‘Pokemon Go’ turns into a fitness tool for Japan’s middle-aged

Kyodo

About a year after the craze created by the augmented reality game “Pokemon Go,” the smartphone app has largely become a tool for middle-aged and older people to stay fit and a way for tourist spots to attract visitors.

One day in early July, Tsutomu Misago, 48, was touching the screen of his smartphone in Tempozan Park in Osaka, where hordes of young players used to gather to catch rare characters in the GPS-based game.

“I’ve nothing to do on my days off,” Misago, who runs a construction business in Kobe, said while playing. Getting out and playing the game is “better than just staying at home,” he said, wiping sweat off his face.

Nearby, another middle-aged man was seen walking while staring at his smartphone.

“I’m a job bachelor,” said the 56-year-old employee, whose job keeps him separated from his family. “I keep playing it because I have few other reasons to go out.”

In Tokyo’s Ueno Park, another place that was once popular with “Pokemon Go” fans, far fewer people are playing the game.

“I stopped playing it after two months as I felt tired of walking,” said a 20-year-old man strolling in the park with his girlfriend.

They were in the park “to see the baby panda,” he said, referring to the giant panda cub born last month at nearby Ueno zoo.

The augmented reality game jointly developed by Nintendo Co., Pokemon Co. and Niantic Inc. was released in Japan on June 22 last year, about two weeks after its global debut in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

As it had elsewhere before, the game immediately became a social phenomenon in Japan, flooding parks and streets with players trying to catch the various “Pokemon” (pocket monsters) that appear superimposed on their smartphone screens, based on one’s location.

The game was blamed for causing traffic accidents and trespassing problems involving players who get carried away.

According to Tokyo-based research agency Values Inc., the number of players who played at least once a month climbed to an estimated 11 million shortly after its was released here last July.

The figure had fallen by last autumn as the frenzy cooled.

The proportion of “Pokemon Go” players in their 20s and 30s dropped to 52 percent from 62 percent after 12 months, while the ratio for those 40 or older climbed to 48 percent from 38 percent, according to Values.

Older people continue to play the app despite its cooling popularity with younger players. Some senior citizens’ clubs have promoted it as a way to increase outdoors activities.

Akira Hata, a professor at Chiba University’s Center for Preventive Medical Sciences, praised “Pokemon Go” as a health tool.

“Walking is helpful to prevent us from becoming overweight and suffering from high cholesterol,” he said. “It’s successfully designed to get people accustomed to activities.”

On the tourism front, some municipalities continue to use the app to solicit visitors.

The tourism office in the Amanohashidate area of Miyazu, in northern Kyoto Prefecture, is one example.

The area, known as one of Japan’s three most scenic spots, announced in March that it was collaborating with the operator of the game.

It created a map showing where players can catch “Pokemon Go” game items at sightseeing spots.

“I have long wanted to visit Amanohashidate,” a 40-year-old tourist from Ishikawa Prefecture said recently. “I finally decided to come because of ‘Pokemon,’ ” he said.

The tourism officials said “Pokemon Go” seems to have been “a good cue” for motivating people to visit the area.

Similar tourism moves utilizing the game are also going on in Miyagi, Fukushima and Saitama prefectures, although it is still not clear how effective the campaigns are.

Pokemon Co. said it plans to enhance the game’s features and plans for playing events to boost the game’s popularity.