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Imperial Pokémon

Is it a harmless card game — or a device to launch Japan’s cultural re-emergence?

July 20, 2000

Is it a harmless card game — or a device to launch Japan's cultural re-emergence?

If you do not have a clue about what Pokémon is all about, you can either ask your kids (they’ll certainly know) or you can search the Internet.

On the web, you’ll find more information than you will ever need. From its beginnings as a marketing campaign for Ninetendo’s “Game Boy,” Pokémon has turned into its own cultural phenomenon — with fans who burn with a near religious zeal. Naturally, there are even Pokémon hate groups out there dedicated to stop further invasion of the United States.

For those who are blissfully unaware of the phenomenon, here is a little input. Pokémon (short for pocket monsters) are creatures that come in every imaginable form and shape.

Once you can call a Pokémom your own, you start out to collect more and more. From the day you have received your first Pokémon from Professor Oak, you will set out to become a trainer, a breeder or basically a good companion for the Pokémons you are taking care of.

Pokémons want to be your friend. This is what is mentioned in every Pokémon handbook and this is how it looks from the childrens’ horizon.

The parents’ point of view is somewhat different as they are faced by an onslaught of clever marketing strategies that sell the Pokémon world to the little ones.

The constant need to get Pokémon cards in order to improve the ranking of a trainer means regular inquiries about the prospects of acquiring the most recent ones.

As a parent, you know you are really in trouble when you find that, on such occasions, Pokémon cards are sold out.

Here’s a trick worth considering, provided you live in one of the bigger cities that have substantial Asian or Japanese quarters.

You might be able to avoid facing a spoiled weekend if you manage to find the original Japanese cards as a substitute.

Yet, if you think you have been lucky in your successful quest for Pokémon cards going to suburban malls where nobody speaks your language and you do not speak theirs, you might still find yourself in even more difficulties.

Arriving back at home with your trophy acquisition, expecting your children to be overjoyed, it is not unlikely that all you get is a: “What does it say on the card?” Then: “What? How dumb are you? You don’t speak Japanese?”

Admitting that you do not speak any Japanese at all, you hang your head in shame.

On top of all the clever marketing that threatens to reduce your children to Pokémon addicted nitwits, the Japanese may have come up with a clever tool to create excess demand which leaves desperate parents with only two alternatives: either facing children on Pokémon turkey — or learning to speak Japanese.

This is when it finally dawns on you. Pokémon is nothing but a marvelously clever device to establish modern-day Japanese cultural re-emergence.