest AEON Mall outside the Kanto region, and third in the entire nation! The first wave of new stores began in October and is continuing for the rest of autumn, gradually attracting additional customer of more varying breeds. As I hardly set foot inside this mall anymore, I get lost more often now than ever before, but am pleased to see new brands gain a foothold in Hiroshima.

But who cares about all that? We’re here to play, not pay (well okay, we’ll pay to play games, but that’s about it)! Kids big and small will be pleased to know that AEON Mall Hiroshima Fuchu has more than one arcade, with the older and more exciting one adjacent to the food court on the third floor. This Namco arcade brings back memories of when I used to live nearby and could get in some game time before work. I would stand outside the entrance to AEON Mall, waiting for it to open at 10:00 a.m., and the minute the automatic doors welcomed me inside, I would rush up the escalators to the arcade, get my game on for about forty-five minutes, then dash out the mall all the way to my workplace. Besides the fun had from the arcade cabinets, part of the fun also lay in possible weird looks I may have gotten from the staff and other customers, wondering what kind of company employee in a suit had the time and dedication to be playing video games on a weekday morning.

The Namco arcade has a decent lineup for older kids who like shooters and rhythm games, and even medal games for adults who want to “not gamble,” but lots of machines that appeal to smaller children. However, for the really tiny tykes, there’s another playland at another end of the mall not too far from the food court. That one is filled exclusively with kiddy rides, simpler interactive video games, and even a cushy playground where parents and children can whittle the hours away while the other parent is busy shopping. They even sell a Yokubari Pass that acts as an all-you-can-play ticket for either thirty or sixty minutes on select machines, which is super cost-effective for persistent kids that keep begging, “one more time!” With this arcade being located inside “Kids’ Republic,” which also sells toys, baby clothes’, and backpacks for elementary schoolers, the entire family will probably be in the same area anyway, so all the better.

Marina Hop Aquarium and Amusement Park

Marina Hop is a seaside shopping complex that only has about a year before it closes down in early December, so all the more reason to visit it now. With a handful of restaurants facing Hiroshima Bay, dozens of stores, a kiddy amusement park, and a video arcade, one can stay here all day and into the night, but the highlight of Marina Hop would undoubtedly be the Mariho Aquarium, the closest aquarium to downtown Hiroshima. As an annual pass holder, I frequently take the bus down to Marina Hop and get more than my money’s worth watching the exhibits rotate throughout the year, but the best tanks are in the special exhibit area just past the gift shop. It costs extra to enter this area even with my annual pass, but it’s well worth the fee given the outlandish species one can see and the educational value of the plaques. In November, the spotlight was on some of the most renowned, exotic, and certainly dangerous fauna of the Amazon Rainforest, and included frogs, snakes, and bugs in addition to well-known fish like the piranha. Those around me tend to speed through, but I always find myself lingering until closing time.

I wandered out of the aquarium in the direction of Marine Circus, the waterfront amusement park and only such facility in Hiroshima City. Most of the rides here cater to younger children, such as the clown coaster and log flume, both of which are slow and low, but that doesn’t mean adults such as parents and couples can’t enjoy them too. Those who are fans of the rides can purchase tickets in bulk, but those tickets are not valid for the Ferris Wheel, which is the icon of Marina Hop as a whole. When the sky goes dark, the lights on the Ferris Wheel come on, dyeing it a different hue every few seconds and making a ride on it even more magical. Furthermore, in preparation for the Holiday Season, the theme park was decked out in glowing decorations, including those in the shapes of jellyfish, mushrooms, and butterflies.

Moment of Joy: Passive Amusement

The rides at Marina Circus may be humble, but with the right mindset, they are capable of unleashing a grown-up’s inner child. I didn’t even need to ride any of them myself that day; simply watching other adults on the clown coaster was amusement enough and got a chuckle out of me. Though I have only known this place for three years, more or less, it feels like Marina Hop has been an integral part of my development in Hiroshima City, and it pains me to know that this place’s days are numbered. December 1st, the last day of operation, will be a hard goodbye, but for the time being I intend to savor every bit of joy I can get from every facet of Marina Hop.

THE OUTLETS Hiroshima, Above and Below

Finally, we have yet another AEON property, THE OUTLETS Hiroshima, which is perched on a hill deeper within Nishi Ward. This outlet mall can be separated into the surface level, which is dominated by retail stores, and the basement level, where dining and entertainment facilities prevail. Though customers not interested in clothes shopping may find the surface level boring, it’s still visually appealing, especially during the period leading up to the Holiday Season. This striking reindeer structure greeted shoppers at the mall entrance, and when night fell, it lit up and virtually everyone wanted a picture with it. In addition to luminous décor, the surface level also features a playground, benches for enjoying fine weather, and naturally, ample covering to shield visitors from the elements.

On Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, a duo of street performers may wander around the outlet floor, playing wacky music and engaging in random shenanigans before stopping at the central plaza in front of GAP to put on their show. For the most part, it’s a nonverbal performance so anybody can follow along, and some kids are even called up to participate in their acts, adding to the humor.

Meanwhile, downstairs is where things really get interesting, with possibly the best food court in the entire city. Diners can feast on gourmet seasonal specialties from a plethora of reputable restaurant chains, such as this penne gratin topped with pumpkin, sweet potato, and other harvest season veggies. Next to the food court is a store with aisles of gachapon machines for the avid collector, a trampoline park, an ice skating rink, a movie theater, and the Capcom arcade where visitors can play video games, go bowling, sing karaoke, and immerse themselves in virtual reality experiences.

One section of the arcade, called Legend Sports Heroes, is a separate corner filled with more hands-on games based on real-life sports like soccer, baseball, archery, and clay pigeon shooting. Customers purchase a pass to enter this area for a specific period of time, typically in increments of one hour, and can play and of the games inside as many times as they want. Anyone who is too tired to play virtual sports can play on one of the more nostalgic arcade machines deeper within, so any type of gamer can spend time wisely in here and get bang for their buck. In another corner of the arcade is where the virtual reality rides and games can be played for an additional fee. There are various themes, such as racing on light bikes or surviving a zombie apocalypse, but one of the newest additions was a fighting experience based on the beloved Street Fighter franchise. The player takes on the role of a Shadaloo recruit and undergoes a training simulator wherein they practice fighting against characters such as Ryu and Zangief.

Indeed, shopping malls are meant to be loved by all who visit, and should include as many diverse facilities as possible to guarantee a grand time for everyone. Given how many non-retail facilities the above malls have put onto their grounds, perhaps those not shopping will have more fun than those who do. Tourists who visit Hiroshima from other parts of Japan or from abroad would be justified in considering an extended stay here, taking an extra day to leave behind the usual tourist sites and explore one of these spectacular malls. Whether you buy anything or not, by all means, drag your entire family to a mall in Hiroshima and you are all bound to find something to do that will change your attitudes toward these retail oases and create some more exciting childhood memories!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team