Get your claws into UFO catchers


Ever performed a yokoshihogatame on a teddy bear? If you have, you might have pinned it to the ground with one arm between its legs and the other over one of its shoulders, as in judo. Or, you might have been playing on a UFO catcher, also known as a crane game — the popular arcade machines in which you use a moveable, so-called UFO-mounted claw to fish booty (teddy bears, plush toys, watches, sweets and much more) out of a brightly illuminated glass box.

What? You mean you didn’t know you could execute martial arts maneuvers using what is probably the oldest amusement in the arcade? Well you can. And the people best qualified to show you how will be converging on Makuhari Messe in Chiba on Feb. 16, when the grand final of the Crane Game National Championships will be held as part of Amusement Expo 2008.

Amusement Expo is an annual one-day event for the amusement-arcade industry, showcasing the latest wares from Sega, Taito, Gatcha, Augus and more than 50 other arcade-game makers. But the biggest draw of the day is the UFO catcher competition. Starting from 1:30 p.m., it will feature the top 20 qualifiers from a series of nationwide regional competitions held last November. And chances are the martial arts moves will be flying thick and fast.

According to the Web site of the All Nippon Amusement Machine Operator’s Union (AOU), which organizes both the expo and the championships, there are 12 top techniques to pull the prizes out of the box. Each is illustrated on the Web site, complete with instructional videos which themselves make entertaining viewing — even if their potential for real-life application is dubious.

Check out the Kesadori, a move you should be able to imagine if you remember that kesagiri is a slash with a Japanese sword from above one shoulder to the bottom of the other. Then there are the various hooking moves — Hole Hook, Gap Hook, String Hook, Tag Hook — and the granddaddy of the lot, the gloriously evocative Niagara Push. But be warned: local arcade hardware is usually configured differently from the online video versions. Too many failed attempts at a clawed yokoshihogatame and you might be tempted to administer one the old way, on the machine itself.

Amusement Expo 2008 will be held on Feb. 16 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Makuhari Messe, Chiba. Entry is ¥1,000, or ¥700 with a discount coupon. For further information call (03) 3253-5671 or visit www.aou.or.jp where discount coupons can also be found.