Rental Goggles: ¥500
Rental Jacket & Pants: ¥1000
Rental BB Gun: ¥2500
Cheap Gardening Gloves: ¥300
I’ve always been disturbed by the massive racks of real-looking guns you can find at the back of almost every Japanese hobby shop: Video games, Gundam models, R/C helicopters... and AK-47s. In a country where real guns are virtually nonexistent, authentic-looking toys simply aren’t an issue. Until recently, I’d never understood the appeal.
‘Air soft,’ also known as ‘saba-gehh,’ the Japanese contraction of ‘Survival Game,’ essentially consists of running around in the woods firing soft biodegradable BB pellets at people. A small group of us had arranged to go on a Sunday, joining a twice-monthly gathering of regulars at the Splash Survival Game Field on the outskirts of Chiba City.
Only one of our group actually owned a BB gun. The rest of us rented our gear, receiving short-barreled battery-powered AK-47s and fatigues with names like ‘McQureerir’ emblazoned on the chest.
When we arrived at the playing field, the regulars had some impressive equipment sitting out on the benches. Our rental AKs had single clips with about 50 pellets in the magazines; on one table a rapid-fire machine gun sat on a tub of 2500 rounds. Another guy had a sleek-looking sniper rifle painted forest green, with brown mesh tied around the scope for concealment. Some guys had shotguns. A veteran strapped with multiple clips and side-arms advised us to keep our equipment 'light.'
One of the team leaders, who happened to have reasonable English, gave us a run-down of the rules and how to use the guns. Masks had to be in place at all times on the playing field. Hits were determined by an honor system. If you were shot, you went to the Safe Zone, holding your gun above your head and calling ‘Hit!’ all the way to prevent people from taking potshots at you. The game was capture the flag. If you hit the buzzer beneath the opposing team’s flag, the game was over.
The five of us joined the yellow team, wrapping bright yellow tape around our arms. Our five experienced leaders had the good grace never to complain about their disadvantage. We dove into the woods, first running, then crawling as we realized that runners usually had very short games. The area was on a slope, just big enough that it was possible to hide, but impossible to slip around without being spotted. Trenches and woodpiles offered intermittent protection. A bunker or tree was great for cover, but it meant you couldn’t see anything directly in front of you. You could be caught in a tight firefight with a single opponent, trading rounds back and forth from protected positions until a lucky shot or the timely arrival of an ally changed the situation.
Every step forward was tense. The regular players advised us to move a few meters after every shot to make it harder to track your position. Our most successful team members just hid in the bushes and waited for people to walk by. Feeling good for catching an opponent off-guard, five minutes later I was shot in the back by an ally. Friendly-fire kills happened about once per game.
Some games were played on full-automatic, others on semi. The regulars had different guns for each situation, and as the day went on, they were kind enough to let us try out some of their cool stuff. We played about a dozen games throughout the day, winning consistently in the morning, then getting trounced in the afternoon. It was a rare game in which you didn’t get shot. The pellets seldom hurt when they hit, though the pistols seemed to pack more of a punch than the rifles, especially at close range. One of their guys came out with a bloodied lip, and one of ours took a point-blank shot to the neck.
After five hours, we left feeling tired, dirty, and wondering how much it would cost to get some gear of our own.
Splash Survival Game Field has open games from 10:00-5:00 on the first and third Sunday of every month, with indoor facilities available as well. Reservations are not required for the open games, but it’s a good idea to call ahead if it’s your first time and you’ll be renting (043-254-8748). Take the monorail from Chiba station to Chishirodai (¥450, 24 min). From there it’s about a 15-minute walk.
Published September 2009. Photos © 2009 Michael Kanert.