Japanese people have a strong nationalistic streak. It’s inherent, often unspoken and occasionally unnerving. The commonly held belief among the culture is that anything made in Japan is instantly great and anything not made in Japan has the potential to be not great.
Although this occasionally seems ugly, as hardcore patriotism always does, it’s pretty easy to understand. Japan has given the world some amazing things. Sure, they deal with the same kind of rampant unavoidable americanization that the rest of us do, but they’re acutely aware of how popular their homegrown stuff is around the world, and right now, the only thing anyone is talking about is undeniably Japanese.
Would you like to be the very best like no one ever was?
Pokémon is just one of those things that absolutely dominated absolutely everywhere and it’s almost impossible to imagine our pop culture landscape without it. For the west, many of us got our first taste with the TV animation, unmatched in durability by just about all its contemporaries. Show me another nine-year-old theme tune performed at Warped Tour in 2016 to rapturous applause.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you’ve probably heard about Pokémon Go; a free smartphone game developed by Niantic and published by Nintendo, which has become a genuine global phenomenon. Using google maps, Pokémon Go turns your street into a pokémon littered landscape ripe for the hunting.
And people have gone absolutely nuts for it.
Japan, despite being pokémon’s spiritual and literal home, was pretty late to this poképarty. The game has been out here for 3 days, but already everyone on the street is lapping it up. Not that this should surprise anyone. Even the Japanese government weighed in pre-launch, releasing a document warning players about accidents and the dangers of not watching where you’re going.
One guideline says not to use your smartphone while walking; an absolute waste of ink and paper considering Japanese people do this all the fucking time anyway.
Japan’s gaming culture is one of the strongest and oldest in the world, and it’s something they’re tremendously proud of. Unfortunately, it has – over the years – become almost inexorably linked to the somewhat worrying Hikikomori culture; men and women who choose to lock themselves away and devote their lives to gaming, anime and/or professionally avoiding sunlight. If Pokemon Go can have the same effect here as it’s had in the west, it could have far reaching effects for Japanese society as a whole.
Like anything that people enjoy en masse, there have been some negative reports. Japan is keeping up with the jones’ in that regard too, albeit in a uniquely Japanese way. Rumour has it that Chinese hackers are using GPS spoofers to take over Japanese gyms and tag them with Chinese nationalist propaganda. Most of the gyms in Japan are at Shinto shrines or temples but some are at World War II memorial sites. Considering the ever-present tension between Japan and China, this kind of disrespect has not gone unnoticed.
Fortunately, these instances are few and far between and what’s happening the world over, is that pokémon fans are freer than ever to meet, interact and share their love for this cultural phenomenon. In a world so feverishly desperate to divide us, to turn us on each other at every possible opportunity, how wonderful it is to see people brought together, and brought outside, to celebrate mutual interests and focus on what brings us together.
Because that’s what Pokémon does; bring people together. And if you need more convincing, watch this television commercial nintendo ran this year and try not to tear up.