Yesterday, we look at Matt’s journey to Japan. Today we will be diving into the inner workings of Space Station, and the history behind the bar.
PushDustIn: So how did you get started with Space Station?
Matt: So after two years of teaching English with JET, I quit with the sole reason of wanting to move to a city. I could have kept going with JET — up to five years, right?
PushDustIn: I believe so.
Matt: But after two years, I quit just so I could move to Osaka. I had never lived in a city before. I continued to teach English through a dispatch company: a company that hires you, and sends you to different locations. So I taught English at a Korean church, culture centers…mostly to adults, which was nice.
PushDustIn: And it was at your own pace too because you could pick up or decline jobs, right?
Matt: Something like that. My boss asked me how many hours a week I was willing to work and he’d set me up with teaching jobs at various places.
PushDustIn: Oh, did they sponsor your visa then?
Matt: Yeah, that’s correct. After JET I was sponsored by the dispatch company. So…three more years of teaching English through that company. That brings me to five years in Japan. One day, I was walking around America-Mura, the part of Osaka City where I live, and a Japanese dude on the street tried beckoning me into a bar saying there was a Street Fighter tournament going on inside — or at least they were playing Street Fighter. [At first], I didn’t know if I understood him correctly, but my curiosity was piqued. At that moment I was walking some friends back to the train station. Once I did that I immediately came back to see what this guy was talking about. It was then that I went into a video game bar for the first time. That bar is called Bar Continue. I was blown away, I suppose. It was a small bar, but I was blown away– three T.V.s and however many game consoles. And it was just down the street from me. So that’s Bar Continue…I discovered them in 2010…? No, 2009. And then one year later, I got it into my head that I should open my own video game bar. I went to Bar Continue once, maybe twice a month…as much as I liked it, I still went sparingly. Mainly because they have a cover charge of 500 yen.
PushDustIn: Most bars in Japan do.
Matt: A lot of places in Japan do, especially video game bars. And while Space Station doesn’t have a cover charge, I feel that video game bars are completely justified in having one. After all, video game bars bring something extra to the table. A lot of regular bars in Japan still have a cover charge even though they don’t offer up anything extra.
PushDustIn: I’m the same way. I don’t really like cover charges as it prevents you from doing bar crawls.
Matt: Right, some of your friends might not want to go along for that ride. But it’s funny for us [as Americans], since we are used to tipping.
PushDustIn: That’s true.
Matt: So it’s just a psychological thing. People from the U.S. who come here, they are used to tipping but they know they are in a country that doesn’t have it, and that’s refreshing. But somehow we are unwilling to do the cover charge even though in some cases it might be cheaper than tipping.
PushDustIn: Huh, I never really thought about that.
Matt: But…yeah. I avoid bars with cover charges unless they are video game themed. Anyways, a year of being a customer at Bar Continue, it occurred to me that I should do it. Once I had that thought all these ideas came to me: like what the bar should have in it, how the bar should look, how everything should be arranged. like how the bar should look, how. You know, this kind of epiphany that you hear about followed by a surge of creative ideas… The Portal mirrors were one of the first things that I felt the bar should have. I wanted to represent some of my favorite games through the bar’s decor — I have a list of games that I want to represent. I’m not sure if I ever will represent all of them.
PushDustIn: …not sure how?
Matt: Not sure how. But once I hit upon the idea…like the Lemmings stickers I made that walk along the windowsill’s trim…that’s how I’ll represent Lemmings! And I thought that Cacodemon plushie was awesome for representing Doom. I prefer to decorate the bar with homemade stuff — one of a kind things…or at least things made by Etsy sellers. Some of the stuff here is from Etsy. The Cacodemon plushie is a commercial product but that’s fine, because it’s fantastic.
Anyway, so all these ideas for the layout, the decor…they all occurred to me all at once. And then I started to think about what could happen if the bar was a success. What would happen then? Maybe I’d end up on a PAX Panel. It was honestly one of the things that occurred to me. Sure enough, some years later, that’s what came to pass. I didn’t even seek it out. It just came my way after the bar had received enough attention. I was invited to be a part of a PAX Panel on the subject of video game bars. Yes, I thought along those lines: maybe I could speak at PAX — that would be a milestone for me. “Maybe I’ll meet some famous people in the industry”, I thought. That has come to pass as well as several names in the game industry have come through here over the years.
So yeah, the idea to open a game bar came to me at the beginning of 2010. I had no bartending experience, so to fix that I got a job bartending at a bar around the corner. Ten months of working at a bar, getting to know people and people getting to know me. Then when it came time to open Space Station in 2011 I had a lot of help from the people I had met.
PushDustIn: It’s kind of like training but also connecting to people and figuring out what works and what doesn’t…it’s very smart. One of the things I’m personally interested in, is it’s very difficult for a foreigner to open a business in Japan. You said you had some help with people you knew through working at the nearby place.
Matt: Right. I think that’s something a lot of people are curious about. How does a foreigner start a business in Japan? Is that even possible? Are they allowed to do that?
PushDustIn: Often, people will marry a Japanese person and then they open under their spouse’s name.
Matt: As long as you obtain a business visa (which requires having 5,000,000 yen in the bank) you can start a business in Japan. You may also need to hire at least one Japanese citizen (or someone who had the right to work here). I don’t think the 5,000,000 YEN requirement is that strict, but you do need to prove you have enough money to support the business.
Click on the next page (under related posts) to read more about Space Station!