Turn left from Harajuku station, and it’s a short walk to the Takeshita Street arch. Surrounded by shopping bags, chatter and music, you push the left stick forward and start to explore.

Games set in Japan just bake exploration in. They borrow from real-world locations and then set players loose in them. Developers seem just as happy for us to suck up the vibe of their digital destinations as they are forcing us into yet another fetch quest.

Nothing beats the sights and smells of Dotonbori at midnight, or a rush-hour Shibuya, but games are starting to come close. With money-tight and difficult travel, here are five locations to explore Japan without leaving the sofa.

1. NEO: The World Ends With You

Photo: Square EnixHachiko in all his pixelated glory.

The famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya station symbolizes friendship and loyalty in Japan and is arguably the defacto meeting spot for Shibuya. In NEO: The World Ends With You, he is central to the game’s overworld.

From Hachiko, it’s just a short scoot over the Shibuya Scramble to Towa Records, NEO’s take on the famous Tower Records, Shibu Department Store, the game’s version of the Parco department store or the Tsutaya bookstore that looms over the crossing. Like in real-life, nearby Hachiko, there is an underpass where the game starts to ramp up the enemy difficulty. However, unlike in the game, polishing the famous pooch does not trigger a fight.

2. Ghostwire: Tokyo

Set across Shibuya, Ghostwire: Tokyo is brimming with real-world spoofs. There’s DailyNinja and FujiyaMart konbini (convenience store), riffs on Daily Yamazaki and FamilyMart, a mash-up of Japan’s favorite coffee shops (Tulleys, Duotor and Starbucks) called TulitorBucks and Kabazeriya, more than a nod to Japan’s favorite Italian fast food restaurant, Saizeriya.

Ghostwire’s take on Shibuya’s Center-Gai is where the game design shines. You can search for Drunken Alley, the game’s Nonbei Yokocho, the cylindrical department store Shibuya 429 (in reality, Shibuya 109), the lantern-lit Nabeshima Shoto Park and numerous red torii (gates) that unlock more of the map.

Visit all 31 unique landmark locations across the game, and you’ll unlock the “Shibuya Is My Back Yard” achievement—a good indication of just how close to the real thing Ghostwire comes. The game takes some liberties with squeezing distances and populating Center-Gai with paranormal activity. Still, this feels unmistakably Shibuya with accurate green phone boxes, convincing commuter trains, and aging signage.

3. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore

Photo: NintendoIt’s not Harajuku without crepes.

Tokyo’s Harajuku district is famous for kawaii (cute) stores, eccentric styles and delicious crepes. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore takes players down Harajuku’s crowded Takeshita Street.

In this idol roleplaying game, you’ll visit all over Tokyo, but the candy-sweet streets of Harajuku Mirage Sessions capture the best bits. You can shop for new character outfits in Anzu or M♥M, recognizable from Harajuku’s real-life W♥C and Pinklatte clothing shops, and grab a digital crepe at Crepes Dia.

On Sundays in the real Harajuku, you can sometimes catch lolita dolls, punks and cosplayers hanging out on the bridge in front of Meiji Jingu Shrine. Game characters emulate the same Harajuku fashion trends but throw in the bonus of side quests and tokens.

4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

You can’t talk about games set in Japan without paying homage to the Yakuza series. Not only does Yakuza: Like a Dragon change the familiar gameplay of Yakuza, but also the locale—moving from Tokyo’s Shinjuku to neighboring Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Head down to the waterfront of Like a Dragon’s Isezaki Ijincho, modeled after Yokohama’s real Isezakicho, for views of Landmark Tower and the Bay Bridge. You’ll spot Minato Mirai’s famous ferris wheel across the water. You can also roam the game’s version of Yokohama Chinatown and spot Choyomon Gate.

Like a Dragon also makes a brief stop in Sotenbori, Yakuza’s take on Osaka’s Dotonbori district. There is, of course, a version of the classic neon sign, but the bars and restaurants, including real-world hot spot Kukuru, have players smelling takoyaki in the air.

5. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet: The Teal Mask

Photo: Pixta/ NacchanWho’s that Pokemon?

Although Pokemon Scarlet and Violet’s Paldea region is based on Spain, the upcoming The Teal Mask DLC brings it home to a mountainous, Japan-inspired valley and village with rice paddies and apple orchards called Kitakami in a story about masks, festivals and demons. While it isn’t officially confirmed, there is strong evidence the region is based on Japan’s Tohoku region and Iwate Prefecture, also famous for rice fields, apple orchards and demon festivals. 

Turning the real-world map of Tohoku on its side looks a heck of a lot like Pokemon’s Kitakami map. There is even a real Kitakami City famous for its massive Kitakami Michinoku Geino Festival, where, every summer, people wear demon masks and dance in parades. In The Teal Mask, a new demon Pokemon, ogerpon, also wears a familiar mask.

What are your favorite videogame locations inspired by Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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