Sometimes you just stumble onto a place that is so far away and so incredibly strange that you are convinced you either imagined it or it is some sort of figment of your imagination. These are places that you do not see regularly and question if you could even visit it again because it is so damn bizarrely great. Late last year we were out in Arcadia with some friends who tipped us off to a strange and magical little Japanese shopping center. The shopping area has a lot of food stuffs and souvenirs and more but the big attraction is a large room full of crane games, those frustrating yet and demanding toy winning machine that require many dollars to win something, lots of patience, but can provide some very big payoffs if you can withstand the frustration of a crane machine.
This place is MVP Happy Castle Club. It’s a room of pink and white “Happy Castle” crane machines that are filled with piles and piles of Hello Kitty stuffed animals, Super Mario mushroom toys, tiny teddy bears, tiny basketballs, and every other Japanese toy brand from Sanrio to Domo: you can win them all at the drop of a couple of tokens. The space tickles something within you regardless of if you have ever liked crane games like this: seeing so many of these machines demands that you play at least one. If not to play simply because you could win a little toy, you want to play because you’ve stepped into a cultural looking glass that has transported you to a Tokyo crane arcade. And you only had to drive to Arcadia!
There are also some basketball games mixed in with the cranes but the big attraction, the one that you will spend at least ten dollars on, are the crane machines near the far back of the space that give you the opportunity to win big prizes like a Louis Vuitton bag, an iPad Mini, a Hello Kitty Mah Jong game, and more. These cranes are the ones you will challenge yourself with because of this huge chance to win couple hundred dollar prizes at the cost of a few dollars. These games are different because instead of having to grab a bulky iPad or a bag you have to grab a small fist sized ball. You look at this, you think you have it in the bag, and then you put coins in the machine and realize that the crane hand is a very sensitive and almost drunk little claw that jiggles with every push and plunges down snapping like a needy crab. If you can get the claw around the ball, you’ll have a multiple second adrenaline rush as the claw stumbles to hold onto it. It will likely drop the ball or pinch it, providing a shooting pain down your spine as a result of adrenaline. We were convinced for two seconds holding the iPad Mini’s ball that it was ours but, as we learned after five tries, this feeling is common. And maddening.
MVP Happy Castle Club is a super, super bizarrely wonderful place to go to spend a few coins (which you have to transfer to tokens!) and try your luck with these nostalgia games. They are fun, they are frustrating, and they are a great place to kill some time as you wait to get dumplings. It is a trek out to Arcadia but, if you have a free early evening or weekend afternoon, it is worth the trip because it such a magical, happy, strange place. You’ll be dragging friends here whenever you’re in this part of town, too.