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Specialty Store a Big Hit in Japan

January 20, 2000

The store is so popular that visitors sometimes have to wait an hour or more just to get in.

When King Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan announced his plans to buy Pokemon items for his children during his visit to Japan in November and December 1999, it was just a typical example of the current worldwide frenzy over the Pocket Monsters. Box-office sales from the animation series' first full-length motion picture in the United States, titled Pokemon: The First Movie, on day one of its release alone in November totaled 10.1 million dollars. The Pokemon television series is being broadcast in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and many other Asian countries, with no end in sight to its amazing run of popularity. In response to all the hoopla, a store specializing in Pokemon goods in Japan, where the series originated, has been gaining attention.

Pokemon Central
Weekends at the business district of Nihonbashi in Tokyo tend to be quiet, except for one store specializing in Pokemon goods that has been pulling in huge crowds. Its proprietor correctly gauged that by locating in a convenient spot near Tokyo station, a huge junction of both local and long-distance train and bus lines, the store--Pokemon Center Tokyo--would draw visitors from throughout the country. The shop, which opened for business in April 1998, attracts around 1,500 visitors daily during the weekdays and anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 on the weekends. It is so popular that it sometimes has to limit the number of people entering the store at one time. Over summer vacation customers waited for up to two hours for a chance to shop, and during the Christmas season in 1999 as well, the wait was about an hour. The store sells some 1,500 products that include game cards, stationery, and even confectioneries. Some of its most popular items are original goods, unavailable elsewhere, designed with images of Pokemon characters Pikachu, Charmander, and Poliwhirl--the store's mascots.

While the majority of visitors to Pokemon Center Tokyo are children accompanied by their parents, many local businesspeople also frequent the store. Most of these older consumers come to buy gifts for their children, but a few say that they have been asked by colleagues based overseas to purchase Pokemon items for use as gifts for clients. There are even some who, conversely, entertain visiting American counterparts with trips to the store upon request. On weekday afternoons, men in suits can be seen in the shop's aisles earnestly appraising the value of their prospective purchases.

Overseas Draw
The store is also popular with foreigners, who make up 30% of its clientele. Since all of its products are only sold domestically, it is a treasure house for Pokemon fans visiting from abroad. Buses carrying groups of tourists often make stops there, and it is not unusual for some of these visitors to purchase several dozen items at once. The largest number of foreign visitors come from the United States to load up on packs of the Pokemon Card Game, which have been in short supply back home. These customers scrutinize the goods carefully prior to purchase, as the Japanese version is more highly prized in the United States than its English-language counterpart. When actor Bruce Willis was in Japan for two days on a promotional visit, he bought a suitcase's worth of Pokemon items for his daughter. Despite the store's popularity with visitors from abroad, however, its owner has no plans to expand operations overseas.

Some people have gone so far as to call Pokemon the greatest Japanese product of the twentieth century. And in Japan, whenever new Pokemon video-game software is released, stores carrying the products attract huge lines and sell out in the blink of an eye. The media has been right on top of Pokemon's huge success, turning the boom into something of a social phenomenon. With Pikachu and his pals as alive and kicking as ever, the Pokemon whirlwind looks poised to continue sweeping the world.

Pokemon Center Tokyo's three most popular items:
(1) Pokemon Card Game
(2) Pokemon Center's original confectioneries
(3) Pokemon Badges

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.