We've done this before, but part of what we try to do here at Level Up is occasionally share with you something that is in our power to give: an intimate glimpse into gaming in Japan.
Of course, not every single game ever comes from Japan, but as someone who grew up as a SNES/Playstation One baby, believe me when I say there was a time where it seemed like it. While Japan has definitely decreased in importance in the video game scene, they have made enough of a contribution in the past to still be relevant. Some of the longest-lived, most popular video game series ever have come from Japan, and none stand out more than Pokemon.
Pokemon is huge everywhere, of course, but take that popularity and multiply it by a billion, and you have the level of prevalence it enjoys in its home country. It's so popular, in fact, that it has a huge store devoted just to selling Pokemon merchandise in the middle of Tokyo. We recently went to go visit it, having never been there before, and we thought we'd allow you all to experience it vicariously through us. Let's wander through, shall we?
The first thing that hits you about the Pokemon Center is 'Holy crap it's crowded!' We went on a weekday, a Thursday I think, and it was packed. Granted it was Winter break, but still... don't people have work or something? There were lots of kids around of course, walking around chatting happily to each other about the new Pokemon they just got (there are certain in-game Pokemon you can only download at the Pokemon Center, apparently), but what surprised me the most was how many not-kids there were. A lot of the adults were escorting their children, but there was also a high population of other adults there as well. There were the requisite otaku (anime/game nerds) there, but I also saw a young fashionable woman sitting on a nearby bench, battling someone over the area's free wi-fi on her pink, bedazzled DS. The person who made me do the biggest double-take was the 40-something Japanese salaryman, running by like he had an important meeting somewhere, stop suddenly, whip out his shiny black 3DS really quick, download the special Pokemon, smile, and then hurry on his way again. I knew that gaming was much more prevalent and age-irrelevant in Japan, but it took the visit to the Pokemon store to really make me realize it.
All this hit me before we even made it into the store, as many of the customers were chilling outside in various benches and battling each other. After you wade through the swamp of humanity, keeping the cute murals in the windows in your line of sight as you inexorably move closer, the first thing that greets you as you finally enter the sliding glass doors is a statue of Pikachu and his friends, welcoming you to his domain. Giant statues of Pokemon are also suspended from the ceilings, to the delight of everyone wandering around the store. Beyond the Pokemon statues, however, the store design is very... Nintendo, I suppose. Clean, stark lines of black and white, impeccably organized and clean. With Pokemon merchandise everywhere.
Many of the items on sale are available in various other stores, but no where else is every single piece of Pokemon merchandise concentrated to such an extent. Pokemon stuffed animals, pencils, action figures, toys, folders, notebooks, games, bags.... everything you could possibly ever imagine, stamped with a Pokemon image and put out for your buying convenience. Of course, there are also pieces of merchandise that you can onlyget at the Pokemon Center, displayed prominently on a round gondola in the middle of the store. This is what people come to the Pokemon Center for, and boy do they make it worth it. Many of the items are limited edition, and the gondola display is changed every other month with new offerings for the Pokemon fanatic. Some of the offerings they had this month were old school 8-bit Pokemon wristwatches, and this sweatshirt, which you better believe I bought. We also picked up an exclusive Pokemon Center Tokyo key-chain, and a pressed copper coin with a sleeping Pikachu on it from one of those coin-pressing machines. I'm a sucker for Pikachu, in case you hadn't noticed...
The store is at least set up well to handle the huge influx of people it seems to get on a regular basis, because as soon as we had decided we were done shopping, a helpful shop clerk herded us into an orderly line waiting for one of 8 registers. The line moved at a fast pace, and because we spent enough money, we were directed to a small counter past the registers, where another employee checked our receipt, then directed us to a separate room, next to the Pokemon Center. Apparently if you spend over 5,000 yen, or roughly $55, you get a spin at a roulette wheel in this room, where you can win one of several prizes. We got a free Pokemon folder and a coupon for 1,000 yen off our next visit, which was apparently the booby prize. Other possible prizes included everything from giantPokemon stuffed animals to exclusive in-game items.
The Pokemon Center is a dream come true for any Pokemon fan, even a casual one like myself. I can't even imagine how awesome this place is for a hard-core fan. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip there, and I tend to wear my awesome new Pikachu hoodie any chance I get. If you ever happen to find yourself in Tokyo, you should definitely look it up. Until then, hopefully you enjoyed your vicarious experience, and may the Pokemon be with you.