Osaka in Japan. Time is 3:06pm on August 4. That’s when I call an Uber to get to the Pokemon Center Osaka located at the Daimaru Umeda Store. As the game has been a large part of my childhood, I can barely hide my excitement as I hop into the cab, thinking about those good old days when I would pretend my regular tennis balls were Pokeballs and had precious Pokemon inside of them.
It was a silly game I used to play as an 8-year-old, but little did I know that one day this sheer love for the game would take me all the way to Japan, the land where Pokemon originated. I am in Osaka to cover the Pokemon Go Fest 2023, organised by game developer Niantic. And immediately after arriving in the city, I notice that Pokemon is an inherent part of Japan and isn’t just a game for the people living there, it seems to be a part of their everyday lives.
The cute little pocket monsters that we all adore have a far greater significance for Japanese people than it does for the rest of the world.
Everybody here loves Pokemon
The moment I get into the cab, the driver, named Koji, greets me with a smile and says something I didn’t quite understand. I smile back at him and comfortably sit in the spacious cab that had come to pick me up and take me around the city. In order to pass my time, I turn on the Pokemon Go game and as soon as the game’s background score stars playing, Koji suddenly exclaims, ‘Pokemon?’. I nod and use Google Translate to tell him that I am an Indian journalist who is here to cover the Pokemon Go Fest.
And with this, the language barrier that we had a couple of minutes back didn’t seem to exist much as Koji was quite interested to know what level I was in the game and how many Pokemon I had. After the ride ended, I showed him my precious Pokemon collection in the game while I paid him for the ride and he was quite excited to glance through the magical, fantasy creatures.
But Koji wasn’t the only Pokemon lover I met on my way to the mall. Peeking out the cab window, I saw a child wearing a Pikachu hat, twinning with his mom who was holding him and wearing the same hat. The two seemed to be engaged in a conversation while walking towards their destination.
And then there was a girl walking on the street using her phone, having a phone cover that had the Pokemon branding.
A life lived with Pokemon
With an Arigato and a quick bow, my cab ride comes to an end and I step out. Upon reaching the Pokemon Center, I see something I had never seen before – hundreds of Pokemon fans gathered in a single place, shopping for merchandise. I knew that the Pokemon Center would be crawling with fans but you don’t usually see these many people out at a store on a weekday. Not in India, at least. But here, the story was different.
When I explored the center for a bit, I realised how Pokemon is embedded in everyday lives of people here. There were Pokemon-inspired coffee and tea mugs, glasses, spoons and forks, and a lot more. My favourite were the cute lunch boxes for children with Pikachu on them.
As for adults, there were Pokemon-inspired Airpods Pro covers, contact lens cases, and handkerchiefs as well as socks. Apart from these, there was Pokemon-inspired stationery and ofcourse, something that we all love, loads of plushies. These Pokemon-inspired everyday items gave me the feeling that I was at a place where Pokemon wasn’t just a game or a TV series, but it was real. All of the people there, kids and adults alike, showed a rare affection for these virtual pocket monsters and left no stone unturned in expressing their love for them.
And perhaps it is this love that made them wait patiently in a long line to get their favourite items billed. The line was long enough and seemed to be never-ending. This is why I dropped a couple of things that I had picked up and decided to purchase them later. But the people there seemed unfazed and were standing patiently, awaiting their turn.
Brings people together
At the Pokemon center, at some distance from the billing counter, I saw some Arcade Gaming Consoles that had Pokemon games that I had never seen before. Once again, kids, as well as adults, were playing these games together and seemed to be having a gala time. A man was enjoying fighting Pokemon in the game with his son who got rewarded with tags each time they defeated an enemy. While at a glance these people seemed to simply enjoy the game, I felt it was such a strong bonding experience between the parents and kids, one that would probably be remembered for a lifetime.
Not just at the Pokemon center, throughout the Osaka City Mall I spotted various people carrying Pokemon-themed merchandise or simply enjoying the game. There was a group of people who were participating in various raid battles and another group of people who were trading Pokemon with each other in the Pokemon Go game. None of them really spoke English so I was unable to have a conversation to them but what I did notice was that they all were not just playing a game, but were so engrossed in it that the moment they caught a Pokemon or defeated the enemy, their excitement shined through their eyes.
The Pokemon craze can be felt in the entire city of Osaka. Be it a local gift shop selling Pokemon chopsticks or an electronics shop with Pokemon-inspired phone covers, the game seems to be present in all parts of the city, in one way or another.
A friendly reminder
I was in Osaka for roughly two days and attended the Pokemon GO Fest 2023. The fest was, as one could expect, full of Pokemon enthusiasts and had people from all parts of the world gathering at a single place, talking, laughing, and catching Pokemon.
The fest, that took place in Commemorative 70 Park, Osaka, was a one-of-its-kind experience and nearby was a large shopping mall that caught my eye. Just as I was about to enter the mall, a signboard at a store got my attention and made me chuckle.
‘Please do not Pokemon in the store’, it said.
It’s amazing how people have to be reminded to not catch Pokemons at stores in Japan. This only highlights how deep the popularity of the game goes in the country and just how large its fanbase is. Smiling at the signboard and turning the Pokemon Go app in my phone off, I enter the store and grab something to remember the city by. Guess what I got? Hint, it’s Pokemon inspired.