We hit the arcade, then turned our winnings into cold, hard cash.
While the exact prizes offered by UFO catchers (as Japan calls arcade crane or claw games) varies by machine, most of them fall under what you’d call “trinkets.” Sure, a couple give out candies or salty snacks to winners, but most of them are stocked with plastic figures, stuffed animals, or other assorted toys that you’ll take home and stick on your shelf before eventually tossing them in a box or closet to make room for something else.
So it was a pretty big deal last year when UFO catchers with actual gemstones as their prizes started showing up in Japanese arcades. Sure, the stones are tiny, but according to the promotional text on the machine we found near RocketNews24 headquarters in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, they’re authentic, naturally occurring gems, procured from low-cost sources in Thailand and Myanmar.
We’ve got a couple of staff members who’re pretty confident in their UFO catcher skills, and so we started wondering if this might be a path to quick and easy riches for us, since each play of the machine costs just 100 yen (US$0.97). After spending, sorry, investing 2,000 yen in a UFO catcher session we walked away with two gems: an opal and a ruby.
Now it was time to see how much our prizes were worth. Like many urban entertainment districts in Japan, Shinjuku has a couple of stores that specialize in buying and reselling brand-name accessories and jewelry. We walked into one such shop, a branch of a fairly well-known chain, and asked the clerk if they could appraise our stones for us.
However, we were crestfallen to hear the clerk respond with “I’m sorry, we can’t appraise gems of this size.” For loose gems, the chain requires them to be a minimum of two carats, and our stones didn’t qualify.
Still, we weren’t ready to give up, so our next stop was a store that specializes in buying gemstones specifically.
We entered the tastefully appointed establishment and sheepishly approached the receptionist. Pulling out the gems, we asked “Would it be possible to have these appraised?” and to our pleasant surprise, she told us, “Yes, we can do that for you.”
With that, we were ushered into a waiting room, where we were served iced coffee and a cookie while the gems were examined.
Eventually, the appraiser came in and gave us the results. “First, these appear to be real gems,” he told us, and our spirits soared to the heights we expected our bank accounts to soon reach. But through our elation, we heard him continue. “However, in order to use them in, for example, a ring or pendant, they’ll have to be shaved and polished.”
That sort of processing would of course require effort and expense, and so we began to fear that maybe our gems weren’t going to be as fantastically valuable as we’d hoped. We braced ourselves as the appraiser handed over the form showing the final judgement of how much our two gems, collectively, were worth.
10 yen? 10 yen?!?!? After pumping 2,000 yen into the UFO catcher, our prizes ended up being worth less than one percent of the money we’d spent to win them.
In conclusion, it looks like UFO catchers are not, in fact, going to make any of us rich. Still, the idea of winning actual gems at the arcade is kind of cool, so from an entertainment standpoint, we wouldn’t say it’s a complete waste of money. If you really are looking for economic gain, though, we absolutely recommend selling the gems at a place that serves refreshments, since our coffee and cookie were worth far more than our ruby and opal.
[ Read in Japanese ]
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’d like to know where he put that Zaku II keychain he won at the arcade so many years ago.
[ Read in Japanese ]