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Japan’s Pokemon championship welcomes all ages

  • Japan News/Yomiuri

    Tsunekazu Ishihara, left, and Akira Watanabe at Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo. “As ‘Pokemon Go’ became a big hit last year,” Ishihara said, “the age bracket of Pokemon players widened. So we thought we should let everyone come and play in the event.”


The top Pokemon players will soon be decided in a tournament to be held in Tokyo Jan. 14. For the first time, the contest is open to players of all ages.

The third Pokemon Ryuosen, which features both video and trading card games and is organized by The Pokemon Co., takes its name from the championship for the highest title — the Ryuo — in the Japanese chess game shogi.

Launched in 1996, Pokemon, or Pocket Monsters, was one of the first games to allow players to swap characters, which has played a major role in making the franchise an international sensation.

Players use the function to exchange creatures called Pokemon, which they have raised in their game machines, with those bred by other players, or to let their creatures battle others. Pokemon world championships have been held since 2009.

The following are excerpts from a discussion about the upcoming event between The Pokemon Co. President Tsunekazu Ishihara and Akira Watanabe, a shogi player who is a former Ryuo titleholder. They spoke about their expectations for the event, with Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer Satoshi Tanaka as the moderator.

Question:The first two tournaments were only open to elementary-school children, but in the upcoming event, players of all ages can participate. Why the change?

Ishihara: We were trying to figure out the right way (to do things) in (earlier) events. We aimed to let players “sweat in their brains” by, for example, asking them to build a deck from scratch on the spot. As “Pokemon Go” became a big hit last year, the age bracket of Pokemon players widened. So we thought we should let everyone come and play in the event.

Q:Is this similar to the shogi tournament for the Ryuo title, in which all players, young and old, have a chance to win the title.

Ishihara: We thought we should make (the Pokemon championship) similar to that.

Watanabe: Years ago, Yasuharu Oyama, the 15th Meijin titleholder, even competed for a title in his 60s. Now, fourth-dan ranked Sota Fujii, a junior high school student, is making a splash.

The beauty of shogi is that you can compete with other players regardless of age. Of course, the (Pokemon) championship was nice when it was exclusively for elementary school students, but I guess (an event for all ages) will have a different appeal.

Q:What are the rules and qualifications for participants?

Ishihara:We’ll be using the battle style that is most prevalent.

Watanabe:Are there openings and standard set sequences like in shogi?

Ishihara: Yes, to an extent. But strategies can change drastically when rules are changed or new Pokemon creatures are added.

Watanabe: It’s the same with shogi. There’s been a lot of progress in studying the game using artificial intelligence technology recently, so strategies can change quickly.

Ishihara:The whole country was caught up in shogi this year, thanks to Fujii’s popularity. I hope the Pokemon Ryuosen will also get more and more participants.

Q: Both Pokemon and shogi are games played by people facing each other. What other similarities are there?

Watanabe:These days, it’s easy to find out many things just by searching the internet. I’m sure we have fewer opportunities to think about things now. I believe it’s good to get used to giving yourself time to pore over something from childhood, be it Pokemon or shogi.

Ishihara: You anticipate the opponent’s next move with your heart pounding, wondering what kind of strategy will be employed.

Watanabe: If I do this, the opponent will move like that. Then I’ll respond with this. This basic shogi tactic — guessing three steps ahead — also works in Pokemon.

When I was a child, I would go to a shogi training hall and play the game against someone I was meeting for the first time. I did that many times and learned how to interact with adults.

Ishihara: Before playing Pokemon, you also have to greet your opponent (like in shogi) by shaking hands. I think playing these games also offers players opportunities to learn how to communicate with others.

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