Me Versus Japan’s UFO Catchers

UFO catchers… the bane of my wallet.

If you’ve never been to Japan, you may be wondering what on earth an UFO catcher actually is. Well, you’ve probably heard of them by the more familiar name of ‘claw-machine’ or have wondered what was causing such an aggravated level of cursing from the corner of an arcade.


Let me tell you a little bit about UFO catchers: these tempting Perspex boxes of cuteness litter the arcades of Tokyo, just waiting for a naïve customer with a love of giant soft objects to wander by. The toys inside look out with large eyes, begging to be rescued and taken away to a loving home – a loving home I happened to have. Filled with all shapes and sizes of toys, my collection of cuddly objects grew considerably in Japan; I acquired everything from tiny soft lizards to a giant soft ram.


My favourite and ultimate goal, however, was to win a certain toy – that toy was the special seasonal Halloween version of a giant round cat. Alas, my skills were not high enough and through my attempts at various arcades in Tokyo and coming away empty handed, I learned a lot about the techniques used to actually win these elusive pieces of softness. Many UFO-pros (highly skilled UFO-catcher users) know the exact time when a machine’s claw will grab and the exact pressure required to win a certain size of toy. After I tried multiple times and failed to perfectly execute a grab on the cat, they rushed up to the machine and instantly won. Much to my dismay, I then watched the giant Halloween cat leave through the arcade exit.


I soon realized, however, that the claw does not have enough power to lift a soft toy about the size a baby cow. As such, I needed to learn the techniques from the masters. I stood back and witnessed the sneaky tactic of the half-claw; whereby one would use only a singular prong of the grabber to slowly roll the cuddly object towards the win zone. Yes! That was it. The next time I was in the arcade I would try that! ALAS, it was more difficult than it seemed, and despite my best efforts to execute the half-claw, the spooky cat just flopped left and right on the spot. I was distraught: at that point, I had wasted over 2000 yen on this elusive plump kitty and soon, Halloween would be over, meaning the limited edition cats would also be gone.

What was I to do? I walked alone under the neon of Tokyo, occasionally staring at the sky as if to question the very fabric of the universe. But then, as I rounded a corner in Shinjuku, I saw it. An UFO machine with only 2 toys left in it…. The round soft cats weren’t Halloween-styled, but it was for sure the same type. I took a deep breath and went for it: just one more go. I slid my 100 yen into the slot and went for the grab… UFO神様ありがとう!(Thank you gods of claw machines!!) My face shone with the brilliance of 1000 suns as the cuddly toy bounced with a soft flump into the win box. I had done it. I was the proud owner of a standard theme limbless soft cat.

Me 1 – Tokyo Nil.