To get to the new-as-of-2018 Pokemon Center in the upscale neighborhood of Nihonbashi you have to wait for it to open, and then take an elevator.
I waited in line for the Pokemon Center elevator with two other people in their 30s who were traveling to Japan from France and I think Eastern Europe, all of us with our necks craned back, staring at the tall banners of Eevee and Bulbasaur.
There were really only two kinds of people at the Nihonbashi Pokemon Center: Japanese children and their moms, and people from other countries in their late 20s or early 30s. While riding the elevator with the folks from Europe who were Old Like Me, I glanced at them briefly, our eyes met like rival Pokemon Battlers ( ! ) and we all seemed to have the same realizations about each other:
You played Pokemon Red or Blue or at least Gold and Silver!
You mustered enough cash to get to Japan.
You aren’t embarrassed that you still like Pokemon.
Since all of us were single travelers, we had either broken off from our groups or had kicked it to Japan solo despite wary looks from friends, as if to say:
“You guys can all go to the marvelous Imperial gardens or whatever,” puts on sunglasses “I’m going to the Pokemon Center!”
The Pokemon Center was decked out with custom Cherry Blossom decorations - no part of Tokyo holds anything back when it comes to Pokemon or Blossom Fever, both a kind of national treasure that bring crowds from far across the globe.
I couldn’t help but think that the Cherry Blossom Fever Mew looked a bit - just a bit - like late art superstar Bob Ross. Bob Ross and Mew are the rarest of Pokemon indeed, Bob with his making art fun and accessible, Mew with her Mewness.
Certain Pokemon in the normal decor had been replaced with custom-made Cherry Blossom Fever Pokemon outlines. I imagined the work order moving through a designer’s computer for this: “All right team, we need an outline of Dratini, but not Normal Dratini, we need Dratini wearing a cherry blossom crown! Make it happen!”
Even if Pokemon is not your favorite cup of video game tea and you wanted to see the Imperial Gardens, dammit, not stupid kids stuff, it’s worth taking a moment to understand something that people love so very much.
A new Pokemon game isn’t being released right now, so why is the Pokemon Center full of delighted, obsessed children on a weekday? What have these designers, engineers, product managers, writers, and marketers done together to make something so very cherished? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll keep looking. Pokemon is something that has made many people happy.
The Japan-themed Pikachus nearly did me in. There were all just too cute to be real. Similar to walking into a pachinko arcade, I didn’t fully understand all of it, but I was onboard.
Like the Disney Store, where every Disney character ever is available - even the White Cat from Aristocats - almost every Pokemon was available in plush form, even Fucking Koffing, a poison Pokemon that nobody is supposed to like!
The products and the Cherry Blossom cuteness is great, but the highlight of the Pokemon Center Tokyo DX is the display right before you enter the store: a tall, flowing glass case showcasing moments from each and every Pokemon game. The oldest games and the newest are displayed together, beloved and unbeloved characters alike. It felt a lot like a mini museum exhibit. I wish that there was a Pokemon Musuem, but I suppose museums come last, much in the same way that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is getting built. Museums might have to come last, though at this point, there are only a billion nerds in the world who would love to see How It’s Done when it comes to both Star Wars and Pokemon.
In every store in Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Harajuku, you can be the proud purchaser of Miyazaki film-related items, but there is also a Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli Museum! Buying, for adults, only goes so far, and museums for kids are inspiring. While we wait for the Pokemon Museum in the future, there is a tiny glimpse of such a possibility at the Pokemon Center.
When I lived in Austin I was making all kinds of wild art and developed terrible pain in my shoulder. The pain was so bad that I even made art about it! It was a fabulous helix of art and pain. To get the pain worked out, I went to a masseuse who, in addition to helping me, turned out to be a Cool Chick that You Would Get A Beer With. I’ll call her C.
While rubbing my wrecked shoulders, C told me a story about how one day in middle school, her Pokemon Red game had disappeared. A fairly organized kid, she usually didn’t lose things, but one day, it was gone for good. She had cried.
“Oh no,” I said, my head swaddled in the little donut massage pillow. I admired C’s ability to tell the story without seeing any of my facial reactions.
The story went on: five years after losing her game, one of her ‘friends’ confessed to be the reason the game disappeared. He had stolen it!
He said to her: “I stole the game because I hated how happy you were. You were always playing it and had a big smile on your face, and I hated that, because I wasn’t happy, so I took it away from you. I put it in a hole in the wall in the bathroom behind a brick.”
I don’t believe he ever apologized, I believe he just confessed to his crimes and left it at that.
I asked C if she went back to get the game at the middle school. She didn’t, she figured it was gone. It would have been hard for a grown woman to walk into a middle school boy’s bathroom (lord have mercy!), hard to explain to the principal and janitor: “Hey five years ago a bully took something from me and put it in the wall here, can I move around some of these bricks and see if it is still there?”
But this is something that someone would do for Pokemon. Pokemon has found a way to be extremely important to kids, to live deeply inside their hearts.
Possibly, the biggest tragedy of the story is that the bully didn’t steal the game to play it himself - he couldn’t fathom that he could experience the Sheer Pokemon Happiness that C experienced. Instead he stole it simply to be mean.
I do my best as a writer, but nobody could tell this story like C. I was so touched by the fact that after only a few massage sessions, she felt comfortable enough to talk with me, a totally naked customer, about a heartfelt Pokemon experience. Let me just say that If I ever start telling you how I feel about Pokemon IRL, I would feel fine being naked before you - You already know it all. There’s confidence and trust in just loving what you love. It’s the baring of the nerd soul.
If I ever invented something like Pokemon, I would never want a middle school girl to cry over it - but that is what happens with Pokemon: tears, smiles, rage, joy, feelings of all kinds are flying all over the place like uncontrollable cosmic radiation. It is, without a doubt, worth crying over, it’s worth going to the Pokemon Center in Tokyo, it’s worth staying close to the creature living inside your heart.