I Won A Japanese Crane Game For The First Time

I Won A Japanese Crane Game For The First Time

A few weeks back when I was checking out Evangelion 3.0 for the second time in the theatres, I walked into the neighbouring Sega arcade. Right inside the door they had a raffle set up and anyone with a movie ticket got a free draw.

Even though I didn’t win anything special, the consolation prize was one free try at any crane game in the arcade. So I thought, “what the hell, right?” and browsed the machines until I found the one prize I desperately wanted: a figure of Sheryl from Macross Frontier, dressed as Basara from Macross 7 — what can I say, Macross is a hell of a drug.


So I called an attendant over and got my free try put into the machine, only to realise I was looking at a crane game unlike any I had seen before. My personal experience with crane games is seeing them in restaurants or super markets — where you control a giant claw which drops down, grabs the item you want, and (hopefully) carries it over to a hole before dropping it down to you. This machine was different, to say the least. The figure I was after was sitting on a trap door above the hole. All that was holding the trap door shut was a string attached to a plastic plate balanced on a rubber ball at the end of a metal rod. Thus, knock the plate off the ball and the prize is yours. Simple, right? HAHAHA. No.

With my first try, I encountered a problem: If you aim dead centre, the two-pronged claw touches nothing. You have to be just off centre enough that when the claw closes, it hits the plate. After plugging in five dollars for an additional six tries, I got very good at having the claw in the right place on the left/right axis. On the front/back axis though, I was still hitting dead centre; so the claw ended up hitting the rubber ball, and not the plate. Of course, even hitting the plate in the sweet spot was barely enough to turn the plate, much less knock it off.

Over the next few minutes I got change twice, once breaking a $US50 bill in the change machine, as I began slowly-but-surely hitting alternating sides of the plate — walking it millimetre-by-millimetre towards its final plummet. During this time, I realised several times that I had gotten myself into an un-winnable position where the plate was turned at an angle that made it impossible to hit. However, the arcade staff members were quick to readjust the plate — without resetting it — whenever I asked. By the end, I had a staff member on hand cheering me on and more than a few onlookers. Yet, when my figure finally fell and the staff girl gave me a bag to carry it in, I was more relieved than excited. All in all it took me (only?) about $US15 to win the figure.


What have I learned from all this? Crane games are applaud-worthy in how deceitful they are. They are the perfect mixture of looking easy to win while at the same time sitting on just this side of impossible. But despite this, I felt happy with my experience. I had never won a crane game before in my life, but it was always something I’d wanted to do since I was a little kid. Sure, I could have bought the figure in Akihabara for $US8 but an additional $US7 was a small price to pay for the experience.

After I claimed my prize, they offered to take my remaining tries to another machine — where I did my best to help the next person to play it. By the time I reached the train station to head home, I was feeling pretty good about my little adventure. Then I opened my wallet to buy my ticket and realised, that in my excitement, I had left $US40 of the $US50 I broke in the change machine and it was long, long gone.[clear]

Top photo: SeanPavonePhoto


  • Don’t want to be a party pooper, but most of those games are rigged so they let you win/greatly improve your odds after putting in enough money. (http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2012/09/yes-arcade-crane-games-are-rigged/)

    Wouldn’t know whether it applies to this sort of machine though. In any case, co gratulations. I won a football from a machine in Melbourne and there’s a certain unique satisfaction to “conquering” the machine 🙂

    • Japan’s crane games are (not) surprisingly winnable and enjoyable. Also add the fact that most Japanese arcades instruct their staff to re-position prizes if they are put in impossible to win positions, and actually have prizes that can only be obtained via these games (as opposed to stuff you can buy in a shop).

      Of course, you can buy said items from places that specialise in reselling these limited edition stuff in sets but that just takes the fun out of it all doesn’t it? 🙂

      • Nice to know! Good Guy Japan – claw machines non-rigged and vending machines are designed to release free food/drinks in the event of an earthquake 😀

  • I clean the claw machines out regularly, have this incredible knack for them.
    spend $15, win like 10-15 toys, then give them to salvos.

    At one point i actually got banned from using the one at my local cinema, because people complained it was almost empty all teh time.

  • I once nearly won a plush Yoshi from one of those machines at Crown. Claw came down, took a very light hold of my Yoshi and pulled it up. Victory! My wife and I stood there cheering – neither of us had ever got anything out of one of those machines before. But it’s such a rip off. After it pulled my Yoshi up out of the pile, before it actually moves over to the hole to drop it, the claw actually OPENS slightly, releasing its grip just enough so that if it only had a very tenuous grip to start with then it will drop the toy back down into the pile. Which is what happened to my Yoshi, while we stood there with our hands pressed against the glass screaming “NOOOOOOOO!” I was robbed! I was so traumatised that I haven’t played one of those machines since. After I got home the following week I just bought a plush Yoshi to try and ease the pain.

  • Did a trip to Japan last year, saw these machines everywhere, finally decide to give one a go in Tokyo and the girlfriend pulls out a little black cat with a halo (??) first go. We thought it must just be really easy to get the toys until one of the dudes working in the arcade dropped to his knees and started bashing a tambourine next to us. We left the arcade to a standing ovation from all the employees. Pretty chuffed with this experience we ended up dropping about $100 into these machines over the next few weeks. Didn’t win another thing. Good times.

  • I got addicted to these for a while – would play just for the sake of it, and usually just wound up giving the prizes to either friends or family, and once a group of kids who’d had rotten luck on their own run, which felt pretty good. In Japanese arcades, the machines are more difficult but also more legit, outside of that you normally have to choose the machine pretty carefully – if it’s in a shopping centre, for example, don’t even bother, the settings are ridiculously against you, 1 in 10-15 tries will actually have the claw grip with any strength, cinemas tend to set theirs to something like 1 in 5-8, arcades usually something like 1 in 3. When you have the knack of claw machines and can get a perfect grab every time, it becomes apparent very quickly which machines are ludicrously rigged and which ones aren’t.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!