Pokemon Go isn't new, not even to Japan where it was released back in late July following the early July US and Australia release. In the months that have followed, lots of people the world over have used the digitally-veiled real world app to increase fitness, take silly pictures, and have a good time. Recently fanaticism has dropped off among the uber-casual gamer as the novelty of the game experience has expired. More experienced gamers have been put off by the game developers' successful attempts to exclude third party Pokemon tracking software. This means anyone who was desperate to fill-in their entire Pokedex (Pokemon index, the lost of all the different kinds of creatures you've caught, hatched, or evolved something into) are left to hope for the best as they walk around aimlessly.
While all of this was happening, I was stuck with a 3.5 year old phone that could not download nor use the software. Last week, this phone was finally out of commission and a new one was purchased. The first thing I did? Downloaded and installed Pokemon Go. Nevermind that most of my friends and family back home have mostly stopped playing it, or that I may look weird playing the game in public in Japan. I had to know what the hub-bub was about. Keeping in mind that I'm a fairly casual gamer and spend most of my time keeping up with my three-year-old, I wasn't expecting the thing to change my life. Instead, I found myself making time for early-morning poke-walks within two days of the initial download.
Between October 10th and 17th, I caught 318 Pokemon, walked 26.7 kilometers, visited 315 pokestops, reached level 15, and lost a pound. What's more, I wasn't exhausted in the morning after my walk but refreshed. I didn't need coffee if I was going to walk a couple of kilometers. I could save the caffeine for the afternoon as a pick-me-up and use adrenaline to get me through the post-slumber grog.
That's right! Fish Box = PokeStop (where you get more pokeballs and other items)
More exciting than capturing new digital monsters has been the act of rediscovery. It's easy to become complacent as a long-term expat. I've been a resident of Shiogama for the last 6 years, Japan for 8, and I've somehow managed to forget how special that is. Discovering the locations of the pokestops is fun, but the unique experiences that go along with them are more so. Take Shiogama Shrine for example. Easily one of the nicest and biggest shrines in Miyagi,it sports a beautiful garden, fantastic view, and plenty of places to pray and/or buy Shinto charms. I love the place so much I have reviewed it and blogged about it. A cursory look with Pokemon Go reveals that it is also home to many pokestops and even a gym.
During a morning Poke-walk, I discovered a completely new part of the shrine going experience. It was exactly 10AM and I heard some strange music as I came to the front of the main entrance to the shrine. Then I looked up.
The upper parts of the lap posts swivel and disconnect, showing dancing miko-san in one lamp post and shinto priests in another. It was breathtaking; astounding. I felt like I had somehow woken up inside of a delightfully creepy cuckoo clock.
It was magical.
Magic notwithstanding, there are some glitches in the game, usually based on logistics. If you go underground or enter a building or are using a pedestrian walkway, the app doesn't always know where to put you. From my home on the 8th floor, the app decides I am across the street and running around. Occasionally this works out in my favor, at it sometimes lands me close enough to use the poke-stop at a shrine on a hill across the street. Sometimes it doesn't, like when I use a pedestrian walkway and can't reach the Pokestop I am standing directly over because the app thinks I am two blocks away.
Despite the glitches and the inability to hunt specific Pokemon via third party apps, I am happy with my week-long Pokemon experience. If free digital monsters prove to be the best incentive to get me out of the house for morning walks, I don't see a reason not to go and catch them. My town is strangely littered with Poke-stops and the joy of finding new things to love about being here is well worth any frustration the game may cause.
I'll leave you with these, some of my sillier pictures of Pokemon-about-town.
Hey, that's not a gatcha-pon!