Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

The Liminality of Subcultural Spaces: Tokyo’s Gaming Arcades as Boundary Between Social Isolation and Integration

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Abstract:  This article explores the concept of liminal spaces in Tokyo, specifically focusing on gaming arcades as transitional spaces between social isolation and integration. The decline of the once-popular arcades since the 1990s raises questions about their usage, accessibility, and affordability in contemporary Tokyo. After clarifying the concept of liminality and urban borderlands, the article examines various case studies in central Tokyo, argues that arcades serve diverse purposes and highlights the importance of reintegration of such liminal spaces to bring people from different backgrounds together, providing entertainment, competition, and ritualized encounters. Employing ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation, interviews, and secondary data analysis, this study recognizes the gaming arcade not only as a physical but also as a mental and social space. The arcades embody the hopes, fears, and aspirations of their users, blur boundaries, offer immersive experiences, and foster a sense of community, comfort, and nostalgia. Such insights allow us to understand how identities are constructed and negotiated in these spaces. In conclusion, the article advocates for a nuanced approach to urban planning that recognizes the value of subcultural spaces like gaming arcades and emphasizes the need to preserve and integrate these spaces into the broader urban fabric. By doing so it can be understood how these liminal spaces can contribute to a diversity of social interactions, community-building, and a better understanding and revitalization of urban borderlands if integrated and managed in the right way.

Keywords:  collective memory; community; gaming arcades; liminality; social integration; social isolation; third spaces; Tokyo; urban borderlands


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© Heide Imai, Lisa Woite. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.