National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Japan’s media blast away at the ‘Pokemon Go’ craze

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

The late journalist Soichi Oya (1900-70) was regarded in his times as the “emperor” of Japan’s mass media. Writing for a short-lived magazine called Shukan Tokyo back in February 1957, Oya lamented the intellectual decline of his fellow Japanese. Those remarks were encapsulated into the oft-repeated phrase Terebi ichioku sō-hakuchika (The dumbing down of the 100 million — i.e., the entire nation of Japan — through television).

It’s a pity Oya is not here today to provide a pithy comment about the overnight popularity of “Pokemon Go.” The “augmented reality” game from U.S. firm Niantic Inc., with characters licensed from Nintendo, was already a huge hit in several countries when it was released in Japan on July 22. More than 10 million people here were said to have downloaded the free game on the first day of its release.

Cartoonist Mitsuru Yaku vented his spleen at the game in tabloid Nikkan Gendai (Jul. 29), complaining, “It’s nothing if not stupid.”

Nikkan Gendai agreed, and felt moved to channel Oya’s contempt for lowbrow mass entertainment by reiterating his famous remark: “Of course, if Japan were a society with no problems, then it would be fine for people here to go wild over games. But politics and the economy are full of problems. … A man murders 19 disabled people in Sagamihara? ‘Eh, nothing to do with us,’ they say, as they stroll hither and yon, completely absorbed in their game. That is what we mean by the ‘dumbing down of the 100 million.'”

“Things were bound to come to this,” remarked journalist Takao Saito. “I think it shows how infantile Japanese are becoming. Even children know that it’s dangerous to walk around while looking at a smartphone. To prefer playing a game while disregarding one’s safety shows a decline in the ability to make common-sense decisions. People have become unable to distinguish the relative importance between their own lives and enjoying a game.”

“Pokemon Go” is truly a modern-day opiate, Nikkan Gendai sighs.

Japan’s police also appear to be taking a wary view of the new phenomenon.

“It’s been confirmed that a monster appears at the Prime Minister’s Office, which raises the possibility that players will enter the premises illegally,” a police source told Shukan Bunshun (Aug. 4). “I wouldn’t put it past a spy to attempt a break-in while feigning to be playing the game. We’ve also confirmed reports of fraud and attempts to distribute phoney apps for ‘Poke-go.’ As far as we police are concerned, our position is ‘Pokemon no.'”

Likewise, some venues have reflexively rejected what they view as frivolous, even disrespectful, play. A worker at the Nagasaki city office responsible for peace promotion activities told Sunday Mainichi (Aug. 14-21): “These are sites where people can view the effects of the atomic bombing and can also offer prayers. In particular lots of people, including foreign tourists, tend to gather at the entrance to the atomic bomb museum, and the steps can be hazardous. We requested Pokestops be removed to avoid possible dangers,” the worker said, referring to places where players can get free in-game items.

The magazine added that so far at least 32 public utilities and services, including Japan Railways, electric power companies and operators of expressways have requested removal of Pokestops from their premises. Another one was Hokkaido University. While no troubles were reported among students, the institution, reported J-Cast News (Jul 29), said it was concerned “over various risks,” including the possibility of accidents or gamers entering laboratories or other restricted areas.

For at least some, a walk out of doors in the fresh air to sashay over to a Pokestop and nab a pocket monster isn’t the only incentive. Spa! (Aug. 8) has spotted another motive for playing the game: It offers new opportunities for picking up girls. “The rampant sex just won’t stop,” read the headline.

A 33-year-old graphic designer boasted to the magazine that he’d made the acquaintance of a female player near a park adjacent to Ikebukuro Station’s West Exit. The two hit it off, and she agreed to a dinner date two nights later, after which he succeeded in “taking her home.”

“‘Pokemon Go’ made it happen,” he winked.

In contrast to the negative coverage, numerous articles examining which companies’ share prices are likely to be boosted by the new game have appeared in general and business-related publications. Some are convinced it marks the emergence of a new conduit through which huge amounts of money are destined to flow. The term for this heady new phenomenon is “Pokenomics,” and the Nikkei Marketing Journal (July 22) has bandied around the figure of ¥5 trillion in revenues.

Naoya Tsuchiya, founder and editor of net news site News Socra, told Shukan Economist (Aug. 9-16) he liked the game, and felt that the system by which players are charged fees is “relatively conscientious.”

“Experts say that the more users there are who don’t pay, the more users there will be who pay a lot,” he said. “It’s not because the latter find the game so interesting, but because it makes them feel superior to those who play for free.”

Describing himself as a “minor player” of net media, Tsuchiya was not optimistic about the long-term prospects for “Pokemon Go.” “My impression from playing is that the boom’s not going to last long,” he predicted. “That said, I’d feel a little let down if the innovation in smartphone games gets nipped in the bud.”