On 17 December 1997 millions of mothers around the world claiming watching TV is bad for your health were finally proven to have been correct all along. During Episode No 38 of the hugely popular Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) TV anime show on TV Tokyo, "the heroes are inside a computer when an antivirus program attempts to delete them by firing missiles. Pikachu, the lead Pokemon, jumps forward, and with a blast of yellow light detonates the missiles and saves the group." Next thing Japan knew more than 700 children were hospitalized with epileptic like seizures. Apparently the flashing light strobes from Pikachu’s eyes affected persons susceptible to what is known as "television epilepsy". Repeats on TV newscasts of the eight seconds that caused the seizures in the first place sent another 200 people or so to the hospital – including a 58-year-old man! (For more on this episode see Forbidden Pokemon which also has a video clip of the episode!)
Despite this episode Pikachu and his other Pokemon friends’ popularity has not been dented one bit – Pokemon probably reached its peak only a year or more later. Pikachu is king of anime and he is omnipresent in Tokyo. Pokemon was originally a Nintendo Gameboy video game but has since been seen in film, TV series, music recordings, books, magazines, more games and basically any other merchandise able and willing to pay the royalty fees. He adorns everything from toothbrush holders to electric guitars. He is seen on baby bottles, cell phone straps, beach towels, magazines, potato chips, clothes and of course the whole range of action figures and soft toys.
Pokemon trading cards are popular world wide and many a foreign visitor to Tokyo had to buy cards with Japanese writing for nephews and nieces back home – somehow these children learnt the basic capitalist theory of demand and supply young as they realized Japanese cards can be traded outside Japan for more than the local ones!
The official Pokemon Centre in Tokyo (Kawasaki Sandori Building, Nihonbashi, Tel: 03-5200-0707) used to be so popular during the late 1990s that people had to queue for hours to get in. Nowadays entry is far easier as Pokemon characters can be bought at so many different places. However, for new releases parents still have to queue at times at the official shops.
A visit to Pokemon Centre will send most children instantly into seventh heaven. In Japan very few merchandise is displayed behind glass and children can pick up, touch and play with practically anything and chase their parents wallets throughout the shop. There are always working models on display and you’ll be stunned how fast a child can work out how to operate a Gameboy in Japanese with no English instructions available.
Note, however, that non-Japanese versions of Pokemon games, books and videos are generally not sold in Japan. The toys and other paraphernalia are of course freely available.
Mexico City, Mexico
May 8, 2002
From journal Tokyo - bargain shopping and dining